Price (RRP): $749
The TCL 10 Pro is the first TCL phone GadgetGuy has reviewed. TCL briefly flirted with the $399 Plex – the 10-series indicates it is serious about Australia. It has loads of style – let’s test its substance.
We put the TCL 10 Pro through more than 70 exhaustive hardware and software tests. We want to know what makes TCL special and why it is entering a very crowded and low volume market? What does it offer that others don’t?
The result? It is a fine 4G phone but at $749 exists in the ill-defined wasteland between the new Qualcomm SD765G 5G phones like the 5G OPPO Find X2 Lite at $749 (that is blitzing 5G sales) and some better 4G phones like the 4G Samsung A71 ($699 4.6/5) and the 4G realme x3 SuperZoom ($649 4.9/5) that, frankly offer much more.
On the second point, Australians bought about eight million smartphones in 2019.
With COVID and the recession that number has dropped to under 7 million, prices have dived, and 80% of sales are well under $600. Apple has 53% (3.71 million mainly iPhone SE and refurbs), Samsung 25% (1.75m), OPPO at 4% (280,000) and Google at 1.7% (119,000) – Source Statcounter activations.
Add to that existing suppliers like LG (in a renaissance), Moto (in a resurgence), Nokia (Pire Android and steadily plugging away), realme/vivo/OnePlus (BBK siblings to OPPO combined making it the second or largest global smartphone maker), Xiaomi, Alcatel (TCL owned along with Palm), and minnows like Mintt (Pure Android) and Aspera. Then you have global brands like Sony, HTC and Pansonic that just can’t make a profit here. Nor global brands like Acer, ASUS, HTC, BenQ, Blu, Gigabyte, NEC and the dozens of Indian and Chinese home brands.
Now, TCL has aspirations to become the ‘Samsung of China’. Instead of growing the pie (which it can’t in a fixed market like Australia), it has to eat someone else’s. Marketing logic is that to gain market share; you need to create a better and/or cheaper mousetrap. Yes, we expect a lot. How does it fare?
Australian review: TCL 10 Pro Model T779H-2BIZAU12
- Australian Website: None. The US site is here.
- Manual and basic specs (it is a PDF – check downloads)
- Price: $749
- Elevator Pitch: The new kid on the block looking to earn its stripes
- From: JB Hi-Fi online (not in store – Forest Mist and Ember Grey) and Officeworks (Ember Grey). Any other suppliers are grey market and not selling the Australian model
- Warranty: 1-year ACL warranty
- TCL is a Chinese company with aspirations to be the ‘Samsung of China’ with a broad range of consumer electronics, TVs, home appliances and smartphones. More here.
We use FAIL, PASS and EXCEED against more than 70 test paradigms to arrive at a rating. As this is the first TCL device, we have seen it is more comprehensive.
First impression – EXCEED with a couple of fails
- Forest Mist is very nice – loads of style
- The Quad camera and two separate LED flashes make quite a statement on the back
- Nice size – just a tad too long for one-handed operation
- OLED curved waterfall edge screen
- Under-glass fingerprint reader
- USB-C and 18W charger
- 3.5mm jack
- TPU bumper case
- The website would have you believe (as is its job), it is the best things since sliced bread
After two weeks of use, I have no complaints. It does all you should expect. Well, I actually do have one complaint and one observation.
The complaint. Every time I turn it on the TCL Launcher app requests access to the calendar, call logs, contacts, phone, SMS, storage, media, photos, location… This is the first time I have encountered such a launcher, and I assume that is a TCL custom boot loader for loading the TCL Home app. Denying access does not seem to affect phone use at all – it is just damned annoying.
The observation. It does not have a C-Tick regulatory approval symbol under System, Regulatory and Safety. As Alcatel manages TCL phones in Australia (that are strong supporters of certification and regulation) I expect a correction of this oversight quick smart.
