TCL has released plenty of smartphones under the BlackBerry and Alcatel banners, but last year's Plex was the company's first self-branded phone. Next week, two new devices join the young family: the super-cheap TCL 10L and the mid-range TCL 10 Pro. At $449, the 10 Pro gets a lot right — but unpolished UI and shoddy image processing hamper what could have been an interesting player in the budget space.
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With the Galaxy S20 series starting a thousand dollars, many cash-strapped Samsung fans are probably considering more affordable upgrade options this year. And apparently, Samsung anticipated this (and if it didn't, it sure knows now), as it's making more of its low-end and mid-range lineup available in the US than ever before. Not only did it give last year's S10 series a price cut while continuing to keep it on sale alongside the S20, but it also debuted the Galaxy S10 Lite in America, adding yet more choices to its growing smartphone portfolio.
But Samsung has dug even deeper into bag o' phones, with the mid-range and mid-range-plus Galaxy A51 and A71.
This story was originally published and last updated .
If you've never heard of a Red Magic smartphone, we're not surprised: the gaming-focused sub-brand of Nubia (itself a sub-brand of ZTE) doesn't have a lot of name recognition in America, or really anywhere. But this isn't the first time we've reviewed a Red Magic phone, and I've got something of a soft spot in my heart for last year's Red Magic 3S. As an everyday smartphone, it really wasn't fantastic, but its largely stock Android software and strong gaming performance at a seriously low price made it an attractive option as a dedicated gaming phone, for people who want such a thing (and I'm not sure how many such people there are).
OnePlus exploded on the scene in 2014 with marketing swagger not befitting its status as a startup that had never launched a phone, but the company has matured and proved itself over the years. You don't need an invite to buy its phones anymore, and it doesn't have to cut so many corners to remain competitive. OnePlus has even forged carrier partnerships in the US and been among the first to launch 5G phones. That brings us to the OnePlus 8, the followup to the OnePlus 7T, which is now official after numerous leaks.
Realme might be the newest and least well known of the BBK Electronics family that includes Oppo, Vivo, and OnePlus, but it’s certainly no less ambitious. After starting out as an Oppo sub-brand it was given license to operate more independently in 2017, and since then Realme has sold so many devices that it’s now the fastest-growing smartphone maker in the world. Its foray into the European market only really began in earnest this year, but aggressive pricing looks to be to paying dividends as it goes after more established Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi and Honor/Huawei.
Google has been selling smartphones for more than a decade at this point, but it's only on the fourth generation of Pixel phones. The Pixel era is when Google got serious about building a cohesive product that married hardware and software rather than just a vehicle for the latest stock version of Android. With the Pixel 4, it's clear that Google has learned a lot from the last three generations of Pixels, but I worry it hasn't learned all the right lessons.
Over the past few years, we've seen the emergence of a new category of phone: the budget flagship. Pioneered by brands like OnePlus, these affordable devices have a lot of the desirable qualities of phones that cost considerably more. At just $550, ZTE's Axon 10 Pro packs a spec wallop, and it seems like a great option on paper — but questionable software decisions and lousy image processing spoil what could've otherwise been an easy recommendation.
Sony used to be one of the most successful mobile companies in the world, but it never really got into a groove as modern smartphones took over the market. Sony has been on a slow downward slide for the last decade thanks to a string of mediocre, overpriced devices and failing relations with carriers. There have been some bright spots along the way, though, and Sony has been focusing on the hardware more in recent years. Last year's Xperia XZ3 was an encouraging improvement, and the new Xperia 1 is better still. However, it's just not good enough.
Over the last six months or so, Honor has undertaken a rebranding exercise in part to give the impression of a more modern smartphone maker that appeals to a youthful audience and in part to distance itself from parent company Huawei. In view of recent political developments, it’s obviously hugely beneficial for Huawei to have a sub-brand that carries a different name and cachet, although they come as a package as far as Google is concerned and that looks like it could spell trouble for both.
Let's assume, for a moment, that it will all get sorted out (otherwise this review will have been a massive waste of time).
Right now, the dominant trend in flagship smartphone design is one of refinement. Instead of aiming to sell shoppers on the appeal of tricks like modular hardware, or overloading a handset with gimmicky sensors, successful phones are instead trying to achieve the platonic ideal of basically existing as little more than one big screen. That's driven recent efforts like the proliferation of in-display fingerprint sensors, pop-out selfie cams, and the evolution of the notch to hole-punch designs. But you wouldn't know much of that, to look at the LG G8 ThinQ.