TCL 10 5G Review: GREAT SCREEN, STYLISH DESIGN


TCL is an underrated brand when it comes to smartphones. It’s a shame no one notices them more.

Ahh yes, the TCL 10 5G. It was introduced in the Philippines last year as the successor to the TCL Plex, a phone that caught the eyes of many when it debuted because TCL had the balls to give away a free 32in. TV for every purchase of the Plex.

If you aren’t aware, Blackberry and Alcatel were also available for purchase in the Philippines. What’s the connection you may ask? Well… TCL used to sell both brands in the Philippines. Blackberry was once owned by them until they sold the marque to a startup called OnwardMobility, which has recently closed too. As for Alcatel, it was based in France before it was sold to Nokia, to which Nokia then made TCL a licensee, giving them the power to market and design the phones.

TCL’s main line of manufacturing lies on their televisions, hence when the Plex first arrived, the company heavily advertised on how advanced or high-quality its display is, and even supportS HDR10, a rarity for IPS LCD screens. This tradition continued for future handsets, including the TCL 10 5G.

Oh, if you haven’t seen it, you can watch our video review on YouTube.

SPECS:

  • 6.53in. FHD+ (1080x2340px) IPS LCD, HDR10
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G (7nm)
    • Expandable up to 1TB MicroSd
  • Android 11, TCL UI
  • CAMERAS:
    • 64mp (main), Samsung GW1, f/1.89, PDAF
    • 8mp (ultrawide), GalaxyCore GC8034, f/2.2, 118┬░
    • 5mp (macro), GalaxyCore GC5035, f/2.2
    • 2mp (depth), GalaxyCore GC02M1, f/2.4
    • FRONT: 16mp (main), Samsung S5K3P, f/2.2
  • 4500mAh, 18W fast charging, Quick Charge 3.0
  • Rear Fingerprint Sensor, Face Unlock, 5G services, Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, Single SIM + MicroSD combo (non-hybrid)
  • 3.5mm jack, Hi-Res Audio
  • Mercury Grey, Chrome Blue
  • OUR UNIT PRICE:
    • 6/128: Php10,990 (as of December 20, 2021)

IN THE BOX:

The box is pretty simple. There’s the image of the phone which also gives away the colour of the phone inside. It will differ depending on what colour you get. What I like about this box, in particular, is how it’s arranged inside. Once you open it, you get the phone itself. Underneath it are boxes with icons on them that determine their content. It contains an 18W charging brick and cable, some paperwork, a jelly case (though we were given a free hard case, pretty neat), and a SIM Ejector Tool. No earphones were given, but that’s normal now, even on some flagships.

In addition to that, we were given a FREE 20,000mAh Romoss powerbank. It’s certainly isn’t a TV, but it’s still nice for them to include a useful freebie, unlike other brands.

DESIGN

The TCL 10 5G has a glass finish, which is very very rare and unusual for a budget phone! Others would just mimic the feel of it, and in fact, I thought TCL would cut costs by doing the same thing, apparently not. Even I thought it was glossy plastic. Props to TCL for using actual glass for a midranger, let alone close to a budget phone.

Like every other glassy phone, this one is a fingerprint magnet and somehow a little slippery to hold. I guess that’s why the seller gave us two cases, one that’s transparent and the other a beautifully designed hard plastic. When we were recording the video review of this phone, we can actually see the reflection of the cameras and the one recording it. If you browse our gallery, the reflection is also very clear, so much you can see the houses and the window in the background.

The phone is also thick but it’s still comfortable to hold. If you are worried about the glass being slippery, cases would help solve that problem. If you still want to see the phone’s beautiful design, then you can choose a silicone case, like the one that’s inside the box, or a clear transparent plastic

SOFTWARE AND INTERFACE

The phone uses an Android skin called TCL UI based on Android 11. The current version is 3.0.2CHE and its last security update was on December 2021.

Ultimately, the more I’ve used the phone, the more I adore the UI. It almost feels like the older versions of OxygenOS from OnePlus. The UI is clean, optimized, and simplistic; almost close to that of stock Android with some added features that cater to TCL’s needs such as screen optimization. Every app is straightforwardly designed. There is also a dark mode feature which helps for use at night.

