TCL 20SE review: Solid sub-$200 phone for the right customer

For those of us on a budget, there are plenty of affordable and high-quality smartphones to choose from. For example, I spend most of my time with flagship phones as they offer the best performance. However, they are not always the cheapest option and may be overkill for some people. I’ve been using the TCL 20SE for about month and it’s worth every penny. There is more than one single use for it, as I’m constantly on-the-go, I’m able to use it as a backup phone or a child’s communication device while also having my laptop with me.


TCL does not enjoy the same level of popularity as other phone companies but their mobile devices are popular for their display quality and the slimness that they provide. The lack of LTE capabilities, quarterly updates and its bulky size may not appeal to everyone.

The TCL 20SE is fairly cheap and appears to be high-quality. It also has a nice design that makes it different from phones in the same price range. The large display is great for messaging or watching Google TV movies. The phone I use does some really cool things, in fact, I know because I’ve been using it.

TCL 20SE specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 460
  • Display: 6.82-inch, 1640 x 720 pixels resolution LCD (263 ppi)
  • Operating system: Android 11
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 128GB internal storage with microSD card
  • Cameras: 48MP main, 5MP ultra-wide with 115 field-of-view, 2MP macro, and 2MP depth sensor. 13MP front-facing camera.
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, FM radio
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Rear Fingerprint Sensor, Electronic Compass, Proximity Sensor, Ambient Light Sensor
  • Battery: 5000 mAh non-removable
  • LTE bands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 28, 66
  • Dimensions: 172 x 77 x 9.14 mm and 206 grams

TCL 20SE Hardware

I was sent a Nuit Black phone by TCL to try. The back is plastic, but the design is really unusual and innovative. There’s also a glossy strip on the left which transitions into the quad-camera assembly. The fingerprint sensor is positioned at the middle of the back section.

The first thing that I noticed was just how large this phone is. It measures 9.14mm thick, which is one of the thickest phones I’ve seen in the past couple of years and it’s all for a big 5000 mAH battery inside, too.


The screen takes up most of the front and has a 90% screen-to-body ratio. A central notch is cut from the center for the front-facing camera. The 4K LCD panel does come with TCL’s IZ4D display technology, which I found to be great for streaming movies.

Also Read: Vivo Y20T Review

With a large, high-quality display and two speakers so you can watch movies in portrait orientation, the sound is noticeably better than your average laptop speakers, but not as good as high-quality ones. Plus, there’s still the option to use a standard 3.5mm audio jack.

Google Assistant button is on the left with SIM/microSD card tray, volume and power buttons are on the right, and USB-C port for charging is at the bottom of the device. This’ll last you a long time!

TCL 20SE Software

With Android 11 and TCL UI version 3.x, the review device had April 5, 2021 Android Security Update on board

One of the impressive features offered by TCL is that its interface closely resembles what you’d expect to find on a native, non-skinned Android device. The customization in the launcher and settings is all focused on TCL’s display technologies. I don’t like the category-based UI for the app launcher by default, but it’s easy to switch to the more traditional sorting options with just two taps.


There are a number of apps provided that help you with different things. Some good examples are Gallery, FM radio, and NXTVISION utility for customizing your phone settings. The Edge Bar is convenient for quickly launching apps and the handy ruler can be accessed at any time. There’s also a fingerprint quick launch option so that a long press on the under-display scanner takes you right into your chosen app

Google Feed can be accessed from the left Android home screen panel and you’ll find most of the regular Google functions present on the phone too.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The TCL 20SE is now $189.99 with free-shipping from the TCL Store on Amazon. There aren’t many options for under $200, so if you’re willing to make some compromises and understand that the phone only does basic smartphone things, this is a good buy.

A few notable features are missing from this phone, understandable at its affordable price. One of the main features that’s not included is NFC for Google Pay capability. There’s also no IP rating for dust or water resistance and no high refresh rate display, While having a 5G network so compact and light that you can take it with you is appealing, T-Mobile also lags behind in carrier support, while AT&T still has a limited number of devices that support the 5G network. The cameras on these phones will be more than enough for taking selfies or sharing photos on social media.

The design and the 6.7-inch AMOLED display are among the strong points of this smartphone, but there are some core features that could have been better. Its processing power is good enough for most tasks but it doesn’t really last much on a single charge, And you’ll come back for more and more with a quartet of exceptional cameras. The battery life has been solid, the large display is easy to read, phone calls sounded just fine, movies were enjoyable to watch on the big screen. The phone also feels very well built.

