As a smartphone maker TCL has been around the block a few times bringing new Blackberry and Alcatel modes to market. They moved into launching smartphones under their own brand last year with the impressive TCL 10 series and followed up with the TCL 20 5G and 20 SE earlier this year during CES. The phones are launching now in Australia, and we’ve had the chance to check out the TCL 20 5G.

Priced at $499 when it arrives in Australia later this month, the TCL 20 5G includes a 6.67-inch FHD+ resolution NXTVISION display, octa-core processor, 6GB RAM/128GB of storage and a big 48MP main rear camera with 4500mAh battery. 

I managed to check out both the TCL 10 L and TCL 10 Pro as they launched last year and was impressed with the TCL NXTVISION display on both phones, and as a result was keen to check out this latest model. I’ve been using the TCL 20 5G for just over a week now, and here’s how it went.

Hardware and Design

The plastic rear of the TCL 20 5G shows a new design from their previous 10-series. The previously horizontal camera array is now mounted in a vertical island. It’s still a large 

The rear has a metallic finish with  a dualtone strip down the left. It does show up fingerprints, but there’s a clear TPU case in the box which protects the phone from bumps as well as smudges. TCL had a branded case last year, but has opted for a far more pleasing basic, blank case this year.  

The phone looks great in Placid Blue, but it’s also available in ‘Mist Gray’ which is a little more traditional if you don’t like colours on your phone. Me? I love the blue. 

There’s a built-in fingerprint scanner conveniently (for right handed users) placed in the power button on the right hand side with a volume rocker above and the SIM tray (Dual SIM slot or SIM + microSD) and a dedicated Google Assistant hardware button on the left. 

After accidentally hitting the button once too often I ended up disabling that key, but you can still access Google Assistant a variety of ways even with it disabled. The fingerprint scanner though is super useful in the power button, and it’s fast and accurate to boot.

What I did use was the 3.5mm headphone jack at the top of the phone, it’s not often I need to plug a set of headphones in but it is handy to have the option if needed. The phone does have speakers, but it’s only a single speaker, which is fairly decent in terms of quality, but still a single speaker. 

The front of the phone is all screen with a 6.67-inch FHD+ resolution display. There’s a little bit of bezel on the sides and top with a fairly small chin at the base. The screen has a small notch for the front-facing camera which TCL has dubbed the ‘dotch’. 

The screen also includes TCL NXTVISION technology. I normally dismiss a lot of the branding but I was a big fan of the NXTVision display on the TCL phones last year and it’s just as good this year. NXTVision technology improves the images on your phone so you see higher contrast and detail, adding what TCL call ‘HDR-quality viewing’ in video and gaming. 

The actual product is really good, with the screen vibrant and easy to read during the day. I also experimented with the Colour Mode and Temperature settings with the Advanced mode letting you specify sRGB or saturated and then tune to your personal preference for cool vs hot colour temperature. 

The NXTVision app on the phone includes an example photo to show the effect it has and it’s easy to reset or change if you want to get back to something managed by the system.

At $499, the TCL is priced in the mid-range but comes with a decent octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 chipset with 5G support as well as 6GB RAM and 128GB of on-board storage (and microSD card slot). 

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 is a decent platform for a phone in this category and the 6GB of RAM is sufficient to ensure smooth running and switching between apps. There’s the occasional wait as the processor catches up while you search through settings or load an app, but for the most part it’s smooth sailing.

The power house for the TCL 20 5G is a 4,500mAh battery which is an absolute champion. I easily got through a full day, and well into the second day with no issues no matter what I was doing.

There’s an included charger with USB-C cable which supplies 5V/2A and takes around 2 hours for a charge. There’s no Quick Charging support included though technically, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 includes support for Quick Charge 4+, but the included charger doesn’t quite do it and really, I charge at night when I’m asleep so it’s not too big of a deal.

Camera

The TCL 20 5G includes a triple rear camera setup, including a 48 MegaPixel main sensor, with wide-angle 8MP and 2MP macro sensor. There’s an LED flash on the rear, but it’s mostly used as a torch, and on the front you get an 8MP selfie camera hidden in the ‘dotch’.

TCL has a decent camera setup with the TCL 20 5G. It’s not blow you out of the water good, but like most camera systems in this range it takes a good shot given some time to ensure you get the focus right. The TCL 20 5G definitely enjoys good light for the camera, with well lit indoor photos looking good, a nice sunny day yields good results too as does a more even light on an overcast day.

There’s a decent low-light option on the TCL 20, it’s not going to transform a darkened room into a brightly lit vista, but it does pretty well. 

I’m still yet to find great use-cases for the macro camera we see on phones these days, but this one works pretty well, though at 2MP it lacks a little detail sometimes.

Video modes offer you the option to capture up to 4k, though in 30fps, however the 1080p/60fps is a nice option to have.

Software

The software on the TCL 20 5G is based on Android 10 which includes the March 5th security patch out of the box. The update to Android 11 will be coming, but there’s no date as yet for the update, while security updates will be forthcoming as well. It’s slightly disappointing to be lagging on Android 10, with Android 12 due to launch in a few months, but it runs fine and the security is up to date which is the most important thing. 

The TCL build of Android is fairly clean, though there’s a number of pre-installed apps which, while not necessarily indispensable are actually useful such as the File Sharing, Music and Video players, and NXTVISION app for controlling that delightful display.

There are a few apps installed which could be left out – or at least give you the opportunity to disable or uninstall them such as the TCL+ app which, while great for the TCL community, isn’t terribly useful outside of showing tutorials for the TCL 20 5G.

Overall, Android on a TCL phone though is easy to use and navigate. 

Should you buy this phone?

As with their inaugural 10 series last year, the TCL 20 series looks set to be a worthy follow up offering a great screen, and good battery life and a respectable camera. 

There is certainly room for improvement, but at $499 it sits well with other phones in this range. There is some stiff competition in the entry level 5G phone market now, with OPPO setting the pace at $399 for their A54 handset, though it has a few compromises which makes the $100 price difference to the TCL 20 5G seem worth it. 

Overall though, the TCL 20 5G is a great looking handset with a bunch of features, and is worth a look if you need 5G speeds.

You’ll be able to check out the TCL 20 5G in Mist Gray & Placid Blue at Harvey Norman from the end of May while Officeworks will have it in stock from June.