How many Western brands does a Chinese manufacturer need to take over before launching smartphones under its own brand? Three, as the TCL example shows. Having taken possession of Alcatel, Blackberry, Palm and their numerous patents, the company set about developing its own brand, and the first sign was a middle-class device — TCL Plex
TCL, which owns the brands Alcatel, Blackberry and Palm, suddenly decided to release a smartphone under its own brand. It acts decisively and quickly — the TCL Plex smartphone was introduced at IFA 2019 in early autumn, and now it is already available for sale in Russia, following the well-known TVs of this brand. By the way, the smartphone and TVs have one thing in common — a perfectly tuned screen. At least this is what the company emphasizes in its materials. Well, we will definitely check this moment — we have recently tested a lot of smartphones with gorgeous displays (iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone 11, Huawei Mate 30 Pro), so there is definitely something to compare with.
It is no secret that any debut product of any manufacturer is always perceived with great skepticism, this can be seen from the first comments on TCL Plex in online stores. Unfortunately, we do not yet know exactly how the TCL smartphone line will develop and whether it will develop at all. However, in itself, its first representative definitely deserves attention. In addition to a high-quality screen, it offers a triple camera with a 48-megapixel Sony IMX582 sensor in the title role, a medium-powered Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 platform, and a number of software chips that are extremely rare for Chinese manufacturers. So let’s find out if all this is worth the $120 that TCL Plex is asking for from the start.
|TCL Plex||realme 3 pro||Realme XT||Honor 8X||Nokia 7.1|
|Display||6.53 inches, IPS, 1080 × 2340 (19.5:9), 395 ppi; capacitive multi-touch||6.3 inches, IPS, 1080 × 2340 (19.5:9), 409 ppi; capacitive multi-touch||6.4 inches, Super AMOLED, 1080 × 2340 (19.5:9), 402 ppi; capacitive multi-touch||6.5 inches, IPS, 2340 × 1080 pixels, 396 ppi; capacitive, multi-touch||5.84 inches, IPS, 2280 × 1080 pixels, 432 ppi; capacitive, multi-touch|
|Protective glass||Corning Gorilla Glass 3||Corning Gorilla Glass 5||Corning Gorilla Glass 5||there is no data||Corning Gorilla Glass 3|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 675: eight cores (2 × Kryo 460 Gold, 2.2 GHz and 6 × Kryo 460 Silver, 1.7 GHz)||Qualcomm Snapdragon 710: eight cores (2 × Kryo 360 Gold, 2.2 GHz and 6 × Kryo 360 Silver, 1.7 GHz)||Qualcomm Snapdragon 712: eight cores (2 × Kryo 360 Gold, 2.3 GHz and 6 × Kryo 360 Silver, 1.7 GHz)||HiSilicon Kirin 710: eight cores (4 × Cortex A73, 2.2GHz + 4 × Cortex A53, 1.7GHz)||Qualcomm Snapdragon 636: eight cores (8 × Kryo 260, 2.2 GHz)|
|Graphics controller||Adreno 612||Adreno 616||Adreno 616||Mali-G51 MP4||Adreno 509|
|RAM||6 GB||4/6 GB||4/6/8 GB||4/6 GB||3/4 GB|
|Flash memory||128 GB||64/128 GB||64/128 GB||64/128 GB||32/64 GB|
|Memory card support||microSD||microSD||microSD||microSD||microSD|
|Connectors||USB Type-C, mini-jack 3.5 mm||microUSB 2.0, mini-jack 3.5 mm||USB Type-C, mini-jack 3.5 mm||USB Type-C, mini-jack 3.5 mm||USB Type-C|
|SIM cards||Two nano-SIMs||Two nano-SIMs||Two nano-SIMs||Two nano-SIMs||Two nano-SIMs|
|Cellular 2G||GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz||GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz||GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz||GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz||GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz|
|Cellular 3G||HSDPA 800 / 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 MHz||HSDPA 800 / 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 MHz||HSDPA 800 / 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 MHz||HSDPA 800 / 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 MHz||HSDPA 800 / 850 / 900 / 1700 / 1900 / 2100 MHz|
