The TCL 30 5G smartphone is a phone full of catches. Users get a seemingly full-fledged smartphone just under the $500 range, but its lower price starts to reflect poorly with questionably under baked hardware. A lack of optimizations makes apps somewhat tolerable day-to-day. While it’s hardly the worst mid-range phone to get the job done thanks to all-day battery and a worthy screen, as more budget-friendly Android units are more readily available, TCL’s 30 5G struggles to keep up with competitors.
Budget-friendly smartphones aren’t meant to dazzle. Most users know what they’re in for as price-to-performance is put to the test. Manufacturers including TCL are just a few companies doling out affordable jack-of-all-trades tech. Its TVs are unmatched next to lines of kitchen appliances and laundry machines. While TCL was bound to find some footing in its own budget smartphone line, imagine a brand channelling their knack for high-fidelity TVs with open-source Android integration. 2019’s TCL Plex became a proof-of-concept for new Android devices with quality.
TCL’s 30 5G marks three generations in a saturated smartphone market. The flagship device stands on its own with serviceable functions. More importantly, bigger screens don’t always make a better phone.
It’s important to highlight the “budget” part of TCL’s 30 5G. At under $500, it’s by far one of 2022’s most affordable devices. In fact, this adds a level of convenience and expenditure for users expecting nothing more. But this deal maker breaks just as hard. TCL clearly had a certain limit for the 30 5G’s capabilities. Compromises show through its CPU, RAM, Camera and a lack of quality-of-life improvements.
All of its parts simply don’t work well together, but it’s expected out of a near-$500 unit, which still brings users up to speed in 2022. I can’t dock too many marks for TCL’s significant price drop out of a flagship unit. It’s hardly a free pass for bugs which actually hampered busy work days.
“It’s important to highlight the “budget” part of TCL’s 30 5G.”
TCL breaks some budget barriers with a large screen that stays sharp. Unfortunately, the tight budget sacrifices competitive 2K and 4K resolutions. It sports a whopping 6.7-inch (6.66 in.) FHD+ display. At 2400×1800 resolution, the 30 5G presents a vibrant image. The resolution does just enough to match its size. Edges are crisp, making text and pictures easy to spot.
The screen to body ratio comes over 90 percent. Users get a well-balanced unit that feels sleek and lightweight in pockets. Almost a month in, the TCL 30 5G’s dated Gorilla Glass 3 still manages to work. Especially as users toss the phone in a salad with car keys, spare change, chargers and their pointy ends.
At first boot, users will instantly fall in love with the premium-feel for presentation. Colours are accentuated with custom settings. Users can have fun tweaking screen temperatures, which add longevity and reduce eye strain. Its AMOLED Wide Gamut, sRGB and Display P3 come adapted from TCL’s own line of HDTVs. Multimedia also shines through the 30 5G.
TCL passes (with flying colours) over my gauntlet of Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and YouTube bingeing. The 6.7-inch resolution conveniently fits wide film through an impressive 21:9 aspect ratio. Out of a budget phone, it’s wonderful to see users get more out of high definition streaming. TCL sticks to their strengths by putting most of its value into a screen users can love staring at all day.
“At first boot, users will instantly fall in love with the premium-feel for presentation.”
TCL has some tweaking to do for its brightness settings. The TCL 30 5G does cause squinting at a max 900 nits of brightness, but using Auto Brightness sends the screen into full darkness. In broad daylight, it’s exhausting to keep up with this imbalance by manually sliding brightness. The TCL 30 5G starts to stumble with some of these minor inconveniences which add up.
Things only start to go wrong when you come to the TCL 30 5G’s CPU and RAM combo, that feel under powered for running the latest Android 12 due to the Mediatek Dininsity 700 CPU and limited 4 GB of RAM. The processor, while on paper seems capable, in practice can only take performance so far at the 2GHz range, with only select apps that are optimized performing as one would hope for a 2022 smartphone. The budget feeling 4 GB of RAM also takes a toll on the user experience, with the phone stuttering or showing major slowdown even in the first week of testing the device.
The 30 5G struggles to load apps at breakneck speeds next to competitors. Here, apps including Google Maps, Spotify and Instagram sweat the 30 5G. Performance also varies on multitasking. More apps cause slower startups and app switching. It’s an inconvenience for busy texters and quickly jotting down notes.
The 4 GB RAM has a tough time recalling basic tasks. It’s easily the weakest part and dealbreaker for long-time users. Bugs, including a missing keyboard and pull-down shortcuts, are baffling to see on a regular basis. The TCL starts to work against Android 12’s shortcut-driven design. Its UI also restricts users with notifications. For some awful reason, lock screen notifications can’t be read in full. While users are forced to unlock their phones for a glimpse.
“The TCL 30 5G has a long way to go before making a home in pockets.”