Also Read: Vivo Y20T Review

The TCL 20 SE took the worst photos when compare to the Samsung and iPhone. However, they weren’t terrible either. With the right gear and a steady hand, you can still get pretty good photos.

The TCL 20SE is not a gaming phone and it’s performance while playing racing games & other graphics-heavy games is not ideal. It struggles to maintain frame-rate most of the time. Games like puzzles or other low-stimuli games are fine though. I am so used to high refresh rate displays now that going back to a 60Hz display is a bit painful for fast scrolling up and down web pages and long lists.

The TCL 20SE is one of the best sub-$200 phones you can find. If you’re looking for a basic backup phone or want a big phone for an older family member to communicate with then this will suffice.

TCL 20SE Camera

  • Rear cameras are fair, but that’s all
  • Limited digital zoom

The budget space is booming with new smartphone releases and the latest models are coming loaded with more than one lens. This sounds perfect for amateurs stepping up their photography game. The TCL 20SE has a 48MP sensor in the Australian model. When importing, it’s worth checking to see which variants of that model use different sensors as they’ll provide different quality content.


Everything drops down in quality after that, with a 5MP f/2.2 ultra-wide, 2MP f/2.4 and 2MP f/2.4 depth camera at the rear, while the front The model of the TCL 20SE we tested had a 13MP selfie camera, but there is another model which has an 8MP front camera. The 16MP camera at back doesn’t have a matching selfie camera counterpart.

Also Read: Vivo Y20T Review

The TCL 20SE has a good enough design, but when you look at the practicality of its cameras with your usage pattern, they do not stand out as better than all the other phones in its category. Like many other high-megapixel cameras, the TCL 20SE defaults to 12MP by default when you set it to auto mode. If you want to shoot at 48MP, TCL refers to this as “HIGH PIXEL” because that’s their term for full pixel captures. What’s more is that HIGH PIXEL mode is slower to capture and post-process than 12MP regular shooting.

There’s another issue with the TCL 20SE’s display: it doesn’t seem to be as bright in comparison to the other TVs we tested, making things look a bit duller than they really are. The 20SE is a camera that sits in the lower end of the market and so it shoots at a level appropriate for its price range. Despite this, you can save more of your money if you start looking at other options that are better at competing with similar cameras. TCL’s 4x digital zoom limit is a very good decision, as it means you’re better off using the 48MP pixel mode. Cropping images afterwards will save you time & effort.

TCL 20SE Performance

  • Snapdragon 460 delivers moderate results
  • Android 11 is a good inclusion
  • Slow app switching

The TCL 20SE features Qualcomm’s budget Snapdragon 460 SoC and 7.1-channel audio, in addition to its 4GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage. Again, there are international differences: TCL lists a version with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage (a cheaper unit) but it’s not clear what the difference would be between that

In this price range, there are a variety of competitors, but not all of them run on the latest processors. From a performance perspective this is a great buy. You get the same quality as handsets that cost much more, plus you get all of the TCL 20SE’s special features like its colorful display and waterproof body.

TCL 20SE Battery life

  • 5,000mAh battery doesn’t live up to the hype
  • Reverse wired charging

Times have changed and now, it is quite common for even budget phones to have a 5,000 mAh battery. It’s become the standard size.

5000mAh may sound like a big number, but it’s all relative to the efficiency of the device. We do not yet know the battery life of this new TCL phone, but it will most likely be good considering that the display is quite large.


To put that to the test, I ran the TCL 20SE through Finder’s standard battery life drain test, which consisted of streaming a YouTube video at maximum resolution and brightness, along with moderated volume from a fully charged battery for an hour. All battery life is relative, but I’m after phones that are at least 90% charged after an hour. It’s been my experience that phones with less battery power tend to struggle to get me to the end of the day.

Also Read: Vivo Y20T Review

That’s not a great figure – you’ll probably be reaching for the adapter more frequently if you’re using it a lot. The TCL 20SE is durable enough to last a day on the go, but it’s best to charge the phone overnight if you want to use it for a second day. If you’re not a heavy user of your phone, then you should be fine.

You Deserve a Vacation!

