TCL Technology is the company most folks associate with making decent low-cost televisions. In the mobile space they’ve been operating under the Alcatel and BlackBerry Mobile brands for a few years but they are in the midst of launching their own branded devices, beginning with the TCL 10 series. In support of that launch, TCL has provided us with the $450 TCL 10 Pro for review. In keeping with recent second round reviews, like the LG V60 that I reviewed a month back, I’m going to change the format I normally use for device reviews and divide the review up into two sections; highlights and lowlights. I hope you enjoy.
Design: I’m going to start off on a very high note and say that the physical design of this phone is the best that I’ve used in a very long time. There’s the perfect balance of size and heft. There’s the glass front and back which, despite all of the recent hate on glass phones in the tech blogosphere, I still enjoy. The back is frosted matte glass and the cameras (there are four of them) are flush. The phone looks like it belongs on the OnePlus Pro series or the Galaxy S line and when you consider the weight of it it’s almost perfect. I’d put it right up there with the HTC M8 and the Moto X 2nd Gen Leather as one of my favorite hand-feel phones of all time.
Performance: I was a little unsure of how this phone would keep up. I’ve been using the SD 855 OnePlus 7 Pro and the SD 865 LG V60 for a while and I was afraid the TCL 10 Pro’s SD 675 would be an obvious weakness. I was wrong. There’s virtually no difference in day-to-day use between the three. TCL did a good thing when it loaded the 10 Pro with 6 GB RAM and 128 GB UFS 2.1 storage. I could definitely use this phone everyday with no worries. Everyone that I let use the device was impressed by its speed and smooth operation. The TCL 10 Pro has really caused me to question whether my next phone needs to be a “flagship” one or if the modern 6XX and 7XX SnapDragon phones will fit my needs.
Display: If performance was my primary concern, then the display was my secondary one. I’ve grown quite accustomed to using good to very good OLED screens and, though I knew the TCL 10 Pro used a TCL-made OLED, I was unsure how good it would look. Too well I remember the early LG OLEDs (I’m looking at you Pixel 2XL). To my delight, 6.47″ the screen on the TCL 10 Pro is gorgeous. It’s vibrant and looks great to my eyes. The screen scupports HDR10 and is Netflix certified. TCL pushes their NXTVISION display engine as a difference maker and I did enjoy the way it made the colors on the screen pop. It can be disabled, however, if you like things a little more true to life. There is a small camera notch at the top-center of the screen though it never bothered me. The only feature missing is a high refresh rate but at $450 I can’t find any fault in this display.
Battery Life: The TCL 10 Pro impresses again with battery longevity. The phone has a 4,500 mAh battery which combined with the efficient SD 675 and OLED display means that I could never kill this battery in a day’s use. I would routinely finish the day with 30-40% battery left over. That’s unheard of for me. The phone supports QC 3.0 at 18W. There’s no wireless charging but that’s no loss for me.
Software: The software load on the TCL 10 Pro is quite good. The phone ships with Android 10 and bi-monthly security patches and an Android 11 upgrade are promised. We’ll see how that plays out and I’d like to see two version level upgrades but it’s hard to complain too much at $450. The TCL UI skin is good. It’s not a radical departure from standard Android. It has the launcher news feed, can be customized to have an app drawer or no, supports multiple app drawer configurations, and (one of my favorite features) shows the brightness slider on the first swipe down of the notification tray.
Smart Key: The left side of the phone has what TCL calls a Smart Key, At first I thought it was just another Google Assistant button that I’d never use. I was wrong. I love this thing. It can be configure to launch just about any app or activity via single, double, or long press. I set it up to switch to silent mode with a double press and take a screenshot with a long one. I initially had the single press set to flashlight but I found it got activated too often by mistake. I’ve got to give TCL a big thumbs up here.
Fingerprint Reader: The TCL 10 Pro has an in-display fingerprint reader that works quite well. It isn’t as fast as the readers I’ve used on the OnePlus 7 Pro or LG V60 but it is as accurate. I rarely found myself having to retry the reader. Speed and accuracy are the goal but I’ll take accuracy over speed if it comes down to it.
Network Compatibility: This phone supports the major US networks, including T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and their MVNOs. I used the phone on Mint Mobile and Verizon and it worked great on each. It supports LTE bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 25, 26, 28, and 66.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows however. There are a few things about the TCL 10 Pro that will let you down.
