The TCL 20 Pro 5G - an economical alternative

It's one thing I've grappled with over the years here writing this blog.  Not that I'm some Verge writer, or MKBHD, sitting in my ivory tower; but when I do get the chance to review things, it's usually the 'better' items.  People hear about Samsung and Google a lot and want to hear about them more.  So we review the Plus versions, the XLs, all the flagships and we get used to a certain 'style of living' as it were.

But, not everyone out there is like that.  Not everybody has the luxury to plop down $1000+ for a top of the line phone.  Nor does everybody NEED the top of the line phone.

Maybe it's the Scottish nature in me creeping out, "there's got to be a cheaper way".

Enter an alternative: TCL.  It'd be a brand you recognize a fair bit if you go shopping for TVs, they're right there next to the LGs and Samsungs and I've seen plenty of boxes of their brand go out.

They even make phones. Remember, they made some phones for Blackberry back in the day.  Solid builds.  Last year I reviewed the TCL 10 Pro.

This year they've upped the game a bit with the $750CDN TCL 20 Pro.  Now, you've seen my unboxing and my initial impressions; and this review just builds on those with a little more time.

Let's dive in.

So, first off, let's address what you get for specs for this.  A typical flagship out there is going to be well over $1000, and this ... well, it's way less than that, so what are you giving up for that?

  • 6.67" 2400x1080
  • Snapdragon 750G
  • 6GB
  • 256GB storage + microSD
  • Rear Cameras
    • 48MP (f/1.8, 26mm, 1/2.0", 0.8um)
    • 16MP (f/2.4, 16mm, 123°, 1/3.0", 1.12um)
    • 2MP (f/2.2, macro)
    • 2MP f/2.4, depth)
  • 32MP selfie (f/2.5, 0.8um)
  • 4500mAh with Qi
  • IR port
  • Headphone jack

Looking that over, and it's going to be hard to really split hairs on what's really different between that and a true flagship.  Sure, maybe they'd have true QuadHD (but would you notice) and the 800series Snapdragon.

That being said, it's a large display, 6GB isn't anything to sneeze at and tons of space, huge battery, Qi, tons of camera lenses... on paper it's standing up quite enough.

Alright, let's go over it physically.

It's a tall bugger.  It's thicker than some of the other curved edge phones I've seen out there, but not overly so.  The somewhat thin, the curved edge and given how tall it is, you'll want to put a case on it.

Going around the device you see it's got it's volume and power on the right side (upside down to my Pixel phones), on top it's got a headphone jack for those of you who haven't figured out how bluetooth work, and an IR port.  The bottom has its lone speaker, USB-C charging port and SIM tray.

Way out by its lonesome is the 'Smart Key' which you can then assign to whatever you think you want with its own app for either single, double or long pressing.

Turning the device on you have the option of using the in-screen fingerprint sensor (which works the majority of the time, but still has some issues) or you can just use the facial recognition which is way faster.

The display is good, and it looks 'tall' as it's filling the full face of the phone with nary a bezel in site.  The curved edge really helps with that sense.

you can change the full screen to hide the punchout of the camera and give a bezel depending on your preference

Colours are good, nothing wowing, nothing bland.  I did notice that when I had it on an 'adaptive brightness' that sometimes in the evening I would see it change to that sorta less 'bright white' to a 'yellow-y' and then change back.  It was hard to catch on camera, and then once I noticed it happen it would appen a lot - terrible?  No.  And really only noticeable on WHITE background screens.  And I haven't had it happen in about a few days as of the writing of this.

Immediately on the homescreen you notice the default is to use the old navigation buttons of back, home and multi... gotta change that in the settings.  Gesture Navigation is just something I'm so used to, it feels a step back in time to go back.

Another thing that has to be quickly changed is the app tray.

It's set defaultly to sort your apps by 'category', which sounds neat, but sometimes how the phone chooses the category makes it hard to find.

Sure, you can redo that order yourself, but ... just let's go by name.  Some things just need to be left alone.

Another quick thing you'll notice is a slightly transparent bar on the right hand side.  This is the 'edge panel' hot spot.  Flick from the outside in there (and the spot can be moved around as you like) and you're presented with some quick to access features.

There's Apps / Contacts / Ruler (HOW COOL IS THAT) / Remotes / Functions

The idea is just something that's that much easier to get to than going home, finding the icon and... you get it. 

The ruler feature sounds so cool... I just have no idea how I would use it properly in my day to day operations.

