TCL 20 Pro 5G Review: Beautifully Imbalanced

TCL last year had some absolute bangers. After finally making their name known and branding out with the 10L, 10 5G and 10 Pro, they also showed some awesome foldable and rollable concepts, now they’re back for 2021 and we’ve got the TCL 20 Pro 5G here with us, and this device is so beautiful and so imbalanced.

TCL 20 Pro 5G
+ FOR
  • Stunning Screen
  • Gorgeous build quality and design
  • 15w Wireless Charging
  • Main camera very decent
- AGAINST
  • Still no gestures in 3rd party launchers
  • Only 18w wired charging
  • Cameras feel imbalanced
  • Pricey

Buy on Amazon UK

Disclaimer

TCL UK PR provided me (Dom) with this 20 Pro 5G unit for the purposes of review. No money has changed hands between either entity and TCL have no bearing on the outcomes of this review. The 20 Pro 5G was used on the Three UK network in the Southeast of the UK for 2 weeks, in the review period the device received 2 software OTAs bringing it to build V3.0.3CG1.

TCL 20 Pro 5G Review

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Spec Sheet

  •  6.67” OLED Screen (by TCL)
    • 2400×1080 resolution
    • 60Hz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G
    • 2x Cortex A77 @ 2.2Ghz
    • 6x Cortex A55 @ 1.8Ghz
    • Adreno 619 GPU
    • Samsung 8nm
  • 6GB LPDDR4x RAM
  • 256GB UFS2.1 storage
  • Rear Cameras
    • 48MP Sony IMX582
      • F1.8
      • 26mm effective focal length
    • 16MP Ultra wide
      • F2.4
      • 16mm effective focal length
      • 123 degree field of view
    • 5MP Macro Camera
      • F2.2
      • 83 degree field of view
    • 2MP Depth Camera
      • F2.4
      • 85 degree field of view
  • Front Camera
    • 32MP
    • F2.5
    • 80 degree field of view
  • WiFi 6
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • NFC
  • USB-C
  • 3.5mm Audio jack
  • 4500mAh Lithium Polymer battery
  • 18w USB-PD charging
  • 15w Qi Charging

For a more complete and exhaustive list of the specs head on over to the GSMArena page here

Performance & Use

The Hardware on the TCL 20 Pro 5G is, much like last year, absolutely beautiful, it still reminds me heavily of the P30 Pro from Huawei, still one of my favourite phone designs in recent memory. The front of the device is nearly all screen, with a small central hole punch notch replacing the U shaped teardrop one in the TCL 10 Pro 5G, and just above that in the frame where the glass meets the metal chassis is a little slit where the earpiece speaker lies if you weren’t looking for it, it’s incredibly hard to see

TCL 20 Pro 5G Review

The display gets special mention here. TCL is a display manufacturer under the name CSOT (China Star Optoelectronics Technology) and this is one of their OLED screens, and I can unequivocally say that this is a stellar display that is in my mind better than LG and BOE OLEDs, even if it isn’t quite up there with the Samsung OLEDs of the world. It’s only 60Hz, which might be a turn off for some of you, but I’m not too bothered by it personally. The colours are gorgeous, the whites are nice and clean, the text is smooth and outdoor visibility is great. Under the screen is the optical fingerprint scanner, and whilst this is actually pretty good, it does feel a generation or so old. Optical fingerprint scanners have been progressive very quickly, and this feels on par with the second-generation ultrasonic scanners on the S21 series, or last generation Optical scanners.

TCL 20 Pro 5G Review

Going around for a hardware tour, the right-hand rail has the power button and volume rocker, whilst the left has the programmable shortcut key. The Power button has a nice accent where the centre has a slight relief cut in it that is anodized red, very nice. Up the top is the secondary microphone for noise cancellation on phone calls and in video recording, next to that is an IR Blaster, to show TCL’s TV roots, and lastly the 3.5mm audio jack, that thing that everyone seems to care about when it is not there but then most rarely use. The bottom houses the loudspeaker, main microphone, USB-C port and SIM tray. The SIM tray can have 2 NanoSIM cards or a NanoSIM and a MicroSD card, do note, the SIM removal tool has a longer pin on here, some of my other SIM removal tools would not remove this tray. On the back, we get this gorgeous 2 tone design where 5/6ths of the rear is this gorgeous matte frosted glass, and the last 1/6th is glossy. This glossy section has 4 cameras and the TCL Logo whereas the matte section has the regulatory information and the LED flash module.

