When TCL launched the TCL Plex last year, I was immediately interested in it, and had to get my hands on one to review it. When I did, I came away very impressed with the quality of the experience being offered for its price tag, so naturally, I was excited to hear about the TCL 10 lineup. The headlining member of the TL 10 family is the TCL 10 Pro, a phone that shares a lot with the Plex, but takes the price up significantly to €499.

TCL's biggest focus for the 10 Pro was delivering big display and design improvements, replacing the LCD panel with AMOLED, and adopting a new look and feel for the outside of the phone. The cameras have also seen an upgrade, at least on paper. Do those improvements justify the much higher asking price? Not exactly, but it's still worth it if you value those aspects. I'll be comparing the 10 Pro to the Plex a few times, because that was such a good value phone in my opinion.

Specs

CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 675, two Kryo 460 Gold 2.0GHz, six Kryo 460 Silver 1.7GHz
GPU Adreno 612
Body 162,2 X 76,56 X 7,99 mm (6.39x3.01x0.31in), 192g (6.77oz)
Display 6.47 inches, 1080x2340, 19.5:9, 398ppi, AMOLED
Camera 64MP with quad pixel technology, 16MP wide-angle, 5MP macro camera, 2MP Ultra Large Pixel; Front - 24MP with quad pixel
Video 4K - 30fps, 960fps Slow Motion; Front - 1080p - 30fps
Aperture Main: f/1.79, Wide-angle: f/2.4, Macro: f/2.2, ULP: f/1.8; Front - f/2.0
Storage 128GB
RAM 6GB
Battery 4,500mAh, 18W fast charging
Material Metal and glass
Price €499/$449

Day one

Design

The design of the TCL 10 Pro is one of its biggest selling points, and it's no wonder. The first time I picked up this phone, I marveled at how nice it feels to the touch, with a soft matte finish on the rear glass, as well as a matte coating on the metal frame. It's incredibly soft to the touch, but that also makes it very slippery. The only area that doesn't have a matte finish is the camera setup, which has a glossy finish to make it stand out. This is important so that the cameras can sit flush with the back panel and still capture light normally.

It looks amazing, too, especially in the Forest Mist Green color I got. It has a beautiful gradient going from green to black, and it looks beautiful as light shines on it from different angles. I've found it nearly impossible to capture its beauty in a picture, so I highly recommend that you take a look for yourself if you get the chance.

Going around the phone, that soft-touch metal frame has everything you'd expect and more. On the left side, there's the power button and volume rocker. They feel fine and don't stand out in any particular way.

On the right, a textured Smart Key lets you summon the Google Assistant. This is actually really unfortunate, because you used to be able to set the key to do anything you wanted, but that capability was removed with an update I got while conducting this review. TCL tells me that wasn't supposed to happen, but the change was clearly mentioned in the changelog for the update, so it certainly seems intentional. Maybe a future update will revert this change, but as it is, this is a useless extra button.

On the bottom side of the frame there's the single speaker on this phone, a microphone, a USB Type-C port for charging, and the nano-SIM slot. At the top, an increasingly-rare headphone jack, another microphone, and a very rare sight - an infrared blaster, which lets you control devices in your home, such as TVs, set top boxes, air conditioners, and more. I initially assumed this would only work with TCL-branded appliances, but that's not the case. However, the feature set of this virtual remote is pretty limited, so I can't do things like switching between HDMI inputs on my TV.

Display and sound

Naturally, on the front of the TCL 10 Pro, you'll find the display, which is also a focus for this device. TCL has upgraded from an LCD panel to AMOLED, while also making the display ever-so-slightly smaller, at 6.47 inches diagonally. Even with AMOLED, TCL is still using its NXTVISION technology to improve image clarity and up-convert SDR content to HDR in real time. The screen definitely looks very nice here, with vibrant colors and enough sharpness for a phone display. Upgrading to AMOLED is definitely a welcome change. Plus, there's now a fingerprint scanner under the display, which works fine.

There are some design changes round the display, too. Most notably, it now curves over the side edges of the phone, making bezels appear smaller and adding a bigger sense of immersion to the experience. The curve is not as harsh as many other phones, so the color distortion you might see on the edges of other phones isn't a problem here. I sometimes get the feeling that touch sensitivity on the edges of the screen isn't as accurate, so it can be hard to activate areas in the edges of the screen. This was definitely more noticeable before the update I got during the review, when I could never get the Google Assistant to activate by swiping in from the bottom corners, and it seems to work as intended moat if the time now.

My biggest problem with the display is more software-related, and it has to do with the fact that there's no option to change the display scaling. With smartphone displays as big as they are today, and being that this screen is only 1080p, the default scaling is very large and, to me, feels like a waste of space. TCL does offer text size options, but (unsurprisingly) that only affects text, which often isn't the biggest problem - the quick actions panel, for instance, is much bigger than I would prefer.

As for sound, there's not really a lot to say. A single bottom-firing speaker isn't going to blow anyone away, but it's fine and gets loud enough. I don't find sound quality to be bad in any way, and there are no real complaints, but there's also nothing outstandingly good about it. It's just fine.

