TCL 10L and 10 Pro Review: Great Value Mid-Range Android Smartphones for the US
The TCL 10L and TCL 10 Pro are the first phones as part of TCL’s major push into the US, Europe, and Australia. The TCL 10 Pro is a $450 mid-range phone with a good display and a good camera setup. The TCL 10L is a $250 phone with great cameras and a great display. Both phones are pretty good and pretty great value purchases.
TCL 10L and TCL 10 Pro Specifications
|Specifications||TCL 10L||TCL 10 Pro|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 665:
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 675:
|RAM & Storage||
Micro SD card, up to 256GB
Micro SD card, up to 256GB
|Battery & Charging||
|Front Cameras||16MP S5K3P9SP04, f/2.2, Single Hole Punch||24MP OV24B, f/2.0, Teardrop Notch|
|Android Version||TCL UI based on Android 10||TCL UI based on Android 10,
upgrade planned for Android 11 by FOTA
|Amazon May 19th, Walmart & Best Buy later this month
||Amazon May 19th, Walmart & Best Buy later this month
TCL provided both units for review purposes. However, they did not have any inputs on the contents of this review.
The hardware on the TCL 10 Pro is actually really interesting. The outside of the phone is really nice to hold. It also has a pretty nice build quality. It is the usual glass sandwich with an aluminum body. The front has a 6.47″ FHD+ AMOLED display. There is a small teardrop notch as well. Under the display is an in-display fingerprint scanner. It isn’t too fast or too accurate. It feels very similar to the sensor in the OnePlus 6T, meaning it is not that great in my experience.
The back of the phone is pretty unique. The rear has a matte gray gradient with a bar going through the top quarter of the phone. This bar houses the quad-camera and dual flash setup. This is a very distinct look on TCL’s current lineup, making them stand out from the recent “L”-shaped quad-camera layouts.
On the inside, we have Qualcomm Snapdragon 675, Adreno 612, 128GB of UFS 2.1 Storage, 6GB of LPDDR4x RAM, a 4,500 mAh battery, and a headphone jack. These specs might seem great for the $450 price tag, and I agree to some extent. I would have liked to see a Snapdragon 730 or 730G. It might not help now, but budget Android phones are known to get slower over time and with software updates, so having a little more speed headroom would have been nice, but for the price, I can’t complain. Even with the Snapdragon 675, it feels fast and snappy. The concern is just how long that will last.
That 4,500 mAh battery can be charged with 18W Quick Charge 3.0. This charging isn’t too fast by today’s standards but isn’t too slow. It tops it up in a little over an hour. As for battery life, this phone battery wasn’t incredible or horrendous. It lasted me from 8am to 2am with around 15% left. During this time, I had around 3 or 4 hours of screen on time depending on the day. All around I wouldn’t say this is the best in the world or the worst. It’s definitely good for a $450 phone, though.
The TCL 10 L is also really interesting. The build quality isn’t quite as good as the TCL 10 Pro. The display is made of glass and the back is made of plastic. It has a 6.53″ FHD+ LCD display with a punch-hole camera. This phone doesn’t have an in-display fingerprint scanner, but instead a capacitive scanner on the back. The top part of the back also houses a quad-camera setup and dual flash.
The inside of the TCL 10L is actually really good for it’s $250 price tag. It has a Snapdragon 665, Adreno 610, 64GB of eMMC storage, 6GB of LPDDR4x RAM, a 4,000 mAh battery, and a headphone jack. All of this is actually really good and fairly impressive for the price. It is so good, in fact, I had a tough time finding a comparable phone in the US for $250. From a pure spec perspective, it’s one of the best values in the US. There are, of course, more reasons that this phone is the absolute best value and I’ll get onto those in a moment.
The TCL 10L has outstanding battery. This was much better than the TCL 10 Pro. The 4,000 mAh battery with no fast charging is fine for charging, as you probably won’t be topping up during the day. I believe this outstanding battery is thanks to the LCD panel and the Snapdragon 665. Either way, it lasted me from the same 8am to 2am period with around 30% battery left. This is really good and about what I get on most flagship phones. For $250, I’m very impressed.
Overall, I think both phones are pretty snappy and fast. Over the two weeks, I’ve been alternating between both devices and felt absolutely no issues or slowdowns. Over time, I even forgot that these don’t have a flagship Snapdragon chip. The performance you are going to get is fine. Look, you’re going to be spending under $500 on these phones. If you are expecting a flagship grade processor and speeds as fast as the OnePlus 8 Pro, you’re looking at the wrong phone. It will be fast enough for everything you’ll be doing. It can do some casual gaming, photo editing, and basically handle any day to day tasks. If you were looking for a performance beast, this isn’t your phone. You also probably weren’t looking at a $250 and $450 phone.
