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14 August 2020

REVIEW: TCL 10 Pro & 10 5G

Perfect 10?

No, before the start of this year, we'd hardly heard of TCL, either. The Hong Kong-based maker of screens and displays have made their first venture into the world of smartphones with their '10 Series'; a range of budget phones designed to compete with the high-flying flagships. Have they succeeded? We find out by testing the two most interesting from the range, the TCL 10 Pro & 10 5G.

Causing something of a stir at 2020's CES (remember when we were allowed to visit trade shows?), TCL's new lineup turned heads for combining impressive camera specs, with solid displays and that future-proof 5G capability.

TCL kindly sent us their model boasting those 5G speeds, the aptly named 10 5G, and also their higher-end flagship, the 10 Pro. Whereas both have similar internals, the 10 Pro is designed with sleeker, prettier aesthetics in mind, possessing a curved screen and matte finish that grabs your attention instantly. So, let's tackle that first.

TCL 10 Pro

With a price tag of just £399, the TCL 10 Pro surely already has you interested. Especially when we drop stats like a 6.47 inch display, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a 24MP selfie cam, four main shooters including a 64MP primary, and an in-screen fingerprint scanner. You can also capture video at up to 4K at 30fps. Sounds amazing so far.

The handset itself is also exceptionally slim to hold, helped in no small way by the bezel-less sides. The screen curves around the edges like the Samsung Galaxy Edge phones of old, and the mic and earpiece are at the extreme top and bottom. Therefore around 95% of the front side is total display.

The corners are softly curved, and the back plate is gently matted with iridescent colouring. The four camera/sensor ports are flush to the back, along with the two flashes, and as the fingerprint scanner is in-screen, there's nothing else to sully that smoothness. It is, therefore, a bloody gorgeous phone.

Android runs smoothly on the inside, although TCL has opted for the Snapdragon 675 processor - a chip now several years old. Still, the 10 Pro coped well, managing everything we through at it without a hiccup. We did, however, notice the backside heating up when engaged in prolonged video calls. Nothing that concerned us, just something definitely noticeable.

But if you came for the looks, you'll stay for the camera. Although the main shooter is 16MP by default, prompting you to change settings to use the high-pixel 64MP sensor, photos and footage were truly glorious. Bright, clear, and filled with detail, the snaps offer the usual array of portrait mode, slow-mo (up to 960fps!) and time-lapse. There is also a very capable 123 degree wide-angle sensor.

The 4500mAh battery means the TCL 10 Pro is a serious bit of kit for the all-day user. During our first fortnight of use we noticed we could get, with medium use, about a day and a half out of it before hitting 15%. The USB-C QuickCharge 3.0 will also help you juice it up in no time.

TCL 10 5G

Out of both the phones sent to us, we were less enthusiastic about reviewing the 10 5G, namely due to a lack of 5G mobile internet where we're based. Still, that didn't stop us from fully testing the device as we would any other phone, but couldn't help compare it to the flashier 10 Pro.

Costing the same as the 10 Pro, at a very attractive £399, the 10 5G boasts a chunkier build with a slightly larger display of 6.53 inches. That screen isn't curved, like that of the 10 Pro, which results in a beefier handset. That isn't a bad thing, as it is still a slim device, and the flat screen will no doubt appeal to those who hate curves. The internal specs are similar to the aforementioned phone, with battery, RAM and storage being the same. It's all run on a Snapdragon 765G processor, so again, nothing special to write home about.

However, the camera set up is the same as the Pro, with that impressive 64MP main, but a slightly reduced wide-angle sensor, dropping to a (essentially unnoticeable) 118 degrees. Why, we don't know. The selfie cam is also slightly reduced, coming down to 16MP, but it says something about the 10 series from TCL when we consider a vibrant and effective 16MP selfie cam as a reduction. All shooters are just as clean, clear and rich as those on the Pro.

So although it's obvious we preferred the 10 Pro in terms of cameras, we actually found ourselves playing around more with the 10 5G in terms of usability and interface. The flat display was actually easier to use than the curved, and what the 5G lacks in stand-out beauty, it more than makes up for in workhorse power. We didn't notice any difference in heavy-load operation, although it tended to heat up less than the Pro, which is worth noting.

Once 5G is fully enabled across the UK, and once a phone like the TCL 10 5G makes total sense, you'll be able to pull in data at speeds of up to 2.3Gbps - and you'll be able to do it on a device that cost you less than £400. There really isn't anything else on the UK market that can do that right now, and at that cost. 5G capabilities are currently boasted only by the big boys pushing £900+ handsets, so think about that.

Despite it sitting in the budget category, the TCL 10 5G really doesn't act like a budget phone. The display, the cameras and that (future) 5G connectivity make it a device to really consider when upgrading.

Verdict

Of the two, we'd go for the 10 Pro. Despite the similar specs and and identical price, the Pro won out for us in terms of external aesthetics and slightly better performing selfie camera. But hot-damn, it was close.

Had we a stable 5G network in our area, we might have changed our minds, however. The 5G seems like a more future-proof phone than the 10 Pro, and certainly the 64MP main camera and long battery life will keep it as a firm favourite for at least a year or two. Call us superficial, but the feel of the 10 Pro in your hand is something to truly experience, drawing ahead of its 5G brother.

So, although we preferred the Pro to the 5G, both of these devices performed exceptionally well... for their price point. Users of perpetual Samsung, OnePlus and Apple flagships might notice a drop in performance if they opted to make one of these their next phone, but they'll also notice a lot more money remaining in their bank accounts.

With the 10 Pro and 10 5G, TCL have made a dramatic entry into the smartphone market and we're looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Visit www.tcl.com

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