The TCL 20 SE provides an options for smart phones for the budget conscious. Having recently reviewed the top end of TCL Mobile offerings, it only reasonable we take a look at the budget end of the spectrum, too. The TCL 20 SE sneaks in just under the $300 mark, so don’t expect miracles. But it does surprisingly well for the price point. So what can you expect? so

TCL 20SE

First Impressions

It’s a big phone.  And it feels it, both in dimensions and in weight. In the hand, you know you are holding it. The heft in the phone was more than I had expected when our CUO unboxed the phone. The physical size is driven by the 6.82 inch LCD at 60Hz refresh rate with TCL’s NXTVISION technology.

Here in Australia our only colour choice is “Nuit Black”. As expected at this price point, is a plastic backed phone although it does not feel it. I don’t mind the colour tone on it, with the 20-series signature accent strip on one side adding a flair to the look. The gloss finish, however, is an absolute fingerprint magnet and you will find yourself cleaning it every time you touch it, or opt straight for the included clear TPU case.

If you are outside of Australia, you may get the choice of Aurora Green. Admittedly, this looks pretty nice on press images, so it’s a shame it’s not available here, too.

The standardised design language with the 20 series shows through in more than just the accent stripe, the array of quad-camera is in the same orientation and position. In line with the lower cost, a fingerprint reader is set in the back of the unit.

TCL provides everything you need in the box, including a screen protector (not tempered glass though), a TPU clear case to show off that back, a charging brick and cable, a pair of wired earbuds. Everything you need to get going without having to fork out extras.

Yes the inclusion of wired earbuds means there is a 3.5mm headphone jack.

 

Setup

The setup of the TCL 20 SE is the same as the TCL 20 Pro 5G which I reviewed earlier. To iterate, the divergence from a stock Android set up are for:

  • Lock screen 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

This is where it is rather apparent that we are working with a budget phone, with some lags as we transition from one screen to another.

 

In Use

There is little doubt that the TCL 20 SE is a budget phone and expectations were adjusted accordingly.

With the TCL NXTVISION baked into the device, the display is nice and bright. NXTVISION technology pumps up the vibrancy of the colours and is nicer than I had expectations for in the budget range. The viewing angles are excellent. As for the design, I personally prefer the V-notch screen here over the “Dotch” featured in the TCL 20 Pro 5G, it feels less distracting to me.

TCL makes no bones that the 20SE is optimised for media consumption – from the size of the screen, to the 20.5:9 screen ratio to emulate cinematic-like viewing performance, these are the foundations of the device.

The NXTVISION capabilities does have some drawbacks. Whilst it performs brilliantly on device with enhanced colour, contrast and clarity, when you take your media off to view elsewhere, you could be in for a surprise. More on this later.

The TCL 20 SE navigates around the phone about as smoothly as can be expected. The heart of the phone is a Snapdragon 460 which is not exactly a new chipset and is paired with just 4GB of memory. I could play Alto’s Odyssey without lags, but swapping between apps will happen under protest. Realistically it is a phone designed for phone calls, a few apps and consumption of media.

Where the TCL 20 Pro 5G has a Smart Key, the TCL 20 SE has it as a dedicated Google Assistant button.

The rear fingerprint sensor is a well established design, and is as responsive as can be expected in 2021. I did find that it is more accurate and responsive than the under screen version on the TCL 20 Pro 5G. Similarly the Face Unlock works just fine, it just lag that little bit before it will unlock the phone.

TCL 20 SE Back

Camera

Despite the impressive looking array of quad-camera on the back, it is in reality little more than spec sheet filler. The main 48MP camera is workable if not overly exciting. This is where I mentioned earlier as a trap of NXTVISION – the enhanced visual fidelity of your photos is not the same once you view it on another screen.

Similar to the TCL 20 Pro 5G, the camera software comes with a bunch of modes aside from Auto. There is Video, Portrait, AI Colour and Pro with all the bells and whistles of manual control. Under the More settings there is Pano, Stop Motion, Light Trace, Super Macro and High Pixel.

Switching to AI Colour was noticeably slow and it really struggled to figure out what colours to pop. I gave it a good few goes and despite what it tries to show me on screen, never translated to the actual photo itself. Also the High Pixel mode is significantly slower to capture and post-process than the regular shooting mode.

The ultrawide lens quality is passable but only that.

The macro lens to put it bluntly is a waste of space. The results are so poor and noisy, that it looks more like an Impressionist painting than a photograph, even under fairly optimal lighting conditions.

The front selfie camera though, as actually quite decent for what it’s worth.

What TCL did good here, was to limit the digital zoom to 4x rather than trying to milk the specs look impressive on paper.

TCL 20 SE Auto
TCL 20 SE Auto
TCL 20 SE Zoom
TCL 20 SE Auto
TCL 20 SE Macro
TCL 20 SE Macro
TCL 20 SE Selfie
TCL 20 SE Auto
TCL 20 SE Wide

 

Battery

The 5000 mAh battery gives a pretty decent run time. The number looks large but coupled with the large screen does mean some operational sacrifices. If you are a light user, you will find that it just goes and goes. You should find that it will last the calendar day on average.

Throwing it to the PCMark test, the TCL 20 SE scores a work battery life of 15 hours 54 minutes which should comfortably outlast the average user who will consider this phone.

 

Gripes

In some ways there are so many things to complain about, but it is important to keep the optics on the price point.

