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Review: The TCL 10L manages to TCL my PKL for only $250

Can this $250 offering compete with others in the price range?

Image: Matt Hughes / KnowTechie
The Good
Cheap
Solid daytime camera performance
Good build
Reasonably fast
The Bad
Poor night performance
Bloatware galore
8.5
Overall

TCL is the biggest phone vendor you’ve never heard of. That’s by design. For much of its life, it built devices under license, repurposing the marques of other more established brands: like Alcatel, BlackBerry, and Palm.

And it got good at it. So, it wasn’t a total surprise when, earlier this year, TCL announced it would start selling phones under its own name. The TCL 10 Series is the firm’s inaugural effort, with most devices priced towards the lower two-thirds of the market.

At the bottom of this lineup is the TCL 10L. Priced at $250, it’s battling in a tough segment. Its competition includes international juggernauts like Xiaomi, Redmi, Nokia, and Huawei’s Honor. But can it stand out, or will it end up as just another face in the crowd? Read on to find out.

Design

tcl 10l smartphone screen

Image: Matt Hughes / KnowTechie

At first glance, the TCL 10L has all the usual compromises of phones within its pricepoint. There’s no elaborate metallic chassis. Rather, the phone is clad with a rigid plastic shell.

But it doesn’t feel inexpensive. There’s no real flex on the chassis. It’s wonderfully rigid, and in our testing, has proven surprisingly scratch-resistant. Buried within this is a physical fingerprint reader, and a quad-camera setup flanked on both sides with an LED flash.

Towards the bottom, you’ll spot a stereo speaker setup, along with a USB-C port. Although it’s less often the case in 2020, microUSB does occasionally appear on budget phones, and it’s nice that TCL didn’t cheap out here. It was also gratifying to see the appearance of a physical 3.5mm headphone jack.

TCL has bestowed its cheapest own-brand handset with a 6.53-inch IPS display, with a pixel density of 395PPI. It’s not the brightest display I’ve ever seen, even at this price point, and it often struggles in sunny conditions. Meanwhile, in the top-left of the display, there’s a hole-punch cutout for the 16MP selfie camera.

Performance

The model reviewed by KnowTechie packs 6GB of RAM and 64GB of relatively slow eMMC storage. There’s a slightly pricier model that includes 128GB of faster UFS 2.1 storage, which represents a step change improvement, but isn’t exactly cutting edge. Most high-end flagships use UFS 3.1.

Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 platform, paired with an Adreno 610 GPU. Again, hardly cutting edge, but abundantly capable. Multitasking was fluid. Apps opened snappily. I was even able to squeeze in a round of Call of Duty: Mobile, without enduring much lag or jitters.

Of course, there’s no 5G here. There’s a decent array of radios though, including Bluetooth 5.0 and NFC, allowing you to use mobile payments.

The TCL 10L runs Android 10, with customizations (and, sadly, bloatware) abundant across the platform. TCL has promised an upgrade to Android 11 later down the line, although it’s worth mentioning this isn’t an Android One phone, so there’s no guarantee of a long-term supply of patches and upgrades.

On the battery front, the TCL 10L boasts a 4,000mAh cell. In our testing, we can comfortably squeeze around 36 hours of use between charges, which is respectable.

Camera

As mentioned, the TCL 10L packs a quad-camera setup. The primary shooter is a 48MP affair. Accompanying it is an 8MP ultra-wide-angle camera, plus two 2MP depth and macro sensors.

Daytime shots are surprisingly good, with reasonable sharpness and color accuracy. However, things tend to suffer at night, with unfortunate levels of noise present when the sun goes down.

The camera app comes with a bunch of modes capable of taking advantage of the TCL 10L’s quad-camera array, including a super macro mode. This felt more gimmicky than anything, with shots dull and unforgettable.

It’s also worth noting that the TCL 10L’s camera app watermarks images by default. I honestly have no idea why TCL thought that was a good idea. And while you can easily deactivate this setting, once an image is watermarked, you cannot remove it without re-taking the shot.

Wrapping up with the TCL 10L

The TCL 10L is a solid first attempt. Performance was good, and the camera setup delivers value for the relatively low asking price. That said, there were areas that I found less impressive, including the heavy hand taken by TCL in customizing the software experience.

If you can afford to pay more, it might be worth contemplating the Google Pixel 3A which, despite showing its age, promises a regular supply of patches and updates, as well as an exceptional camera. Also worth considering is the Moto G Stylus, which costs just $50 more.

Alternatively, with the Nokia 7.3 and Google Pixel 4a on the horizon, it could be worth waiting a few months to see what the future holds.

Editors’ Recommendations:

Just a heads up, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the sale. It’s one of the ways we keep the lights on here. Click here for more. A sample unit was provided for the purpose of this review.

The Good
Cheap
Solid daytime camera performance
Good build
Reasonably fast
The Bad
Poor night performance
Bloatware galore
8.5
Overall
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