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TCL 10 hands-on: A new 5G smartphone challenger approaches

Get ready for a sub-$500 5G phone later this year

TCL 10 smartphone
(Image: © Future)

For

  • Sub-$500 price
  • Quad-lens rear camera
  • Attractive design on the TCL 10 Pro
  • Dedicated display processing chip

Against

  • Lite model feels a bit cheap
  • 5G variant is heavy

LAS VEGAS — Last September, we got out first look at the TCL Plex — the first smartphone from the Chinese tech brand best known for its affordable yet well-equipped televisions. However, the Plex was destined only for Europe and international markets. This year, TCL looks to broaden its reach, delivering its first smartphones for North American buyers in the TCL 10 L, TCL 10 Pro and TCL 10 5G.

Yes, later this year — TCL says sometime between April and June — you’ll be able to buy a handset with TCL’s name on it in the United States and Canada. And unlike previous handsets made by TCL and licensed with the Alcatel and BlackBerry brand names, the TCL 10 range isn’t about being the cheapest, or having a physical keyboard. Instead, this trio just seems like a bunch of well-rounded devices at an attractive price point.

Indeed, all three phones in the TCL 10 series will cost less than $500, and that even includes the TCL 10 5G, which sports Qualcomm’s recently-unveiled Snapdragon 765. With the TCL 10 5G, you’re looking at what is likely to be one of the cheapest 5G phones we’ll see during 2020. 

Prototypes of the non-5G models were running newer Snapdragon 600-series silicon, though TCL couldn’t be more specific about precisely which processors were inside.

TCL 10 smartphone

From left to right: TCL 10 L, TCL 10 Pro and TCL 10 5G (Image credit: Future)

In fact, the company is treating this CES 2020 unveiling as more of a hardware design preview than a formal introduction. TCL didn’t provide a spec sheet, so what follows is everything we know for sure. 

All three phones have quad-lens rear cameras, though the sensors and optics differ on each. The primary shooter for both the TCL 10 Pro and TCL 10 5G looks to capture 64-megapixel images, judging by the inscription underneath the array, while the TCL 10 L — where the “L” basically stands for “Lite” — has a 48-MP sensor. There also looks to be a macro lens in tow on all three phones, but otherwise, everything else about the cameras in these devices remains a mystery.

Perhaps that's because TCL is concentrating on the display side of things first and foremost. The company is, after all, known for its TVs, and so the TCL 10 range comes equipped with technology carried over from that business. There’s a dedicated display chip in each device that runs TCL’s Nxtvision engine, which can up-convert content from SDR to HDR and improve the color and fidelity of multimedia. The TCL 10 L and TCL 10 5G both utilize LCD panels, whereas the TCL 10 Pro features an AMOLED one — but all three displays look great, especially for ones on midrange phones.

TCL 10 smartphone

TCL 10 Pro (Image credit: Future)

The TCL 10 Pro is definitely the nicest of these phones to hold and look at, with its curved display, slimmer bezels, matte glass back and in-display fingerprint reader. It’s a very attractive phone for the price, especially in the shade of forest green the company plans to offer it in.

The TCL 10 L and TCL 10 5G share a glossier finish for the rear glass, differentiated by a subtle polygonal pattern on the 5G model. That’s encased in a chrome frame which feels more like plastic on the cheaper offering. However, the 5G device is a smidge taller and wider and noticeably heavier to accommodate a larger battery for keeping that power-thirsty modem humming along. Both of these phones have old-school capacitive fingerprint sensors on the back, unlike the optical scanner baked within the Pro version’s display.

TCL says we'll hear more about its upcoming phones at Mobile World Congress 2020 in Barcelona, which kicks off on Feb. 24. There, we should have detailed specs, prices, and, if we're lucky, information on carrier availability in the U.S.

Be sure to check out our CES 2020 hub for the latest news and hands-on impressions out of Las Vegas.