The UI allows you to disable or enable the app drawer according to your choice. I’m honestly surprised that, for a relatively new Chinese phone brand, it has an app drawer, to begin with. TCL also allows its users to categorise their apps and move said apps to that category. You can’t delete categories but you can rearrange them.

If there’s a part to criticise here is that the UI barely has customisation. There are only two themes available and some preferences, like adding the so-called “dotch” display, are hidden in the display settings. It has a variety of wallpapers and you can use your own photos as the wallpaper as well.

Users can also switch the positions of the buttons or opt for gesture buttons instead. Though normally I don’t use gestures because they are unreliable, but that’s just my preference. One gesture I normally use is the screenshot gesture. To perform, just use three fingers and slide them across the screen.

The notification slider contains shortcuts to apps as well as system settings. One particular addition here is enabling or disabling NXTVision. This setting applies enhancements to your display to make it as vivid and as bright as possible. You can also turn off 5G services. When this is off, you can only access 4G LTE. The one-handed mode is handy (pun intended) when you need to access the phone but you have a tiny hand.

Overall, the UI is light, which means it won’t be too much of a burden for the Snapdragon 765G and 6GB RAM the phone is equipped with. Even to this day, the phone runs smooth and that’s with several security updates installed. The phone hasn’t lagged since we purchased it. Although to be fair, it’s only three months old.

PORTS:

The topmost part of the phone has the 3.5mm jack and a microphone hole. At the bottom is where the stereo speakers and USB-C reside. The right side has the power button and volume rockers, and finally, the left side is where the SIM Card slot and a dedicated “smart key” are located. We’ll talk about this smart key later in the article.

SMART KEY:

This is the Smart Key settings. This can be opened through the home screen or through the settings. It is basically a gesture button that can be reprogrammed for different functionalities. You can set it up as a shutter for cameras, or make it a dedicated Google Assistant key. It has settings for long-press, single press, or double press and they can all be programmed individually.

DISPLAY:

And yes, we did take this with a Redmi Note 9, clearly

The main feature of the TCL 10 5G is its display. It’s almost similar to the TCL Plex wherein it got an FHD+ IPS LCD screen with HDR10 support so that when you watch movies and TV shows on streaming services like Netflix, it’s a lot more immersive and of higher quality. If you watched our video review, you will notice that I called this phone a “fake AMOLED”, and when I say that, I meant it as a compliment!

According to Device Info HW, the screen has a density of 480dpi and has a resolution of 2340x1080px. It also has a Pixel per inch (PPI) density of 452ppi. This high of a density is normally present on higher-end IPS LCDs, and this is also one of the major red flags that one can tell this isn’t an AMOLED screen.

By the way, in this review, we’ll be comparing it with NXTVision on and off. NXTVision is TCL’s proprietary screen enhancement feature that makes the colours and display pop and become more vivid, kinda like an AMOLED panel. This enhancement is why I called it a “fake AMOLED”, the NXTVision emulates what an AMOLED does on an IPS LCD screen, a rare thing to do if you buy a phone from other manufacturers.

When NXTVision is on and active, the screen is very bright and automatically adjusts the display brightness when you’re out in the sunlight. I personally never played a game with a screen this colourful unless it’s an AMOLED panel, and that’s a huge plus already. You can also adjust the display temperature, colour calibration (either Saturated or sRGB), and even make it adaptive according to the lighting of your surroundings. TCL has given you a lot of ways to customize the screen, letting you know that this is definitely their forte.

One caveat of the TCL 10 5G screen is the lack of high refresh rates. You’re stuck with 60Hz wherein other phones of similar prices go as crazy as getting up to 120Hz, and sometimes, adaptive too.

Since NXTVision does not eat a lot of battery power, I just keep it on and active, because turning it off makes the screen feel lifeless and dull. An untrained eye would probably think you’re holding an AMOLED screen, and the NXTVision settings help with that notion too. If this is what TCL can do to an IPS LCD screen, imagine what they can do on AMOLED screens!

