TCL has been on a roll this year, they started showing off their own brand of phones instead of releasing phones under subsidiary brands, that was the TCL 10L and 10 Pro, we reviewed the 10L a few months ago. TCL has also been showing off multiple R&D projects including a rollable screened device, as well as a triple fold tablet to phone. But this isn’t about that, this is about the TCL 10 5G, a weird mishmash of a product that is actually pretty damn good.
- The screen is gorgeous
- Snapdragon 765G is very good
- Main camera is great.
- 5G if you need it
- Questionable battery life
- SD765G ups the cost even if you don't need 5G
- Ultrawide camera is very disappointing
- More expensive than competitors
- 6.53” IPS-LCD
- 450 nit average brightness
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
- 1x Kryo 475 Prime (Cortex A76) @ 2.4Ghz
- 1x Kryo 475 Gold (Cortex A76) @ 2.2Ghz
- 6x Kryo 475 Silver (Cortex A55) @ 1.8Ghz
- Adreno 620 GPU
- 7nm LPP Samsung Foundry
- 6GB RAM/128GB UFS2.1 Storage
- 4500mAh Battery
- 18w USB-PD
- Cameras – rear
- 64MP, f/1.9, 26mm (wide), 1/1.72″, 0.8µm, PDAF
- 8 MP, f/2.2, 13mm (ultrawide), 1/4.0″, 1.12µm
- 5 MP, f/2.2, (macro)
- 2 MP, f/2.4, (depth)
- Cameras – front
- 16 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/3.06″, 1.0µm
- 163.7 x 76.6 x 9 mm
For a more complete look at the specifications on the TCL 10 5G, check out the page on GSMArena
First and foremost, this thing is a chunky boy. At 210g and 9mm thick, you’re definitely going to notice it in your hand and pocket and that’s not always a bad thing, but say you’re wearing some shorts with a waistline looser than most because you’ve lost a few kilos in lockdown (good on you by the way) this is genuinely the type of phone that could pull down one side of your trousers more than the other.
Otherwise, the TCL 10 5G is a spitting image of the 10L also from TCL, if I had both in the same colour I would genuinely have trouble telling them apart before I picked them up.
|TCL 10 5G
|6.53” 2340×1080 IPS
|6.53” 2340×1080 IPS
|163.7 x 76.6 x 9 mm
|162.2 x 75.6 x 8.4 mm
(Main, wide, macro, depth)
(Main, wide, macro, depth)
This is of course just a condensed list, but the visual similarities are even more striking than the spec sheet. Once again, this is not necessarily a bad thing, but on the £199 TCL 10L the plastic build was fine, and in my review I even praised it, and whilst I still think the design itself is good, the extra weight and knowing how much more this costs puts a dampener on things for me, especially with the TCL 10 Pro costing the same of up to £50 less sometimes.
The first noticeable change to me is the glass back, it is nice and cold to the touch, albeit slippery that nice cool rigid backplate really does feel like it belongs. The frame of this phone is confusing to me, on the 10L it was obviously plastic, but here I’m not so sure. The coating on it doesn’t help things, and it could very well be aluminium, I’m having a hard time thinking of other places they could have hidden the extra 30g in here but it doesn’t feel premium or like metal at all.
Upfront is the absolutely gorgeous screen. TCL has done the same here as with the 10L and 10 Pro and used it is smarts as a display manufacturer (CSOT) and TV maker to make a genuinely great viewing experience here. The 6.53” 1080p display is LCD, I’m not sure if it is an IPS type panel (fun fact, IPS is an LG technology and trademark) but it is absolutely gorgeous, even if it is only 60Hz, it didn’t bother me in the slightest and I do have 90Hz and 120Hz phones on me quite often. The bezels on the top and bottom are larger than I was expecting given this price tag but the side ones are relatively slender. The top left of the screen has the hole-punch camera cutout, and whilst this usually doesn’t bother me, on the TCL 10 5G the Camera isn’t centred, it is as if it were an eye looking to the top right and now that I’ve noticed it I cannot un-notice it.
