Quick: think about awesome-looking midrange handsets. What brands come to mind? Motorola? Samsung? OnePlus? The name “TCL” probably didn’t make the cut just now, but it probably should—it definitely will for me after seeing the company’s upcoming 10 series phones.
Specific hardware details are still being pinned down, but we were able to spend some hands-on time with three prototype units from the 10 series lineup: the 10 Lite, 10 Pro, and 10 5G. As the names imply, the Lite is the lowest-end of the three, while the Pro takes the top end tier. The 5G feels like it falls somewhere in the middle (judging by the construction materials), which makes a lot of sense—TCL probably had to use more affordable materials to offset the cost of the 5G chip. But if I were a betting man, I’d wager that this will still end up being the most expensive of the bunch.
Still, TCL tells us that all of these phones will cost less than $500, though specific prices per phone weren’t yet available…yet. Much like almost everything else with these handsets, the details are still being ironed out. We were told that we’ll get the full skinny when the phones are officially launched at Mobile World Congress next month.
So, what can we glean from the time we got to spend with these phones, given the lack of specifics? That TCL knows how to make a damn good looking trio of phones for starters. Now, to be clear, this isn’t TCL’s first go at the phone game. The company released the Plex—a good looking phone in its own right—last year. All three phones in the 10 Series seem to build off of what was started with the Ple and each one also seems like an improvement—again keeping in mind that we’re specifically talking about the hardware and build quality here, not the specs or performance.
My favorite part of the 10 Series handsets? The sexy-ass camera array. I’ll be real with you: it’s hard to get a phone with multiple cameras to, you know, look good. You can cram them all in one corner, either in a vertical or horizontal row, or cluster them somewhere else on the back of the phone. TCL did something that seems like an obvious choice here: they put them in a row. Like, a straight line. Just right there on the back of the phone. They’re not the first to do this, of course, but they made it look better than any others I’ve seen.
But they’re not just a bunch of cameras—there are four of them, by the way—in a row. On the 5G and Lite, there’s a sort of raised camera area that separates the camera array from the rest of the back. But on the Pro, they’re flush with the back of the phone. No bump or humps, just a smooth transition where the phone and the camera panel meets. It’s slick.
The other notable feature is also a carryover from the Plex: the Smart Key. This is a novel idea—it’s basically like Samsung’s Bixby button, but, like, good. Why? Because you can customize it to do what you want without any janky workarounds or third-party apps. It can do up to three different things using a single press, double press, and long press. Neat.
The displays on these phones also look good, but I’m hesitant to talk too much about that lest they get tweaked before release. But I will say this: I find it pretty interesting that the flagship of the bunch—the Pro—uses a waterdrop notch, where the Lite and 5G have holepunches for the camera cutout. There’s a bit of disagreement between my colleagues and me about which one is more high-end, but I’m voting for the holepunch here. The waterdrop notch breaks up the notification bar in a way that I personally find jarring and generally…bad. But to each their own. It’s not really a dealbreaker either way.
Also on display was TCL’s foldable concept phone, though we weren’t allowed to touch it. It’s still very clear that this is a prototype of a prototype, as it was, well, less than stable during the “demos” we watched. Still, it’s neat to see it in action, though the utility of a folding phone with no external display is still very unclear to me. Whatever—maybe we’ll learn more at MWC about this one, too.