If the TCL 20S and 20SE telephones had been on The Value Is Proper, you’d in all probability guess a lot larger costs than their retail ones. With the 20S retailing for $250 and the 20SE going for $190, these sub-$300 4G telephones are the true deal. They examine all of the packing containers for what you’d need in a smartphone: they’ve huge and vibrant screens, massive 5,000mAh batteries, 128GB of inner storage, and “ok” cameras. You even get a free clear silicone case inside every field.
TCL actually is aware of a factor or two about manufacturing budget 4K Smart TVs, affordable soundbars, and lots of different devices. Heck, it was already quietly producing phones for the likes of BlackBerry, Alcatel, and Palm earlier than beginning its personal eponymous line in 2020. Now it’s taking these abilities constructing different accessibly priced devices to its cellphone line.
Not like the fancier TCL 20S Pro, neither the 20S nor the 20SE has the newest and best processor, nor do they help 5G networking — these aren’t unsurprising omissions at these worth factors. However given TCL’s historical past, it’s no surprise the true stars of the TCL 20S and 20SE are their good shows — although they every use completely different panels. Each telephones feel and appear extra luxurious than they’re due to their strong construct high quality, in addition to consideration to the small print customers actually truly care about: long-lasting battery life, robust efficiency, ample storage, in addition to ingenious design. Who says good issues can’t are available in budget-friendly packages?
The $190 20SE has a 6.82-inch show, which, at 720 pixels large, is simply too low-resolution for a display this huge (720 x 1640 pixels; facet ratio 20.5:9). I attempted watching the 4K Dune trailer on YouTube, and it seemed too dim and fuzzy at 720p for me to benefit from the video. Nonetheless, this show affords vibrant colours even at 50 % brightness, whether or not or not you activate the NXTVISION show optimization software program (I didn’t see a lot distinction both means).
The upper-priced 20S has a brighter but barely smaller 6.67-inch display, with a higher-resolution FHD+ LCD show than the 20SE (1080 x 2400 pixels with 20:9 facet ratio). Once I watched the identical Dune trailer at 1080p on the 20S, I might truly see sharper traces and extra particulars this time round. Each shows look vibrant sufficient open air that I can learn textual content if I increase the display to 100% brightness. I additionally admire how unobtrusive the pinhole entrance digital camera is on the 20S in comparison with the 20SE’s tear-drop design, the latter of which truly cuts into the highest of the show.
Of the 2 fashions, the 20S is barely extra manageable to make use of. But it surely’s nonetheless a large enough cellphone that I want two palms to make use of it safely. It may be a little bit of a attain for my fingers to navigate completely different components of the display and maintain it in the identical hand, so I want my different hand to steadiness the machine. At 0.23 inches (5.84mm) taller and 0.25oz (7.1g) heavier, the 20SE is bodily larger than the 20S, however its technical elements aren’t in the identical weight class.
With a worth that’s $60 lower than the 20S, TCL needed to discover financial savings within the $190 20SE anyplace it might. For one factor, the 20SE makes use of the lower-tier Qualcomm Snapdragon 460 chipset, whose slower processing velocity can’t make up floor with 4GB of RAM. The 20S, however, is powered by the quicker Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 processor and can also be supported by 4GB of RAM. The distinction between the 2 isn’t very noticeable in primary texting and social media doomscrolling, however I might often should open an app or webpage twice on the 20SE as a result of it wouldn’t load the primary time round.
To see what these units are able to, I performed a pair rounds of Pokemon Unite to see how they’d fare. Each TCL telephones took about as lengthy to load the sport, whereas the OnePlus 9 Professional (with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip) loaded the identical spherical in about half the time. For the reason that 20SE has a lesser high quality show and processor, I used to be not shocked that my Pikachu moved with a little bit of lag. It was solely barely extra responsive on the 20S, nevertheless. The 20SE’s twin audio system are additionally louder and buzzier than the 20S audio system, which sounded quieter however produced a extra nuanced sound.
Regardless of their variations, each units supply loads of inner storage at 128GB and provide the choice to broaden that storage by way of microSD. The 20S’ microSD slot accepts as much as a 1TB card, whereas the 20SE solely helps as much as a 256GB card. Each telephones run Android 11 out of the field, with a TCL pores and skin known as TCL UI. For the reason that 20S will get one main OS replace (TCL received’t decide to the identical for the 20SE) and each telephones will get two years of safety updates, you’ll have ample room to put in these upgrades and stash your content material for the following few years.
The fingerprint sensors on the 20S and 20SE deserve a particular point out as they’re fast to acknowledge my fingerprint and unlock the telephones. I particularly love the fingerprint sensor that’s constructed into the 20S’ energy button, situated on the fitting facet of the cellphone. With only one contact, you not solely get up your cellphone but additionally unlock it in a chic and intuitive means. The 20SE has a extra conventional spherical fingerprint sensor on the again of the machine that works simply as effectively.
Facial recognition on the 20SE could be quite ineffective. It both doesn’t acknowledge my face or asks me to the touch an icon on the lock display in order that I can unlock the cellphone with my face, which solely defeats the aim of utilizing a hands-free methodology to unlock. (Fortunately, you may disable this “function.”) Facial recognition merely labored extra constantly on the 20S than on the 20SE.
Each telephones embrace a 3.5mm audio jack on high, quantity rocker on the fitting facet, non-customizable Google Assistant button on the left, plus a USB-C port and a pair of bottom-firing twin audio system. The 20S has an understated again that appears curved from varied angles, however the layer of “micron-sized prismatic crystals’’ truly makes the again cowl actually fingerprint-resistant. The 20SE’s again cowl is the exact opposite: it’s a fingerprint catastrophe zone, due to its shiny, nano-photoetched again.