On the right-hand side in this glossy plastic (metal?) frame we have the volume rocker with the power button beneath it. These buttons are rather nice, whilst they’re more shallow than I was expecting, they still require enough force to push that you won’t accidentally push them. Flipping 180 degrees, to the left, there is the third button, which on the 10L was programmable to anymore, this time just appears to be a Google Assistant button. Whilst google Assistant is good, a reprogrammable button is better. Above the button is the NanoSIM tray and the MicroSD card slot.
Up top has the secondary microphone used for noise cancelling in phone calls and video recording, and next to it, what is this, a strange circular indentation that appears to be 3.5mm in diameter, could this be the fabled headphone jack I’ve been hearing so much about when I say that you should probably own a pair of Bluetooth headphones? Probably, who knows. Lastly is the bottom. Down here is a USB-C port for charging and data transfer, and it is flanked by 2 sets of 3 grilles, stereo speakers? No. speaker on the right and main microphone on the right.
Now we have the rear panel, and this is once again a near replica of the 10L, up the top is the Geordi La Forge-esque camera visor which itself is flanked by an LED flash either side. Beneath the camera setup is the camera information stating the focal distances at 35mm equivalents, the aperture range etc. Beneath that is a 5G logo with the rather interestingly square fingerprint reader beneath that, lastly is the TCL logo. The rear, at least in my Mercury Gray, has this quite nice gradient from black to gunmetal chrome from top to bottom, me likey.
The 10 5G, much like the 10L is impressively well built, with no flex, no bend, and whilst I’m not going to go full Zack Nelson on it a good torqueing didn’t seem to phase it. But the sheer weight of this thing is shocking and the plastic side rails or at least the coating that makes them feel like plastic isn’t appreciated, I would have liked for TCL to make the 5G based on the 10 Pro, not the 10L as is the case.
This is where like the 10L things fall apart a bit. Whilst the 10 5G does ship with Android 10 (when this was released it was the newest version available) it is an absolutely ancient version of Android 10 that does not allow for things like navigation gestures with third-party launchers, so if you use Action Launcher like me, or the Microsoft launcher etc you have to revert to the now-archaic feeling 3 buttons set up. Not only that but the Android Security patch is from the 5th of July, a full 3 months ago now. When the TCL 10L came out I was going to be more lenient on that as it was new for them, but given how the software on that has evolved (or rather, not evolved) I can’t say I’m too impressed with TCL here.
Is it bad software? Not necessarily no, but TCL currently only has 3 phones for sale discarding regional variants, all of them are using chipsets recent enough that Qualcomm would have pre-certified them for Android 11 and at the very least these should be getting more frequent security patches. Thankfully Google is taking some of this back into their own hands and making Google Play services more powerful and updateable via the play store, but when new system changes happen, I’m not sure we can count on TCL to release them.
The TCL UI is okay, it is both a light coat of paint in some ways again deeper unnecessary changes in others. With the light parts, that would be the UI changes to the notification shade and the navigation buttons, little changes that don’t affect how you use it, just how it looks, but the deeper changes are the ones like not being able to change the display density, only the font size, so for this I enabled developer settings and changes the display scale manually because otherwise, UI elements were far too large. This isn’t an issue on phones usually, just go into the display settings and underneath “Font size” is a “Display size” option, but not here, and If I didn’t already know how to change the display scale via android’s developer settings I would have likely gotten used to it, but other phones don’t make me, why should I on this one.
One of the positive parts of TCLs software is the visual component called NXTVISION, much like the TCL 10L, NXTVISION does a number of things like SDR to HDR conversion, content-aware sharpening and more, this is what TCL says on their site what NXTVISION is:
“NXTVISION visual technology optimizes six axes of color, 2D edges, and targeted contrast in real-time to create truly vibrant images with beautiful, real-world color.”
Whilst that is a load of marketing BS a lot of the time and I would normally turn it off, on the TCL 10 5G (much like with the 10L) I actually kept it on. It wasn’t over the top and eye-searing like some are and it is mainly because it is not just maxing out the contrast slider, it is content-aware so for the most part, things just look a bit tighter and brighter.
I wish I had more positive things to say about the software experience here, but the good thing is that if you don’t use a third-party launcher or you don’t use gestures, there is nothing show-stopping here, a few pre-installed apps and some weird placement of settings (why is battery stats inside the “smart manager” app TCL?) won’t stop most people from enjoying this phone.
