TCL is a Chinese electronics company mostly known for its TVs. The TCL Plex is their first attempt at competing in the crowded smartphone market, and it looks like it’s off to a good start with a 6.53-inch display, Snapdragon 675, and triple rear cameras. But are those enough to make it stand out in the crowd? Find out in this review.
Table of Contents
Design and Construction
I’m digging the design language of the Plex, but like most things in this world, it isn’t perfect. For construction, the Plex has a pretty nice glass back and front held together by a metallic frame.
In-front, we get a punch-hole at the upper left corner for the selfie shooter. At the back, we get a triple-camera setup, stacked horizontally, and placed on the top center. Its dual LED flash is split in two and placed before and after the three sensors.
Right below it is the rear-mounted fingerprint scanner. And I’m digging the symmetry that’s taking place here. My only gripe is with the placement of the cameras. I think it’s too high, because every time I take a photo or shoot video in landscape, I usually end up smudging one of the lenses. So yeah, I wish it was just a bit lower.
For buttons and ports, starting at the top, we can find a noise-canceling mic for the loudspeaker, as well as a 3.5mm audio jack.
Situated on the right are the volume rocker and power button.
On the left, we can find the Hybrid Dual SIM card tray, followed by the programmable button users can use to open apps, a quick toggle for the flashlight, and even Google Assistant.
Lastly, at the bottom, we can find the primary microphone for regular calls disguised in this extra speaker grill, a USB Type-C port, and the actual single downward-firing speaker.
Overall, I think if TCL’s goal was to draw as much attention to this device with their design language, they did a pretty good job. It isn’t some revolutionary thing, but I believe it’s a good starting point.
Display and Multimedia
For display, the TCL Plex features a 6.53-inch FHD+ IPS LCD panel with a resolution of 2340 x 1080 which is equal to 395ppi. We don’t get any Gorilla Glass protection on this device, so users might want to be wary of where they store this device to keep it as scratch-free as possible.
When it comes to media consumption, this IPS LCD panel isn’t half bad. For an IPS, colors look vibrant and accurate. In terms of brightness, TCL could do better, but I guess since this is their first-ever smartphone, I won’t dwell on it too much. Watching your favorite shows and movies on this device is pretty nice, though what we didn’t like was the backlight bleed around the edges as well the punch-hole.
For the audio coming from the single-downward firing speaker, it can get quite loud, with little to no low end. But mids and highs are very present.
OS and Apps
For software, we get Android 9 Pie skinned with TCL UI on top. It’s an interesting interface with some pre-installed TCL apps. Of those apps, I only really used Smart Key, which is the app that allows users to customize the programmable button on the left. And when it comes to the stock camera app.
I’m not a fan of the amount of time it takes to switch between modes. It is slow, which can be trouble if the perfect moment to snap a shot arises, and you’re still waiting for the phone to get to the desired mode.
Other than those nitpicks, I don’t have much to say about TCL UI just yet. It’s a fresh interface that I feel needs to mature a bit more, catering to the needs of their user base.
Now for the cameras. At the rear, you get a triple-camera setup composed of a 48MP primary shooter F1.8, a 16MP ultrawide F2.4, and a 2MP lowlight sensor F1.8. And in the punch-hole at the front, resides a 24MP F2.0 selfie shooter.
In terms of post-processing, the Plex likes to up the saturation as well as the sharpness. Dynamic Range is pretty good. And overall, it’s a pretty substantial camera, the main sensor does have an aperture of F1.8, and sometimes a default shot can look like a portrait shot but with natural bokeh. Like most smartphone cameras, its problem comes from less optimal lighting conditions. Subjects with harsh backlighting can also lower the image quality of a photo.
For Night Mode, the Plex doesn’t have one of those that can see in the dark. And with that dedicated low-light sensor, I expected more. I mean, it does balance out the overall exposure of the image, but with subjects losing focus due to minimal shakes, I don’t know if I can recommend this mode on this device. When it comes to Portrait mode, the Plex sucks. Subject-background separation isn’t that good, and subjects in most of the samples I took come off out of focus.
