Reviews

TCL 10 L Review: The best budget screen

With only a few phones launched under their own brand, TCL is a new player in the Australian mobile landscape. The company has a pretty good history producing phones though having manufactured Blackberry and Alcatel phones (and tablets) for a number of years. This experience has held TCL in good stead with their first forays into the market, with the TCL Plex, which performed well in Trevor’s review, and the more recent TCL 10 Pro, which impressed as well. 

At $449, the TCL 10 L sits a little lower in the spec and price range than the formidable TCL 10 Pro. The TCL 10 L it still has the cachet of launching with TCL’s ‘NXTVision’ display, big 4,000mAh battery and a quad rear camera array. 

The market is ripe for a great phone in this price category, and after the impressive TCL 10 Pro, I’m ready to be wowed. I’ve been using the TCL 10 L for a bit over a week now, and here’s the low down.

Hardware and Design 

The TCL 10 L is similar to the 10 Pro in design in that it has the same button setup (Volume Rocker+Power on the right, Programmable ‘Smart Key’ on the left), USB-C port at the base with a speaker next to it and a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top.

There’s differences in the body though with the TCL 10 L using more plastic in the build. The rear is a lovely ‘Mariana Blue’, but it’s a gloss finish which attracts fingerprints – unless you use the clear TPU case included in the box.

As well as the included TPU case, there’s also a screen protector already applied to the display. It’ll save your screen from the day-to-day stuff, like keys in pockets. There’s no IP protection on the TCL 10 L, so bear that in mind if you hit the pool or beach.

The quad-camera array is similar in setup to the TCL 10 Pro with its horizontally aligned array, however the TCL 10 L sticks out from the body. The array spreads horizontally across the back of the phone so it doesn’t rock like other phones that have their camera island off to one side.

There’s a fingerprint sensor on the rear which is both fast and accurate. TCL includes ‘Face Key’ for unlocking your phone with your face, but the warnings when setting it up are enough to make you appreciate the fingerprint sensor.

The front of the phone is where you get your TCL produced 6.53-inch AMOLED ‘NXTVision’ display, which is only interrupted by the tiny punch-hole camera in the top left corner – an affectation they’ve branded ‘Dotch’.

Unlike the TCL 10 Pro the display is flat with the plastic rear coming up around the side to meet the display. It still feels comfortable to hold, and it has the benefit of less accidental touches being recognised.

The TCL 10 L includes a NXTVision display, though it’s an LTPS LCD panel as opposed to the AMOLED panel on the TCL 10 Pro. There’s nothing to worry about though as the LCD panel is bright, vibrant and clear.  TCL has even included a NXTVision settings app which can tune features like HDR, Visual Enhancement and colour palette. 

The specs of the TCL 10 L include a Snapdragon 665 processor, 6GB of RAM and 64GB of on-board storage which can be expanded with microSD cards or you can insert a second SIM card. 

In terms of performance the TCL 10 L has a few rough edges, though they’re not dealbreakers. There’s some lag when loading apps, and you’ll also find the camera lags between tapping for focus and taking the shot. There’s various reasons for this, the UI is TCL’s own skin over Android 10 which could account for it, but it’s most likely the Snapdragon 665 processor.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 and 4,000mAh battery does offer good battery life though. I averaged a full day of use out of it with almost no issues. I even went overnight without charge and got through the morning of the next day before hitting the charger.

A USB-C cable and charging adapter are included in the box. There’s no ‘Fast’ Charge option included unfortunately and there’s no wireless charging either. 

Camera

The TCL 10 L has a quad-camera array on the rear, though the sensors aren’t quite as high-end as the 10 Pro. The Quad-camera array consists of a 48MP high-res sensor, an  8MP sensor with super-wide lens, 2MP macro camera and a 2MP depth sensor. Filling the ‘dotch’ on the front is the 16MP selfie cam.

In terms of quality there’s a ways to go for TCL on the 10 L, though it was mostly due to lag in the viewfinder which meant focus was slow. If you have the time to frame and focus your shot though you get some decent pictures. You can use the ‘High Pixel’ mode to use the 48MP sensor which then stacks the images to get a pretty nice shot.

The wide-angle lens offers a lot of versatility when you’re in cramped areas allowing you to get more in the frame. The lack of digital zoom however is a bit of a shame. Macro mode can get you close to small objects, but I could find more use for a telephoto lens which could offer similar results.

The ‘Super Night’ mode is decent if there’s enough ambient lighting but struggles in true low-light conditions. 

There is a fun ‘Light Trace’ mode in the camera app which is a bit of fun. You can capture three different options: Capture Movement, Capture Light and Draw Light. You can get apps which do this, but having it included in the camera app is fun.

Software

TCL has launched the TCL 10 L with Android 10 on board which underpins the TCL UI. The phone booted up with the March security patch, but an update quickly added a quarterly update to July 2020.

The UI itself is fairly close to stock Android though there are a few changes. The launcher includes themes, and app drawer is laid out slightly differently but offers more customisation for app organisation. There’s also small touches like changes to fonts on the quick settings.

You get all the Android features like dark mode and live captions but you also get features not included in Android 10. 

TCL has included options for their custom Smart Key allowing for shortcuts, there’s also Driving and Game Modes which block notifications, and have options to optimise your experience for both. Other options like Screen Recorder and One Handed mode are also notable inclusions.

There is a bit of cruft in terms of pre-installed apps on the TCL 10 L, OfficeSuite offers a premium subscription with a short trial, but thankfully you can uninstall any of these apps.

Far more helpful are pre-installed apps for file management, voice recorder, basic notes and radio apps.

It’s a pretty good software experience for the TCL 10 L but it will be interesting to see when the Android 11 update will be delivered. TCL has been pretty good on updating previous phones, so hopefully we won’t be waiting too long.

Should you buy it?

The TCL 10 L is a great looking phone with a good battery life, gorgeous screen and takes a decent picture, all for $499.

There are some rough edges though with performance one of the more notable. The phone takes a few seconds to perform intensive functions or a bit longer to focus in the camera app, but the phone never locked up or crashed, it just took a little longer.

I also think the camera shows a lot of promise with decent lighting conditions. There’s room for improvement, but TCL has shown they’re quite agile in this respect so I can’t wait to see what a second gen TCL 10 L does here.

The absolute highlight though is that NXTVision screen. The display on the 10 L is among the best I’ve seen in this price range. The tuning in the NXTVision app is also a bonus allowing for personalisation.

If your budget extends to the TCL 10 L it’s a pretty good phone to get a hold of, though the performance may be of concern to others. It’s still worth a look though and you can check them out in-store or online at Officeworks, or online at JB Hifi.

TCL 10 L Review: The best budget screen
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