The stage is set for the battle of the budget phones. There is no denying when it comes to flagship devices, there are really only three names up there. What is below that stratosphere is a large playground for savvy companies to step in. One of these brands is TCL who recently had their coming out party in 2020 with their own line of mobile phones. TCL has kindly provided DRN with a TCL 10L, a budget smartphone with revolutionary visual technology, for review.
Read on to the end for a little surprise announcement.
The TLC 10L is comparable in size to the Google Pixel 2XL – a little taller and a smidgen skinnier. On the surface it looks premium, the back cover of our review unit is reminiscent of the Nokia 8.3’s Polar Night. Here TCL calls it Mariana Blue.
The design language is similar to the TCL 10 Pro that Jo reviewed in October 2020. The four-lens camera array with dual LED flash makes for a striking feature. In the case of the TCL 10L, this array is not flushed with the back of the phone. A fingerprint reader sit below the imaging array, no under display sensor here.
The NXTVISION powered LED screen is bright and vivid, with only a punch hole selfie camera in the top left corner to interrupt the slab.
In short the TCL 10L looks the good, but when held in the hand, there is no mistaking that plastic is the dominant material in the finishing of the build. After all the TCL 10L is a budget phone and sacrifices must be made.
Setting up the TCL 10L is like every other Android phone, the process is pretty standardised from Google. TCL has made some custom set up screens at the end of the process.
Although a small gesture, but TCL has an option for setting a preference for dominant hand. For starters it swaps the on-screen back button to either the left or right of the screen depending on what you choose. I discovered more on this feature which I will discuss later.
NXTVISION is TCL’s crown jewel with their current mobile portfolio. It automatically adjusts contrast, sharpness and saturation to improve the multimedia visual experience. By default it is turned on.
The last of the custom settings is the display preferences for the launcher – you can choose between Home and drawer screen (Google style) or just Home screen only (all your apps shown on home screen).
I got an update as soon as the phone connected to my WiFi. At the time of writing, the phone is on Android 10, security patch level 1 November 2020.
TCL however, appears to have begun to roll out Android 11 as of late January 2021 in some parts of the world.
The TCL 10L sports a 6.53-inch LCD “Dotch” display. Dotch is a amalgamation of dot and notch, a reference to the punch hole in the top left corner for the selfie camera. It boasts a 91% screen-to-body ratio (calculated with VA/TP method) with thanks to a miniscule bezel around the phone. The screen ratio is
19.5:9 with a resolution of 1080 x 2340 pixels at 395PPI.
With TCL being a display manufacturer, you expect good things with them. The TCL 10L screen does not disappoint, it is the showpiece of the phone. As I briefly touch on previously, TCL’s NXTVISION technology deliver features such as SDR to HDR upscaling to improve the multimedia visual experience in real time.
Still on the topic of visual experiences, the TCL 10L has a couple of tricks up their sleeve for looking after your eyesight. Firstly there is the “Eye comfort mode”, which works similarly to the Google “Night Light” mode. You can schedule it either from sunset to sunrise, or by time. Additionally a slider allows you to adjust how cold or warm you want this mode to be. At it’s warmest setting, it casts a yellow / orange cast on everything. No surprises here as it is essentially the baked in function with Android.
There is also the “Reading mode” which is accessible from the NXTVISION app. This optimises the screen display to replicate a reading experience akin to an e-book reader. When the Reading mode is turned on, NXTVISION visual enhancements are disabled. TCL claims a reduction of up to 66% of blue light to reduce eye strain using this mode.
All of this is technically great, but how does it really perform in practice? I fired up the season one finale of one of my current favourite shows, the Expanse. I chose this particular episode (well it is an *amazing* episode to begin with) because of the muted, almost sepia like tone in many scenes, contrasting with the glowing blue of the protomolecules as it takes over Eros station. The contrast between having NXTVISION enabled and not is like night and day. With NXTVISION enabled, the scenes come alive with much better contrasts and colour saturation. Whereas without NXTVISION, it is noticeably duller and more mute.
Lady A also loves her Wonder Woman, and I have to say that the TCL 10L does faithfully reproduce the 80s neon style of WW84. Gal Gadot’s golden eagle armour sparkles and gleams, standing out against the grim apocalyptic backdrop in her fight with Cheetah.
Surprisingly visibility under direct midday sun was still solid, and the viewing angles remains good across my use cases.
TCL has opted for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 supported by 6GB RAM and Adreno 610 which both date from April 2019. The CPU is a Qualcomm Kryo 260 Octa-Core which was announced back in May 2017. This is to be expected when you are playing in the budget phone space – the latest and greatest heart beat comes with a hefty price tag.
I don’t game much on my mobile, and when I do they are not games that pushes the performance envelope. Lately I sneak in a game or two of Boggle or Evil Apples. I leave the serious gaming to my fellow editors like OeterB or Daniel. But making an exception for this review, I loaded up a flight simulator and crash landed a Piper PA-23 on an aircraft carrier (only because it refused to let me lower the gears).
