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TCL 20 Pro 5G review: A compelling sub-$500 phone

TCL 20 Pro 5G delivers flagship looks but it's not quite there on features

TCL 20 Pro 5G review
(Image: © Laptop Mag)

Our Verdict

The TCL 20 Pro 5G is a solid mid-range option that outshines the competition on build quality and design, but at $499, it may struggle to find a place in the market.

For

  • Unique and stunning design
  • Bright/vivid display
  • Solid camera performance
  • MicroSD and 3.5mm headphone jack

Against

  • Disappointing battery life
  • 60Hz refresh rate

Laptop Mag Verdict

The TCL 20 Pro 5G is a solid mid-range option that outshines the competition on build quality and design, but at $499, it may struggle to find a place in the market.

Pros

  • + Unique and stunning design
  • + Bright/vivid display
  • + Solid camera performance
  • + MicroSD and 3.5mm headphone jack

Cons

  • - Disappointing battery life
  • - 60Hz refresh rate
  • -
  • -
TCL 20 Pro 5G

Price: $499
OS: Android 11
Display: 6.7-inch FHD+ AMOLED (2,400 x 1080)
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G
RAM: 6GB
Rear cameras: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 16MP ultra-wide (f/2.4) 5MP macro (ƒ/2.2); 2MP depth (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP (f/2.5)
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 8:48
Size: 6.5 x 2.87 x 0.35 inches
Weight: 6.7 ounces  

Last year, the TCL 10 5G UW impressed us by delivering 5G, a Snapdragon 765G processor, and a gorgeous display at a sub-$400 price point, but the mid-range phone stakes have been raised in 2021 and the TCL 20 Pro 5G is the company’s chance to ante up.

The TCL 20 Pro 5G gets a feature and build quality boost over the TCL 10 5G UW, but it gets a $100 price bump as well to $499, which puts it in a price bracket with strong competition from Google and Samsung. The phone is a knockout in the design department, but Samsung and Google won’t go down easily, and when it comes to features, the mid-range fight comes down to a tough decision. 

TCL convinced us last year that it could be a solid fighter in the budget phone realm, but as it moves from welterweight to middleweight with the TCL 20 Pro 5G, can it handle the competition? 

TCL 20 Pro 5G price and configurations 

The TCL 20 Pro 5G comes in just a single configuration for $499 with a Snapdragon 750G, 6GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and 5G support.

There are two color choices available for the TCL 20 Pro 5G. If you prefer a more subtle look, the Moondust Grey has a matte dark grey back interrupted by a strip of glossy black running down the left edge of the phone. My review unit is the striking Marine Blue that swaps the dark grey for a vibrant color-shifting cyan tone and a similar glossy strip along the edge.

TCL 20 Pro 5G review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

TCL 20 Pro 5G design 

The TCL 20 Pro 5G is a gorgeous phone that doesn't feel like it costs $499. For more savvy phone buyers, the lack of a camera bump may tip its hand, but from an ergonomics perspective, it’s nice not to have a swollen rectangle near the top of the phone. 

The four cameras are vertically aligned at the top left edge of the phone with the dual flash adjacent to the top two. Oddly, the flash slightly projects out from the phone by about a nails’ width; it’s not an issue, just surprising given the lack of a camera bump. The glass back of the phone maintains a premium look and feel — it's a feature that some higher-end phones like the Galaxy S21 don’t offer. 

The large 6.7-inch display means this isn’t a small device. At 6.5 x 2.87 x 0.35 inches, the TCL 20 Pro is slightly thinner but as tall and thick as the Galaxy S21 Ultra though almost 1.5 ounces lighter at just 6.7oz. The TCL matches the weight but is slightly taller and thicker when compared with rivals closer in price, like the Pixel 4a 5G (6.3 x 2.91 x 0.33 inches, 6.6 ounces) or Samsung’s Galaxy A52 (6.3 x 2.96 x 0.33 inches, 6.67 ounces). 

TCL 20 Pro 5G review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The waterfall edge display contributes to the premium design as well. Thankfully, the phone does a solid job of rejecting stray touches, something that often irritates me with these curved displays. Speaking of the edges, a power and volume rocker are on the right side, a 3.5mm headphone jack is on top, a configurable multifunction button is on the left, and the SIM/MicroSD tray resides on the bottom along with the USB Type-C port.