TCL cobbles together a serviceable CPU and RAM combo, which starts lagging behind for Android apps. Popular ones including Disney+ also drew blank screens and login loops on multiple occasions. But missing the keyboard gave me the biggest headaches. A hard reset typically fixes these bugs. It’s a shame that users with the TCL 30 5G will add restarts to their routine.
I had no issues with typing on the TCL 30 5G. The 6.7-inch screen makes a comfy stomping ground for fingers. Thankfully, Google’s own Gboard serves as the native typing interface. This packs its own integrations for languages, GIFs and voice typing. I especially felt welcome with glide typing and familiar themes available out of the box. Google’s own clipboard feature is an essential for note takers and comes in handy for recalling text. The TCL 30 5G keeps up with typing over a large screen. Nothing more and nothing less for users adopting the 30 5G as a daily driver.
TCL’s worst design choice in the 30 5G comes with its power button. Right-handed users won’t find anything weird with its placement down the middle-edge. But the power button also packs the fingerprint sensor. Things start to go wrong once users regularly unlock their phones by accident. For what the security is worth, the 30 5G unlocks at breakneck speeds. Options like pin, biometrics and face scanning work habitually for convenience.
Checking the lock screen becomes next to impossible without going through the biometrics power button. TCL lacks haptics or buttons underneath its big screen. This feels like a bigger push for users to use its Always-On display, but TCL doesn’t let users enlarge the already-tiny Always-On display. It doesn’t help that I was also forced to choose between a generic digital clock or jellyfish for themes.
TCL’s third smartphone refresh comes with 5G. It’s high time that budget friendly users are caught up in lightning fast service. The 30 5G lives up to its biggest gimmick: 5G, LTE and UMTS are all up to date. After all, users will be leveraging the phone for fast talk and text. Nano SIM cards fit perfectly without a hitch. Cell service might be subjective depending on where users are, but I had no problems tapping into Canada’s LTE and 5G bands. TCL manages to keep the 30 5G reliable for connectivity and I had no cutouts across weeks.
Connectivity stays strong across the 30 5G’s Wi-Fi. Its own 802.11a capabilities show with strong 5GHz connections. Users can even clock over 100 Gbps and beyond with a good router. This helps maximize those streaming experiences in couch-potato mode.
The TCL 30 5G handles mobile data with similar efficiency, making it great for people that just want to use the internet while on the go. My favourite widget shows network speeds on the status bar. To make up for some software woes, TCL was nice enough to pack Bluetooth 5.1 which works without a hitch. An FM radio is also included, but deters users without a 3.5 mm headphone jack as an antenna.
TCL 30 5G barely impresses users with its high resolution camera setup. It’s hardly as stable as what can be found on Samsung, or sharper than a OnePlus. On paper, TCL’s rear camera array boasts a 50 megapixel main shooter, a 2 MP macro and a 2MP depth camera used for selfie mode. Users can only get the crispiest pictures with a 4:3 resolution (50 MP). But quality drastically dips due to poor image stability.
Users will have their finer moments with close-ups and still backgrounds. Yes, TCL tries to mitigate things with a Steady Snap function, but this doesn’t do shaky hands or windy conditions any justice. As a result, a number of HD images will need a double-take, while videos will suffer from a shaky cam at a seemingly inconsistent 30 frames at 1080p.
TCL sticks to its budget by only offering 1080p capture when competitors are resolutions ahead. Its front camera does not stack up well next to the competition at only 13MP. Selfies and front-facing Zoom dates only bring out the 30 5G’s muddled presentation. Some of my worst moments came from Instagram, as the quality worsened. Still pictures would be laughably cut down from sharpness. For some awful reason, the 30 5G also forces noise cancellation for videos. It’s bad enough for all music, speech and environments to be drowned out in a messy warp. In some ways, the TCL 30 5G feels like a cobbled device and its camera is among the misfits.
It goes without saying budget users will find a significant downgrade in TCL’s 30 5G, but bigger leaps for battery life. The phone luckily packs a 5010 mAh battery. My battery anxiety flew out the window daily. On a full charge, users can expect the advertised 18-hour battery life. In fact, this can be stretched to two days of casual use without charging. I’m impressed that TCL has nailed its battery as other components disappoint. The all-day battery benefits from USB-C charging. Users will also reap the 2022 standards for fast charging, which will bring your phone to 100% within an hour.
The TCL 30 5G has a long way to go before making a home in pockets. Users can stick to the phone’s respectable price under $500, but plenty of under-baked hardware hurts performance daily. Unresolved bugs with Android 12, including missing functions, shouldn’t be a defining aspect. Unfortunately, users are cursed with a gorgeous looking phone which overcompensates with its FHD screen. Save for an all-day battery, there isn’t much to appreciate out of a serviceable attempt at smartphones by TCL. Users deserve more incentives out of a daily driver. But the TCL 30 5G doesn’t go anywhere past its price tag to match competitors.