TCL 10 Pro review: Stunning $450 Android phone rivals Apple’s iPhone SE

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TCL has been making smartphones for years, including the latest BlackBerry and Alcatel phones. With the TCL 10 series we see the first TCL-branded phones launching for North American customers. After just a day with the stunning Ember Gray TCL 10 Pro it is clear that TCL is offering a compelling choice for less than $500.

Lately, I’ve been testing the low cost Apple iPhone SE and lowest priced 5G phone, the OnePlus 8, and the new TCL 10 Pro offers something in between these two at a $450 price. The design is lovely, the display is wonderful, and there are advanced camera features in this new phone.

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Since I’ve only spent a day with the new TCL 10 Pro, please leave comments for what you want tested as I put it through its paces over the next week. I plan to test out the TCL UI elements, battery life, camera performance, call quality, reception strength, and application performance. First impressions are great and we’ll see if it holds up over the next week.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 675
  • Display: 6.47 inch 2340 x 1080 pixels resolution AMOLED (398 ppi)
  • Operating system: Android 10 with TCL UI
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 128GB internal with microSD card support
  • Cameras: 64MP main camera, 16MP ultra-wide lens with 123 degree field-of-view, 5MP macro lens, and 2MP super low light video camera. 24MP front facing camera.
  • Wireless technology: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, GPS/Glonass/Galileo, FM radio
  • Battery: 4,500 mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0 support and charger (18W charger included in the box)
  • Dimensions: 158.5 x 72.4 x 8.6 mm and 187 grams
  • Colors: Ember Gray

The TCL 10 Pro also still has a 3.5mm headset jack and even an IR port to control your local infrared-enabled devices.

Hardware

The front of the TCL 10 Pro is dominated by the lovely 6.47 inch display with curved glass sides that transition into a narrow metal side. The display is a waterfall display, giving you zero bezels on the sides. A bottom bezel of about 3mm and a top bezel of about 2mm help TCL achieve an impressive 89.5% screen-to-body ratio.

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The curve AMOLED screen is made by TCL and incorporates its NXTVISION technology. This display and camera visual technology is used when viewing images and videos captured by the cameras. There is a small NXTVISION button in the right corner of the Gallery app so you can quickly toggle it on and off and see the enhancements in real-time. There is also a real-time SDR to HDR video conversion feature, providing enhancements in highlights, shadows, contrast and color.

WIth TCL creating the display, some of the features provided by TCL include adaptive tone, reading mode, and eye comfort mode. Adaptive tone mode, toggle and schedule settings are available, adjusts the color temperature and display brightness to provide the optimal viewing experience in various conditions. Reading mode lets you select from a list of apps to have this mode enabled. When reading mode is on it provides a paper-like experience with monochromatic filters. The eye comfort mode removes 66% of the harmful blue light and is TÜV Rheinland Low Blue Light Certification.

Also: TCL will stop selling BlackBerry smartphones in August

The front-facing camera is positioned in the center in a teardrop arrangement. It is a 24MP camera that includes various filters and a portrait mode. The top handset speaker fits within the very narrow top bezel between the glass display and metal top edge.

The fingerprint scanner is an optical version positioned under the display. It has been very responsive in my testing over the past week. Fingerprint Quick Launch can be toggled on or off within the fingerprint settings. Long press the fingerprint area to open the quick start panel that provides you with up to four features that can be launched when you unlock your phone. You can also enable face unlock for a less secure fast way to quickly use your phone.

The power button is on the middle right side with a long volume button above it. By default, you can double press the power button to launch the camera.

There is also a button on the middle of the left side, called the Smart Key. Within the settings you can customize this button to launch apps or perform functions for a single press, double press, and long press. Actions include NXTVISION toggle, Google Assistant, scan codes, open the last shot you took, or activate Smart Manager features.

The SIM card slot, a microphone, USB-C port, and bottom-firing stereo speaker are all on the bottom.