With a 5,000mAH battery inside each telephones, it was a problem to make use of up that a lot energy on deadline with out doing something out of the bizarre. My regular cellphone eating regimen contains: checking my two electronic mail accounts, texting on WhatsApp and Google Hangouts, tweeting on Twitter, visiting my typical slate of internet sites like Reddit, in addition to listening to a podcast or two. As a result of pandemic, I used to be house throughout my testing however tried to make use of a mixture of Wi-Fi and 4G service to imitate real-world use.
I truly acquired outcomes which can be near TCL’s claims. I used the 20S for about 31 hours on one cost (TCL instructed 36 hours on 3G/4G) and took round 2.5 hours to totally cost the machine, which is hardly a “quick cost” as claimed by TCL’s product sheet. Equally, the 20SE lasted round 32 hours on one cost, in comparison with TCL’s estimate of 31 hours of use on 4G.
Don’t get too excited in regards to the cameras on the 20S or the 20SE, although: they will take nice snaps in pure mild, however I wouldn’t cling these images on my wall. Each telephones have a quad-camera setup, however every mannequin makes use of completely different sensors. Whereas the 20S has a 64-megapixel predominant and a 15-megapixel entrance digital camera, and the 20SE has a 48-megapixel predominant and 13-megapixel entrance digital camera, these numbers don’t actually say something in regards to the high quality of their images.
TCL 20S, rear digital camera, no zoom.
TCL 20S Vast angle digital camera.
TCL 20S, night time shot with rear digital camera.
TCL 20S, portrait mode.
TCL 20S, night time shot at 10x zoom.
TCL 20S, sundown picture with none in-camera changes.
TCL 20S, tried to brighten the picture in digital camera however the sundown now appears to be like over-exposed.
TCL 20S, no zoom
TCL 20S, full zoom
TCL 20S, entrance digital camera selfie
TCL 20S, indoor Tremendous Macro mode
TCL 20S, outside Tremendous Macro mode
Pattern images from the TCL 20S
I snapped a bunch of wide-angle and predominant digital camera photographs (of the identical space) utilizing each telephones. Those from the 20S look extra balanced with loads of particulars, in comparison with those from the 20SE, the place the water fountain space appears to be like extra over-exposed, particularly at 4x cropped zoom.
There’s a noticeable distinction in colour between the images captured with the principle cameras and the ultrawide angle cameras on each telephones (8-megapixel on the 20S; 5-megapixel on the 20SE). There’s additionally an issue with the Tremendous Macro mode on each telephones’ 2-megapixel macro cameras. Images of the fuchsia flower look pixelated and flat, whereas the colours from the indoor images of the blue hydrangea look means over-saturated within the yellow channel.
Primarily based on the value level of those telephones, I used to be shocked when any of the night time photographs got here out considerably presentable (I do know they’re in various levels of blurriness). To be truthful, even the images from my Pixel 5 weren’t good. Each the 20S and 20SE struggled to focus with so many various mild sources at midnight, and every picture required many awkward seconds to course of. The 20S produced the sharper picture, whereas the 20SE’s images look a lot much less detailed, particularly in the event you have a look at the lights from the workplace towers in Manhattan.
Pattern images from the TCL 20SE
At first look, each front-facing cameras captured respectable selfies. However I’ve to present the sting to the 20S’ 16-megapixel digital camera for the extra real looking colours and brighter images. The selfie from the 20SE’s 13-megapixel entrance cam simply seemed extra over-exposed: my sun shades seemed frosted, and my pores and skin seemed unnaturally pale.
I can’t actually assume of a better high quality price range cellphone within the $250 vary that may beat the TCL 20S. It’s acquired all of the hallmarks of a dearer machine however with a extra inexpensive price ticket. Its vibrant 6.67-inch 1080p show doesn’t look misplaced subsequent to different flagship telephones, and it feels luxurious with that fingerprint-proofed layer of “micron-sized prismatic crystals’’ on its again cowl.
Positive, the $250 Moto G Power (2021) has an equally massive battery and a barely newer processor. In alternate, you get a meager 64GB of inner storage, which is a far cry from the 128GB plus microSD card slot that’s supplied by the 20S. The $269 OnePlus Nord 10 (international GSM unlocked model) can also be an possibility. It makes use of a more recent Snapdragon chip that’s 5G-compatible however nonetheless runs Android 10 when Android 12 is able to drop. In case you don’t care about having a 5G-ready cellphone proper now, then the TCL 20S makes extra sense.
In case you’re on the lookout for an unlocked cellphone that’s appropriate with Verizon and most 4G GSM networks like AT&T and T-Cell, I don’t assume you may go mistaken with this unlocked TCL 20S.
In case your price range is strictly sub-$200 and received’t be utilizing Verizon as your provider, then TCL 20SE is a brilliant selection. Whereas the $180 OnePlus Nord N100 may prevent $10, you’ll lose half the quantity of inner storage for minimal financial savings (from 128GB on the TCL 20SE to 64GB on the N100) — that’s a horrible trade-off. You’ll be happier with an enormous vibrant display, ample storage and battery life, in addition to the power to decide on any GSM community (together with AT&T and T-Cell). In case you don’t thoughts spending an additional $60, although, the 20S is definitely worth the improve — your future self will thanks.
Pictures by Gloria Sin / The Verge