TCL 20 Pro 5G review: TCL’s best fails to keep pace with its competitors
Quick verdict: The TCL 20 Pro 5G delivers solid performance for its price range, but the reality of the mid-range market is that you can get a better camera phone, or one with faster performance or updates for the same price.
- Nice display
- Decent battery life
- Included battery case
- Lack of 90Hz or 120Hz screen
- Fingerprint sensor is hit-and-miss
- TCL's update strategy is lacking
- Camera is only average in this price range
1080 x 2400px
48MP + 16MP + 5MP + 2MP
Finder rated as Good vs similar phones
Power, storage and battery
|Launch price (RRP)||$0|
Looking for the latest TCL handset? Here's our full review of the TCL 20 R 5G.
Design: Big clear screen, but at this price you should get more
The TCL 20 Pro 5G features a 6.67-inch FHD+ (1080x2400) pixel AMOLED display with a punch hole style camera in the top centre of the display, or in TCL-speak, a "dotch". Dotch is quite the odd bit of marketing speak, but in design terms it's almost a regular feature on most phones not made by Apple these days.
That's very much the story of the TCL 20 Pro 5G's design overall. In Australia it's available in 2 different colours, either "Moondust Gray", which is your basic grey/black combination, or "Marine Blue" as tested.
Marine Blue is a lighter blue shade that brings to mind any number of Huawei or Oppo phones from about 2 years ago in terms of colour choices.
While I'm a noted fan of blue phones, the back of the TCL 20 Pro 5G is rather bright, so it won't suit every taste. It does stand out thanks to the vertical orientation of its camera lenses, however.
The display runs edge to edge with curved sides, a premium style feature but not a unique one.
Where TCL pitches the TCL 20 Pro 5G as unique is in its implementation of its NXTVISION algorithm for accentuating onscreen colour.
The display itself is an AMOLED, so you're already in good colour territory there. NXTVISION does what it's always done, punching up stills and offering SD to HDR style conversion for video files in a pleasing way.
The problem here is that while NXTVISION is quite nice, the TCL 20 Pro 5G is priced at the upper end of mid-range phones.
That's territory where it's not hard to also score a display capable of doing better than 60Hz. If you're a fan of fast action games, or you want smooth scrolling on your webpages, the TCL 20 Pro 5G can't help but compare poorly.
Also missing in action is any kind of IP-rated water resistance. At the lower prices of some of TCL's other phones (and especially its Alcatel models) that's entirely understandable. At a $799 price point, it's something I would have liked to have seen in the TCL 20 Pro 5G.
One design feature of the TCL 20 Pro 5G that does stand out in a positive light is the "smart key", located on the left hand side. This is where you'll often find a locked function Google Assistant button on many phones, which can be annoying if you don't want it or mistake it for the power button.
TCL's smart key is totally customisable for single, double and long press functions, so you can quickly map each to whatever takes your fancy, or disable it entirely if it's not to your taste. It's a simple little detail, but one that every other manufacturer should pinch from TCL ASAP.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G features an in-display fingerprint reader, again not unusual in this price bracket or indeed below it.
Sadly, its response in my tests was not good, leaving me often resorting to passcode entry to gain access to the phone. You can set up a face unlock if you prefer, but this is straight image recognition and not terribly secure as a result.
Camera: Triple lenses fail to stand out
The TCL 20 Pro 5G uses a vertical array of 4 rear lenses, but you only actually shoot with 3 of them. The primary lens uses a 48MP f/1.79 sensor, with a 16MP f/2.4 123° Ultra-wide and 5MP f/2.2 Macro finishing out the rear set of cameras.
The punch hole camera at the front is a 32MP f/2.45 sensor, and it shoots well for your selfie needs. As is common with most single front lenses, you can end up with rather artificial bokeh if you opt for selfie portrait mode, however.
In most cases, you'll be best served using the primary 48MP rear lens for most shots. Here the TCL 20 Pro 5G handles itself adequately, but rarely in a way that led to exciting shots or opportunities for creative photography play.
Many shots exposed rather darker than their surrounds would suggest, and while you could post-process to deal with that to an extent, within this price range there's plenty of more exciting camera options.
There's no dedicated zoom lens on the rear of the TCL 20 Pro 5G, but when you fire up its camera app, you're greeted with a zoom range of up to 10x. That's because the 48MP primary sensor has to do a lot of heavy lifting and optimisation to stretch out to what is just digital zoom. This works about as well as you'd expect.