And that's kinda the thing about this phone.  It's packed with a bunch of these nuanced extras.  Not like the Sammies of old that really pushed this mega features that bloated the phone.  These are subtle additions; that being said, I'm not sure how much utility they are versus the novelty of them.

Like the fingerprint quick launch.

When you unlock with your phone you just hold it a bit longer and swipe up to have options to jump to certain features.

Or Multiple User - which I thought would be good, but it's not like how you can have mutliple 'logins' to a phone like my Pixelbook, rather its just a 'switch' to a kids mode that lets them have their own file space, and limited access to apps.

What is useful is the feature of built in screen recording, or long screen shot (just take a screenshot and when it gives you the preview choose to 'scroll'). 

Those I love, and can both be found just as easily in the notification shade's panel.

Another neat find was that you can make folders on your homescreen.  Yeah, that's common... for sure.  But, if you make a few, and then tap one to open it, you can quickly switch to the other folder by just left-right scrolling.

I thought that was pretty neat!

All the toys of the device, but let's dig into one of the main features of any phone these days; the camera.

For all the camera lenses on the back you might expect to have something really cool.

It is, and it isn't.  It's not anything 'wow'ing me but it's holding its own.

I do appreciate how simple the camera app looks, and it's very familiar in style to the Pixel camera app.

You can tap the 1.0x bubble to switch between the 3 rear lenses (0.6x, 1.0x, 2.0x) or just pinch zoom for anything in between or even up to 10x digital zoom.  

But, there's 4 lenses on the back you ask?  Yeah, the 4th lens is just there to capture depth information and help with focus etc..

One thing to keep in mind is where the lenses are, with the array so tall along the height of the phone your finger might just photobomb.

You have a lot of options to play around with, and its easy to switch between the options.  Of note is their 'High Pixel' mode.  I can't say I really noticed a difference when shooting and then blowing up a picture.

There is a neat 'Super Macro' mode which does really let you get close up.  

Other than that, it's got your standard portrait modes, night modes, etc...

Photos were good, and better than I had expected.  You can check out some examples at the bottom of the article.

What was neat was in the Gallery mode there was a way for it 'intelligently' sort your photos in the "Explorer" tab.

It's questionable (my piping teddy isn't a pet and the laptop is definitely not foot), but a neat feature that I'm sure a longer use will see what happens.

Then there's the battery, now I have to say I haven't been able to really get a clear picture.  Without a SIM card in and using it as a daily driver with 'non-true' use, it's holding up phenomenally... the battery saying it'll last DAYS.  That obviously can't be true.

So I really went at it with Fortnite for about 30 minutes.  Now 36 minutes said it burned up about 23%.  By that math, I could play for about 2 hours.  That's not bad.  Fortnite was pretty intense usage.  PUBG for 15 minutes only used 5%.  Quick calculations say that I could play PUBG for 5 hours.  That's a lot of chicken dinners!

Now, speaking of battery performance and trying to put it through its paces, you're probably asking how well it stacks up in handling heavy duty things.

Well, I can't lie, it did start to stutter a bit on PUBG and definitely on Fortnite it really was noticeably laggy.  I've seen worse, but not something you'd probably want to play on if you could help it.

Another thing I noticed which really didn't hit me until I started playing those games was the fact that it only has the one speaker.  On other devices they end up using the phone's earpiece speaker as your other channel... not so here.  Play a game and sound only comes out from the bottom, or when you play a landscape game, out the right (or left, depending on how you rotate).  Not so bad, except that in 360 games like Fortnite, you'll want to really use sounds to orient where your baddies are and it was really hard to do that with only mono sound.

Outside of those heavy games, the phone performed just fine.  Watch some Youtube... performs fine.  Read some website, scroll through some social media... not a blip.  Even most games play just fine without issue.

So unless you NEED to play those heavier games, then get a heavier device.

I'm struck thinking about all those guys I knew that just HAD to have that mega truck with the HEMI engine in it and tons of carrying and towing capacity and then when you ask them the last time they used their truck for 'truck things' they just scratch their head.  Dudes could have gone to work and back in a Prius just the same.

Anyways, in a world where the devices are really pushing ahead in their capacity and ability - their prices are also going up.  But, do we need a top of the line?  Probably not... we can be just as happy with something that meets our needs and you'll save a bunch of cash at the same time too.

Here are some of the samples of the photos this has taken:

played with the HDR feature

a super tasty banana beer bread

hair salons can't open soon enough

now was this the HIGH PIXEL shot?

or was this the HIGH PIXEL shot?