TCL’s timing couldn’t be better. In a world where premium smartphone sales are slumping, the company best known for affordable 4K TVs is turning its attention to much smaller displays at prices that make the OnePlus 7T Pro and Galaxy S10e look downright expensive. If it wasn’t for TCL’s glorious embrace of headphone jacks, in fact, you might confuse the company’s new phones for competing models costing four figures.
Of the three new TCL phones, only two of them—the 10 Pro and the 10L—are coming to the U.S. at launch. The 10 5G “will be available in select regions around the world later this year,” though TCL does have plans to bring it to the U.S. “for under $500” by the fourth quarter of 2020.
The 10L and 10 Pro are hardly consolation prizes, however. While they don’t have the latest Snapdragon processor (settling instead for the 665 and 675, respectively), there’s still plenty of premium specs running through them:
Rear camera (quad): 64MP, f/1.8 main + 16MP, f/2.4 ultra-wide + 5MP, f/2.2 + 2MP, f/1.8 low light
Even before you flip them over to see the quad cameras, there’s no mistaking their premium feel. The 10 Pro’s display is more at home in a thousand-dollar phone than a $450 model, with a camera notch and an immersive curved edge-to-edge design with barely-there bezels. The display is more than a nice design: TCL leverages its “NVTVision” tech “to produce nearly accurate colors and enhanced image and video quality to produce nearly accurate colors and enhanced image and video quality.” It also means it’s Netflix-certified to stream HDR10 content. TCL calls it their “differentiator,” and it certainly made a strong impression during our time with it.
The glass extends to the back, where the 10 Pro comes in a classy matte green and black. You’ll also find a horizontal camera array embedded in a smooth glossy stripe. The setup is impressive, with a 64MP main camera, a massive 2.9-micrometer low-light cam, a macro camera, and a 123-degree ultra-wide-angle camera. We didn’t get a chance to test the camera, but it’s certainly an impressive array for a $450 smartphone.
The phone is a little chunky, but it has a nice premium feel. It’s the only one of the three to feature an in-display fingerprint sensor (the 10L and 10 5G have rear-mounted square sensors), and the whole package definitely belies its $450 price tag. This model also supports “Super Bluetooth,” which lets you connect up to four devices simultaneously. At first blush, the Android 10-based TCL UI is a good, clean effort as well, but we’ll need to spend a lot more time with it before we see how it stands up.
Attacking the low end of the spectrum
The 10L is no slouch either. The display is a flat LCD instead of curved OLED and it’s got a hole-punch camera instead of a notch. But it’s also powered by the same NXTVision color accuracy engine that’s in the Pro. It’s also got a quad-camera—with a very pronounced bump—that marries a 48MP main camera with an 8MP ultra-wide, and 2MP macro and depth lenses. The back on the 10L is made of white or blue plastic rather than glass and the camera has an actual bump, but it’s still a solid phone, especially for $250.
The 5G model is kind of like a cross between the 10L and 10 Pro. The front is the same 6.53-inch LCD as the 10L, but the back has the glass and camera array of the 10 Pro. In fact, the cameras are nearly identical, with only the difference being the 8MP ultra-wide camera.
Of course, 5G is the selling point here, and TCL is one of the first smartphone makers to use Qualcomm’s first processor with an integrated modem, the Snapdragon 765 with the X52 modem, which supports both mmWave and sub-6Ghz spectrums, albeit at lower speeds than the higher-end X55 modem. But the integrated design should help with power consumption, and with a 4,500 battery, the 10 5G should be one of the longest-lasting 5G phones you can buy this year. It’ll also surely be one of the cheapest. While U.S. pricing hasn’t been revealed yet, TCL has priced it at €399 in Europe, which is downright budget pricing for a phone with 5G.
If this is any indication of how the more affordable Snapdragon 765 processor will impact 5G smartphones, the future is incredibly bright. While more bezel-rich than the 10 Pro and a bit heavier at 210 grams (versus 177 grams), the TCL 10 5G is a very attractive mid-range smartphone with nice specs and an impressive display in a very affordable package. And in a world where thousand-dollar smartphones seem like a luxury fewer people are willing to buy, they just might be the right phones at the right time.
Ben Patterson contributed to this report.
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Michael Simon has been covering Apple since the iPod was the iWalk. His obsession with technology goes back to his first PC—the IBM Thinkpad with the lift-up keyboard for swapping out the drive. He's still waiting for that to come back in style tbh.