Tecno promises accurate skin tones from your smartphone camera, whatever the color of your skin

 An emulated image of Tecno Universal Tone .
An emulated image of Tecno Universal Tone .

Tecno, a Chinese phone maker with a huge presence in Africa and Southeast Asia, is upping its efforts to make image processing more representative with the announcement of its Universal Tone system.

In the past, smartphones have struggled to capture realistic and flattering skin tones. While Apple, Google, and Samsung have historically subtly pointed out that their best camera phones cater to a broad spectrum of tones, Tecno is going one step further with Universal Tone, explicitly branding its skin tone diversity engine.

While Tecno hasn't broken into the West just yet, the phone maker has demonstrated some standout imaging innovation in the past. Its Tecno Phantom X2 Pro features a retractable portrait lens, while the lower-cost Camon 20 Premier 5G has a 108MP ultra-wide macro camera, which captures some of the best detailed macro shots of any smartphone we've used.

A photo of a group of people using a Tecno smartphone
A photo of a group of people using a Tecno smartphone

According to Tecno, an over-reliance on existing pools of data for AI has skewed skin-tone accuracy in photo processing in the past. To create its Universal Tone, Tecno captured what it terms "unbiased data" in order to create an actually representative color card for its multi-skin-tone imaging technology.

Tecno's inclusion of a refined AI system and partnerships with universities that specialize in color science and aesthetics culminated in a three-process system. Its Multi-skin-tone Restoration accounts for multiple skin tones in a single image. The Local Tuning Engine harmonizes subjects with their environment. Finally, Tecno's AI-powered Computational Portrait Engine beautifies subjects.

In addition to this relatively light-touch introduction to the feature, Tecno also comments on the importance of skin tone representation on camera phones from a social point of view.

At this stage, it's too early to comment on how effective this tool is and the lengths Tecno has actually gone to in order to offer something beyond what other phone makers are doing.

Given Tecno's core markets – Africa and India – it makes sense for the brand to associate itself with better representation. After all, cameras have typically struggled with capturing darker skin tones in a flattering and realistic way.

Universal Tone could, therefore, be little more than a marketing push given no hard data has been shared outlining the lengths Tecno has gone to create the feature. But on the other hand, if Universal Tone meaningfully pushes better representation of various skin tones in photos and videos, that's vital for a quality imaging experience for everyone.

While Tecno hasn't rolled the image engine out just yet, it's expected to reveal more details in December at its Tecno 2023 Future Lens event in Shanghai.