Most of the 5G phones released over the course of the last year suffer from what some have termed the “5G tax.” In other words, they cost an absurd amount of money and at least some of that absurdity is being blamed on the presence of 5G. Adding 5G as a feature, it seems, means the price should go up. The TCL 10 5G UW is here to democratize 5G. With its sub-$400 price point, most people should be able to afford it and the 5G features on board.
Is 5G worth the hype at this price level? We’re here to tell you in the Android Authority TCL 10 5G UW review.
TCL 10 5G UW review: What is it?
Verizon Wireless may have sold an Alcatel phone or two back in the day, but the 10 5G UW is the first TCL-branded phone to be sold by Big Red. The TCL 10 5G UW is the latest entry in the 10 series and is perhaps the most compelling for one reason: 5G. The phone can access both Verizon’s ultra-wideband 5G and the carrier’s new nationwide 5G service, which purports to cover some 200 million people.
It’s also affordable. How affordable? Well, at $399.99, it’s at least $300 hundred dollars cheaper than Verizon’s closest 5G option, such as the Google Pixel 5. More importantly, it’s as much as $1,000 cheaper than other 5G phones in Verizon’s lineup, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra.
The TCL 10 5G UW is a phone for people who want 5G without paying the 5G tax.
See also: TCL 10L and 10 Pro review
What’s the hardware like?
The 10 5G UW doesn’t stray too far from the rest of the TCL 10 series as far as design is concerned. It’s a sizable piece of hardware with a good-sized screen, triple-camera setup, and Snapdragon silicon. Let’s take a look.
The phone is the classic glass sandwich as far as the design is concerned. A polycarbonate frame serves as the filling between two pieces of glass. While the front is 2.5D glass, the rear is 3D glass. I like the reflective design that’s buried in the rear glass. It looks like it has an angled texture to it, yet it’s perfectly smooth. The deep blue color is nice. The glass components blend into the rounded frame nicely.
At 163.6 x 76.5 x 9.4mm, it’s a large phone. It’s about the same size as a Google Pixel 4 XL and Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max. Moreover, at 209.5g, it feels a bit like a brick. Seriously, it weighs nearly half a pound. I wish it were a touch thinner. With the width exceeding three inches, it’s harder to reach some parts of the screen.
All the functional elements of the phone are typical. The screen lock / power button is on the right edge. It’s a bit thin. The volume toggle is positioned above the power button. Both have decent travel and feedback. The SIM card tray, which also holds microSD memory cards, is tucked into the top left corner. A USB-C port is blended into the bottom edge, as are a speaker and microphone. Believe it or not, a headphone jack graces the top edge.
TCL’s camera module stands out for a good reason: it’s not enormous. A thin line of lenses runs from side to side with two flashes bookending the three-camera arrangement. It’s raised just a smidge. I like that it’s not the gigantic modules we’ve seen on phones such as the Samsung Galaxy series. A squircle-shaped fingerprint reader sits under the camera module. It is a cinch to set up and use, and I found it quick and accurate when I wanted to unlock the phone.
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How’s the display?
TCL is known as a display maker. The company has an entire range of television sets, and its corporate motto is “Display greatness.” One should expect great things from the display, no?
The Full HD+ screen measures 6.53 inches across the diagonal and offers 2,340 x 1,080 pixels in a 19.5:9 aspect ratio. It’s a punch-hole job with the user-facing camera pushed into the upper left corner. Together with the relatively trim bezels, you’ve got a screen-to-body aspect ratio of about 91%. It’s a good look.
In daily use, I found the display to be bright, colorful, and sharp. There’s no quad HD resolution nor high refresh rate here, but that doesn’t take away from the screen.
It bakes in what TCL calls Nxtvision technology to give the screen an edge. Nxtvision includes several key tools. First, is a visual enhancement engine that automatically adjusts contrast, sharpness, and saturation to make the screen clearer, with richer detail and improved brightness, particularly for dark scenes. Second, it has an SDR-to-HDR conversion tool that takes the color, contrast, and depth of standard dynamic range content and up-converts it to high dynamic range. The screen also includes some standard technologies as well, including reading mode, color temperature adjustments, and sunlight readability.
All these fancy technologies mean you get an HDR10-capable display that looks really good on the cheap.
What about speed and battery life?
TCL opted for a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor and paired it with 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage. That’s a solid offering right there. Keep in mind, sub-premium flagships such as the Google Pixel 5 and HMD Global Nokia 8.3 also rely on the 765G. It’s not Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line chip, but it’s the next best thing.
We ran it through some of the usual benchmarks and the results didn’t surprise us. The 765G produced scores that more or less equalled those of the older Snapdragon 855 flagship processor, while coming in well under those posted by the 865. It beats about 70% of phones on benchmarks such as Geekbench and 3DMark, which is exactly where it should be.
In actual everyday use, the phone felt quick and smooth. It never slowed down nor stuttered. Screen transitions were smooth, and apps, including games, ran well.
As far as the battery is concerned, the TCL 10 5G UW does a fine job. A large 4,500mAh battery is packed into the frame and it delivers a full day of mixed use with no problem. I was getting screen-on time in the neighborhood of seven hours with as much as 25% battery charge left at the end of the day. That’s plenty.
