Jun 5th, 2020

As technology gets better and better, prices typically tend to come down. Over the past few years, we’ve seen high-end features that were reserved for flagship-tier smartphones slowly make their way into the mid-range segment which has previously included smartphones you would only buy if you simply couldn’t afford the best of the best. These days, mid-range smartphones are more than capable of delivering a stellar user experience and give the average user everything they’re looking for in a new device. The TCL 10 Pro seems to check all the right boxes, offering a stunning design, decent performance, and a quad-camera array which could make it one of the best devices you can currently buy for $450.

There’s a good chance that you’re familiar with the TCL name already thanks to the company’s huge presence in the TV space. They build some of the best 4K TV’s around and it doesn’t hurt that its prices are about half of what Samsung and Sony are charging these days. But TCL’s been in the smartphone game for quite some time, most notably with their Alcatel brand, but its also responsible for the Blackberry and Palm phones that have resurfaced these past few years. With the company looking to grow its business and compete with the likes of Samsung, Sony, and LG, TCL decided last year to finally put its name on its phones and become a more prominent player in the space.

TCL 10 Pro specifications

  • 6.47-inch 1080 x 2340 AMOLED display
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 675
  • 6GB of RAM
  • 128GB of storage & microSD card slot
  • Quad cameras: 64MP (main), 16MP 13mm (ultrawide) 5MP (macro) 2MP (2.9μm pixels for super low light video)
  • Selfie camera: 24 MP
  • 4500 mAh battery
  • 18W Quick Charge 3.0

Design

When taking the TCL 10 Pro out of the box, the first thing you’ll notice is that this phone isn’t your usual $450 smartphone. TCL has put a lot of time and effort into making this device look and feel like you’ve just paid a lot more for the phone than you actually did.

The 10 Pro uses the same tried-and-true curved glass and metal body as most flagship devices, something that you rarely see in this price range. Now, the use of curved 2.5D glass on the front of mid-range smartphones is quite prevalent, but TCL has opted to bring its curved AMOLED display to the game, giving you the same edge-to-edge display experience we’ve come to enjoy on high-end phones from Samsung, Huawei, and OnePlus. I’ll touch more on that a bit later.

The back of the phone houses the phone’s quad-camera setup in a straight line across the top, but unlike most devices, these days, the lenses of the cameras sit flush with the rear glass. This subtle design variation is revolutionary when compared to so many other devices we’ve seen over the past few years with massive camera bumps on the back of the phone that designers try to use to help give their phones a unique look. The TCL 10 Pro has none of that, except for the slightly raised flash modules on each side of the cameras that help protect the glass in front of the camera lenses from scratching when you lay the phone on a flat surface.

Other than that, you get a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top, next to an IR blaster, power, and volume buttons on the right edge and a programmable key on the left side, something I wish every smartphone had.

Display & Audio

Since most people know TCL for its TVs, the company is using its display technology to stand out in the mid-range smartphone segment. You’ll find TCL’s “Display Greatness” slogan printed on the included rubber bumper case and you’ll also be asked to turn on TCL’s NXT Vision display profile during the setup process. This increases sharpness and contrast while enhancing dark scenes in videos to make them more visible. Personally, I’m not a huge fan, but if you like a more dramatic look to your content, it’s an option for you.

There’s no denying that TCL makes great displays and the panel used on the 10 Pro is phenomenal. While it may only offer FHD+ resolution, it delivers 986 nits of brightness, making it a pleasure to use even in direct sunlight. TCL’s thrown in a dedicated display engine to help with the display’s HDR10 capabilities which also allow it to convert SDR content on the fly to HDR. This option is only available when the NXT Vision enhancements are turned on, so you can’t have one without the other. The results are a mixed bag depending on the content you’re watching, but the feature does help brighten up darker scenes in movies and TV shows, bringing more detail to light. 

TCL also deserves credit for delivering a curved AMOLED display in a phone this cheap since we typically only see these panels on high-end devices. That being said, TCL still has a lot of work to do to improve palm rejection, something Samsung has gotten really good at over the years. Personally, I would have preferred a flat display since it keeps glare to a minimum and doesn’t add any unnecessary complications. Of course, that’s a personal preference as I know there are quite a few Android users that love curved displays.

On the audio side, you’ll likely be pleased to hear that the TCL 10 Pro has a 3.5mm headphone jack. This means you’ll be able to listen to your music with your expensive headphones without needing an adapter.

If you’re into Bluetooth headphones, the TCL 10 Pro’s got you covered with the ability to connect up to 3 separate pairs of headphones simultaneously. This means you can listen to your favorite music or watch a movie with two other friends. A few other devices I’ve tested recently have been able to connect to two Bluetooth headphones at the same time, but this is the first time I’ve seen three.

The only disappointment on the audio front is the phone’s single mono speaker. It’s loud enough to be heard from across the room, but the audio fidelity isn’t great. If TCL would have included a second speaker for stereo audio, the phone’s overall multimedia experience would have been close to perfect.

Software & Performance

When it comes to using the phone, the TCL 10 Pro offers a well-rounded experience with respectable performance and customizable software that gives you a lot of control over the user interface.

The launcher is fairly simple with the Google Feed to the left of the main home screen and a versatile app drawer, by default, the app drawer organized applications by different categories, but you can rearrange then to be sorted by app name, label, how often the apps are used, installation date and by color if you want a fun and unique way to organize your apps. The UI is fast and fairly uncluttered with the Google Feed to the led of the main home screen (something I truly appreciate) and besides the usual suite of Google apps, the only third-party app pre-installed on the phone is Netflix.