The display on the TCL 10L is probably one of the best LCD panels I’ve seen in a long time. So good, in fact, I actually had to double check the spec sheet to make sure I didn’t make a mistake. It is that good. The colors look rich and vibrant without being incredibly over saturated. It all around looks great. There isn’t much discoloration at angles and it gets bright while in direct sunlight. It doesn’t get super bright, but that’s fine for the $250 price tag.
There is a hole-punch camera and it’s fairly large. It’s not too large, like the P40 Pro or S10 5G, but it is a decent size. It’s not going to disturb your viewing experience and it doesn’t look too bad. One thing about a punch hole on an LCD panel is shadows. There is a bit of a dark shadow around the punch hole and corners of this display. This is just the nature of an LCD panel and that’s fine since it is a $250 phone.
The TCL 10 Pro is a bit better. It’s an FHD+ AMOLED panel. The display ends up looking pretty good. It’s better than most other phones I’ve used at a comparable price. The only issue I really found was with the color. It was a really weird tint. Everything has a slight green haze over it. It’s not a huge deal because you get used to it over time, but it’s still a little annoying. Otherwise, colors are punchy without being saturated.
TCL 10 Pro
The one issue across both the TCL 10L and TCL 10 Pro display is auto brightness. It’s really bad. It jumps around a lot and omits out any attempt at a smooth transition. Instead of gradually going up or down smoothly, it just ends up jumping from 5% to 50% instantly. The same thing happens when the brightness is going down. It’s just super jumpy. It’s annoying and not a great experience.
Something both the TCL 10L and TCL 10 Pro have is SDR to HDR conversion in real-time. Is this real HDR? No. It ends up just boosting the brightness and colors like most other video enhancer modes. I ended up turning this off since this really isn’t what I like on a phone. I know a lot of people do like this, so it’s nice to at least have the option. What’s also nice is the Pixelworks chip that powers TCL’s NXTVISION which does this up-scaling.
All around, the display on both the TCL 10L and TCL 10 Pro is good. I have no real complaints about them.
The TCL 10L camera is actually really good for the price, but the TCL 10 Pro leaves a lot to be desired in the camera department. Generally speaking, the images are very social-media-ready. All colors are vibrant and saturated. The HDR isn’t great all the time and a lot of photos are really hit or miss because of this. I’ve had some really fantastic photos but also some really bad ones. It really depends on the scene and lighting. These drawbacks are easier to ignore on the cheaper phone because of its pricing.
The cheaper of the two, the TCL 10L, has a main 48MP shooter with an aperture of f/1.8 and a pixel size of 0.8μm while un-binned. Next to that is the 8MP super wide camera. It has an aperture of f/2.2 and a pixel size of 1.12μm. The phone also has two 2MP sensors, one for macro and one for depth. Both have an aperture of f/2.4 and a pixel size of 1.65μm. The front camera is a 16MP sensor with a pixel size of 1.0μm and aperture of f/2.2. The front-facing camera is a fixed focus camera, so no autofocus. The phone can record 4K at up to 30fps, 1080p at up to 120fps, and 720p at up to 240fps.
The TCL 10 Pro has a slightly different setup. The main shooter is a 64MP camera with an aperture of f/1.79 and a pixel size of 0.8μm while unbinned. Next to that is the 16MP super-wide camera. It has an aperture of f/2.4 and a pixel size of 1.0μm. Next is the 5MP macro camera. It has an aperture of f/2.2 and a pixel size of 1.12μm. Lastly for the rear camera setup, a 2MP camera with an aperture of f/1.8 and a pixel size of 2.9μm. The front camera is a 24MP sensor with a pixel size of 0.9µm and aperture of f/2.0. Something else about the camera is the low light video. TCL is one of the few phone companies with a dedicated low-light video mode.
The cameras take really good photos when you don’t zoom in. They look good while looking at them on the phone or Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat. They look pretty great like that. When you zoom in for any type of photo editing, you quickly notice that there is a lot of room for improvement. This is fine on the $250 TCL 10L since it’s a cheap phone, and it’s easy to forgive a lot of stuff like that at that price. Unfortunately, this isn’t as easy to forgive on a phone like the TCL 10 Pro when there are better alternatives like the iPhone SE.
Selfies on the TCL 10L are actually not bad. They look crispy and have no beauty modes or skin smoothing. There is no HDR, so taking pictures away from the sun does result in a very blown out sky. The colors also look really natural and not too weird. I think I actually prefer the TCL 10L picture over that of the TCL 10 Pro because of these colors. The TCL 10 Pro has the same crispy photo with no skin smoothing or beauty mode, but the colors look a little more muted. It’s not a huge problem, but it’s just not what I like to see from a phone camera.
