Hands On with the TCL 10 5G UW for Verizon
In late 2020, the focus of the mobile world is still on 5G, but it's not on flagship phones; the hot race is who can offer the best $400 5G phone. Verizon's big bet in this race is on the TCL 10 5G UW, which stands out for including faster mmWave 5G, a feature that usually carries a price premium. And this phone has a number of other specs usually found only on much pricier phones. So what corners did TCL cut to reach this low price? Is the phone actually any good? We took it for a quick spin to find out. Here are our first impressions.
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The first thing I noticed about the TCL 10 5G UW is its size. It has a 6.5-inch display, a common size these days. But it's a couple of millimeters larger in each dimension than other phones with 6.5, 6.6, or even 6.7-inch displays. A couple of mm may not sound like much, but when it comes to how it fits in your hand, it makes a huge difference. A case just exacerbates the size, of course. This phone feels chunky, and it's not lightweight, either.
The build quality feels fine, but not flagship-level. It has Gorilla Glass on both the front and back, but if you told me the back was plastic, I'd believe you. The extra size pushes the size-to-weight ratio just slightly into cheap-feeling territory.
Normally I'm not a fan of fancy prismatic designs on the back of phones. That was a big trend last year and I was glad to see it fade away. But on the TCL 10 5G UW, it's subtle enough that I kind of like it. It only reveals itself in certain lighting conditions, at certain angles. So half the time it just looks like a plain, blueish dark gray; a boring but classy hue. But tilt it a bit, and a faint crystalline pattern emerges. Let direct sunlight hit it just so, and it explodes in eye-catching color. But again, most of the time the design is subtle or just disappears. If you're going to include this gimmick, this is the right way to do it.
TCL makes its own display panels and likes to brag about their quality. I wouldn't if I were them, but that doesn't mean it's a bad display. It's not the brightest, and it's a smidge bluer than other phones on my desk. But if you crank up the brightness, it's good enough in most situations. I do give TCL credit for including an option for "Adaptive tone", which automatically shifts the color of the display based on ambient light. That's a feature borrowed from pricier phones. Viewing angles are fine for an LCD. It's not flagship-level, but it's a fine display for this price point.
I miss certain little shortcuts you find on some other phones, like tap-to-wake.
This phone is plenty fast. That's something you don't usually find at this price point. But I think Verizon and TCL really care that you feel the speed of 5G. Why else would they stuff a high-end Snapdragon 765G chipset and relatively generous 6 GB of RAM in this baby? Not to mention the mmWave 5G. With that kind of hardware, I expect speed, and the TCL 10 5G UW delivers. I'm impatient, and this phone never kept me waiting.
Even on slower sub-6 GHz 5G, the phone downloaded video quickly. In real-world data use, it always felt snappy.
I didn't have great expectations for the camera given the price point. That's usually the most obvious area of compromise when you step down from flagship-level to the mid-range. The cameras on flagship phones are just so good these days....
But I was very pleasantly surprised with the main camera on the TCL 10 5G UW. By default, this 48-megapixel shooter uses pixel binning to shoot at 12 megapixel with higher quality, but you can choose 48 megapixel mode if you want.
The main camera delivers excellent color and sharpness. In most situations it even out-performed the OnePlus 8 and 8T I had on me. Unsurprisingly, an iPhone 11 Pro did a bit better most of the time. However, there were situations where the iPhone went a bit overboard to deliver a prettier result, but the TCL 10 5G UW captured an image that was far truer to real life. I noticed this especially with sunsets; the TCL camera captured a sunset much more accurately than the iPhone.
The one weakness of the main camera is its algorithm for choosing a subject to meter. If you just aim and shoot in high-contrast situations, you'll get a lot of over- and under-exposed shots that HDR can't compensate for. But if you take a moment to tap the subject first, you'll get great results. More expensive phones are better at doing this automatically. HDR rarely impresses me on phones in this class, but it's pretty good on this one.
The other cameras aren't so great. This is where TCL cut corners to keep the price down.
The wide-angle camera was most disappointing for me, because I use this feature a lot on phones that have it. The results were so bad that I'd call it useless. I'm sort of embarrassed for TCL here. If you can't include a half-decent wide-angle camera, just leave it out.
I never have high expectations for macro cameras; they're the trendy gimmick for 2020. The macro camera on the TCL 10 5G UW is no exception. It can technically deliver an interesting macro shot, but the problem is that the subject must be a precise distance from the lens, and even when you know the distance and think you have it right, you probably don't. Eight or nine out of ten macro shots I took with this phone in broad daylight were horribly out of focus. That tenth shot was kind of okay, but hardly impressive. (There's only so much you can do with just 5 megapixels.) Taking macro shots with this phone just isn't worth the trouble.
This phone comes stuffed with Verizon bloatware like Candy Crush Soda, June's Journey, Toy Blast, Pluto TV, Yahoo Sports, News Break, Verizon Cloud, and much more. Many of them blast you with unwanted notifications. I do expect that on a phone like this, but I really wish carriers would just knock it off.
But once you spend some time cleaning out the crap, you're left with a pretty decent, standard Android 10 experience.
This phone is just a hair too big for me, a small guy with small hands. But if you're not as sensitive to size as I am, there's a lot to like. I was really impressed with the overall speed and the quality of the main camera, and those are two of the most important things I look for in a phone. If you're counting on a good wide-angle camera, that's going to be a deal-breaker here. But otherwise, the TCL 10 5G UW delivers a lot more than you might expect for $400.
After "soft-launching" with the Plex phone last year, TCL is now previewing its first widely-available lineup of own-brand phones: the 10 series, all of which offer premium features for under $500. TCL officially announced very few details of the three phones, but shared more with Phone Scoop in a hands-on session.
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