While it isn’t reinventing the wheel with its design, the TCL 20 Pro 5G is an undeniably beautiful phone. The TCL feels fantastic to hold despite being one of the thicker phones I’ve used in recent memory, and it feels slim due to that lack of a protruding camera array. The finish on the back is also outstanding, particularly in the Marine Blue, as the blend of matte and gloss in that brilliant shifting color is captivating.

TCL 20 Pro 5G review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

TCL 20 Pro 5G display

The TCL 20 Pro 5G features a 6.7-inch, FHD+ (2400 x 1080) AMOLED display. This is TCL’s bread and butter as it is predominantly known as a display manufacturer, although the lack of a high refresh rate is notable. The identically priced Galaxy A52 includes a 90Hz refresh rate, as does the $240 OnePlus Nord N200 5G

If you haven’t moved to a high refresh rate display then you aren’t spoiled yet and probably won’t notice the difference. But having used many 90Hz and 120Hz displays over the last couple of years, there is a jarring difference in smoothness to me. App support is still relatively weak, so the benefit of a high refresh rate screen is only felt navigating the operating system, but the TCL's 60Hz panel adds a slight stutter to the animations that is smoothed out by a high refresh rate.

I watched the trailer for the “What If...?” Marvel series on YouTube at 1080p, and when it comes to content consumption, the TCL 20 Pro 5G can mix it up with the best of them. The dramatic colors and often frenetic movement of the characters in the animated series were captured flawlessly by the display. Meanwhile, the more subtle lighting and coloring of this exchange between Dr. Strange and Captain Britain show off its color range. 

TCL 20 Pro 5G review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Our lab testing delivered the numerical equivalent of lavish praise for the display’s color reproduction. The TCL 20 Pro 5G reproduced 130.4% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. That’s a crushing defeat of the Pixel 4a 5G (91.3%) and comes close to the Samsung Galaxy A52 (142.6%) which was previously in a space of its own in this price range. 

The results of the Delta-E color accuracy test (lower is better) were solid with TCL 20 Pro 5G scoring a 0.28. That was good enough to beat both the Pixel 4a 5G and Samsung Galaxy A52 as both received a 0.3. 

TCL 20 Pro 5G does not disappoint when it comes to brightness either, hitting a peak of 622 nits of brightness in our testing. The Pixel 4a 5G (411 nits) couldn’t keep up, however, the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G (704 nits) was happy to flex again. Even the Pixel 4a 5G holds up well in sunlight, so the TCL 20 Pro 5G is going to be more than equal to the task, which was a weakness for last year’s TCL 10 5G UW.

TCL 20 Pro 5G review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

TCL 20 Pro 5G performance

The processor is one of the giveaways that the TCL 20 Pro 5G is a mid-range phone; its Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G is (despite how you would interpret numbers) an improvement over the Snapdragon 765G from last year, but nowhere near the flagship Snapdragon 888. Paired with 6GB of RAM, the chip is more than equal to general tasks and even capable of some gaming. The 256GB of storage is fantastic to see in this price range and you even have a microSD slot if you need more space.

I caught the occasional stutter as I put the phone through its paces, loading up a couple of dozen Google Chrome tabs and running a YouTube video in the background. But that was only if I immediately loaded a page and tried to scroll quickly through it. When I took things at a more natural pace, the tabs loaded smoothly and the video never once skipped or stuttered. Overall, the 60Hz refresh rate was more notable to me than the performance hit from the more affordable processor. 

Given this, I wasn’t anticipating much with PUBG Mobile, but I was pleasantly surprised by the performance. I obviously couldn’t push the resolution or the refresh rate since the phone wouldn’t support either anyway, but the game ran just fine at the default settings. I caught the occasional glitch as I ran across the Karakin desert map, but it was absolutely playable.

TCL 20 Pro 5G review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The Geekbench 5 multi-core score of 1,922 fell in line with my experience. That’s a marked improvement over the Snapdragon 765G-powered Pixel 4a 5G (1,614) and ekes out a marginal win over the Snapdragon 720G-powered Samsung Galaxy A52 (1,903).

