There used to be a time where you could buy a premium flagship device for under $600, and while TCL isn’t particularly known for its smartphones, it still aims to meet an affordable yet premium bar. The TCL 20 Pro offers a competitive experience coming in at €549/£499 (~$667) and is the flagship smartphone in the brand’s 2021 portfolio. Can it compete with rival mid-range offerings from companies such as Samsung and OnePlus? Find out in Android Authority’s TCL 20 Pro review.
What you need to know about the TCL 20 Pro
- TCL 20 Pro 5G (6GB/256GB): €549/£499
Following its predecessor, the TCL 10 Pro, the TCL 20 Pro (dubbed the TCL 20 Pro 5G in marketing) ships with the more budget-friendly Snapdragon 750G. The phone is available in one option with 6GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. There is support for expandable storage up to 1TB.
Design-wise, the phone is very similar to its predecessor, but this year, TCL moved the cameras to the phone’s left side. The device comes in two colors: Moondust Gray and Marine Blue. In the box is the phone, an 18W charger, and a USB-A to USB-C cable.
The TCL 20 Pro is priced at €549 across Europe and £499 in the UK and is currently available to buy as of April 2021. TCL has said the 20 Pro will come to the US later this summer, with pricing to be confirmed.
What is the design like?
Most modern smartphones sport large camera bumps. The TCL 20 Pro, on the other hand, has a camera module that sits flush with the back glass of the phone. To be honest, it’s refreshing to see a design like this. The back is matte frosted glass, and the sides are encased in an aluminum body. It feels premium in hand. As with last year’s TCL 10 Pro, there is an additional customizable smart key on the left side. I’m glad to see this addition, especially considering that this button can be customized for several actions, not just Google Assistant. The top of the phone also features an IR blaster and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
On the whole, I like the design of the TCL 20 Pro. It’s sleek, minimal, and premium looking. Even though the back has a frosted matte finish, it still picks up a considerable number of fingerprints. It’s nowhere near as bad as a glossy finish device, but it’s definitely something to make note of. The phone is protected on the front and back by Gorilla Glass 5, which isn’t the latest grade but is competitive with phones at this price point.
If you’ve heard of TCL before, then you probably know the company for its displays. Thankfully, the TCL 20 Pro offers a competitive display experience with a Full HD+ AMOLED panel. That being said, this screen is locked at 60Hz, which is a bit sad to see. Other budget offerings such as the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G offer a similar experience with a 120Hz panel.
The 20 Pro relies on TCL’s NXT Vision 2.0, which attempts to turn SDR content into an HDR image. This works surprisingly well. It’s not going to transform anything into true HDR content, but for what it’s worth, both SDR visual content and games look more saturated, with higher contrast and more dynamic range. The display also features support for HDR 10, which means viewing genuine HDR content looks fantastic. Due to the longer 20:9 aspect ratio, most vertical content looks great, but horizontal content can look a little small, especially if you are viewing a standard 16:9 image. This results in large black bars on the left and right sides of the content. Movies, on the other hand, fill the large 6.67-inch screen.
The TCL 20 Pro has a very competitive display for a budget phone.
The TCL 10 Pro shipped with a waterdrop notch design for the camera. This year the TCL 20 Pro ships with what TCL calls a “dotch,” which is nothing more than a central punch hole camera. The display is mostly full screen, but there is still an ever so slight forehead and chin. It’s not distracting, but I would have liked to see some slimmer bezels on TCL’s flagship phone.
Is the TCL 20 Pro battery life good?
Shipping with a 4,500mAh battery, the TCL 20 Pro looks like a solid performer on paper. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
In my day-to-day testing, which consisted of some moderate gaming, a considerable amount of social media, and some photography, I averaged about five hours of screen-on time at best. The phone reminded me of Android phones of yore (not in a good way), as I was pretty worried I’d have to recharge it about 75% into my day. That said, lighter usage saw the phone lasting through a full day, but that’s with minimal social media and no photography. TCL did include a super saving mode that drastically increases battery life. However, this mode limits the number of apps you can use to the dialer and messages, and also changes the wallpaper to a black background. This would be a useful feature in a pinch but doesn’t excuse the poor battery life.
