These days more and more manufacturers are getting into the smartphone business to help with competition and bring pricing down.
The company TCL you may have heard of before, mainly because they are the company that took over the BlackBerry name and created a few smartphones over the years, they are also big in the TV industry.
However the company have their own range of smartphones to consider, and three new ones have recently been announced of which this is a review of the entry model.
This is my first ever hands on a TCL device away from the event halls at IFA where I had a brief hands on with some older models, and having covered quite a few recent phones over the last month or so, I was interested in what TCL could bring to the table.
Before I get started in the main part of the review, my usual disclaimer.
TCL offered to loan me the TCL 10L on a loan basis of which I used for around two weeks of that time.
No offer of a device or money was given and no one has had prior viewing of this review ahead of publishing, all thoughts are my own based on my review hands on time.
These days making your phone look different from the rest of the market and to stand out from the rest is a hard job, gone are the days where nearly every phone looked different, especially on the front where we now just get a large piece of glass with a camera cutout.
Looking up top of the screen you have the single selfie camera which has a 16 megapixel lens and can record video in 1080p at 30 frames per second, a bit more on that later in the review.
Something that does make me giggle is the fact TCL call the cutout for the camera a ‘dotch’ instead of ‘notch’ that other phones had, this dates back to their older phones I saw at IFA last year too.
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.
There is an option for NXTVISION Which boosts content into HDR from SDR and improve ‘Visual Enhancement’ Which helps make colours stand out more, you may notice a strange flicker effect when scrolling content as I did when this is switched on so had it off most of the time.
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 voice calls were good quality and loudness even when using out by a busy road.
Up top you have one of the microphones which is used for voice calls and also for capturing stereo audio when in video recording mode, you also have a rarity these days in a 3.5mm headphone jack for using wired headphones.
Down the bottom you have the dual loudspeaker which is very loud when watching back video content or music, unfortunately quality was lacking and output sounded poor when at maximum volume when comepared to some other phones .
There is a USB-C port used for data transfer and of course charging, however nothing fancy with no wireless charging and no fast charging, just standard normal charging via the supplied cable.
Over on the left hand side you get the sim slot where once you pop a pin in you get a dual SIM option or single sim with MicroSD memory card if you prefer.
Both SIM slots run on 4G if you prefer and in testing I managed to get good signal on using a mix of EE, Three UK and Vodafone UK.
Also on the left is where you find a dedicated shortcut key you can set different functions for a single press, long press or double press.
Over on the right you have the usual volume up and down buttons with the power button just below.
Over on the back you have a quad camera setup, with an LED flash either side of the lenses to give a more spaced out approach of improving the lighting in your photos.
Below you get the fingerprint reader used for unlocking the phone and it feels really fast and accurate, especially considering some of the more recent in display ones which can be hit and miss.
The back of the phone looks great on the white model I was sent, the mix of white glass with silver outlines around the camera and fingerprint sensor looks really nice.
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 10L comes with Android 10 out of the box as you would expect, and there was a software update of over 500mb to do first thing, however it was concerning to see that even after this update the device was only on a January security update, and we are now in May
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.
Performance is decent considering the asking price, you get a Snapdragon 665 processor with 6GB of RAM to keep everything going , and even when it came to gaming I was able to play the likes of Pokemon Go, Call of Duty and PUBG with no problems, it even kicked into a special Gaming Mode to make sure everything was as optimised as possible.
The biggest software stutter I had was when I was recording on the rear camera and it looks liked to be missing frames at times and jumping around, however on the final footage this didn’t seem to show.
With networking support you get 4G+ with Cat13 speeds allowing 400Mbps download and 75Mbps upload, in my area it is EE that offer the best speeds, and in testing I was able to get speeds of 60Mbps which will be fast enough for most people to download the games and content they want when away from WiFi.
Networking results will vary depending on location, network and other factors so this was just an example of what you could get.
With 6GB or RAM and 64GB of built in storage, this you get enough performance and storage for most situations, you can of course expand either via online storage such as Google Drive, or use a physical MicroSD memory card if you don’t want to use the dual SIM feature.
With nothing running the background out of the 6GB of RAM I had 2.85GB available for all my multi taking and loading of apps, apart from the slight stutter in the video recording app mentioned, everything else was more than adequate.
Battery performance is also was good thanks to the large 4000mAh battery included, but as mentioned before there was no fast charging or wireless charging to be had in this model.
