A few months ago I was able to get hands on one of the new TCL devices called the TCL 10L, this was the more affordable of the range and was one of the lower cost 4G smartphones on the market.
TCL also announced their first 5G phone at the same time bringing the Pro specs with added 5G networking for future proofing yourself.
It’s been a few months since then but I have now been sent a TCL 10 5G to review and see how it compares to other smartphones in the same price range.
Usual disclaimer that the phone was loaned to me for a 4 week period by TCL PR and once the review was finished it was sent back to them and no payment was given for this coverage.
Unfortunately my time testing was just as the national lockdown happened again so coverage will be limited based no not being able to go out much for a 4 week period.
One area a lot of manufacturers cut corners on to keep the price down is materials or build quality, that didn’t seem to be the case here with the device heavy and sturdy at 210g in weight.
The screen is 6.53 inches with 1080p resolution and uses LCD technology to help boost colours although it does therefore lack the punchy black contrast that an AMOLED screen has, it almost looks a little washed out at times, but considering the price was to be expected, and is one of the better LCD displays out there that some people will not mind this.
There is an option for NXTVISION Which boosts content into HDR from SDR and improve ‘Visual Enhancement’ Which helps make colours stand out more, and in some cases was great to use, however some content looks too bright and very fake so it’s down to you which you prefer to see and use personally.
Being an LCD display using the phone outdoors was challenging at times, however the software tries to help by turning the blacks almost grey to help you use when in bright sunlight, this can be turned off if you prefer though.
The earpiece is housed right up top in the middle and in general voice calls were good quality and loud, even when using out by a busy road or in a loud building such as a restaurant.
The selfie camera is built into the display in the top left corner and this houses the 16 megapixel selfie camera which records video in 1080p resolution, but more on the camera and video later on.
Bezels are kept to a minimum which is nice and helps with the overall design and makes the most of the large display with the largest bezel under the screen but not too large to get in the way or spoil the design.
On the left you have a single button which is used for loading the Google assistant with a quick tap, you can of course use the ‘Hey Google’ voice activation if you wish, but for the times you can’t be bothered then the button is right there ready to be used and this is becoming more common on mid range phones including the Nokia brand.
This is also where you find the SIM card tray which is for a Nano SIM as well as a MicroSD card if you want to expand the memory this way, unfortunatly no dual SIM support here.
Over on the right you get the volume up and down buttons which as with every phone controls the volume of the system or media include voice calls when in a call, below this you have a power button for switching on and off.
Looking up top you have one of the dual microphones for blocking out unwanted noise when in calls or recording video, you also have the 3.5mm headphone port meaning you can plug in your existing headphones if you wanted without the need for a dongle.
This does also mean you can plug the phone in to charge whilst also listening to content, something you can’t do if your earphones use USB-C unless you go the Bluetooth route.
Down at the bottom you have a USB-C port for charging or data transfer if needed with a set of speakers either side which are both loud and clear even when at maximum volume.
Switching to the back you have a plastic back cover with the camera setup in the middle of the back paired with 2 LED flashes to really boost the brightness evenly.
Below this you have the fingerprint reader you can use to unlock the phone if you don’t want a pin or password.
With the COVID pandemic not clearing anytime soon having a fingerprint reader is a good idea and means you don’t have to rely on face unlocking which won’t work due to face masks.
A decent software experience is key to a smartphone because as good as the hardware is, it is the day to day use that gives you either enjoyment or a headache when using your phone.
When it comes to software, some companies go all out to heavily customise the original Android experience, Samsung for example with their One UI, whilst this works for some, it can delay software updates which are important to many of us.
TCL have gone with a more stock like design adding a custom launcher and some of their own applications, hopefully this will lead to quick updates going forward, but will have to see what will happen as time goes on.
The TCL 10 5G comes with Android 10 out of the box as you would expect, and there was a software update available straight away which brings you up to September security patch (the review was in November) so hopefully TCL can keep updating in the future.
Android apps are always being scanned in the store and as long as you don’t side load any apps you should be ok, however for the security to be four months out of date, hopefully this is something that gets updated quickly.
The experience of using TCL UI was good though, with a few pre installed apps to manage things such as the display, shortcut key and a few others.
I will say I did like the way the launcher let you sort your apps by category if you wanted which was a nice touch often overlooked.
