TCL 10 5G review: Excellent specs, build and performance for the price

tcl-10-5g-header.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent

Pros

  • Good all-round performance
  • Very good battery life
  • Solid build quality
  • Competitive price for a 5G phone
  • 3.5mm headphone jack

Cons

  • IPS rather than AMOLED screen
  • Rear cameras protrude from the backplate
  • No IP rating for dust/water resistance
  • No telephoto camera
  • No wireless charging

Until recently, TCL was best known in the smartphone market for making BlackBerry and Alcatel phones under licence. But the Chinese manufacturer has now struck out under its own brand with the TCL 10 series. Back in May, my colleague Matthew Miller was very impressed with the "capable, affordable" TCL 10 Pro, a mid-range 6.47-inch phone based on Qualcomm's 11nm Snapdragon 675 chipset with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage and five cameras (1 front, 4 rear).

ZDNet Recommends

The 10 best smartphones of 2020

5G support is one reason to buy a phone and be confident keeping it for two or three years.

Read More

Here we're looking at TCL's first 5G phone, the TCL 10 5G, which has a recommended price of £399/€399 and is currently available from the UK's Three mobile network for £19 upfront and £19 a month.

The 10 5G model bumps up the screen size to 6.53 inches and boosts the platform with Qualcomm's 7nm Snapdragon 765G chipset, while retaining the 6GB RAM/128GB storage combo and a quad-rear camera array. At first glance, it looks like another good-value offering -- but what's the detailed verdict?

Design

As noted, the TCL 10 5G is a slightly bigger handset than the 10 Pro, with its 6.53-inch screen sitting in a chassis measuring 76.6mm wide by 163.7mm deep by 9mm thick (3.02in. x 6.44in. x 0.35in.) and weighing 210g (7.41 ounces). That's 4.2mm wider, 5.2mm deeper and 33g heavier than the Pro -- the thickness of the two handsets -- 9mm versus 9.2mm -- basically the same.

Construction-wise, the TCL 10 5G is the usual slab of glass in an aluminium frame. The main design element is a glass back with a "light-catching metallic gradient" thanks to "twenty trillion nano-patterned micro-pyramids", which is nice. However, the first thing I did on setting up the phone was put it in the supplied clear bumper case for a better grip, which greatly dilutes this effect. The TCL 10 5G is admirably fingerprint-resistant, both front and back, and is available in Chrome Blue or, as reviewed here, Mercury Gray.

tcl-10-5g-main.jpg

The 6.53-inch TCL 10 5G runs on Qualcomm's Snapdragon 765G 5G chipset, with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage.

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet

The main differences between the TCL 10 5G and Pro handsets come down to the use of a (flat) IPS LCD -- which occupies more internal volume due to its backlight -- for the 5G model versus a (curved) AMOLED panel for the Pro. This means that, rather than using an optical in-screen fingerprint reader, as on the Pro, the 5G handset's fingerprint reader is a separate unit on the back. The 10 5G's quad-camera array also protrudes noticeably from the back, whereas it's more pleasingly flush on the Pro model. At the front, the 5G model has a hole-punch camera, whereas the Pro uses a small teardrop-style notch.

Top ZDNET Reviews

The TCL 10 5G has a screen-to-body ratio of 83.4%, with the most noticeable bezel at the bottom. This is some way behind the 10 Pro, which, with its curved AMOLED screen, has a sleeker-looking screen-to-body ratio of 89.6%.

The power and volume controls are on the right side, while the SIM slot (dual SIM or SIM+MicroSD card) is on the left, above a Smart Key that launches the Google Assistant. The top of the phone houses a microphone and a 3.5mm audio jack, while the bottom has a USB-C port flanked by grilles covering a mic on the left and a speaker on the right. Unlike on the TCL 10 Pro, there's no infrared port at the top.

As with many mid-range phones (including the Pro model), the TCL 10 5G lacks an IP rating for dust and water resistance. 

Features

The Snapdragon 765G that powers the TCL 10 5G is a mid-range chipset aimed at the affordable end of the 5G smartphone market. It's no flagship-class Snapdragon 865, but the combination of the octa-core Kyro 475 CPU running at up to 2.4GHz, Adreno 620 GPU, X52 5G modem and Qualcomm AI Engine delivers very creditable performance (see below), even for gamers (the 'G' in 765G references a number of gaming optimisations, including "10% faster graphics rendering compared to standard Snapdragon 765"). As noted earlier, there is 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, the latter expandable via MicroSD card in a shared SIM slot.

The display is a 6.53-inch IPS LCD with FHD+ (1,080 x 2,340 pixels, 395ppi) resolution and 450 nits maximum brightness. TCL uses the term 'Dotch' for the hole-punch camera in the top left corner (as opposed to 'notch'). Even if it wasn't trademarked, I don't see that catching on. 

In the Settings app you can toggle or schedule dark mode and eye comfort (reduced blue light) mode, and choose adaptive screen brightness, while the NXTVISION app offers various adjustments: 'Visual enhancement' for optimised image contrast, sharpness and saturation in Vivid screen colour mode; 'SDR to HDR' for HDR-like video enhancement; and 'Reading mode' for a book-like reading experience, as well as 'Color mode & temperature'; and 'Sunlight display'.

tcl-10-5g-nxt-vision-smart-manager.jpg

The NXTVISION and Smart Manager apps.

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet  

The front camera, in the 'dotch', has a 16MP sensor and an f/2.2 wide-angle lens -- a step down from the 24MP 'notch' camera in the Pro model. Like its Pro counterpart, the selfie camera can capture 720p and 1080p video at up to 30fps.

