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It’s Amateur Hour – Review Geek

Rating:
4/10
?
  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price: 530

Andrew Heinzman

When I first set out to review the TCL 20 Pro 5G, I assumed that it would be a very entertainment-oriented device. After all, manufacturers can’t put everything in a $530 phone, and the TCL 20 Pro 5G’s biggest feature is its 20:9 curved AMOLED display. But I’m a bit disappointed by the 20 Pro 5G. Its strengths are overshadowed by trendy nonsense, making it a hard sell when compared to devices like the $450 Pixel 5a.

Here’s What We Like

  • Sleek, wonderful design
  • Fancy display
  • Haptic feedback is really impressive
  • Consistent camera performance
  • Good selfie camera

And What We Don’t

  • 60Hz display
  • Mono speakers
  • Only 2 years of guaranteed updates
  • Limited carrier support
  • No water-resistance rating
  • All photos come out a little blurry
  • Lack of direction or focus

In fact, I think that the TCL 20 Pro 5G is a bad deal when compared to two of TCL’s new budget phones, the $190 TCL 20 SE and $250 TCL 20S. So, let’s talk about it.

Note: The TCL 20 Pro 5G has very limited carrier support. It only supports T-Mobile 5G, and it doesn’t work on Verizon at all. I wouldn’t suggest buying it unless you’re a T-Mobile or Metro customer. Also, TCL only promises two years of security updates for this device, which really isn’t enough.

Specs

  • Display: 6.67-inch 20:9 FHD+ curved AMOLED Dotch Display
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G 5G
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 256GB
  • Cameras: 48MP Sony OIS main camera (HDR, 4K/30FPS support), 16MP ultra wide-angle camera, 5MP macro camera, 2MP depth camera
  • Selfie Camera: 32MP (HDR, 4K/30FPS support)
  • Ports and Such: USB-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, IR blaster
  • Battery: 4500mAh
  • Wireless Charging: Yes
  • Fingerprint Sensor: Yes, under-display
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Android Version: Android 11
  • Price: $530

First Impressions Ain’t Everything

A lot of phones come my way, but I still rock the Samsung Galaxy S9+ that I bought years ago. One of the main things that have kept me from upgrading, aside from being a cheapskate, is that I hate the giant camera humps on new phones. So when I unboxed the TCL 20 Pro 5G, I was shocked to see that it doesn’t have a big camera bump—it’s smooth as a baby, and man, wouldn’t it be cool if more phones looked like this?

The TCL 20 Pro 5G makes a really good first impression. Its glass back has this satin texture that doesn’t hold onto fingerprints, the buttons are super solid, and the display has a very shallow curve that makes its side bezels look trim and neat. There’s also a headphone jack, a thin speaker grille, SHOCKINGLY good haptic feedback, and a speedy under-display fingerprint reader (although I prefer the physical fingerprint sensors used in TCL’s cheaper phones).

The TCL 20 Pro 5G's screen, it's not bright enough!
Andrew Heinzman

Performance with the Snapdragon 750G is right where you’d expect, even while playing demanding titles like Call of Duty and TCL’s custom software rocks. I love the private app drawers and built-in launcher, they’re great.

I can even overlook the 20 Pro 5G’s bloatware (Facebook, Netflix, Booking.com, Modern Combat Rebel Guns, Microsoft News, and more) because the phone’s exclusive apps rock. There’s a remote control app that takes advantage of the phone’s IR blaster, a cool compass tool, a good calculator, and a radio app! I just wish I could uninstall some of these TCL-made apps, though the company lets you delete third-party bloatware like Facebook and Microsoft News.

Unfortunately, I think that TCL went a little overboard trying to make a good first impression. The lack of a camera bump on a quad-camera device, for example, is actually a very bad sign (more on that in a bit). And some of the phone’s flashy features, like the under-display fingerprint reader and IR blaster, just feel like a waste of resources when you start to think about the 20 Pro 5G’s most important feature; its cinematic display.

Cinematic Display, Not-So-Cinematic Experience

The TCL 20 Pro 5G on Twitter.
A brighter display would be nice. Andrew Heinzman

TCL is one of the world’s best TV manufacturers, and as such, the 20 Pro 5G’s big selling point is its fancy display. It’s a 20:9 FHD+ AMOLED panel with impressive color accuracy and contrast—the perfect medium for movies and games. TCL even shoved its NXTVISION TV technology in the 20 Pro 5G to automatically upscale content, adjust image quality, and simulate HDR.

