It’s hard to recommend a device with performance as inconsistent and underwhelming as the TCL 30+. Yes, it has a nice display and a camera that can capture some decent photographs, but the annoyances will easily outweigh those highlights.
TCL is a Chinese brand that you may more regularly associate with TVs, but it’s been spreading its wings recently by moving into the budget smartphone space. At CES 2022 the company announced the 30-series, which comprises eight (yes eight) models. Here, I take the one of the 4G models out for a spin to see what it has to offer.
Design & Build Quality
Slim & Comfortable to hold
Side-mounted fingerprint sensor (in Power button)
No IP waterproof rating
Much like the TCL 20 R 5G I reviewed at the start of the year, the 30+ has a nice, simple design. Its 164.5 x 75.2 x 7.7 mm dimensions make it a slim device, albeit one that still requires both hands to operate securely. There’s a matt finish on the plastic back that gives a bit of grip, while the metal edging looks like it should survive the odd drop or two. At 184g it isn’t the lightest phone in the world, but I found it to be balanced and not too tiring to hold for longer sessions of web browsing or playing games. TCL does include a silicon case in the box, so if you want extra protection it’s well worth slipping that on.
Foundry / IDG
The front panel is home to a 6.7-inch display with a teardrop notch for the selfie camera. On the right flank you’ll find the long volume up/down button and the power button. Embedded in the latter is also a fingerprint sensor which worked reliably during my time with the device. Swapping to the left side reveals the dual-SIM slot that also doubles as the home for any microSD cards you want to use to bolster the onboard storage. This maxes out at 1TB, so you’ll have plenty of room to hold your video or music collection if you buy the right card.
Twin speakers adorn both the top and bottom of the TCL 30+, with the lower one being positioned next to the USB-C charging port and 3.5mm headphone jack. Turn the phone over and you’ll see a raised camera section in the top left corner that houses the three lenses and flash.
As this is an inexpensive phone, it doesn’t come with any kind of IP rating for water or dust, so you won’t want to take this to the beach or leave it on the table at any boozy meetups, as a spilled drink could spell disaster.
Screen & Speakers
6.7-inch AMOLED Full HD+ display
60Hz refresh rate
Pride of place on the TCL 30+ is the 6.7-inch Full HD+ AMOLED 60Hz display. It’s always impressive to find this type of panel on a sub £200/€200 phone, as many used to come with IPS LCD ones instead. The advantage of AMOLED is better contrast in colours along with a few other bonuses.
Foundry / IDG
In use, the display is clear, colourful and reasonably bright. I measured a maximum brightness of around 425 nits, which is enough to cope with bright sunshine. This was borne out when I took the phone into a garden on one of the hottest days of the year, but was still easily able to read the display. In fact, it seemed more legible than the iPhone SE (2020) and iPhone XR that members of my family were also using that day.
The display features slim bezels on the side, with a slight chin at the bottom, giving it a screen to body ratio of 91.75%. There is a teardrop-style notch for the front facing camera, but it’s small and doesn’t feel as intrusive as some others I’ve come across recently.
Twin speakers are another nice touch, and the TCL 30+ does project a decent amount of sound. There’s a solid spread of frequencies, especially at low to mid volumes, but when you push things higher it begins to show the lack of bass. I didn’t hear any distortion at full volume though, so the speakers seem to have been calibrated properly to cope with the loudest audio the phone can deliver.
Specs & Performance
MediaTek Helio G37
Only 4GB RAM
While the display and audio are enjoyable, things start to fall apart when it comes to performance. TCL has gone with an 8-core MediaTek Helio G37 processor, which was launched at the end of 2020. It’s an entry level chip that doesn’t really have enough power to make using the 30+ a smooth experience. Throughout my time with the device I noticed constant stutters when interacting with the interface. Apps loaded slowly and using the camera could be hit and miss due to the response times from the processor.
The 4GB of RAM isn’t really helping matters, making the TCL 30+ something of a clumsy phone when paired with the MediaTek chip. I also found the fingerprint sensor was also a bit of a lottery, which could be down to the faltering silicon.
I reviewed the TCL 20R 5G a little while back, which sported a MediaTek Dimensity 700 5G chipset, which was a much better experience in terms of performance and for around a similar price. If you’re set on a TCL device, then maybe that one would be the better choice if you want a speedier time.
I know that budget devices won’t have top-of-the-line performance, and nor should they be expected to, but the stuttering of the TCL 30+ just feels too shoddy when you can pick up other devices for around the same price but with a smoother experience all round.
You do get a solid amount of onboard storage, with 128GB to fill, although it is eMMC, meaning it’s the slowest type you’ll find on a current phone. The double SIM slot also has space for a microSD card and will accept ones up to a maximum of 1TB.
As you’d expect, you won’t get the latest and greatest in terms of connectivity with a device at this price point, but you do get Wi-Fi 4, Bluetooth 5.0. NFC and 4G LTE.
