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Why this unknown folding phone is more exciting than the Z Fold 4

The Tecno Phantom V Fold is evidence that making a folding smartphone is a big challenge. But don’t take this to mean I hate it and am about to write a lot of words rubbishing it. It’s quite the opposite.

This is a folding smartphone from a brand you’ve probably never heard of, but seeing as brands you do know still haven’t bothered releasing a big-screen foldable, it’s one that deserves both our applause and attention. This is why.

Tecno Phantom V Fold: specifications

The Tecno Phantom V Fold's cover screen.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Tecno Phantom V Fold is a big-screen folding smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, and it’s Tecno’s first attempt at such a device. Let’s talk about the dimensions first. It’s slightly wider than the Galaxy Z Fold 4, and closer to the Honor Magic Vs when folded up, plus it’s about the same height and thickness too. According to my scales, it’s heavier than both by about 30 grams, reaching 300 grams. That’s a heavy phone, but it does a decent job of concealing its weight.

The cover screen measures 6.43 inches, and the unfolded screen is 7.85 inches. Both have a dynamic 10Hz to 120Hz refresh rate and LPTO technology to minimize flicker. A MediaTek Dimensity 9000+ processor powers the phone, with 12GB of RAM and either 256GB or 512GB of storage space.

The Tecno Phantom V Fold's open screen.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The battery has a 5,000mAh capacity, is charged with an included 45W fast charger, and there’s a fingerprint sensor on the side of the chassis. There are three cameras on the back — a 50-megapixel main camera, a 50MP telephoto camera with a 2x optical zoom, and a 13MP wide-angle camera — plus a 32MP camera on the cover screen and a 16MP camera on the unfolded screen. The software is Android 13 with Tecno’s HiOS 13 Fold software over the top. The specifications are everything you’d expect from a phone of its type, although I can’t see anything about dust resistance, or assurances of software updates in the future.

Tecno Phantom V Fold: design and build

Opening the Tecno Phantom V Fold.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The hinge is arguably the most important part of a folding smartphone’s hardware. Tecno says its hinge has been made from “aerospace-grade” material and is almost crease-free. It has been tested to 200,000 folds, which isn’t as many as the Galaxy Z Fold 4 or the Honor Magic Vs, but should translate to around five years of reliable use, so it’s fine.

It reminds me of the original Samsung Galaxy Fold, as it makes a little bit of noise when you unfold it, and offers very little resistance once the initial magnetic clasp has been freed. It doesn’t free-stand, so there’s no option to use it half-open and supported like you can with the Galaxy Z Fold 4. It’s absolutely determined to be either open or closed.

Holding the open Tecno Phantom V Fold.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Once it is open, the crease is barely visible. You can still feel it under your finger, but this is the same for all folding smartphones. However, far worse than the crease, is the phone not quite opening flat. The Honor Magic Vs seems to take its time to unfold the last millimeter or two (likely because my review version is brand new), but the Phantom V Fold seems reluctant to finish off those last millimeters at all. I find this more obnoxious than the barely visible crease.

You notice the weight when holding the Phantom V Fold, but a gentle curve around the screen’s edge makes it comfortable if you’re right-handed, and the ridged outer hinge adds grip too. Open it up, and there is a tiny amount of flex in the hinge, but the substantial plastic border makes the device easy to hold without getting your palm all over the screen.

Tecno Phantom V Fold: camera

The Tecno Phantom V Fold's camera module.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Phantom V Fold has a relatively simple camera system, with a main, wide, and telephoto camera, which provides a 2x optical zoom. The rear camera can also be used to take selfies, with the unfolded cover screen providing a large, easy-to-see preview. Unfortunately, the quality of the photos isn’t quite up to standard.

It’s the colors that are the problem. On a bright, sunny day at the beach, the camera produced wishy-washy colors — softening the scene where it lost all excitement and robbing it of emotion — or over-saturated them. In other photos where the sun and blue sky weren’t involved, colors seemed to be more accurate, in an odd juxtaposition to situations I’ve faced with cameras in the past.

There are other problems too. The wide-angle camera has the same issue with color accuracy, and photos can look noisy too. The 2x optical zoom is the same, but at least there’s plenty of detail in its photos. It’s not a terrible camera, but it definitely needs refining, and at the moment, it doesn’t come close to realizing the potential of its specification.