If I were building a $530 phone with these specs, I’d go all-in on the entertainment aspect. But TCL made a lot of poor, misguided decisions on this front. The mediocre mono speakers are my biggest issue, but I’m also confused by the slow 60Hz display. Also, the screen caps out at 700 nits. I wouldn’t call 700 nits dim, but if the display’s the selling point here, it should be brighter.

The TCL 20 Pro 5G playing Shrek
Andrew Heinzman

And while it’s neat to see TCL integrate its NXTVISION TV software in a phone, NXTVISION does very little to improve picture quality on such a small display. It also causes the screen to flash sometimes when opening apps—funny enough, this is the only way that I can tell when NXTVISION is turned on. Also, I have a feeling that NXTVISION eats at the 20 Pro 5G’s battery, which barely lasts a full day during regular use (and it should last a lot longer, it has a 4500mAh capacity).

I don’t understand how TCL made such obvious mistakes on this front. Again, my only explanation is that the company is trying to reel in customers by making a good first impression. That means sacrificing useful features for fluff, like a fancy-looking camera array.

And to be honest, this is part of why I think that the $250 TCL 20S is a better option than the TCL 20 Pro 5G. Their displays are nearly identical—the cheaper TCL 20S just doesn’t have a curved screen and costs half the price of the Pro model.

Why Four Cameras? Why? Who Needs This?

The TCL 20 Pro 5G on a wooden bench.
Andrew Heinzman

Of all the phone trends that have cropped up over the years, multi-lens camera arrays may be the most frustrating. Yeah, the latest iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices are covered in high-quality cameras that shoot crazy good photos, but those phones cost over $1,000. Shoving the same high-quality lenses and computational photography software in a $530 device is impossible.

This is something we’ve seen repeatedly in mid-range devices from OnePlus, ZTE, Blu, and now TCL. Mid-range phones with a ton of cameras usually shoot mediocre (or crappy) photos, while similarly priced devices with just one or two lenses (iPhone SE, Pixel A-series phones, etc.) blow away the competition.

I’m happy to say that the TCL 20 Pro 5G’s cameras are very consistent, unlike some other devices I’ve tested. But photo quality is just mediocre, and every photo I shot came out at least a little bit blurry. A camera bump to accommodate larger hardware could have pushed the photo quality a bit further, though I think TCL should’ve scaled back and focused on just one or two lenses instead of trying to keep up with trends.

I found that the TCL 20 Pro 5G’s cameras work okay in low-light environments and produce acceptable photos in outdoor lighting. Over-processing is definitely a problem here, but because 20 Pro 5G’s camera performance is pretty consistent and predictable, I’ve gained a pretty good feel for when photos will come out with too much saturation or sharpening. (Anything shot with the macro setting looks terrifying, though.)

And oddly enough, the selfie camera is a sleeper. It’s not amazing, but it’s better than I expected. Selfies come out with good detail and contrast, and they rarely look over-sharpened. It’s a shame that I can’t just move the selfie camera to the back of the phone, where it would be more useful. (That’s a joke … kind of.)

In the future, I hope that TCL ignores today’s camera trends and focuses on building just one or two good lenses. Doing so could greatly improve the photo quality of their phones and free up the manufacturing budget for things that are achievable and useful, like a high refresh rate display.

The Gist: A Phone That Lacks Focus

The TCL 20 Pro 5G on a table.
Andrew Heinzman

TCL’s 20 Pro 5G makes a good first impression at the expense of useful features. A stronger focus on the phone’s cinematic qualities would have made it a unique, stand-out device. Unfortunately, it’s just a mediocre phone that costs more than some very good alternatives, such as the Pixel 5a, the iPhone SE, and TCL’s own budget devices—the $190 TCL 20 SE and $250 TCL 20S.

Even TCL’s marketing feels misguided to me; the 20 Pro 5G’s product page uses a ton of hiking and camping imagery, and TCL sent me the phone in a North Face backpack full of inspiring outdoorsy pamphlets. (Maybe that’s the problem, I haven’t taken the TCL 20 Pro 5G camping. But why would I when it doesn’t have water or dust-resistance certification?)

So, here’s my pitch to TCL—make a phone that focuses on a cinematic experience to capitalize on your brand. You could even say that it’s a “pocket-sized TV from the world’s best TV manufacturer.” I’d pay $530 for that! But you shouldn’t pay $530 for this.

Here’s What We Like

  • Sleek, wonderful design
  • Fancy display
  • Haptic feedback is really impressive
  • Consistent camera performance
  • Good selfie camera

And What We Don’t

  • 60Hz display
  • Mono speakers
  • Only 2 years of guaranteed updates
  • Limited carrier support
  • No water-resistance rating
  • All photos come out a little blurry
  • Lack of direction or focus

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