Review: TCL 10 Pro can’t quite beat the midtier phone competition

Maria J. Danford

The TCL 10 Pro.  Angela Lang/CNET Even before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the economy, many people shopping for a new phone were looking for options besides the priciest iPhones ($699 at Apple), Samsung Galaxy and OnePlus flagships. Recent launches of the new iPhone SE and similarly sized Galaxy A51 ($273 at […]

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The TCL 10 Pro. 


Angela Lang/CNET

Even before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the economy, many people shopping for a new phone were looking for options besides the priciest iPhones ($699 at Apple), Samsung Galaxy and OnePlus flagships. Recent launches of the new iPhone SE and similarly sized Galaxy A51 ($273 at Amazon) highlight this growing group of midtier devices that have some premium features but are still more affordable. 

Like

  • Vibrant AMOLED display
  • Solid performance
  • NXTVision improves video quality
  • Can reverse charge other accessories

Don’t Like

  • Pricier than rivals
  • Metal design is slippery
  • No water resistance
  • No wireless charging

TCL’s 10 Pro is one such entrant, offering an attractive AMOLED display, four rear cameras and a premium design for $450 (£399 or about AU$680). But while the phone is a capable option, it has its work cut out for itself. It’s priced at $50 more than the iPhone SE and the Galaxy A51, which was under $300 at several major retailers during Memorial Day weekend. 

I don’t recommend the 10 Pro over those phones at its price. The 10 Pro doesn’t shoot photos or videos as well as the SE. And compared to the A51, it doesn’t offer enough to warrant spending significantly more cash. But the 10 Pro does show us just what TCL can do with higher-quality parts than its $250 entry-level TCL 10L. 


TCL 10 Pro vs. TCL 10L

  • The TCL 10 Pro has a 6.47-inch AMOLED display, while the TCL 10L has a 6.53-inch LCD screen
  • The 10 Pro has a 64-megapixel main rear camera; the 10L main camera has 48 megapixels
  • The 10 Pro has a matte glass back with a fingerprint scanner under the display; the 10L has a plastic back with a fingerprint sensor on the back
  • The 10 Pro has reverse charging; the 10L does not
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The TCL 10 Pro, middle, rivals the Galaxy A51 (left) and iPhone SE (right).


Angela Lang/CNET

A nice display with admirable performance

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The 10 Pro has a vibrant AMOLED display. 


Angela Lang/CNET

The 10 Pro offers a lot for $450, particularly its curved, edge-to-edge 6.47-inch Full HD display. 

The display is crisp and vibrant, making for easy viewing outdoors on bright sunny days. Like the 10L, the 10 Pro has a dedicated chip that works with software the company calls Nxtvision, devoted to improving video quality. Whereas on the 10L the Nxtvision tech didn’t really add much in either gaming or video watching, I saw its effect on the 10 Pro. It improved the quality of videos I streamed over Disney Plus and Netflix, making scenes brighter without oversaturating. This is a screen I’d expect from TCL, which built a name for itself in the US for offering high-quality TVs at affordable prices. 

One other thing: If you stream HDR content from Netflix you’re going to want to have Nxtvision on. Without it, colors are dramatically cooler. Watching Netflix’s Extraction on the 10 Pro with Nxtvision off was like watching a completely different film, visually — especially compared to streaming it on an iPhone 11 Pro Max and LG OLED TV. 

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Without Nxtvision on, the 10 Pro has a hard time accurately displaying colors when streaming HDR on Netflix. 


Eli Blumenthal/CNET

Unfortunately, Nxtvision didn’t make any difference when I played some online matches of Call of Duty Mobile. In those cases, everything looked the same. It was as if I hadn’t even turned the feature on.

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A headphone jack is found on the top of the 10 Pro. 


Angela Lang/CNET

The mono speaker is loud, but it won’t win any awards for quality. It’s better than the speaker on the 10L, but if you’re watching a film you’d be better off taking advantage of the 3.5mm headphone jack.

A solid, if nothing special camera

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The TCL 10 Pro has four rear cameras. 


Angela Lang/CNET

There are four rear cameras on the 10 Pro. A 64-megapixel main shooter (that captures 16-megapixel photos by default), a 16-megapixel ultra-wide lens, a 5-megapixel macro shooter and a special lens devoted to low-light video. 

As with the TCL 10L, these cameras do their best work when shooting outside with plenty of natural light. The main camera and 16-megapixel front camera do a nice job with portraits and capturing color and details on both people and objects, though it did sometimes accentuate reds. It also does a solid job with video captured during the day. 

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With plenty of light, the 10 Pro’s camera does a good job. 


Eli Blumenthal/CNET

The 5-megapixel macro can capture much richer tight close-ups of objects, producing shots that are noticeably sharper than the 2-megapixel macro lenses others deploy. That said, I’m still not sold on the long-term usefulness of this lens.

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The 10 Pro’s macro camera.


Eli Blumenthal/CNET

However, I wasn’t thrilled by the wide-angle lens or the full resolution 64-megapixel images I captured in the phone’s “high pixel” mode.  

