TCL has the mid-range market firmly in their crosshair. Their latest flagship, the TCL 20 Pro 5G is certainly no slouch on paper. With thanks to TCL Mobile, we get to give it a test run.
First Impressions of the TCL 20 Pro 5G
Our CUO (Chief Unboxing Officer) really liked the minimalist packaging – a nicely textured white box with rose gold accents for the information. The phone itself is a gorgeous colour that TCL calls Marine Blue. It’s unashamedly bright but not in a garish kind of way, gender neutral with just a touch of flash that is eye-catching without screaming “look at me”.
To me it is a nice departure from the black and white, or the cartoony colourful line up that seems to plague the lower end market. My Sorta Sage Pixel 5 looks a little dull next to the 20 Pro 5G.
The unit feels solid in the hand, although naked out of the box it feels a little slippery to hold. TCL includes a clear TPU case which gives it a nice grip and does not cover that gorgeous backing.
Without doubt the display on the TCL 20 Pro 5G is the crown jewels here. The screen is a 6.67″ FHD+ curved AMOLED “Dotch” display with a ratio of 20:9. This makes it a taller phone and even for very average sized hands like mine, easy enough for single-handed use. Width wise is it the same as my Pixel 5 daily driver but a good 1.5cm taller.
I have never owned a curved screen phone unless you count the Nexus S, which is a different beast altogether. I have had plenty of hands on experience with curved screen devices but it is just not a personal choice for me. Even after a couple of weeks with the 20 Pro 5G, I am still pretty meh about it although I can definitely see some use cases and is warming up to the idea. TCL has built some useful functionality there which I will cover more later. The screen runs with a resolution of 1080 x 2400 and 394 ppi and features an under screen fingerprint reader.
Looking at the hardware specs, they are more than respectable with:
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 750
- Memory: 6GB
- Storage: 256GB
Understandably the processor in particular is not at the pointy end, but the pricing isn’t having a face off between Branson and Bezos somewhere near the Kármán line either.
The setup process is largely the same as any other Android phone with a few TCL touches that I think enhances on the stock experience. These include:
Lockscreen setup: TCL style (default) or Android classic
Home screen style: Home and drawer screen or home screen only (all apps shown)
NXTVISION: Image enhancement, Video & Game enhancement
The TCL 20 Pro 5G comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C charging port, dual SIM slot and speaker grill on the bottom.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G In Use
Being stuck working from home (again) and just north of 200 days in lockdown does put limitations on what I can achieve. For starters I have to keep my daily driver running without undergoing a wholesale migration to another phone. Secondly I am limited to within 5km of home for any picturesque shots and right now, curfew between 9pm and 5am so any hope of interesting night time shots are pretty much out of the question.
Despite my general avoidance of curved screens, the 20 Pro 5G is actually quite delightful to use. The colours are bright and vivid, courtesy of TCL’s NXTVISION technology and processing. It is a bit of a feast on the eyes just to interact with the screen. Overall the user experience is positive, I have not noticed much in the way of lags with going through emails, social media.
I don’t really play games (on anything) and the ones I do play on the mobile as a distraction are not graphics intensive. As expected though it definitely was not stressed by Boggle, Evil Apples or my big “graphics intensive” Alto’s Odyssey.
Camera experience and photo quality are always an important part of what I want from a mobile phone. The TCL’s camera software comes with a bunch of modes aside from Auto. There is Video, Portrait, Super Night and Pro with all the bells and whistles of manual control. Under the More settings there is Pano, Stop Motion, Light Trace, Super Macro, High Pixel, Slo-Mo and Short Video.