On the front-facing side of things, portrait selfies have a much easier time with subject-background separation, but it still isn’t close to perfect. Highlights usually clip here too, but with the right lighting, users can get an adequate portrait selfie. For actual selfies, image quality improves quite a lot compared to the portrait ones. Dynamic range and sharpness are good, though come suboptimal lighting, I think you guys know.
For video, the Plex can shoot up to 4K resolution and has this 960 fps slow-mo mode. Take a look at the 4K sample below.
Performance and Benchmarks
For hardware, under the hood, it sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 675 coupled with an Adreno 612 GPU. It isn’t that bad, and it handled most tasks I threw at it with ease. When it came to gaming, specifically COD: Mobile, I experienced minimal frame drops with the graphics set to high. For storage, the TCL Plex gets 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage. With expandable storage of up to 256GB via microSD.
To those of you interested in our benchmark scores, take a look below:
• AnTuTu v8 – 194,815
• 3DMark SSE – 931 (OpenGL), 1,043 (Vulkan)
• PCMark – 7,868 (Work 2.0)
• Geekbench 5 – 432 (Single-Core), 835 (Multi-Core)
• AndroBench – 508.83 MB/s (Seq. Read), 196.72 MB/s (Seq. Write)
In terms of biometric security, this device gets fingerprint and face unlock. The fingerprint scanner is again, a rear-mounted one, and it’s surprisingly not as fast as I thought. It takes around half a second to unlock the device, and I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t sound like much. So, let me put it like if you’ve experienced a pretty fast in-display scanner, the time it takes to unlock the Plex with its rear-mounted one is about the same.
This is why, at times, I observed that the face unlock is quicker! But in terms of actual security, I think it might be best you guys use the fingerprint scanner since this face unlock is optical.
Connectivity and Battery Life
For connectivity, the TCL Plex has dual-SIM, 4G LTE, dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, support for multiple SatNavs, 3.5mm audio port, and USB Type-C. All things work as advertised as it connects to mobile data quick while calls are loud and clear.
The Plex gets a moderate 3,820mAh cell that supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3. Charging this device to full takes about an hour or less. But also, it can get a little hot while charging too, though not to a point it feels like it’s going to explode.
In our standard video loop test, which entails the phone being in Airplane Mode, it’s brightness and volume set to 50%, and with headphones plugged in; the Plex got us a total of 17 hours and 47 minutes of playback. In terms of real-world use, the Plex’s battery life is pretty typical and average. Users will pretty much need to charge this thing up at the end of their days.
In conclusion, the TCL Plex is a great first entry from the Chinese electronics company. For a mid-range device, it’s got a pretty substantial IPS display, pretty-good performance, above-average battery life, and a set of cameras that work well in optimal lighting conditions. It retails for PHP15,990 for the 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage model, which is not bad, considering other smartphones are priced higher for that configuration. If you’re looking for a decent mid-ranger at a friendly price, the TCL Plex is worth considering.
TCL Plex specs:
6.53-inch Dotch display, FHD+ 2340 x 1080, Pixelworks Visual Processor, 90% screen-to-body ratio, 395PPI
Qualcomm Snapdragon 675
Expandable up to 256GB via microSD
48MP + 16MP + 2MP rear cameras
24MP front camera
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 5.0, aptX
Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner
3.5mm audio jack
TCL UI (Android 9 Pie)
3,820mAh battery with Quick Charge 3.0
162.2 x 76.56 x 7.99mm
Obsidian Black, Opal White
What I liked:
• Good design
• Decent performance
• Above-average battery life
• Good cameras in bright conditions
• Large RAM and storage
What I didn’t:
• Light bleed around the hole-punch
• Portrait mode needs improvement
With inputs and editing by Louie Diangson.