Graphics benchmarks didn’t go as well for the TCL 20 Pro 5G. It managed 6.7 frames per second in the Wild Life Unlimited 3DMark test. That was enough to claim the slimmest of victories against the Galaxy A52 (6.6 fps). 

This all highlights that while some gaming is fine on phones in this price category, they are being taxed to their limits, even on default settings. For general usage, there are slight delays in app launching and switching that you don’t get on higher-end phones like the OnePlus 9, but it’s a question of whether you are willing to spend the extra $200. 

TCL 20 Pro 5G audio 

The TCL 20 Pro 5G has a single speaker, which is disappointing even at this price point. The one-sided nature of the audio is off-putting, but the actual volume and quality is surprisingly good. Intriguingly, the TCL 20 Pro 5G is High-Res Audio-certified with enhanced Bluetooth 5.1 support that lets you connect multiple pairs of headphones simultaneously and it offers a 3.5mm headphone jack if you aren’t a Bluetooth fan. 

I listened to Post Malone’s “Motley Crew” and the staccato lyrics and relaxed beat filled my 12 x 18-foot listening space without a problem and remained clear even with the volume maxed out. Due to the directional mono speaker, it sounds better if you aren’t right on top of the phone when watching a video or listening to music. When I used the phone right in front of me, the lack of stereo was far more apparent. 

If you care about your audio experience, turn to wired or wireless headphones as this phone does a fantastic job of supporting both. 

TCL 20 Pro 5G review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

TCL 20 Pro 5G battery life and charging 

This is the Achilles heel for the TCL 20 Pro 5G. Despite a reasonably large 4,500mAh battery and what should be a battery-friendly 60Hz AMOLED display, the phone doesn’t last very long on a charge. 

In our Laptop Mag battery test, which involves constant web browsing over cellular at 150 nits, the TCL 20 Pro 5G managed 8 hours and 48 minutes. This was good enough to best the Pixel 4a 5G (8:13), but abysmally behind the Samsung Galaxy A52 (12:20 (60Hz); 10:19 (120Hz) at either of its settings. 

Turning to my personal experience of using the phone for about a week, I only managed to kill it completely once throughout a single day. Otherwise, I typically ended my 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. routine with the phone with around 10-15% remaining. During a normal day with a review device, I’m running Netflix and/or YouTube streaming for 90 minutes to two hours, web browsing, using social media, gaming, and capturing some photos and videos. It was on the day that I captured considerably more photos and video and ran the game testing that I killed it at around 8 p.m.

TCL 20 Pro 5G review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Whether this will be an issue for you depends entirely on your usage. If you are a heavy user of intensive apps like games, video-based social media sites like TikTok, or just watch a lot of video on your phone, then you'll likely find yourself wanting to top up the TCL 20 Pro 5G at some point during the day.

The bad news is that the TCL 20 Pro 5G doesn’t charge incredibly fast either. It supports 18W wired fast charging (charger is in the box) and you also get 15W fast Qi wireless charging. In our testing, the TCL 20 Pro 5G hit 18% after 15 minutes and reached 38% in 30 minutes with its included charger. That’s not bad, but it’s not great, either; the Pixel 4a 5G, by comparison, would hit 46% in 30 minutes and that’s ignoring the powerhouse options from OnePlus that get to 99% in 30 minutes. 

TCL 20 Pro 5G review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

TCL 20 Pro 5G cameras 

The TCL 20 Pro 5G is guilty of the same sin as many other mid-range devices by tacking on a macro and depth sensor to give the illusion of a more robust camera system. With that said, I was so pleased with the results from the primary wide-angle 48MP at f/1.8 that I’m willing to give it a pass on this shell game. The 16MP ultra-wide at f/2.4 isn’t bad either, and while I still find it gimmicky, the 5MP macro at f/2.2 is better than most and the 2MP depth camera enhances portrait mode.

My expectations were pretty low for the TCL 20 Pro 5G cameras after last year’s TCL 10 5G UW. While It doesn't hold up to the Pixel 4a 5G, the TCL comes far closer than I thought it would and is a solid option in this price range.

