REVIEW: TCL 20 SE – The Best Smartphone Display You’ll Get Under $300
TCL, which impressed us last year with the fantastic display on its mid-range 10 Pro smartphone, has returned with its new 20 series. The TCL 20 SE is the more affordable brother to the 20 5G at $299 – but how does it stack up?
The design of the SE is impressively premium for a phone at this price point. The back has a lovely glossy metallic “aurora” effect, as TCL puts it, under a panel that – if it isn’t glass – sure looks and feels a lot like it. Unfortunately, the 20 series hasn’t carried over the flush camera housing from the 10 Pro, instead opting for a shallow camera bump in the upper left hand side. A backwards step, in my opinion.
Around the front, we have – say it with me – a big bottom bezel and a centred camera V-notch. This is the third value phone in a row I’ve reviewed that uses this front design, after the Alcatel 1SE (which at least is also made by TCL) and Motorola’s Moto G10. I’m not going crazy, right? Can we mix it up more, please, value phone makers? At least ditch that big ugly chin?
Display and Performance
Oh, those TCL displays! Once again, the company famed for its TVs has put its money where its mouth is, delivering a bright and beautiful 6.82” screen with vivid colours enhanced by its proprietary NXTVISION software (which can also give you a reading mode to make it easier on the eyes when perusing an e-book, or an eye comfort mode that filters out blue light and adjusts colour temperature to reduce eyestrain; personally I couldn’t tell the difference between the two, at least at first glance). The display is so gorgeous you likely won’t even notice that it’s only 720p. It’s easily the best I’ve seen on a phone this affordable, ever.
The processor isn’t the zippiest – it’s a Snapdragon 460 chipset, so the phone can be a bit on the slow side. On the other hand, for a $300 phone, it’s about what you’d expect; the Moto G10 from Motorola also uses the 460. You get what you pay for, and it’s perfectly decent for what it is. Like the G10, as well, the TCL 20 SE comes with a 5000mAh battery – this is more battery than you’ll get on its $500 counterpart, the 20 5G, which only comes with 4500mAh.
Sound comes through a pair of bottom-firing speakers, and it’s fine. Nothing to write home about. The extra speaker does give it better audio than similarly-priced phones like the G10, and it’s good that you can hold your phone without blocking both speakers, but honestly, use the headphone jack, that’s what it’s there for.
Features and Camera
In the box, there’s your usual free phone case, which has done away with the TCL branding from last year’s entries, as well as a pair of earphones I wasn’t brave enough to test; a USB-C charger and cable; and, of course, the phone itself.
The 20 SE has a rear fingerprint scanner, as well as pretty reliable facial unlock. TCL markets it as having a “Smart Floating Window” feature, which allows you to watch videos and browse the web or answer messages at the same time by swiping to the corner of the screen, but try as I might I couldn’t get it to work. I suspect it’s a problem with me rather than the phone.
While the phone doesn’t support wireless charging, it does surprisingly have the ability to fast charge up to 18W, which is very nice indeed, along with reverse charging. The phone also runs Android 11, which is a distinct plus, especially since the more expensive TCL 20 5G is still (strangely) only on Android 10.
As is typical for phones around this price point, the 20 SE has an AI-assisted camera setup, with four rear cameras – a 48/16MP wide, 5MP ultrawide, 2MP depth, and 2MP macro. The built-in software purports to enhance skyboxes and portraits. While it performs well enough in the daytime and under bright lighting conditions, it struggles at night, though the flash can mitigate it somewhat when turned on. One plus is that the TCL logo no longer appears in the corner of your shots by default, which is an improvement over the 10 series. Video is shot at 1080p, as well, which is surprising considering the resolution of the screen itself.
The TCL 20 SE, at just $299, plays in a space usually reserved for TCL’s low-cost Alcatel phones, like the Alcatel 1SE – and it blows the 1SE out of the water (as you’d hope, for an extra $100). The screen is gorgeous, the sound is better, the charging is fast, the design is a lot nicer. If you need a smartphone and can’t shell out more than a couple hundred, this is the one to get.
• Excellent display
• 18W USB-C fast charging
• Big 5000mAh battery
• Android 11
• Dual speakers
• Premium design
• Competitive $299 price point
• Average camera
• 720p resolution
• A touch on the slow side