Camera

The camera is another area where TCL tried to improve upon the Plex, but there's some things that are pretty much the same as before. The main sensor is now 64MP instead of 48MP like the Plex has. Otherwise, the ulta-wide-angle camera is still 16MP, and there's still a 2MP for low-light video. The new addition here is a 5MP macro camera, and as I've mentioned before, I wish this feature was just part of the ultra-wide camera instead.

In general, the cameras produce pretty sharp shots, which is something I like a lot. And that goes for the macro camera, too, so I can almost forgive that it's a separate sensor. I do wish I had a telephoto lens instead, though, because I just love that feeling of going from an ultra-wide shot and gradually zooming in without losing quality. It's not as dramatic here.

One thing that I found to be really disappointing though, is the saturation. I like bright and vivid colors, more so than I think most people would, but the TCL 10 Pro oversaturates many of the shots to the point where even I think it's too much. It's very common for colors to just be way punchier than in real life, and while it can look nice, I can't help feeling a big disconnect from reality. I usually have the exact opposite complaint, so this is pretty surprising to me. This only gets worse at night, where the default capture mode boosts all of the colors too much. TCL's Super Night mode thankfully helps and tones down some of the harsh highlights, though it's still not perfect. Also, the front-facing camera doesn't seem particularly great to me, and shots aren't detailed or sharp, but it's serviceable.

One great thing that's kept from the Plex is that low-light video recording camera. This is one of the things I truly appreciate in TCL's phones, because it addresses something I don't think any other OEM is addressing. Night mode for photos is a common feature these days, but videos are often neglected, and seeing TCL have a whole sensor for low-light video makes it feel much more thought out than most multi-camera setups. It works really well, too, and even though the 1080p video you get can be grainy, it's night and day compared to recording with the main sensor in terms of clarity. I do hope TCL keeps improving these sensors, so maybe they can record higher resolutions or capture even more light. Here are a couple of stills from videos using the regular camera and the low-light camera.

Performance and battery life

Given that most of the internals of the TCL 10 Pro are the same as the Plex, performance is a very similar story. I don't think that's a bad thing, though, because it was great before and it's great now. It's not often that a mid-range phone can handle playing Pokémon GO as gracefully as the TCL 10 Pro does, and it's always refreshing to see it glide across all the animations in that game. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Mobile also plays just fine, even at the highest settings you can reach on this phone, but Asphalt 9 Legends poses more of a challenge, and the only way to get stable framerates is to change the graphics settings to performance mode.

Turning to benchmarks, it immediately becomes apparent that the specs have barely changed, with AnTuTu giving the TCL 10 Pro a nearly identical score to that of the Plex. You can see that the GPU is where it scores the lowest compared to other devices, and that probably explains the performance issues in a graphics-intensive game like Asphalt 9.

I also ran GeekBench 5 and GFXBench for some more detailed results. GeekBench 5 measures CPU performance.

Finally, GFXBench measures the GPU. I should mention that, for whatever reason, I couldn't get the phone to complete all the tests in the benchmark when I first got it. There was no error or anything, it just finished the benchmark after the first few tests. After a software update, though, it finally ran the benchmark properly.

I have found some issues in terms of performance, though, particularly around notifications. Sometimes notifications take a while to arrive after I see them on other devices, and sometimes they might not come at all if you're not using the device. I set a reminder with Google Assistant once, and it didn't show up until I unlocked the phone, a full 15 minutes after the time I had set the reminder for.

As for battery life, the TCL 10 Pro is pretty great. It doesn't often last two days on a single charge, which is something I usually like, but it can easily get me through one day with the 4,500mAh battery. That includes mostly texting, browsing Twitter, and watching YouTube for a couple of hours a day, plus some short gaming sessions, mostly in PUBG Mobile.

In terms of software, TCL's approach hasn't changed much, with an experience that doesn't stray too far from stock Android. Since it runs Android 10, there's a system-wide dark mode now, and TCL now allows you to change the lock screen to the typical Android style so you can actually see your notifications on the lock screen. It supports the new Android gestures out of the box, but once you install a third-party launcher, you're forced to use the classic style buttons, which I hate. There's also an always-on display feature, and TCL was smart enough to remove its "smart assistant" from the included launcher, replacing it with Google's news feed.

The phone does come with a few more apps pre-installed, like an e-book reader, and some bloatware, but at least most of it can be uninstalled. One of the new apps lets you connect to your PC to move files easily, and it works pretty well. In fact, there are two different ways you can connect to your PC, but the File Manager app isn't as reliable to connect, and I'd much rather use File Share.

Conclusion

The TCL 10 Pro is a definite upgrade from the company's previous foray into own-branded smartphones, with a beautiful glass and metal design, a significantly better display, and an in-display fingerprint scanner. It also keeps most of what was great about the Plex, including the low-light video camera and solid performance for a mid-ranger.

However, it does fall short in some ways, with the main camera being somewhat disappointing, and the others being very close to what was already on the Plex. That's exactly TCL 10 Pro's biggest problem - the TCL Plex exists, and it's an amazing deal for its price. This new venture is definitely better, and yes, I would say it's still worth its asking price of €499. However, I don't think it does as good of a job justifying its price as the Plex does, and unless you really want that better design and display, you may be better off with last year's phone.


 

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