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TCL 30V 5G review

TCL is one of the more prominent names in the affordable phone space, but the company’s latest entry, the Verizon-exclusive TCL 30V 5G ($299), doesn’t excite much. The phone offers 5G connectivity at a low price and charges quickly, but its battery life is poor, its cameras are mediocre, and its performance is unremarkable. If you’re in the market for a budget Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G remains our Editors’ Choice winner thanks to its capable cameras, long battery life, and excellent software support for $279.99.


1080p standard display

Nothing stands out about the TCL 30V 5G’s design. It’s only available in Midnight Gray and features a glass front, plastic frame, and plastic back panel. The frame has a semi-glossy finish while the back contrasts with a matte finish which, fortunately, doesn’t collect too many fingerprints. It’s not a giant phone, though we can’t call it small. The 30V 5G measures 6.5 by 3.0 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 7.1 ounces. For comparison, the $399 Motorola G5G (6.5 x 2.9 x 0.4 inches, 7.5 ounces) and the Galaxy A32 5G (6.5 x 3.0 x 0.4 inches, 7.0 ounces) are roughly the same size and weight.

The top edge of TCL 30V 5G

(Photo: Dave LeClair)

The phone’s relatively large 6.67-inch screen has a 20:9 aspect ratio and has a resolution of 2,400 x 1,080 pixels (395 pixels per inch, or ppi). This is one area where TCL excels over the Galaxy A32, which features a 6.5-inch display with a resolution of 1,600 x 720 pixels (278ppi).

TCL says the panel supports more than 16.7 million colors, and looks bright enough to our eyes. Screen brightness peaks at 450 nits, which, when combined with the phone’s sunlight mode (via the Nxtvision app), makes the screen visible even in sunny conditions.

The screen has a maximum refresh rate of 60 Hz. Most phones in this price range feature 60Hz screens, though the OnePlus Nord N200’s 90Hz screen is an exception. The selfie camera is centered near the top of the screen in a perforated pattern.

The screen is protected by Gorilla Glass 3. Older and less durable. The glass doesn’t offer the absolute best drop protection, but it should be better than the no-name glass on some competing phones. For enhanced Gorilla Glass 5 protection, you’ll have to opt for a more expensive phone like the Galaxy A53 ($449.99). The phone does not have an IP rating, which means it is not protected from dust or water.

The design highlights on the back panel are the triple camera array and the fingerprint scanner, which I found fast and accurate in my testing. You get a trusty 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge (a welcome feature at any price point), a volume rocker and power button on the right edge, and a composite SIM and microSD slot on the left side. There’s a USB-C port and two downward facing speakers for stereo sound on the bottom edge. A dual-speaker setup is a rarity at this price — many phones tend to offer only one speaker that’s prone to crosstalk when you’re using the phone in landscape mode.


Average performance

We ran a combination of benchmark and real-world tests on the TCL 30V 5G and it showed below average results in almost every category. This is in part because it features a slower Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 5G processor with only 4GB of RAM. The phone offers 128GB of internal storage, though you can install a microSD card of up to 1TB if you need more space.

As of the PCMark Work 3.0 test, the phone scored 7,564, which is just under the Moto G 5G’s 7,880. On the GeekBench processor test, it scored 518 in the single-core test and 1,705 in the multi-core test. That’s on par with the Moto G 5G (543 and 1,678) and the Galaxy A32 (501 and 1,678).

The graphics performance test reveals the phone’s limitations. In the GFXBench Aztec test, it managed an average of just 10 frames per second (fps) for the onscreen test and 2.9fps for the offscreen test. By comparison, the Moto G 5G hit 18fps and 5.2fps for the onscreen and offscreen tests, respectively.

The bottom edge of TCL 30V 5G

(Photo: Dave LeClair)

Of course, benchmarks don’t always tell the whole story. I’ve had no issues with the phone in regular use; It handled web browsing and basic photo editing without issue. On the other hand, the gaming experience was sub-par. Simpler games like Alto’s Odyssey ran smoothly, but graphics intensive games like Genshin Impact were almost unplayable due to the low frame rates.

If you’re a music junkie, the stereo speakers’ performance is slightly above average with our test track, “Silent Scream” from The Knife. Even at maximum volume, distortion is minimal, but that’s likely because the speakers don’t get excessively loud. You’ll hear a modest amount of bass response, but keep your expectations in check.


Full Verizon 5G support

Verizon subscribers should appreciate the 5G service available on the TCL 30 V 5G: it connects to Verizon’s medium-speed (C-band) and high-speed (mmWave) 5G networks, assuming there’s coverage where you live. The phone is locked to Verizon, and TCL doesn’t sell an unlocked version.

Despite the phone’s good 5G support, it performed slightly worse than the pricier Moto G 5G on Verizon’s network in our tests. When we walked around a medium-sized city, the phone showed weak signal (less than -120dB) 4.1% of the time and no signal 3.3% of the time. For comparison, the Moto G showed a weak signal 1.7% of the time and no signal 0.1% of the time. Basically, if you want to get every last bit of a cell signal, the Moto G should do better. For reference, we ran these tests in various network environments; Sometimes 5G was available, but other times LTE 4G was the only option.