Camera: The camera is not great. There are fours sensors on the rear (64 MP primary, 2 MP low-light, 16 MP wide-angle, 5 MP macro) and one on front (24 MP). The sensors don’t seem to be the problem but rather the image processing. I took some videos of a baby playing in a room lit by both natural and artificial lights and it just came out horrible. The baby looked like a plastic doll, as if some sort of beauty filter was turned on. Oh, and by default the camera throws a TCL watermark on every photo. That’s unacceptable. It can be disabled but it shouldn’t even be a concern. The camera is the primary concern I have with the TCL 10 Pro.
You can see what I mean about the quality in the photos below that I took outside my home in the middle of the day under Florida sunlight. The first photo is from the standard camera. It’s OK, but the top of the tree is blurry and the clouds are a bit muddy. The second photo is the macro shot and I think it’s the best ont. The final picture is the macro lense. It’s nice that it shows more, but the detail is lost. Check out how blurry and muddled the porch overhang looks. You can imagine that indoor photography wouldn’t fare much better.
Gesture Navigation: The TCL launcher is fine but I am used to loading my preferred launcher on my devices (I use Niagara; it’s the best). While it is simple enough to change launchers on the TCL 10 Pro doing so disables gesture navigation. And not just in a way that forces you to re-enable it. You cannot use gestures with a third party launcher. This is a real bummer and requests for comment from TCL marketing went unanswered. Because I can’t stand having to use the navigation buttons I reverted to the TCL UI launcher and grew to like it – but I wasn’t happy about it.
SIM Tray: This might seem petty at first glance but the SIM tray on the TCL 10 Pro requires a really long extractor. Seriously, none of the other SIM extractors I have lying around the house would work. Of course, TCL includes an appropriately sized one in the box but if you lose that or are somewhere without it you could be out of luck.
Speaker: I’m of two minds here. First, the speaker is quite loud and sounds decent. That’s important to me as my wife and I listen to the Bible daily and I listen to a lot of podcasts on loudspeaker. I also took advantage of the high volume this think can pump out when driving and navigating while my wife was using the car’s Bluetooth capabilities on her own phone for something else.
Delayed Notification: I have one app, Okta Verify, that I use to login to my day job’s network and one of the features it uses is a push notification for authorizing access. When using the TCL 10 Pro, this push was always minutes late forcing me to open the app and manually approve my access. I checked every setting I could find around app sleeping and tombstoning as well as all of the battery optimization and notification settings and I could never resolve this issue. I’m reluctant to lay this at the feet of TCL but I’ve used this app on devices from Google, OnePlus, LG, BlackBerry, and more without a single problem. And as soon as I moved back to my OnePlus 7 Pro things worked as expected.
Dual SIM: I really wish this phone supported two SIMs. It seems like the perfect phone for it. To use the TCL 10 Pro I’m forced to carry two phones since I have a personal line and a work one.
3.5 MM Jack: I’m pretty much over the need for a 3.5 mm headphone jack but if this matters to you it is nice that it’s here.
IR Blaster: I was pretty excited to see an IR blaster listed on the spec sheet of the TCL 10 Pro. I guess it’s only natural seeing that TCL is known for their TVs but in the end I didn’t really use it. The software couldn’t locate my TV model and I soon forgot about it. It might work better for you, depending on the hardware you want to control.
I loved using the TCL 10 Pro. For $450 I don’t know that you’ll find a better Android phone. The camera isn’t great but the screen is and as a whole package it’s an excellent and compelling product. You can pick one up at Amazon, Best Buy, or Walmart unlocked for $450. Unless you need the highest of high specced phones, the TCL 10 Pro will not disappoint.
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 675|
|Internal Storage||128 GB, UFS 2.1|
|microSD Support||Yes, up to 256 GB|
|OS||Android 10, March 2020|
|Display||6.47 inches AMOLED, 2340x1080, 398 PPI|
|Main Camera||64/16/5/2 MP with dual LED flash|
|Front Camera||24 MP|
|Fingerprint Sensor||Yes, In Display|
|Preloaded Software||Calculator, Camera, Clock,|
Compass, File Share,
Gallery, Music, Notes,
Radio, Settings, Smart
Manager, Video, Netflix, Facebook