CAMERA INTRODUCTION

The TCL 10 5G has a set of four cameras, judging that you read the spec sheet above this one. The main sensor is 64mp made by Samsung, the other three include the 8mp ultrawide, 5mp macro, and 2mp depth sensor. They are arranged in a bar pattern similar to the TCL Plex and the Google Pixel 6 series. The TCL 10 5G came out first before the Pixel 6 though. The front camera is 16mp, also made by Samsung.

CAMERA UI, INTERFACE, MODES

The camera UI is simple, or should I say, lackluster. Everything about the TCL UI is simple so of course, even the camera app has little to no modes in them. There are modes though, most of which I use luckily. To be quite frank, I really don’t need the silly AR filters and emojis other phones have now. It’s a camera app, not a social media site.

There are a total of six modes in the camera app (not including those on the sliding menu). These are slow-mo, panorama, light trace, High Pixel, Stop Motion, and of course, Pro mode. TCL has covered the basics plus added features to what a photographer might need, so nothing fancy is seen here.

The Pro mode has gotta be one of the most basic I’ve seen. Sure it has all the necessary adjustments needed, but TCL didn’t focus on it as much.

The Pro Mode, as I mentioned earlier, is pretty basic. The ISO can go from 100-3100, shutter speed from 1/8000-1/8, Exposure Compensation is -4/+4, White Balance from 2000K to 8600K and you can’t choose a preset either, and finally, you have the focus, which can go as low as 2 all the way to infinity.

The Light Trace mode is essentially cranking the shutter speed at its slowest so you can do things like light painting, street art, and more. Slow-mo allows you to create slow-mos at 720p@960fps, and stop motion allows you to do a video version of a burst shot. There’s also the super macro which is the only way to access the macro camera, and finally, the high pixel mode that allows you to use all 64mp of the main sensor. You see, using auto mode only allows you to take 16mp photos, but the High Pixel mode does a process called pixel binning wherein it will combine one 16mp photo into four, totaling to 64mp.

PICTURE QUALITY:

The main camera is a 64mp lens, particularly, a Samsung ISOCELL GW2 sensor. The quality taken using this 64mp sensor is pretty great. Bright and sharp in fact. The colours are smooth and accurate to their real-life counterpart. There’s no pixelation present and the highlights, dynamic range, and contrasts are all well-balanced. It’s a phone that costs Php10K now and the quality exceeded our expectations. To be honest, though the phone did cost initially far more expensive, at around Php17K, but the price dropped significantly. This is both a good and bad sign. The good being that you can get a quality phone from its original price but it trade blows those that are priced within Php10K, the bad sign is that it reduces the resale value of it or it is deemed overpriced when it isn’t.

ULTRAWIDE

Of course this won’t be a camera review if we don’t test about all the cameras the phone has. I also took the ultrawide camera for a spin. This one uses a terribly outdated GalaxyCore GC8034, a camera lens normally available on 2018 ultrabudget phones. With that said, I expected the quality of the ultrawide to be much lower.

The quality is indeed much lower. Shots taken on the ultrawide camera are pretty average, the great dynamic range balance is kept nicely though so that’s a good thing. However, the colours pale in comparison, and as a result, the image is less sharp than the main camera so use the ultrawide camera only if you really needed it. On the TCL 10 5G it feels more like a filler just so it can have extra cameras.

Macro

If we think that the ultrawide camera is average in quality… ohhh just wait until we get to the macro lens. It’s much much worse. We took it in two scenarios. The first is a landscape shot and the other a close-up shot.

You see, you don’t just use the macro camera in landscape form. It’s not how it is designed. With only 5mp resolution, it’s of course bound to be terrible. The image above just really shows it. We’re not kindergarten teachers to tell you what’s wrong with it. Just simply observe it.

The macro camera is designed for close-up shots. While we still think 5mp is a terrible resolution nowadays, at least it’s still higher than some other manufacturers which only give you 2mp resolution.

Now let’s actually judge the photo performance of this macro camera. I’m quite surprised that the camera performed pretty well for a 5mp sensor, at least when it’s used to its true purpose. The colours blend well, the quality is pretty sharp and the application of depth is also done nicely. Although we can say it’s sometimes a miss especially if you’re targeting thin or moving images as the shutter speed is pretty slow. Taking photos with the 5mp macro is pretty fun to do and I will definitely continue using it. I’m judging the macro camera based on the phone’s price, and for Php10K I say it’s pretty adequate. I douns the green colour to be paler than the rest of the colours though.

