It is difficult to recommend a device that is as inconsistent and underperforming as the TCL 30+. Yes, it has a nice display and camera that can take some decent pictures, but the hassles will easily overtake those highlights.
TCL is a Chinese brand that you can regularly associate with TVs, but it has just spread its wings by moving into the budget smartphone space. At CES 2022 the company announced the 30-series, which includes eight (yes eight) models. Here, I take one of the 4G models out for a spin on what it has to offer.
Design and construction quality
Slim and comfortable to hold
Side mounted fingerprint sensor (on power button)
No IP waterproof rating
Like the TCL 20 R 5G I reviewed earlier this year, the 30+ has a nice, simple design. Its 164.5 x 75.2 x 7.7mm dimensions make it a slim device, although it requires both hands to operate safely. There’s a matte finish on the back of the plastic that gives it a slight grip, while the metal edge makes it look like a weird drop or two should survive. At 184g it’s not the lightest phone in the world, but I found it to be balanced and not too tired to hold long sessions of web browsing or playing games. TCL includes a silicone case in the box, so it’s a good idea to slip it in if you want extra protection.
The front panel has a 6.7-inch display with a teardrop notch for the selfie camera. On the right you will find a long volume up / down button and a power button. The latter also has an embedded fingerprint sensor that worked reliably with the device in my time. The swap on the left reveals a dual-SIM slot that doubles as a home for any microSD cards you want to use to strengthen onboard storage. It reaches a maximum of 1TB, so if you buy the right card you will have plenty of space to hold your video or music collection.
The twin speakers adorn both the top and bottom of the TCL 30+, which has a USB-C charging port on the bottom and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the side. Turn the phone over and you’ll see a raised camera section in the upper left corner that holds three lenses and a flash.
As it is a cheap phone, it does not come with any kind of IP rating for water or dust, so you do not want to take it to the beach or leave it on the table at any alcohol meeting, as a drink. Disaster can write.
Screens and speakers
6.7 inch AMOLED Full HD + display
60Hz refresh rate
The TCL 30+ has a Pride of Place 6.7 inch Full HD + AMOLED 60Hz display. It’s always impressive to find this type of panel on all £ 200 / € 200 phones, which instead came with many IPS LCDs. The advantage of AMOLED is the good contrast in colors with some other bonuses.
Foundry / IDG
In use, the display is clear, colorful and reasonably bright. I measured a maximum brightness of about 425 nits, which is enough to cope with the bright sun. It was born outside when I took the phone to the garden on the hottest days of the year, but was still able to read the display with ease. In fact, it looked much more legible than the iPhone SE (2020) and iPhone XR that my family members were using that day.
The display has slim bezels on the sides, with a slight chin at the bottom, giving it a screen and body ratio of 91.75%. For the front camera there’s a teardrop-style dance, but it’s small and doesn’t feel as intrusive as anything else I’ve just met.
Twin speakers are another nice touch, and the TCL 30+ projects a good amount of sound. There is a solid spread of frequency, especially at low to mid volumes, but when you push things up it starts to show a lack of bass. I haven’t heard any distortion at full volume, so the speakers seem to be properly calibrated to cope with the biggest audio the phone can deliver.
Glasses and display
MediaTek Helio G37
Only 4GB RAM
When the display and audio are fun, things start to fall apart when it comes to performance. TCL has taken the 8-core MediaTek Helio G37 processor, which was launched in late 2020. It’s an entry level chip that doesn’t have enough power to feel comfortable using 30+. Throughout my time with the device I saw constant stutters while interacting with the interface. Apps that load slowly and use the camera can be hit and miss due to the response time from the processor.
4GB of RAM doesn’t really help matters, making the TCL 30+ a clumsy phone when paired with a MediaTek chip. I also found the fingerprint sensor as a small lottery ticket, which could be in weak silicon.
I recently reviewed the TCL 20R 5G, which played the MediaTek Dimensity 700 5G chipset, which was a very good experience in terms of performance and for almost the same price. If you are set up on a TCL device, that might be a good option if you want a faster time.
I know budget devices won’t have top-of-the-line performance, nor should they be expected to, but the TCL 30+ strikes feel quite weak when you can get other devices at the same price. But with a comfortable experience all around.
You get a solid amount of onboard storage with 128GB to fill, although this is eMMC, which means it’s the slowest type you’ll find on a current phone. The dual SIM slot also has space for a microSD card and will accept up to a maximum of 1TB.
As you might expect, you won’t get the latest and greatest in terms of connection to the device at this price point, but you’ll get Wi-Fi 4, Bluetooth 5.0. NFC and 4G LTE.