Unique to this phone is its reverse charging capability which comes from the 5,000mAh battery. This means that if you pair your TCL 20SE with another larger phone, there’s a chance it will charge the other phone instead of being charged by it. But instead of using the TCL 20SE as a battery pack for other wired devices, it’s best to use this option only when you have a good cable on hand. With its mediocre battery endurance, I don’t think most people would use it.

A vibrant but not super-smooth screen

The TCL 20 Pro 5G blends sleek design, great performance, and a competitive price to create an experience that few budget phones can. At $499, it’s a midrange phone that feels like it belongs in the top tier. We think the 6.7 inch AMOLED display is the star of the show here and we think it’s nearly perfect

The display takes up nearly the entire front of the smartphone, with the left and right sides sloping down. It’s same screen tech that we’ve seen on previous models like Motorola Edge and Galaxy Edge+. Some might think of this as a design gimmick, but TCL does offer some functionality to take advantage of the new edge.


The display covers the entire front of the phone and has stunning colors. Plus, it’s an AMOLED panel, so it’s accurate: colors pop and almost never look dull. The contrast we were able to see on the iPhone 12 is quite strong, which ultimately creates an immersive viewing experience for videos or photos. If you would like a similar immersive viewing experience but don’t want to switch phones, Apple also offers their iPhone 12 family that has a very similar contrast levels and features.

Also Read: Vivo Y20T Review

This TCL 20 Pro 5G has a 60 Hz refresh rate, which gives the HD+ display a higher level of realism when compared to other displays. To truly appreciate that level of detail and natural smoothness, going back to a device with a slower refresh rate is hard after you’ve gotten used to something faster. We would have really liked it if TCL’s 5G phone had a range of more than 300 mm. While the OnePlus N200 5G is far superior to the RAEE-18 and offers a range of up to 3,000 mm.

It would have been nice for it to come with Dolby Vision, but the NXTVISION features on TCL TVs are great and have made the TCL 8-Series our pick for the best TV. If you’re not getting the crisp quality you want on your current device, this feature will automatically upscale content to use AI and software tricks. You’ll also be able to cycle through a few viewing modes. There are many benefits of using Vivid. For example, it can make your colors pop or change the overall color scheme to be warmer. It also lets you customize the settings quite a lot.

If you value a phone’s display more than anything else, the 20 Pro 5G is compelling. Just know that it’s not buttery smooth at 60 Hz, but that shouldn’t be a problem unless you’re coming from a device with a higher refresh rate.

A sleek build

The rest of the design is clean and modern. There’s no camera bump because the four lenses are attached flush with the back of it. You will find a slight, super-minimal bump for the LED flash, but it doesn’t cause much rocking when placed with the back down on a surface. The back of this phone is made out of a soft plastic and has a matte finish that makes it feel like the Galaxy S20 We’ve been testing the Moondust Gray unit, a subdued color that moves along the grayscale depending on how the sunlight hits it. The real eye-catcher will be the Marine Blue color option. The extreme left portion of the backside is a black glossy finish, which spotlights the four-camera vertical array. It’s a nice design touch, but it showcases way too many fingerprints.

Also Read: Vivo Y20T Review

The top of the device features an IR blaster, giving you the ability to enjoy your phone in an entirely new way. There’s even a built-in “IR Remote” app to set it all up. The real surprise is the headphone jack located alongside it at the top, a feature that almost every flagship phone has ditched over the last few years. Is there an incoming wave of midrange phones with headphone jacks? The TCL 20 Series, along with the OnePlus Nord N200, have us thinking that way.

You’ll charge the 20 Pro 5G through the USB-C port on the bottom. Please note that the 20 Pro 5G only supports up to a maximum of 18 watts of fast charging when wired, which is slow. Not a deal breaker by any means, but know that it can take about two hours to refuel fully. You can also place the device onto a Qi-wireless charging pad for up to 15 watts of charge.

Last but not least, let’s talk buttons — the left side features a single button that you can set to do anything. From the Google Assistant to opening the camera, that button’s fate is yours to decide. A volume rocker and the power/sleep button live on the right.

Midrange performance with solid cameras

The actual day-to-day performance of the TCL 20 Pro 5G is solid across the board. With things like emails, web browsing, calls or texts, you’ll move along without any speed bumps or hiccups. The same goes with recording a TikTok, participating in an audio room on Twitter Spaces or even using a more intense photo editing app. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor inside with an ample 6GB of RAM can push the 20 Pro 5G over the finish line with a myriad of tasks. Endurance matches in Call of Duty: Mobile did result in the 20 Pro 5G hiccuping a bit, but it wasn’t a routine occurrence.