Overall the software experience was good, the only question I would have is when the device would get updates in both security and Android version updates to 11 when it eventually launches.
Thankfully there was not a lot of bundled bloatware installed although there are some apps which end up getting duplicated such as having a Gallery and Google Photos etc…
More and more devices launching now are deciding to go with the Snapdragon 765G instead of the flagship 865 to keep costs down but hopefully not make a huge difference in day to day performance.
The TCL 10 5G comes with 6GB of RAM for multitasking and helping when it comes to playing graphic heavy games such as Call of Duty and I am pleased to report I had no issues at all even putting the settings to maximum graphics and frame rate, there was no slowing down or performance issues.
The battery is a rather large 4500mAh which easily lasted me through a full day of use, there is no wireless charging though so you will have to rely on old fashioned wired instead, using the supplied charger TCL specify a 0-100 battery in 2 hours so not one of those crazy fast 30 minute devices but enough to top up if needed.
Usual networking and wireless options are here of course such as WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and NFC, and as the name would suggest you also get 5G in addition to 4G/3G/2G for future proofing network speeds when you get in your area.
Unfortunately I was not able to test the speeds as my closest place to have any 5G is an hour away via train and we have just gone into a nationwide lockdown so unable to travel but over the 4G+ network speeds were very respectable.
Storage is a decent 128GB with expandable MicroSD card support if this was not enough for you, this does mean the device is single sim only so no dual sim support which some people might have liked when comparing to the OnePlus.
Having a decent set of cameras is one of the biggest reasons to pick one phone over another and personally I have not owned a standalone camera for years, instead using my phones for everything.
First of all the selfie camera, the TCL 10 5G comes with a single 16 megapixel selfie shooter which can take some decent photos in good lighting, however quality does start to suffer when the lights start to dim like in the evenings but considering most selfie cameras are for social media content this will be good enough
With the rear setup the company have gone for a quad design so a nice selection of 4 lenses to play with.
The main camera is a large 64 megapixel lens with uses 4 in 1 pixel binning that outputs 16 megapixel photos, but with a lot more detail that normal which is nice but something everyone else is going right now.
The second camera is an 8 megapixel ultra wide angle lens for those landscape shots or when you need to get more into the frame.
Third is a 5 megapixel macro lens so you can get those all important close up shots and capture a lot of details even if it does mean a lower resolution final image.
Finally the fourth camera is a 2 megapixel depth sensor which is used when taking portrait photos to get decent bokeh when wanting these types of photos.
It is a shame with 4 cameras one of them was not a telephoto lens to allow optical zooming, instead you have to rely on digital zoom so the more you use the lower the image quality.
Photos taken in good lighting come up very clear and sharp full of details, this even includes macro shots which was nice to see.
Where the camera struggles is in low light performance and even though it does have a night mode, the images come out mixed with some looking very fake depending how much lighting is around you at the time.
Video is average quality even with maximum resolution topping out at 4K, it’s ok for sharing online and the odd clip for social media, but you would not want to use for a dedicated video recorder if you want the best quality possible.
The camera UI is very easy to understand and is pretty much the same as all other phones on sale now with a slider list of different options such as Night, Portrait, Pro etc…..
The interface is very similar to all the other phones which makes it very easy to just pick up and use without having to learn how to use it which is very handy.
With 5G being more mainstream now you no longer need to spend the high £1000+ price to get a decent smartphone with 5G, not only do you have the TCL 10 5G but you have the competition bringing the price down such as the OnePlus Nord.
At £399 you are getting a decent smartphone with the TCL with an impressive set of specs even if they are nothing groundbreaking.
The screen whilst LCD instead of AMOLED does a decent job when playing back videos or games, and there are some software tricks such as NXTVISION to boost colours and change SDR into HDR, although this is not always a good thing so will be a personal preference.
The camera or should I say cameras again perform well in good lighting, there is a night mode if you want to switch to that but results can sometimes look a bit fake when there is some lighting such as street lighting.
Battery was good thanks to the large 4500mAh capacity and easily lasted me a day with lots of media use and the off phone call
So to conclude at £399 would I recommend the TCL 10 5G to you, well yes the TCL is a great device if you want a huge battery on your smartphone and 5G without wanting to break the bank, however in such a competitive market now the OnePlus Nord offers a 90hz display for a cheaper price and this will be the biggest comparison right now.
A big thanks to TCL PR for sending over the device for this review.