While I spend the majority of my time with flagship smartphones, there are some solid options available for less than half the cost of high-end phones that can meet your needs perfectly. I spent a few weeks with the sub- $ 200 TCL 20SE and it’s an acceptable phone for those who just want a phone for communication purposes or a backup to work with.
The TCL 20SE is not a gaming phone or phone that will help you take award-winning photos with ease. As a TCL brand phone, it focuses on the display experience and the basics. There is no 5G connectivity and it will receive 18-24 months of Android security patches, likely released quarterly. It’s also a very large phone with a 6.82 inch screen and 9.14mm thickness.
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That said, its price is just $ 189.99. There aren’t many phones under $ 200 and the TCL 20SE appears to be well built with a rather charming modern design. I liked using the big screen for messaging and enjoying Google TV movies, so there are definitely ways to get an optimized viewing experience from the phone.
TCL 20SE specifications
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 460
- Display: 6.82-inch LCD display, resolution 1640 x 720 pixels (263 ppi)
- Operating system: Android 11
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage room: 128 GB of internal storage with microSD card
- Cameras: Main 48MP, ultra-wide 5MP with 115 field of view, 2MP macro, and 2MP depth sensor. 13MP front camera.
- Connectivity: 802.11 a / b / g / n Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, FM radio
- Sensors: Accelerometer, Rear fingerprint sensor, Electronic compass, Proximity sensor, Ambient light sensor
- Drums: 5000 mAh non-removable
- LTE bands: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 28, 66
- Dimensions: 172 x 77 x 9.14 mm and 206 grams
- Colors: Nuit Noir and Aurora Vert
TCL sent the Nuit Black color to test. The back panel is plastic but has a design that bends the light and adds a touch of class to the design. There is a shiny solid strip on the far left that goes to the four camera assembly. A rear fingerprint sensor is positioned in the middle of the upper third of the back.
My first impression was that this is a fairly large phone which is also quite thick at 9.14mm. It’s one of the bigger phones I’ve tested in the past couple of years, probably designed to support the large 5,000mAh battery.
The screen takes up a generous portion of the front, with a reported 90% screen-to-body ratio. A central teardrop-shaped notch is cut into the screen for the front camera. The screen is LCD, but incorporates TCL’s NXTVISION technology and I really enjoyed watching several movies on it during my evaluation period.
In addition to the large vibrant screen, there are two speakers so you can enjoy movies in landscape orientation. The speakers won’t set the bar high for high quality speakers, but the sound was nice. There is also still a standard 3.5mm audio port on the top of the phone.
A Google Assistant activation button is on the left side, along with the SIM / microSD card tray, while the volume and power buttons are on the right. A USB-C port sits at the bottom to charge the 5,000mAh battery. The battery will allow you to easily get through at least a day of use.
The TCL 20SE is launched with Android 11 and TCL UI version 3.x. The Android security update of April 5, 2021 is present on the test device.
TCL’s user interface offers a fairly standard Android experience with most of the TCL customizations found in the launcher and settings focused on TCL’s display technologies. I’m not a big fan of the default app launcher setting which organizes your apps by category, but you can just switch to the most common option by name by double-tapping.
There are a few apps provided, such as Gallery, FM radio, and the NXTVISION utility, which make it easier to use the features found on the phone. Some unique settings / utilities include an Edge Bar for quickly launching apps, accessing a handy ruler, and connecting with your contacts. There is also a quick fingerprint launch option so that a long press on the scanner below the screen will take you directly to the selected app.
The Google feed is available as a home screen panel on the far left. All other functions expected from Google Android are also present on the phone.
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Daily use experiences and conclusion
The TCL 20SE is available now for $ 189.99 from the TCL store on Amazon. There are very few phones available for under $ 200, so as long as you know the limits and identify the need for a basic smartphone, this is a solid buy.
Some key things this phone lacks, understandable for under $ 200, is no NFC for Google Pay support, no IP rating for dust or water resistance, no display high resolution or high refresh rate, no 5G and limited carrier support for T-Mobile and AT&T, and cameras just adequate for social media and sharing.
Battery life is solid, the big screen is easy to read, phone calls sound great, movies are fun to watch on the big screen, and the phone is built very well.
I took pictures with all TCL Series 20 cameras with a Samsung and an iPhone to check the quality and the TCL 20 SE clearly came in last place. However, the photos weren’t great and with a steady hand and good lighting, you can capture decent photos in the blink of an eye.
The TCL 20SE is not a gaming phone and trying out racing games and other games with demanding graphics shows blocky performance. Puzzle games and other static games were fine. I’m so used to high refresh rate displays now that going back to a 60Hz display is a bit of a pain for quickly scrolling through web pages and long lists.
The TCL 20SE is one of the best phones under $ 200 you can find today. If you need a basic back-up phone or are looking for a large phone for an older family member for communication purposes, the TCL 20 SE is a good choice.