TCL 20 Pro 5G review: Very pretty, but not special
TCL 20 Pro 5G: Specs
OS: Android 11 / TCL UI 3.0
Display: 6.67-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080)
Refresh rate: 60Hz
CPU: Snapdragon 750G
Storage / Expandable: 256GB / Yes
Rear cameras: 48MP (f/1.8), 16MP (f/2.4) ultrawide, 2MP (f/2.2) macro, 2MP (f/2.4) depth
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.5)
Video: Up to 4K at 30 fps
Battery: 4,500 mAh
Charging: 18W wired, 15W wireless
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 8:30
Size: 6.46 x 2.87 x 0.35 inches
Weight: 6.7 ounces
The TCL 20 Pro 5G is the company’s latest attempt to make a splash with phones bearing its own name, after years of building handsets for other brands. And this $499 phone is quite the looker, with a beautiful design and an immersive display..
As strong as those features are, the TCL 20 Pro 5G ultimately disappoints in practically every other regard. From cameras that failed to capture good video to below average battery life,this mid-range phone fails to impress beyond its pretty veneer.
As you’ll see in our TCL 20 Pro 5G review, the phone wants to do so much more, but it can’t quite live up to its similarly-priced (or even cheaper) rivals.
TCL 20 Pro 5G review: Price and availability
The TCL 20 Pro 5G is available right now for $499, which you can pick up from Amazon in either Marine Blue or Moondust Grey. There’s only one configuration available with 256GB of storage and 6GB of RAM.
This is a $50 price hike over last year’s TCL 10 Pro. Part of the increase comes down to 5G on the new phone — you get sub-6Ghz support, but no mmWave — and the improvements to the display tech. Overall, on paper, the TCL 20 Pro is a compelling device for $500. It does, however, face competition from the likes of the $399 iPhone SE (2020), $499 Pixel 4a 5G, and $499 Galaxy A52 5G.
TCL 20 Pro 5G review: Design
Hands down, the TCL 20 Pro 5G is the best looking phone at this price. Put TCL’s phone side-by-side with more expensive devices such as the OnePlus 9 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro, and the TCL 20 Pro 5G feels right at home. TCL deserves commendation for building a device that looks and feels great.
The huge 6.67-inch display on the TCL 20 Pro is surrounded by minimal bezels — the screen even curves with adjustable palm rejection settings to make it work well for you. The front-facing camera sits in a hole punch cutout in the middle of the display’s upper edge, giving the TCL 20 Pro a Samsung-esque look at first.
The back of the phone also impresses, with the cameras stacked vertically along the left border. My review unit is the Moondust Grey model, which looks quite unassuming. The other available color — Marine Blue — is quite stunning.
Along the top of the phone, you’ll find a headphone jack and an IR blaster. The accompanying IR remote app lets you attempt to connect to a wide variety of TVs, but I didn’t have luck with my old Toshiba office TV. If you own a TCL TV or anything from the last few years, you’ll probably be able to set up the remote function.
TCL 20 Pro 5G review: Display
The star of the show with the TCL 20 Pro 5G is the phone’s display — a 6.67-inch FHD+ AMOLED panel, locked at 60Hz. TCL’s panel features excellent color calibration, staying nice and bright.
You also get several great options for enhancing viewing experiences on the TCL 20 Pro. You can choose between two calibrations: Vivid and Natural. There’s also an option for image enhancement, including videos and games, that boosts contrast, sharpness, and provides HDR where applicable.
My go-to thing to watch on phones is the scene in the later parts of Blade Runner 2049 where everything is orange. On the TCL 20 Pro 5G, this scene looked fantastic. From the stark contrast to the action-packed sequences, I really enjoyed watching the whole section on this phone. For $500, the TCL 20 Pro 5G has an awesome display, great for movies and games.
In Vivid mode, the TCL 20 Pro 5G managed 184% of the sRGB spectrum and 130.4% of the more challenging DCI-P3 gamut. Our testing showed a Delta-E score (where 0 is perfect) of 0.28, which is a fairly standard ballpark for most phones nowadays. Compare that to the $500 Pixel 4a 5G, which netted 128.3% of the sRGB and 91.3% of the DCI-P3 gamuts with a Delta-E score of 0.3.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G also has a sunlight viewing mode, which cranks up the brightness for outdoor use. With this setting enabled, the phone reached a max of 622 nits in our lab. That’s pretty close to the Pixel 4a 5G’s 638 nits.
