TCL 10L Review : It has come a long way for affordable smartphones and the TCL 10L is just another testament to that fact.
At just $250 for the entry price you get a hell of a lot of smartphone. We ‘re not the first to say that, but cheap smartphones get good, and good smartphones get cheaper. That surely is true of the TCL 10L.
We’ve spent some time already with the slightly more expensive TCL 10 Pro, a solid competitor to the likes of the Pixel 3a and iPhone SE. The TCL 10L isn’t aimed at the same market though.
It feels like we are always hearing that the “budget space is hotting up,” but with so many new releases, it really feels like constantly changing sands with a few firm patches of extremely priced products — the gold standard of which is still the Pixel 3a.
TCL is new to the arena, having a proper first attempt at an Android phone “budget.” Just how does it stack up after spending an extended period of time with the TCL 10L?
Hardware & design
Probably the one area the TCL 10L feels totally on budget is in the design. Unlike the TCL 10 Pro, polycarbonate continues to dominate the TCL 10L and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s immediately noticeable. It feels tightly packed though, and most importantly, it doesn’t feel hollow. There is no visible flex on such a cheap device which is always a massive bonus.
But you will definitely not be comparing the TCL 10L with a “premium” smartphone. The glossy, telltale finish and plastic frame really do give it away. Heck, this is impressive, as a first attempt. Not many new brands of smartphones enter the market at all, let alone with a fairly solid package.
The TCL 10L stands out from the growing pack of excellent inexpensive Android phones because it stands out instantly, thanks to the camera “visor” at the rear back panel. The glossy white pearl color isn’t one I would choose instantly, but it’s just fine enough.
The placement of the buttons at the sides is pretty much what you would expect. There’s also a headphone port up top too — at this stage, this is always a nice surprise inclusion. Whilst on the left side of the chassis there is also an extra dedicated quick launch button.
It is disabled as a standard — or at least on my TCL 10L review device — but it can be enabled to allow items like display upgrades, Google Assistant, camera and camera modes, plus launch into applications or system settings. This could prove useful, but if you could fully customize the options, it would be far more essential. The choices out of the box though are pretty good.
TCL has a rich recent history of affordable TVs and displays so the FHD+ display at the front is the real eye-catching addition here as you would expect. There aren’t many sub $300 smartphones with 1080p displays coming in, so this is a big selling point. It is a decent LCD panel which even includes adaptive display colors, which is essentially a copy of the True Tone or Ambient EQ that you will find on the iPhone or Pixel 4 series.
The display also comes with a subtle shadowing punch-hole notch. At lower brightness it’s visible, which is another area this show doesn’t quite stack up against the competition at higher price points. You may have some difficulties watching the TCL 10L display in bright sunlight with a 450 nit peak brightness.
The inclusion of NFC for wireless payments plus a rear-capacitive fingerprint sensor are other notable ones. You are getting a heck of a lot of phone hardware here for just $250.
Software & performance
The TCL 10L comes with Android 10, which in many ways represents both a blessing and a curse. It is a strong alteration of what we often see as “Android stock.” Is it the worst skin of any third party? No. No. But here and there, it does have some little quirks and problems.
Like the 10 Pro, the TCL 10L is only scheduled to get one — yes one — major upgrade to OS. Although I think that’s still incredibly frustrating, given the entry pricing, it’s not a complete dealbreaker. You will still start receiving bimonthly updates on security patches, and for at least 24 months at all. I can not condemn this wholeheartedly, but I can not say it’s a good thing.
You get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 chipset inside the TCL 10L which is coupled with 6 GB of RAM. Both are slightly above what I would deem “modest,” and by any means this is not a bad thing. I’ve witnessed the occasional slight lag but more if you’re sticking to sending SMS messages, browsing the web, or watching Netflix or YouTube videos.
Even the intensive games processing intends to chug along nicely. The thing most people will be hitting is how fluid a phone like this is for under $300. It doesn’t seem you ‘d have a truly awful experience long ago, but that’s not the case with the TCL 10L.
Cheap smartphones are often coupled with larger batteries and the TCL 10L is also fully equipped to last even for the busiest days. Although the 4,000mAh cell is by no means the largest, the efficient chipset is helping.
I don’t watch my smartphone display for hours at a time, but I still managed several times over two days on a single charge. Time screen would vary depending on what I happened to be doing, but a typical experience was 5 hours of SoT in a single day with plenty of headroom leftover.
The TCL 10L has four rear-facing cameras for you to experiment with, much like the TCL 10 Pro. However, they ‘re probably about what you’d expect of such a low-cost smartphone. It’s also worth noting that the garish TCL watermark must be disabled before you ruin your snaps with it emblazoned on your pictures. In good lighting, you can get some pretty impressive results, but photos can be rather mixed most of the time.
Dynamic range at best is average and low-light photos are a similar mix of blurry, pixelated grunge. Low-light is one area that really falls over the camera setup on the TCL 10L. However, overall the flexibility here is pretty good. I wouldn’t be too frustrated but it’s important to have smartphone expectations that cost just $250.
The TCL 10L is really a lot of smartphone for under $300, as a backup or smartphone on hand for a friend or relative to use. As long as you don’t expect anything close to performance at the flagship level, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good the TCL 10L is.
I’m still of the opinion that ever so slightly increasing your budget would net you the much better Pixel 3a, but if your budget is low, then the TCL 10L is still very highly recommended.