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

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Written by Matthew Miller on
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8.5/10

TCL 20S

Excellent
Pros
  • Affordable price
  • High quality, vibrant display
  • Long battery life
  • Attractive, well-built design
  • Good sounding stereo speakers
Cons
  • Acceptable camera results
  • Limited gaming performance
  • No 5G support

After reading about TCL's plan to release three new 20 Series smartphones I was left wondering how the TCL 20S fit in between the sub-$200 TCL 20SE and the mid-range TCL 20 Pro 5G. After using the TCL 20S for a couple of weeks, I would personally spend the extra $60 for the 20S instead of the 20SE.

Unlike the TCL 20SE, the TCL 20S is compatible with T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon LTE networks so the addition of Verizon here is a significant improvement. The 20S has a higher-level processor, NFC chip, better cameras, better speakers, and Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 fast charging support.

TCL 20S specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 665
  • Display: 6.67-inch, 2400 x 1080 pixels resolution LCD (395 ppi)
  • Operating system: Android 11
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 128GB internal storage with microSD card
  • Cameras: 64MP main, 8MP ultra-wide with 118 field-of-view, 2MP macro, and 2MP depth sensor. 16MP front-facing camera.
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, FM radio, NFC
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Side Fingerprint Sensor, Electronic Compass, Proximity Sensor, Ambient Light Sensor
  • Battery: 5000 mAh non-removable with Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 support
  • LTE bands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 38, 40, 41, 66, 71
  • Dimensions: 166 x 77 x 9.14 mm and 199 grams
  • Colors: Milky Way Gray and North Star Blue

Also: Best Android phone in 2021

Hardware

TCL sent the Milky Way Gray color to test out, but that North Star Blue looks slick too. The back panel is plastic with a textured matte finish that looks great in bright light conditions. The quad-camera array is in the far left in a vertical arrangement, typical for the TCL 20 Series smartphones.

The display takes up a generous portion of the front, with a reported 91% screen-to-body ratio. A central hole punch front-facing camera is present with viewable display appearing around the opening. You can toggle the software to customize how the "Dotch" appears on the phone. The display is LCD, but incorporates TCL's NXTVISION technology and I thoroughly enjoyed streaming several movies on it during my evaluation period.

There is no high refresh rate display present here, which is expected for a phone priced at $250. It's a typical 60Hz display, but has great resolution and looks perfect for movies and text.

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Along with the large, vibrant display, there are two speakers so you can enjoy movies in landscape orientation. The speakers are much better than those found on the TCL 20SE and I could watch movies all day without headphones. There is also still a standard 3.5mm audio port on the top of the phone.

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A Google Assistant activation button is on the left side, with the SIM/microSD card tray, while volume and power buttons are on the right. The fingerprint sensor is embedded into the power button so you can easily pick up and unlock your phone with your finger or thumb as you power on the device.

A USB-C port is on the bottom to charge up the 5000 mAh battery. The battery will easily get you through at least a day of use.

Software

The TCL 20S launches with Android 11 and TCL UI version 3.x. The May 5, 2021 Android security update is present on the review device.

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 a couple of apps provided, such as the Gallery, FM radio, and NXTVISION utility, that facilitate using features found on the phone. 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.

Also: Best cheap phone in 2021

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The TCL 20S is available now for $249.99 from the TCL Store on Amazon. This is a great price for a phone with these specifications and performance results.

The two primary rear cameras and the front-facing camera have higher resolution and are better than these same three cameras on the TCL 20SE. I was able to achieve good results while shooting with the TCL 20S and enjoyed the versatility of the camera software.

The TCL 20S is not a gaming phone and trying out racing games and other games with demanding graphics presents some blocky performance. Puzzle games and other static games were fine though. I am so used to high refresh rate displays now that going back to a 60Hz display is a bit painful for fast scrolling up and down web pages and long lists.

TCL is known for its display technology and it brings its expertise to the phone. The TCL 20S has auto-brightness, reading mode, and eye comfort mode that reduces blue light to help your eyes reduce strain. The visual and audio experiences on this phone punch higher than the low $250 price point.

The TCL 20S is one of the better $250 phones you can find today and if I was looking for a phone in this price range I would pay the extra $60 to purchase this one over the TCL 20SE. The 20SE has several compromises that are resolved in the 20S and I think over the life of the phone people will be happier with the 20S. The display looks wonderful, the speakers are loud, the UI is nearly stock Android, the battery life is solid, and there is a lot to like in the TCL 20S.

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