TCL 20 Pro 5G review: Cameras
The TCL 20 Pro 5G has a 32MP front camera and four rear cameras: a 48MP primary shooter with optical image stabilization, a 16MP ultrawide lens, a 2MP macro camera, and a 2MP depth sensor. The latter two are effectively useless, as we’ve seen time and time again with other budget and midrange phones. In my opinion, they’re included only so that TCL can say the phone has four cameras.
For the shootout comparisons, I used a Pixel 5, which has an identical camera setup to the Pixel 4a 5G. That should make it a fair fight with the TCL 20 Pro 5G, but TCL’s phone wasn’t always up to the challenge.
For this outdoor shot, the TCL 20 Pro 5G did a decent job capturing the red of the flowers and the green of the other plants. However, the image appears overexposed, making for a washed-out photo and one that ultimately doesn’t look all that good in comparison to the Pixel 5’s. That phone kept the lighting in check while doing a nice job with the reds and greens. Despite the Pixel’s tendency to favor natural colors, I think the final image has richer tones than the TCL’s.
Out in direct sunlight, the TCL 20 Pro 5G fared a lot better. It kept pace with the Pixel 5, capturing plenty of details without blowing out the final image. Direct sunlight can be a challenge for camera phones, and I found myself impressed with how well the TCL performed in this scene. There’s just a tad more saturation with the TCL’s image, which isn’t necessarily better than the Pixel’s natural colors — it just comes down to personal preference.
Inside, the TCL 20 Pro 5G once again did a fine job with these flowers. While it managed to capture the colors pretty well, TCL’s cameras bumped up the exposure a bit too much given how bright the room was already. You only really notice this when comparing it to the Pixel 5’s shot, which is a bit dimmer but more accurate. The TCL’s image is by no means bad, though.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G produced a decent portrait, though it opted for a zoomed-out look. The blur radius is acceptable. The final image is a bit cooler than the Pixel 5’s, which captured the warm tones of the room. The Pixel also created a better portrait, with a stronger bokeh effect and more emphasis on the subject. The TCL is fine, just not as good.
It’s hard to go up against the Pixel 5’s Night Sight, but the TCL 20 Pro 5G did all right with its Super Night mode. The final image didn’t come out as bright or as sharp as what Google’s phone produced, but we’ve seen worse attempts recently. The TCL’s image still shows the smoker and some of the light on the other side of the fence. The Pixel’s picture is brighter and has stronger details.
In this selfie, the TCL 20 Pro 5G struggled a bit with the sunlight filtering onto my face. The final image came out a bit bright and some of the finer details of my face were lost as a result. Compare that to the Pixel 5’s selfie, which managed to compensate for the sunlight all while capturing the ruddiness of my face and darker red in my beard. It even did a better job with my blue eyes than the TCL did.
TCL 20 Pro 5G review: Video
The TCL 20 Pro 5G supports up to 4K video at 30 frames per second in SDR, 1080p 30 with HDR. There’s also EIS to keep things stable and a couple of other options like better motion capture and such.
The one thing I noticed while recording my sample video was that the final footage looked overexposed, much like the very first image in our still camera face-off. Colors looked washed out, and I wasn’t that happy with the final result.
However, the EIS and two microphones did a good job at producing a stable video with decent sound quality. Overall, the TCL 20 Pro 5G is a respectable video recorder.
TCL 20 Pro 5G review: Performance
The TCL 20 Pro 5G uses a Snapdragon 750G paired with 6GB of RAM. This processor is newer than the Snapdragon 765G in the Pixel 4a 5G, and they’re neck-and-neck in terms of performance. The 765G has the slightest advantage in some tasks and is slightly more power-efficient with its 7nm process (versus the 8nm in the 750G). But for all intents and purposes, both system-on-chips are equal when it comes to real-world performance.
We’ve seen the Snapdragon 750G before in the Galaxy A52 5G and found it to be good enough for many uses. It’s not a gaming champ, mind you, but it can handle AI-specific and other intensive tasks well enough. While using the phone, I didn’t find the performance to be lacking for the most part. The TCL 20 Pro kept pace with the 765G-powered Pixel 5 I frequently use.