The 10 5Gs camera setup is actually somewhat interesting, the main 64MP camera is the ISOCELL GW1 from Samsung, a 64MP 1/1.72” sensor with 0.8µm Pixels, this is a known entity, it’ll make greens and reds look fluorescent and can be tuned to take some really nice looking shots if the company decides to. The next one is an 8mp Ultrawide camera given that the specs given match up to the ultrawide from the 10L, and the output is almost identical (which is to say, bad) I’m pretty confident in saying this is a Galaxycore GC8034. Next is a 5MP Macro camera, this is improved over most other devices that will use a 2MP sensor for macro shots and this, strangely enough, has detail in the shots, although good lighting is still required. Lastly is the 2MP depth sensor that needs to go die in a fire quickly.
Looking at some of the shots from the main 64MP camera it is clear these are an ISOCELL camera, and I’m one of the people that really like the exaggerated colours out of ISOCELL sensors. The greens, reds and occasionally blues will rarely look true to life, but they pop and look good for posting to Instagram, or Facebook or Twitter. Whenever I take photos of landscapes or flowers or sunsets they just pop, I don’t need to go and apply a filter or adjust the settings, it’s a visual aesthetic that I really like and from the people I show them to, most of them do as well.
Next is the incredibly underwhelming Ultrawide camera. Let me be clear, I appreciate having an ultrawide and would prefer it over a 2x Telephoto, but this is a bad camera. It is better than the camera on the TCL 10 L and I am almost 100% sure that it is due to the much better ISP (image signal processor) in the Snapdragon 765G, but it is incredibly soft, with wildly different colours to the main camera, good luck zooming in as well as there just isn’t all that much detail to zoom into. What’s weird is the Realme X50 5G has an ultrawide camera with similar specs and colour temperature, but it has so much more detail and life to the shots from this. I can’t tell for sure if it is the same sensor just tweaked better there, but this is a very underwhelming Ultrawide.
The Macro camera, on the other hand, surprised me in a positive way. 5MP isn’t a whole lot of resolution, but it is 2.5x that of older macro snappers and beholds, a Macro shot from a phone with detail and depth! Let’s be clear this is not ana amazing shot, the camera still needs a large amount of light in order to perform well, but this is a usable camera. The problem is, it is not a better shot than the ultrawide/macro camera on my P30 Pro, so instead of putting a good main, meh ultrawide and a competent macro they could have gone with a good man and a good ultrawide, with that ultrawide also being able to be a macro camera, TCL would have saved space in the phone and cost on unnecessary camera modules.
Next is the selfie camera and I was pretty surprised by this. It has a fair amount of detail as it’s a 16MP unit, but shadows were completely wild on this, often making me look darker than I am or giving me the uncle fester eyes from the Adams Family. When indoors with less favourable light though, the selfie camera evened itself out in the shadows but then over sharpens like crazy letting you see some of the pores in my face near my eyes and making my fledgeling facial hair look a lot more present than it actually is.
How about video recording then? It’s fine, I wish I had more to say about it. On a positive note, shooting at 4K 30 is a much better experience here than on the TCL 10L, once again due to the much-improved ISP. the 1080p60 capture still freaks out my eyes a bit but the overall capture does indeed look better than before. And I think TCL have tweaked some of the camera packages from Samsung in this because reds and greens aren’t the overblown ones in the video, this time it is the yellows, or anything resembling yellow, like a lightwood, making shots of my desk look very interesting, especially when viewed on the phone with NXTVISION on.
This is quite an interesting one, performance is great, the Snapdragon 765G from Qualcomm is very potent, I’ve not seen any noticeable slowdowns or stutters even when running the most intense game I know, Pokemon Fire Red on a GBA Emulator (I own the cartridge, it is legal).
The problem is, the Snapdragon 665 in the 10L, the 730G in the Pixel 4a, they perform just as well for the most part, and because they don’t have the 5G tax on them, they are significantly cheaper chips. I understand that 5G is the whole point of this phone, it is in the name after all, but is it worth buying a phone for 5G just yet? Personally, I don’t think so. I think we’re a good 18 months away from 5G being something you should seriously consider when buying a new device, and in 18 months we’ll likely be hearing about the TCL 10 5G’s successor’s successor.