TCL 20 Pro 5G Review

I do absolutely love the aesthetic profile and build quality of the TCL 20 Pro 5G, no creaks or groans, it feels substantial enough at 190g without bearing down on the pocket like some of these 220g monsters out there, but it also doesn’t feel insubstantial either. All the buttons have a nice tactile feel without requiring too much force, good job TCL.

The performance of the Snapdragon 750G has actually been stellar. One of the pain points last year on the TCL 10 Pro was the use of a Snapdragon 675 SoC, it just wasn’t very good beyond basic use, something the 750G doesn’t have to worry about. In most of my testing, the 750G is basically on par with the 765G from last year, in fact, it was so close I had to make sure I hadn’t misread. With the types of games I play I was never going to stretch this SoC (Monument Valley, Helix Jump, Sparkle) to its limits, but I could get the 10 Pro to struggle where this doesn’t. The 750G also comes with the benefit of being 5G capable, whether you have 5G in your area (I don’t where I live) the fact of the matter is that all new SoCs are going to be 5G capable, and it isn’t a cost premium anymore.

Camera & Samples

The camera on the TCL 10 Pro was also a point of contention for some, the Samsung ISOCELL sensor wasn’t all that well-received, so in a surprising move, TCL moved to a Sony IMX582 sensor this time around which has also been gathering some ire as this is a 2-3-year-old camera sensor. The benefit of using an older sensor like this is that a lot of the firmware bugs on the sensor levels have been worked out which hasn’t happened with newer sensors. Also moving to a Sony sensor has the benefit of being more “ready to go” than Samsung sensors do, whilst both can output great results, Samsung ISOCELL sensors often require more tweaking on the OEM side.

TCL 20 Pro 5G Review

So how does the main camera on the TCL 20 Pro 5G perform? Actually not too bad. There are some issues that just can’t be helped, it’s a physically smaller sensor at 1/2.0” and the pixels themselves aren’t huge, but with pixel binning the 48 million 0.8 micrometre pixels become 12 million 1.6 micrometre pixels, significantly larger. Autofocus could be faster as it hunts and pecks a little more than I’d like, and auto exposure has a real hard time in video recording mode, I’m not sure if this is an IMX582 thing or a Snapdragon 750G thing, but I do like the colours coming out of the TCL 20 Pro.

TCL 20 Pro 5G Review

The ultrawide is less positive but not nearly as negative as I was on the ultrawide on last year’s TCL phones, but it is still softer than I feel a 16MP sensor should be and the colour differences between the ultrawide and the main sensor are pretty drastic. The 123-degree field of view also just feels off, it might be that it is so far away from the main camera’s field of view that it is jarring, but it also has some issues with the distortion compensation.

TCL 20 Pro 5G Review

The most I am going to talk about the tertiary and quaternary is this paragraph, they exist, and neither work particularly well. They’re stupidly small sensors, they don’t have a lot of resolution, and they also don’t have much of a use case. You can use an ultrawide camera for macro and you only need 2 cameras to calculate depth, so the main and the ultrawide, leaving these two sensors out would have allowed more space in the phone and more budget to upgrade the two remaining cameras, these don’t need to be here, simple as.

Next up is the selfie camera, this 32MP unit is surprisingly capable, the colours are a bit more on the green side than I’d like, I am pretty pale for the most part so cameras either shift me to green or pink, neither is particularly flattering. I wish it was autofocus.I am still shocked at how most front-facing cameras are fixed focus, in the two thousand and twenty-first years of our lord Beebo.

