TCL 20 Pro 5G vs OnePlus 9 Pro 5G: Which flagship should you buy?
TCL brought their 20 series to the US a few weeks back. Originally announced earlier this year, the series includes the TCL 20 SE, TCL 20S, and TCL 20 Pro 5G. The TCL 20 Pro 5G is the top offering of the group, with an MSRP of $499.99 at launch. If you’re considering this phone, you might wonder how it stacks up to a more expensive flagship like the OnePlus 9 Pro 5G.
Obviously, both phones have quite a bit in common. If you just look at the names, you can clearly see they both have 5G support for starters. But the similarities don’t end there. Both devices feature slick designs, beautiful AMOLED displays, and a 4500 mAh battery. On the other hand, the OnePlus 9 Pro is nearly twice the price of the TCL 20 Pro. Is that extra $500 really worth it? Let’s find out.
TCL 20 Pro 5G vs OnePlus 9 Pro 5G: Specifications
|Specification||TCL 20 Pro 5G||OnePlus 9 Pro 5G|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888|
|RAM & Storage|
|Battery & Charging|
|Security||In-display fingerprint sensor||In-display fingerprint sensor|
|Software||Android 11||Android 11 with Oxygen OS|
About this comparison: I received the TCL 20 Pro 5G from TCL for review. I purchased the OnePlus 9 Pro 5G at launch. Neither TCL nor OnePlus had any input in this article.
Design and Display
Taking the TCL 20 Pro 5G out of the box, it’s a very nice-looking device. I received the Moondust Gray color, but I personally love the look of the Marine Blue. The curved edges on both sides of the phone give a sleek look that reminds me a bit of the Galaxy S6 Edge. On the back, you get a two-tone look with a glossy finish along the camera side, matte everywhere else.
The OnePlus 9 Pro 5G has a very similar design. The curved edges on each side meet the back in a seamless fashion. On the back, the OnePlus device is a bit more simplistic. No two-tone design, instead you get a simple glossy or matte finish depending on the color option. The OnePlus logo adorns the back in the dead center. Both devices look nice, but they are decidedly uninteresting in a landscape full of similar-looking smartphones.
On the TCL 20 Pro, the four camera sensors are completely under the back glass, which means no annoying camera hump. While I understand that camera humps are sometimes necessary for improving photo quality, the lovely aesthetic of a completely flush back is worth noting.
With the OnePlus 9 Pro, you do get a sizable camera hump. If you rest the phone on a flat surface, the hump can cause some instability when typing. In terms of design aesthetic, that’s a win for TCL.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G is also surprisingly easy to grip without a case thanks to the aforementioned two-tone finish (though I did perform an unintentional drop test while photographing the phone, more on that later). In my experience, the Oneplus 9 Pro is incredibly slippery without a case. I’ve dropped the phone a number of times at home, thankfully only on the carpet.
Those curved edges look incredibly nice on both phones, but they do make holding the phone a bit uncomfortable and honestly tricky in many instances. It’s virtually impossible to eliminate unintentional edge touches with such a dramatic curve, so that’s something to consider. Holding the phone for a long period of time can also be less comfortable due to the sharpness of the sides.
Two design features that stand out on the TCL 20 Pro really differentiate it from the OnePlus 9 Pro — a 3.5mm headphone jack and an IR blaster. It’s strange to write that sentence considering how common both of these things were just five years ago, but you don’t really see either in flagship devices these days. I really enjoy having an IR blaster. It’s a cool feature that doesn’t cost much to implement and adds value to your phone. Xiaomi stills adds IR blaster to its phone, but those aren’t officially sold in the USA, making the TCL 20 Pro one of the very rare ones this side of the ocean.
As for OnePlus, the alert slider on the right side of the phone is a pretty big deal to many users. I have always found this subtle touch helpful in controlling notification sounds throughout the day.
TCL really went all-out on the display panel in the TCL 20 Pro 5G. The OLED screen gets incredibly bright and color reproduction is very good. Viewing angles were quite reasonable even in bright sunlight outdoors. Compared to the OnePlus 9 Pro, the brightness and colors look a bit less impressive, but we’re also talking about a $500 difference in MSRP for the two phones. The higher resolution on the OnePlus 9 Pro is nice, but that’s not really something that would sway me one way or the other.
The main downsides to the TCL 20 Pro display are the refresh rate and the “Sunlight Mode” TCL has included in the software. The refresh rate is a standard 60Hz which is disappointing to see on a device of this caliber in 2021. The Sunlight Mode feature cranks up the brightness outdoors, but it does so at the cost of color reproduction and clarity on screen. I was expecting the feature to be similar to Samsung’s brightness boost, but it doesn’t seem to work as well at all.
Keeping all this in mind, TCL did a great job here. I still think OnePlus wins this category with the higher refresh rate, nicer colors, and brighter panel, but it’s closer than you’d think from just looking at the price difference.