The 765G is a very good chip, with a chip layout similar to that of the 865 with 1 Prime Core, 1 Gold core and 6 Silver cores, this setup allows for one core to be clocked incredibly high for burst workloads (Prime) or for touch interactions to make it seem as nippy as possible, the 6 silver cores are what you’ll likely be using most, at a much more modest 1.8Ghz will absolutely sip power in comparison to the 2.4Ghz Prime A76 core. The 765G is built by Samsung Foundry on their 7nm LPP node, this is an EUV node, what that means in layman’s terms is that it is better at making the hard parts of a chip more efficient. So much so that Qualcomm was able to include to 5G modem on-die unlike the 865 wherein it is a separate piece.
I’ll post some benchmarks below here to show what the synthetic benchmarks say but some, including GeekBench 5 only seems to be activating the 6 core A55 cluster, which is why Single core scores seem low.
With a 4500mAh I was honestly expecting more from the 10 5G here, I was easily able to make it through a made, ending with about 25% battery left, but that’s a normal day in COVID semi-lockdown time, where I’m rarely out of WiFi range, GPS doesn’t have to try hard to locate me because I’m moving from the office to the kitchen about 10 metres away. If It’s getting to the end of this type of day with 25% left, how is it going to cope when I commute to Uni, or go shopping and BT on my car and stream music the way there and back?
Then there is the strange low-power mode bug, which I think is a Google Play services issue which is why I’m not going to rag on TCL about this, but on the worst nights and I went to bed around 25% but forgot to plug it in, the phone would be dead by morning. 25% idle battery drain in 12 hours? Yikes. But as I said this is likely a google Play services bug as around the same time I was having Idle battery issues on 2 Realme phones as well.
The other issue is the charging speed, I never thought I’d complain about a company offering 18w charging, but in 2020, with batteries getting as huge as they are, I’m surprised companies are still offering up 18w USB-PD charging. Let me be clear, I’m glad TCL is using USB-PD and not some proprietary system like BBK groups various branding of VOOC, but there are higher wattage USB-PD standards that others like Samsung have offered such as the 25w charger on the Note 20 series and S20 series.
What is even worrying to me, is what this battery life would be like If I were in an area with 5G, where I live there are no 5G masts and I had to get a friend of mine to run 5G tests up in London for me, but, despite the huge battery, the TCL 10 5G doesn’t impress.
I’ve already mentioned that I do not live in an Area with 5G, so the 5G tests you’re seeing here were provided by GadgetsBoy on Twitter and YouTube (thanks Tomi) on both Three UK and EE in London. On Three Tomi was able to get 271Mbps on the download and 23.1Mbps on the upload, it’s pretty clear Three are still using LTE for the upload portion of their 5G network currently. On EE Tomi was able to get just 76.8Mbps on the download and 1.36Mbps on the upload, I think this was a fringe crossover area for LTE and 5G (at least I hope so) or EE’s 5G network is already very congested in London.
Down here in the south-east on Three UK’s LTE network I was able to get as high as 83.1Mbps down and 15.6Mbps up and on average I was in the high 40s low 50s. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience on Three, but at least where I live it is a fast and reliable network offering speeds at times that outperform my home broadband from BT.
Speaking of broadband, WiFi on the TCL 10 5G is a standard WiFi 5 affair (802.11ac in old parlance) in both 2.4ghz and 5Ghz flavours and it performed very well often times matching what my PC was getting whilst plugged into my Orbi router.
So how do I feel about the TCL 10 5G and would I recommend it? I’m a bit conflicted really, it’s not a bad phone, I quite like the images out of the camera, the display is great even if it is “only” 60Hz, and even the software issues I have can be fixed because they’re software choices, but the whole point of this phone is that it is 5G capable, and I’m just not sure that any carrier offers a good enough 5G experience, nor will they by the time this phone is outdated.
This is compounded by the fact that the much better looking and better screened TCL 10 Pro is cheaper, and the much cheaper 10L often performs just as well and has the same design for literally half the price. If you absolutely need 5G, the Realme X50 5G is over £100 cheaper at £279 with the same chipset, faster charging and a faster screen (though I would rather the screen on the TCL). So should you buy it? Not unless you need 5G, and even then, it is a stretch.