I have been using the phone ahead of its official launch, and there’s always a chance a software update is on its way to cure these issues, but I did see similar problems with the Tecno Phantom X2 Pro I tried recently too. It’s a shame the X2 Pro’s fun pop-out camera hasn’t been included here.

Tecno Phantom V Fold: software and performance

The Tecno Phantom V Fold's charging port.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Next to the hinge, the software is the other aspect that can make or break a folding smartphone. I haven’t used the Phantom V Fold as my main phone yet, but I’ve run many of my usual apps — social apps, YouTube, Google Maps, Autotrader, and Netflix — to see how it handles them on both screens.

Twitter and Autotrader work without a problem, and switch between screens when you open and close the device. However, you’re simply looking at a bigger version on the open screen, rather than something specifically adapted for the display. Oddly, Netflix isn’t available for the phone, with the Play Store stating it’s incompatible when I tried to download it. Disney+ and Amazon Prime work, and again switch between screens. Audio is fine but lacks bass response.

Floating window and split-screen multi-tasking on the Tecno Phantom V Fold.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There are plenty of multitasking modes, with split-screen support and floating windows all easy and fast to activate. Even apps that state they may not be compatible with floating screen mode, such as YouTube, have worked without a problem. The Dimensity 9000+ is a strong chip with good performance, as we saw in the Asus ROG Phone 6D, and handled multi-tasking without breaking a sweat.

Tecno says the Phantom V Fold has been optimized to support 1,000 top apps when opening and closing, and 2,000 are compatible with HiOS13 Fold in general, which I assume primarily means the multitasking feature. It’s a shame Netflix, an app I use often, exposed a hole in the phone’s compatibility. Otherwise, the multi-tasking system is robust and simple to use.

HiOS13 Fold will take some getting used to, and it will be a culture shock to anyone used to Android on Samsung, OnePlus, or Pixel phones. There’s no Google Discover, there are several unfamiliar pre-installed apps, the design is busy rather than minimalist, and the pull-down notification shade is split into two. Notifications appear after swiping down on the left of the screen, and Quick Settings are to the right.

The phone’s software isn’t really for me, but Tecno doesn’t officially sell its phones in the U.S. or the U.K., and all these differences may come down to local preferences. I have not used the phone as my primary device to assess reliability or network compatibility.

The Tecno Phantom V Fold is refreshing, daring, and worth it

Closing the Tecno Phantom V Fold.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

When I first heard about the Tecno Phantom V Fold, I was very keen to try it out, and now that I have, I’m really pleased I did. What is it I like? It’s not the phone, camera, or software specifically; it’s something else. I like that it’s so daring and honest. Let me explain.

While other brands hold back and watch Samsung control foldable smartphones, Tecno just got on with it and made one. The company isn’t new (it has been around since 2006), but it takes time, effort, and guts to make something different from just another bar-shaped phone these days — and that should be applauded.

The result isn’t perfect, but in the short time I’ve had with the phone, it seems solid and well-engineered, even if it’s not as refined as Samsung or Oppo’s models. The main issues I’ve seen are no different from the ones I noticed on the Tecno Phantom X2 Pro, indicating these are inherent challenges the company as a whole faces, and not ones caused by jumping feet-first into the world of folding smartphones. There’s a refreshing honesty about it.

While other brands hold back and watch Samsung control foldable smartphones, Tecno just got on with it and made one.

I like that Tecno has gone for it; making a serious effort to get the multi-tasking and app compatibility right, and come up with a phone that should gain the company a lot of attention. It makes you wonder what Oppo is doing by restricting the Find N2 to China, and why OnePlus is only saying it eventually release a foldable smartphone sometime this year.

It’s not the best big-screen folding smartphone out there, but at least it’s actually out there. What’s more, Tecno isn’t charging $2,000 for it. When it launches in India, the Phantom V Fold will start at $1,000. For a first attempt, it’s excellent and paves the way for a more refined, even better Phantom V Fold 2 in the future. Similar things were said about the Galaxy Fold in 2019, and look where Samsung is now. Tecno deserves a big round of applause for making the Phantom V Fold, and pricing it so competitively.

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