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Chinese electronics giant TCL has made a name for itself in the US through its Roku TV offerings, which have impressive displays that punch well above their prices. But after years of trying to break into the phone industry through sub-brands such as Alcatel, Palm and BlackBerry, the company is trying again and using its own name.
One of the first of these new phones is the $250 TCL 10L, which will be available May 19. Overall, the 10L is a good attempt at a budget phone, and while it doesn't have many flashy features, it admirably handles basic tasks and has an elegant design. For the price, it's a good rival to the Moto G Stylus. But because Motorola's phone performed much more smoothly, I recommend it between the two.
Unlike TCL's flashy concepts like a slideable phone and a triple-screen folding tablet, the 10L is a more traditional smartphone, running Android 10 (an upgrade to Android 11 is promised), with a large 6.53-inch full HD LCD screen. It has a cutout in the upper left corner for its 16-megapixel selfie camera.
Power and volume buttons adorn the right side of the plastic-backed device while a customizable "smart key" is on the left that can be programmed to open preferred apps or do tasks, such as a double press to open an app and a long press to summon the Google Assistant. The "Mariana blue" adds a bit of color and flashy patterns under sunlight.
A mono speaker is located on the bottom of the phone to the right of the USB-C port while the top has a 3.5mm headphone jack. When I played videos and music on the phone, the speaker was pretty bad, particularly at higher volumes. You'll want to use headphones.
A fingerprint scanner can be found on the back, which is responsive though not the fastest I've seen. There is also an FM radio when wired headphones are plugged in. As one might expect given the price, there is no IP-rated water resistance or wireless charging.
Given its reputation in TVs, I hoped that the display on the 10L would be a standout in its class. The company touts that its phones have "NXTVision," a feature that boosts the display's colors and can convert SDR content to HDR through a combination of a "dedicated display" hardware chip and some software tricks.
But to me, this feature didn't really add much. When I turned it on, videos streamed over Netflix, YouTube and Disney Plus often ended up looking oversaturated, as did online matches of Call of Duty Mobile. It could be a personal preference, but I had to turn the feature off.
(BTW: I tried to download Fortnite from the Play Store but the app oddly didn't show up, something TCL said was due to it not yet being certified to work with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor. Downloading the game from Epic Games directly did work, but it struggled to play.)
The phone has a preapplied plastic screen protector on the display. While it helps fight scratches, I found that taking it off improves the display's visibility, particularly outdoors. A plastic case is included in the box, and while it's not of the highest quality (and features big TCL branding), it is a nice add-on that helps with gripping the device.
Besides some lag issues (which I'll get to later), overall the 10L camera works well and can capture pretty good photos, especially when shooting in daylight or in areas with plenty of light. People and objects were sharp and the colors vivid and I actually enjoyed the macro lens for super close up shots of objects, though details from its 2-megapixel sensor wasn't great. (FYI, the main camera has a 48-megapixel sensor, but a 12-megapixel resolution is set by default.)
Taking photos at night without a flash, however, was difficult. As with most phones that don't have their own night mode setting, photos taken on the 10L in these environments were grainy and out of focus.
The camera has a special mode called "High Pixel," which can shoot at the full 48 megapixels. But when I tried it out, it didn't provide much improvement and it required me to be steady for several seconds. That's a big ask when taking pictures of moving subjects like children.
As for video, quality on 4K or 1080p isn't great when shooting indoors, while the lack of optical image stabilization is noticed (there is electronic image stabilization but it doesn't help much). The phone's front-facing camera also took serviceable photos, but without plenty of natural light they weren't anything special.
One annoying camera issue I want to bring up: By default, the camera app includes a watermark that displays a TCL 10L logo and the tagline "display greatness" in the lower-left corner of every photo. This can be turned off in the camera settings, but it's an unnecessary step for what should be off by default.
Beyond the Snapdragon 665 processor, the 10L includes 64GB of storage, with the option to expand through microSD, and 6GB of RAM. On paper, the 10L should be faster than the Moto G Stylus, for example, because Motorola's phone has the same Snapdragon 665 processor but 4GB of RAM. In practice, the G Stylus fared better during benchmark tests, possibly due to Motorola using a cleaner version of Android.
With day-to-day usage, the 10L sometimes performed admirably, like when I played graphic-intensive games like Call of Duty or scrolling through a content-heavy app like TikTok's For You Page. But other times there were constant small lags when doing basic tasks like opening up the phone's app drawer, closing or switching apps and scrolling through some webpages or playlists on Spotify.
The processor also struggled and lagged for a few seconds when switching between the various lenses on the rear of the phone, particularly when switching between the main 48-megapixel shooter and the phone's 8-megapixel ultra-wide and 2-megapixel macro lenses.
One other thing: For some bizarre reason the "User Support" feedback app was locked in the notification tray and couldn't be swiped away. The only way to clear it was by going into Settings, Smart Manager, Notifications and toggling the app to off. Like the watermark in the camera app, this is another software issue that should've been resolved before shipping.
We're waiting on official battery test results from the lab, and I'll update this review when they come in, but anecdotally, the battery is solid. It can last all day without a charge, and was able to stream both Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War with the brightness jacked up and still have about 24% of battery left over.
|TCL 10L||Motorola Moto G Stylus||Motorola Moto G Power|
|Display size, resolution||6.53-inch LCD; 1,080x2,340 pixels||6.4-inch LCD; 2,300x1,080 pixels||6.4-inch LCD; 2,300x1,080 pixels|
|Dimensions (Inches)||6.39 x 2.98 x 0.33 in||6.24 x 2.98 x 0.36 in||6.29 x 2.98 x 0.38 in|
|Dimensions (Millimeters)||162.2 x 75.6 x 8.4mm||158.55 x 75.8 x 9.2 mm||159.85 x 75.8 x 9.63 mm|
|Weight (Ounces, Grams)||6.35oz; 180g||6.77 oz; 192 g||7.01 oz; 199 g|
|Mobile software||Android 10||Android 10||Android 10|
|Camera||48-megapixel, 8-megapixel super wide, 2-megapixel macro, 2-megapixel depth||48-megapixel wide-angle, 2-megapixel macro, 16-megapixel ultra-wide angle||16-megapixel wide-angle, 2-megapixel macro, 8-megapixel ultra-wide angle|
|Processor||2.0GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 665||Snapdragon 665||Snapdragon 665|
|Expandable storage||Up to 256GB||Up to 512GB||Up to 512GB|
|Battery||4,000 mAh||4,000 mAh||5,000 mAh|
|Special features||90Hz display, NXTVision Display||Stylus, Action Cam|
|Price off-contract (USD)||$250||$300||$250|
First published May 14