This Beautiful Smartphone Is Like an Affordable Samsung Galaxy S10

Illustration for article titled This Beautiful Smartphone Is Like an Affordable Samsung Galaxy S10
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

Here in the U.S., despite owning smartphone brands including Palm, Blackberry, and Alcatel, TCL is mostly known for making quality TVs with affordable price tags, just like the 6-Series set we recently crowned as one of the best values on the market. But now, with the debut of its 10-series phones, TCL is hoping to bring that same value-minded approach to the smartphone scene.

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Back in the fall, TCL hinted that major changes were coming when it announced the Plex, the first phone to feature TCL branding instead of a logo from one of its subsidiaries. But with the 10-Series, TCL is taking things even further, sort of following in Samsung’s footsteps—both strategically and with the designs of its phone—by combining the company’s expertise in making TV displays and then putting them in more pocket-friendly devices.

As for the 10-series line itself, it’s comprised of three phones: the TCL 10L, the TCL 10 Pro, and the TCL 10 5G. And while TCL is refraining from providing a full list of specs for its new phones (TCL is planning to wait until Mobile World Congress in February for a full reveal), there are a number of interesting details we are learning now at CES, with the most notable being that all three phones—including the TCL 10 5G—will start at under $500.

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Starting with what will be the most affordable of the three—the TCL 10L—you’re looking at a device with around a 6.2-inch LCD screen, rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and quadruple rear cameras. At least one of the 10L’s rear cameras is a macro lens, which suggests the other three will probably have some combination of a primary wide-angle lens, one telephoto lens, and one ultra-wide lens. And while that’s about it in the way of concrete info for the 10L for now, that’s not a bad start.

But to me, the most interesting handset of the bunch is the TCL 10 Pro, which looks and feels like an affordable clone of the Galaxy S10, and I mean that in the best way possible. Like the S10, it features a rounded glass body with tapered sides, while the absence of a rear fingerprint sensor suggests it will have an in-display fingerprint built into its screen instead. Also, like the S10, the TCL 10 Pro will come with a high-res AMOLED display instead of an LCD screen, with the main difference being that the TCL 10 Pro will come with a centrally-located notch for its front-facing cam instead of a punch-hole selfie cam like you get on the Galaxy S10. I also have to say, that out of the 10 Pro’s two colors, I find the frosted glass on the dark green model especially fetching.

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Finally, there’s the TCL 10 5G, which shares a lot of traits in common with the 10L including its LCD screen, rear cameras, rear fingerprint sensor, and even it’s overall design. Side-by-side, they are actually quite difficult to tell apart until you notice that the 10 5G sports a faint crystal pattern on its back that the 10L doesn’t have. The one confirmed spec we do have for the 10 5G is that it will feature a Snapdragon 7-series 5G chip from Qualcomm.

Aside from the new 10-series, TCL also showed of an updated version of its foldable phone, which has made some serious leaps in the 10 months or so since TCL announced it was working on flexible screen tech. This time, instead of showing off non-functional design mockups, TCL had a working prototype that was honestly quite impressive.

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Sporting a dark green paint job with large crystal-like facets, TCL’s foldable concept features a clear familial resemblance with both the TCL 10 Pro and 10 5G. And while its plastic case did creak a bit when opening (hey, its a prototype), inside, its foldable screen looked sharp, colorful, and without really any sort of a crease. It’s a hugely encouraging demo considering TCL says it’s not really in a rush to compete with devices like the Samsung Galaxy Fold or Huawei Mate X, opting instead to let Samsung, Huawei, and others waste money figuring out the best form factor for foldable devices before TCL releases its own.

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Meanwhile, when you look outside the 10-series, TCL big-picture strategy is beginning to get a lot more clear, with Alcatel now firmly focused on making budget devices and phones priced at $200 and under, while TCL-branded phones will focus on delivering “premium mid-tier phones in the $200 to $500 range.” This leaves brands like Palm and Blackberry the freedom to continue offering unique, more offbeat devices.

Here are all the colors and models of TCL’s new 10-series phones.
Here are all the colors and models of TCL’s new 10-series phones.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
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So now, with a new, more defined strategy for its growing portfolio of phones, it feels like TCL is finally combining all of its various resources into a more targeted and cohesive plan, while also trying preserving the same level of quality and value TCL is known for. In theory, the plan makes a lot of sense, now it’s just on TCL to execute.

We’re live from Las Vegas at CES 2020! Click here to read our complete coverage.

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Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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DISCUSSION

It’s surprising that more domestic Chinese manufacturers haven’t figured out that it really only takes three things to make a hit:

1) Good hardware
2) Low price
3) Stock Android

I love trying out random cheap stuff, and so many of them totally screw up the third one. My LeEco S3 was a fantastic device, with great hardware and an amazing price.......... and some crappy UI that was utterly atrocious.  Why can’t companies just realize that anything that they “add” to Android usually ends up making it worse?  I’m hopeful that this is stock, since it looks like the Messages and Phone apps are stock, but who knows?