Speaking of close-up shots, many content creators say that using the low mp macro is unnecessary when you have the main camera. Unfortunately, I also have this same conviction so it’s pretty hard for me to justify the macro camera on a lot of smartphones. Hence in every article, we call them useless.

Turns out that conviction may be true, shots taken with the main lens have higher quality. Obviously, this is coming from the newer sensor and higher resolution. Colours pop out more, dynamic range is much higher and they’re overall much more vibrant and lively. For some reason, there’s no blurring applied when using the main camera for close-up shots when there should be one. I have a feeling this is because of the camera’s inconsistent scene recognition system which could be via software update.

PANORAMA

The TCL 10 5G can do panorama shots but only left and right. Each panorama shot taken has a resolution of 1200×3600. This can vary but it normally revolves around that range.

During the daylight, the panorama shots are high-quality. Colours are vibrant and there are barely any stitching or loose artifacts. It does the job alright, nothing spectacular or mind-blowing for the price.

At night is where the panorama truly suffers. This was taken at very low light and the camera does the panorama poorly. You couldn’t even tell what was going on in the image. This does not apply to panorama alone as even normal shots suffer without night mode. Sadly for panorama, there’s no night mode for it so it’s not advisable to take panorama shots at night unless you have proper lighting. One thing’s good though, the camera did try to make sure that well-lit areas are still detailed.

VIDEO TEST

The TCL 10 5G is one of the few phones in its segment that can take 4K video, up to 60fps even. That’s… flagship level at sub Php10K so that’s a huge plus for TCL. Although to be fair, the phone was originally priced at Php16,990 so it’s not exactly 10K segment.

There is a limit to that. The phone can only take 4K videos every 5 minutes. If you want longer, you have to take another video. This is probably TCL’s measure on saving space since 4K videos take a toll on your storage heavily.

Another limit of the TCL 10 5G in terms of video is the fact that it cannot take videos using its ultrawide or macro cameras without a third-party camera app. So if you’re vlogging with a large group of friends, yeah that’s not happening here until you do some digging first.

720p VIDEO

The 720p video is overprocessed. The video just feels too sharp yet so soft to me. I’m not sure if this is due to scaling problems on my PC or if it’s the video itself. The sound has no bass either, so it isn’t really impressive or immersive. It lacks colour and saturation and feels closer to an older 2006-ish 480p video than HD

The 60fps one doesn’t fare much better either. It actually feels even softer now. The quality here is just worse and now, the video feels even more overprocessed or compressed. For some reason, the lens couldn’t focus ahead of it and it feels blurry. Also, like the 30fps video, this one has soft colours and lacks contrast and vibrancy.

Well, you probably know by now that 720p video has terrible quality during the day. Of course, same goes at night. You can barely tell what’s happening and that is thanks in part to the court lighting. The colours are washed out and there is so much grain to fill in your next lunch.

1080p VIDEO

These days, it’s pretty normal to use FHD video compared to just HD. Thankfully, the video quality for the Full HD resolution on the TCL 10 5G is pretty good.

Unlike the 720p video, this one is more vibrant and is brimming with life. When we recorded this, it was quite windy and I didn’t have EIS enabled so apologies for the mild shaking.

The sound is clean and clear to the ears. If I have a complaint here, it would probably be the saturation, as it is too colourful for my tastes. Other than that, using FHD video on this is advisable as it has high contrasts, has a high dynamic range, and is not as overprocessed as the HD video.

It is also in this video quality where I tested the EIS feature because this is the most ideal since this is the resolution that a majority of users would use. EIS is usually not as foolproof as OIS because it’s the software and algorithms that do the stabilizing for you instead of a dedicated stabilizer, like phones with OIS have.

The TCL 10 5G does a pretty great job of keeping the stabilization in check. I was walking rapidly and yet the video still remained steady even if my hands are getting a little shaky. Although when moving the camera from certain directions, there would be a noticeable “frame skip”, something you wouldn’t see with OIS. Also, if you pause it at a frame, you can notice some blurring making it more evident that the phone is using some processing power to stabilize your video. It’s useful though and I recommend keeping it active so as long you’re moving. I also didn’t see a noticeable drop in quality regardless if it was active or not, unlike with the Galaxy A52 4G.