The Short Video mode is YouTube Shorts and TikTok ready, with filters, music and transition effects at your fingertips.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G features a “quad-camera” array on the back, comprising of:
- 48MP Sony OIS Camera : PDAF, 6P lens, F1.79 aperture, 1/2″ sensor size, 0.8μm pixel size, 79° field of view, Sony IMX582, OIS (Optical Image Stabilization)
- 16MP Ultra Wide-Angle Camera: FF, 5P lens, F2.4 aperture, 1/3″ sensor size, 1.0μm pixel size, 123° field of view
- 5MP Macro Camera: AF, 3P lens, F2.2 aperture, 1/5″ sensor size, 1.12μm pixel size, 83° field of view
- 2MP Depth Camera : FF, 3P lens, F2.4 aperture, 1/5″sensor size, 1.75μm pixel size, 85° field of view
I have to say my first outing with the camera was a disaster with barely any useable photos. It was a bit breezy and I was taking my daughter for a walk. I do what I usually do, a quick stop, whip out the camera, focus, snap a photo, keep walking. With the 20 Pro 5G though I was struggling with the lag when trying to control the crop with finger pinches and spreads. Using the zoom bar on the side was just too sensitive for me and I couldn’t get the crop I wanted. By the time I have to move on I just punch the shutter button and the lag there was enough for the next breeze to come in and make a mess of my photo. The only useable shots from this outing was a selfie of my daughter and I masked up and chilling on a bench, and a general landscape shot up the street. I have to say at this point it was pretty disappointing as all I have done is fire up the camera in auto mode and use it in the ambient conditions of the day.
Not to be deterred, I went back for a second try flying solo. There was definitely an improvement on the hit rates this time around when I took a little more time to allow the camera to focus. There is still a lag to zoom in and out, and a lag to taking the photo. But learning from the lessons from before, I could get a bit more out of the camera this time.
The overall image quality is good. There is a little oversaturation in the scene but not criminally so. Predominantly red scenes is well over cooked, but TCL is hardly the only culprit in this regard. The low light performance is admirable although it does take time to process the shot.
With optical zoom maxed out to get a (rare) photo of a jet in the air, there is plenty of halo and artifacts. But we are talking about maxing out the capabilities to zoom in here so it is to be expected.
What’s that Key? The TCL 20 Pro 5G’s Mystery Button
On the left side of the phone is a button all by it’s lonesome. I had to RTFM to find out what it is for, and it is the TCL Smart Key.
So what is the Smart Key? It turns out, a hell of a lot. The blurb in the configuration screen says “you can customise a variety of powerful features to make the use of the phone more convenient.” There are three options – Single press, Double press and Long press.
Activating any of the options gives you a list that is several pages long. I won’t document every single option but this gives you an idea:
- Turn on/off NXTVISION enhancement
- Google Assistant, Walkie-Talkie mode, search with Google
- Camera: launch front or rear camera, launch camera in specific mode, start a video recording
- Gallery: open a specific picture, last picture, browse
- Smart Manager: device optimisation, battery saver mode
- Edge bar: launch specific edge bar function
- IR remote
- Others: Flash light, Screen recording, Split screen, Timer, Call a specific contact.
There are loads and loads more but these are just some highlights. TCL has place the key in a position that is a natural resting spot for your fingers regardless whether you are a southpaw or a right hander. It is absolutely a design win for me.
The one feature that I did not expect to love was the Edge Bar. I made it clear earlier in the review that my personal preference is for a traditional flat screen, but TCL’s implementation of the Edge Bar is making me reconsider. Yes it is possible to turn it off, move the activation point to either side of the screen, turn on and off the tabs to your heart’s content.
The Edge Bar presets have tabs for Apps, Contacts, Ruler, Remotes, Functions. Each of these can be turned off if not being used. But with a little effort in customisation, it is a powerful tool to improve how you can interface with your phone and have all the important and favourite items at your fingertip.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G sports a 4500 mAh. Not a particularly scientific test but running it as my (fairly busy) secondary phone, it easily lasted a whole day without dramas.
There are a few things I don’t like about the TCL 20 Pro 5G. Are they dealbreakers? That would depend on what your use pattern is.
Personal choice here but I am not a fan of the Dotch screen. Having a black hole in the middle top of the screen is just too distracting when I’m in an full screen app.
The camera response could be much better. The photos quality I have covered earlier and I don’t have any particular complains there. But the lag with the zoom and shutter just won’t work when I want quick candid photos of my kids.
The under screen fingerprint reader can be a bit hit and miss, the facial recognition is much faster although you need an additional swipe up after it recognises you to unlock.
There is no IP rating for the phone.
There is no stereo speakers either, just the single on the bottom end of the phone.
Conclusions on the TCL 20 Pro 5G
Without a doubt the TCL 20 Pro 5G is a gorgeous phone. In my mind from the looks perspective it is a challenger to the Nokia 8.3 5G. The key difference here is that the 20 Pro 5G has a flushed back – no unsightly camera bump to rock the phone.
