A lot of compromises have been made to produce a 5G-ready phone that can retail at the same price as the TCL 10 Pro, resulting in a device that simply can't keep up where it counts. The TCL 10 5G might have some allure to those who want a fast performing phone at a reasonable price, but the downgraded screen, lacklustre cameras and some niggling bugs and design quirks, are simply too difficult to overlook – particularly when there are better 5G phones out there at a cheaper price.
- Great performance owed to the Qualcomm chipset
- Long-lasting battery
- Lacklustre cameras
- Downgraded screen from the TCL 10 Pro
- Bluetooth issues
- Review Price: £399
- Quad-camera module
- 6.53-inch FHD+ LCD display
- Qualcomm® Kryo™ Octa-Core CPU
- 128GB storage
- 6GB RAM
- 4500mAh battery
- Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 765G
- Dimensions: 163.65 x 76.56 x 9.05mm
The aptly named TCL 10 5G is the tech giant’s most expensive smartphone and its first step into the world of 5G connectivity. But rather than target the same flagship market as the uber-expensive iPhone 12 Pro Max or Galaxy S21 Ultra its sights are aimed at the mid-range market dominated by great value handsets like the Pixel 4a 5G.
This could make it sound like a great handset, especially as last year we found ourselves to be quite impressed with TCL’s first self-branded entry into the world of smartphones: the TCL 10 Pro. After working through brands like Blackberry and Alcatel for years, the TV manufacturer finally threw its name into the ring and the results were impressive. Despite its £399.99 price point, the phone managed to cram in a great deal of features, including fast processing, an OLED display and a gorgeous camera system that was embedded within the phone’s chassis.
However, after a few weeks with the new phone, I sadly can confirm lightning has not struck twice with the TCL 10 5G. Here’s why.
TCL 10 5G – Price
With the 10 5G, it’s clear that TCL is modelling the phone as a direct alternative to the TCL 10 Pro. The TCL 10 5G retails at £399.99 (roughly $546/€451), the same price that’s currently slapped on the Pro.
While these phones have been designed to appeal to the exact same corner of the market, they differ greatly in the areas they excel in, so the process of deciding which phone to go with will depend entirely on which features you find more valuable.
Design and Screen – a step down in both areas for the TCL 10 5G
- Unlike the TCL 10 Pro, the 10 5G’s camera module is not embedded in the chassis
- The display has been downgraded to an IPS LCD screen panel
- There’s a dedicated button for calling the Google Assistant
One of the defining features of the TCL 10 Pro was its gorgeous design, which seamlessly integrated the wide camera module into the body itself, creating a style entirely its own. You can imagine my disappointment then when, after unboxing the TCL 10 5G, I was greeted with a wide (albeit slim) camera bump instead.
Still, the phone retains a glass back and an aluminium frame, both of which combine to form a decent weight in the hand that certainly makes the TCL 10 5G feel more expensive than it actually is, even when compared to the more expensive, but plastic backed, Galaxy S21. On the back, there’s also a very subtle gradient chance that occurs as your eyes move towards the bottom of the phone. It’s hardly the most eye-catching design I’ve ever seen, but it is a nice bit of added flair, particularly if you pick up the Chrome Blue option.
Audiophiles will be glad to know that the TCL 10 5G comes with a 3.5mm headphone input for lossless playback, but even rarer is a dedicated button on the phone’s left-hand side that activates the Google Assistant. As a frequent user of the Google Assistant, having an immediate trigger has been quite helpful, but for whatever reason the button’s function can’t be customised to open a different app instead. I’m all for having a few more buttons than the standard power/volume combo, but this feels like a missed opportunity. I suppose you can always ask Google Assistant for the app you really want to use.
Keeping costs down when making a 5G phone is still tricky, but from the moment I turned the phone on it was clear screen quality was the first area TCL cut designing the 10 5G. While the TCL 10 5G’s display is slightly larger at 6.53-inches, the previous phone’s OLED panel has been replaced with a dimmer IPS LCD display. It’s not the worst compromise I’ve come across, but it is disappointing that the 10 5G lacks the visual flare of the 10 Pro.
To remedy this, TCL has included has included the NXTVISION app, which analyses what’s on screen and adjusts the colour and contrast to make the image appear brighter and less dim than what you might find on smartphones with a similar display. The uptick is definitely noticeable, but it doesn’t come close to matching the prowess of an OLED panel, which offers better blacks and a generally more dynamic experience.
As a side note, if you plan on watching any content on the TCL 10 5G then make sure you’ve got a decent pair of headphones because the bottom facing speakers are about as dull as they could possibly be. Audio feels flat and the one-sided output isn’t ideal for conveying any discernible layering.
Camera – a decent main snapper that’s flanked by digital deadweight
- The main 64MP sensor can take social-media ready shots under the right conditions
- Detail on the ultra-wide is so poor that it’s not worth using
- A random pop-up implores you to keep your hands away from the sensors, even when there’s a noticeable distance between them
Just like the 10 Pro before it, the TCL 10 5G has a quad-camera set-up but with a slightly downgraded ultra-wide option. This time you have a 64MP main sensor, an 8MP ultra-wide, a 2MP depth-sensor and everyone’s favourite, a 5MP macro camera.
As tends to be the case with phones this price, the allure of multiple cameras is tempting, but what you end up with is a bunch of underwhelming sensors as opposed to a single sensor that performs well, much like with the Pixel 4a.