|Cellular 4G||LTE Cat. 6 (400/75 Mbps), bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40||LTE Cat. 6 (400/75 Mbps), bands 1, 3, 5, 8, 38, 40, 41||LTE Cat. 12 (600/50 Mbps), bands 1, 3, 5, 8, 38, 40, 41||LTE Cat. 4 (150/50 Mbps), bands 1, 3, 7, 8, 34, 38, 39, 40, 41||LTE Cat. 6 (300/75 Mbps), bands 1, 3, 5, 8, 38, 40, 41|
|WiFi||802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2.4/5 GHz||802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2.4/5 GHz||802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2.4/5 GHz||802.11a/b/g/n 2.4/5 GHz||802.11a/b/g/n/ac|
|NFC||There is||Not||There is||There is||There is|
|Navigation||GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS||GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS||GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS||GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS||GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS|
|Sensors||Illumination, proximity, accelerometer/gyroscope, magnetometer (digital compass)||Illumination, proximity, accelerometer/gyroscope, magnetometer (digital compass)||Illumination, proximity, accelerometer/gyroscope, magnetometer (digital compass)||Illumination, proximity, accelerometer/gyroscope, magnetometer (digital compass)||Light, proximity, accelerometer/gyroscope, magnetometer (digital compass), barometer|
|The fingerprint scanner||Yes, behind||Yes, behind||Yes, built into the screen||Yes, behind||Yes, behind|
|Main camera||Triple module: 48 MP, ƒ / 1.8 + 16 MP, ƒ / 2.4 + 2 MP, ƒ / 1.8, phase detection autofocus, LED flash||Dual module: 25 MP, ƒ / 1.7 + 5 MP, ƒ / 2.4, phase detection autofocus, LED flash||Quad module: 64 MP, ƒ/1.8 + 8 MP, ƒ/2.3 + 2 MP, ƒ/2.4 + 2 MP, ƒ/2.4, phase detection autofocus, LED flash||Dual module: 20 MP, ƒ / 1.8 + 2 MP, ƒ / 2.2, phase detection autofocus, LED flash||Dual module: 12 MP, ƒ / 1.8 + 5 MP, ƒ / 2.4, phase detection autofocus, dual LED flash|
|Front-camera||24 MP, ƒ/2.0, no autofocus, no flash||25 MP, ƒ/2.0, no autofocus, no flash||16 MP, ƒ/2.0, no autofocus, no flash||16 MP, ƒ/2.0, autofocus, no flash||8 MP, ƒ/2.0, no autofocus, with flash|
|Nutrition||Non-removable battery: 14.52 Wh (3820 mAh, 3.8 V)||Non-removable battery: 15.39 Wh 4045 mAh, 3.8 V)||Non-removable battery: 15.2 Wh 4000 mAh, 3.8 V)||Non-removable battery: 14.25 Wh (3750 mAh, 3.8 V)||Non-removable battery: 11.63 Wh (3060 mAh, 3.8 V)|
|Weight||192 g||172 g||183 g||175 g||160 g|
|Operating system||Android 9.0 Pie, ColorOS 6 shell||Android 9.0 Pie, ColorOS 6 shell||Android 9.0 Pie, ColorOS 6 shell||Android 8.1 Oreo, EMUI shell||Android 8.1.0 Oreo|
|Current price||120$||15 990 / 120$||220$||from 120$||from 120$|
⇡#Design, ergonomics, software
Surprisingly, if you do not take into account the flagships, then I can easily call TCL Plex one of the prettiest smartphones in 2019. And although there are no frills in appearance, the apparatus is surprisingly harmonious and concise. The case is not the most compact — the display here has a diagonal of 6.53 inches — but with such dimensions, TCL Plex feels very comfortable in the hand, thanks to its small thickness and smooth rounding at the back around the perimeter.
Some Galaxy Note 10 or iPhone Xs Max has always been terrible to drop, TCL Plex is not, although its body is just as glossy and slippery. And it’s not the strength of the body or the price (although, perhaps, the price also plays a role here), but the ratio of the dimensions and weight distribution of the device. There are two color variations available: black (Obsidian Black), which you see in all the photos here, and white (Opal White). In both cases, the shades are very complex and heterogeneous — white casts with mother-of-pearl and resembles a similar color in the Samsung Galaxy S10. The black smartphone shimmers in exactly the same way, which creates even more additional shades. And most importantly — it looks really cool and expensive. In general, the first impressions of the appearance of TCL Plex are the most positive.