Screen – PASS
|Size||6.47″ centre O-hole, OLED NXTVISION|
made by TCL CSOT
Curved waterfall style with an edge screen
|Resolution||2340 x 1080, 60Hz|
|PPI/Ratio||398ppi, 93% STBR|
|Colour||NXTVISION can control the screen according to content and ambient light|
Claim: DPI-P3 colour gamut (no percentage given)
Tests: Standard (95% sRGB), Gentle (70% DCI-P3), Vivid (adaptive)
Delta E: Approx 6.75 (<4 is good) – See comment on colour tint below
Dark Theme: Yes
Warm to cool slider: screen defaults >6000° Kelvin – cool blue
|Nits||Claim: 600 Typical, 986 Max HBM (Hidden Brightness mode)|
Test: Approx 350 HBM OFF and 425 HMB on
|Brightness||2,000,000:1 (AMOLED has pure black)|
|Not great, which is unusual for OLED. There is a ‘Sunlight Display’ button to ‘increase readability under sunlight’ – we suspect this is part of HBM but does little.|
Approx 135° H/V
Yes but turns off ambient display
|TUV||Low Blue light certified|
|Protection||Not stated – likely a toughened glass (Mohs scale 6)|
|Under screen fingerprint||Goodix Ultrasonic – widely used and usually excellent.|
Claim: .3 second unlock
Test: It is very slow – three to five seconds so use a PIN.
I suspect NXTVISION colour is the cause and with it off the speed was almost instant
NXTVISION on – 6/10 test activations – FAIL
NXTVISION OFF – 9/10 activations – PASS
AMOLED or OLED
AMOLED, Super AMOLED, Dynamic AMOLED and AMOLED 2X (120Hz) are Samsung’s Generation 8 to 11 panels. As far as we are aware, Samsung owns the AMOLED name/licence (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode). Most other panel manufacturers have stopped using the term. You will note that LG now uses the words P-OLED or G-OLED (plastic or glass substrate).
This is an LTPS RGB AMOLED screen made by TCL’s CSOT (China Star Optoelectronics). According to Wikipedia, it is a generation 6 panel.
NXTVISION V1.1 is TCLs’ visual enhancement’
TCL claims NXTWISION is a ‘separate display engine’. If there is a hardware one, it does not show up in any test suite software – only the Qualcomm GPU. I suspect it is software-based.
- It works in what it calls ‘Vivid’ mode and adjusts brightness, contrast and colours in real-time. The effect is quite over-saturated colours and variable brightness
- Enables HBM mode that drains the battery quicker
- The SDR-to-HDR option adds ‘faux’ HDR – this setting did not make much difference.
- Reading mode moves the screen to eBook mode – a warm paper colour.
TCL claim very high brightness (600/986 HBM nits) at APL=1% (Average Picture level of 1% of the screen lit up).
Try as we may we could not get halfway near that. At best it is a 350, maybe a 400nit screen on the DisplayRite calibration scale. There is nothing wrong with that except HBM figures may be taken at face value. We are not aware of other brands quoting HBM APL 1%.
It also quotes DCI-P3 (no percentage supplied)
The best we could get is 70% DCI-P3 with a Delta E of 6.7 (below 4 is good). Now 6.75 means you can tell the difference between natural colour and the screen colour. It was even higher (worse) with NXTVISION on but to be fair TCL makes no claims about colour accuracy – only that it is vivid and bright!
It also claims HDR10, which means it must produce 1000nits peak brightness. Again we could not get anywhere near that on any setting. DRMInfo finds an HDR10 capable Widevine L1 screen. It will stream Netflix HDR content using the Netflix app. But you can see quite the difference when you compare it to a Samsung Note20 Ultra screen (peak 1600+ nits). Again to be fair, the TCL 10 Pro is about 40% of the price of the Note20!
As far as screens in this category it is competent, and that is all you can ask for. I found the screen more natural without NXTVISION. Colour purity (100% white made from RGB pixels) had a decided green tint, especially near the curved edges. It is not noticeable with TCL’s default theme.
I expected more from the screen, primarily due to TCLs over-hyped marketing. Instead, it is an oversaturated, not very bright screen reminiscent of what you saw on OLED a few years ago.
Processor – PASS
|SoC||Qualcomm SD675 SM6150 11nm|
2×2.0 GHz A76 and 6×1.7 GHz A55
Supports Open CL 3.2, Vulcan 1.1 Decode HEVC, VP9 Supports AI for camera Compute Open CL: 351 – this is very low (re-ran the tests several times) with the SD660 coming in at 615 and SD845 at 2142
Game use: most games on low to medium settings
|Storage||128GB UFS 2.1 (104GB free)|
499/190Mbps sequential read/write
|micro-SD||Up to 256GB|
|GeekBench 5||Single 503|
Roughly equal to a 2018 Qualcomm SD845
|Max: 137,626, Average 130,744 – 8% loss over 15 minutes – We are concerned at the 93° CPU temperature but the outside of the phone was fine.|
We investigated the low Open CL score and found that this GPU has a maximum of 326.4 GFLOPS, 96 shading units and 2 GPU execution units. It is not a gaming GPU.