Luckily for the TCL 10 5G, the camera offering isn’t a complete disaster, with the 64MP main sensor able to do a decent job under certain conditions. Taking the TCL 10 5G with you on a sunny day, it is possible to get some great pictures that not only absorb the colour well, but also know exactly how to process the brightness of the sky.
In most instances, these pictures are great for social media where they’ll be viewed on a small screen, but any attempt to zoom in on an image will immediately reveal the lack of available detail. The situation’s even worse when you swap to the ultra-wide sensor, as image detail takes an even greater hit to the point where blurring around the edges is visible without zooming in.
The phone’s night mode, or ‘super night’ as its listed in the camera app, only seeks to continue this trend. To its credit, the dedicated night mode can light up the ground of a dimly-lit shot quite well, but it struggles in adapting the sky and anything that could potentially be blended in with it.
To make matters worse, there is a warning message that appears completely at random, telling the user not to cover any of the sensors on the back of the phone. This message interrupted my picture taking numerous times, particularly outdoors, when my fingers were no-where near the sensors in question. And yet, attempts to capture the pop-up by smooshing my hand all over the cameras brought no results, and there’s no way of switching off the warning in the settings.
Performance – a smooth experience, helped along by a competent chipset
- The Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chipset yields impressive results
- Gaming on the TCL 10 5G is a blast
- Bluetooth connection problems persisted throughout testing
Until now, it’s likely been easy to get the impression that the TCL 10 5G is universally inferior to the 10 Pro, but this isn’t the case where performance is concerned. This is due to the 10 5G coming packed with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chipset.
Even though the display is running at 60Hz, movement throughout the phone’s UI feels fast and responsive, giving the impression of a device that’s much higher up the chain where price is concerned. In benchmarking tests, the TCL 10 5G received a high single-core score of 602, and a decent multi-core score of 1880 – the likes of which are atypical for a phone at this end of the market.
This power under the hood ensured that the TCL 10 5G could handle most of what I wanted to throw at it. Diving into some online matches in Call of Duty Mobile proved to be no problem at all, and the same goes for jumping between various messaging apps on the go. Where the TCL 10 5G did stumble was in trying to maintain a constant Bluetooth connection.
Throughout my testing, the 10 5G would inexplicably drop all Bluetooth connections at random, only to reconnect moments later. The frequency at which this issue would appear also changed at random which, for a person like me who enjoys listening to podcasts for long stretches of time, was a frustrating problem that I could gladly do without.
Aside from the Bluetooth issue, the rest of my experience was fine, and helped along by TCL’s largely hassle-free take on the Android OS. This isn’t to say that the TCL launcher is particularly eye-catching – it pales in comparison to stock Android and Oxygen OS – but it’s largely free of bloatware, and there are several visual options to make things easier on the eyes, including eye-comfort mode, reading mode and dark mode.
Battery – under moderate use, you can see up to two days with the TCL 10 5G
- With moderate use, it’s easy to get two days out of the TCL 10 5G
- From 0%, it takes roughly two hours to reach a full charge
Even though the TCL 10 5G has the same 4500mAh battery found in the 10 Pro, the juice goes a lot further this time around as it doesn’t have to worry about powering a more premium display. As a result, the 10 5G easily outperforms its sibling in this area.
In my testing, the TCL 10 5G was able to go through a whole day, plus 13 hours (two hours and 36 minutes of which were screen on time), before needing to be hooked up for the nearest charger. Of course, heavier use will likely result in the 10 5G needing a charge first thing the next morning, but it’s nice to know that you can get through an entire day without worry.
Just be mindful if you’re in a hurry however, as a full charge will take two hours of your time. A speedier charging process would’ve been nice, but it’s hard to argue with in relation to the low asking price of the phone to begin with.
You should buy the TCL 10 5G if
1. You want an affordable 5G phone
At just £399.99, the TCL 10 5G offers up one of the cheaper ways to get onboard the 5G bandwagon. Sure, it’s not as cheap as the Moto G 5G Plus, but it’s still on the affordable side of things when you compare it to flagships from the likes of Apple and Samsung.
2. You value performance over all
The TCL 10 5G might be lacking in a number of places, but performance isn’t one of them. The included Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chipset is a powerful beast, allowing the phone to handle everyday tasks with ease.
3. You need a battery that can go the distance
Under the right circumstances, you can easily get two days worth of use out of the TCL 10 5G, making it a handy device to have if you’re going to be away from a power outlet for a decent portion of time.
You should not buy the TCL 10 5G if
1. You want a competent camera experience
Even though the phone totes a total of four rear-facing cameras, it’s only the main 64MP sensor that takes any shots that are worth sharing. Detail is so lacking in the ultra-wide sensor that it’s not worth using at all, and I’d sooner recommend one of the similarly priced Pixel phones.
2. You use your phone primarily for watching content
Disappointingly, the TCL 10 5G uses an IPS LCD display which just isn’t as vibrant or well suited for watching content on the go as an OLED alternative. What’s irritating is that you can find OLED displays on much cheaper devices, so it’s a hard pill to swallow here.
3. You want a more exciting take on Android
While the experience isn’t weighed down by bloatware, TCL’s Android launcher is fairly milquetoast compared to what’s available on Pixel and OnePlus smartphones. It might not seem like the most important quality, but a more developed UI can go a long way to making you feel more confident with your purchase.
How we test phones
We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.