When I first received the phone a few weeks ago, I thought the RRP of $799 was on the high side, when you can get a Pixel 5 for just under $1000 with a optimised stock experience and definitely better camera experience. The projected pricing of the Pixel 6 Pro puts things back into perspective and suddenly the asking price of the TCL 20 Pro 5G is much more palatable.
I love the clarity and vividness of the screen. The UI is almost stock with some unobtrusive and useful improvements. The screen ratio gives me more real estate without forcing me into using it with both hands.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G comes with the standard 2 years Android upgrades, meaning it will receive Android 13.
Overall I wish I was more thrilled with it. I could live with everything the TCL 20 Pro 5G is as a daily drive, But the camera issue is an Achilles’ Heel that I can’t ignore.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G is available from Amazon, Vodafone, Mobileciti and Harvey Norman. It comes in both Marine Blue and Moondust Gray, with a recommended retail price of $799.
OS: TCL UI, Android 11
Security: Update until June 2023
Dimensions: 164.2 X 73 X 8.77~9.07mm
Side keys: Power, volume, Smart Key
Finish: 3D back & front glass, glossy AG & high polished AF coating, OPVD film
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon™ 750G 5G Mobile Platform
CPU: Qualcomm Kryo™ 570 Octa-Core: 2 × Kyro Gold (A77, 2.0 GHz) + 6 × Kyro Silver (A55, 1.7 GHz)
GPU: Qualcomm Adreno™ 619
6.67-inch FHD+ curved AMOLED Dotch Display
20:9 display (1080 x 2400 pixels)
Iris 6 display chipset
394PPI, 16.7M colors, DCI-P3 100% , JNDC 0.8
Brightness: 700 nits brightness (HBM), current 420 ± 10% (Typical)
Contrast ratio: 2,000,000:1 (Typical)
Screen-to-body ratio: 93%
Netflix HDR10 supported
TÜV Reinland Certification
48MP Sony OIS Camera : PDAF, 6P lens, F1.79 aperture, 1/2″ sensor size, 0.8μm pixel size, 79° field of view, Sony IMX582, OIS (Optical Image Stabilization)
16MP Ultra Wide-Angle Camera: FF, 5P lens, F2.4 aperture, 1/3″ sensor size, 1.0μm pixel size, 123° field of view
5MP Macro Camera: AF, 3P lens, F2.2 aperture, 1/5″ sensor size, 1.12μm pixel size, 83° field of view
2MP Depth Camera : FF, 3P lens, F2.4 aperture, 1/5″sensor size, 1.75μm pixel size, 85° field of view
Video capture: 4K@30FPS, 1080P@60/30FPS
Video playback: 4K@30FPS, 1080P@60/30FPS
Features: 2X lossless zoom, 10X digital zoom, dual LED flash, EIS, Google Lens, HDR, in-recording snapshots, Light Trace Mode, low-light, Panorama Mode, Portrait Mode, Pro Mode, photo filters, real-time bokeh, scene detection, Slow-Mo Video Mode, Super Macro Mode, Super Night Mode, Super Steady Mode, Super Wide-Angle Mode, video bokeh
32MP Front Camera : FF, 5P lens, F2.45 aperture, 1/2.8″ sensor size, 0.8μm pixel size, 80.4° field of view
Video capture: 4K@30FPS, 1080P@60/30FPS
Video playback: 4K@30FPS, 1080P@60/30FPS
Features: Face Beautification (photos), HDR video, LCD flash, Portrait Mode, Slow-Motion Slefie, Video Bokeh
6GB RAM + 256GB ROM
Supports Micro SD card up to 1TB
User memory: 239GB
Battery & Performance
Battery: 4500mAh (Typical)
Type-C USB 2.0
18W Qualcomm® Quick Charge™ 3.0, 9V2A3
15W wireless charging
Charging time: 100% 2 hours
Audio formats: 3GP, 3G2, AAC, AAC+, enhanced AAC+, AAC LC, ADTS, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, ASF, AVI, AWB, EVRC, FLAC, H.263, H.264, H265/HEVC, IMY, MIDI, MKV, MOV, MP3, MPEG-4, MXMF, OGG, OPUS, OTA, PCM, QCELP, RTTTL, RTX, Vorbis, VP8, VP9, WAV, WEBM, XMF MPEG-4, Xvid
Dual-mic noise cancellation
3.5mm audio jack
Supported headsets: LRGM
Super Bluetooth multistreaming4
Hi-Res Audio certification