But if you take a closer look, you can see typical Chinese artifacts — an overly large and ridiculous inscription with information about the manufacturer on the back cover, as well as technical specifications of built-in cameras written along the line of lenses. Of course, this does not make the smartphone worse from a functional point of view, but such things still allow us to judge the pedigree of almost any smartphone.
Almost the entire front side of the case is occupied by a display, which, fortunately, does without a notch cutout. The voice speaker grill has narrowed to a thin black strip on top, and the front camera is placed in a round cutout in the upper left corner. However, the question of what is better — «bangs» or «hole» remains open.
The front and back sides of the case are made of tempered glass with a high-quality oleophobic coating. By the way, it is precisely because of the large amount of glass that the TCL Plex case turned out to be so heavy — 192 grams. If he also had a metal frame around the perimeter, he could be even more weighty. Fingerprints on a dark case are, of course, visible, but even if you use TCL Plex without a case (which, by the way, is included in the package), you will not have to wipe it every day, at most once a week.
In terms of controls and connectors, TCL’s debut smartphone looks quite traditional. At the bottom we have a USB-C connector, at the top there is a mini-jack, for which we thank the company on behalf of all lovers of wired headphones. On the right side is the volume rocker, as well as the power button. And on the left is a slot for SIM cards and microSD cards, as well as a separate button that can be configured as you wish. There are three usage options in the settings — single press, double press and long hold, each of which can be set to launch a specific application (any of the available ones) or perform a specific function (take a screenshot, scan a QR code, turn on a flashlight, voice recorder and so on). Very simple, very convenient, and even surprising how rare this element is found in smartphones.
Separately, it is worth noting the performance of the built-in cameras. There are three of them on the back panel, all of them are located horizontally, in a row. None of the cameras protrude above the surface of the case, which is also quite rare. There is also a fingerprint scanner, which works quickly and accurately. In the general case, I could find fault with its location on the back, but TCL Plex also has a face unlock, so in fact you have to use the fingerprint scanner infrequently.
The operating system is Android 9.0 Pie with minor interface changes and add-ons. All Google services, including Google Pay, are available — so there are no problems using TCL Plex.
I can’t even complain about the excessive number of pre-installed applications, which Chinese manufacturers often sin. Rather, there is still some software on the smartphone, but it is as utilitarian and unobtrusive as possible (compass, voice recorder, FM radio application, file manager, and so on).
⇡ # Display and sound
It’s time to get rid of the low requirements for the screens of inexpensive smartphones — we have already had many examples of good IPS and even OLED matrices in smartphones under $300. And although OLED displays are becoming more affordable and more popular, many people prefer IPS displays.
TCL initially relies on the quality of the screen and promises the perfect color setting. Well, according to subjective impressions, the display is really good. The only thing that can be a little embarrassing is the relatively low resolution with a large diagonal: 2340 × 1080 pixels and 6.53 inches, respectively. The pixel density at this ratio is approximately 395 dpi.
Brightness indicators are not record-breaking — a maximum of 450 nits, but this is quite consistent with the standards of IPS displays. The contrast ratio is quite good, the value of 1083:1 will be enough to read from the screen in bright sunlight was quite comfortable.
In the settings, you can choose one of two operating modes — Standard and Vivid. In the first case, you get more honest, but visually less bright colors, in the second — a little twisted saturation. In it, you can also enable a dynamic change in color temperature depending on external conditions (TrueTone technology works in a similar way on Apple devices) or change it manually. We tested the screen in both standard modes.
In standard mode, the color gamut matches the sRGB space almost perfectly, and in Vivid mode it becomes noticeably wider. The average gamma in the first case is 2.25, in Vivid — 2.20. These are very good indicators.
The same can be said about color temperature. In standard mode, it almost perfectly matches the reference value of 6500 K, and in extended mode it goes slightly to the “cold” side, but only slightly — up to about 7500 K. These are also excellent indicators.
