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How TCL 20 SE eyes to help establish TCL’s name in the saturated smartphone market

If TCL 20 SE exemplifies how this company eyes to make a name in the market, then it’s on the right track indeed.

Let me come clean: I got a TCL tablet a few years back, and… I didn’t have a good experience with it. It lagged; was pixelated; warmed after a few hours of use; etc. I remember sending it to the “province” (i.e. Kidapawan City), and – basically – forgot I even had it…

So excuse my… apprehension when I received the TCL 20 SE to review for Upgrade Magazine. The company may be a big name in making – say – TVs and sound bars, but it’s not really an established brand in the smartphone market right now. 

But then… if TCL 20 SE exemplifies how this company eyes to make a name in this market, then it may be onto something.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS/FIRST LOOK

Knowing beforehand that this phone doesn’t cost over P9,000 affects one’s way of seeing it.

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The review unit received was 64GB + 4GB RAM (though there’s one that’s 128GB + 4GB RAM); and OOTB (out of the box), I got:

  • Phone
  • USB-C charger
  • In-ear headset (considering many companies see this separately now, this is a welcome addition)
  • Jelly protective case
  • SIM card tray opener

Yes, it’s basically plastic. But you’d feel this isn’t a too-cheaply-designed phone, since this 6.82 inch unit weighs 206 g (7.27 oz); meaning, it feels somewhat “heavy”, as if to say “I ain’t all plastic”. Available in either Nuit Black or Aurora Green, it is – however – a fingerprint magnet, with slight touches ensuring unsightly smudges all over…

There’s a teardrop up top for the front cam (just 8MP).

At the right edge of the phone are the power, and the Vol+/Vol+ buttons.

At the left, you have the SIM card tray + slot for a microSD card, as well as a Google Assistant button (that I, initially, misconstrued as the power button).

At the bottom, you get the main microphone, USB-C port, and loudspeaker.

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And at the top, you have the 3.5mm headphone jack and secondary microphone.

Turn the phone over and you get the fingerprint sensor (for me, one of the signs that the unit is somewhat “cheap”, when the sensors are retained at the back instead of onscreen); though say “thank you” that this unit has facial recog. You also have four cams (more on this later) that at least only slightly protrude, and which could be “flattened” by the accompanying jelly case.

Turning the phone on for the first time (and the second time, and the third time…) wasn’t a snap. Aside from getting the usual set-up Qs – e.g. fingerprint recording, language/s, Wi-Fi connectivity, etc – it just felt (for me) that it took a while to just START already…

But when the phone finally opened, it didn’t disappoint (remember, this is a unit selling for less than P10,000). TCL 20 SE has a 6.82 inches screen size with IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen with 450 nits; and screen density is 263 PPI with 720 x 1640 pixels resolution. So it’s quite… crisp.

With a 20.5:9 aspect ratio, the screen works well for flick-watchers. That this is enhanced by the use of NXTVISION (a technology that TCL borrowed from its TVs to digitally upscale content to improve contrast and brightness), you’re sure to say “better-than-okay” with viewings.

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UNDER THE HOOD

TCL 20 SE uses Qualcomm Snapdragon 460 processor, so it runs… quite smoothly. 

It runs on Android 11 + TCL UI (v3.0).

It has dual SIM and with 4G LTE, 3G HSPA+, 2G EDGE & GPRS Networks

And it comes with 5000mAh battery (powered by the 18-watt charger); basically… basic among units nowadays.

PERFORMANCE

How any unit performs is still what matters (just think of the horrid iPhone camera design not affecting sales); so checking how TCL 20 SE performs is a given.

And to start, the cams is… surprisingly not-that-shabby.

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The front cam is 8MP; just-okay for calls and selfies.

At the back, though, you get: 16MP (wide) + 5MP (ultra wide) + 2MP (depth) + 2MP (macro). On paper, these aren’t… very impressive; but as stated, they more than sufficed for me.

To start, you have the auto setting; on its own, already more than satisfactory. I took shots of plants outdoors (past 12PM, so the shadows were strong due tot he position of the sun); but the shots turned out okay – e.g. colors were clear, and details were defined.

Shooting outdoors on a sunny day (standing on one spot, shooting plants using auto, and then zooming on the same plants), the phone’s camera did… okay.

You have an option to zoom (up to 4x), and this is where the camera sorta… falters. Just looking at the zoomed pics, they seem okay; but when you check the details of the same, you’d see the issues – e.g. details aren’t as defined, and colors become… “sabog” (scattered). Even the PRO and AI capabilities couldn’t “fix” these…

I, usually, am not a fan of add-ons – e.g. “bonus” modes. The way I see it, if the cameras can’t hack it when they aren’t given boosts, then… you have an issue with these cameras, period. But TCL 20 SE has additional cam features (i.e. it’s all under “More” when you open the cam: Pano, Stop Motion, Light Trace, Super Macro, and Slo-Mo) that – admittedly – surprised me. When testing Super Macro, for instance, I got shots that were not that bad at all. True, the grains started appearing; but if you’re not looking to blow up the images into floor-to-ceiling decors and will just use them for, say, IG or FB or whatever, they’d still somehow suffice…

N.B. The pics also look nicer on the phone (perhaps because of the NXTVISION tech). The moment you transfer them to your laptop though, you’d see the… flaws.

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Shooting from across the street was a different matter altogether, however. The pics appeared okay on the unit; but when transferred to the laptop, you’d see the lack of crispness, loss of details and… sabog quality.

That this phone is inconsistent is also apparent. Remember when I stated that the start-up took a while? Well, the same can be said when gaming – e.g. I tried Call of Duty: Mobile, and yeah, TCL 20 SE lagged at times. I hate imagining how this phone will (under)perform if the buyer gets this solely for gaming…

The 64GB memory is also a constant source of worry (even if the microSD slot helps). This is a phone that does well when watching flicks, for instance, but if I’m commuting in Internet-deprived areas, just how many flicks can I save to watch in this phone?

The TCL 20 SE’s 5000mAh battery capacity is “usual” nowadays; and it should sustain your for a day. But charging (at 18W) takes longer than usual, so prep the sched when you’re certain to over-use this unit…

The Super Macro wasn’t “macro” enough for me; but it ought to suffice (even considering the graininess and all).

IN THE END…

Considering my not-that-great experience with that TCL tablet a few years back, I admit I was apprehensive. But now… I’d say that with TCL 20 SE, this company’s on to something. 

Yeah, this isn’t a to-die-for unit.

That time-consuming start-up still baffles me.

The camera’s performance won’t please everybody (particularly when you zoom).

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The lags in gaming may irritate gamers.

BUT, BUT, BUT… remember that this unit sells for only P8,990.

And when this is a top-of-mind consideration, then the TCL 20 SE is a must-consider indeed.

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