OS: Android 10
Display: 6.5-inch LCD (2,340x1,080)
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
Rear cameras: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 8MP ultra-wide (ƒ/2.2); 5MP macro
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.4)
Size: 6.44 x 3 x 0.37 inches
Weight: 7.4 ounces
The TCL 10 5G UW has perhaps the most forgettable name of any smartphone released this year. But if you spend a little time with it, you won’t soon forget this impressive affordable smartphone. While there have been some standouts in the sub-$500 smartphone space this year like the Pixel 4a 5G and the OnePlus Nord N10 5G, the TCL 10 5G UW actually one ups these phones in a few key areas.
TCL is best known in the U.S. as a TV manufacturer and that is immediately apparent in the quality of the TCL 10 5G UW’s 6.5-inch display, which delivers impressively vivid and accurate colors with TCL’s own NXTVISION display engine.
Internally, the TCL 10 5G UW doesn’t skimp out with a Snapdragon 765G, the same processor found in the pricier Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5, along with a 4,500 mAh battery, 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM.
Based on the amazing value that it represents, the TCL 10 5G UW is easily one of the best smartphones that you can buy for less than $500 right now, but there are a handful of tradeoffs to consider, so read on for our full review to see if it’s the right choice for you.
TCL 10 5G UW: Price and configurations
The TCL 10 5G UW is $399 with 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM paired with the Snapdragon 765G processor.
My review unit is Diamond Gray on Verizon and has the same specs listed above as there are no additional storage tiers or colors available for the TCL 10 5G UW.
TCL 10 5G UW: Design
Design isn’t one of the areas where the TCL 10 5G UW transcends its budget classification. For the most part, it is simply a very traditional design.
It feels sturdy enough though, thanks in part to its weight, but the glossy Gorilla Glass 5 on the back doesn't offer a very premium feel and it is a fingerprint magnet. That’s too bad as I actually like the look of it. The basic gray-blue color is spiced up with a subtle diamond pattern and prismatic effect when light hits it that gives it a bit of personality.
The back of the phone also features a fingerprint sensor, which was reliable for me. Although from a comfort and aesthetics standpoint, I prefer the circular readers found on the Pixel devices to the square layout here. Immediately above that is the triple camera array. It uses a somewhat unusual horizontal alignment that thanks to the flash units on either side of the lenses, takes up almost the entire width of the device. On the plus side, they are flush with the device so no wobbling phone when you put it down unlike most of the other smartphones I’ve reviewed this year.
Looking to the edges of the smartphone, you have all of the buttons on the right side, which include volume up, volume down and a power button. At the bottom of the TCL 10 5G UW, you have the standard USB Type-C port and up top, wonder of wonders, you will find a 3.5mm headphone jack which is an endangered species at this point. Finally, on the left side, you’ll find the SIM card tray, which I mention only because it also houses a microSD slot that allows you to add another 256GB of storage if the 128GB internal won’t cut it.
The TCL 10 5G UW does not carry an IP rating, so you’ll need to keep it away from water. Not uncommon with more budget-focused devices. This is true of Google’s Pixel 4a as well, but worth remembering as water resistance has become quite common in modern smartphones.
The TCL 10 5G UW measures 6.4 x 3 x 0.37 inches and weighs 7.4 ounces. That’s a substantial device and quite a bit larger than most of its competition. The OnePlus Nord N10 5G (6.7 ounces, 6.4 x 2.9 x 0.5 inches) is one of the few that manages to eclipse it in one dimension at least, but it’s still notably lighter. The Pixel 4a 5G (5.9 ounces, 6.1 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches) on the other hand is quite a bit smaller and lighter with its admittedly smaller 6.2-inch display.
TCL 10 5G UW: Display
The TCL 10 5G UW’s 6.5-inch LCD display is one of the best LCD displays that I’ve ever seen. So while I’d prefer OLED, that’s a tall ask in this price range and you are mainly just losing out on an always-on display and a bit of the deep contrast. The resolution is adequate at 2,340 x 1080-pixels and with a 60Hz display. After reviewing a number of big screen, high-refresh rate devices this year that are locked to FHD+, I’ve definitely come to realize that I don’t miss QHD+ much in practice.
