In fact, lack of software support is the real deal killer. TCL only commits to two years of security updates for all of the 20 series. The 20 Pro 5G will get two Android OS upgrades, the 20S will get one, and there is no promise the 20 SE will get anything. Longer software support means your phone might last longer, and competitors like Samsung are raising the bar for up to four years of coverage. TCL needs to up its game here.
Photograph: Julian Chokkattu
TCL 20 Pro 5G, Night mode. This $500 does a respectable job capturing photos at night or in low light. The image is sharp, it’s decently detailed, and it’s not very grainy. But look at the following photo and you’ll see the Pixel 4A 5G ($500) fares better.
The camera systems on these phones also fall short of their peers, though the 20 Pro 5G is still pretty good. Its main 48-megapixel camera has a tendency to strip out too many shadows and oversaturate, and at night, the Pixel 4A 5G beats it out with brighter and more detailed images. But that doesn’t mean the TCL’s camera is bad. I took some great low-light shots, and it has a 16-MP ultrawide that gives you more versatility. Its results are decent, especially if you’re taking photos when there’s lots of light.
The 20S’s 64-MP main camera and 8-MP ultrawide are less impressive, particularly at night. It has trouble focusing, so I usually had a blurry shot. Daytime photos also had too few shadows and too much saturation. I liked photos I took from the aforementioned Galaxy A32 5G more, and it’s just $30 extra.
As for the sub-$200 TCL 20 SE and its 48-MP main camera, well, I barely took any photos with it. If you’re trying to capture anything that moves, like a dog, expect it to be blurry. For still subjects, daytime images are passable, but since there’s no dedicated night mode, low-light photos lack sharpness.
A budget smartphone with four years of software support was a pipe dream in 2020, but it’s reality now. The TCL 20 Pro 5G isn’t a bad pick, but phones like the Pixel 4A 5G and Galaxy A52 5G will stay secure and get new features for longer. Plus, they have more robust 5G connectivity.
As for the 20S and the 20 SE, there’s oddly more competition in the under-$300 category, so you’re spoiled for choice. The Galaxy A32 5G ($280) beats out both with similar battery life, better performance, longer software support, and nicer cameras. For the lower end, you’re better off with a phone like the Moto G Power, which has a better camera than the 20 SE and dips to $230.
I’m hoping TCL’s third try in 2022 will make its budget phones the ones to beat. But for that, it needs to work on its image processing, and it should consider extending the length of support it provides for its devices. As they say, the third time’s a charm.