Using both SIM card slots for dual SIM support and using the device for my normal day of use I was able to get through a day if use just about, however I did find I needed to push the backlight all the way up when outdoors to be able to see the screen, a drawback of the screen technology.
For a phone at this price there has to be some sacrifices made in performance against the TCL 10 Pro and it was the processor that ended up being one of the key areas to hold back on to get at this price point.
Of course it is more than capable for most things, just don’t expect it to be a a top performer when multi-tasking heavy apps.
You also get an IR blaster for controlling things such as your TV or Air Conditioner if you are lucky enough to have one, although I did not set this up on my device, I can see why it might be handy to have for some people who always lose their TV remote.
The TCL 10L comes with a quad camera setup over on the back which for a £199 phone is pretty impressive if you ask me.
Selfie camera first, the 10L comes with a 16 megapixel lens facing you for those selfies or video conferencing we are all doing more of during this lockdown period.
Quality is decent for general use, and of course no one takes selfies to print off on a poster for your wall anyway, so for what it was intended for quality is fine, you even get the option for portrait selfies if you wanted to get a bit adventurous.
When it comes to recording video on the selfie side you have a top resolution of 1080p at 30 frames per second which is pretty much normal for a phone of this price, you do get EIS to help keep things stable which helps when out and about.
On the back you have a quad camera setup which as I mentioned before, is very impressive for a £199 phone and quality was actually good which surprised me.
The main sensor is 48 megapixels which a lot of companies are using on phones these days and takes some decent images if the lighting is just right.
You also get a wide angle at 8 megapixels for when you need to get a bit more info your photo such as a landscape photo, however the lower resolution and aperture means the photo is also darker so take this into account before switching to this camera.
Finally you have a set of 2 megapixel lenses which are used for depth information as well as macro, and there is a super macro mode in the camera options.
Macro photos really did impress me, although a low resolution output due to being 2 megapixel, it was ok for posting on apps like Instagram or Twitter.
Portrait photos are decent thanks to having the different cameras over on the back to pull together and get a good quality photo, again fine for social media use where most people will show off their photos.
When it comes to video the 10L can record 4K at 30 frames per second from the main camera which also supports zooming if you need.
You also get the option to record video from the wide angle camera, although when switching between the two, I noticed the wide angle was much darker so you need really good light if going wide angle, just like you need too if taking a photo on this camera.
Overall quality was good for most situations, and again coming back to the £199 price, seems to be one of the better devices out there, especially for macro photos.
Software for the camera is pretty much the same you find on any main Android phone these days with a swipe gesture switching between all the different modes.
The Super Macro mode kicks in the macro camera for those close up shots and as said before, the quality for sharing is actually pretty good with the 10L capturing a lot of detail still even close up, just make sure you have good lighting.
Speaking of needing good lighting, there is a night mode on this phone which is not found in the options, however can be switched on in Auto when the lighting is below normal.
If you are someone who takes a lot of night photos then this won’t be the phone for you, the quality drops quote a bit when in less than ideal lighting as you can see below.
Let’s get the price out if the way again as it is a key point to the 10L, TCL are asking just £199 unlocked for this device, and with that you are getting a great smartphone for your money.
Whilst the screen might lack AMOLED and look a bit washed out at times, the large size is great for gaming and multimedia, plus does not have a huge impact on battery life.
The TCL 10L looks great and some would argue it looks more expensive than it actually is, and that is a big plus point to the design team.
Performance was decent for this price with quad camera setup, large battery and dual SIM 4G allowing you to use for both work and personal at the same time, something not often found at this price range, it also means it is a great option for anyone who likes to travel.
There are a few handy little tricks such as the dedicated shortcut key that has 3 levels of customisation, and I found this very handy to setup for example a quick press for Google Assistant, a double press for the flashlight, and finally a long press to load the camera.
The software TCL UI cuts back on a lot of customisation making it more of a stock experience, with a few of their own apps thrown in to help you get the most out of your device.
The cameras were very good when you look at the price tag, the macro shooter although only 2 megapixel did a great job at details on close up photos, and it was nice to have an ultra wide camera included for those group photos even if they did turn out a little dark.
If you had £200 to spend on a smartphone right now there are a lot of options out there from the likes of Motorola and Huawei, and even though you may not have heard of TCL, their 10L is worth a look at especially if you are after a dual SIM phone with good cameras and decent battery life.
Thank you to TCL UK who sent the review device out for me to be able to cover in a review.