One of my favorite features of the phone is the programmable Smart Key on the side. TCL allows you to program the key to do nearly anything you want on the phone with different actions allocated for a single, double, and long-press. You can use it to open the selfie camera, clear all your notifications, open split-screen mode, control the flashlight and much more. Unfortunately, the one thing missing is the ability to select a specific app to launch. This seems like an oversight or an attempt to get people using the edge bar which works in the same as Samsung’s, allowing you to create a dock on the side of the screen with your favorite apps and contacts. It’s a useful feature if you’re into that sort of thing, but I switched it off after a day or two.

Fingerprint sensors on mid-range phones have been quite common for the past few years, but the TCL 10 Pro is on a shortlist of devices in this category with an in-display sensor. While this works in its favor when simply looking at the spec sheet, the performance detracts from the overall experience. The quickest I’ve clocked it at is 0.4 seconds to unlock the phone, but it usually takes an extra 2-3 tenths of a second, making it feel like you’d misplaced your finger one the display somehow. Adding insult to injury, the fingerprint sensor failed to unlock the phone 10% of the time, forcing me to enter my PIN instead. After struggling with this for a few days, I opted to use the phone’s Face Unlock feature which is a lot faster and more reliable.

As you’d expect from a phone running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 (a mid-range chipset that was unveiled in October of 2018), the TCL 10 Pro isn’t going to be competing on the same level as the newer Snapdragon 765 that’ll power the TCL 10 5G coming later this summer. Depending on the benchmarks, the TCL 10 Pro’s performance is 30-40% lower than devices running the SD765, but it’s really hard to notice those differences unless you’re really pushing the device with video editing and rendering or gaming. That being said, there are still a few games that you won’t be able to enjoy with this phone. Call of Duty Mobile can be played with rendering detail or frame rate turned up to maximum. Unfortunately, the SD675 simply isn’t powerful enough to deliver a good gaming experience with Fortnite. Even with low graphic settings, you’ll only be able to average about 20fps which isn’t really playable.

For regular apps, the processor and the phone’s 6GB of RAM deliver quite an enjoyable experience. I didn’t notice any slowdown while browsing the web in Chrome, scrolling through my feeds on Instagram and Facebook, or even while multitasking between a few different messaging apps while playing a YouTube video at the bottom of the screen.

Cameras

When reviewing mid-range smartphones, there’s typically not much to talk about when going over the cameras. That’s not the case with the TCL 10 Pro since they slapped four different cameras on the back of the phone, including an ultra-low-light 2MP sensor that’s used to record video.

For its main camera, the phone uses a 64 MP sensor that delivers 16MP Pixel-binned images. The phone also includes a 16 MP  camera with a 13mm ultrawide lens and finally a 5MP macro camera. For the most part, images turn out great when snapping pictures outdoors or with great lighting. Unfortunately, TCL’s image processing has taken a few pages out of Samsung’s old playbook, dramatically oversharpening and bumping up the saturation a bit too much. The images look like they’ve been pre-edited to go on Instagram or Facebook which means you’ll have a hard time doing your own edits or achieving the look you want out of them.

The camera app does have a Pro Mode that will allow you to tweak the settings on your own, but it’s something the average user will likely never mess with, leading to a disappointing camera experience.

TCL does deserve credit for delivering the ultrawide camera which is my number one choice when manufacturers give you more than one camera on the back of the phone, but the 5MP macro and 2MP ultra-low-light video sensors don’t really make a lot of sense. The macro camera has no major flaws, but I can’t remember the last time I wanted to take a macro picture that I couldn’t capture with a smartphone camera’s main sensor. The ultra-low-light camera is actually quite impressive at brightening up a dark room or landscape, but it’s not a feature you can manually turn on. The camera app detects when it should be switched on, leaving you using the main camera for video in a lot of situations that would benefit from using the dedicated sensor.

For its front-facing camera, the 10 Pro uses a 24MP sensor. The results are decent if you’re taking pictures during the day, but they quickly turn into a smudgy mess if lighting conditions aren’t optimal.

Battery

While you might think that the phone’s 4500mAh and its mid-range SD675 process would deliver outstanding battery life, the TCL 10 Pro doesn’t offer the longevity you’d expect. In using the phone for over a week, I typically needed to plug the phone in after 12-14 hours with roughly a 10% charge remaining. That’s not horrible by any means, but it’s a few hours short of my expectations. This is likely tied to the SD675’s power efficiency which is a bit higher than it should be. Fortunately, the included Quick Charge 3.0 charger is able to deliver roughly a 50% charge in less than 30 minutes.

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, the TCL 10 Pro is a confusing device. It delivers a premium build and hardware features that we typically only see in flagship phones, but doesn’t necessarily execute on them well. But when compared to other phones within its category, the TCL 10 Pro is quite an appealing option. Its cameras may not nearly be as good as the Pixel 3a’s, but it delivers what you’d expect from most other $450 smartphones.

The issue is that the TCL 10 Pro has some impressive competitors in the mid-range segment, many that are packing even better hardware with flagship-tier chipsets, 8GB of RAM, and better battery life. One example is the ZTE Axon 10 Pro which is selling for $20 less than TCL’s new smartphone. If you’re looking to buy a new device for $450, the overall value is certainly a consideration you’ll be making. The TCL 10 Pro is a good option, but it’s certainly not the best.

Buy the TCL 10 Pro

 

TCL 10 Pro Rating: star_emptystar_25star_50star_75star_full (X.X / 5)

The Good

  • Design & build quality
  • Display
  • Software

The Bad

  • Battery life
  • Not the best value
  • Mediocre cameras

The Bottom Line

The TCL 10 Pro is a great buy if you love the software and the design. But if you’re looking for a good camera and better performance in the mid-range category, there are plenty of other options.

 

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