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TCL 10 Pro review

Announced back in January, TCL Communication’s new 10 series of phones make their retail debut on May 19. And while there are three models under the umbrella, the 5G-supported version isn’t here just yet.

The TCL 10L and TCL 10 Pro arrive as unlocked phones that are compatible with a whole array of mobile service providers. Priced $250 and $450, respectively, they mark the first phones under the TCL brand.

You might be familiar with the likes of Alcatel and Blackberry, both of which are/were brands under the TCL parent. You might also be familiar with TCL as a TV manufacturer; it is the second largest TV maker in the world.

The 10L and 10 Pro are what happens when you know a thing or two about making affordable unlocked phones and then leverage your expertise in display technology.

Our team was sent a review unit for each of the two phones and we’ve done our best to use them as much as possible over the last 7-10 days.

Given the stay-at-home orders we’re not getting out in the real world as much as we normally would. As such, we weren’t able to take these with us on very many day trips or too many hours away. Nevertheless, we’re confident in our early impressions of the 10L and 10 Pro and are happy to put forth reviews of each.

What follows is our review of the TCL 10 Pro. As an editorial note, some of what you’ll read here refers to the TCL 10L as it helps to compare and contrast.

Given the two arrive at the same time and fall under the same series, you’d think they feature many of the same hardware specifications. That’s only partially the case.

There’s more than enough different to justify the costs but not so much that they might as well be two different models. Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL are mostly a case of larger screen and larger battery. TCL’s closely resemble on another, but there’s a lot more going on.

TCL 10L Main Features

  • Android 10 w/ TCL UI
  • 6.53-inch LCD display (1080 x 2340 pixels)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 (2GHz) processor
  • 6GB RAM/64GB storage
  • 48-megapixel, 8-megapixel, 2-megapixel, and 2-megapixel rear camera
  • 16-megapixel front-facing camera
  • 4,000mAh battery
  • Face Key (unlock), rear fingerprint reader
  • 3.5mm headphone jack, USB Type-C, Bluetooth 5, microSD expansion card slot (up to 256GB)

TCL 10 Pro Main Features

  • Android 10 w/ TCL UI
  • 6.47-inch AMOLED display (1080 x 2340 pixels)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 (2GHz) processor
  • 6GB RAM/128GB storage
  • 64-megapixel, 16-megapixel, 2-megapixel, and 2-megapixel rear camera
  • 24-megapixel front-facing camera
  • 4,500mAh battery
  • Face Key (unlock), rear fingerprint reader
  • 3.5mm headphone jack, USB Type-C, Bluetooth 5, microSD expansion card slot (up to 256GB)

If bullet-point lists are your preferred way of comparing devices, you probably already see the differences justify the costs. But to be fair to the 10 Pro, that’s only part of it.

Missing from the aforementioned specs are details like reverse charging capabilities in the 10 Pro. And while it technically has a smaller display, it is a curved AMOLED screen that draws the user in and also houses an in-display fingerprint reader. Then there’s a faster storage in UFS 2.1, a digital hybrid zoom, and Quick Charge 3.0.

Design

The TCL 10 Pro has a more premium build to it but that’s not to suggest that the 10L feels cheaply made. The rear of the 10L definitely picks up oils and fingerprints much easier than its counterpart.

The 10 Pro has a metal frame with a matte texture finish to it whereas the 10L is more of a synthetic plastic material. Interestingly enough, the more expensive phone seems to slide or glide more effortlessly in hand.

Save for their SIM card slots, the pair largely employ the same overall layout of buttons and ports. The right side of the screen has power and volume buttons while the left has a dedicated smart key. USB Type-C ports are at the bottom while a 3.5mm headphone jack is located at the top.

The rear of the phones have a strip of camera sensors that run horizontally near the top. The 10L’s module juts out and is considerably pronounced while the 10 Pro is all but flush. The 10L houses a centered rear fingerprint reader that’s about 3/4 the way up the middle.

The 10L looks nice and feels good in hand but it’s not overly remarkable. Contrast that with the 10 Pro and we see a more modern design that’s curved and fun to hold.

All of this is a long way of saying that design-wise, the TCL 10 Pro punches above its weight.

Software

The TCL 10 Pro runs Android 10 and is expected to pick up at least one major software update as well as regular maintenance releases. The TCL UI looks a lot like stock Android, but it brings quite a few sensible extras to the table. And I kinda like it.

One feature I came to appreciate early on is the Edge Bar, which is more or less quick access to your favorite apps/games/settings. I found it helpful for quickly pulling up Google Authenticator and password managers. There’s also a strip dedicated to contacts and one that has a built-in ruler in both centimeters and inches.

While I don’t care for the default way of organizing apps in the drawer, you might like having them grouped by category. Other options include usage, date of installation, name, and even icon color.

This is a TCL phone with a TCL display so there is plenty of emphasis on adjusting the visual settings. You can tweak screen colors, use a visual enhancement to tune contrast, sharpness, and saturation, and toggle a setting for outdoor reading. I invite you to find the right setting under the NXTVISION app as it’s entirely up to you as to what feels right… or natural.

