Hands-on-review: TCL 10 Pro
Image credit: Jack Loughran
TCL’s latest device is the first one to be launched in the UK under its own brand name, having previously made phones for the likes of BlackBerry and Alcatel.
The firm is one of many Chinese OEMs that are flooding the Western market while Huawei faces setbacks. Like many of its Chinese contemporaries, TCL is trying to replicate the features of high-end flagships at a lower price by selectively cutting corners.
For the TCL 10 Pro, they have taken clear inspiration from the Galaxy S series with a device that is not too wide in the hand and features Samsung’s signature curved display at either side.
Like the S series, the screen is an AMOLED display and premium features like a quadruple camera array and under screen fingerprint technology remain intact.
Unlike the S series, TCL has opted for a Snapdragon 675: a relatively low power chip compared to many devices at the same price point. But discussions over smartphone silicon need to be more nuanced in 2020 than they were before the market reached maturity.
While serious Android gamers may not want to give Qualcomm’s mid-range chips a second thought, for many, the speed of the SOC will be enough for the kinds of light messaging and social media browsing that most people use their phones for. Coupled with an ample 6GB of RAM, switching between apps proves no issue and the OS runs smoothly enough.
TCL has not veered too far from Google’s stock Android, generally a wise decision for smaller OEMs. A few standard issue pieces of bloatware notwithstanding (looking at you Facebook and Netflix) many of the basic apps such as the dialler and SMS client are Google’s respectable in-house versions. The in-built home screen launcher is simple and lacks customisation options but does the job respectably.
The fingerprint scanner built into the screen is a nice touch for a midrange device and is accurate most of the time. It occasionally took a few tries to unlock the device and was not quite as responsive as some other alternatives like Realme’s X50 Pro.
TCL has implemented a neat trick whereby continuing to hold the fingerprint area after the phone has been unlocked brings up a shortcut menu allowing you to turn on the torch or make a quick note with ease.
The curved screen is a mixed blessing and is a feature that even Samsung itself has been slowly backing away from in recent years. While it feels nice in the hand and looks sleek at a glance, using it in direct sunlight results in warped, distracting reflections. Occasionally, part of an app’s UI will slope off the edge of the screen making it hard to decipher or unnecessarily difficult to touch.
Android’s gesture-based navigation, for example, uses a peak system to let users pull out side bars on apps without triggering the ‘back’ command. Trying to utilise this feature on the curved screen proved so hit and miss it was virtually worthless.
The edge buttons for locking the screen and changing the volume are not well placed, the volume rocker is too high up the device requiring an awkward hand shift when watching a video. Unusually, TCL has included an Android Assistant button on the other side of the device which is great for those that use this feature on a regular basis. It can also be switched off for those that don’t need it, but unfortunately it cannot be remapped to other quick use features such as turning on the torch.
Battery life is respectable, lasting around two days on a single charge even with heavy usage: a good result for a smartphone of this size.
While there is a dazzling four camera array on the back of the phone flanked by two separate flash modules, TCL has disappointingly not included a telephoto lens for non-digital zoom. Instead it comes with a 64MP sensor for its main camera in addition to a 16MP ultra-wide lens, a 5MP macro and a 2MP depth sensor which is mainly used to back up the capabilities of the other cameras.
Performance was generally quite good, colour reproduction on the main sensor was pleasing, although details are muddied when zooming in (this is where a telephoto lens would have come in handy).
Low light performance is also acceptable for a mid-range device, with colours reproduced fairly accurately even outside of direct sunlight.
The macro camera is particularly good, yielding some pleasing detail on close up objects and focusing quickly compared to many other devices featuring one. But the utility of this lens may be limited depending on the user.
Compared to a camera champion like Huawei’s P40 Pro, you will not be able to achieve the same results (but you will at least have Google apps!) and the camera’s in-built AI does not balance the different elements as well. But even if it’s not market leading, the device is a good example of what midrange smartphones can now achieve in the camera department.
The TCL 10 Pro has a lot of good things going for it, but there are so many good mid-range Android device these days that it finds itself in a crowded marketplace. With TCL being relatively new to the block, it’s unclear at this point what kind of software support the device will get in the future.
Google is expected to release the Pixel 4a in the coming months which will cost around the same and is guaranteed good software support for several years to come. It will also likely have a better camera than the TCL 10 considering Google’s strong track record here.
Based on leaks, the Pixel 4a likely won’t have a curved screen, which could be a negative or positive depending on personal preference, or an under-screen fingerprint reader which is definitely nice to have, if not essential.
Alternatively there is the iPhone SE, another good option in the same price range that is guaranteed to have good software support for years to come, albeit with a smartphone design straight out of 2014 and lacking many of the modern touches people expect from their devices these days.
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