TCL 20 Pro 5G review: good looks aren’t everything

The TCL 20 Pro 5G is a nice looking low-budget phone that can tackle the first-generation kinks encountered in the 10 Pro, but it’s not ready to take on the heavyweight category. Like its predecessor, the 20 Pro 5G combines a high-end design with a budget price tag, in this case at $499 for 6GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. It’s $50 higher than the 10 Pro’s starting price, but this time with more storage and 5G too. It is worth mentioning once again. This is a very nice phone for just $500. The huge curved display boasts very slim bezels, and with an aluminum frame and glass on the front and back, the build quality is top notch. The rear cameras are neatly arranged under vertical strips flush with the rear panel. It has a clean and retro feel. Verge Score 6.5 out of 10 Good Big, curved display Great build quality Wireless charging Bad Bad 5G network compatibility in the US Just two years of security updates Camera performance could be better. Pro 5G for most people. There are some usability quirks that make it feel like a 2nd gen device. But more importantly, the network compatibility and security support policies of the 20 Pro 5G aren’t as robust as the Pixels and Galaxy A series phones in the category. Two OS upgrades (good for mid-range phones) are planned, but security patches are only two years (less good). It also lacks compatibility with AT&T’s 5G networks and is not certified to use C-band frequencies, which could make Verizon’s and AT&T’s 5G networks much better in the next few years. Another great device for T-Mobile customers who have full 4G and 5G connectivity and don’t have to worry too much about C-band. There’s a lot to like about the 20 Pro 5G, and while TCL has taken a few steps in the right direction with this device, it’s still lacking. Instead of offering faster refresh rates, TCL has opted to include second-generation Nxtvision display technology. TCL 20 Pro 5G Screen, Performance and Battery A lot of credit for the premium look of the 20 Pro 5G is in its curved 6.67-inch 1080p OLED screen with slim bezels, you won’t find another screen like this in this class. You’re not going to get the benefit of smooth scrolling here, as it offers a standard 60Hz refresh rate to shake the trend towards faster 90Hz and 120Hz displays. I’ve found some bugs where the screen’s color temperature jumps between warm and cool, especially after exiting the camera app, but overall it’s enjoyable. Thankfully, we are much less likely to accidentally register touches on curved surfaces than in previous generations. TCL has included the second-generation Nxtvision 2 technology here, which aims to make standard images and video look like high dynamic range content with deeper blacks and brighter whites. You can choose from a few different profiles with “vivid” by default, or turn it off entirely. We thought the first generation of this technology was a bit heavy, and I can’t say this time it’s impressive either. The effect is often so subtle that you wouldn’t even notice it if you didn’t know it was there. The image was treated too unnaturally for my taste when I could see a noticeable difference when turning it on and off. That said, I don’t think it will negatively impact the experience of anyone using this phone, and it’s not an impressive feature that TCL makes. TCL seems to be doubling this SDR-HDR conversion technology rather than joining the rest of the industry to accommodate the faster refresh rates. It’s starting to feel weird in an industry that embraces faster refresh rates. A faster refresh rate is an obvious benefit that more users will see and appreciate. The benefits of viewing HDR content on an HDR screen are real, but the effects are difficult to mimic. TCL has the 20 Pro 5G with a Snapdragon 750G 5G processor and 6GB of RAM. It definitely depends on your daily work, and I sometimes stutter with heavier work. The custom smart key from last year’s model is here again, and there are tons of features that you can map to, from opening specific apps to starting the camera in specific modes like night or portrait. It’s really useful, but unfortunately it’s easy to accidentally bump into it. The phone is placed away from you to avoid bumping it while using it. This is when you accidentally pick up the device or press the brush with your hand. This is how you end up with multiple photos of the sofa cushions in your camera roll that no one needs. Here is another premium feature. Moving to the top edge of the wireless charging unit for up to 15W, there is a 3.5mm headphone jack. The phone’s mono speaker isn’t that great, but I don’t think it will be at this price. It’s a headphone jack anyway! The optical in-display fingerprint sensor is also great. It’s faster and more accurate than anything I’ve encountered in the mid-range class. I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate this after struggling