I would honestly have preferred for TCL to shave a few dollars on the pricing by removing the macro and depth camera. In particular the latter never added genuine value in any of the phones I have tested. The results from the macro camera were woeful at best.

Secondly for media consumption, while the imagery is bright and vivid, the speakers are average at best.

The 18W charging port is not ideal for the time it takes to fully charge the battery.

 

Conclusions

If you are someone who have little use for a phone aside from making phone calls and media consumption (hi mum), the TCL 20 SE is an attractive proposition when tied in to the impressive battery life. I mention my mum because her use case of YouTube cooking and gardening videos, video calls with grandchildren, Whatsapp with friends. The battery can easily last the full day and she can recharge it overnight. Low performance demand, serviceable main camera for grandchildren photos, it ticks the boxes without paying a premium price.

The TCL 20 SE Nuit Black, is available from Amazon, Officeworks and Mobileciti with an RRP of AUD$299. There are currently deals make it just under AUD$250.

DRN would like to thank TCL Mobile for their continued support.

 

Specifications

Design
Dimensions: 172.08 x 77.14 x 9.1mm
Weight: 206g
Side keys: Power, volume, Google Assistant Button
2.5D PMMA/PC
Fingerprint-resistant coating
Colored OPVD film

OS
TCL UI
Android 11
Security Update Until: January 2023

Processor
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 460
CPU: Qualcomm Kryo 240 Octa-Core (4 x A73 1.6Ghz + 4 x A53 1.8Ghz)
GPU: Qualcomm Adreno 610

Display
6.82-inch V-notch HD+ display
20.5:9 display (720 x 1640 pixels)
Screen-to-body ratio: 90%
HD+ resolution
263PPI
Brightness: 450 nits (typical)

AI Quad-Camera
16MP/48MP Main Camera
16MP: AF, 5P lens, F1.8 aperture, 1/2.77” sensor size, 1.12μm pixel size, 77° field of view
48MP: AF, 5P lens, F2.0 aperture, 1/2“ sensor size, 0.8μm pixel size, 79° field of view
5MP Super Wide-Angle Camera: FF, 4P lens, F2.2 aperture, 1/5“ sensor size, 1.12μm pixel size, field of view 115°,
2MP Macro Camera : FF, 3P lens, F2.4 aperture, 1/5“ sensor size, 1.75μm pixel size, 83° field of view
2MP Depth Camera : FF, 3P lens, F2.4 aperture, 1/5“ sensor size, 1.75μm pixel size, 83° field of view

Video capture
1080P@30FPS
Video playback
1080P@30FPS

Features: 4X digital zoom, AI color portrait, Depth Bokeh, dual single-tone LED flash, face detection, Google Lens, HDR, in-recording snapshots, Light Trace Mode, low-light video, Night Mode, Panorama Mode, photo filters, Portrait Mode, Pro Mode, scene detection 2.0, Slo-Mo Mode, Super Macro Mode, Super Resolution, Stop Motion Mode, Wide-Angle Mode

Front Camera
8MP/13MP Front Camera
13MP: FF, 5P lens, F2.2 aperture, 1/3’’ sensor size, 1.12μm pixel size, 79.8° field of view
8MP: FF, 4P lens, F2.0 aperture, 1/4’’ sensor size, 1.12μm pixel size, 80.6° field of view
Video capture: 720P @30FPS
Video playback: 1080P @30FPS
Features: Face Beautification (photos), face detection, HDR, LCD flash, Portrait Mode

Memory
4GB RAM + 128GB ROM (UFS2.1)
Supports micro SD card up to 256GB

Battery & Performance
Battery: 5000mAh (typical)
Up to 18W charging
DOU value: More than 13 hours

Audio
Speakers: 1 speaker + 1 mini speaker
Audio formats: AAC, AAC+, enhanced AAC+, AMR, APE, AWB, FLAC, MP3, PCM playback,
Vorbis
HD Voice
Dual-mic noise cancellation
3.5mm audio jack
Supported headsets: LRGM

Connectivity
4G data: Cat 4 (150Mbit/s downlink, 50Mbit/s uplink)
3G data: HSPA+ (42M bit/s downlink, 5.76Mbit/s uplink)
2G data: GPRS/EDGE

4G bands:
EMEA/APAC: B1/3/5/7/8/20/28/38/40/41 (2540-2640)
LATAM: B1/B2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/26/28/66

3G bands:
EMEA/SEAPAC: B1/2/5/8
LATAM: B1/2/4/5/8

2G bands: GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Wi-Fi: 802.11b/g/n
Wi-Fi Direct

Mobile Hotspot, VoLTE, VoWifi
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC7
USB: USB Type-C 2.0
SIM card:
Dual SIM model: 4FF Nano SIM + 4FF Nano SIM/TF Card
Single SIM model: 4FF Nano SIM + TF Card

Sensors
Location: GPS, A-GPS, BeiDou, Galileo, Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS)
Other sensors: Accelerometer, E-compass, NFC, proximity sensor, light sensor

Authentication: Face Key, fingerprint sensor

Other features: Flashlight, Google Assistant, M3 HAC rating

Accessories: 5V2A charger, 9V2A charger (optional), gradient TPU case (optional), headset (optional), PC case (optional), PSI, protective film (optional), Quick Guide, SIM card pin, transparent TPU case, USB Type-C cable