Charging isn’t much better either. In the box comes an 18W charger, and charging from 0-100% took a little over an hour and a half. This is on par with the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G which also ships with an 18W fast charger but powers up in 90 minutes. Surprisingly, though, the TCL 20 Pro does include support for wireless charging up to 15W.
How powerful is the TCL 20 Pro?
While the Snapdragon 750G is no slouch, performance on the TCL 20 Pro is less than ideal. Day-to-day tasks saw little to no stuttering, but any heavy gaming or video tasks saw the phone lag significantly. Trying to playback 1440p HDR video resulted in a jumpy and often frozen image. Meanwhile, games like Clash Royale ran just fine, while 3D titles like Genshin Impact or PUBG Mobile were laggy and stuttery in high-action moments, albeit still playable. Is it the worst gaming experience I’ve had? No, but the 6GB of RAM and lower clocked chipset can’t handle heavier gaming titles.
See also: Best gaming phones
Benchmark scores honestly weren’t half bad. In Geekbench 5, the TCL produced respective scores of 651 and 1,886 in single and multi-core performance. These results hang with other competitors such as the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G and the OnePlus Nord. 3DMark’s Wild Life test placed the TCL 20 Pro with a score of 1,114 and an average frame rate of 6.70fps. Again, these results are on par with the Galaxy A52 5G and actually beat it by a very slim margin.
How are the cameras?
The most disappointing aspect of the TCL 20 Pro is its cameras.
The main 48MP, f/1.8 sensor captures decent images at a glance, but upon further inspection, photos are oversoftened and noisy in the shadows. There also seems to be a bit of oversharpening occurring in the edges. When coupled with the oversoftening this produces some strange artifacts. Fortunately, the dynamic range is not terrible, but the phone still darkens the image in favor of retaining the highlights. Also, there is a small amount of chromatic aberration happening in the out of focus areas and edges of each image. Well-lit photos can come out looking good, but more often than not the oversoftening ruins the image. Most photos will work in a pinch but don’t expect phenomenal results.
Night mode photos again don’t look half bad at a glance, but taking a closer look reveals the same oversoftening problem. I will say that the colors are very saturated but I think the nighttime mode boosts the color of the sky a little too much, making for almost dawn-like images.
The 16MP ultra-wide camera produces similar results but is much softer and noisier than the main sensor. Again, the chromatic aberration is present but is far worse with this sensor compared to the others. Interestingly enough, the color science sometimes appears to be more accurate on this camera, producing more true-to-life colors in certain scenes, but the dynamic range isn’t nearly as good. Highlights again are retained, but shadows are crushed to an unacceptable point.
Telephoto images performed similarly to both the main and ultra-wide camera and tended to produce some overly soft images. Keep in mind this is just a digital crop of 2x from the main sensor. The 5MP macro sensor does an alright job of getting close detail but again suffers from TCL’s softening image processing.
Lastly, the 32MP front-facing shooter performs the best out of all the cameras. My face looks detailed, with little noise and good color accuracy. Thankfully the oversoftening and chromatic aberration issues of the rear sensors aren’t present in this camera. Portrait images look good as well, and I’m pretty impressed with the sensor’s ability to determine the edges of my hair from the background. It’s not the best I’ve seen but definitely not the worst.
You can find high-res versions of the camera samples here.
- In-display fingerprint reader: I had mixed success with this fingerprint sensor. Setting it up worked just fine, but for whatever reason, it took a few attempts to actually read. I ended up setting it up again, with more consistent results. When it worked, it was fairly snappy and accurate.
