PROS: Feels nice to hold, has no camera bump despite having four cameras, takes impressive selfies and is affordable.

CONS: Can be outgrown quickly, has feature limitations of pricier phones, is not water resistant, only 60Hz screen refresh.

TV and soundbar maker TCL just launched the TCL 20 Pro 5G in Moondust Grey, $850 and TCL 20s $460 in Canada everywhere with some impressive specs in a mixed bag of older chips, slower performance and slight-of -hand processing tricks to give your selfies and picture taking more punch.

Available everywhere, TCL raised eyebrows by giving away a 55” 4K TCL Android TV with a market value of $549.00 until May 20 with the purchase of a TCL 20 Pro 5G. Is that celebrating confidence in your product or a way to scream “buy this great phone” to shoppers who never heard of the company before.  

TCL 20 Pro 5G impressive body design

Highlight and Specs TCL 20 Pro 5G

  • 6.67” FHD+ curved AMOLED display powered by NXTVISION™ visual technology
  • Quad lens design with 48MP OIS High Definition main camera, 16MP ultra wide-angle, 5MP macro, and 2MP depth camera.
  • Dual LED flash, Super Night, Night Portrait, Video HDR, and Super Steady modes for cinematic creations.
  • 32MP front camera with dedicated RGB sensor accurately captures skin tone and natural lighting for beautiful selfies.
  • Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 750G, Octa-core processor, and 6GB of RAM
  • Comes with  256GB of internal memory, expandable up to an additional 1TB via microSD™ card (sold separately).
  • Fast cable charging 4500 mAh battery and compatible with QI wireless charging.
  • In-display fingerprint sensor and face unlock for fast and secure access.
  • Sleek dual-sided 3D glass with no camera bump
  • HDR-enabled 32MP front camera
  • Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), ensuring smooth, crisp images in high resolution detail even in low light.
  • Independent third-party test lab DXOMARK gave the 20 Pro 5G a display rating of 89
  • Single combined SIM for phone and microSDXC

Check out more on the TLC 20s

The Price Trade Off – What is Good

Let’s start off with what most folks will like with the TCL 20 Pro 5G. With mid-price phones there’s always features missing so it depends on your comfort level of what are must features on a phone.

  • Undoubtedly, it takes great looking photos in normal scenes equal in quality to the top priced competition. I worried when a company promotes truer than life photos but in most challenging photos the 20 Pro came through with pleasing pictures and accurate colours. Why? I think purist photographers wanting to keep a photo as it was shot, especially ones that don’t bring a subject to the best light, miss the point. In real life the human eye adjusts to make that face in shadows brighten up, whereas in a normal photo that same person will still be in the dark. I don’t mind a little bit of TCL 20 series magic doing what the eye would have done naturally.
Unedited Samsung S21 Ultra backlit selfie left, and TCL 20 Pro right. Note the 20 Pro with more contrast range in my face and the background getting a spotlight effect
  • I was most impressed with selfies, especially in backlighted scenes where my face is in shadow with a brighter background. The 20 Pro lightened my face with better contrast and creating a slight halo behind my head so I stood out more. This shifting of light tone looked like the result of a photoshop expert.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra macro left, and TCL 20 Pro right, are equal in macro magnification but the 20 Pro wins with much better colour accuracy
  • Shooting macro photography of flowers in the 20 Pro Super Macro mode didn’t come any closer than my Samsung S21 Ultra in normal shooting mode but totally ruled in keeping the same flower colour. The DXOMARK of 89 on the 20 Pro is deserving.
  • The left programmable Smart Key uses single press, double press and long press to choose from more than three dozen functions from camera launch, taking a selfie, high pixel mode, to edge bar, taking a screenshot and more. Nice.
Uncropped Panoramas TSP 20 Pro top, features 180 degrees sweeps versus Samsung’s S21 Ultra360 degrees, both 18 MB files. Note blowups of the TCL panorama lower right and the Samsung lower left. Which photo do you think holds more detail? Click on photo to enlarge (hint: its the TCL)
  • I was impressed with the general photo quality whether in normal mode, macro or super wide-angle mode, the later being a personal photojournalistic style shooting mode I like.  In super wide mode both phones were in the middle of the pack between LG, Samsung and iPhone 12 (the later being the worst) in detail sharpness from centre to edges. But none come even close to recent Huawei phones like the P40 Pro super wide mode for edge-to-edge sharpness and less stretching distortion in the edges.
From left TCL 20s 5G and TCL 20 Pro 5G
  • The glass body design is impressive using two textures on the 20 Pro while the more than one million prismatic crystal pits on the back of the 20s is simply dazzling.
  • With TCL’s television smarts, the phone’s display is automatically upscaled to improve and brightness and contrast, better than most other phones at its price point.  This is ideal for watching movies or TV.
  • 4K video was average with no overheating.

What you don’t get with the TCL 20 Pro 5G

Promoted as an affordable phone camera with a slick online presence the TCL 20 series  is for folks wanting to get a more serious start in photography.  But it  can be outgrown quickly because of some baked in quirks and inadequacies. 

  • Although the series is designed to respond to fast cord charging with an up to 15W charge, the included charge cords are sufficient enough to top off both phones in less than two hours from 0 to 100%. But wireless charging is another story. I used a PureGear 10W Qi Universal Wireless Charging Pad, provided by TCL, charging one depleted phone at a time. I compared the TCL 20 Pro with the Samsung S21 Ultra using the PureGear 10W Qi Universal Wireless Charging Pad. The results:

-TCL 20 Pro with 4.500 mAh battery took 06:28 hours to reach 100%

-Samsung S21 Ultra with 5,000 mAh battery took 04:18 hours to reach 100%

It took more than six hours to wirelessly charge the 20 Pro 4500 mAh battery…more than two hours longer with other phones
  • You can’t zoom in the super wide angle lens mode. It jumps straight to normal lens. I find being able to shoot at less drastic wide angles useful, if only to avoid the extreme distortion this mode incurs.
The TCL 20 Pro Super Wide lens although sufficient in most photo scenes produces chromatic aberration on backlit edges, left
  • There is visible chromatic aberration in the super wide-angle lens where backlit objects like tree branches and edges of building structures show a bluish color in one side. This translates into a poorly (money saving) lens.
Samsung S21 Ultra Night Mode let’s you zoom to super wide or tele and is more sensitive in the darkest of places like the two cars on my driveway, top left
The TCL 20 series does a decent job in its Super Night mode but does not allow zooming. And could not handle the two car scene void of street lights
  • Budget phones use “good enough” processors and although the two-year-old Snapdragon 750G seems sufficient the phone is slower in processing photos, translating into slightly more time between tapping the screen for the next photo. As a seasoned photographer I noticed between a 20%-30% slower response time by shooting a stopwatch hundreds of times. To be exact, I lost 0.65 second between taping the screen to when the actual picture was taken.
  • No IP rating means no official protection from dust and water.
  • No camera bumps in either phone with several lenses today is impressive. But the workable zoom range is small. In normal wide mode the 20 Pro can barily zoom past 3X and the softness is quite noticeable at it’s 10X limit.
  • You are stuck with 60 Mz screen refresh meaning more eye strain and more battery use.
  • The battery is sufficient for casual users but if you are shooting several hundred stills and videos all daily, you will barely make it to the end of the day.

When shopping for budget phones from well known phone makers or less prominent brands its wise to take your time and compare…not just the features that are there but the ones that aren’t.