LG may have departed from the smartphone market, but two Chinese manufacturers, OnePlus and TCL, are leaping in with sleek and affordable phones in just about every price range. The TCL 20 Pro 5G ($499.99) is one of the best-looking smartphones we’ve seen in a long time, and it does just about everything you’d want a phone to do, at half the price of some comparable handsets.
Feels Great in Your Hands
The 20 Pro 5G sports a sophisticated design that puts other flagships on notice. At 6.5 by 3.0 by 0.40 inches (HWD) and 7.3 ounces, it’s just the right size: large enough to have an immersive display, yet narrow enough for one-handed use.
Available in gray or blue, the body is made of two glass panels fused together with an aluminum frame. There’s a slight texture on the back of the phone that feels good in the hands and provides a little grip.
On the top of the phone there’s a headphone jack; a USB-C charging port, a SIM slot, and a speaker grille are on the bottom.
There’s a Smart Key on the left side of the phone that allows you to access your favorite apps with single, double, and triple taps. The volume rocker and power button are on the right side; people with small hands may need to stretch to reach them.
It’s pretty rare for me to get excited about the back of a phone, but the 20 5G Pro is an exception. There’s no chunky camera bump with a spider-eyed lens arrangement like you’ll find on many phones; instead, a vertical line of sensors sits flush on the left side of the handset. It’s a simple, elegant solution and I hope we see more manufacturers follow TCL’s lead.
A bezel-less 6.67-inch, 21:9 AMOLED display dominates the front of the phone. Resolution clocks in at 2,400 by 1,080 pixels with 395ppi. The display is HDR10-certified.
TCL already makes incredible LCD panels for its smartphones, and the AMOLED display on the 20 Pro 5G pushes the envelope even further. It’s among the best displays I’ve seen, thanks in part to TCL’s NXTVISION 2.0 display engine, which basically uses AI in real time to improve image quality based on the content and your surroundings. Color accuracy is spot-on, as is the contrast ratio.
Durability is the 20 Pro 5G’s weak spot. It’s constructed of strengthened glass wrapped around an aluminum frame and should handle minor drops and dings without much damage, but the curved display and backplate are unlikely to handle hard drops. Though the phone is water-resistant and can handle rain and splashes with ease, any drops in the pool will likely end in disaster.
With the exception of the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G, sub-$500 phones rarely have an IP67 or IP68 rating to prevent damage due to accidental submersion. Unfortunately, the Galaxy A52 5G is downright sluggish compared with the 20 Pro 5G. We think your best bet is to put the 20 Pro 5G in a sturdy, waterproof case.
High-Res Audio, But No Stereo Speakers
The TCL 20 Pro 5G has LTE (4G) and sub-6GHz band support. Right now, it works on T-Mobile’s LTE and 5G networks. AT&T customers are limited to LTE coverage for the foreseeable future, and Verizon customers will be able to use the phone on its sub-6GHz and LTE networks in the coming weeks.
There’s no C-band support at the moment, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Verizon offers a special version of the 20 Pro 5G with mmWave and C-band at some point in the future.
I tested the 20 Pro 5G on T-Mobile’s 5G network in Chicago. Overall speeds are exactly what I’d expect, at 132Mbps down and 72.7Mbps up.
Call quality is solid. At a maximum volume of 86dB, the earpiece is loud enough to hear on a busy street. VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling are also available on every major carrier if you’re worried about call quality and connectivity in rural areas and large buildings.
The only downside I’ve noticed so far is the speaker. Yes, you read that right—speaker, singular. TCL opted for one bottom-firing speaker instead of stereo. That said, overall audio quality is good, and with a peak volume of 92dB, you’ll have no problem filing a room with sound.
On the plus side, the 20 Pro 5G is High-Res Audio–certified and features Bluetooth 5.1 with Super Bluetooth—a feature that lets you connect four pairs of wireless headphones simultaneously. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack if you prefer wired audio.
NFC is on board for mobile payments and boarding passes.
Work, Gaming, and Everything in Between
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G mobile platform and 6GB of RAM power the 20 Pro 5G. There’s 256GB of storage on board, about 242GB of which is available out of the box. If you need even more storage, you can add up to an extra terabyte with a microSD card.
