TCL's $450 10 Pro holds its own as a mid-range device with an impressive display

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Updated Tue May 19, 2020

TCL, known more for its TVs, is entering the mobile market with the 10 Pro ($449.99) and 10L ($249.99). These are the most recent additions to the mid-tier smartphone market, a sector that has been booming with the second generation iPhone SE and Samsung's Galaxy A line.

After using the 10 Pro — headlined by multiple main cameras, HD AMOLED displays for vibrancy and sleek designs — for a week, we found it to be an all-around good phone, but nothing that'll take over the mid-tier smartphone market.

A sleek build devoid of excess weight and camera bumps

The 10 Pro doesn't aim to stick out, but rather fit in with the elegant norm. You can get it in Forest Mist Green or Ember Gray, which has a stealthy and subtle gradient on the back that goes from almost a smokey white on the bottom to darker as you near the top.

It's a neat effect, but if you want a pop of color, we'd recommend the Forest Mist Green. It's a smooth matte finish that's accomplished through dual sided glass that also gives you durability. The only branding is a silver TCL logo that's slightly above center and decently spaced from the quad camera array: two LED flashes, a 64-megapixel lens, a 16-megapixel lens, a 5-megapixel lens and a 2-megapixel lens.

The left and right edges on the back are slightly curved, which allows the 10 Pro to rest comfortably in your hand. This is also where you'll find the metal frame, which connects the back to the front. There's a teardrop notch centered at the top of the display that houses a 24-megapixel lens. There's a customizable "smart key" button on the left, while the right houses the volume rocker and power button.

The best news? There's a headphone jack on the top. Corded headphones or earbuds users can safely rejoice, and use their beloved headsets here. There's also a microphone and IR sensor at the top. The bottom of the device houses the USB Type-C port, a SIM card slot, another microphone and a speaker grille.

A vibrant display

We found the display to be sharp and vibrant. It was great for scrolling social networks, including images on Instagram and scrolling the news on Twitter. You can fit a lengthy timeline on this screen, thanks in part to its large 6.47-inch AMOLED display. In short: You can really become immersed.

When streaming "Frozen II" on Disney+, we jumped to the ocean scene where Elsa has to take control of a magical horse. It's a great way to test contrast with vibrancy, as the scene is shot over a roaring ocean at night. Much of the frame is black with a dark navy and other shades of blue crashing on top. The display then needs to factor in Elsa, who is a bright white with a light blue dress with sparkles on top of the darker background.

It goes back to how the AMOLED can handle lighting specific sectors while needing to deliver a darker background. It looked great here and was up to snuff with other smartphones.

TCL will also push its NXTVISION mode, which is kind of like an HDR (high-dynamic range) overlay. It ups saturations and aims to deliver a more vibrant experience that respects darker aspects, which isdone through software and a portion of the processor.

This runs in real time and can identify various kinds of content: movies, TV shows, videos or games. You can also run it in the background ---- the preinstalled wallpapers that look more vibrant. This mode also works with HDR10 content. You can turn NXTVISION on or off in the quick settings bar as well.

It's a sharp and vibrant display that doesn't skimp on details. TCL packed a visually great display into the 10 Pro. It has nice affordances as well, including NXTVision and other classic display features. Those include Adaptive Tone, which works like Apple's True Tone in that it adjusts the color temperature of the display to your environment. To aid with pushing out less blue light, you can use the Eye Comfort Mode.

There's even a fingerprint sensor in the display. Setup with it took longer than what you'll get on an S20, S10 or Edge+, but in real world use, it was able to pick up and unlock fast. There were times where it missed and locked us out, so word to the wise ---- make sure your finger is positioned correctly.

Let's talk performance

The 10 Pro has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 processor. The amount of RAM (6GBs) is impressive, and for the device, the 675 processor is neither a turtle nor a cheetah — it's a two-year old chipset, afterall.

So what does this all mean for real world performance? Well, the TCL 10 Pro performs well for a mid-tier device.

Setting up the device with accounts, adding a fingerprint and face unlock and customizing aspects of the experience felt fast enough. Social networking, web browsing, looking back on photos, messaging and calls performed well, too. With five apps in the background we didn't experience any slow downs, but increasing that to 15 resulted in a slower performance.

