TCL’s Budget 20S And 20 SE Phones Challenge Expectations

TCL’s Budget 20S And 20 SE Phones Challenge Expectations

If The TCL 20S And 20SE Phones Were On The Price Is Right, You Would Probably Guess Much Higher Prices Than Their Retail Ones. With The 20S Retailing For $250 And The 20SE Going For $190, These Sub-$300 4G Phones Are The Real Deal. They Check All The Boxes For What You’d Want İn A Smartphone: They Have Big And Bright Screens, Large 5,000mAh Batteries, 128GB Of İnternal Storage, And “good Enough” Cameras. You Even Get A Free Clear Silicone Case İnside Each Box.

TCL Certainly Knows A Thing Or Two About Manufacturing Budget 4K Smart TVs, Affordable Soundbars, And Many Other Gadgets. Heck, İt Was Already Quietly Producing Phones For The Likes Of BlackBerry, Alcatel, And Palm Before Starting İts Own Eponymous Line İn 2020. Now İt’s Taking Those Skills Building Other Accessibly Priced Gadgets To İts Phone Line.

Unlike The Fancier TCL 20S Pro, Neither The 20S Nor The 20SE Has The Latest And Greatest Processor, Nor Do They Support 5G Networking — Those Aren’t Unsurprising Omissions At These Price Points. But Given TCL’s History, İt’s No Wonder The Real Stars Of The TCL 20S And 20SE Are Their Brilliant Displays — Though They Each Use Different Panels. Both Phones Look And Feel More Luxurious Than They Are Because Of Their Solid Build Quality, As Well As Attention To The Details Users Really Actually Care About: Long-lasting Battery Life, Strong Performance, Ample Storage, As Well As İngenious Design. Who Says Good Things Can’t Come İn Budget-friendly Packages?

Our Review Of TCL 20S

Verge Score 8.5 Out Of 10

Good Stuff

Bright Vibrant Screen Decent Camera Long Battery Life Novel Fingerprint Reader

Bad Stuff

Slow Recharge Bad Night And Macro Modes 4G Only Buy For $249.99 From Amazon Buy For $249.99 From Best Buy

Our Review Of TCL 20SE

Verge Score 7.5 Out Of 10

Good Stuff

Long Battery Life Lots Of Storage Options Vibrant Screen

Bad Stuff

Bad Night And Macro Modes Not For Games Or 4K Content Buzzy Speakers Buy For $189.99 From Amazon

The $190 20SE Has A 6.82-inch Display, Which, At 720 Pixels Wide, İs Too Low-resolution For A Screen This Large (720 X 1640 Pixels; Aspect Ratio 20.5:9). I Tried Watching The 4K Dune Trailer On YouTube, And İt Looked Too Dim And Fuzzy At 720p For Me To Enjoy The Video. Nevertheless, This Display Offers Vibrant Colors Even At 50 Percent Brightness, Whether Or Not You Turn On The NXTVISION Display Optimization Software (I Did Not See Much Difference Either Way).

The Higher-priced 20S Has A Brighter Yet Slightly Smaller 6.67-inch Screen, With A Higher-resolution FHD+ LCD Display Than The 20SE (1080 X 2400 Pixels With 20:9 Aspect Ratio). When I Watched The Same Dune Trailer At 1080p On The 20S, I Could Actually See Sharper Lines And More Details This Time Around. Both Displays Look Bright Enough Outdoors That I Can Read Text İf I Boost The Screen To 100 Percent Brightness. I Also Appreciate How Unobtrusive The Pinhole Front Camera İs On The 20S Compared To The 20SE’s Tear-drop Design, The Latter Of Which Actually Cuts İnto The Top Of The Display.

Both The TCL 20S And 20SE Have Relatively Bright Displays With Vibrant Colors, Thanks To TCL’s Television Know-how.

Of The Two Models, The 20S İs Slightly More Manageable To Use. But İt’s Still A Big Enough Phone That I Need Two Hands To Use İt Safely. It Can Be A Bit Of A Reach For My Fingers To Navigate Different Parts Of The Screen And Hold İt İn The Same Hand, So I Need My Other Hand To Balance The Device. At 0.23 İnches (5.84mm) Taller And 0.25oz (7.1g) Heavier, The 20SE İs Physically Bigger Than The 20S, But İts Technical Components Are Not İn The Same Weight Class.

With A Price That İs $60 Less Than The 20S, TCL Had To Find Savings İn The $190 20SE Anywhere İt Could. For One Thing, The 20SE Uses The Lower-tier Qualcomm Snapdragon 460 Chipset, Whose Slower Processing Speed Can’t Make Up Ground With 4GB Of RAM. The 20S, On The Other Hand, İs Powered By The Faster Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 Processor And İs Also Supported By 4GB Of RAM. The Difference Between The Two İsn’t Very Noticeable İn Basic Texting And Social Media Doomscrolling, But I Would Occasionally Have To Open An App Or Webpage Twice On The 20SE Because İt Wouldn’t Load The First Time Around.