Here’s the benchmark results the TCL 30+ attained, compared with some other devices in its class:
50Mp F/1.9 Wide camera
2Mp f/2.4 Macro and Depth cameras
You’ll find three cameras on the rear of the TCL 30+, composed of a 50Mp f/1.9 (Wide) main shooter that’s joined by 2Mp f/2.4 (Macro) and 2Mp f/2.4 (Depth) cameras. This is a pretty standard arrangement on entry-level and even some mid-range devices. Basically, the main camera is the one you’ll use, as the other two are pretty much there to make up the numbers, unless you want poor quality close-ups of flowers, coins and other subjects. Not knocking the 30+ in particular, as this is now quite standard.
Foundry / IDG
The 50Mp Wide camera is good though, especially in bright environments. Taking shots of the harbour town where I live resulted in some very usable images. The boats, buildings, sky and sea all looked quite balanced, albeit with the kind of oversaturated colours that again are the norm these days. There is a digital zoom up to 4x, and it works well enough in a pinch, but you lose quality in the image with every magnification step you take.
One area where the 2Mp Depth camera comes in handy is for portrait shots, as it works alongside the main camera to help create depth of field effects where the background is blurred out. If the subject matter is clearly defined then the results can be quite pleasing, but when it comes to hair or parts of clothing that has a similar colour to the background, the camera struggles to know which is which. I also found this with flowers and brightly decorated mugs, all of which seemed to throw the depth calculations into a tizzy. That being said, you can still get some ok bokeh-style shots with the device if you are patient.
Here are some examples I captured with the TCL 30+:
Video quality tops out at 1080p/30fps and again can be very usable when you have good lighting. There’s no stabilisation, so you’ll need a steady hand, plus the colours can be a bit washed out. For quick social media posts, it should be fine, but don’t expect to take it to a dark restaurant or bar and come home with any detailed footage.
The selfie camera is a reliable 13Mp f/2.3 ultrawide that takes some good shots and can record video up to 1080p/30fps as well. There are beauty modes and portrait modes for the bokeh effect, which actually seems to work a little better on this camera than the front one.
Battery Life & Charging
Average charging speeds
One of the advantages of non-top tier processors is that the demands on the battery life can be quite lean. That seems to be the case with the TCL 30+, as I found I could get through about a day and a half of moderate use before needing to plug it in. TCL includes an 18W charger in the box, and you can go from 0% to 21% in 15 minutes or 42% in 30 mins. After that, the charging slows to a more conservative pace (presumably to preserve the health of the battery), with a full recharge clocking in at a smidge over two hours.
Foundry / IDG
Putting it through the PCMark battery life test returned a respectable score of 9hrs 40mins, which isn’t the best in class by a long way, but still a score that means you shouldn’t be needing to reach for the charge before bedtime.
TCL UI (Version 4)
Some preinstalled apps
Security updates until December 2023
As Android skins go, TCL’s UI is quite inoffensive. Most things look and feels like standard vanilla Android, with the occasional graphical elements reminding you that this is an iteration. Menus are mainly the same as you’ll have encountered before, plus the notifications and app drawers are all easily accessible via up or down swipes.
Foundry / IDG
There are a few preinstalled apps that you probably want to get rid of, including social media, games and a couple of retail offerings. These can be dispensed of quickly, as can the TCL email, browser and other bespoke versions that will give way to the Google alternatives for most people.
One thing to note is that TCL states that the device will only get security updates until December 2023. This means that after that point it will become unusable, as it will no longer be protected from new threats and vulnerabilities. That’s a bit too short for our liking, as it essentially means this is an 18-month phone, and that’s just if you buy it at the time of writing in July 2022.
The point of a budget phone is that it’s there for when people can’t stretch their budgets to the higher tier devices. Forcing them to then buy another device a year and a half later seems to miss the point. Also, it’s not great for the environment, as the phone will be less secure than other options when the end of 2023 arrives.
Price & Availability
At the time of review, the TCL 30+ was only available in the UK through the QVC shopping network for a price of £179.90. European customers can use BeDigital where the phone was on offer at €229.95.
As with many Chinese phones, the TCL 30+ will not be available directly to American customers due to the continued trade embargoes placed by the US government.
While these prices are very reasonable for a modern smartphone, they do bring the TCL 30+ in direct competition with the likes of the the Poco X3 Pro which is a ridiculously good device for £229/€249. Last year’s Redmi Note 10 Pro remains a great budget phone thanks to its AMOLED display, 108Mp camera and long battery life, plus it can be picked up for as little as £149/€159 if you shop around. There’s also the Xiaomi Poco M4 Pro which costs around the same as the TCL 30+, sports an AMOLED display but is a better all-round package.
While the display in the TCL 30+ is very nice for this price point, and the camera can capture some impressive images, the poor performance makes it very hard to recommend this device. Add to that the artificially short lifespan and we’d suggest shopping around for one of many alternatives you’ll find in the budget space.
Tech Advisor contributor Martyn has been involved with tech ever since the arrival of his ZX Spectrum back in the early 80s. He covers iOS, Android, Windows and macOS, writing tutorials, buying guides and reviews.