TCL 20 Pro 5G: This Sleek 5G Phone Almost Hits The Spot
Then, at CES 2021, TCL announced the 20-series, which first landed in other regions, but is now available in the US with three phones -- the $500 TCL 20 Pro 5G, $250 20S, and $190 20SE. A lot has changed this past year. LG’s left the mobile space, and both Samsung and OnePlus have successfully carved out a share of the US mid-range market with the A-series and Nord-series, respectively. Can the 20-series keep TCL in the game?
Today we review the TCL 20 Pro 5G, which tops the 20-series with a Snapdragon 750G and a “waterfall” AMOLED display, but also boasts a few unexpected features for a $500 handset, like optical image stabilization, wireless charging, plus a sleek glass and aluminum design. Is this premium mid-range strategy the right move for TCL? Let’s find out.
TCL 20 Pro 5G Hardware And Design
Like last year’s 10 Pro, the 20 Pro 5G’s quad shooters are lined up in a row and mounted flush with the rear glass. But instead of being arranged horizontally, the row of cameras is rotated 90 degrees in a vertical layout. Most of the glass back is frosted, except for a mirrored stripe along the left side, one third of which incorporates the shooters plus flash LEDs. It’s really striking, and reminds us of the Realme 7 5G.
Our review unit stands out even more thanks to its Marine Blue finish -- the other color option being Moondust Gray. At 164.2 x 73 x 8.8mm and 190g (vs. 158.5 x 72.4 x 9.2mm and 177g), the 6.67-inch 20 Pro 5G is taller and heavier than the 6.47-inch 10 Pro, but only marginally wider, and slightly thinner. It’s also more squared off in the corners -- think Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. S21 Ultra, and you get the idea.
Just like its predecessor, the 20 Pro 5G packs a 1080p AMOLED screen with curved edges, narrow bezels, and a small chin, but it’s 0.2-inch larger and replaces the 10 Pro’s teardrop notch with a more up-to-date center punch hole. We aren’t fans of “waterfall” displays, but we can’t deny it suits the 20 Pro 5G’s flagship aesthetic, not to mention, it makes big handsets like this one narrower and easier to grip.
Overall, the 20 Pro 5G’s design is pleasantly refined for a $500 phone. It looks attractive and feels nice in hand. As a bonus, it’s even IP52 splash resistant.
|Processing and 5G Platform||Qualcomm
|Display||6.67" FHD+ AMOLED, 2400x1080 resolution, 60Hz|
|Rear-Facing Cameras||48MP f/1.8 Main
OIS, PDAF - 16MP f/2.4 123º ultrawide - 5MP f/2.2 Macro AF - 2MP
|Video Recording||Up to 4k @ 30fps, 1080p @ 60fps, 1080p slow-mo|
|Battery||4500 mAh, 18W wired charging, 15W wireless charging|
|OS||Android 11 With
TCL UI 3.0
|Dimensions||164.2 x 73 x 8.8mm|
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.1+LE, NFC, FM radio, USB-C, LTE, sub-6GHz 5G
|Pricing||Find the TCL 20 Pro 5G @ Amazon, Starting at $500
TCL 20 Pro 5G Display Quality
TCL 20 Pro 5G Camera Performance And Image Quality
Shooting modes include portrait, night, pro (manual), panorama, macro, high pixel (48MP), and light tracing for photos, plus HDR, macro, slow motion, and stop motion for videos. Night mode is only available on the main shooter, but doesn’t allow zooming. Pro mode is also limited to the main lens. While the camera interface is pretty standard, it lacks dedicated magnification buttons (0.6x, 1x, 2x, etc), making it difficult to quickly switch lenses and zoom.
The 20 Pro 5G records stabilized video up to 4k 30fps or 1080p 60fps with the main and front shooters. But strangely for a $500 handset, audio is only captured in mono. The ultrawide and macro max out at 1080p 30fps, and while the ultrawide is stabilized, the macro is not. Slow motion is available at 1080p 120fps or 720p 240fps, and stop motion at 1080p 12/24/30fps. We’re happy with all this, especially 4k 30fps selfie videos, but mono sound? That's a strange limitation.
TCL 20 Pro 5G Audio, Data, And Call Reception
Considering the quality screen, we were also expecting the 20 Pro 5G to have stereo speakers, with the earpiece doubling as the second driver, but that's not the case. That being said, the bottom-firing mono speaker sounds loud and clear. Most importantly, this handset includes a headphone jack with a decent DAC and amp that’s capable of driving a wide variety of wired headphones and earbuds. LDAC and aptX HD are also on deck for lossless wireless audio over Bluetooth.
TCL 20 Pro 5G Performance And Battery Life
A simple round of processor and system level benchmarks confirmed this, placing this phone squarely in the middle of the pack.
Battery life is fine, but not spectacular. While the 20 Pro 5G’s 4500mAh cell will usually last an entire day on charge; the Moto One 5G Ace easily delivers two days of battery life with just 500mAh more. It’s not a big issue, but we were expecting more. On the plus side, you get 18W wired charging (Quick Charge 3.0) -- with an 18W charger in the box -- plus 15W Qi-compatible wireless charging, which is unusual in this category.
The remaining specs are par for the course. with sub-6GHz 5G, 4G LTE, WiFi 5 (802.11ac), Bluetooth 5.1 LE (with Super Bluetooth), NFC, an FM radio, and dual-band A-GPS / GLONASS / Beidou / Galileo positioning, plus the standard roster of sensors. Haptics are excellent, and complement the 20 Pro 5G’s premium vibe. The optical in-display fingerprint sensor is fast and reliable, and so is face unlock.
TCL 20 Pro 5G Software And User ExperienceOn the software front, the 20 Pro 5G runs TCL UI 3.0 on top of Android 11. While there’s nothing terribly wrong with this skin per se -- it’s reasonably clean and responsive -- it’s simply not as refined as the rest of the phone. Basically, the UI feels incoherent and haphazard, mixing completely stock elements with highly customized tweaks. This contrast is somewhat jarring, and detrimental to the overall experience, though it certainly won't be a deal-breaker for most users.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G shares a lot of software features with its predecessor, so we invite you to read our TCL 10 Pro review for a deeper look. We also mentioned the smart key earlier. It can be configured to launch an app or trigger an action with a single press, double press, or long press -- making it easy to quickly launch Google Assistant or the camera app, etc. Super Bluetooth also lets you connect up to four audio devices simultaneously for synchronized playback, which is a nice feature.
Mini notifications are new this year, and let you replace the familiar Android notifications with less intrusive bubble notifications on a per-app basis. And speaking of apps, the 20 Pro 5G keeps bloatware to a minimum, with just Booking.com, Facebook, Netflix, and Microsoft News coming pre-installed. Best of all, these apps can be uninstalled. In addition, you also get Google and TCL’s apps, including a useful IR remote app.
Finally, TCL is promising a minimum of two major Android OS upgrades and two years of security patch updates for the 20 Pro 5G, which is fantastic news.
TCL 20 Pro 5G Final Verdict
On the other hand, we’re not fond of the 20 Pro 5G’s low (60Hz) refresh rate, inconsistent shooters, limited 5G support, mono-only speaker, average battery life, and disjointed software experience. As such, it’s not easy to outright recommend, especially when Google’s superb Pixel 4a 5G and Samsung’s potent Galaxy A52 5G exist, and both also cost $500.
With all of that said and done, TCL is on the right track with the 20 Pro 5G, we'd just like to see the software catch up with the hardware. Third time’s gonna be the charm, right?