TCL 10 Pro Review: All About the Extras
The TCL 10 Pro is a confusing phone. When you pick this phone up, it looks and feels like an amazing phone with a gorgeous display. It looks and feels premium. There are a ton of extra features here that you normally don't see in any phone, let alone one on the lower end of the midrange scale. This is a damn good phone. This is my review, and I'm going to start with what TCL really wants you to notice first. Display greatness.
TCL believes in their display so much, they embossed it on the case that ships in the box. It's a clear case, and when you pop it on, the back says "Display Greatness." Actually it says "Dispay Greatness" with the "L" made into a little box that surrounds the TCL branding on the back of the actual phone - it's a neat little extra and it's pretty cool.
That screen is a gorgeous 6.47" FHD+ display with curved edges that looks like it belongs in the premium category. Just picking up this phone makes you feel the quality of engineering that went into this. The case that ships in the box is very minimal, so it doesn't detract from the design at all. The four camera module on the back sits mostly flush to the back of the phone. Oddly enough, only the flash modules stick up just a bit, but there's one on each side of the camera module, so it's still balanced which means Thanos would like it very much.
On the right side of the phone are the power and volume rocker, on the left you have a Google . On the bottom is a single speaker grill covering a very very tinny speaker and usb type-c port and on the top you have two other little extras - a headphone jack and an IR blaster. I'd forgotten how great it was to get an IR blaster.
Under the screen is a fairly mediocre fingerprint sensor that works most of the time. On the back you'll find the cameras and flashes, the branding and right along the camera module is a cheat sheet on what those cameras actually are. We'll discuss cameras at length later, but there's a 64MP main sensor, a 16MP wide angle sensor, a 5MP macro camera, and 2MP sensor that TCL calls a "Low-Light Camera.: On the front is a single 24 MP camera contained in what TCL has branded the dotch. Is "dotch" a combination of dot and notch? I don't know, but it's a teardrop notch.
And the software is also very nice. The software on the phone is built on Android 10. The leftmost panel is your google feed. Your app drawer is a swipe up away. Interestingly enough, the app drawer can be sorted by category of app. It's a little weird. Another weird but handy oddity in the software is the ability to swipe left or right between app folders. So if you accidentally open the wrong folder, the right one can be right there. It took some getting used to, but I grew to like it very much.
The settings are categorized in an odd way - it took me forever to find battery diagnostics and that's because they're found in two places. One for the hardware and another for optimization and usage. Weird. The aforementioned fingerprint sensor also has a neat little mini-launcher in it. If you unlock your phone with your fingerprint and continue to hold the sensor, a little shortcut menu pops up that you can configure to open an app, or turn on the flashlight, or open the camera. Add to that the edge swipe app launcher that allows you to swipe in a quick list of common apps and launch them from there and you have Two other ways to open an app or a function aside from the normal way to do it. It's the little extras.
Gesture navigation on the phone is just ok. It seems to break the punctuation function in Gboard and I had to turn it off. It wasn't really broken, but the "hold the period and slide to something else" part was buggy. I should also mention that this is pre-release software so that may get ironed out.
According to TCL, this phone will get Android 11...and that's all they promised. So one OS update, and you may be done, or at least nothing is promised. But then, this is a sub $450 phone, so go figure. TCL has committed to two years of security updates which is not nothing. Well played.
Overall, I found the software to be delightful and fun with little extras designed to surprise you and make you smile. It's a good time. So let's carry on my wayward son into the camera.
Starting out in the camera department, I need to get something off my chest. The sound effects used for the camera are straight out of 2005. They're almost vintage - if that's a thing. They struck me at old and out-of-date but they can easily be turned off.
As for the camera itself, it is demonstrably better than those available in 2005. Are they as good as cameras in 2020? Not so much. TCL has a fairly common problem among smartphones in that they are oversaturing and over sharpening their images. Red flowers look fluorescent red. Green leaves way over sharpened. So when I said the TCL phone is all about the extras - that's not always a good thing.
The ultrawide camera however is frankly not very good. Images shot with the ultrawide lens look lifeless and kinda drab. TCL does include a neat mode that shows you three different looks and lets you frame your shot and choose the appropriate lens. Just don't choose the ultrawide and you'll be good to go.
