Try as it might, TCL is having a hard time expanding its presence outside of TVs, despite owning notable phone brands like Alcatel, Blackberry, and Palm. It’s tough to be a major player in a smartphone market dominated by Apple and Samsung. Even LG got out of the game. But TCL is still trying, and for the second year in a row, the company has made one of the most underappreciated smartphones on the market. The TCL 20 Pro 5G is that good.
Slick Design With Tons of Extras
The TCL 20 Pro immediately impresses with a gorgeous build featuring a big 6.67-inch curved display, a brushed metal frame, and matte glass in back—with a few nice flourishes like flush rear cameras and bonus Smart Key on the left that can be customized to open apps or things like the phone’s flashlight. And while some people might accuse the TCL 20 Pro of having the same basic shape and design as some of Samsung’s past Galaxy phones (notably the S10 and S20), TCL has still made enough tweaks and changes to give the 20 Pro its own identity. Also, I’d be remiss not to mention that the blue 20 Pro is downright stunning, though if you’d rather not attract attention, the phone is also available in dark gray.
But what impresses me the most aside from its design is the range of extra features TCL has included on the 20 Pro. Not only do you get a microSD card slot and a headphone jack, you also get wireless charging (something you rarely see on a $500 phone), a fast in-screen fingerprint sensor, and even an IR blaster, which is a feature that has been dropped by practically every other phone maker. You get an IP52 rating for dust and water resistance, which isn’t much, but should be enough to guard against a random spill or two.
Honestly, the only other feature I wish TCL had included is stereo speakers. Instead, all you get is a rather shallow but still relatively loud mono speaker on the bottom of the phone, which feels even worse when you realize that the 20 Pro has a tiny earpiece above its screen that TCL may have been able to repurpose to help provide a richer stereo sound experience. Ah, well, no phone is perfect.
Solid Performance, but It’s All About the Screen
With TCL’s expertise when it comes to TVs, it’s not a big surprise to see its phone pack great a display for the money, too. Topping out at nearly 700 nits, the 20 Pro’s 2400 x 1080 6.67-inch AMOLED screen is plenty bright and pumps out rich, vivid colors. And for those who love to watch videos on their phones, TCL also includes its NXTVISON 2.0 tech, which provides improved color accuracy, support for HDR10, and the ability to optimize colors and tones to best suit your content. Quite frankly, the TCL 20 Pro’s screen might be the best mobile display outside of more expensive flagship handsets.
And when it comes to performance, while 6GB of base RAM and a Snapdragon 750G 5G chip aren’t super impressive, they’re still more than enough to handle all sorts of apps and games without much fuss (or lag). TCL even includes 256GB of onboard storage—which is twice as much as what you get from a standard iPhone 13—so even if you aren’t a fan of microSD cards, you should have plenty of room for photos, apps, and more.
Low-Light Photos Need Work
Arranged in a neat little row, the TCL 20 Pro’s camera array includes a high-res 32-megapixel selfie cam, 48-MP main cam, 16-MP ultra-wide cam, 2-MP macro cam, and a 2-MP depth cam for helping out with portrait effects. I prefer telephoto cams to macro cams when it comes to everyday use, but on a mid-range phone like this, not having a real zoom is much more forgivable.
But more importantly, the 20 Pro’s image quality is pretty solid, especially in bright light where the 20 Pro captured images with sharp focus and bright colors. Even in a head-to-head shootout with the Pixel 5 (which has the same cameras as the Pixel 5a), the TCL 20 Pro was able to keep up during daytime shots. In fact, in one shot of a mural in NYC, I actually preferred the 20 Pro’s photo over the Pixel 5’s pic, because even though the Pixel 5 did a better job of preserving shadows and details, I found that without editing, the Pixel’s darker exposure just wasn’t as pleasing or eye-catching as the 20 Pro’s photo.
However, TCL definitely still has work to do when processing low-light images. The 20 Pro’s pics were routinely, darker, and grainier—both with and without the phone’s night mode turned on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a total disaster, but I found I had to consciously try harder to keep my hands still while snapping pics at night, lest I get a bunch of blurry, streaky photos. And with the 20 Pro often producing underexposed images at night, I found myself relying on its night mode more often as well.
Fine 5G, Depending on Your Carrier
While the TCL 20 Pro 5G has 5G in its name, your actual 5G connectivity will vary a bit depending on your carrier. First off, the 20 Pro doesn’t support mmWave 5G, so don’t expect any of those super fast gigabit speeds you might see on more expensive phones in ideal conditions. And while carriers are expected to add new C-band spectrum to their 5G networks later this year, the TCL 20 Pro won’t support those 5G frequencies either. That means the TCL 20 Pro is best for T-Mobile customers, where you can expect wide sub-6Ghz 5G connectivity, with slightly spottier support for those on AT&T or Verizon.
Featuring a 4,500 mah battery, the TCL 20 Pro lasted a respectable 14 hours and 27 minutes on our video rundown test. That’s actually slightly longer than the iPhone 13 Mini (13:42) and an hour and a half longer than Samsung’s Galaxy A52 5G (12:53), but still way shorter than its biggest rival, the Pixel 5a, which lasted an extremely impressive 18:18. That’s fine when you remember the Pixel 5a doesn’t support wireless charging, and the 20 Pro does.
An Excellent Mid-Range Value
For $500, the TCL 20 Pro 5G has more features and extras than basically any other phone in its price range, with a premium design that looks great. And with its big, rounded-edged AMOLED screen, the TCL 20 Pro looks and feels like a budget Galaxy S20, and I mean that in the best way possible.
However, when it comes to mid-range phones, I still prefer the $450 Pixel 5a. It offers a lower starting price, better cameras, Google’s excellent Pixel-specific software, and the company’s commitment to three years of updates and security patches compared to just two for TCL. That said, the TCL 20 Pro is still more than a worthy rival, and for people who want something just a bit fancier without forking over a lot of extra money, TCL’s mid-range phone is a great alternate pick.