Here’s a sampling of shots from the primary lens both at 1x and 2x zoom; it can go out to 10x digitally, but things fall apart quickly at that range so I wouldn’t recommend it. The colors and detail are excellent on this main lens. In the photo of my chickens, you can clearly see the detail in the feathers as she stalks toward me, determined to peck the shiny back of the TCL 20 Pro 5G. In my shot of the mural on a restaurant near my home, the main camera reproduced the colors of the mural fantastically and despite the bright exposure on the clouds, held up quite well. 

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

TCL 20 Pro 5G wide-angle 1x

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G wide-angle 2x

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G wide-angle 1x

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G wide-angle 2x

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G wide-angle 1x

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G wide-angle 2x

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G wide-angle 1x

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G wide-angle 2x

 The ultra-wide camera falls victim to the common distortion at the edges, but again, the colors are excellent and well-matched to the primary. It does struggle a bit more with exposure as you can see in the mural scene, but looking at the pond shot, it actually delivered superior colors to the primary lens there. 

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

TCL 20 Pro 5G ultra-wide

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G ultra-wide

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G ultra-wide

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

TCL 20 Pro 5G ultra-wide

While macro photography remains too niche to justify a dedicated lens, I got some solid results with this one. My bug stalking was unsuccessful so I had to be satisfied with some flower shots.The detail in the center of the flowers is quite remarkable. If macro photography is important to you, then by all means, this is a solid option. 

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TCL 20 Pro 5G macro shot

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

TCL 20 Pro 5G macro

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TCL 20 Pro 5G macro shot

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TCL 20 Pro 5G macro

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G macro

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G macro

The front-facing camera is a 32MP sensor with an f/2.5 aperture. The detail from this lens is quite good, but it utterly failed at my typical lighting challenge with the bright background being almost completely blown out. The portrait mode did a fair job as well, so put a little care into your lighting and you should be fine.  

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

TCL 20 Pro 5G front-facing

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TCL 20 Pro 5G camera samples

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TCL 20 Pro 5G front-facing portrait mode

It’s a mix of the hardware and software, but TCL made massive strides with its camera performance from last year. Again, this isn’t ousting the Pixel 4a 5G in this price range, but the camera doesn't hold this phone back this time. 

TCL 20 Pro 5G software 

The TCL 20 Pro 5G runs Android 11 with the TCL UI overlay. For the most part, the skin simply offers you some additional options on top of stock Android rather than trying to change it. And thankfully, it walks you through these options during setup rather than applying them by default. As someone who vastly prefers stock Android, I really appreciate this. One notable extra that I mentioned in the design section is the multifunction button on the left of the phone. You can assign anything you want to this and it’s a handy extra that I wouldn’t mind seeing others adopt.

TCL hits what I consider to be the minimum threshold for software support with two years of major OS updates and at least two years of security updates. That will get you through the release of Android 13 next fall and hopefully we see TCL push its security commitment a bit longer — I’d like to see at least three years. By comparison, Samsung offers three years of major OS updates and four years of security patches, making it the current front runner among Android manufacturers.

TCL 20 Pro 5G review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Bottom line

The TCL 20 Pro 5G is the best-looking phone that costs less than $500. And that beauty isn’t just skin deep, either, as it offers solid camera performance and a vivid (if slow) display. 

The challenge for the TCL 20 Pro 5G is that the $499 price point is a difficult one. It’s knocking on the door of some affordable flagship phones like the Galaxy S20 FE, which can frequently be found for $549 or less now. Plus, the Galaxy S21 FE is coming soon. And on the other end, challengers like the OnePlus N200 5G or OnePlus Nord N10 5G offer 5G and solid hardware for under $300. 

The TCL's build quality, cameras and software support give it a leg up on that budget competition, but that is expected for an extra $200. With the exception of the battery life and mid-tier performance, this phone delivers beyond its price range. However, TCL still needs to win over buyers who are unfamiliar with the brand, and I’m not convinced that the TCL 20 Pro 5G, at $499, is enough of a value to pull people away from Samsung, Apple or OnePlus.

With that said, the TCL 20 Pro 5G shows marked improvement from where they were last year and I look forward to seeing what’s next from the company with a foldable possibly arriving sometime this year. That may give them the high-end credibility that TCL needs to win over more of these mid-range buyers.

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.