There are four cameras at the back, arranged horizontally in a slightly protruding panel, flanked by a pair of flash units. The main camera has a high-resolution 64MP sensor and a wide-angle f/1.9 lens. This is complemented by 8MP ultra-wide-angle (f/2.2, 118°), 5MP macro (f/2.2) and 2MP depth (f/2.4) cameras. Digital zoom is available up to 10x, but there's no dedicated telephoto camera, while video capture runs to 1080p at up to 120fps or 4K at 30fps, with EIS (Electronic Image Stabilisation). It's a similar arrangement to that seen in the PCL 10 Pro, with the notable exception that the ultra-wide-angle camera is half the resolution (8MP versus 16MP).

SEE: 5G smartphones: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

There's a good range of features available in the camera software, including 'AI camera', which enables AI image composition and calorie detection (the former being considerably more useful than the latter, in my opinion). 'Dark shot' is available for enhanced low-light performance, along with a watermark feature. Five camera modes are presented by default -- Auto, Video, Portrait, Super Night and Pro. Other modes available via the 'More' button are Slo-mo, Stop Motion, Light Trace, Pano, Super Macro and High Pixel (64M). You can drag any of these to replace the main camera screen options if required.

Here's a selection of images taken with the TCL 10 5G:

tcl-10-5g-auto-super-macro.jpg

Auto (left) and Super Macro (right).

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet    
tcl-10-5g-auto-ultra-wide.jpg

Auto (left) and Ultra-wide-angle (right).

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet    

Camera performance is generally pretty good, although you should avoid the digital zoom as much as possible. A telephoto camera would be nice, but you can always use High Pixel (64M) mode and do your zooming in post-production.

Audio quality from the speaker on the bottom of the handset is fine -- it doesn't go loud enough to distort, and if you want to play through Bluetooth speakers or headsets, there's a bonus: Super Bluetooth lets you connect up to four devices at the same time for a shared listening experience. I managed to successfully connect two Bluetooth speakers, which is the limit when you're connected to a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network.

tcl-10-5g-camera-gallery.jpg

The Camera and Gallery apps.

Images: Charles McLellan / ZDNet

The TCL 10 5G comes with a relatively uncluttered implementation of Android 10, with a few extras courtesy of TCL UI. As well as NXTVISION, Smart Manager and the Camera app, there's Gallery, File Manager, File Share, Music and Video. IR Remote and Radio, which are present on the TCL 10 Pro, are missing from the 5G model.

Performance & battery life

The Snapdragon 765G chipset with 6GB of RAM delivers a decent set of benchmarks, confirming the in-use impression of a responsive handset. It's not flagship-class performance, of course, but mainstream users and casual gamers should have few complaints. 

The TCL 10 Pro scored 621 (single core) and 1925 (multi core) under the Geekbench 5 CPU test. To put that in perspective, the Snapdragon 865-based OnePlus 8 (£599/$699 for 8GB/128GB), which currently sits atop the Android benchmark charts, scored 902 and 3302 respectively.

The PCMark for Android Work 2.0 suite provides a good comparison for both the OnePlus 8 and the TCL 10 5G's Pro stablemate. The two mid-range TCL handsets deliver similar overall results, with the 5G model slightly ahead -- but the better-specified OnePlus 8 is well ahead:

tcl-10-5g-pcmark-work-2-0.jpg

When it comes to gaming, as assessed by the 3DMark Slingshot Extreme benchmark, the benefit of the TCL 10 5G's gaming-optimised Snapdragon 765G chipset is evident over the Pro model's less capable Snapdragon 675. However, once again, the flagship-class OnePlus 8 is in a different league:

tcl-10-5g-3dmark-slingshot-extreme-opengl.jpg

The TCL 10 5G and Pro both have 4500mAh batteries and support fast 18W charging via Quick Charge 3.0. TCL's 5G handset comes out on top, running for 15 hours under the PCMark Work 2.0 battery life test (which terminates when 20% of a full charge remains). That compares to 12h 13m for the 10 Pro and 12h 25m for the OnePlus 8, which has a 4300mAh battery:

tcl-10-5g-pcmark-work-2-0-battery-life.jpg

The TCL 10 5G also outperforms the recently reviewed OnePlus Nord, another Snapdragon 765G-based mid-range 5G handset. This £379 (8GB/128GB) phone has a 4,115mAh battery, and lasted for 11.4 hours under the PCMark test.

Unfortunately, thanks to a combination of patchy 5G coverage in the UK (especially in rural areas) and lockdown, I was unable to test this handset's 5G capability. However, it performed perfectly satisfactorily on a 4G LTE signal.

Conclusions

The TCL 10 5G has a lot going for it: the specification, build quality, performance and battery life are all impressive given the £399 (inc. VAT) price. It is shown up in some areas by its (4G) 10 Pro stablemate, most notably by having an IPS LCD screen rather than AMOLED, and by having an awkardly protruding rear camera panel. Still, it's a good-value 5G phone -- although perhaps not quite as good value as the OnePlus Nord, which runs on the same Snapdragon 765G platform and comes with 8GB rather than 6GB of RAM for a slightly lower starting price (£379 inc. VAT).

RECENT AND RELATED CONTENT

TCL 10 Pro review: Stunning $450 Android phone rivals Apple's iPhone SE

TCL 10 Series launch details: Affordable Android smartphones focused on visual technology

OnePlus Nord review: A great-value mid-range 5G smartphone

OnePlus 8 review: Least expensive 5G phone with flagship specs, minimal compromises

The 10 best smartphones of 2020: 5G powers the top contenders

Read more reviews

Top ZDNET Reviews