TCL’s midrange phone handles multitasking with ease, and there’s no lag when starting the phone or transitioning between screens. Gaming is a delight. I tried out Genshin Impact, a game that requires significant resources, as well as the less processor-hungry Alto’s Odyssey. Though Genshin Impact took a while to load, I didn’t notice any skipped frames or pauses during gameplay. Alto’s Odyssey worked perfectly and looked gorgeous on the 20 Pro 5G’s AMOLED display.
Comparing benchmarks on the 20 Pro 5G and Galaxy A52 5G tells an interesting story. On Geekbench 5, a benchmarking test that measures raw processing power, the two phones had nearly identical scores. The 20 Pro 5G scored 657 single-core (SC) and 1,989 multi-core (MC), and the Galaxy A52 5G scored 645 SC and 1,905 MC.
GFXBench is a synthetic benchmarking test that simulates gameplay to determine a smartphone’s graphic performance. On its Aztec test, intended to simulate high-level graphics performance, the phones earned identical scores of 11fps on-screen and 7.3 fps off-screen.
These scores make sense given that the two phones have the same mobile platform and the same amount of RAM. But in use, the performance difference between the two is night and day. The Galaxy A52 5G is sluggish; the 20 Pro 5G is snappy and responsive.
The benchmark comparisons between the Pro 20 5G and Galaxy A52 5G are useful, but they illustrate a key weakness of relying on benchmarks for analysis: Many of them fail to illustrate how a phone will perform in normal day-to-day use. As mobile platforms become more robust and complex and manufacturers optimize software for each device, benchmarks will mostly be useful for identifying significant deviations from the norm. There’s no substitute for getting hands-on and putting a phone through its paces.
The 4,500mAh battery is pretty standard for a phone of this size, and TCL claims it will make it through the day without the need to top off. In our battery test, which streams HD video over Wi-Fi at full brightness, the 20 Pro 5G eked out 11 hours, 28 minutes before shutting down. That should be more than enough for a full day between charges for most users, but if you do find yourself running low, the 20 Pro 5G supports Quick Charge 3.0 and wireless charging.
A Focus on the Cameras
When I met with Stefan Streit, TCL’s general manager of global marketing, before the 10-series came out last year, he explained that the company decided to prioritize the display over camera sensors, since people spend more time looking at their phones than taking photos. A year later, customers’ priorities have changed, and TCL has made significant improvements to both the camera hardware and imaging software on the 20 Pro 5G.
In good light, the 20 Pro 5G’s primary and ultra-wide lenses perform well. Both took crisp test photos with natural depth of field. Colors are slightly oversaturated, but the photos still look great.
Low-light performance with the primary lens is excellent as well. Our test shots featured solid depth of field, and subjects in the foreground were crisp. There’s some minor loss of fine detail in the background, but it’s not enough to be bothersome.
The ultra-wide lens also performs admirably in low light. Objects in the foreground were crisp with more significant loss of background detail. There was also some noise around the edge of our ultra-wide photo and minor distortion in very low light.
Finally, the 20 Pro 5G’s macro lens did a surprisingly good job, even in low light. Though it can’t replace a DSLR camera’s macro lens, it’s handy for quick photos.
Among midrange phones that cost less than $500, the Google Pixel 4a 5G is still the phone to beat, but the competition is getting stiff. Both the 20 Pro 5G and the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G take great photos, but TCL’s midrange option outpaces Samsung’s in low light.
The 20 Pro 5G ships with Android 11 and a skin called TCL UI. TCL takes a light-handed approach to Android customization. The options are minimal and allow you to do things like tweak the navigation bar, assign apps to the Smart Key, and change the Always-On Display.
Expect two years of software and security updates on the TCL 20 Pro 5G. That’s not as generous as the Galaxy A52 5G’s three years of software upgrades along with four years of security updates, but it is on par with Android One phones. If long-term software updates are important to you, the Pixel 4a 5G is your best bet.
A Victory Lap for TCL
Though TCL has been making smartphones for a long time, this is only the second year the company has stamped its name on those phones. The 10-series was terrific for budget and midrange shoppers; the TCL 20 Pro 5G builds well on that legacy.
Excellent performance, a stunning AMOLED display, capable cameras, and a handsome design push the TCL 20 Pro 5G close to the top of our list for midrange phones. If you’re a T-Mobile customer, the 20 Pro 5G is a great option that will serve your needs well.
AT&T and Verizon customers will want to think twice, since the 20 Pro 5G lacks C-band support. The Google Pixel 4a 5G is an excellent alternative if you need C-band support and want to spend less than $500. If you’re willing to spend a little more, check out the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G.