The processor has been in use since Q1 2019. It is in the 2019 TCL Plex and phones mainly for China or Indian markets.
Analysts say the CPU is similar in processing speed to a 2019 SD845, but the Adreno 612 is a low-end GPU.
Comms – PASS
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 4 N, 2.4 and 5Ghz, 1×1|
Signal Strength 5Ghz – distance from ASUS AX1100 router
– 2m: -27dBm/433Mbps (excellent/fair)
– 5m: AX1000 router -66dBm/263Mbps (good/fair)
– 10m: Unusable
|Bluetooth||BT 5.0 – A2DP, LE, aptX/HD, SBC, AAC, LDAC|
Super Bluetooth 4 devices – see sound tests later
Single-band 10m accuracy fine for turn-by-turn navigation
|NFC||Google PayWave and peer-to-peer – not Mag Stripe|
|Sensors||LSM6DSO is a lower-cost combined sensor – Accelerometer, Gyroscope, pedometer, and tilt detection.|
AK09911 3-axis eCompass
Ambient Light sensor
While the Qualcomm SD675 supports Wi-Fi 5 AC, 2×2 MIMO, VHT60, TCL has only implemented 1×1 for a maximum of 433Mbps. This is not an issue unless you need better speed or distance from the router.
We noticed how easy (and annoying) it was to flip from portrait to landscape accidentally. This is a known issue with the LSM6DSO. We ended turning off Auto-rotate – after we turned off the Edge and NXTVISION.
LTE – PASS
|SIM||Dual hybrid with microSD (one active at a time)|
|Ring tone||Can set different ones for each|
|Support||VoLTE – carrier dependent – generally yes|
Wi-Fi calling – Yes
|UL (Mbps)||Claim: up to 75Mbps|
Test: 15Mbps below average
|DL (Mbps)||Claim: Up to 400Mbps|
Test: 60Mbps average
|Band||1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40, 41|
|Test||-104dBm in a 3-bar reception area (average)|
Did not find the next tower (fail)
Reception is average – it is more of a city/suburbs phone. We surmise that the signal strength is commensurate with a shared Wi-Fi/RF antenna design.
It has all bands necessary for Australia. It does not have enough LTE bands for global 4G roaming where it will mainly fall back to 3G.
Battery – PASS just
|Battery mAh||4500 (rated)|
|Charger||Comes with 5V/3A, 9V/2A and 12V/1.25A 18W QC 3.0 compatible charger|
Charge Claim: 50% in 35 minutes, 0-100% in 120 minutes (2 hours)
Test: 41% in 1 hour and 0-100% in three hours
Test standard 5V/3A ‘linear’ charger: 0-100% 5.5 hours
|Reverse charge||Claim: If you plug in an OTG compatible device via USB, you can get 5V/1.5A (7.5W).|
Test: Using Power-Z monitor it delivered 5V/1A (5A) to a Mintt X5 smartphone (5V/2A/10W capable)
|Tests||Video loop claim: 15.1/10 hours default/max|
Video Loop test: 1080p/50%/aeroplane mode – 11.5 hours
Typical use 4G, Wi-Fi claim: 18 hours
Typical use 4G, Wi-Fi Test: 10-11 hours
MP3 music claim: 56/12 hours default/max volume
MP3 music test: 50% volume played from storage – 24 hours
100% load Battery drain – 5.5.hours
T-Rex – 371.6 (6.18 hours) 2169 frames
Drain – screen off: 600mAh (about 25 days)
I am not concerned about the differences between TCL claims and our tests as its are lab tests, and ours are real-world based on different parameters.
What did concern us was the out-of-the-box settings were very battery hungry. It started at 39.2% use per hour of use (3 hours to empty). A bit of tweaking got that to 8 hours to empty. But we looked further. Under Special App Access, we found Battery optimisation. Optimising the apps got reported battery life to 18 hours.
Recharge times (replicated at least ten times) are nowhere near the class leader. A 9V/2A/18W charger delivers 4.74A to the 3.8V/4.5A battery. In theory, the recharge time should be about an hour. This shows a lower level of charger efficiency.
After two weeks of use, we confirm that this is a 1-day device. Perhaps more if you tweak settings and ensure unused apps are closed down. The biggest offenders for battery use are GPS and Facebook.