In day to day tasks, it runs sufficiently well in launching apps and doing all the usual things that I normally do – messaging, email, social media, look at funny videos and memes. All the tasks where a split second does not matter, the TCL 10L handles without issues.
It is hard to miss the imaging array at the back of the TCL 10L. The bank of four camera fans out across in a horizontal line, it comprises of:
- 48 MP main camera
- 8 MP ultra wide
- 2 MP macro
- 2 MP depth image sensor
Looking at the colours in the picture taken with the main camera on an overcast day, it is noticeably duller and darker than the same scene taken with a Pixel 5. It needs to be said that the white balance on both photos are out with the TCL being a little too cool and the Pixel a bit too warm. The real scene is somewhere in between towards the Pixel’s side.
I took a couple of photos at Gundams Plus on Master E’s birthday. In auto mode it picked up the colourful array of model kit boxes on the shelf. The lighting was not ideal on the day but the resulting photo is more than acceptable. Having Master E in focus in portrait mode was a little more challenging, his obvious excitement and not being able to keep still made it harder to get a in focus photo.
Macro lens is popular with mobile phones, but in reality I see very real little use of it. I have found focussing and depth to be a common problem. The TCL 10L surprised me with the speed of the focus and the depth of field that it can achieve. Looking at the results of the macro shot with the ruler and the Christmas beetle, it can capture good details without over emphasizing the details. It did struggle with the focus on the Christmas beetle itself, but to be fair, it would be challenging with a macro lens on a DSLR with full manual control. The details on the Australian 10 cent coin is rendered gorgeously though.
The camera app has some additional features not found in the pure Android experience. For example the portrait mode has an aperture control from f/1.0 to f/16. This is all simulated rather than optical, but there are some advantages to having some control over the depth of field.
The pro mode gives full manual control over the settings. The most interesting settings are under the “more” mode, and these include slo-mo, stop motion, light trace, pano and high pixel. The light trace option has three options: capture movement such as water or crowds, capture light such as city lights and stars, and light painting.
The camera app also allows you to watermark your images, although you cannot customise it. It is a TCL 10L logo and slogan, fixed in the bottom left of the frame.
TCL has included a 4000mAh battery with the 10L, and it is rated for 15 hours of talk time under “typical use”. The size of the battery is reasonably generous although not ahead of the pack. It is sufficient to drive the LED screen and realistically it will last me most of a work day without needing to recharge with my normal pattern of use.
There is a dual speaker setup on the TCL 10L, but they are both located at the bottom of the phone. In this configuration one should never expect great things but in this case, it is surprisingly adequate. There is not a lot of depths in the music but let’s be honest, the chances of be blasting out music out of a single speaker on the phone is pretty close to zero. Considering the number of earbuds and headphones I review regularly, there is always something lying around that I can grab quickly.
The more noticeable issue is my hand have a tendency to cover the speakers when holding the phone in landscape mode. If you so choose, there is a 3.5mm audio jack at the top of the phone for those still rocking the wired era.
Call performance was good, there were no complains about the quality of the calls I made and I came through clearly. The incoming audio was slightly flat, but still clear enough not to be an issue overall.
For a budget phone, TCL has opted for both a fingerprint reader as well as Face Unlock. Both are pretty fast at unlocking the phone. My personal preference has always been the fingerprint reader (more so with the mask rule for COVID). Whilst the Face Unlock seems fast enough, unlike the Pixel 4, you have to hit the power button first before the authentication will kick in. As a result the Face Unlock option for me is consistently slower.
The TCL 10L has a smart key on the left side of the phone. Unlike some competitors, TCL allows the key to be programmed for specific functions. The app gives the option to set a task for Single Press, Double Press or a Long Press. You can enable each of these options individually
After so many years of having the pure Android experience, I expected it to be hard to move to a vendor UI for the review. Again TCL surprised me here with a pretty minimal change from the pure Android experience. By default the launcher sets the old Android navigation button scheme, but it is easy enough to go into the settings to change it to gesture based.
TCL has implemented a one-hand mode, shrinking the screen down to one corner. You can control the size of this mode by long-pressing the corner and dragging the rectangle around.
I found the Optimise app which gave me a pretty animation but absolutely no information on what it really does. (Hint: it closes all your background apps and I assume clears memory buffers, clipboard etc).
There is a Support Center app which lets you find FAQs, manuals, device info, hardware diagnostics and seek help if you have having issues with your phone. This could be handy.
The SIM tray has a slot for a microSD card up to 256GB in capacity in FAT32 format.
I like the cute animation for showing that it is fast charging.
I ran into a fairly significant issue during the setup process. I found for whatever reason the TCL 10L refuses to connect to my WPA2/WPA3-PSK WiFi network. It is not the Android version it is rocking because I have other phones on it connecting just fine. This is a bit of a problem for me if I am to use it as my daily driver. I will note, though, it had no issues with my guest network which is WPA/WPA2 PSK encrypted.