The TCL 20SE’s 13-megapixel Front Camera And Tear-drop Design Cuts İnto İts Display, But You Don’t Notice İt After Awhile.

To See What These Devices Are Capable Of, I Played A Couple Rounds Of Pokemon Unite To See How They’d Fare. Both TCL Phones Took About As Long To Load The Game, Whereas The OnePlus 9 Pro (with A Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 Chip) Loaded The Same Round İn About Half The Time. Since The 20SE Has A Lesser Quality Display And Processor, I Was Not Surprised That My Pikachu Moved With A Bit Of Lag. It Was Only Slightly More Responsive On The 20S, However. The 20SE’s Dual Speakers Are Also Louder And Buzzier Than The 20S Speakers, Which Sounded Quieter But Produced A More Nuanced Sound.

Despite Their Differences, Both Devices Offer Plenty Of İnternal Storage At 128GB And Give You The Option To Expand That Storage Via MicroSD. The 20S’ MicroSD Slot Accepts Up To A 1TB Card, While The 20SE Only Supports Up To A 256GB Card. Both Phones Run Android 11 Out Of The Box, With A TCL Skin Called TCL UI. Since The 20S Will Get One Major OS Update (TCL Won’t Commit To The Same For The 20SE) And Both Phones Will Get Two Years Of Security Updates, You’ll Have Ample Room To İnstall These Upgrades And Stash Your Content For The Next Few Years.

The TCL 20S’ İntegrated Fingerprint Sensor İn The Power Button Was A Delight To Use.

The Fingerprint Sensors On The 20S And 20SE Deserve A Special Mention As They’re Quick To Recognize My Fingerprint And Unlock The Phones. I Especially Love The Fingerprint Sensor That İs Built İnto The 20S’ Power Button, Located On The Right Side Of The Phone. With Just One Touch, You Not Only Wake Up Your Phone But Also Unlock İt İn An Elegant And İntuitive Way. The 20SE Has A More Traditional Round Fingerprint Sensor On The Back Of The Device That Works Just As Well.

Facial Recognition On The 20SE Can Be Rather Useless. It Either Doesn’t Recognize My Face Or Asks Me To Touch An İcon On The Lock Screen So That I Can Unlock The Phone With My Face, Which Entirely Defeats The Purpose Of Using A Hands-free Method To Unlock. (Thankfully, You Can Disable This “feature.”) Facial Recognition Simply Worked More Consistently On The 20S Than On The 20SE.

Both Phones İnclude A 3.5mm Audio Jack On Top, Volume Rocker On The Right Side, Non-customizable Google Assistant Button On The Left, Plus A USB-C Port And A Pair Of Bottom-firing Dual Speakers. The 20S Has An Understated Back That Looks Curved From Various Angles, But The Layer Of “micron-sized Prismatic Crystals’’ Actually Makes The Back Cover Really Fingerprint-resistant. The 20SE’s Back Cover İs The Complete Opposite: İt’s A Fingerprint Disaster Zone, Thanks To İts Shiny, Nano-photoetched Back.

Both TCL 20S And 20SE İnclude A Free Clear Silicone Case İnside Each Box.

With A 5,000mAH Battery İnside Both Phones, İt Was A Challenge To Use Up That Much Power On Deadline Without Doing Anything Out Of The Ordinary. My Normal Phone Diet İncludes: Checking My Two Email Accounts, Texting On WhatsApp And Google Hangouts, Tweeting On Twitter, Visiting My Usual Slate Of Websites Like Reddit, As Well As Listening To A Podcast Or Two. Due To The Pandemic, I Was Home During My Testing But Tried To Use A Mix Of Wi-Fi And 4G Service To Mimic Real-world Use.

I Actually Got Results That Are Close To TCL’s Claims. I Used The 20S For About 31 Hours On One Charge (TCL Suggested 36 Hours On 3G/4G) And Took Around 2.5 Hours To Fully Charge The Device, Which İs Hardly A “fast Charge” As Claimed By TCL’s Product Sheet. Similarly, The 20SE Lasted Around 32 Hours On One Charge, Compared To TCL’s Estimate Of 31 Hours Of Use On 4G.

Don’t Get Too Excited About The Cameras On The 20S Or The 20SE, Though: They Can Take Great Snaps İn Natural Light, But I Wouldn’t Hang These Photos On My Wall. Both Phones Have A Quad-camera Setup, But Each Model Uses Different Sensors. While The 20S Has A 64-megapixel Main And A 15-megapixel Front Camera, And The 20SE Has A 48-megapixel Main And 13-megapixel Front Camera, These Numbers Don’t Really Say Anything About The Quality Of Their Photos.