Sound – PASS
|Speakers||Mono earpiece and down-firing speaker*|
|AMP||Qualcomm Aqstic amp and codecs|
BT 5.0 SBC, AAC, aptx/HD, OPUS (LDAC)
|Mic||Dual MEMs with noise cancellation|
|Tests dB||Media 77.2|
Earpiece – no separate setting
|Radio||Yes if you use cabled buds for an antenna|
|IR blaster||Yes with presets for most brands|
* It is not fair to measure the sound signature on a mono speaker system. The primary use is for clear voice. It is not for music or movies.
It is reasonably loud and with the dual mics makes for a good handsfree speakerphone.
BT output to our reference Sony WH-1000XM3 (M4 review soon) on SBC and AAC is loud and clear – more than CD quality. Unfortunately, it would not connect on LDAC despite the claim to support it.
But a thing called Super Bluetooth intrigued me. You can connect up to four BT devices (headphones or speakers). Although in the fine print it says two devices if connected to Wi-Fi 2.4Ghz. I am not sure why when BT and Wi-Fi are different things, but I suspect it has to do with the shared antenna design.
Great concept but flawed. I placed four BT 5.0 speakers within 20 metres of the phone and experienced lag, dropouts and distortion. It did improve with two speakers or headsets.
Build – PASS+
|Size||158.5 x 72.4 x 9.2mm x 177g|
|Build||Toughened glass – no pre-fitted protector|
Matte etched glass with paint deposition under
|IP||None – almost a deal-breaker at this price|
|Cover||TPU bumper cover provided|
It appears solidly built with good screen-to-chassis fit. It is slippery, so use the TPU cover and find a tempered glass protector.
Unfortunately, TCL is not a well-known smartphone brand here, and accessories are on the Chinese site Alibaba.
JerryRig has a teardown here
Android 10 – PASS
|Android||Pure Google Android 10 – Apparently Android 11 is coming|
Security patch 5 July 2020
Note that security updates will be from Google in Android 11
|All standard apps, Google Lens and Assistant|
Note dedicated left side button can summon Google – turn the long press on or you will get way too many false activations
|Bloatware||Music, Gallery, Video, File Manager, Gallery, Music, Web browser, Bookings.com, Moon+Reader, OfficeSuite (not MS Office), File Share, Keep Notes, Facebook, Netflix, TCL+ (advertising)|
|Update Policy||Assume one OS update. Security patches should come|
The TCL UI is a little odd. It tries to be helpful by sorting the ‘swipe up’ apps into recent, communication, media, utilities, system, TCL, travel, finance, news, shop, education, and others. But all that does is make it an impossibly long trek to the bottom of the apps page. And some of the categorisations are wrong – Maps is under Travel, Google Pay under Finance etc.
To be fair, you can turn it off (reinstate swipe sideways) and sort by name or rename categories and sort orders. But it is all a step too far when the usual side swipe and manually grouping apps works more efficiently.
Privacy – needs more explanation
Remember that Google collects information from Android – just as Apple collects information from iOS. You have little choice if you want to use Android or iOS. It also collects information from apps and Google Assistant. However, you don’t have to use Google assistant, can turn off location permissions and limit apps information collection to that which is needed. Google has a significant Data-harvesting reduction with Android 11.
As I mentioned earlier, the TCL UI Launcher wants to access information that a) I have not seen requested before or b) that I consider necessary. If you deny access, the phone appears to work correctly. But the messages come back if you cold boot despite selecting ‘Deny and Don’t ask again’.
Now, this is likely all very innocuous but given a) TCL/Alcatel has placed spyware on its phones in the past and b) it is new to this market, it may need to address this for the Australian market.
Australian buyers are entitled to expect upfront, e.g. before they buy, what the Launcher does and why it needs the information, where is it stored and what its use is.
If you are concerned about privacy, then purchase a pure Google Android phone (Pixel or Nokia) or one that does not have a separate licence agreement (most).
TCL 10 Pro rear camera – PASS
A Quad camera – 64MP primary lens, 16MP ultra-wide lens, 5MP macro lens, and 2MP depth lens. This should be a ripper. It also has light tracing mode, portrait mode, super night mode and super macro mode. Unfortunately, the specs are more impressive than its capabilities.
We also see the impact of letting NXTVision AI plays with colours.
|Rear Camera|| 64MP Primary|
Can bin to 4MP
|Focus||Laser detection AF||AF||FF||FF|
|Pixel size um||.8 (bins to 1.6)||1.0||1.12||2.9|
|FOV° and cropped||79 (68.7)||123||83||77|
|Flash||2 X singe LEDs|
|Zoom||to 10X digital|
The SD765 provides basic EIS via the combo accelerometer
|Can select any of the first three lenses for video|
Light Trace long exposure
|Must select Super Macro|
First, an explanation for the TCL 10 Pro claim on the back cover
It shows 64MP/2.9μm ULP/Macro Lens/1:1.8-2.4/12-27mm – very jargonistic.