For a phone that is not tied to a carrier, TCL did throw in some bloatware with the deal. There is Android’s Files and TCL’s File Manager, separate Gallery and Video apps which really can be consolidated. Netflix, Facebook, Moon Reader and even Booking.com come pre-installed.
The NXTVISION app is important, but it is fully duplicated in the settings manual.
Lastly, the cameras can be a little slow to focus in less than optimal light.
I know Jo was pretty impressed with the TCL 10 Pro, and I have to admit that I am pretty surprised by the quality and features of the TCL 10L.
The screen is definitely the crown jewels here. Performance wise it holds up well under my usage pattern, your mileage may vary if you are a gamer.
The TCL 10L has a RRP of $449, making it competitively priced in the mid-range market. There are other options available in that space, but the overall TCL 10L package is quite compelling. It is available from JB Hi-Fi and Amazon Australia. There appears to be some cheaper deals on Amazon, and buying through them helps helps DigitalReviews so we appreciate you considering making your purchase there.
It is raining prizes here at DRN. With thanks to TCL Mobile, we have a TCL 10 Pro valued at AUD$749 to give away. Head on over here to read all about it, along with the obligatory terms and conditions.
Dimensions: 162.2 X 75.6 X 8.4
Side keys: Power, volume, Smart Key (Smart Key feature availability varies by region and country.)
Mariana Blue finish: 2.5D front glass, 3D Cover, blue holographic film
Arctic White finish: 2.5D front glass, 3D Cover, white holographic film
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 mobile platform
CPU: Qualcomm Kryo™ 260 Octa-Core (4 x Gold 2.0GHz, 4 x Silver 1.8GHz)
GPU: Adreno 610
6.53-inch LCD Dotch display
19.5:9 display (1080 x 2340 pixels)
Dedicated display chipset
Screen-to-body ratio: 91% (Screen-to-body ratio calculated with VA/TP method.)
Quad Rear Camera
Resolution: 48MP + 8MP + 2MP + 2MP
Lens: 6P + 5P + 3P + 3P
Contrast detection auto focus (CDAF), phase-detection auto focus (PDAF)
10X digital zoom
Dual single-tone LED flash
Aperture: F1.8 + F2.2 + F2.4 + F2.4
Image sensor: S5KGM1 + GC8034 + GC2385 + GC2385
Sensor size: 1/2.25” + 1/4” + 1/5” + 1/5”
Pixel size: 0.8μm + 1.12μm + 1.65 μm + 1.65μm
Lens field of view: 79° + 118° + 79°+ 86.6°
Video capture: 4K@30FPS
Slow motion video capture: 1080P@120FPS, 720P@240FPS
Features: Google Lens, HDR, in-recording snapshots, Light Trace Mode, Macro Mode, Panorama Mode, Portrait Mode, Pro Mode, real-time bokeh, scene detection, Slow-Mo Video Mode, Stop-Motion Video Mode, Wide-Angle Mode
Image sensor: S5K3P9SP04
Sensor size: 1/3.1″
Pixel size: 1.0µm
Lens field of view: 76.3°
Video capture: 1080P/720P@30FPS
Features: Face Beautification (photos), Portrait Mode
6GB RAM + 64GB ROM
6GB RAM + 128GB ROM (Availability varies by region and country.)
Supports Micro SD card, up to 256GB (FAT32)
User memory: 44G/107GB
Battery and Performance
Talk time: 11 hours (2G), 25 hours (3G), 15 hours (4G) typical use
Standby time: 593 hours typical use
Charging time: 2 hours 25 minutes
Audio formats: AAC+, enhanced AAC+, AAC LC, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, FLAC, MP3, MIDI, Vorbis, PCM/WAVE
Dual-mic noise cancellation, audio zoom and 3M adapter
3.5mm audio jack
Supported headsets: LRGM and LRMG
4G data: LTE Cat 6 (400Mbit/s downlink, 75Mbit/s uplink)
3G data: HSPA+ (42Mbit/s downlink, 5.76Mbit/s uplink)
2G data: GPRS/EDGE
4G LTE Bands: EU/MEA/SEAPAC: 1/3/5/7/8/20/28/38/40/41 LATAMUS-OM/CA: B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/26/28/38/66/25/40/41
3G Bands: EU/MEA/SEAPAC: 1/2/5/8 LATAM/US-OM/CA: B1/2/4/5/8
2G Quadband: 2/3/5/8
Wi-Fi: WLAN 802.11 b/g/n for 2.4GHz, 802.11 a/n/ac for 5GHz, Wi-Fi Direct, Wi-Fi display, 4G Mobile Hotspot, VoLTE, VoWifi (optional)
Bluetooth 5.0, Super Bluetooth, aptX, LDAC, NFC
USB: USB Type-C, USB 2.0, USB OTG
Single SIM model: 4FF Nano SIM + Micro SD
Dual SIM model: 4FF Nano SIM + 4FF Nano SIM or Micro SD
Accelerometer & gyro sensor, A-GPS, e-compass, GPS Galileo, proximity sensor, RGB light sensors
Flashlight, NFC, The Google Assistant
Protective case, film display protector