Another microphone, infrared port, and 3.5mm headset jack are positioned on the top of the phone. The top and bottom of the phone have an interesting design where the metal is flat for much of the width with the metal tapering into the back, front, and sides.

Flipping over the phone to look at the back reveals an extremely attractive and professional looking design. It’s matte finish glass with the Ember Gray transitioning from dark gray down to light gray from the top to the bottom. The word TCL is positioned in the upper third of the back.

Near the top of the back is the camera array that extends in a band of glass from one side to the other. The cameras are all flush with the phone while the two flash lights are at either end and have a slight raised ring around the lights.

Starting from left to right along this camera array we have a flash light, 64MP ultra high resolution camera, 2.9μm super low-light video camera, 5MP macro camera, 16MP super wide-angle camera, and the second flash light.

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After a week of heavy usage, including using the phone away from the house for three days, I’m easily getting more than a day with the TCL 10 Pro. The Snapdragon 675 and high capacity 4,500 mAh battery have helped me regularly experience more than five hours of screen-on time on a daily basis.

Given that it has a high capacity battery and Quick Charge 3.0 support, your phone will last for a long time and also charge up quickly when you use it for days. You can also use the TCL 10 Pro as an external battery pack to charge up other devices with support for OTG reverse charging. Simply plug in a USB-C cable and charge up other devices.

The phone has Bluetooth 5.0 inside and with this on the TCL 10 Pro it comes with a feature called Super Bluetooth. This functionality allows you to connect up to four Bluetooth speakers or pair your phone with up to four sets of Bluetooth headphones. This functionality is a great way to share your audio quickly and easily with others.

I’ve been using the TCL 10 Pro with a T-Mobile SIM card. It’s not a 5G phone, but has worked perfectly on LTE and WiFi. I performed a few tests of the reception strength while out and about and find the phone provides solid reception with fast download speeds.

The retail package also contains a soft clear silicone gel cover with the Display Greatness branding stamped into the case.

Also: CES 2020: TCL Communication unveils first 5G smartphone alongside new Alcatel mobile products

Software

The TCL 10 Pro launches with a fairly stock Android experience and TCL UI. The software is Android 10 with the March 1, 2020 Android security update present on the phone. TCL informed us that the phone will receive at least one major OS update (Android 11) and consistent security updates.

Review units are also running on pre-production software with an update planned to arrive before the end of May. This update will address improvements to the touch panel, but I haven’t seen any issues so am curious what will be improved.

While the TCL 10 Pro doesn’t look much different than other stock Android phones, there are some elements present in TCL UI that I like. These include folder browsing, extended app launcher sorting options (name, label, usage, installation, icon color, and category), Smart Key, and Edge Bar.

The Edge Bar is similar to what we have seen before on Samsung with Edge Panels. Three tabs can be customized to use with the phone. These include app shortcuts, contacts, and a ruler. The ruler is a 12 cm variant and has a couple of blue dots so you can place one at the end of what you are measuring and then see exactly how long the object is in tenths of centimeters.

There is a setting, also appears as an app shortcut, called NXTVISION. Within this utility you can toggle on or off visual enhancement, SDR to HDR, reading mode, screen color options, and sunlight display.

The always-on display option can be customized to your preferences and is one function I love about Android phones.

The camera software is similar to what we see on other Android phones with a shutter button on the bottom/right side, button to flip from back to front cameras, and gallery view. You can swipe across the display to switch between capture modes. Modes on the TCL 10 Pro include auto, video, super macro, high pixel, pro, portrait, super night, slow motion, stop motion, light trace, and panoramic. You can edit the modes that appear on the main viewfinder display (five modes) with the rest appearing under the More option.

While the phone doesn’t have a telephoto lens, you can flip to the 64MP high pixel mode and then zoom in after the fact. The 64MP high pixel mode uses pixel binning to output 16MP images.