Something the TCL 10 Pro has that the TCL 10L doesn’t is night mode. Just having night mode doesn’t always mean it’s a good thing, though. If a phone has a really bad night mode, it might as well not have one at all. The TCL 10 Pro might as well not have it. All TCL is seeming to do is boost saturation, HDR, and sharpness. It’s not really brightening anything. It’s disappointing to see, especially with the 64MP sensor. I sent the photos below to XDA Editor-in-Chief Mishaal Rahman and his response was “that is terrible.” That sums up the night mode pretty well.
Something to mention is the TCL 10 series do have the camera watermark enabled by default. This might be good in some regions, but in the US, it’s a real drag. Luckily, TCL decided that they are going to push an update soon after the launch of the phone switching that watermark off by default. You can still turn it on in settings if that’s your jam.
I know these aren’t a lot of samples, but I was constrained with time due to personal reasons. I’ll keep posting camera and video samples over on my Twitter, @MaxWinebach, so feel free to follow and keep an eye out for more TCL 10 series camera samples.
My first impressions of the TCL UI skin based on Android 10 were actually pretty good. It felt pretty light and all-around close to stock Android 10. I had no complaints… at first. Over time, you start to notice how the software does some weird things where it really doesn’t need to.
The Quick Settings tiles are pretty reminiscent of Android Oreo. It’s missing the circular style that has become popular in skins like One UI, Oxygen OS, and stock Android. This isn’t an issue, but a design choice. I don’t love it or hate it, it’s just what they choose. I do wish they went with a more modern design, though.
There aren’t many stock TCL apps replacing Google apps. In most cases, the apps are Google apps. The default messenger and phone apps were from Google, along with Chrome for the browser. There are a few useless apps included, though. TCL includes a file-sharing app called “File Share” and while this might be useful for some families with all TCL phones, it isn’t for most people. Ideally, this app should have been optionally installable through the Play Store instead of being preloaded. TCL also includes app icons for, NXTVISION, Smart Manager, and Smart Key, but those could have easily been hidden as there are options for both of these in settings. I know that’s pretty nitpicky, but it would have made the phone feel a little less bloated overall.
TCL also includes an IR Remote app because the TCL 10L and TCL 10 Pro are some of the few phones with IR blasters included. This is actually super nice to have. It has a bunch of pre-programmed TVs, air conditioners, and more. The IR blaster is underrated for both, controlling appliances in your house and for trolling people. It’s all around good to have and I appreciate this being preinstalled and drawing attention to the fact it has this blaster.
On the TCL 10 Pro, TCL also has an edge bar. This is similar in functionality to Samsung’s edge panel. Unlike edge panel, it doesn’t do much. It has three options: ruler, contacts, and apps. It just makes easy and quick access to those shortcuts. Its uselessness isn’t a huge deal though, as it can be easily disabled. I’m all around ok with it being included since it’s so easy to disable.
Overall, I think the software is fine at best. TCL UI is not a good skin, like Pixel UI, OneUI, or Oxygen OS, or a bad skin, like Funtouch OS. It’s just fine. That’s alright, TCL is new to Android phones and they’ll improve, hopefully. I think these devices would have done much better if they kept it mostly stock and made some improvements here and there, sorta like what OnePlus and Essential did. It would allow them to push updates faster and create a more enjoyable user experience.
It is also worth mentioning software updates. TCL has confirmed they will be releasing Android 11 for both the TCL 10L and TCL 10 Pro and have also confirmed there will be monthly security patches. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in terms of software development for ROM developers. The bootloader isn’t unlockable, so you won’t be able to install any AOSP based ROMs. Luckily, the software is very GCam capable. I was using UltraCVM GCam port from my buddy UltraM8 on my TCL 10L and was able to get some great results. It much improves the main camera. Not all software development is ROMs and luckily this phone is very open to some app level development.
Final Thoughts on the TCL 10L and TCL 10 Pro
So these are some interesting phones. I’m a real fan of the TCL 10L. It’s one of the best values in the US. I did a lot of searching and I honestly couldn’t find a phone with a value as good. It’s seriously one of the best. It’s one of the only phones I’d recommend to people on an extreme budget. From the good specs to a good display to a good camera, it compromises where it needs to and has great specs in the places it does. It’s all-around great.
It’s available starting on May 19th for $250 on Amazon and will be available on Best Buy and Walmart later this month.
The TCL 10 Pro is a bit harder of a sell. At $450, it’s going against competitors like the iPhone SE and Samsung Galaxy A51 and the upcoming Pixel 4a. It’s a lot harder of a sell against those. While TCL 10 Pro has a multi-camera advantage, it falls short in many other ways. I feel like TCL compromised in the wrong areas with this phone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great device, it’s just a less compelling sell when better options exist.
It will be available starting on May 19th for $450 on Amazon and will be available on Best Buy and Walmart later this month.