I’ve been riding the iOS train since abandoning Blackberry nearly a decade ago. I approached my first full-on Android experience with an open mind, but TCL’s midrange phone, the 20S, did not do much to sell me on jumping ship.
Aesthetically, the TCL 20S is a pleasing piece of hardware. I like its tall build, with a 6.6-inch by 3-inch screen, but its verticality may be a turn-off for some. There is no wasted space on the surface of the device, with the display pushing straight to the edges. Its selfie camera is set into the display, but as unobtrusively as possible. My personal iPhone has a “notch” instead, where the selfie lens and speaker are located, so I appreciate the subtle integration TCL used here.
“Videos, web browsers, and social media look great on this vibrant display. Its built-in speakers sound fairly good as well.”
As TCL is known as a television manufacturer, we should at least expect the display of their smartphones to be worthwhile. The 20S did not disappoint in this department. Videos, web browsers, and social media look great on this vibrant display. Its built-in speakers sound fairly good as well.
We’ve checked off a lot of the basic boxes so far, but unfortunately here’s where things start to sour. The layout of buttons left something to be desired. On the left side, you have a button to summon Google Assistant; on the right, one vague bar handles your volume controls, and the power button below it doubles as a fingerprint scanner.
While I welcome the return of fingerprint scanners—having swapped to a face-tracking phone right before face masks became a daily necessity—I can’t help but feel that the space was somewhat wasted here. If you do not use Google Assistant, that button is squandered, and the volume button feels like it should have had at least some kind of split or divot to tell your finger which side it’s on.
On paper, the 20S boasts a sound array of cameras—a 16MB front-facing camera, and around back, a 64MP super high-res main lens, a 8MB wide-angle lens, and a 2MB macro lens. In practice, it was much less impressive. Getting the phone to focus properly was difficult in macro mode, and my zoomed results were likewise disappointing.
“While testing how it handled one of my favourite mobile games…the TCL 20S ate through a considerable amount of its charge in half an hour”
Not since the days of disposable film cameras have I needed my hand and my subject to stay so still while taking a snapshot. When the pictures are good, they look adequate. But unfortunately, it felt like a crapshoot trying to get them to turn out.
The battery life proved sufficient. Charging time was adequate—I once plugged it in, walked away for two hours, and came back to a full charge—and its power maintained through basic use, even using adaptive brightness. However, it began to dip during more taxing applications. While testing how it handled one of my favourite mobile games, Dissidia Opera Omnia Final Fantasy, the TCL 20S ate through a considerable amount of its charge in half an hour. Similarly, the Live Wallpaper function siphoned a sizable slice.
Speaking of games, this is not the smartphone to pick if you’re an avid player. TCL’s display is wasted here, much to my disappointment. Dissidia Opera Omnia and Genshin Impact both ran choppily on basic settings, while older, more basic games like Tetris worked fine.
“I don’t know who I would recommend the TCL 20S to, ultimately.”
I don’t know who I would recommend the TCL 20S to, ultimately. Certainly not power-users or big gamers, as the performance was underwhelming. I might have said it makes a nice bare-bones family phone for parents who do not need a lot of frills—but knowing how often I rely on my own smartphone to quickly capture a golden moment in my kids’ lives, I can’t nominate the 20S to suit that need either.
If anything, it might make a serviceable dedicated work phone, if you just need the most basic functionality. But even then, there are surely better “zero dollars down” options available from the big cell service providers.