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TCL Plex hands-on: TCL's global debut looks promising

Does TCL flex on the competition with the Plex?

Published onSeptember 5, 2019

TCL Plex hands on white glass back 2

The TCL Plex is the first internationally-available self-branded smartphone from the growing TCL Electronics empire. Known for owning the BlackBerry and Alcatel brands, TCL has been selling self-branded smartphones in its home market, but now it’s ready to expand. So, how does the mid-range device look, and does TCL flex on the competition with the Plex?

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First of all, the TCL Plex is a 6.53-inch display device with a Snapdragon 675 onboard and a triple rear camera, retailing in select markets in Europe for 329 euros. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s clear TCL didn’t want to immediately jump into competition at the high-end flagship range, as they have work to do to prove themselves as a smartphone brand. 

TCL Plex hands on white in hand

What we heard sounds good though: TCL manufactures the device in-house, meaning they aren’t relying on the likes of Hon Hai Technology Group (Foxconn) to assemble the phones. In other words, responsibility for final build quality falls on the manufacturer itself.

But this is a TCL Plex hands-on, and you’re here for initial impressions. And those impressions were good. It starts with looks: the Plex is a big, well-built device, with an impressive display including a punch-hole front camera, along with a versatile triple camera on the back. 

TCL Plex hands on blue in hand rear cameras 4

Display: The standout feature

TCL thinks the display of the Plex is up to standard for its price category, and then some. While we had limited time with it, there’s no doubting the phone looked great. The whole front looked a bit like it was in the style of Galaxy S9 or the Note 9, but on a budget. The 6.53-inch LCD display has a Full HD+ resolution, so it’s a tiny bit stretched at that size, but the 395ppi pixel density isn’t a problem. With a 19.5:9 ratio, it’s tall, with thin bezels and a screen-to-body ratio of around 90 percent. It looks good.

TCL Plex hands on software screen display 2
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The TCL Plex comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 SoC and 6GB of RAM, with 128GB of UFS2.1 storage,  and a microSD expansion port for up to 256GB extra. The battery is 3,820mAh, with Quick Charge 3.0 support and USB-C charging. And, yes, it has a headphone jack.

Other devices on the market with the same SoC include the Samsung Galaxy A70 and M40, Moto Z4, and vivo V15 Pro, but none of these offers a triple-camera setup to go with it.

Triple camera

And that should mean we talk about the cameras. There’s a 48MP IMX582 main shooter, a 16MP 123-degree wide-angle sensor, and a 2MP low-light sensor with 2.9 µm pixel size. TCL said the low-light sensor was more for low-light video shooting rather than still photography, so we look forward to trying that out.

TCL Plex hands on white back cameras 5

We were able to test out early software on the cameras, and found reassuringly good images, even a month or more before the phone launches. Experience on the BlackBerry/Alcatel side with imaging is one thing, but taking the workings of a Sony IMX582 or IMX586 sensor from “good” to “great” is something that has eluded others. Image processing ain’t easy, so we look forward to stress-testing the Plex after release.

While TCL was quick to insist this wasn’t final software, we did snap a single photo comparison against the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro, which packs a 48MP IMX586 camera as well. It’s too early to really draw any conclusions, but you can take a look at the image below and see that early TCL work looks up to scratch.

We saw two colorways: Obsidian Black and Opal White. Both have the shimmering glass finish we see in new devices these days. The body is coated in 3D glass on both sides; the black colorway has a nice holographic shimmer, and the white has a rainbow hue to it in the light. Note that the glass isn’t Gorilla Glass, so dropping this slippery thing is likely to be expensive, and that’s a bit of a negative – you’ll need to put the TCL Plex into a case to feel confident.

TCL Plex hands on white back cameras 1

Overall, the TCL Plex is a first-gen device, and that’s rarely ever recommended to anyone who doesn’t need (or actually want) to pick one up. But initial impressions are good. And that bodes well for TCL’s ambitions as a standalone smartphone brand, along with its plans for foldable and 5G devices in the future.

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