In Geekbench 5, the TCL 20 Pro 5G scored 1,922 in multicore. That beats the numbers we got for the Pixel 4a 5G, which averaged 1,614. The TCL 20 Pro 5G, like the Pixel 4a 5G, struggled with the 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited test, which measures graphics performance. The TCL managed an average of 6.7 frames per second — the Pixel 4a 5G similarly netted a 7 fps average.
At $500, the TCL 20 Pro 5G has pretty standard performance for Android phones in this price category. But the $399 iPhone SE handily beats anything else under $500, so if performance is your only consideration, then Apple’s budget-friendly iPhone is worth looking at.
TCL 20 Pro 5G review: Battery life and charging
With its 4,500mAh battery, I expected the TCL 20 Pro to last a good while, especially with a 60Hz display drawing less power than fast-refreshing screens. But our testing proved that to be false, much to my disappointment. While other phones with a 4,500mAh cell can last upwards of 10 hours or more, the TCL 20 Pro 5G averaged just 8 hours and 30 minutes in the Tom’s Guide battery test.
Our test involves setting a phone to 150 nits of brightness and having it endlessly load webpages over a cellular connection until it kicks the bucket. All told, the TCL 20 Pro 5G’s result is extremely disappointing, putting it well behind other devices like the OnePlus 9 Pro (which also has a 4,500mAh battery). For reference, the Pixel 4a 5G with its much smaller 3,885mAh battery managed 8 hours and 12 minutes.
Even so, I’m not impressed by the TCL 20 Pro 5G’s battery life, especially considering the fact that the Snapdragon 750G ought to be a power-efficient SoC. It likely comes down to software optimization — the likes of OnePlus, Samsung, and Google focus heavily on battery optimization, something not in evidence here.
For charging, the TCL 20 Pro 5G supports up to 18W of wired fast charging and 15W Qi wireless charging. That 18W charging speed refills the battery from 0% to 18% in 15 minutes and 38% in 30 minutes. Compare that to the Pixel 4a 5G, which recharged to 23% in 15 minutes and 46% in 30 minutes.
TCL 20 Pro 5G review: Software and TCL UI
The TCL 20 Pro 5G comes with Android 11 out of the box with TCL UI 3.0 on top. This skin has several visual tweaks with some resemblance to Samsung’s One UI. You’re presented with a lot off features to sift through, like palm rejection adjustments, a quick launch dock for frequently used apps, an adjustable smart key to which you can map shortcuts and a few pre-installed TCL apps like the IR remote one I mentioned earlier.
TCL UI does a decent job of staying out of the way while offering some nice options. For instance, the default launcher lets you choose between the traditional app drawer and iOS-style home screen app layout. But I’ve had the UI crash a few times and even experienced the whole phone crashing more than once while performing seemingly simple tasks like attempting to set up the IR remote or scrolling down a web page quickly.
Beyond crashing, TCL has opted to support the 20 Pro 5G for just two years of platform and security updates (perhaps longer). That means the phone will see Android 12 at some point, plus Android 13 after that update debuts next year. Consider the fact that Samsung offers three years of support (and four years of security patches) on the Galaxy A52 5G and Google also offers three years of platform updates on the Pixel 4a 5G (and the $349 Pixel 4a). TCL’s pledge seems paltry by comparison.
TCL 20 Pro 5G review: Verdict
The TCL 20 Pro 5G wants to be so much more than a mid-range alternative to more widely known phones, and it gets close in some areas. But underwhelming battery life results and cameras that don’t quite live up to the Pixel 4a 5G hold it back, despite excellent marks in the display and design categories. For $500, this isn’t a bad phone, but it isn’t really a standout either.
In comparison to the similarly-priced Galaxy A52 5G and Pixel 4a 5G, not to mention the $399 iPhone SE, the TCL 20 Pro 5G doesn’t make a compelling case for itself. The Galaxy A52 has a nice display, too, and TCL banked too much on its phone’s screen winning the day.
And let’s not forget that Google, Apple, and Samsung will support their phones for longer than TCL has promised to support this one. In the case of the Pixel and the iPhone, updates are available practically the same day they’re announced.
Considering that the TCL 20 Pro 5G doesn’t have much else going for it, I find it hard to recommend it over other competing phones. It’s a fine device, but not good enough to best the Galaxy A52 5G, Pixel 4a 5G, and iPhone SE.
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