Here's a shot over a valley (you can blame Sydney's lockdown for my lack of more inspiring subjects) with the standard lens:
Even taking that to just 2x zoom starts to show some visual issues:
Push it all the way out to 10x, and it's markedly worse, of course:
The TCL 20 Pro 5G's macro lens does fare a little better. It's nice to see a mid-range phone without that near-standard 2MP macro that seemingly everyone incorporated into their phone designs in 2021.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G also features a "Super Night" mode for low light shooting. Results were generally unimpressive, with poor detail picked up unless you've got solid light sources somewhere to bolster your shot.
This leaves the TCL 20 Pro 5G with cameras that are generally going to be adequate to most users' basic needs.
The problem again is that this is a $799 phone, and at that price point you'd expect to see more premium features start to creep in, not just a "good enough" approach.
Performance: Snapdragon 750 remains a solid processor choice
Dig beneath the TCL 20 Pro 5G's display and you'll find a Snapdragon 750 SoC with 6GB of RAM and 256GB of onboard storage. That's a nice tasty quantity of storage to have, although many of TCL's competitors have opted for the Snapdragon 765G instead of the 750.
Still, again, any consumer should consider what they can get for the TCL 20 Pro 5G's asking price. At the time of writing, there's considerable choice from major competing brands.
To put the TCL 20 Pro 5G into context against them, here's how its Snapdragon 750 CPU compares using Geekbench 5's CPU test against similarly priced or slightly cheaper handsets at the time of writing.
Very little can compare to the iPhone SE 2020's processor of course, but the TCL 20 Pro 5G generally acquits itself well here.
On the graphics front, here's how the TCL 20 Pro 5G's Adreno 619 compares using 3DMark's benchmarks:
Of note there, the model of the Galaxy S20 FE is the 5G, Snapdragon 865 equipped variant; if you opted for the 4G only model you'd see a lower score as a result.
Benchmarks can only go so far, and there have been plenty of good quality mid-range phones through Finder's labs of late.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G compares nicely to most of them in terms of sheer responsiveness when running most Android apps, including heavy-duty games.
While a sharper refresh rate would make a difference to many, I had few issues running titles such as Call of Duty: Mobile on the TCL 20 Pro 5G during my review period.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G is an Android 11 phone at launch, but it's unclear when or even if it will see full Android OS upgrades.
All TCL will commit to is for Android security updates through to June 2023. Considering that rivals such as Nokia and Samsung offer 3-year update cycles for their new phones, that's rather disappointing.
TCL isn't exactly fast on updates, either. For most of the review period, the TCL 20 Pro 5G sat on a March 2021 security patch level, only switching over to the July update very late in the review period.
If that's the pace TCL sets for releasing patches, it feels unlikely that it's going to rush into Android 12 or beyond.
Battery: Wired or wireless charging with good battery life
The TCL 20 Pro 5G packs a 4,500mAh sealed battery into its casing, which once again is almost dead regular for a phone in this price bracket. However, size isn't everything, because actual power usage is far more vital for most.
Here the TCL 20 Pro 5G ought to perform well, because the one advantage with not opting for a 90Hz or 120Hz capable display should be improved battery life.
To put that to the comparative test, I ran the TCL 20 Pro 5G through Finder's battery test, running a 1080p YouTube video at full brightness and moderate volume for an hour from a fully charged battery.
The goal here is to end up with at least 90% of the battery power remaining. That's typically a sign of a phone that can last a full day of moderate usage. Here's how the TCL 20 Pro 5G compares:
That 93% figure isn't best in class or worst, although the much smaller battery in the iPhone SE 2020 really does push it down the rankings markedly.
In more anecdotal usage, the TCL 20 Pro 5G handles itself well over single day use, and even into a second day if your usage needs are more on the moderate side.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G can recharge via Qi wireless at up to 15W, or via USB C at up to 18W with support for Qualcomm's QuickCharge 3.0.
Should you buy the TCL 20 Pro 5G?
- Buy it if you like the style of TCL's phones.
- Don't buy it if you want sharp camera optics or future upgrades.
The TCL 20 Pro 5G is TCL's effective current flagship, with pricing to match. General app performance is good, and the NXTVISION display does a fine job of presenting and upscaling onscreen elements. Still, it's a phone that can't help to suffer under comparison with what you can get for $799 or thereabouts right now.
Competitor phones from the likes of Samsung, Oppo or Google in the Android space outpace it for camera, style and update pathways, making it a tough phone to recommend on its own.
An early promotion for the TCL 20 Pro 5G did offer a bonus TCL TV, but that deal has now expired, and without it, it's not that compelling a handset.
Pricing and availability
How we tested
The TCL 20 Pro 5G was tested over a 3-week review period, including testing all features of the handset, benchmarking against industry standard tools, battery testing with both benchmarks and anecdotal use and application testing for day to day observations.