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TCL gets serious about making a name for itself in phones with the new Plex

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Bigger plans for 2020 and beyond include 5G and foldable devices

TCL will release a new smartphone called the Plex this year in Europe, and the company has even larger mobile ambitions for 2020 that include foldable phones and 5G. But the Plex — no affiliation with the popular app — is TCL’s starting point to establish its name in phones beyond the BlackBerry and Alcatel brands that it owns the rights to. The Plex will be available in black or white for €329.

The Plex is a midrange device through and through, and TCL told me that the company focused on two key areas in designing it: display and camera. Phones like the Pixel 3A XL have set new expectations for devices at this price. TCL isn’t exactly a camera company, but it’s still aiming to be “at par” out of the gate. The Plex has three cameras: a 48-megapixel main sensor from Sony, a 16MP ultra-wide camera, and a 2MP cam that’s meant strictly for low-light shooting. Two megapixels. Not a typo.

TCL claims it has “an industry-leading 2.9μm big pixel low-light sensor” and various algorithms for reducing noise, plus a Super Night Mode for those dark, dark environments. I didn’t get nearly enough time with the Plex to determine whether it has any hope of standing up to the Pixel 3A or similarly priced competitors from Samsung, Motorola, Huawei, and others.

The Plex has a 6.53-inch FHD+ LCD display that TCL has humorously dubbed “Dotch” because of its hole-punch cutout at the upper left. (Seriously, it’s trademarked.) Just as with its TVs, the company manufactures this screen itself. And there’s a mode called NXTVISION that applies a lot of image processing when activated:

Colors on the TCL Plex’s screen are intensified with a 6-axis color enhancement for radiant images. Edges are honed with 2D edge enhancement for sharper pictures and visual contrasts are made more striking without being over-exposed with targeted contrast enhancement. With an SDR to HDR real-time conversion feature, the TCL Plex offers a HDR-like video enhancement with increased contrast, amplified color, brighter highlights and darker shadows.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 675 powers the Plex, which also features 128GB of storage, 6GB RAM, and a 3,820mAh battery. The phone supports microSD storage up to 256GB, and, yes, there’s a headphone jack, too. It’s got Bluetooth 5.0, and TCL says a “Super Bluetooth” option allows for up to four Bluetooth speakers or headphones to connect to the Plex simultaneously.

For TCL, the Plex is just the first phase of a long-term mobile strategy. The company has already shown off foldable phone concepts, and it also let me test out a “waterfall” display prototype similar to what Vivo is pursuing. TCL reps told me that 5G handsets are definitely in the plans, as well, though it’s not in a rush to ship a foldable and is happy to let Samsung and Huawei have that lead. The company best known for its TVs is determined to take the good reputation its earned in the living room and extend that to new categories.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge