Now that TCL has basically dominated the budget-friendly smart TV market, the brand is stepping up its smartphone game. The company already sells budget handsets under the Alcatel name, but now it wants to sell mid-range Android smartphones such as the TCL 10 Pro for less than $500 that put some premium devices to shame.
Five seconds with the TCL 10 Pro and you’ll find the craftmanship that the Hong Kong-based company put into the smartphone to be quite surprising. At first glance, the handset might look like a Samsung device with design flairs from LG. But spend a day or so with the phone and you’ll start to notice where TCL had to cut some corners.
Before we begin, I want to note that everyone reviewing the TCL 10 Pro (including myself) is running pre-production firmware. The handset isn’t overly buggy, but the company has stated that a major release update will hit the phone sometime later in May that addresses improvements. As such, some of my complaints about the TCL 10 Pro might get rectified, but I doubt the overall experience will change much.
Additionally, TCL has promised that the 10 Pro will receive at least one major Android update (Android 11) as well as “consistent” security updates. Time will only tell if TCL follows through with this promise.
With all of that out of the way, let’s see what TCL’s premium mid-range handset is all about!
The Mid-Range Price Shows Itself in the Premium Build
One of the reasons why TCL is the second-largest TV manufacturer globally is because it puts some beautiful displays in its fairly inexpensive televisions. The same goes for the TCL 10 Pro. With the brightness cranked up, Instagram photos pop off of the handset’s 6.47-inch FHD+ (2,340 x 1,080p) AMOLED display.
Here’s a look at everything else packed inside of the TCL 10 Pro:
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 675
- RAM: 6 GB
- Storage: 128 GB
- Display: 6.47-inch FHD+ (2,340 x 1080) AMOLED display with tear-drop notch front camera
- Cameras: 64 MP (main), 16 MP (super wide), 5 MP (macro), 2 MP (super low light), 24 MP front-facing
- Ports and charging: USB-C, 9V2A QC 3.0 Fast Charger
- Headphone Jack: Yes
- Battery: 4,500 mAh
- Fingerprint Sensor: In-display
- IP Rating: N/A
- Colors: Ember Gray, Forest Mist Green
- Dimensions: 6.24-inch x 2.85-inch x 0.34-inch; 6.6 oz
- Price: $449.99
Unfortunately, in its attempt to build a premium smartphone, TCL decided that the 10 Pro needed “3D” glass. Basically, that means that the sides of the phone dramatically curve over the left and right sides of the handset. The effect feels nice in hand but causes dramatic glare whenever any light hits the display.
During a global pandemic, I’d argue that the value of a smartphone is for entertainment purposes. With the light glare caused by the glass curve, you can lose up to a quarter of an inch on either side of the handset’s display. This isn’t an issue on phones with flat displays or those with less dramatic drop-offs.
What makes the display design worse is the fact that palm rejection isn’t up to par. As it’s inevitable that your hand holding the device is going to touch the glass, you will run into accidental screen touches. I couldn’t tell you the number of times I accidentally opened a menu or refreshed my Instagram feed because my palm tapped something.
Now before you go and get your pitchforks, I am well aware that some of you are fans of curved and waterfall displays. I’m just not a part of that group—I’d much rather enjoy every millimeter of the TCL 10 Pro’s gorgeous AMOLED screen.
Going back to valuing the entertainment value of smartphones at this current moment in time, we need to talk about the smartphone’s single speaker. Most modern handsets have a single bottom-firing speaker and repurpose the device’s earpiece as a tweeter. Effectively, this makes for stereo(-ish) speakers.
I’m sorry to disappoint, but the TCL 10 Pro only utilizes the single bottom-firing speaker. Not having stereo audio isn’t the end of the word, but expect very flat and unimpressive sound from the handset.
But on the other hand, TCL did include a headphone jack on the top of the 10 Pro. If push comes to shove, you can always plug in your 3.5mm wired earbuds or speakers.
I had a relatively good experience with the TCL 10 Pro’s in-display fingerprint sensor. It never felt as fast as the one built into the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, but that’s expected for a phone half the price. The good news is that (anecdotally) the sensor did appear to get faster with long-term use.
The dream would have been secure Face Unlock like that found on the Google Pixel 4, but sadly, that’s not here. TCL does offer a facial recognition feature, but as it doesn’t work as an official biometric security system for logging into banking apps and authorizing payments, I didn’t bother using it past my first day with the phone.
The Camera Quality is Less Than Desired
One of TCL’s main selling points with the 10 Pro is its quad-camera setup. From left to right, you have your first LED flash, a 64 MP sensor for standard shots, a 16 MP ultra-wide, a 5 MP sensor for macro photos, a 2 MP camera for ultra-low light images, and a secondary LED flash.
Sadly, as you can see from the below photos that I captured during my review period, the images taken on the TCL 10 Plus are soft and the quality breaks down quite easily. If there’s one positive, it’s that TCL routinely nailed the white balance and accurately captured the scene’s color.
I was also disappointed by TCL’s “Super Night” mode. Unlike Google’s Night Sight that uses computational photography to brighten a scene, the 10 Pro appears to rely on multiple long exposure shots. As you can see from the samples, the feature did lighten the room, but you might as well use the phone’s dual flash if you really need to capture a subject in a dark environment.