Yes, it has a 64MP sensor, but that defaults to 16MP binned. Yes, you can change settings to 64MP if you have a nice bright scene and use a tripod for every shot.
The 2.9μm is the 2MP f/1.8 lens to records depth details. I suppose it could be a very low res 720/1080 ‘low light camera’, but that is a real stretch.
1:1.8-2.4 relates to the f-stop range over four lenses. The 64MP is 1.8 fixed.
ULP means ultra-low-power – not some camera magic.
As we found on the Moto One macro, a dedicated Macro lens is superfluous. Frankly, this cries out for an optical telephoto lens and OIS (not just EIS) if its to be competitive. In fact, any zoomed images are a crop of the 64MP camera.
Now I don’t know if this was NXTVISION or not but everything is oversaturated, exposures were off, and one shot would be good and the next same shot bad!
And I hate the watermark feature – yes, you can disable that.
TCL 10 Pro Front camera specs – PASS
|Front Camera||24MP bins to 6MP (can shoot 24MP)|
|Pixel size||.9 (bins to 1.8um)|
|Flash||LCD flash – screen fill. If enabled the screen briefly fills before a selfie|
|Features||Face Beautification (photos), photo filters, video filters|
|Face unlock||2D Face unlock passed 6 out of 10 tests|
Selfies were over-saturated and overexposed. Skin tones were ruddy.
GadgetGuy’s take – I have a little love/hate thing going on with the TCL 10 Pro
If you believe the website marketing hype, this is a fantastic flagship-class device. Well, that is what websites are for!
But we go by specs. We had to hunt far-and-wide to cut through the marketing hype to get real specs that matched what our software test suite was telling us. And on the whole, they are the specs commensurate with a 4G mid-market phone.
There are a few areas that don’t meet the hype.
One, its execution across the board smacks of an immature UI (user experience) and lack of ‘grease on the wheels’. Fortunately, that can be fixed by firmware if a manufacturer has the will.
Two, NXTVISION is immature and overhyped. After all, it is a marketing term – not as claimed dedicated display engine. Again fixable via firmware.
Three, in the camera space NXTVISION appears to be a hindrance rather than an enhancement. Unless of course, you like over-saturated and noisy images. NXTVISION and automatic settings produced some of the most ‘variable’ results I have seen. Sometimes the camera would take a great shot, and the next was bad (using a tripod and sequential shots).
Four, mostly the OS, was smooth and responsive. But sometimes it was laggy doing the same thing, mainly where it involved a sideswipe.
Five, the Edge – that I am very au fait with – gave frequent spurious results bringing up unwanted apps. Turn it off.
And six. Yes, you can probably blame some of this on my refusal to give the TCL Launcher all sort of root, hardware and app permissions that other phones don’t dream of asking.
I have had superior experiences with
- Samsung A71 128GB 4.6/5 ($649)
- realme X3 SuperZoom 128/256GB – 4.9/5 ($649/749) – this has a 120Hz screen, SD855+, 60X periscope zoom, dual selfie, 30W charge and so much more
- 5G OPPO Find X2 Lite 128GB ($749 not reviewed but the Neo got 4.8/5)
What are other reviewers saying about the TCL 10 Pro?
At the end of my review, I read some international reviews (there is nothing as in-depth as our deep-dive review). Without fail, reputable sites (that actually use the device rather than regurgitate a press release or reviewers guide or dont sell anything) had similar issues, particularly with NXTVISION in the screen and camera. To quote TechRadar
- The TCL 10 Pro AMOLED display exhibits a sickly green tinge, and it doesn’t get very bright. (We found that!)
- Not great in direct sunlight. (Ditto)
- Underneath that display, there is an unreliable and sluggish in-display fingerprint sensor. (Ditto)
- The images it took were so wildly inconsistent. (Ditto)
- Bloatware – (Ditto)
- The edge interface seems to be born from the early era of curved displays. Looks good, but has little practical value. (Ditto)
- While it’s far from a bad phone, it’s difficult to see where the TCL 10 Pro fits into this picture. 3/5
And that is where we will leave it. A good phone but outclassed at $749. Drop a hundred dollars, fix the firmware, and it would be a great buy.
If a phone passes every test, it gets at least a 4/5. We add points for unique or innovative features and deduct points for fails.