This is Tecno Phantom V. (The folding flip phone)

Tecno Phantom V

Who says cover screens have to be square or oblong? Tecno has announced the Tecno Phantom V Flip folding phone, and we haven’t seen a cover screen like it before — at least, not on a smartphone.

Tecno has put what looks like a smartwatch on the front of its flip phone, and it’s one of the most unusual designs we’ve seen on a foldable yet.

A cover screen unlike anything else

When you consider what most outer cover screens do on a compact foldable phone, the functionality closely replicates that of a smartwatch. Most show the time, notifications, and helpful general information like the weather, your movement, and your calendar appointments. Well, that’s exactly what the Phantom V Flip’s cover screen shows and it has even taken direct inspiration for its navigation and style from smartwatch software like Wear OS’s Tile system.

The 1.32-inch AMOLED screen has a 466 x 466 resolution, making it the same specification as the screen found on Huawei’s small Watch GT 4 and very close to the one on the 44mm Samsung Galaxy Watch 6. Tap the center of the round module on the front of the folded phone to reveal a clock face, then swipe through widgets to the right and music controls to the left. Swipe up for notifications and down for quick settings. You can choose different wallpapers, and many look like watch faces.

It really does feel like a smartwatch, and it’s as natural and simple to operate as one too. However, it has some irritating problems. Obviously, it doesn’t run apps, as you’d imagine for such a small screen, and at 800 nits, it’s not the brightest thing out there. But the worst aspects are the way it treats notifications and that there is no always-on setting.

It’s surprising Tecno has restricted the always-on feature to the main screen on the V Flip and not allowed the cover screen to show a simple clock face. It would make it more useful and prettier too. Bizarrely, the little screen doesn’t show notifications when they come in either, and you have to actively look for them by unlocking the cover or main screen. It makes the cover screen feel underutilized, and it’s only the first of the Phantom V Flip’s software-related feature troubles.

Then there’s the rest of the design

The Tecno Phantom V Flip is about the same size folded up as the Motorola Razr Plus and a little bigger than the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5. Unfolded, it has a big 6.9-inch 2640 x 1080 pixel resolution AMOLED screen with a 10-120Hz dynamic refresh rate. The chassis is made from metal, and the body is covered in skin-friendly leather, which comes in the Mystic Dawn color seen in our phones (or Iconic Black). It weighs 194 grams, which is a little heavier than its direct competition, but it’s still pocketable.

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Tecno boasts the unfolded screen is creaseless, but this isn’t really true. It’s still visible in the right light, and you can feel it under your finger when you swipe up the screen, but it is less noticeable than the Galaxy Z Flip 5’s crease. The screen shares many similarities with the screen fitted to the Razr Plus, where the crease has the same level of partial visibility. It’s covered in ultra-thin glass, but it has a distinct “feel” to it and is less smooth and tactile than competing phones. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s not the nicest screen I’ve used, and it quickly seems to get smudgy and messy too.

The hinge has been tested to 250,000 folds, will hold itself open at various angles between 30 degrees and 150 degrees, and has an almost entirely smooth and silent operation with no slop or twisting. There’s just the right level of resistance, it closes shut with a satisfying snap, and magnets keep it locked in this position until you pull the sections apart. It feels far higher quality than the Razr Plus’s hinge, but not quite as flawless as the Galaxy Z Flip 5’s hinge. Sadly, there’s no water or dust resistance either, so you’ll need to be careful with it.

Taking photos with the Phantom V Flip

Tecno’s use of a circular cover screen is also interesting because it has integrated the cameras into it, rather than separating them from the screen. It looks like a regular camera module on the back of any other phone and is less fussy than other designs. There are two cameras inside — a 64-megapixel main camera and a 13MP wide-angle camera — while at the top of the unfolded screen is a 32MP selfie camera. The cover screen has a camera preview window, so you can use the main cameras for selfies, and the screen holds itself partially open for use as a stand too.

What’s it like? Like a lot of other phones these days, the main camera is fine, but the wide-angle camera is disappointing. There is a 2x option in the camera app, but it’s a waste of time unless you want to take bad-quality photos. The main camera can oversaturate, and there is some noise in some images, but it has a pleasant natural bokeh, and there’s enough detail and visual excitement to share images it takes online.

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However, in anything other than general use, it’s not great. Selfies taken with the rear camera lack detail, while wide-angle photos are noisy with some obvious edge enhancement too. I found the gesture control to take photos using the cover screen as a preview is unreliable, making using the tiny viewfinder pointless. It also doesn’t give an accurate view of your photo either, as I couldn’t see my finger over part of the lens when I took a landscape selfie.

What about the rest of the specs?

The Tecno Phantom V Flip uses the MediaTek Dimensity 8050 processor with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage space, plus it has 5G connectivity and NFC for mobile payments. There’s a fingerprint sensor in the power button on the side of the phone, 45W charging for the 4,000mAh battery, Android 13, and features like 1440Hz PWM dimming on the screen.

Although the screen has a dynamic refresh rate, I found it preferred not to stretch it out to 90Hz or 120Hz very often, resulting in apps like Threads and Chrome looking more blurry than I prefer. Forcing the phone into using 120Hz all the time cured it but will likely impact battery life. Tecno presumably set the dynamic rate to favor longer battery life, but it’s counterproductive as it looks unpleasant and prompts people to ignore the auto option, killing any supposed battery life increase immediately.

Playing Asphalt 9: Legends on the default settings shows the Dimensity 8050 is happy with challenging games, but the phone does get quite warm to the touch, but only on the side of the phone with the camera and cover screen module. It’s not burning, but it’s evidence the phone is working hard, and this is despite Tecno fitting a vapor chamber inside to aid cooling. I don’t think it’s a problem, but it’s worth noting the Phantom V Flip does get warm when playing intensive games. The battery was reduced by 10% after 30 minutes of Asphalt 9: Legends, which is in line with what I’d expect.

Android 13 has Tecno’s HiOS interface over it, and software is one of the phone’s more challenging aspects, particularly if you’ve been used to a Samsung or Google Android phone. Apps are spread across home screens and placed in the app drawer, a single swipe down reveals notifications, but it’s a swipe right to show Quick Settings. Google Discover has been replaced by a different system, with app shortcuts, feature hints, and curated news stories.

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It’s not awful, but it is quite different from most other modern versions of Android. It reminds me of older versions of Oppo’s ColorOS, just without the endless interruptions and nagging. It needs refining, and features need improving. The camera doesn’t always switch modes the first time you tap, the screen refresh automatic selection is too aggressive, the cover screen is missing crucial functionality, and features like the camera’s gesture control need to be tweaked.

I am aware that I’m using the Phantom V Flip before its release, but the software has not tempted me into putting my SIM inside and using it as my everyday phone.

Can you buy the Phantom V Flip?

Tecno does not sell its smartphones in the U.S. or the U.K., with the Phantom V Flip currently destined for other international regions, much like the Tecno Phantom V Fold. It will first launch in India, where it’ll cost the local equivalent of around $599 in an early-bird special. It doesn’t come as a surprise the V Flip is so competitively priced, as the big-screen Phantom V Fold costs around $1,100, and is much cheaper than the competition.

I like that Tecno has gone in a different direction with the Phantom V Flip’s cover screen design and then taken on the established style and navigation methods from smartwatches. It’s different, yet familiar, and lets Tecno play with the look of its flip phone more. The Phantom V Fold crushed the competition when it came to price and it appears the V Flip will do the same, so if the company can fix some of the software issues, it’s all set to be a fun little bargain entry into the world of compact folding phones