TCL launches self-branded smartphones at $449, $249 – Ars Technica

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TCL is primarily known as a company that builds cheap TVs, but it has also been building smartphones for awhile now. After Blackberry quit the smartphone market in 2016, TCL licensed the brand and started pumping out QWERTY-equipped Android phones. It licenses the Alcatel brand from Nokia and builds cheaper slab phones. It bought the Palm trademark from HP and produced the microscopic “Palm Palm” smartphone. Starting now, though, TCL is actually going to put its own name on the smartphones it makes, and the first is this set of three devices that all cost under $500.

The lineup here is kind of strange since the most expensive phone is not the fastest phone of the bunch. The most expensive is the $449 TCL 10 Pro, which has a Snapdragon 675 SoC, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a 4500mAh battery, and a 6.47-inch, 2340×1080 OLED display. The design is pretty flagship-y, with an in-screen fingerprint reader, a front camera notch, a display that curves along the sides, and an always-on display mode. There are four rear cameras, a 64MP main, a wide-angle lens, a macro camera, and a “low light video cam.” TCL says this phone is coming out in “Europe, North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom starting in Q2 2020 for €449/$449/£399.”

The Snapdragon 675 is the one oddball listing in that spec sheet. This is an 11nm, eight-core SoC with two Cortex A76 cores and six Cortex A55 cores. This SoC was first introduced in 2018, which makes it pretty old. Now let’s get weird and compare this $449, 4G, Snapdragon 675 phone to the next phone in TCL’s lineup, a Snapdragon 765G, 5G phone for… $430?

Yeah, the “TCL 10 5G” is faster and cheaper than the TCL 10 Pro. The display is a 6.53-inch 2340×1080 LCD—in some ways this is a downgrade, since you’re going from OLED to LCD, but it could also be considered an upgrade in that it’s not a pointless, glare-inducing curved display. There’s a rear fingerprint reader now instead of an in-screen reader, and a hole punch camera instead of a notch. Other than that, there are still four rear cameras, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a 4500mAh battery. I think the trick here with the wonky differentiation is that this phone is not getting the wide distribution of the other two. TCL says this device is coming to “select regions around the world later this year for €399/£399.” The lack of a Freedom Bucks price might suggest that America is not one of these select regions, but TCL told 9to5Google that a “major US carrier” will pick up the phone sometime this year.

The TCL 10L. This is the cheapest of the bunch at $250. You can't tell from the picture, though, thanks to the slim-bezel design and plethora of cameras.

Enlarge / The TCL 10L. This is the cheapest of the bunch at $250. You can’t tell from the picture, though, thanks to the slim-bezel design and plethora of cameras.

Back in the cheap seats, we have the “TCL 10L,” a phone coming to “Europe, North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom starting in Q2 2020 for €249/$249/£199.” This has a Snapdragon 665 SoC (11nm, four Cortex-A73 cores, and four Cortex-A53 cores), 6GB of RAM, 64 or 128GB of storage, and a 4000mAh battery. There’s a hole-punch display and rear fingerprint reader, and this is still sporting some pretty slim bezels for this price point. There are still four rear cameras on this $250 phone. I’m not sure that’s where I would want to spend my bill of materials on a device this cheap, but it also might be some kind of record at this price point.

Every model has Android 10, a headphone jack, a USB-C port, NFC, a microSD slot, and a programmable side button—even the $250 10L. None has wireless charging or water resistance. The OS has a “Dynamic TCL UI” skin, which doesn’t sound too promising. We also have no idea what TCL’s update track record will be like for its own phones.

At a time when smartphones are getting more expensive than ever, more competition in the inexpensive smartphone space is certainly welcome. The phones won’t turn many heads in more competitive markets like China and India, but it’s rare for the US to get devices in this price range.

Update: TCL’s press release is calling this the company’s “first series of TCL-branded smartphones,”  but it’s apparently not the first TCL-branded smartphone ever. That honor goes to the TCL Plex, which released last year.

Listing image by TCL

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