- Software/UI: The TCL 20 Pro runs a skinned version of Android 11, and TCL has said it will support the phone for two major software upgrades. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the TCL skin or launcher. While the menus and navigation are all pretty straightforward, the icons and quick settings feel unpolished to me. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, they just remind me of Android phones from a few years ago and feel slightly outdated. Also, there is some bloatware installed on the phone, such as Booking.com and a few other miscellaneous apps, but these can all be uninstalled. There are a decent amount of options for customization, and TCL does include a few themes to play with.
- Audio: Unfortunately, the single mono speaker on the bottom of the device yields lackluster results at best. The audio produced lacks base, and while the treble sounds clear, overall audio is washed out. Fortunately, there is a 3.5mm headphone jack, which means audio enthusiasts don’t have to worry about carrying a dongle with them.
- Video: At 4K 30fps footage isn’t half bad, although there are some jerky movements present, which is probably a result of the Electronic Image Stabilization at play. You can find an example of a video here.
- IP rating: The TCL 20 Pro does not ship with any sort of official IP water and dust resistance rating.
- 5G: Since the TCL 20 Pro ships with the Snapdragon 750G, it will support sub-6GHz 5G networking, but not mmWave.
TCL 20 Pro specs
|Specs||TCL 20 Pro|
Full HD+ (2,400 x 1,080)
20:9 aspect ratio
Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G
Octa-core Kryo 560
MicroSD up to 1TB
48MP main: 26mm, f/1.8, 0.8 micron pixel size, 1/2-inch sensor size
16MP ultra-wide: 16mm(123˚), f/2.4, 1 micron pixel size, 1/3-inch sensor size
5MP macro: f/2.2, 1.12 micron pixel size, 1/5-inch sensor size
2MP depth: f/1.8, 1.75 micron pixel size, 1/5-inch sensor size
Video: 4K @ 30fps, 1080p @ 30/60fps
Fast charging 18W
Fast wireless charging 15W
|Colors||Moondust Gray, Marine Blue|
|Dimensions||164.2 x 73 x 8.8mm|
Value and competition
TCL 20 Pro 5G
The TCL 20 Pro sits at the higher end price-wise when it comes to mid-range devices. Priced at €549 in Europe and £499 in the UK, the 20 Pro is more expensive than both the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G (€399/£399) and the original OnePlus Nord (€399/£379). Both devices offer higher refresh rate displays and better cameras, and offer a very similar gaming experience. The A52 5G also has the same processor and longer battery life for over €150 less. Even last year’s Pixel 4a 5G offers a great camera experience and on par performance, but costs around €50 less.
Related: The best phones under £500
To be honest, I have a hard time justifying the price of the TCL 20 Pro. While the design and display both look and feel great, the poor camera quality and mediocre battery life are major issues. Sure, it’s nice to have a headphone jack, but the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G offers that too, with a wildly better experience overall. The TCL 20 Pro’s only notable features are wireless charging, NXT Vision 2.0, and the inclusion of an IR blaster. For most everyday consumers, the Galaxy A52 5G is the better buy.
TCL 20 Pro review: The verdict
I’ve got to be frank; I was pretty disappointed with this offering from TCL. Last year’s TCL 10 Pro offered a competitive experience with a great display and some decent cameras, but this year, the 20 Pro falls down in several core metrics. On top of that, it really looks like TCL is out of touch when it comes to the pricing model. Alternatives from Samsung and OnePlus cost less but offer identical, if not better, experiences, suggesting that TCL isn’t paying attention to the competitive mid-range market.
The underwhelming battery life, poor rear cameras, and slow charging make the TCL 20 Pro hard to recommend. The impressive display and good-looking design make the phone a joy to look at, but they still don’t make up for these obvious shortcomings when actually using it.
The impressive display and great design can’t make up for the disappointing camera and battery life.
If you are a die-hard TCL fan and must have its best device, then the TCL 20 Pro should work for you, especially if TCL can address the battery life and camera performance through software updates. However, if you are looking for a premium experience at a fraction of the cost, then you should really look elsewhere.