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TCL 20 Pro 5G review: Stunning design, lovely display, capable quad-camera system

  • Editors' rating
    9.3 Spectacular

Pros

  • Gorgeous design and color options
  • Lovely vivid AMOLED display
  • Reasonable $500 price
  • 5G support
  • Solid quad-camera system
  • Ample storage with microSD card option

Cons

  • Limited US carrier support
  • No second speaker

Last year, I spent time with the mid-range TCL 10 Pro, and honestly, if I didn't write about phones and need to use all of the latest and greatest, it could easily have served as my capable daily driver. I also tried out the $400 TCL 10 5G UW and have been very impressed by the first 10 Series in the TCL-branded phone lineup.

Revealed in April 2021, the TCL 20 Series builds upon the 10 Series with a total of five phones. I started out with a pre-production TCL 20 Pro 5G device in the stunning Marine Blue color and then moved on to using a production TCL 20 Pro 5G in Moondust Gray. Both are now available from the TCL Amazon storefront for $499.99, exactly the price I guessed a few months ago when I posted my first impressions.

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The TCL 20 Pro 5G is a stunning piece of hardware that looks and feels like a phone that costs much more than $500. Thankfully, the specifications and performance match the design and it is a rock-solid mid-range Android smartphone.

TCL 20 Pro 5G specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G
  • Display: 6.67 inches, 2400 x 1080 pixels resolution (394 ppi), AMOLED
  • Operating system: Android 11 with TCL UI version 3.x
  • RAM: 6GB LPDDR4
  • Storage: 256GB internal storage and microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: 48MP f/1.79 main camera with OIS, 16MP f/2.4 ultra-wide camera with 123 degrees field-of-view, 5MP macro camera, and a 2MP depth camera. 32MP front-facing camera.
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.1, GPS/GLONASS/Galileo/BeiDou, NFC, FM radio
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Ultrasonic Fingerprint Sensor, Gyroscope, Electronic Compass, Proximity Sensor, Ambient Light Sensor
  • Dust/water resistance: IP52 rating
  • Battery: 4,500 mAh non-removable with 18W quick charging, supports 15W wireless charging
  • LTE bands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 17, 18, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 40, 41, 48, 66, 71
  • 5G bands: n2, n5, n7, n41, n66, n78, n78
  • Dimensions: 164.2 x 73 x 8.77mm and 190g
  • Colors: Marine Blue and Moondust Gray

Compared to high-end models, we don't have a high refresh rate display and the processor is not an 8xx series. However, we do see a high-capacity battery, wireless charging, an IP rating, 5G, a quad-camera system, a 3.5mm audio port, and an IR blaster so this phone packs in a lot with very few compromises.

Hardware

One area we have seen some changes in smartphone design is in the colors and textures of the phones since it isn't much you can do to innovate a glass and metal/plastic design. The TCL 20 Pro 5G in Marine Blue may be the most gorgeous color and finish I have seen on a smartphone. The color is modeled after the ocean, and although it has a matte glass finish, the colors change in various lighting conditions. There is a glossy bar all down the left side of the phone that encompasses the quad-cameras up top.

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The Moondust Gray model is also lovely with a very dark gray, nearly black, matte finish and a glossy black bar on the left side. TCL did a fantastic job with the design of this phone and it shows. The quad-camera system is flush with the back and arranged vertically in the top left centered in the glossy bar.

Also: TCL 20S review: Best $250 Android smartphone available today

Starting from the top and working down we find the 2MP bokeh camera, 5MP macro lens, 16MP ultra-wide camera, and at the bottom the Sony 48MP high-resolution camera with OIS. A dual-LED flash is positioned to the right of the 5MP macro lens. 

The AMOLED display is lovely with vibrant colors and dark blacks. The 32MP front-facing camera is centered at the top of the display. There are no side bezels as the viewable display flows off the edges down into the sides. The top and bottom front bezels are minimal, too.

The power and volume buttons are on the right side with a programmable key on the left side. You can program this key for single press, double press, and press-and-hold actions.

The USB-C port is on the bottom with the single mono speaker and SIM/microSD card tray. After testing out the $250 TCL 20S with its good quality dual speakers, I am a bit disappointed to see just a single bottom-firing speaker on this model. A 3.5mm audio port and an IR transmitter are found on the top. Microphones are also found on the top and bottom of the phone.