Low-light performance was only OK. While I appreciated the “Super Night” mode for capturing images of objects at night, I wouldn’t want to use this on a night out with people or moving objects. It took about around 8 seconds to snap a decent photo and I can’t imagine any group of friends sitting still for that long in a casual setting. 

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The night mode on the 10 Pro greatly improves pictures of objects. 


Eli Blumenthal/CNET

Low-light video was also poor, even with the special lens. It struggled to keep people or objects in focus if they were more than a foot or two away. The cameras also lack optical image stabilization. All this resulted in blurry, shaky footage that wasn’t fun to capture or watch later on. 

One other thing: Like the 10L, the phone has a “TCL 10 Pro” watermark on by default. You can toggle this off in the settings, but it would be great if TCL either got rid of it or made it something you had to turn on manually. 

Admirable performance in a stylish design

Running off a Qualcomm 675 processor with 6GB of RAM, the 10 Pro did a fine job opening apps, playing graphically intensive games and switching between the various camera lenses. 

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While the “ember gray” version is available in the US, a “forest mist” green version of the phone is available internationally. 


Angela Lang/CNET

I didn’t experience any lag issues with TCL’s custom launcher on the 10 Pro, though the phone did sometimes take an extra couple of seconds to close an app and head back to the home screen.

Android 10 is the operating system running the show, with TCL promising at least one major upgrade to Android 11. While that’s nice, a guarantee of one major OS upgrade is far from the several years of improvements that you can expect on an iPhone.   

There is no wireless charging or IP-rated water resistance on the 10 Pro, which makes sense for a sub-$500 phone. But there’s an optical fingerprint sensor built into the scre, which is a good perk with midlevel phones such as this one. If I had to choose, though, I would have preferred water-resistance and a more traditional fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone, especially given the sensor’s slow and hit-or-miss nature. 

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The TCL 10 Pro’s case is not subtle. 


Angela Lang/CNET

The metal design gives the 10 Pro a hefty premium feel. The matte glass on the back also feels smooth and does a nice job fighting fingerprints, but it’s a bit slippery in the hand. There’s a plastic case is included — but like the 10L, it has an aggressive “Display Greatness” company tagline on the back. 

Unlike on most phones in 2020, the 10 Pro’s rear cameras sit flush with the back of the device. The only ever-so-slight protrusions come from the two rear flashes to the right and left of the cameras. 

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An action key can be programmed to open apps. 


Angela Lang/CNET

On the left side is a programmable smart key. I find it useful because you set it to open apps, launch the camera or turn a feature like Nxtvision on or off. Double pressing the power button on the right side of the phone can also summon the camera.  

Although we’re still awaiting full battery tests from the lab, I streamed Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame back to back with the brightness turned up (that’s about 5 hours and 30 minutes of cinematic, superhero goodness) and still had over 60% of the 4,500-mAh battery remaining. 

A Quick Charge 3.0 fast charger is included and I was able to go from zero to 43% in roughly 30 minutes and over 80% in an hour. You can reverse charge other devices too, including headphones or another phone. But unlike the Galaxy S20 phones and OnePlus 8 Pro ($999 at OnePlus), which can pull this off wirelessly, you’ll need to plug the charging devices into the 10 Pro’s USB-C slot.

Geekbench v.5.0 single-core

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.5.0 multicore

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

TCL 10 Pro spec comparison

TCL 10 Pro Samsung Galaxy A51 (4G) Apple iPhone SE (2020)
Display size, resolution 6.47-inch curved AMOLED; 1080×2340 pixels 6.5-inch FHD AMOLED; 2,400×1,080 pixels 4.7-inch Retina HD; 1,334×750 pixels
Pixel density 398ppi 405ppi 326ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.24×2.85×0.36 inches 6.24×2.90×0.31 inches 5.45×2.65×0.29 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 158.5×72.4×9.2 mm 158.5×73.6×7.9 mm 138.4×67.3×7.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.24oz; 177g 6.07 oz; 172g 5.22 oz; 148g
Mobile software Android 10 Android 10 iOS 13
Camera 64-megapixel, 16-megapixel wide-angle, 5-megapixel macro, 2-megapixel low-light video 48-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 5-megapixel (macro), 5-megapixel (depth sensing) 12-megapixel
Front-facing camera 24-megapixel 32-megapixel 7-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 2.3GHz octa-core processor Apple A13 Bionic
Storage 128GB 128GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 6GB 6GB Not disclosed
Expandable storage Up to 256GB via microSD Up to 512GB No
Battery 4,500 mAh 4,000 mAh Not disclosed, but Apple claims it has the same battery life as iPhone 8
Fingerprint sensor Optical, in-display In-screen Home button
Connector USB-C USB-C Lightning
Headphone jack Yes Yes No
Special features Nxtvision Display Water-resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD) $450 $400 $399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £399 £329 £419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB)
Price (AUD) Converts to about AU$680 AU$599 AU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB)
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