While gaming, on the other hand, we noticed stretched out load times, but nothing that dampened the experience too much. We saw it buckle a bit with Call of Duty Mobile and Fortnite, but it was responsive in matches.

On the quantitative side, it also has expectedly lower scores from GeekBench 5. As we do with any Underscored review, we conduct these benchmarks to set a standard to compare quantitative testing of multiple devices alongside our daily use, testing and perceptions. We used GeekBench 5, a benchmarking app that tests the devices by running intense processes that mimic real-life use cases.

The 10 Pro scored a 489 on the single-core test and a 1,550 on the multi-core score. And the test took a few minutes to run. That's several hundred lower on single core and about half on multi-core of what devices running the 875 Snapdragon chip achieved.

The user interface, on the other hand, isn't as clunky or anger inducing as LGs, but it's also not a clean Android. There are neat tricks, like the ability to use the built-in IR sensor to control other devices, like TVs or appliances. You can customize the "smart key" button to turn on a setting or even open an app. There's an edge bar on the right side that you can swipe out on to show your favorite apps. All of these give you the ability to create shortcuts and get something meaningful. Or rather let you get more out of the 10 Pro.

We like the time and date widget ---- it's kind of a rough sketch outline of a rectangle (aka a phone) and clearly displays the information. This can run on the lock screen or on the homescreen. When charging, it will also fill up with a liquid to represent the charge. This occurs when you're plugged in via the USB Type-C cord.

In our battery test, the TCL 10 Pro lasted for fourteen hours and nine minutes. Our test has us set the display to 50%, turn off all connectivity and run a 4K video on a loop in VLC. This is our standard battery test for smartphones.

Quad cameras

The TCL 10 Pro has a healthy array of cameras and none of them stick out resulting in a bump on the back. There's also setup in a horizontal orientation on the back, near the top of the device.

Before we dive into the camera performance, we have a recommendation. Head into the Camera app, tap settings and scroll down to Watermark. This should be turned off, but if not, the 10 Pro will add a watermark to all content captured. We'd recommend shutting this off.

The main lens is a 64-megapixel camera which delivers a fully sized 64-megapixel image (which TCL calls "high pixel") or it can produce a 16-megapixel image. This is the pixel binning technology that combines the 64-megapixel lenses capture for a detailed filled shot that is vibrant and sharp.

There's also a 16-megapixel ultrawide lens for capturing larger scenes. And there's a 5-megapixel macros lens for up close shots that keep detail intact. There's a lens dedicated to low-light video that is 2 megapixels and the front has a 24-megapixel lens for selfies.

The lenses have a habit of turning up the saturation, which gives you a lot of color, which produces a less lifelike, but a more vibrant, image. Even so, it keeps the details of the image and doesn't increase artifacts.

When using the macro lens within the Super Macro mode, though, we found that it loses detail and ends up overexposing whatever happens to be in focus. There's a charming vibe to it, kind of like a camera from the '80s, but it's not practical.

With the video recording at 4K at 30 frames, we noticed artifacts (something that was added by the camera that wasn't there) with the grass, specifically being presented more as boxes than individual blades. It was a windy day, but it appears that it missed on capturing details. The fact that it handled motion well was impressive, with trees bustling, especially since our hands, well, were not steady.

It's a dependable shooter, as long as you're OK with the quality of images and the enhancements it makes. There is a pro mode where you can customize much of this and you can edit a photo after the fact to reduce saturation, but if it's not what you like, it's not a perfect on-the-go shooter.

Bottom line

That's the story with the TCL 10 Pro, a $449.99 smartphone that is unlocked here in the U.S. and will make sense for many people. You can purchase it from Amazon now.

Yes, the camera was a let down and it doesn't push the iPhone SE away as our favorite mid-range smartphone. For some people, the camera will be overly saturated and shutter times will feel slow. For an Android 10 device, it does a good job of getting you through the day and the battery life should be enough for most users.

It's an all-around good phone that aims to be a jack of all trades. The design and display definitely stick out as our favorites. The choice is ultimately yours, and if you're sold, you can lock in an order for $449.99.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.