Above is a video without EIS. As you can tell from the video, I am moving normally yet this video shakes violently as if a major earthquake has occurred. This is also one of the main reasons why I recommend keeping the EIS active. The difference is quite noticeable. EIS allows for less shaking but as I said, not as “shakeproof” as Optical Image Stabilization. Still, it’s better than nothing. You will just be bothered if you don’t have stabilization and you need to film on the move. Again, there’s no noticeable difference in quality or colour reproduction, unlike with the OIS found on the Galaxy A52 4G.

By the way, the Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) of this works for every video resolution and for both 30 or 60fps frame rates which is another advantage of EIS. It’s flexible thanks to it being software-based and third-party cameras can also have it enabled, provided that it has EIS as a feature.

The phone allows you to take 60fps video which is lovely if you want those smooth satisfying frames. Because it is not a flagship phone, this is the smoothest resolution you can have. There are no 120 or 240fps frame rates here.

Apart from the smoother frame rates, there’s little difference in quality between the 30fps video and the 60fps one. The video feels a little less saturated here because of the weather and the time when this video was shot. It was almost raining at that time too.

With that said, I also tested out the EIS quality for the 60fps frame rate. You know, being the smoother frame rate and all. I have my expectations set.

The 60fps video is a lot smoother and has less “jaggering” and overprocessed lines than the 30fps video although despite being a higher frame rate, I didn’t feel any significant difference in how the stabilization was processed compared to the 30fps video. Still, it’s an option, an option I recommend. My expectations were set and they were just in my expectation level so nothing to be wowed about.

Finally, we end the 1080p video saga with some night testing. I recorded this footage at the same place where I recorded my 720p video so it’s gonna be pretty dark.

It’s still grainy, yes but unlike the HD video, this one has significantly more details and is a lot brighter. There is more colour depth to it and you can tell more clearly what’s going on. Now instead of feeling like you’re watching a 480p video from 2006, it now feels like watching a phone’s camera footage from 2014. Things were different back then yeah?

I intentionally chose the 60fps frame rate since there’s little to no difference between the quality of each frame rate anyway, and this one is a lot smoother.

4K VIDEO

4K videos are pretty rare in the 10K segment so I’m happy that TCL has included it in the TCL 10 5G. Not to mention, it also has EIS so taking shots here in the highest quality would be a breeze for vlogging. As mentioned, there’s a catch to these 4K videos. They are all limited to 5 minutes regardless of the frame rate. So if you want to make lengthy 4K videos, you have to combine the clips. This is how TCL tries to save space for videos I guess.

Also, I did notice that the phone tends to get hot whenever you’re recording long videos, even in 1080p quality. Just take note of that because it takes a heavy toll on the battery. It drains faster that way.

The 4K video, as expected, is smoother with no jaggery lines. It is not as heavily sharpened as with the 1080p video. It is also highly saturated and has a pretty high dynamic range. YouTube might have compressed the video during the upload so there’s a chance that the video you’re watching may be lower quality. Audio is also fine and clear.

I did notice though that there is some bluish tint that goes over the houses. This wasn’t filmed in the morning. It was filmed during the high noon so I expected that it will have a sunny “warm” feeling to it. I’m also not fond of the intensely high saturation and vibrance.

If this video is well-lit, then this will turn out to be decent. At night, 4K videos remain high-quality and smooth with a minimal amount of grain. This is the best video resolution to use if you’re going to film the loud fireworks in the sky, or the local clubs and nightly events. Audio is also not affected regardless if you use EIS.

I commend TCL for this outstanding video quality. It is unmatched by other phones of the same price range.

When it comes to using 60fps at night, it appears to be of lower quality, with slightly more grain and higher contrasts. It’s also not as bright as with 30fps. Audio is still unaffected, however.

Don’t worry, using both frame rates is still recommended, especially in well-lit areas. Just take note that the 60fps frame rate has more grains than the 30fps one. Oh, it also takes a bit more of your storage.

Please click the button below to see our gaming, battery, sound tests, and conclusion!