TCL has been going hammer and tongs at the mid-range phone market for the past two years, a market they have set their sights on with laser focus. Coming in late in 2021 for the sixth device launch in just 4 months, the TCL 20 R 5G is their third 5G handset.
What is remarkable and should be noted right at the start of this review, is that the TCL 20 R 5G has a RRP of just $349. This makes it one of the cheapest 5G phones on the market right now.
Let’s shake things up a bit. I normally leave the specs until the end, because well, you know, numbers on papers.
In every TCL phone I have reviewed in 2021, the screen has been flawless. The NXTVISION technology used by TCL across all their devices really amps up the vibrancy and colour. I expect no less with the TCL 20 R 5G.
What do you actually get with the $349 price tag?
Connectivity: 5G (NR bands 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 28, 40, 78 SA/NSA), 4G LTE (1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 26, 28, 32, 38, 40, 41), Wi-Fi AC, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, 3.5mm audio jack
Speed: HSPA 42.2/11.5 Mbps, LTE-A Cat13 400/100 Mbps, 5G 2.7 Gbps DL
Display: IPS LCD, 6.52″ HD+ v-notch, 16M colours, 90Hz, 500 Nits (peak)
Resolution: 720 x 1600 pixels
Pixel density: 269 ppi
CPU: Octa-core (2×2.2 GHz Cortex-A76 + 6×2.0 GHz Cortex-A55)
GPU: Mali-G57 MC2
RAM: 4 Gb
Internal storage: 64GB
Memory card slot: microSDXC up to 1TB (in shared SIM slot)
Sensors: rear-mounted fingerprint, accelerometer, proximity, compass
Battery: Li-Po 4500 mAh + Charging 10W
Rear camera: 13MP AI wide + 2MP macro + 2MP depth
Front camera: 8MP wide
TCL has packed a tonne of capability and features into the 20 R 5G whilst keeping the cost down.
Coming in at 6.52″ of screen real estate, the TCL 20 R 5G is a decent-sized phone. It comes in a smidgen narrower than my old Pixel 2XL but a bit taller. It is a bezel and a bit wider than the Pixel 5, almost 2cm taller and marginally thicker when measured by Mark 1 Mod 0 eyeballing method.
Despite the bigger size, it feels pretty good in the hand with a good heft without being too heavy. It feels reassuringly solid.
I could almost use the TCL 20 R 5G one handed. To qualify that, I have the same issue with the Pixel 5 – I can almost do all my typing one handed but sometimes it can be just a little stretch too much.
My review unit is grey, marketed as Granite Grey by TCL. It is a bit of a plain Jane affair, without even the 20-series signature accent strip such as on the TCL 20SE. The back of the phone has a matte finish, it’s pleasant to look at until you start touching it and it gathers fingerprints like it is going out of fashion. It’s a police forensics dream crime scene.
I am not a fan of under screen fingerprint readers, the 20 R 5G gets my vote for the rear-mounted reader which is how my finger rests naturally when I pick up the phone. The 20 R 5G also comes with Face Unlock.
The centrepiece of the TCL 20 series is always the NXTVISION powered screen. It is no exception here with the 20 R 5G with NXTVISION automatically adjust contrast, sharpness and dark detail on the fly for all your images, videos and apps. The Live Wallpaper feature helps to showcase just how good the display is.
I threw on Alto’s Odyssey for a spin and the 90Hz refresh rate is just gorgeous to play with. Yes you can set it to auto or dial it down to 60Hz, but at full flight it is a joy to use. Overall it is a smooth experience, Alto is cruising over sand dunes and waterfalls, his style is not imped by any lags.
What I did notice though, is that if there is media running and I need to unlock the phone, the experience differs depending on how I unlock it. There seems to be a lag to get back into working if I under the fingerprint reader. On the other hand, using Face Unlock generally results in an instantaneous unlock.
Both methods seems to have fairly accurate, not requiring multiple attempts to unlock the phone.
Aside from that, there is no glaring issues with performance. Yes there are the occasional struggles, but this is a mid-range phone at an incredibly good price point. Keeping that in mind, any minor niggles are just taken in stride.
The speakers are located at the bottom of the phone, and if I am holding it in landscape mode I have a tendency to block the sound. At this price point it was never going to an amazing audio experience out of the box. The audio/visual cinematic experience does not really match up but no one should be surprised.
Running the PCMark tests, it comes back at just a smidgen over 13 hours of battery life with the 4500mAh battery. There is no fast charging in this unit which again, is only to be expected. It takes about 150 minutes to go from empty to full. But with moderate usage you can easily see through a day on a single charge.
Looking at the numbers, the 20 R 5G has a Work 3.0 score of 9186 compared to my Pixel 5 at 10067. The results are shown in the diagrams below and the
numbers don’t look bad at all, even pipping the Pixel 5 in some areas.
The TCL 20 R 5G sports a triple lens system, and similar to the other 20 series models, includes an AI auto enhancement for optimising your pictures and videos. In this chassis there is a main 13MP camera, 2MP depth lens and 2MP macro lens.
For most parts my previous experience with the camera system has been more lukewarm. It is adequate under the right circumstances, but what exactly are the right circumstances can be a moving goalpost.
With the 20 R 5G, getting the best out of the camera can be finicky. Interesting enough it seems the camera suffers from a touch of heliophobia. Well not the heart pounding, potentially irrational fear of bright lights, but it seems to struggle to accurately capture colour and detail when there is direct bright light on the subject. Looking at the pretty flowers and their insidious vines in my backyard. The shots taken in direct light are oversaturated and suffers from significant loss of details. The areas in the shade are more natural in colour and the details are captured.
The same is for the macro lens. Taking photos indoors such as the ten dollar bill brought out the details that are difficult to see with the naked eye.
Initially I felt the key to get the camera to perform at it’s best is under controlled lighting, but after a bit more playing around, I am still struggling for consistency. Bit of a challenge if you want to whip out your phone for a quick candid snap.
This is in particular when the reaction speed is not the best. I tried to take a photo of my daughter with a kitten, out of the three shots I thought I took, only one came out and it was after the kitten moved out of position.
For example the photos of the watermelons is done indoors, reasonable lighting. The auto mode is far too warm, the portrait mode is much more true to life. However it took two goes to get a sharp photo in portrait mode, even though it appeared on screen to be perfectly in focus.
What It Doesn’t Have
The TCL 20 R 5G does not have wireless charging. There is also no water resistance.
Neither of these are dealbreakers in the grand scheme of things.
Whilst I am mixing things up, let’s get the negatives out of the way. The camera is definitely a let down in the 20 R 5G. The saving grace is that when viewed on a mobile device and a similar sized screen, you can gloss over a lot of the shortcomings. Viewing it on a big screen is far less forgiving.
However a huge plus that the TCL 20 R 5G has going for it, is that it is one of the cheapest 5G phones currently on the market. The screen is gorgeous, performance punches above it’s class. The TCL UI is lightweight, and the overall experience is of reasonable snappiness and fluidity. Yes there is the occasional lag but I get that on more powerful and substantially more expensive phones too.
If your child is of age for a mobile phone, it would definitely be worth keeping this phone in consideration. It’s hard to argue with the attractive price tag, and the generous connectivity, features and performance that is packed in.
The TCL 20 R 5G 64GB is available from Amazon, Harvey Norman, Officeworks and Mobiciti with a RRP of $349. Right now Big W has it for $299 which is a steal.