The average DeltaE deviation on the Color Checker scale, which includes the spectrum of colors, as well as shades of gray, in the standard mode is 1.72 — an excellent result. When switching to high saturation mode, the deviation increases to 3.80, which is also not far from the norm in general. So the general conclusion here is very simple: the TCL Plex display is set up perfectly — it can easily compete with any of the iPhones with IPS screens.
But in terms of sound, TCL’s debut smartphone does not stand out at all. The small earpiece does not take part in the reproduction of sound outside the conversation, so when watching a video or listening to music, you will have to be content with monophonic sound. However, this is quite enough for the functions of the alarm clock, and for everything else there are headphones.
Well, it remains to be added that TCL Plex, like many other modern smartphones, uses an active noise reduction system during calls. The microphone hole, located on the upper end of the case, is designed just for this purpose. In very noisy places, this is unlikely to save, but, for example, the noise of public transport is eliminated within reasonable limits, and audibility becomes better.
⇡ # Hardware and performance
Qualcomm’s dominance in the mobile system-on-a-chip market has meant that we can predict benchmark results with high accuracy. There is no more intrigue, we see the numerical index of the platform and immediately know what it is suitable for, what not. So, we immediately knew that TCL Plex is based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 platform, which is made using the 11nm process technology and is designed for mid-range and mid-range devices. The most famous of them is perhaps the Xiaomi Redmi Note 7 Pro. Performance is sufficient not only for surfing, office applications and communicators, but also for most games.
In the 3DMark and GFXBenchmark tests, the TCL smartphone is slightly inferior to the Realme XT and Realme 3 Pro, but this is just not surprising, because they use more efficient chips. Surprisingly, in AnTuTu 7, TCL Plex bypasses them, gaining a solid 210 thousand points for an inexpensive smartphone.
A similar picture is observed in WebXPRT 3 — TCL Plex bypasses the mentioned devices. It is worth noting that we usually use WebXPRT 2015, but this time there was a little confusion with the results, so all the data is for a newer version of the benchmark. Separately, it is worth noting that the central processor in TCL Plex is not subject to overheating and throttling. Its maximum frequency does not decrease under load. It is possible that the superiority of Plex in some tests is manifested precisely for this reason.
In the rest of the tests, there were no surprises, in the fifth version of Geekbench, the smartphone almost reached 1000 points in multi-core mode, and AI Benchmark, which evaluates the performance of neural network calculations, gave a decent result of 19 thousand points.
I note that TCL Plex currently exists in only one modification — with 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of internal storage. If you do not abuse shooting at maximum resolution and do not store all the footage in the smartphone’s memory, then this volume will be enough for most cases. But it’s nice that TCL did not deprive us of the opportunity to increase the amount of memory with a microSD card. The smartphone supports media up to 256 GB inclusive, although the slot is combined: you can put either a second SIM card or a memory card.
⇡#Communication and wireless communications
The communication capabilities of TCL Plex are almost 100% determined by the capabilities of the chosen hardware platform. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 uses an X12 LTE modem that supports a maximum download speed of 600 Mbps and an upload speed of 150 Mbps. True, the manufacturer on the official website of the device speaks of other figures: 400 Mbps for receiving and 75 for sending. However, both sets of numbers will probably suit most users. Also, the platform itself does not oblige the manufacturer to install, for example, an NFC module. And many mid-range Chinese smartphones often sin without it, which deprives users of the possibility of contactless payment via Google Pay. The good news is that TCL Plex does not follow suit — it has NFC, and contactless payment works as expected.
The smartphone supports two SIM cards in Dual Standby mode, since there is only one communication module in it, and the slot for the second SIM card is combined with the expansion slot. Not the most convenient option, frankly, but we have the ability to hot-swap any of the SIM cards and memory cards.
We are again dealing with a system of three cameras, and the main one again has an extremely high resolution. The example of Realme XT, which had a 64 megapixel camera, showed that there is little point in such a high resolution. Yes, you can get a really big image that can be printed in huge format, but by default, the pictures are still saved at a “cut down” resolution, and who, after all, prints pictures taken on a phone?
We must give credit to TCL, this design of the three lenses on the rear panel looks nice and does not cause any rejection. An additional plus is that the lenses do not protrude beyond the body and, therefore, are slightly better protected from damage.