Performance and Battery life
The processor category is certainly something that jumps out on the specs sheet when comparing these two phones. The OnePlus 9 Pro has a clear advantage here with the flagship Snapdragon 888 inside. On the other hand, the TCL 20 Pro features the Snapdragon 750G, a decidedly mid-range processor. In practice though, the advantage isn’t that apparent when completing everyday tasks.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Snapdragon 750G in terms of performance. This chip doesn’t make its way to the US very often, so this is the first time I’ve used a phone with it inside. In general, the performance was impressive. The TCL 20 Pro 5G handled any app I threw at it with ease, including the most popular Android games. I spent quite a while playing Asphalt 8 and PUBG with very few hiccups at all. Of course, the OnePlus 9 Pro also handles all of these games without issue.
One area that did give me problems on the TCL device was multi-tasking. It could be a problem of too little RAM, or simply TCL’s quick switch gesture glitching, but I often had some lag when switching between multiple apps. OnePlus handles multi-tasking much better, perhaps the one key area where the Snapdragon 888 flexes its muscle to a noticeable degree.
Software is another big difference between these two devices. On the TCL 20 Pro, you get Android 11 with TCL’s UI on top. The UI isn’t necessarily bad-looking, but there are a bunch of unnecessary apps and options that don’t make sense. Many of the TCL stock apps duplicate features already offered by Google apps most users would prefer anyway. Some of the app icons link to mere settings pages, like the NXTVISION app that links to the settings page offering image and video enhancements on your TCL device.
The OnePlus 9 Pro runs Oxygen OS 11 on top of Android 11. Although Oxygen OS has gotten a bit more bloated the past few years, it’s still quite a bit leaner than TCL’s UI. Most of the options and the general UI in Oxygen OS make sense to me, but of course, software aesthetic is a bit subjective. At the very least, OnePlus minimizes the number of duplicate apps installed, which is something I think everyone can appreciate.
At the end of the day, software and performance are two categories that OnePlus dominates handily in this battle. If you’re looking for the absolute smoothest experience out of the box, you should clearly opt for the OnePlus 9 Pro.
As for battery life, both phones are pretty middle of the road. I was able to squeeze out around 5 – 5.5 hours of screen time each day with my normal use on the TCL 20 Pro. The OnePlus 9 Pro is just slightly better, with around 6-7 hours of screen time each day.
Typically, I use my phone for a mixture of social media, work (Slack, Outlook, Gmail, Asana, researching stuff in Chrome), YouTube, and Spotify. Most days, I also spent around 30-45 minutes gaming on these devices as well. With this use pattern, I would get to around 9 PM with about 10-20% left, which is on the border of being enough for a full day. I would definitely say that battery life is a weak spot for both of these devices. If you compare either phone to the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G or Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, the battery life is disappointing.
Thankfully, you do get up to 18W fast charging on the TCL 20 Pro 5G and 65W Warp Charge on the OnePlus 9 Pro. Warp charging is the fastest charging I’ve personally used on a phone in the US. It’s hard for a phone under $500 to compete in this category while keeping the price down, but the charging speed on the TCL 20 Pro is respectable at that price point. Either way, if you’re a heavy user, you might want to grab a portable battery charger to go with either of these phones.
Camera and Audio
When you look at Android phones in the $500 price category, the camera tends to be their biggest weakness. Most mid-range phones simply can’t take very good photos. Honestly, the OnePlus 9 Pro pretty much blows away the TCL 20 Pro 5G in the camera department.
Even though the OnePlus 9 Pro camera is fairly weak when compared to other $1,000+ flagships, it’s the clear winner here. You can see what I mean in the comparison shots above and below, mostly taken in low-light scenarios.
While the TCL 20 Pro technically boasts of a four camera setup, the depth sensor and macro camera are both completely useless. The main camera is 48MP, but takes 12MP binned shots by default. In the bright Arizona sun, I was able to capture a few nice shots, but it was definitely the exception rather than the rule.
Indoors, the results are much less impressive, with consistently muted colors and very low detail. You can check out some samples from the TCL 20 Pro 5G in the Flickr album below.
The OnePlus 9 Pro takes noticeably better photos, but in outdoor situations, with quality lighting, the competition is pretty close. You can see the clear difference in detail and contrast in the OnePlus’ photos taken in low light. For indoor photos, the difference is very substantial. The TCL 20 Pro really struggles to capture detail in several situations. The OnePlus 9 Pro does a much nicer job of capturing the contours on the leaves in the macro shots, for instance. Check out the full resolution samples from the OnePlus 9 Pro in the Flickr album below.
Audio on the TCL 20 Pro 5G is decent. The single speaker on the bottom doesn’t get nearly as loud as the OnePlus 9 Pro, but it’s better than I expected. There really isn’t any bass on either device, but there also isn’t too much distortion at high volumes. You should be fairly happy watching Netflix or YouTube on either phone, but neither is exceptional when it comes to audio. Pick up a quality pair of headphones for serious listening.
Neither phone delivers amazing battery life, but the OnePlus 9 Pro boasts better software, a brighter display, a higher quality camera, and better multitasking performance. If those things are worth $500 to you, then the OnePlus 9 Pro is the better choice for sure.
Despite some of its shortcomings in the aforementioned categories, I really think the TCL 20 Pro 5G is a solid value at $499, if you’re on a budget. You can’t find too many phones in the US at that price point with a display this good and performance that won’t make you pull your hair out. However, if you’re looking for the bottom-line winner in this battle, it’s clearly the OnePlus 9 Pro 5G.