In the last few years, the budget to midrange market for smartphones has become insanely competitive with many brands offering consumers a plethora of choices in both features and price. TCL is relatively new in this space but their recent 20S smartphone is yet another choice for those seeking value in the mobile space.
The spiritual successor to last year’s TCL 10L, the 20S doesn’t look remarkably different than most glass slab phones. It has a big and bright 6.67-inch curved FHD+ LCD screen with selfie cut out and a frosted shimmery ‘glastic’ (glass looking plastic) back with a quad-camera array.. Coming in at a very reasonable 7 ounces, it also feels very light and comfortable in the hand. There is no high refresh rate here but the welcome return of TCL’s NXTVISION display engine, keeps the display punchy and rich and it looks great.
Flanking the edges of the device are a uber rare 3.5mm headphone jack; a USB-C charging port and dual speaker grilles are on the bottom – disappointingly this is not a stereo speaker setup, but it gets the job done. On the left edge, you’ll find a SIM/microSD slot along with a convenience key that opens the Google Assistant by default and can be remapped to open most preinstalled apps. A power button with an integrated fingerprint sensor and a volume rocker is on the right edge; the fingerprint sensor is fast and works well. Sadly, there is only an IP52 rating against splashes, so don’t go swimming with this one.
Powering the phone is an energy-efficient Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 665, Octa-core processor, 128GB of storage, and an uninspiring 4GB of RAM. Fortunately, we did not find any slow down or stutters on Android 11 and the TCL UI. TCL’s custom skin does add some nice helpful features to the stock Android experience such as the ability to customize the Always-On Display, switch the Navigation Bar for left or right-hand use, and tweak the Quick Settings menu. If you swipe up with two fingers, you’ll also find a new Privacy App where you can hide sensitive files and apps.
TCL has done a lot of marketing about the prowess of their camera system but sadly we found the 20S middle of the road when it came to camera quality. You get a 64MP primary sensor, an 8MP wide-angle sensor, a 2MP macro sensor, and a 2MP depth sensor. The front-facing selfie camera is also a fixed 16MP shooter. As with most budget to midrange phones, in good light, the main sensor does as good as can be expected and photos did look quite nice, but a little oversaturated and noisy at times for our taste. The wide-angle lens will get the job done but has a disappointing depth of field and more distortion than we would expect around the edges of the frame. The macros lens again continues to be an unnecessary waste of expenditure and the front-facing selfie shooter works well in everything but mid to low light shots. If we are being completely blunt, this camera array is average at best but if you do not take a lot of photos, for the occasional snap it will work just fine.
Last and certainly not least is connectivity. The use of the Snapdragon X12 modem was a good move by TCL, and we found it to be very capable of fast LTE speeds, no 5G on this one. Thanks to its advanced carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO, and 256-QAM encoding, you should not have any trouble with streaming, downloading, or even phone signal. Phone calls too were very clear. The one thing we have come to appreciate in our time testing the device is the 5000Mah battery which is very large and combined with the power-efficient processor, you are guaranteed at least 2 days on a single charge but your usage may vary.
To sum up, the TCL 20S is more than the sum of its parts and will suit the casual user looking for a sub $400 phone very well but for everything beyond that and those seeking a more premium experience, we recommend looking elsewhere.
Get yours today at https://www.tcl.com/ca/en/products/mobile/tcl-20-series/tcl-20s