with the tricky fingerprint sensor on a low-end device. The TCL 20 Pro 5G is equipped with a 4,500mAh battery. With moderate use, you can get through the day, but overall battery life isn’t that solid. If you’re a heavy user, you might be in luck by the end of a long day of use. There is another premium feature here: wireless charging up to 15W. It’s still hard to come by for a sub-$500 class, and it’s a bit slower than the phone’s 18W wired charging. On the software side, the 20 Pro 5G comes with Android 11 and TCL has promised two OS upgrades. One (or God forbid and none) is common in this class, so it looks good. However, security updates are only two years old, which lags behind Samsung’s and Google’s four- and three-year policies, respectively. You’ll need at least two years of support on a $500 phone. Otherwise, it is recommended that the TCL adopt Android. It’s highly customizable, but handy features like a tray for frequently used apps on the right side of the screen and the option to rearrange the order of the system navigation buttons during setup don’t make you feel overly busy. It’s a lot, but it feels like useful stuff rather than an overkill. There are four camera sensors on the back of the device, including a stabilized 48-megapixel main camera. TCL 20 Pro 5G Camera The 20 Pro 5G includes a 48 megapixel f/1.8 main camera with optical image stabilization, which is not guaranteed at this price and is a real advantage in low light conditions. It also has a 16-megapixel ultra-wide-angle, 2-megapixel macro, 2-megapixel depth sensor and a 32-megapixel selfie camera around the front. Camera hardware can definitely do a good job. I was amazed at the level of detail in photos taken outside in good light. Aggressive sharpening is going on, but not too distracting. However, there is still room for improvement. Colors like green and blue look a bit unnatural and bright. Photos may appear flat and faded, and I found more lens flare than I expected in the images. This is likely an effect from the recessed position of the camera rather than a protruding protrusion. This is really shameful. I’d be more than happy to take an ugly camera crash rather than a flare in the photo. The Grid View Portrait mode does enough work for isolating the subject from the blurred background, although the number of my photos is a bit blurry even with OIS support. The “Super Knight” mod is a bit of a miss. It seems to retain more detail in very low light images compared to the standard auto mode, but also uses a bit of noise reduction. The image becomes unnaturally soft and can be tilted too warmly. Personally, I use auto mode for low light photography. Overall, the camera capabilities of the 20 Pro 5G are overwhelming. There are several practical advantages. The OIS gets more stable shots and has better detail retention, but as a whole package it’s not on par with the Pixel 4A 5G and Galaxy A52 5G. It offers premium features for the price, but the 20 Pro 5G is hard to recommend to anyone. There’s a lot to like about the TCL 20 Pro 5G, but it still feels like a device that shakes off the shortcomings of its earlier generations. It offers features and hardware hard to find on other $500 phones, but it’s not a full package for that price. There have been several significant improvements over the first generation. The curved side of the screen is less likely to be accidentally touched, and there are some nice additional features like wireless charging. However, there are some issues that TCL is still looking for a base in this second-generation device. The smart keys are easy to accidentally hit, the camera is basic, and the Nxtvision is overwhelming. Some issues remain where TCL is looking to build a foothold with this second-generation device. And there is network compatibility. In the US, it is a kind of jigsaw puzzle where only the existing players have all the pieces. Thanks to these missing parts, Verizon and AT&T customers won’t be able to take full advantage of this device and its 5G capabilities. And since only two years of security updates are promised, it lags behind its competitors in terms of longevity. If you’re using the T-Mobile and really want a budget device with the flagship look and feel, the 20 Pro 5G is a good option and there are strong caveats that it can stand up to some of the problems its competitors are experiencing. I already figured it out. Most others are best considering one of the $500 mid-range heavyweights. The Samsung Galaxy A52 5G features a faster refresh rate, better network compatibility, and a solid four-year security support policy. The Google Pixel 4A 5G is also a good option that offers a better camera. You won’t get a nice curved display or high-end build quality with either of these alternatives, but your priorities will give you a better service in the long run. Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge


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