There's also a super low light mode which snaps a photo and then takes around 7 seconds to process. Basically it takes any light source and amplifies it, but it doesn't really do much to fill out the shadows. You don't end up with a photo that looks like it was taken during the day. Instead, you end up with a photo that looks like you took a day photo and a night photo and stitched them together oddly. I found burst shooting of a moving subject to be quite sharp - sharper than I expected.
Videos shot on the phone look pretty good. There wasn't a lot of loss in detail in moving subjects on video and there's also my favorite - super slo mo at 960 FPS. I found timing the super slo mo to be pretty tough, and my gymnast daughter got a bit frustrated with me trying to grab that perfect shot. Also, the light has to be wonderful for super slomo to be worth anything. If you're not in the bright sunlight, don't even try.
Overall I would call the camera setup here decent - right in line with the price tag you're paying. There's nothing that will blow you away, and on insta-face-tok these photos and videos will be just fine. And at a $450 mid range price point, that's exactly what you should expect. But of this entire review, this is the downer section. Sorry.
On the performance end, this phone is really where the $450 phone starts to show some spots. The phone performs every day tasks just fine, a few stutters, but nothing deal-breaking. Even light games like Clash Royale are just fine. If you start to do some heavy lifting like Fortnite or Call of Duty, that's where you run into problems. In fact, this phone's screen just flat out goes black during Call of Duty and you really can't blame TCL for that. This is a $450 phone. If I tried to carry a piano in a prius, it would be terrible and I certainly wouldn't blame the car.
Of course, one benefit to the low end processor comes in the form of battery life. The 4500 mah battery will last you two days...under quarantine. While you're out in the world, who knows? But while on lockdown, it was no surprise to get through a day, a night, and probably until 9 or 10pm the next night on a single charge. I didn't play call of duty because of performance issues, but I had everything else on this phone - four email accounts, four slack accounts, browsing, reading, videos, and more. This phone lasts folks. The battery also supports reverse charging, but no wireless charging. Maybe next time.
As for normal charging with the included charger, I got to 43% in 30 minutes and a full charge in 2 hours. The first is not bad, the second is not good.
Other Test Notes
And finally we get to other random test notes. This phone is 4G only. I had been using the LG V60 5G on Tmobile's 5G network, and I'll be honest, I didn't really notice a difference. 5G just isn't there yet folks. So if you're going to let anything hold you back from buying this phone, don't let it be 5G.
The screen is extremely touch happy. I got so many phantom touches on this curved screen it was maddening, even with the case on! Normally a phone condom prevents a lot of accidental touches from my hand meat, but not so in this case. This phone is very prone to accident touches especially on the curves.
Now, I have good news and bad news. The bad news it, TCL packages some apps along with the phone. I wouldn't call them bloatware, so much as I'll-never-use-it-but-you-might-ware. One is an optimizer app that optimizes your phone - whatever that means. But the neat thing is that the icon, and a lot of the prepackaged icons are animated. If you open the gallery, then close it and return to the home screen, the gallery icon wiggles. Same goes for settings and that optimize button. It's really neat and I haven't seen that before. Speaking of the optimizer - you can't put it in a folder. You simply cannot. It's the weirdest thing. But the animated icons are a cute little extra.
As is the edge notification light. When you get a notification a swirl of blue flashes around the screen. The idea is when the phone is face down, you can see the notification, but even face up it looks swanky. It's those extra touches that make this phone a delight. So where does that leave us?
Well, this is a really nice phone that has a lot going for it. The only downside is the processing power - you will not play games on this phone. The ultrawide camera is not so great. But overall, this is a very solid entry for the newly minted TCL brand of phones. It's time to step away from the kids table and put on the big boy pants, and TCL did that. The price could be a little more competitive, especially with the iPhone SE out now and the Pixel 4A coming soon. Honestly, in light of those two, it's a little hard to recommend this phone. Which doesn't mean it's bad, but maybe it's not quite good enough.
All that being said, if you buy this phone, I'm sure you'll find the little extras just as delightful as I did. So some they might be gimmicks and one or two of them might be. But taken as a whole, all of those little extras add up to a very respectable first entry into the space. I don't think TCL could have done a better job overall. This is a very good phone with some very good ideas. I'm genuinely excited to see what TCL's 2.0 software will look like. This is a really good first step for TCL, but it is still a first step.