Dec 4th, 2020

I’m sure by now. you’re pretty tired of hearing about 5G smartphones. We’ve been covering the technology for over 3 years already, but it’s only been around two years since the first 5G towers were switched on here in the US.

It took a while for the first 5G devices to hit the market, but the technology has finally come into its own in 2020 as prices have started to dramatically come down, delivering 5G in mid-range devices across the globe. That’s where the new TCL 10 5G comes in: the best budget-friendly 5G smartphone money can buy.

TCL 10 5G UW specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 765
  • Display: 6.53-inches, FH+ resolution, LTPS-IPS panel
  • Rear cameras: 48MP (main) + 8MP (ultrawide) + 5MP (macro)
  • Front-facing camera: 16MP
  • Storage: 128GB ROM, microSD card slot
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Battery: 4500 mAh, 18W Quick Charge
  • Price: $400 (from Verizon)

Design

Since I used “5G” in the into at least five times, I’ll do my best to limit its use in the rest of this review, But that may prove a bit tricky since 5G is built into the phone’s name. TCL has been making a big push into the mid-range and budget smartphone segment this year, slowly carving out a place for itself among the already-established brands that have controlled the space in the past.

TCL’s 10 series smartphones have been all over the place when comes to design and build materials. The TCL 10 5G is a mix between the TCL 10 Pro and the TCL 10L, featuring a polycarbonate frame with a rear glass panel. This may not sound much different than a lot of other mid-range smartphones released in 2020, but the unique diamond pattern below the glass allows light to refract in different colors. It’s a nice touch that allows the phone to stand out.

TCL 10L Review: Great design held back by the software

Other than that, the body of the phone is pretty plain, featuring a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor below the triple-camera module on the back of the phone, a mono speaker and USB C charging port along the bottom edge, a 3.5mm headphone jack up top and a hole-punch cutout in the display for the front-facing camera.

The phone is a bit thicker and heavier than what you’d expect, but that extra heft is due to the phone’s 4,500mAh battery that I’ll touch on later on.

Performance & Software

If you haven’t been paying attention to mid-range smartphones in 2020, you’ve been missing out. There are quite a few forgettable smartphones in the $300 to $500 price range, but the TCL 10 5G UW certainly isn’t one of them.

Like all other devices powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 chipset, this phone delivers an exceptional user experience on Android 10. For some, 6GB of RAM isn’t quite enough for intense multitasking, but it’s more than enough to keep nearly a dozen apps in memory so that you’re not twiddling your thumbs waiting for apps or games to load all the time.

Even though it’s a mid-range chipset, the Snapdragon 765 is more than capable of delivering a smooth gaming experience even on some of the most demanding games Android has to offer. It falls short of being able to max out frame rates at the highest graphical settings on games like Fortnite or PUBG, but you’ll still be able to achieve a great experience by bumping the settings back one notch.

Since the TCL 10 5G UW highlights the phone’s 5G capabilities in the name, that’s definitely something worth mentioning. As of right now, the UW (or mmWave) aspect of Verizon’s 5G network is still hard to come by unless you live or work inside a large city. If that’s you, this phone will manage to get gigabit download speeds if you’re within eyesight of an ultra-wideband tower.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, when the 5G logo pops up in the status bar, the device is only connected to Verizon’s sub-6 5G network. As of late 2020, there’s really no noticeable difference in speeds when comparing sub-6 5G speeds on Verizon to its LTE network. That being said, Verizon will be expanding its UW coverage significantly in 2021 and will be rolling out speed improvements to its sub-6 network as well, so the TCL 10 5G UW’s performance will only get better over time.

On the software front, the TCL still needs to put in a bit more work to polish the UI. While there are a lot of customization options, the interface looks dated.

The phone also comes with at least 18 pre-installed apps. This is a Verizon phone, there are six different Verizon apps that you’ll likely never use, a suite of Yahoo apps and half a dozen games as well. The good news is that, besides the Verizon apps, all the other bloatware can be removed from the phone to clear up the internal storage for apps that you’ll actually use.

Display

Since TCL is mainly known for its TVs, it’s not surprising that the company is making a big deal about the in-house display it’s using on its 2020 smartphone lineup.