Here are the benchmark results achieved by TCL 30+, compared to some other devices in its class:
50MP f / 1.9 wide camera
2Mp f / 2.4 macro and depth cameras
1080p / 30fps video
You’ll find three cameras on the back of the TCL 30+, made from a 50Mp f / 1.9 (wide) main shooter paired with 2Mp f / 2.4 (macro) and 2Mp f / 2.4 (depth) cameras. It is also a good standard for entry-level and some mid-range devices. Basically, the main camera is what you will use, as there are plenty of other two numbers to make, unless you want poor quality close-ups of flowers, coins and other subjects. Especially not knocking 30+, as it is now quite standard.
Foundry / IDG
A 50MP wide camera is good, especially in bright environments. Taking shots of the port city where I live is the result of some very usable images. Boats, buildings, the sky and the sea all looked perfectly balanced, albeit with the kind of oversaturated colors that are common nowadays. There’s digital zoom up to 4x, and it works well in a pinch, but you lose quality in the image with each magnification step you take.
One area where the 2Mp depth camera comes in handy is for portrait shots, as it works with the main camera to help create depth of field effects in areas where the background is blurred. The results can be very captivating if the theme is clearly defined, but when it comes to hair or parts of the fabric that match the color of the background, the camera struggles to figure out what it is. I also found it with flowers and brightly decorated mugs, all of which seem to have thrown the calculation of depth into the cold. That being said, if you are patient you can still get some fine bokeh-style shots with the tool.
Here are some examples I’ve captured with TCL 30+:
Video quality tops out at 1080p / 30fps and can be very useful again when you have good lighting. There is no stabilization, so you need a stable hand, and the colors are slightly washed. For quick social media posts, this 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 ultraviolet that takes some great shots and can record video up to 1080p / 30fps. There are beauty modes and portrait modes for the bokeh effect, which actually seems to work a little better on this camera than before.
Battery life and charge
Average charging speed
One of the advantages of non-top-class processors is that the demands on battery life can be very lean. This seems to be the case with TCL 30+, as I can get it from moderate use for about a day and a half before I need to plug it in. The TCL includes an 18W charger in the box, and you can go from 0. 15% to 21% in 15 minutes or 42% in 30 minutes. After that, charging is slowed down to a more conservative speed (possibly to save battery health), with a full recharge clocked in at two hours.
Foundry / IDG
Putting through the PCMark Battery Life Test returned a respectable score of 9 hours 40 minutes, which is not excellent in class on the long way, but is still a score that means you don’t need to reach for a charge before bedtime.
TCL UI (version 4)
Some preinstalled apps
Security updates as of December 2023
When it comes to Android skins, TCL’s UI is quite outrageous. Most things look and feel like standard vanilla android, sometimes graphical elements remind you that it is repetitive. The menus are basically the same as the ones you’ve encountered before, with notifications and app drawers all easily accessible via up or down swipes.
Foundry / IDG
There are a few pre-installed apps you might want to get rid of, including social media, games and a couple of retail offers. TCL emails, browsers and other bespoke versions will give way to Google options for many people as these can be delivered quickly.
One thing to note is that TCL states that the device will only receive security updates by December 2023. This means it will no longer be usable after this point, as it will no longer be protected from new threats and vulnerabilities. It’s a little short for our favorite, as it essentially means it’s an 18-month phone, and only if you bought it at the time of writing in July 2022.
The point of the budget phone is that it is there when people cannot expand their budget into high-end devices. Forcing them to buy another device a year and a half later seems to have lost the point. Also, it is not good for the environment, as by the end of 2023 the phone will be less secure than other options.
Price and availability
At the time of the review, the TCL 30+ was only available in the UK through the QVC Shopping Network for 179.90. European customers can use BeDigital where the phone was offered at 229.95.
Like many Chinese phones, the TCL 30+ will not be available directly to US customers due to the ongoing trade restrictions imposed by the US government.
While these prices are quite reasonable for modern smartphones, they bring the TCL 30+ in direct competition with the likes of the Poco X3 Pro which is a ridiculously good device for £ 229 / € 249. Last year’s Redmi Note 10 Pro made it an excellent budget phone due to its AMOLED display, 108Mp camera and long battery life, plus it can be had for as little as 149 / € 159 if you shop around. There’s also the Xiaomi Poco M4 Pro which is priced the same as the TCL 30+, plays AMOLED displays but it’s a good all-round package.
While the display on the TCL 30+ is great for this price point, and the camera can capture some impressive images, poor performance makes this device very difficult to recommend. Add artificially short lifespan to it and we suggest shopping for one of the many options you can find in the budget space.