TCL didn’t go with the highest-grade charging tech. The phone supports 18W charging speeds, which means it takes about two full hours to charge the phone to capacity. It’s a long wait. There’s no wireless charging on board.
Is 5G worth it?
There are two flavors of 5G aboard the TCL 10 5G UW: Verizon’s ultra-wideband (UW) 5G and Verizon’s nationwide 5G. They are two totally different animals.
Ultra-wideband is the 5G Verizon has been pitching for close to two years. It relies on high spectrum bands, which are capable of delivering blistering speeds and capacity. The problem is UW markets are few and far between, and generally reserved for major metro areas, such as New York and Chicago. In these cities, you can find errant 5G UW signals at the street level. We had to hunt for them in Hoboken, NJ, and experienced speeds up to 226Mbps. That’s the 1Gbps+ speeds we know Verizon’s 5G UW service is capable of.
The nationwide network uses the same spectrum that Verizon’s LTE network relies on. The company uses something called dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) to split up the airwaves and allow for faster 5G connections in areas that would normally only offer LTE 4G. This new offering covers some 200 million people, according to Verizon, which means it is much more widely available than UW 5G. Speeds are barely more than LTE. I had a lot of results in the 70-85Mbps area when testing the low-band 5G service.
The speeds are simply not the same. Despite being in an area that is billed as total 5G coverage, the phone barely bested LTE 4G speeds when surfing on the new nationwide 5G service.
At the end of the day, our TCL 10 5G UW review unit was able to hit really high speeds in UW markets, and a respectable boost in speeds everywhere else. The fact that the 5G feature is available at such a low price point is compelling, though perhaps not reason enough to buy the phone.
How’re the cameras?
TCL’s 10 series phones each offer four cameras on the back — except for the 10 5G UW, which drops down to three. The main camera has a 48MP sensor, while the wide-angle and macro cameras have 8MP and 5MP sensors, respectively. Dual flashes are available to brighten your subject. I have to extoll the presence of the macro camera. I don’t know anyone in real life who cares about taking extreme close-ups with their phone. I’d much have preferred to see TCL opt for a more traditional wide, telephoto, ultra-wide arrangement.
The cameras are middling at best. I was able to take a few decent shots during daylight. Shots taken outdoors on a cloudy fall day showed good lighting, proper white balance, and reasonably accurate color. Focus was solid. Shots taken indoors or in darker environs were softer, grainier, and less appealing in terms of color and vibrancy. The one thing I noticed was the sensor’s tendency to overexpose light sources. You can see this in the samples above.
The 16MP selfie camera is rough. You can use it outdoors and in other bright spaces and expect solid selfies. I was a bit less impressed with the shots I took indoors, which were a touch noisy. This sample, however, shows how the phone struggled with exposure.
Video capture is limited to 4K at 30fps, rather than 60fps. The clarity of the footage I shot was good. It’s certainly usable for everyday video shooting needs, but it’s not going to set your world on fire.
TCL 10 5G UW specs
|TCL 10 5G UW|
19.5:9 aspect ratio
Fast Charge 3.0
|Dimensions||163.58 x 76.5 x 9.4mm|
TCL 10 5G UW review: What I like
- The price: What’s not to like about $400? It’s far more affordable than most other phones in Verizon’s lineup, let alone Verizon’s other 5G phones.
- 5G: 5G is still not something I’d call a make-or-break feature, but it’s a nice extra to have on a phone at this price point.
- Battery life: The phone achieved stellar battery life even with 5G on board.
- Design: The TCL 10 5G UW may not be a metal-and-glass beast, but the polycarbonate frame and Gorilla Glass front and back are appealing in their own way.
- Software: It ships with Android 10, but TCL is committing to two years of major system upgrades (no timeline on Android 11 yet) and three years of quarterly security updates.
What I don’t like
- Cameras: They are only average in terms of quality, and the lens selection simply doesn’t match with consumer preferences.
- Audio: The headphone jack is nice and all, but the single loudspeaker on the bottom of the phone isn’t up to snuff even for watching the latest highlights on YouTube.
- Bloatware: It’s a Verizon phone, so you know what that means — tons of Verizon bloatware on board. You can only delete about half of the pre-loaded apps, which is a double bummer.
- Charging tech: It charges slowly at 18W and doesn’t offer wireless charging.
TCL 10 5G UW review: Should you buy it?
The TCL 10 5G UW is a solid phone when it comes to value. Verizon Wireless offers only a few affordable phones in its lineup (including the Samsung Galaxy A51), and the 10 5G UW makes a nice entry in the sub-$400 space. If you need a low-cost device and want to future proof yourself a bit, the 10 5G UW has you covered thanks to its mmWave and low-band, nationwide 5G capabilities. Moreover, it saves you hundreds of dollars when compared to many of the other 5G phones in Verizon’s lineup.
It’s not without compromises. In order to reach the low cost, TCL went with a polycarbonate frame, slower charging technologies, and middling cameras. If you can live with these shortcomings, the 5G power is a fair trade off as long as you have coverage.