It would have been nice if TCL would have given the phone an OLED display, but the IPS panel they’re using for the 10 5G is quite nice. The FHD+ resolution delivers clear and sharp images with greater viewing angles. The display’s 450 nits of peak brightness is enough to keep it from washing out completely when the phone while outdoors, but you will struggle a bit to see it in direct sunlight.

The panel also supports HDR and TCL’s NXTVision display options allow the phone to convert SDR content to HDR, enhancing then with more depth and clarity. The feature works great for older shows or movies on Netflix and other streaming services.

While it’s not directly related to the display, the phone also sports a Super Bluetooth mode that allows you to stream audio to four Bluetooth headphones or speakers simultaneously, a feature that definitely comes in handy if you’re watching something with a friend or want to blast your music throughout the house on all your Bluetooth speakers.

Cameras

If all you’re doing is looking at the spec sheet, this phone may seem like it has a downgraded camera, even when compared to the cheaper TCL 10L. That’s right, the 10 5G only has three cameras on the back. What a disappointment, right?

Not at all. The triple camera setup here does drops the depth sensor found on the TCL 10 Pro and 10L, but its absence isn’t missed at all since it still manages to capture decent portrait shots without it. In fact, I’d encourage TCL (and most other manufacturers) to drop the macro cameras from their camera modules since no one really cares about them and the results are always lackluster.

TCL’s camera app needs a bit of polish, but the sheer number of options and settings is commendable. TCL’s also thrown in a Pro mode, giving you full control of the camera’s exposure, shutter speed, ISO and more.

The main 48MP camera, which captured 12MP Pixel-binned images by default, isn’t going to win any photography award, but the results are consistent with sharp images and a decent amount of dynamic range.

As you’d expect from a phone at this price point, low light performance does suffer quite a bit, but the dedicated Super Night mode does help significantly. Switching the feature on allowing the phone to capture multiple long exposures that then get stitched together to deliver a brighter and more vibrant shot and even works wonders during the day if you’re shooting against the sun and want to brighten up the shadows on your subject’s face. Just make sure you have a steady hand and you’re subject isn’t moving around too much so that you avoid any motion blur.

The 8MP ultrawide camera is a great addition as well, capturing great photos, just as long as the lighting is right. The sensor use for the camera isn’t quite as sensitive as the main one, blowing out highlights is the scene is too bright and delivering grainy shots once the sun goes below the horizon.

When reviewing mid0range devices, the front-facing camera is usually disappointing, but that wasn’t the case with the TCL 10 5G UW. The 16MP sensor performed a lot better than I was expecting, delivering crisp shots even in challenging lighting conditions. 

Battery Life

As mentioned earlier, the phone is a bit thinker than what you’d expect due to its 4,500mAh battery, a feature that makes the TCL 10 5G UW truly shine. While using the phone, I was never once concerned about it running out of power. On heavy-use days, I was always left with at least a 30% charge after 14 hours of use with 6-7 hours of screen-on time.

If you don’t spend hours playing games or constantly scroll your social network feeds all day, the TCL 10 5G UW will easily get you through to full days on a single charge.

To charge the battery, TCL used 18W Quick Charge 3.0. This will replenish the battery from 0% to 50% in 30 minutes, but a full charge will take about an hour and 20 minutes.

Final thoughts

TCL still has a ways to go if it wants to compete with the major players in the smartphone segment, but the TCL 10 5G UW proves that the company is on the right track. The phone hits all the right notes for a mid-range smartphone while undercutting the competition on price, making the TCL 10 5G UW the best budget-friendly 5G smartphone we’ve tested in 2020.

TCL 10 5G UW Rating: star_emptystar_25star_50star_75star_full (4.2 / 5)

The Good

  • Incredible value
  • Great battery life
  • Solid performance
  • Good cameras for a mid-range smartphone

The Bad

  • The display could be brighter
  • Excessive bloatware
  • The software needs some work

The Bottom Line

If you’ve been itching to get a 5G smartphone, the TCL 10 5G UW hits it out of the park when it comes to overall value and performance when compared to other mid-range smartphones.

 

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