The Wi-Fi experience in the TCL 30 V 5G is somewhat better, and the phone achieved acceptable results in a side-by-side test with the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max. With both phones in the same router room, the iPhone achieved download speeds of 312Mbps and upload speeds of 21.4Mbps, while the TCL phone came in at 238Mbps and 33.9Mbps. The reason for such close results is that we tested it with a Wi-Fi 5 router. If we used a Wi-Fi 6 router, which iPhone supports but TCL phone does not, iPhone would have performed much better.

When we moved the phones to the edge of their receiving ranges (multiple walls were between the devices and the router), TCL’s performance was slightly better than the iPhone’s, dropping 0.9 Mbps compared to the iPhone’s 0.7 Mbps.

The back of TCL 30V 5G

(Photo: Dave LeClair)

The phone sounds decent enough on calls. The earphone volume peaked at 75dB and the tweeter maxed out at 86dB, which is about average. The OnePlus Nord N20 is the leader in this field, pushing 97.1dB from the earpiece and 87.2dB from the speaker. However, the TCL phone was loud enough to hear people on a call without issues. The phone offers dual noise-canceling microphones, and in our tests, people on the line had no problem hearing us.

Accessory radios include Bluetooth 5.1 and NFC. Bluetooth 5.1 isn’t the latest standard, but in testing we had no problems pairing devices, including Apple’s AirPods Pro. The NFC radio worked as expected when used to complete mobile payments.


Extremely short battery life

One place where the TCL 30V 5G falls short of expectations is in battery life. In our testing of YouTube streaming over Wi-Fi over a wired headset, the phone’s 4,500mAh cell lasted just six hours and 15 minutes. The Moto G 5G (13 hours, 8 minutes) and Samsung Galaxy A32 (13 hours, 1 minute), both with 5,000mAh batteries, managed to last more than twice as long.

Right edge of TCL 30V 5G

(Photo: Dave LeClair)

Battery size isn’t the only reason here. Even if TCL’s battery is 500mAh larger to match its competitors, it almost certainly won’t double the battery life. The TCL Stylus 5G also suffered from poor battery test scores, so it seems the company isn’t able to improve battery life like its peers.

On the flip side, the 18W charger charges the phone fairly quickly. In 15 minutes the phone was charged to 21% from 0%. It took 1 hour and 56 minutes to reach a full charge, which is about right for this price range.


So-So cameras

TCL includes three cameras on its 30V 5G, but none of them are impressive. The phone has a 50MP primary camera that stores photos with a resolution of up to 12.5MP, a 5MP ultra-wide angle camera, and a 2MP macro camera.

TCL 30V 5G cameras

(Photo: Dave LeClair)

In head-to-head comparisons, the Moto G 5G fares better. One problem is that the TCL phone blows out the highlights in mixed lighting scenarios. More noise also shows up in the TCL’s low-light photos, in part because there’s no dedicated low-light mode. The Motorola phone is also better at focusing on the right subject more quickly; I often had to tap the TCL’s screen several times to get it to lock focus.

Wide-angle and macro cameras aren’t particularly useful due to their lower resolution, but they’re nice to have on hand.

Side-by-side comparison of two photos taken with different smartphones

Photo captured with TCL 30 V 5G (left) and Moto G 5G (right) (Photo: Dave LeClair)

If you’re into video, don’t get too excited about the 30V 5G; It tops out at 1080p at 30fps. This is the standard for budget phones, although more and more are upgrading to 4K at 60fps.

Vegetal photo taken with TCL 30 V 5G

Image captured with TCL 30V 5G (Photo: Dave LeClair)

The selfie camera works like the main camera on the back. It takes good selfies and is mostly useful for video chatting.


Android 11 is off to a bad start

Google’s latest mobile operating system, Android 13, will be available to select phones later this summer. The majority of phones that are shipping now are based on Android 12 (which is almost a year old) as the base platform. Thus, it’s disappointing for TCL to sell a 30V 5G device with outdated Android 11 at its core. The phone is already behind the competition as it leaves the gate.

TCL 30V 5G UI

Even worse, the update and support situation could be better. TCL promises just one major Android update — to Android 12 — and two years of security updates for the 30V 5G. By comparison, Samsung delivers two major Android updates and four years of security patches for its Galaxy A-branded phones. Samsung remains the gold standard for software support (for Android devices), and TCL lags badly.

The phone is running TCL UI version 3. The skin collects some extra apps and pieces of software that you can’t delete. TCL’s Nxtvision app allows you to improve many important aspects of the phone such as screen brightness in the sun. It also has various display modes that make videos and games look more colorful and detailed. And if you don’t like the improvements, you can turn each of them off and never think about them again. There’s also a floating window to help with multitasking and an object erase feature to enhance your photos.


You can do better

Although the TCL 30 V 5G supports Verizon’s latest 5G network, it does not perform well in most aspects other than cellular connectivity. Once you factor in the poor battery life, mediocre cameras, and outdated software, little else about the phone remains compelling. You’re better off with the Samsung Galaxy A32 in the sub-$300 range, or the Motorola Moto G 5G if you can stretch your budget. Both offer distinctly better battery life, better cameras, and better software support, for phones that cost a little more up front but will likely save you in the long run.

Negatives

  • Bad battery life

  • Faded cameras

  • Average performance

bottom line

The TCL 30 V 5G for Verizon looks promising on paper, but other phones in the $300 range offer better battery life, cameras, and performance.

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