Lastly, video recording. Video recording on Android is never a great affair, and here it’s only okay, this is somewhere that I wish more manufacturers focused on, given TCL make TVs, I would have hoped they would have the video presentable in a way that looks good on the big screen, and this just doesn’t.

 

Software

This is something I’m going to be less positive about. Last year I had hoped the 10L and 10 5G software would get significantly better, more stable and more features with ongoing updates, and they barely got any, including the one I had looked forward to the most, support for navigation gestures on Third-party launchers, even when it had updated to Android 11 it wasn’t there, so I got worried when I received the TCL 20 Pro 5G that it would be the same, and sadly, I was right.

TCL 20 Pro 5G Review

I understand that not everyone uses navigation gestures, and even fewer people use third-party launchers, but this is a feature you have to actively disable in Android 11, sure in the early versions of Android 10 you had to hack it in, and when it arrived in a later version of Android 10 you might not have wanted to rejig your software for it, I don’t like it, but I get it. On Android 11, this is a default feature you choose to disable and is utterly baffling, and is genuinely the thing that stops me from being able to use the 20 Pro as my daily driver, I’m not going back to a stock launcher and navigation buttons are so archaic now. But I shouldn’t have to choose between the two and that annoys me more.

TCL 20 Pro 5G Review

In my time with the TCL 20 Pro 5G, I have had 2 major software OTAs, but neither has brought the feature, but they have kept the security patches up to date and fixed some camera bugs and touch sensitivity bugs, more than I got with the 10L and 10 5G, but I’m not happy with it. The User Interface itself is, for the most part pretty nice, I like the lock screen changes, and if I didn’t, I could revert to the standard Android version. I do like some of the stock apps as well, and the performance of the entire device is significantly smoother than last year, but that omission from the software list is so upsetting to me and I’d love to know why they chose to remove it.

I hope that TCL upgrades the 20 Pro 5G to Android 12 soon, it already has a beta version (that I’m not installing here as this unit needs to go back) but the 20 Pro 5G is not the only phone in TCL’s lineup and I hope that they don’t take the easy trick old Android OEMs did and just update the flagship device. I gave them a pass last year for their subpar update strategy, I can’t be doing this again.

Battery

The battery on the 20 Pro 5G is a 4500mAh affair and that is pretty common these days and I was having pretty decent battery life once I turned 5G off in the settings. I Don’t have 5G where I am so I didn’t miss out on anything, but I don’t remember having to turn LTE off on early 4G devices in order to get acceptable battery life. Once I had though, the 20 Pro easily got me through a day and a half of use, a day or more heavy use now that we are able to travel a little bit more. In my battery logs, the display did use a fair bit of juice on brighter days when it had to punch the brightness higher, but thankfully it didn’t also get too hot which would have decreased the battery even more.

TCL 20 Pro 5G Review

What didn’t do so well for me was the charging situation, 18w wired charging is, for lack of a better word, poor for a flagship phone, and what is weird is that the 18w wired charging is paired with the actually impressive 15w wireless charging! Parts of this phone are so imbalanced it makes my head hurt. I know the 750G is not the charging speed limiter here, this is a TCL choice and not one I’m a fan of. With a phone that goes a little bit over a day per charge, you might not charge it every night and need to top up sometime the next day, even going to 25w is a significant charge in charge time, let alone going to 30w or so like so many other cheaper phones are going to.

Final Thoughts

If you hadn’t guessed, I’m pretty torn here. I love the screen, I love the build, the performance is stellar and it has pretty fast wireless charging, but then it also has a 2-year-old camera sensor, paired with 2 utterly useless cameras, the fast wireless charging is paired with anaemic wired charging, and whilst the 750G is great, it’s in a phone with a £500 price tag. Why is this phone so imbalanced, and why, despite that, do I still like it so much.

I cannot tell you to buy this currently. There are better-balanced phones for less for just better phones for the same price, and that hurts because I really want to see this succeed. Hopefully, the third time’s the charm?

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

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