Slow motion options include 120fps, 240fps, and 960fps. The 960fps is also found on some other flagship phones and offers a super slow motion video option that can be used for fun creativity. There are also 12fps, 24fps, and 30fps options for stop motion video.

On the main viewfinder there is a toggle for ultra-wide angle mode and digital zoom (1x to 10x). There is also a button that shows you original, ultra-wide, and low light video views. You then tap the mode you want to use and capture content.

Settings in the camera software include electronic image stabilization, AI camera toggle, AI composition, dark shot (adjusts the camera to make adjustments for low light conditions), calorie detection, touch to capture, grid, triple camera, and more. There is also a watermark toggle available and in the pre-production software this was toggled on by default.

The AI camera toggle enables calorie detection and AI composition toggles. Calorie detection is designed to show you estimated calories for food when you point the camera at objects. I saw the calories appear a few times, but it wasn’t a very consistent experience so maybe future software updates will improve performance here. AI composition acts as a scene detector so that your subject is identified and the camera may optimize for that object. For example, moving close to an object may enable macro mode, viewing a flower will show a flower icon and adjust camera settings for optimal image capture, and more.

The IR remote software, haven’t seen this capability for years, lets you set up and control TVs, air conditioning units, set-top boxes, streaming content boxes, projectors, DVD players, air cleaners, fans, and more. Setup was easy and since your phone is with you most of the time it is pretty convenient to have this functionality on your phone.

TCL offers a few of its own apps on the phone, including Gallery, File Share, IR Remote, Music, Notes, Radio, and Video. The IR Remote and Radio apps are valuable utilities that let you use some of the extra hardware features included in the phone. I also like using the Gallery app for easy collage creation.

TCL 10 Pro vs iPhone SE (2020)

Given that the Apple iPhone SE was released a month ago and the 128GB model is also priced at $450, many people have been asking how these two phones compare to each other.

FeatureTCL 10 ProApple iPhone SE
Display size6.47 inch AMOLED4.7 inch LCD
ProcessorSnapdragon 675Apple A13 Bionic
Dimensions158.5 x 72.4 x 8.6mm1638.4 x 67.3 x 7.3mm
Weight187g148g
RAM6GB3GB
Storage128GB with microSD slot128GB
Battery capacity4500 mAh1821 mAh
Rear camerasFour: 64MP/16MP/2MP/5MPOne: 12MP
Front camera24MP7MP
Other3.5mm audio jack, IR portIP67 rating, wireless charging

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

It is rather stunning to see a waterfall display, not to mention a high quality one, at this reasonable $450 price point. Given that the display is what you interact with constantly on a smartphone, TCL’s focus on this feature sets the TCL 10 Pro above other sub-$500 smartphones.

The TCL 10 Pro will launch on Amazon on May 19 for $449.99 and will be available on Best Buy and Walmart later this month.

Since I’ve been using the TCL 10 Pro as my daily driver for the past week, I captured nearly a hundred photos and videos while out and about over the past week. These include shots at parks, night shots, macro flower shots, and more. Check out my gallery for some samples or full resolution images in this Flickr album. I’ve been satisfied with the image quality and performance of the camera and am a major fan of the various lenses that give you the ability to be more creative than a single camera lens phone.

While I’m not a gamer, I do use my phones for just about everything else and to be honest, I haven’t noticed any lag, lock-ups, or any performance issues over the past week. I actually had to check the specifications a few times to make sure the phone didn’t have some kind of hidden high refresh rate since the experience has been flawless. I honestly would never have known the processor was a Snapdragon 675 if I wasn’t told this fact upfront.

While I tend to stick with flagship $1,000+ phones, the only reason I would take my SIM out of the TCL 10 Pro is to go running in the rain with a phone that has an IP rating. The experience has been fantastic and during these times when people are out of work and looking for an affordable, capable smartphone the TCL 10 Pro is a great option. I love the design, lovely display, and everything else that it is going to be tough for me to remove my SIM from this evaluation unit anytime soon.

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