There are quite a few other settings you can adjust under the advanced features section, including the ability to clone apps for multiple simultaneous logins, driving mode settings, gestures, and how you interact with the phone. Do prefer the soft keys or do you want gestures and swipes? Play around with it.

The same goes for the Smart Key setting. With single, double, and long-press options available, you can do all sorts of fun stuff like launching a selfie camera, take a note, clear notifications, and much more.

Finally, one last thing noteworthy feature is the ability to connect up to four Bluetooth speakers at one time. Called “Super Bluetooth” it’s as cool as you’d hope.

Performance

Despite its flagship-like appearance, the TCL 10 Pro is more akin to a mid-range phone. Fortunately for us, a mid-range handset in 2020 is one hell of an experience.

The display is bright, colorful, and looks excellent when viewing HDR content. As indicated above, some may like to dial down the color profile as it tends to be a smidge over-saturated. With that said, it’s generally impressive.

The optical in-display fingerprint sensor is as reliable and accurate as I’ve seen in previous phones and wakes the phone up quickly. Every so often you might have to lift the finger or thumb for a second reading but we’re talking maybe once a day. Keep your screen clean, people.

I’ve come to appreciate swiping gestures and navigation in my phones and switched the 10 Pro to allow for that. With that in mind, its curved edges are prone to accidental touches and swipes/half-swipes. It’s not singular to the 10 Pro; it affects many phones with such a design.

In terms of general performance, I’ve found the phone to handle tasks, apps, and games with ease. It doesn’t feel super-fast or seem to have explosive speeds, but it’s plenty snappy.

You can likely have more than ten apps up and running before you see any sort of visual changes. And even then it’s not like you’re sitting around, waiting.

Having used the Google Pixel 3a for almost a full year now, I am reminded of how that phone feels. Yes, there are faster things around, but they’re more expensive. And really, I’m more than happy with it. I don’t imagine my needs changing in the coming year so I don’t anticipate this phone feeling “slow” anytime soon.

Battery life is great and routinely gets me through more than one day of usage. As far as charging goes, it supports Quick Charge 3.0 and comes with a 9V adapter in the box. I’ve yet to mess with any power settings but there are a few adjustments which can be made in favor of getting more from the battery.

Camera

The four cameras on the rear of the 10 Pro consist of a 64-megapixel primary sensor, a 16-megapixel super-wide sensor, a 5-megapixel macro sensor, and a 2-megapixel super-low-light sensor. The front-facing selfie camera is 24-megapixels.

The rear cameras, and the app, work pretty well and certainly fall in line with expectations. To be fair, I need to take more low-light and night shots. Once I do I will update this gallery with a few samples.

As you see in the embedded gallery there is a watermark on the images. That’s a simple thing to remove in the camera settings app but do know it’s on by default. Also, the images presented here are unedited and only resized to 1920px wide.

TCL 10 Pro Camera Samples

1 of 10


All of our test shots so far were in decent daylight and indoors with moderate lighting. We’ve played with both the 64-megapixel and 16-megapixel sensors and find they both exhibit terrific color accuracy and impressive depth of field.

We had fun playing with the macro lens, too. It does a much better job than I figured it would for a company’s first effort.

There’s loss of finer details when you view at full resolution, of course, but nearly everything we view in 2020 is compressed, edited, filtered, cropped, and shared online. To that end, you will be very pleased with the end results.

Conclusion

For a first-generation release there is a lot to admire in the TCL 10 Pro. It has a generously sized display that’s easy on the eyes, and the overall design is rather modern and flagship-like. Adding to this, it’s unlocked and supports nearly every band in the US – save for 71 which is essentially rural T-Mobile spots.

I’m a big fan of the software experience being largely untouched Android and the extras presented don’t cause clutter or distract. And best of all, it’s user-defined and opt-in. We’ll have to wait to find out how it handles software updates and whether they’re timely.

I’m interested in seeing what happens next with TCL-branded phones, including how it plans to sell them. That could be a difference maker; will consumers know they exist or do they have to discover them? Availability is key.

I don’t expect that the TCL 10 Pro will be a major hit but it’s not because of what it does or doesn’t do. It has more to do with brand recognition and competition at this price.

Apple just introduced a phone in the same space and Google looks to have a Pixel 4a ready to go any day. Then there’s also Samsung, Motorola, and Blu playing in the sandbox. All of them are more well-known or have established track records.

One thing that reviewers tend to do when looking at phones is point out what’s missing, so let’s do that. There’s no NFC which means no Google Pay or any of the features that come with it. Also, there’s no wireless charging or IP rating against water. Does that matter to you? It didn’t seem to hurt OnePlus in its first few years and it positioned itself as a generally more robust experience.

TCL has a great record and reputation in the TV space where it has established itself as a solid brand. It might take some time for it to crack the phone market but I hope it tries. I like what’s offered here and have no reservations about recommending it for the right user.

Availability

You can purchase the TCL 10 Pro for $450 from Amazon starting from May 19 and later through Best Buy and Walmart.

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