While an LCD isn’t capable of the kind of color and contrast you get out of an OLED or AMOLED displays, I cannot imagine looking at this display and being disappointed. I loaded up my favorite HDR test case, Our Planet, and the “Frozen Worlds” episode looks absolutely stunning with the pure whites of the glacial flows contrasting with the shocking blues of the ocean. I pulled up my iPhone 12 for a side-by-side comparison and the TCL provided superior results.
Our lab tests were done using the standard setting for the TCL 10 5G UW, so they don’t show the full range of what is possible for the display. However, they do depict how color accurate it is; the TCL 10 5G UW managed to reproduce 74.5% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. However, both the OnePlus Nord N10 5G (88.4%) and the Pixel 4a 5G (91.3%) come out ahead and all three are behind the smartphone average (111.5%)
The results of the Delta-E color accuracy test (lower is better) were a closer competition, with the TCL 10 5G UW achieving a 0.23, just behind the OnePlus Nord N10 5G (0.22), but well ahead of the Pixel 4a 5G (0.3).
Brightness is a bit of a weakness for the TCL 10 5G UW with just 385 nits at its peak. That’s just a bit behind the OnePlus Nord N10 5G (406 nits) and farther still from the Pixel 4a 5G (411 nits) and the smartphone average (533 nits).
For standard tasks, the TCL 10 5G UW was bright in full daylight and more controlled lighting environment. I was blown away by what the display was capable of for a device in this price range.
TCL 10 5G UW: Audio
The single speaker on the TCL 10 5G UW is not something you want to rely on for anything more than notification sounds.
I listened to Lil Nas X’s “Holiday” and the TCL 10 5G UW’s lone speaker struggled on pretty much every level. Naturally, it can’t produce any meaningful bass and it just left the whole song sounding extremely hollow. Volume actually isn’t terrible, but it does start to distort as you get past about 80% and again, the quality of that audio doesn’t make you want to crank it up anyway. Fortunately, as I mentioned previously, the phone does feature a 3.5mm headphone jack, so grab any pair of headphones or pick up some wireless headphones and you will have a monumentally better audio experience.
TCL 10 5G UW: Performance
The TCL 10 5G UW offers solid performance with its Snapdragon 765G processor and 6GB of RAM. That’s identical to the internals of the Pixel 4a 5G, which goes for $100 more.
The TCL 10 5G UW never let me down on basic smartphone tasks., I loaded up two dozen Google Chrome tabs while having a Netflix show playing in picture-in-picture and it never slowed down or stuttered. Gaming is a bit of a different story. Now obviously casual games are not a problem, but intensive FPS games like PUBG for example get a little rough. Turning down the settings, I still found PUBG playable, but hardly a great experience.
To be clear, that’s to be expected at this price point and the TCL 10 5G UW holds up well against its competition in our benchmarks. With a Geekbench 5 multi-core score of 1,932, the TCL 10 5G UW beat both similarly priced competitors. The OnePlus Nord N10 5G (1,843, Snapdragon 690) despite its inferior processor came closest, while the Pixel 4a 5G (1,614, Snapdragon 765G) was farther behind with virtually identical specs to the TCL.
Looking at graphics performance with 3DMark’s SlingShot Extreme OpenGL 3.1 benchmark, the TCL 10 5G UW reigned supreme in its class with 3,301. That was reasonably distanced from the Pixel 4a 5G (2,959) and considerably better than the OnePlus Nord N10 5G (2,173).
Comprehensive 5G support is half of the TCL 10 5G UW’s name, the UW stands for ultra wideband which is the faster, but much less widely available piece of Verizon’s 5G rollout. The TCL 10 5G UW also supports the slower sub-6Ghz 5G on Verizon, but just be aware that you are unlikely to see speeds beyond 4G LTE out of this at the moment. On the plus side, you are future-proofed and when 5G speeds do pick up or additional UW rollout happens the TCL 10 5G UW will support it.
TCL 10 5G UW: Battery life and charging
The TCL 10 5G UW has a massive 4,500-mAh battery that we typically see in high-end flagships with considerably more taxing system components like high refresh rate displays.
