TCL is a company that's chiefly remained in the background in the smartphone market, making phones for the likes of Alcatel and Blackberry. But the company's 10-series changes that. It's the company's first dedicated lineup from budget to flagship and its TCL 10 5G, recently sent in its Verizon-specific "UW" iteration for review — tops that line.
In a nutshell, TCL 10 5G UW delivers exactly as it says in the title for this review. Namely, a sublime experience for a phone at or even well above its price. But this is a Verizon exclusive as indicated by the Ultra-Wideband moniker. And it may be difficult to see how it could earn a top rating from Android Headlines.
So let's take a closer look at how and why that is.
Small details make a big difference on TCL 10 5G UW hardware
One aspect of the TCL 10 5G UW that immediately lept out at me during this review was its coloration. Under proper lighting and at the right angle, this phone appears to be dark blue to black in color. Shifting viewing angles, however, reveals geometric shapes in the rear panel. And those flash with every color from a bright green to purple — giving the phone an aesthetic that's at once flashy and understated.
The curves on the rear and front panel are steep and well-designed too. They ensure a great in-hand feel and reduces accidental screen interactions. Small details like the almost-flush camera hump and roll of the front panel — with a speaker grille placed at an angle along the edge — make a huge difference too.
For instance, rolling my finger along the top edge to slide down the notification panel on this phone just feels better than just about any other smartphone I've used. That's thanks to a combination of materials and the curve of the front panel at the edges. And down to the fact that the phone feels as though it's a no-gap design in hand — and looks the part too.
In terms of weight, ports, and buttons, those are all as should be too. The ports and buttons all have a satisfactory click to them. That gives them a tactile feel that’s not often missing from modern smartphones but can be from time to time. The fingerprint scanner is just as snappy as any flagship I've reviewed.
The TCL 10 5G UW is noticeably heavier than the average smartphone though. So it’s a good thing it isn’t slippery or it’d be an easy phone to break. And, because the cameras sit almost flush, putting a case on this phone will protect the cameras even better than the screen. But, better still, the phone has a slightly raised lip around the camera to protect the lenses even without a case. And it doesn't intrude too much on the aesthetic or in-hand feel.
The sole caveat I could find in this design is a lack of waterproofing rating or Gorilla Glass in device descriptions.
The TCL 10 5G UW screen is easily among the best smartphone displays around
On the display front, the TCL 10 5G UW is just about as good as it gets for the LCD panel category. Summarily, the lack of an AMOLED screen does reduce contrast to a certain extent. But this phone does a lot with that hardware.
For starters, contrast is going to be better than on most competing devices in this price bracket. That’s thanks to proprietary technology dubbed NXTVISION, which offers brightness boosting and SDR-to-HDR conversion. Its FHD+ — 1080 x 2340 pixels — resolution absolutely does not disappoint either.
Colors are at once vibrant and natural due to the underlying technology, regardless of what media is being played. And without the need for a dedicated gaming mode. And thanks to a 19.5:9 display ratio and 91-percent screen-to-body ratio, there’s not a lot of cut-off in full-screen videos either. At least not once they’re zoomed to fill the screen.
The display is responsive and smooth, allowing for a flagship-like experience at a literal fraction of the cost.
Performance is among this phone's highest-value features
Now, TCL packed its 5G UW-ready 10 series model with a Snapdragon 765G chipset and that performed as expected under review. That is to say, as with other phones using this chip, most users aren’t going to notice a big difference between this chip and Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon chip.
What that means for you, and during my review of the TCL 10 5G UW, is a solid performance that never bottoms out. Even with intensive multitasking with multiple resource-heavy apps and games.
Coupled with a better than expected display, battery, and connectivity experience — the latter two aspects we'll cover momentarily — this phone hits well above its price tag. I would describe this phone in the same way that I'd describe its non-UW counterpart. TCL 10 5G UW is a true flagship-killer that skips right past its mid-range counterparts to compete with the biggest names in the industry.
The sole area users may notice some slowdown is in video, audio, or photo processing. But that won't be noticed in interactions with associated apps. Instead, that's noticed as a slight slowdown in post-processing compared to phones with flagship chipsets.
Expect battery life that's well above par for the course
5G networking, based on other handsets I have taken the opportunity to review, is a massive battery drain and the TCL 10 5G UW should be no different. Except that it is different. In fact, with the automatic screen brightness turned off and the level of brightness maxed out, I saw more than eight-and-a-half hours of screen-on time.
That's with all battery-saving features deactivated and switching frequently back and forth between 4G and 5G connections. I also turned all screen-enhancements noted above on. And the split came down pretty even in terms of usage of that time too. With both day-to-day usage and streaming media with the screen on — via a mobile connection — falling in at right around two-and-a-half hours. For gaming, I used this phone for a full hour and then some longer than that.
For standby time, I let this battery sit untouched for seven hours — equating to a total test time of around 15-hours and 45-minutes of total on time. But the phone was only left on standby for long enough to drain a single percent from its remaining capacity. Under more realistic use — with the caveat that battery life is subjective — this phone should last a lot longer for most people.
On charging, the 4,500mAh battery took around one-hour-and-forty minutes to fill up. And TCL includes a fabric woven cable for the reverse-charge compatible USB-C port.
TCL 10 5G UW cameras are one of the few 'average' aspects to discover
The TCL 10 5G UW performed wonderfully under review when it came to the cameras. But that doesn't mean it does everything as well as it potentially could. We'll cover where this phone really shines on the camera front momentarily but night mode with this phone needs some work.