The main module is the Sony IMX582 with a 48-megapixel sensor, a 26mm equivalent lens and an ƒ/1.8 aperture. There is also stabilization (apparently digital) and fast phase detection autofocus. True, by default, pictures are saved at a resolution of 12 megapixels, and shooting at full power is possible only when the corresponding item in the menu is activated. It is impossible to make sure that this mode is always enabled; with each subsequent start of the camera, it will return to the default settings.
This once again makes us think about the advisability of using such high-resolution sensors in smartphones. Look at the shots above and try to notice the difference between 12 and 48 megapixels.
The second camera has a resolution of 16 megapixels and twice the wide viewing angle (EGF 13 mm, aperture ƒ / 2.4). It does without autofocus, but this is not a significant disadvantage. Firstly, at such a focal length, the depth of field is so great that you can lock the focus at infinity and get high-quality images. And secondly, this approach is practiced everywhere, even in the iPhone 11, the wide-angle camera does without autofocus.
The third camera with a 2 megapixel sensor and aperture of 1.8 acts as a depth sensor and is also used for video recording in low light conditions. The shooting interface offers two zoom levels, but this is purely digital zoom. And by the way, when you activate the shooting mode in maximum resolution, the zoom buttons disappear from the screen. But we must admit that in general, the main TCL Plex cameras produce a good picture. Only the wide-angle camera has obvious problems in low light conditions. The main module behaves better and can compete with most competitors. It would be interesting to even do a comparison test with Plex.
⇡#TCL Plex camera interface
It’s worth noting that, by default, TCL Plex will pad every photo with large, annoying watermarks. This can be disabled in the settings, but in itself such a gesture looks very disrespectful — none of the top manufacturers allow themselves such impudence.
The front camera, as already mentioned, is located in a round cutout in the upper left corner of the screen. When it is activated, the lens is briefly illuminated along the contour, showing exactly where to look — a very nice concern for those who have never dealt with such implementations. With the resolution of the sensor for the front camera, the manufacturer also slightly overdid it — 24 megapixels, aperture ƒ / 2.0, EGF 26 mm.
The shooting quality is average, I would say nothing special. The dynamic range is quite narrow, so for the best selfies, you will often have to turn so that the sun does not completely blow out the background. However, if you get used to it, then from time to time you will get good self-portraits.
The combination of a large IPS display and not the most capacious battery initially did not allow counting on a record. To be honest, for a smartphone with a screen of 6.53 inches with the appropriate dimensions of the case, the battery turned out to be surprisingly modest — only 14.52 Wh (3820 mAh, 3.8 V). In the standard test, which involves looping an HD video at maximum screen brightness with an active Wi-Fi connection, the smartphone lasted a little over 11 hours. It seems to be a good result, but in practice, a smartphone is not always enough for a full day of work without recharging, especially if you like to read from the screen.
The good news is that TCL Plex supports fast charging (Quick Charge 3.0) and has an 18-watt adapter in the basic package. The battery gains 50% charge in just half an hour, so a short session at the outlet will be enough to save yourself from a complete discharge in the late afternoon.
Well, we must admit that the debut of TCL was definitely a success. Of course, nothing can be perfect the first time, so some TCL Plex flaws can be forgiven. The smartphone isn’t without flaws, but it does have charisma, and TCL’s proposed smartphone lineup definitely has potential. Summing up, it is definitely worth highlighting the laconic and pretty design of the back panel, unlike the vast majority of smartphones with multiple built-in cameras. Special thanks for the multifunctional button on the left side and the corresponding customization options. And, of course, let’s not forget about a perfectly tuned screen — this is still not often found in mid-range smartphones.
Whether this device costs $200 is a rhetorical question. On the one hand, the price looks absolutely adequate, taking into account all factors. But on the other hand, the novelty of the brand can be scary, because for the same money there will be a fairly large selection of smartphones with more famous names — Xiaomi, Honor or the same Realme that have become familiar. So the conclusion will be very careful — be sure to look at TCL Plex, hold it in your hands, give it a chance.
- exceptionally comfortable shape
- perfectly tuned screen,
- good built-in cameras
- additional button on the case.
- combined expansion slot,
- not long enough time.