Needless to say, the more modest components of the TCL 10 5G UW paired with that giant battery yields impressive results. My personal usage during testing included roughly an hour of Netflix and/or YouTube streaming, three to four hours of YouTube Music streaming, capturing photos and video, 30 minutes of gaming and an hour of Slack, Twitter and general web usage. Taking the TCL 10 5G UW off its charger at around 8:30 a.m., I would typically have at least 30% remaining when I went to set it down at around 10:30 p.m.
The TCL 10 5G UW lasted for 11 hours and 15 minutes in our battery testing, which involves continuous web browsing over Verizon’s 5G network with the display brightness set to 150 nits. This was over three hours more than the Pixel 4a 5G (8:12) and an hour ahead of the smartphone average (10:18), but did come in behind the OnePlus Nord N10 5G (11:48).
The charger that TCL includes in the box doesn’t give you lightning-fast charging, but it’s not bad either delivering 18% in 15 minutes and a slightly better 40% in 30 minutes.
TCL 10 5G UW: Cameras
The TCL 10 5G UW offers you a triple camera array on the rear and a hole-punch front-facing camera.
The three rear cameras include a 48-megapixel, f/1.8 wide-angle, an 8MP f/2.2 ultra-wide and a 5MP macro lens. The front-facing camera bumps back up to a 16MP.
In general, I found the results from the TCL 10 5G UW cameras to be good enough in daylight, although not incredibly sharp from either the wide-angle or ultra-wide. Here’s a sampling of the full zoom range which with digital gets you to 10x zoom, but as you’ll see I wouldn’t really recommend pushing past 2-3x.
The color reproduction is one of the things that falls off almost instantly when you start zooming. You can really see it in the tall grasses in the background from the second and third images above.
I was actually reasonably impressed with how the wide-angle held up at night. Here's a sample with the Super Night mode on and off, particularly considering this fairly challenging lighting situation with the street light so close it did a great job of trying to bring out the detail in the building and in standard mode it kept the dark night sky perfectly black.
If you stick to the basic wide-angle and ultra-wide you’ll get images that are usable, if not spectacular. I was most impressed with the results from the front-facing camera. The images were sharp and in the sample below are doing a great job with a somewhat challenging lighting situation as the sun is directly behind me. The portrait mode is getting a little aggressive with the bokeh on my hair at the edges, but it’s not bad at all.
I’m not a big fan of macro lenses on smartphones, for the most part, it's a cheap extra camera to throw in and say you have three cameras, but they do have their moments. If you like experimenting with your photography the extreme close-ups can produce some interesting shots.
The TCL 10 5G UW offers a reasonable array of video features with support for 4K capture at up to 30fps and 1080p at up to 60fps. Slow motion mode will let you capture up to 240fps at 720p which is great for slowing down action or just producing really smooth footage depending on what you need. One interesting thing with the video mode on the TCL 10 5G UW is that it will let you use the full zoom range and while I wouldn’t recommend pushing much past 2-3x, it’s just not something you typically see.
TCL 10 5G UW: Software
The TCL 10 5G UW runs Android 10 at launch and the company has committed to bringing Android 11 to it sometime early next year. I would not count on any updates beyond that with the exception of security updates. Now Android moves more and more to delivering feature updates via apps and Play Services rather than the major Android updates, but if you value those big OS updates then you probably should look at the Pixel 4a 5G instead.
TCL’s skin on top of Android 10 isn’t doing too much, which from my perspective is good as I prefer the stock Android experience. There is one prominent change to the app drawer that allows you to easily sort it by a number of different methods, which is a legitimately useful addition.
Essentially, my high praise for TCL’s skin is that it is largely unnoticeable and does contribute a few nice touches, which as long as it isn’t dramatically slowing down software updates is fantastic. There's definitely a bit of bloatware from Verizon as well, but those apps can be deleted so it's not a big concern to me.
The TCL 10 5G UW deserves a better name for how good it is at a sub-$400 price point. TCL Diamond might get it in trouble with old HTC fans, but it would be more accurate for this diamond in the rough of a smartphone. And to be clear, there definitely is some rough — the cameras aren’t brilliant and the long-term OS update situation leaves a lot to be desired.
However, for less than $400, you are getting an absolutely dazzling display, solid performance, full 5G support on Verizon and battery life that could get some users through two full days. There’s no question this is one of the best values on the market right now and it also makes me look forward to what’s next from TCL.