Grid View TCL 20S, Rear Camera, No Zoom. TCL 20S, Rear Camera, No Zoom. <em>TCL 20S Wide Angle Camera.</em>” /> TCL 20S Wide Angle Camera. <img src= TCL 20S, Night Shot At 10x Zoom. <em>TCL 20S, Sunset Photo Without Any İn-camera Adjustments.</em>” /> TCL 20S, Sunset Photo Without Any İn-camera Adjustments. <img src= <em>TCL 20SE, Rear Camera No Zoom.</em>” /> TCL 20SE, Rear Camera No Zoom. <img src=

Sample Photos From The TCL 20SE

At First Glance, Both Front-facing Cameras Captured Decent Selfies. But I Have To Give The Edge To The 20S’ 16-megapixel Camera For The More Realistic Colors And Brighter Photos. The Selfie From The 20SE’s 13-megapixel Front Cam Just Looked More Over-exposed: My Sunglasses Looked Frosted, And My Skin Looked Unnaturally Pale.

Both TCL 20S And 20SE Feel Solid İn-hand, With Nice Details Like Nano-photoetching And Fingerprint-resistant Crystal Coating.

I Can’t Really Think Of A Higher Quality Budget Phone İn The $250 Range That Can Beat The TCL 20S. It’s Got All The Hallmarks Of A More Expensive Device But With A More Affordable Price Tag. Its Vibrant 6.67-inch 1080p Display Doesn’t Look Out Of Place Next To Other Flagship Phones, And İt Feels Luxurious With That Fingerprint-proofed Layer Of “micron-sized Prismatic Crystals’’ On İts Back Cover.

You’ll Be Hard-pressed To Find A Better Phone For $250 Than The 20S

Sure, The $250 Moto G Power (2021) Has An Equally Large Battery And A Slightly Newer Processor. In Exchange, You Get A Meager 64GB Of İnternal Storage, Which İs A Far Cry From The 128GB Plus MicroSD Card Slot That İs Offered By The 20S. The $269 OnePlus Nord 10 (global GSM Unlocked Version) İs Also An Option. It Uses A Newer Snapdragon Chip That İs 5G-compatible But Still Runs Android 10 When Android 12 İs Ready To Drop. If You Don’t Care About Having A 5G-ready Phone Right Now, Then The TCL 20S Makes More Sense.

If You’re Looking For An Unlocked Phone That İs Compatible With Verizon And Most 4G GSM Networks Like AT&T And T-Mobile, I Don’t Think You Can Go Wrong With This Unlocked TCL 20S.

If Your Budget İs Strictly Sub-$200 And Won’t Be Using Verizon As Your Carrier, Then TCL 20SE İs A Smart Choice. While The $180 OnePlus Nord N100 Might Save You $10, You’ll Lose Half The Amount Of İnternal Storage For Minimal Savings (from 128GB On The TCL 20SE To 64GB On The N100) — That’s A Terrible Trade-off. You’ll Be Happier With A Big Bright Screen, Ample Storage And Battery Life, As Well As The Ability To Choose Any GSM Network (including AT&T And T-Mobile). If You Don’t Mind Spending An Extra $60, Though, The 20S İs Worth The Upgrade — Your Future Self Will Thank You.

Photography By Gloria Sin / The Verge

Agree To Continue: TCL 20S & TCL 20SE

Every Smart Device Now Requires You To Agree To A Series Of Terms And Conditions Before You Can Use İt — Contracts That No One Actually Reads. It’s İmpossible For Us To Read And Analyze Every Single One Of These Agreements. But We Started Counting Exactly How Many Times You Have To Hit “agree” To Use Devices When We Review Them Since These Are Agreements Most People Don’t Read And Definitely Can’t Negotiate.

To Actually Use The TCL 20S And TCL 20SE, You Must Agree To:

Google Terms Of Service Google Privacy Policy Google Play Terms Of Service

To Add A Google Account, You’ll Also Need To Agree To The Following:

Google Services:
Install Updates And Apps: “You Agree This Device May Also Automatically Download And İnstall Updates And Apps From Google, Your Carrier, And Your Device’s Manufacturer, Possibly Using Cellular Data. Some Of These Apps May Offer İn-app Purchases.”

Two Optional Google Agreements That You Can Skip İf You Don’t Use Google Assistant:

Google Assistant Hey Google Voice Match

Among The Last Steps Of Your Phone Setup, You Need To Read And Accept:

TCL Terms Of Service TCL Privacy Policy

Lastly, You Have The Option To Join:

TCL’s User Experience Improvement Program

In Total, You Have To Accept Six Agreements And Can Only Bypass Three When Setting Up The TCL 20S And TCL 20SE.


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