TCL calls its night mode "Super Night." That mode leaves a lot to be desired here though. Primarily because anytime the environment is too dim, the light this phone captures is over-accentuated.
Now, that's not consistently bad. The camera sample gallery we've put up over at Flickr highlights how bad it can be. But shots of the night sky or of heavily lit objects won't always quite turn out the way you'd want.
Now, that's not necessarily too big a drawback. Night Mode is something that very few OEMs do well and this phone just about keeps up. And, everywhere else, except when the lighting gets too low — resulting in extra grain in the captures — is great from this device. Especially given its price point.
The feature-rich camera software is snappy and autofocus works quickly. Detail capture is accurate. High Pixel Mode brings out even more detail via a dedicated 48-megapixel camera. Although edges in that mode can get a bit 'glowy' if heavy backlighting is present.
In terms of color capture, this phone provides natural hues from the camera. Rather than the oversaturation seen with some Android phones. So shots don't feel photoshopped right out of the gate. TCL has done a great job, from the Macro camera through the video side of things and onto the Selfie side, building a camera worthy of the almost flagship-level internals on the 10 5G UW.
Software is bloated and that's the biggest problem with this Verizon exclusive
As discussed in the performance segment, this phone is by no means slow. That's also true despite the fact that as soon as I turned on my review unit, the TCL 10 5G UW through Verizon was immediately loaded up with bloatware.
Now, TCL and Verizon allow all of the bloat to be removed. At least, that's with the notable exception of most Verizon pre-installed apps.
What's annoying here is that these are apps most users probably don't want. Including Yahoo Finance, HomeAdvisor, and a slew of games. Others are those most users will find useful — such as Facebook. But which other users would rather have the option to install themselves to avoid the tracking that comes with those even after they're removed.
What's truly great about TCL phones on the software side, however, is just how stock they are. TCL installs Android 10 out-of-the-box with all of its perks; from dark mode to digital wellbeing. The settings app and customization will be familiar to anybody who has used Android before. And it's a shallow learning curve for those who haven't.
The app drawer is one of the few areas TCL plants in its own flavor. And it does so by providing an easily-organized arrangement of apps. TCL lets those you filter and organize those by category, alphabetically, or by any of the remaining 4-5 methods. Folder organization is a snap too. Especially since any folders on the home screen, once opened, can be scrolled through — from folder to folder — at a swipe.
This is easily one of the most functionally well-made Android skins on the market today. And it will almost certainly see an update with Android 11t too, at the very least.
The audio is mediocre with this phone but nowhere near approaching "bad"
Audio is mostly a subjective topic for a variety of reasons but the experience from this TCL smartphone is definitely among the better available. Regardless of what I was listening to, throughout my review, audio from the TCL 10 5G UW was balanced. It wasn't punchy and certainly wasn't the deepest or most powerful. But at under $400, it really doesn't have to be.
Now, audio isn't perfect due mostly to the constraints of the small speakers found in smartphones. But it isn't at all bad. And, in fact, it compares well to top-billed mid-rangers and mid-price flagships.
Better still, TCL included a 3.5mm audio jack for this phone alongside Bluetooth 5.0. So you're going to be able to get even better audio still via whatever medium you choose to listen with.
Audio for calls is great too, thanks to HD Voice with dual-mic noise cancellation. All of that meant that even in calls, audio quality reigns supreme for TCL 10 5G UW. With crystal clear audio both to and from this smartphone.
Connectivity brings everything back around to where we started
Now, some connectivity features TCL put in the TCL 10 5G UW have already been discussed at some length here. Whether that's Bluetooth 5.0 or OTG reverse charging. Wi-Fi via WiFi 5 standards and NFC is part of the build too. And both of those performed well. But the real headliner here is 5G mobile networking with full support for Verizon's Ultra Wideband network.
That's Verizon's network capable of more than 1Gbps speeds. Of course, the fastest of Verizon's network is only available in select regions — as of this review. But even its slower nationwide 5G performed more than adequately for my review of the TCL 10 5G UW. More than double the speeds I would typically see on 4G LTE in my area, more precisely.
There are even some extra features for Bluetooth listeners too. Not least of all, this smartphone can use Super Bluetooth to send signals to up to four Bluetooth devices simultaneously. That made it much easier to share audio with friends when watching a video or to listen together. And that's a feature you won't find on many smartphones, even at the flagship level.
The TCL 10 5G UW is worth its cost and then some
Now, this phone is a Verizon exclusive. And, if it weren't it would easily be among Android Headlines' best budget-friendly smartphones. With that said, if you do happen to be on that carrier, you absolutely can't go wrong with this phone. It is, without a doubt, one of the best smartphones on that provider.
Where this phone earns its marks though, comes down to several factors. Not least of all, at under $400, the TCL 10 5G UW under review here will be one of the least expensive 5G handsets you can get. Moreover, in a market where Verizon phones with Ultra-Wideband support are typically more expensive.
Moving forward from there are the cameras. While TCL could have done a better job with night shots and possibly could via an update, the rest of the cameras perform above average. They are color-accurate, snappy, detail-rich, and nearly flush with the phone's body.
Then there are the performance, battery life, and display. In each of those categories, TCL didn't take shortcuts. In fact, it strove to rise above what most Android smartphones in the price bracket bring to the table. And it succeeded to a larger extent.
This is going to arguably be the phone for anybody who happens to be in the smartphone market at above $350. That includes those who are looking at flagships since the TCL 10 5G UW will save half the cost compared to those devices without skipping a beat or losing out on any important features.