This TCL phone has android v11 with a custom TCL user interface. It might not resemble clean android and might have you worried about slowdowns or issues. You’ll find the familiar Google search bar and easy access to the assistant front and center, but the real tell is all the preloaded apps. :: Swipe to the next screen, and you’ll find apps like Netflix and TCL has created a lot of third-time apps and many are preinstalled on their televisions, which is convenient if you’re not looking for something very specific. It’s an easy user interface to navigate, though, if you’ve used Android before. You can, of course, download a launcher to get a different theme if you like.

Also Read: Vivo Y20T Review

There are some nifty changes here — the NXTVISION app lets you tune the display, IR Remote enables you to control other devices and the Edge Drawer can be handy. It makes use of the right or left side of the display, sloping down by letting you swipe for quick access to a drawer of apps. TCL also has palm detection to discourage accidental sideswipes.

Battery life will leave you wanting a bit more, especially if you use your phone a lot. The 20 Pro 5G features a 4,500mAh battery, but we found ourselves recharging toward the late afternoon of each day. Our standard battery test involves a 4K video running on a loop with the screen brightness set to 50% and connectivity off; the TCL 20 Pro 5G lasted for eight hours and five minutes. Nothing spectacular, especially with a 60 Hz display and in comparison to the OnePlus Nord N200. That device can outlast the 20 Pro for days.

In terms of performance alongside other smartphones, the 20 Pro 5G might not be able to hang with other flagships, but it does sit nicely with other midrange handsets. The Pixel 4a and much of the Galaxy A Series have a similar level of performance for most tasks. Thanks to software improvements and better lenses, those phones did perform better in the camera department. The 20 Pro 5G scored pretty close to those devices in our standard GeekBench 5 benchmark that we put every phone we test through. The TCL 20 Pro 5G scored 657 on single-core and 1,972 on multi-core — a midrange score no matter how you look at it.

Also Read: Vivo Y20T Review

TCL’s 20 Pro 5G camera story is one of the weaker aspects of the phone. The option to shoot with four cameras is nice, but it can be difficult to make use of all 4 at a time.

  • 48-megapixel wide camera: This is the default camera and in good lighting it can capture an image quite well. In lower lighting conditions, colors can look a little skewed and the sensor here tends to overexpose to counteract low lighting. Still, it’s a capable lens that will get you by for most shots.
  • 16-megapixel ultrawide camera: Like the primary camera, this lets you capture a wider field of view. It performed in line with the main camera as well, with a solid-looking image as the result.
  • 2-megapixel depth sensor: This is primarily a tool to help with portrait mode shots and focus, similar to the macro below.
  • 2-megapixel macro camera: On paper, it’s suitable for extreme close-ups but doesn’t serve a purpose here. Images captured look blurry and aren’t genuinely usable.

The wide and ultrawide lenses are on par with the average phone for image capture. It’s by no means class-leading, though. Those who want a good camera in their smartphone should look at the Pixel 4a, 4a 5G, or iPhone SE. TCL did deliver a nice selfie camera that’s centered as a pinhole in the top of the front screen. It’s a large 32-megapixel wide lens and offers accurate colors with high amounts of detail.

Also Read: Vivo Y20T Review

Last but not least, let’s talk about 5G support, as it’s in the phone’s name. The TCL 20 Pro 5G supports Sub-6 GHz 5G and 4G LTE. The 5G on this TCL handset isn’t super fast, but a flavor of 5G that’s closer to 4G LTE with more bandwidth. It only supports Verizon’s and T-Mobile’s Sub-6 GHz network, though. So it’s not fully supporting 5G, and if you’re on AT&T, well, you’re stuck on 4G.


TCL 20SE Bottom line

The TCL 20 Pro 5G offers some solid hardware and makes for an excellent smartphone. It has a dependable display, dependable cameras, and modern design all for $499. While it is far from the best and most advanced device on the market, it is still a great deal that you should have no qualms.

If you value a strong display — and don’t care about the refresh rate — the TCL 20 Pro 5G is a strong contender. The processor inside also delivers strong performance across many tasks. If you’re looking for great cameras, long battery life or a zippy experience, though, you’ll need to look elsewhere. The iPhone SE and Pixel 4a 5G fit the bill and might even be cheaper in some cases.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *