The number four smartphone OEM in the US, TCL, has launched a feature-rich smartphone focused on a premium AMOLED display, four rear cameras, and a premium design. Let’s start with it—this premium look and feel smartphone is priced at only $450. One must keep this in mind when inspecting the device, which has taken very few shortcuts. Here are some first impressions:
The smartphone certainly has a premium feel. The 6.47” curved AMOLED is remarkable. It sports impressive FHD+ resolution, 398 PPI, and a screen-to-body ratio of 93%. One will instantly notice the premium feel of the curved glass and edge-to-edge display.
Videos and photos look premium due its partnership with Pixelworks. TCL utilizes Pixelwork’s dedicated low-power co-processor for image and video processing to enhance the smartphone display experience. TCL combines this chip with its proprietary software marketing it under the name ‘NXTVISION independent display engine’. Users can easily distinguish the improved contrasts and colors and activate the ‘SDR to HDR’ real-time conversion feature. Not sure? One can turn all of these NXTVISION features off and on to experience the difference.
The device feels long and thin. Many will like 158.3mm x 72.4mm x 9.1mm dimensions, which is great for one-handed use despite its massive size. Others may not find it ideal for reading or video consumption.
The design is unique with a premium feel. The 10 Pro has a rounded glass front and back which are encased in a metal frame. There is a matte finish on the back (glossy also available). Angled in your hand, it appears lighter on the bottom and darker towards the top of the device. Most OEMs have accepted the camera module ‘bump’. TCL gets all four cameras recessed under the rear glass for a smooth back.
Rear shot of the device shows the changing colors of the back with the recessed cameras. The TCL 10 Pro on the left feels thin and long relative to the Samsung Note 10+ 5G.
The four rear cameras take great photos. There is a 64MP high-resolution, a 16MP wide angle (123 degree), a 5MP macro, and a 2MP super low light camera. I will not dive into the tech specs of the cameras further, but the quick takeaways are:
- The slo-mo 960fps video is smooth and fun to use.
- Auto ‘bright shots’ in extreme low-light conditions were impressive.
- Capable of 10x hybrid digital zoom. After 8x zoom, zoom is functional but there begins to be a considerable drop-off in quality.
- Camera launches and focuses fast. I have been using a lot of $900 plus smartphone cameras recently, and knowing this device was half the price, there were no disappointments.
There is also a 24MP front-facing camera which has a nifty portrait mode. There is a “notch” in the top center which houses the front-facing camera module and proximity sensor. After an hour of use, I did not notice the notch. Note, I was never bothered by the iPhone XS Max notch…
Other key specs:
- Back to the price—how does TCL get to the $450 price point?
- First, TCL leverages its vertical integration. It is using its own TCL high-resolution displays and its NXTVISION display visual technology to enhance display and video quality. The company also does its own manufacturing.
- The device uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 675, which helps save considerable BOM cost by not going with a 700 or 800-series chipset. In a long weekend of use, the Snapdragon 675 did not bog down in normal work or TV streaming. Gaming was not experienced (yet).
- The optical fingerprint sensor unlock works as well as any under glass solution. By holding a finger on the fingerprint reader a bit longer than the normal unlock period it will launch a group of applications or functions a user can pre-set. This made getting to the camera, favorite music, or favorite media very easy and quick with a touch of the thumb. Face unlock is also very responsive.
- Essential smart key: On the right side of the body there are the volume keys and the wake-up / sleep key which also functions as the power key. On the left side of the body, there is a customizable ‘smart key’. A user can set to quickly access an app or action. Three can be pre-set with a single press, double press, or a long press.
- Battery life was easily past a single day use. The tight integration of the 4500mAh battery and Snapdragon 675 clearly help here. If there was concern of getting through the day due to intensive use, there are ‘normal saving mode’ and ‘super saving mode’ options to engage. The super saving mode can add an additional 12 hours of battery life by applying a simplified black home screen and limiting the number of usable apps. The ‘dark mode’ low blue light certified mode which protects eyes and extends battery life.
- Two other very useful features include fast charging and reverse charging. In about 25 minutes of charging I found the device go from no battery life to 50%. One can also reverse charge at 5V 1.5A. I found this useful charging dead TWS headsets.
- 6GB of RAM and 128GB checks off the memory requirement for the price range. For ‘secure’ storage, there is a ‘Smart Manager’ to store images, videos, audio, and documents. Two finger upward push on the display opens to further secure unlock.
- The TCL-tweaked UI has an interesting app ‘drawer’ style which can be customized by commonly used app type (all media together, for example), or a fully customized ‘drawer’. It is laid out nicely and easy to find common apps. There is an an option to set up short cuts to favorite apps, called ‘Edge Bar’, which is really easy to set-up.
- Super Bluetooth is supported meaning the device can connect to up to four speakers or four headphones enabling the ability to share entertainment experiences.
- Cost and availability: The cost of the TCL 10 Pro is impressive — $450. It was not, however, picked-up by US carriers. The device will sell in Best Buy and Walmart and will be available on Amazon May 19th. US carriers probably have a very limited amount of LTE SKUs launching at $400 and above (some carriers none) as they are pushing OEMs to launch 5G into these price tiers. While it would have been better to be ranged at a major carrier, national retail and Amazon are ripe with budget-conscious consumers with less brand allegiance. The TCL 10 Pro will be available in multiple Canadian operators this summer. For North America sales, see here.
- The device is sold unlocked but supports a hefty 17 LTE bands. I used the device on AT&T’s network and HD voice was supported even where coverage was weak. VoLTE and Qualcomm aptX audio is supported.
Back to where we began—the cost of the TCL 10 Pro is $450. For consumers who do not want to pay flagship 5G prices yet want a premium Android experience and a premium, large display, this is a solid option.