As listed in the specifications, 5G support on T-Mobile's Sub6 band (n71) and mid-band (n41) is provided. The phone is certified for 4G on AT&T, but is not currently certified for use on Verizon. T-Mobile, and its MVNOs, are definitely the preferred carriers for this phone.

Also: TCL 10 5G UW hands-on: Verizon's most affordable 5G phone is available for just $400

While we see hundreds, if not thousands, of case options for Apple and Samsung phones, it's not often we see support for the smaller phone manufacturers. With my review unit, I received a PROTech case from Axessorize that is a very nice rugged dual-layer case to help protect the TCL 20 Pro 5G. It is priced at $30 and has MIL-STD-810G drop certification so combined with the phone's IP52 rating you can take your phone outside with you and not worry too much about safe handling.

tcl-20-pro-5g-full-1.jpg

The PROTech case has perfect cutouts for every opening, including the IR port, microphones, speaker, USB-C port, and rear quad cameras. There is even a slight cutout above the display for the handset speaker. The sides of the case rise just above the display to help protect the display. The case comes with a lifetime warranty and if you pick up this phone I highly recommend this affordable protective case.

Software

The TCL 20 Pro 5G launches with Android 11 and TCL UI version 3.x. The March 1, 2021 Android security update is present, which is a bit surprising given that we are well into July 2021. The Android 12 Beta program is actually supported by TCL on the 20 Pro 5G so I plan to test out this preview of the next version of Android on one of the review units.

TCL's UI offers a fairly stock Android experience with most of the TCL customization found in the launcher and settings focused on TCL's display technologies. I'm not a huge fan of the application launcher default setting that arranges your apps by category, but you can simply switch to the more common by name option with two taps.

There are just a couple of additional, non-Google, apps provided, such as the IR remote, Gallery, FM radio, and NXTVISION utility. These apps facilitate using features found on the phone so in reality, there is no bloatware on the TCL 20 Pro 5G, which is not something Samsung or carrier-provided Android phones can demonstrate.

Also: TCL 20S review: Best $250 Android smartphone available today

Some unique settings/utilities include an Edge Bar for quickly launching apps, accessing a handy ruler, and connecting with your contacts. There is also a fingerprint quick launch option so that a long press on the under-display scanner takes you right into your selected app.

The Google Feed is available as a far-left home screen panel. All the other expected Google Android functions are present on the phone too.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The TCL 20 Pro 5G is now available from the TCL Amazon storefront for $499.99, There are Motorola and Samsung competitors in this price range, but TCL offers some unique capabilities in a stunning package. We'll have to see how TCL does with major firmware and Android security updates as it continues offering TCL-branded phones, but it's a good sign that the company is actively participating in the Android 12 beta program.

Regular readers know that I love matte glass backs and gorgeous phone colors. The Marine Blue is perfect for me as a professional naval architect who works in the marine sector, and the people I have shown it to so far absolutely love the color. My images cannot even capture the full beauty of the phone. The Moondust Gray one is perfect for the business environment too with a no-frills dark gray finish that looks sharp and professional.

I've achieved some very nice results from the quad-camera system on the phone and while it won't beat out $1,000 plus flagship phones when you look into the details, it is more than adequate for capturing all of your memories and experiences. There is a lot to like in the camera software with various modes to enhance your creativity. For example, the light trace mode helps you capture waterfalls, vehicle lights, and drawing with light. There are fun short video templates with embedded tunes to inspire your movie skills. Super macro and high pixel modes have also proven to be quite useful. 

There are a ton of available settings to help you fully optimize the phone for efficient use. I've got the Smart key all set to help me take screenshots and launch Google Assistant. The Edge bar is great for quickly initiating communications with my primary contacts and measuring objects in centimeters. While there is a secure under-display sensor, it works reliably, I use face unlock most of the time.

Call quality has been great on T-Mobile and both 4G and 5G have worked wonderfully in the areas I work and play. I still hate the way Android switches between sound on and vibrate modes, but that's not TCL's issue. Movies look great on the display and even though the lack of a second speaker is a disappointment, having a 3.5mm headset jack makes up for that.

Beyond the beauty, this phone features a lot of great technology to help you get work done, protect your eyes from display fatigue, and keep you connected with 5G technology.

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