Aug 19th, 2021 publishUpdated   Sep 11th, 2021, 9:18 am

Last year saw TCL enter the smartphone market with the TCL 10 line of devices. Fast forward to this year, and the company is back again, attempting to learn from its shortcomings and mistakes from last year and implementing changes this time around. Today, we’re looking at the cheapest option in the TCL 20 series of phones with the TCL 20 SE.

TCL 20 SE Specs

  • Display: 6.82-inches, HD+, LCD
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 460
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Battery: 5000 mAh
  • Rear cameras: 48MP (wide), 5MP (ultrawide), 2MP (macro), 2MP (depth)
  • Selfie camera: 13MP
  • Other: 3.5mm headphone jack, IR sensor, expandable storage (up to 256GB), rear fingerprint scanner
  • Price: $189

TCL 20 SE Review: Design and Display

Surprisingly, of all the TCL 20 phones in the lineup, the TCL 20 SE is not only the cheapest, but it also sports the largest display. The 20 SE uses a 6.82-inch HD+ panel, with your traditional 60Hz refresh rate, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given its price point.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that this HD+, LCD panel is bad. The screen itself is actually much better than I anticipated, looking refreshingly clean with solid viewing angles. There is a U-notch cutout at the top, which may be annoying to some, but it’s still better than the iPhone’s notch. And in fact, I kind of prefer this to the hole-punch cutout found in many phones.

Keeping with the display, it wouldn’t be a TCL phone if there wasn’t the company’s NXTVISION technology baked in. This does a pretty great job at upscaling content, so it looks even crisper than the display actually allows for. The 20 SE shows that TCL has come a long way from last year’s TCL 10-series as those displays were not nearly as nice as this one.

As for the design, there’s really not much to write home about here. The body and frame are made of plastic, with the back of the phone offering a shiny finish that looks great. That is, provided that you either use the included clear case or make sure you wipe it clean every few hours.

Also on the back, there’s a unique strip on the left side that has TCL’s branding at the bottom, and really only acts as an accent to the design. Considering the budget pricing, there’s no in-display fingerprint scanner. Instead, TCL opted for a rear-mounted one, and it’s just as responsive as you would hope. This is definitely the way to go for many phone makers, but I do wish more phones would ship with a scanner embedded in the power button.

One nice touch that TCL included this year is a dedicated Google Assistant button. It’s placed on the left side of the phone, opposite the Power and Volume buttons, which are placed on the right. The Assistant button is pretty snappy and responsive and is a great way for you to get Google’s help with something if you don’t want to just use your voice.

TCL 20 SE Review: Power and Performance

Just to be clear, the 20 SE is not going to be some productivity powerhouse. It’s making use of the Snapdragon 460 SoC and is paired with only 4GB of RAM. That’s a bit disappointing, but with a sub-$200 price, this is pretty much what you get.

For the most part, the TCL 20 SE handled just about everything that I threw at it, even if there was a whole lot of lagging and stuttering when trying to switch between apps. TCL’s Android skin is already pretty slim as it is, but the company might be better served going the Motorola route, at least for its entry-level options in the future.

And if you’re a numbers nerd who loves benchmarks, here you go:

  • Geekbench:
    • CPU (single-core): 255
    • CPU (multi-core): 1259
    • Geekbench Compute: 265
  • PCMark Performance: 5742

You can see from the Geekbench results alone that the TCL 20 SE is not designed for much more than making phone calls and using some apps. The Snapdragon 460 is more than a year and a half old at this point, being released in January of last year. TCL might have been better served with opting for something else, but this is what we ended up with.

TCL 20 SE Review: Cameras

Another budget phone means another spec-sheet that has been stuffed. The TCL 20 SE sports a quad-camera array on the back with a primary 48MP lens, and that’s the only one that you should use. The 16MP ultra-wide is serviceable but still isn’t the greatest even in the price bracket.

Meanwhile, we have another case of spec-sheet stuff with the “tried and true” 2MP macro and 2MP depth sensors. It probably costs companies like TCL more to make the room in the design than it does for actually purchasing the sensors themselves. And at this rate, the money saved for the design and the sensors could have been put to better use.

Overall, the cameras are just as disappointing as you would expect, coming from a phone in this price bracket. There’s hope from other phones in the sub-$200 market, and it will perform admirably if you have perfect lighting conditions, but that’s about it.

TCL 20 SE Review: Battery life

For as frustrating as performance is with the TCL 20 SE and its Snapdragon 460, battery life almost makes up for it. In my time with the device, this thing just wouldn’t die. It wasn’t until I ran some benchmarks and just left it alone before it would actually give up the ghost.

Speaking of which, in the PCMark Battery Benchmark test, the 20 SE lasted for a whopping 17 hours and 15 minutes. For reference, that’s the longest battery benchmark that we’ve seen all year, even out-lasting the impressive 16+ hours of battery life from the OnePlus Nord N200. The only downside to the battery on the 20 SE is the lack of fast charging. You’re stuck with 18W, which really isn’t a great combination with the massive 5,000mAh cell.

Seriously, if TCL could have used just a slightly better processor and upped the charging speeds a bit, there’s no doubt that this would be a candidate for phone of the year.

Should you buy the TCL 20 SE?

The TCL 20 SE is a confusing device. On one hand, it offers a great display, NXTVISION does a great job at upscaling content, and it’s an absolute machine that just keeps going for days.

On the other hand, the quad-camera array is a major disappointment, but not as disappointing as the performance. TCL came into creating the 20 SE with the goal of hitting the $189 price point, and it did just that. But the only reason why we could really recommend this is because of the battery life.

The sub-$200 market is pretty competitive, with options like the Moto G Fast, Galaxy A12, and Nokia 2.4. But if you cast a little bit wider of a net, you can get the OnePlus Nord N200 for around $240 (without deals). TCL is definitely trending in the right direction, we just think that you might be better served if you want a phone for under $200.

TCL 20 SE Rating: star_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_emptystar_empty (3.0 / 5)

The Good

  • Display is nice and bright
  • Dedicated Google Assistant button
  • Expandable storage
  • Incredible battery life

The Bad

  • Speakers quality isn’t great
  • There are better options in this price bracket
  • Quad-camera array is spec-sheet stuffer

The Bottom Line

If you want a cheap phone with fantastic battery life, a huge display, and expandable storage, then the TCL 20 SE is the way to go.

 

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