I’m honestly not sure how often people need a macro camera on their smartphone, but the 5 MP sensor is capable of capturing a sharp image. The main issue I had was nailing focus. Selecting a focus point on the screen normally worked, but then the 10 Pro would start hunting for focus two seconds later. It took me about 10 attempts to grab the above sample photo.
Finally, let’s talk about the TCL 10 Pro’s 24 MP front-facing shooter. The photos are passable, but I wouldn’t suggest anyone use them as their LinkedIn profile picture. At least Portrait mode did a decent job of identifying my face and adding a bokeh effect behind my silhouette.
Features That Add to and Distract From the Android Experience
I was fairly impressed by the TCL UI experience installed on top of Android on the TCL 10 Pro. It offers a very close to stock Android look and feel, while introducing its own little touches that differentiate the phone and add needed features.
For example, if you swipe from left to right on the home screen, you have access to Google’s Discover feed, something you’d find on Pixel handsets. I prefer this over alternatives built by OEMs such as Samsung Daily.
To add to the experience, TCL added an “Edge Bar” for quick access to apps and tools, the ability to customize how the app drawer gets sorted, and a “Fingerprint Quick Launch” menu that brings up a launcher whenever you long-press on the in-display fingerprint sensor when unlocking the handset.
The one addition that I didn’t enjoy was TCL’s battery optimizer. Putting it nicely, I found the software feature overbearing. Every time you open a new app for the first time, TCL UI tries optimizing the app’s background usage. If you don’t disable everything immediately, you have to go digging in the Settings menu to turn everything off.
Speaking of which, with the 10 Pro’s 4,500 mAh battery, I was averaging around four hours of screen-on time. If I really wanted to extend this, I could have used TCL’s optimization software. I chose to disable most of the built-in options so that my apps could continue syncing and working in the background without issue.
Something else I should mention is the TCL 10 Pro’s “NXTVISION” feature. The company advertises this program as being able to convert SDR content to HDR in real-time. The feature is enabled out of the box, and I never touched it afterward. It was a set and forget setting for me as I enjoyed the look of every photo and video I viewed on the handset.
Next, we should take a look at the hardware features TCL added to its smartphone that are very rare these days. First up is the IR blaster found on the top of the device alongside the headphone jack. Many manufacturers dropped these years ago either to save space internally or because it wasn’t being used by most.
Personally, I was moving into a new house when the TCL 10 Pro arrived at my doorstep and I happened to accidentally lose one of my TV remotes. Using the built-in IR app, I was powering on my television and streaming something from Netflix within minutes.
Do I think smartphones need IR blasters? No. Will I complain that one is available on my device? Nope. As I said, it was actually quite useful, even just for occasional use.
Now, there is one thing that I think every smartphone needs: a programmable button. With the volume and power buttons on the right side of the TCL 10 Pro, the button on the left edge of the handset can be set to open any app or launch any quick setting.
For example, I had the button launch the camera app with a single press, open the Google Assistant with a double press, and turn on the LED flashlight with a long press. If you wanted to, TCL allows you to fine-tune each action allowing you to do specific things like launch the selfie camera with Portrait mode enabled.
The only way TCL could improve upon the button situation on the 10 Pro is by adding an alert slider similar to what’s found on OnePlus handsets.
The TCL 10 Pro Isn’t Half Bad, but I’d Wait a Year
For being one of the first TCL-branded smartphones, the 10 Pro is a solid mid-range handset. During my testing, the only bottleneck I found had to do with RAM management and not the Snapdragon 675 CPU. Despite 6 GB of available memory, I repeatedly saw less than 500 MB available at any given time.
The TCL 10 Pro took care of these matters without me having to intervene. Any time I saw the handset start to stutter or lag, the problem was gone a second later. Sadly, that occasionally meant the app I was using was forcibly quit.
I’m hoping a future firmware update fixes that bug (and others) before the handset starts shipping to the masses.
If you’re looking for a premium mid-range Android handset that won’t break the bank, I don’t think you could go wrong the TCL 10 Pro. But for me, I see this smartphone as TCL’s first step into the existing market. Taking what the company has learned creating this device, I think the second-gen 10 Pro (20 Pro?) will check most people’s boxes.
I’m hoping that next year we see better camera performance, the addition of Qi wireless charging, and refinements to the display design. The overall build is already up there with the big dogs, so it’s all about fitting just a little more into an already great package.
The TCL 10 Pro goes on sale on May 19, 2020, on Amazon for $449.99. It should hit Best Buy and Walmart later in the month. And if you’re in Canada, the handset should come to multiple carriers sometime in the summer.
If you were hoping to get your hands on the gorgeous Forest Mist Green colorway, you’re going to be waiting for a bit. Likely because of manufacturing and shipping constraints caused by the coronavirus, Ember Gray will be the only color option available at launch.
We will provide links to where you can buy the TCL 10 Pro when they become available.
Here’s What We Like
- Clean Android experience
- Programmable shortcut button
- Premium build
- Headphone jack
And What We Don't
- Poor camera quality
- Lack of wireless charging
- Curved display
- Single downward-facing speaker