Performance without the price?
The TCL 30SE is the latest iteration of the SE Series, replacing last year’s 20SE. The TCL 30SE is the second cheapest in the 30 series, and offers a high-stamina 5000mAh battery, a big 6.52 inch LCD display, and (on paper) a powerful 50Mp main camera lens.
While there are a great many similarities from previous generations, the differences seem to be all natural evolutions – upgraded CPU, chipset, GPU and camera, and it’s running the latest version of android.
If you’re in the market for an affordable smartphone for the kids, the TCL 30SE has you covered.
Like the market for tablets (for which I recently reviewed TCL’s TAB10s), the smartphone market is absolutely saturated with options. Personally, I have been a long term Android user, and currently own a Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, which most would consider top of the line. So I was a little hesitant to switch to a device that, at least on paper, was substantially worse than the Samsung, and had a lot to be desired.
But I have to admit, while I won’t be replacing my S22 Ultra for day-to-day usage, the TCL 30SE held its own in quite a few areas, and left me pleasantly surprised.
First impressions of the TCL 30SE
The box of the TCL 30SE follows TCL’s trend of understated and plain. There isn’t even a picture of the phone on the box, with TCL having left the majority of the box a bare, glossy white. I said I was a fan of this aesthetic for its clean, professional appeal in my review of their recent tablet, but I find on this box, it’s a little too plain for my taste. Even the technical specifications on the back of the box seem to have been simplified, requiring me to look up the specifications online to confirm that this phone was only 4G, because it wasn’t listed anywhere else.
Given TCL was onto a winning style with their TAB10s, I’m a little disappointed.
The design of the phone isn’t going to win any awards for being unique, as it’s your typical glass fronted plastic slab, but the phone fits the hand nicely and is comfortable to hold. The inexpensive plastic finish looks good (to me), and didn’t feel slippery to touch or hold despite having a glassy sheen. However, fingerprints on the rear plastic were noticeable after only a short period of use.
The power and volume control buttons are both on the right hand side, allowing easy one-handed use, with the fingerprint scanner located in the centre of the rear of the phone – exactly where your fingers will be if you’re holding the phone, although my personal preference is for an in-screen placement like the S22 Ultra.
Overall, it’s a nicely designed entry-level device, although the lack of any IP rating is a slight concern, and users should be careful with it in dusty or wet environments.
Inside the Box
Inside the box, you get the TCL 30SE, a tool to pop out the SIM card slot, a charging cable and power adaptor (capable of 15W fast charging), a quick start guide and Australian consumer law disclaimer, and a set of cabled headphones.
Unlike the TAB10s, there’s no case included in the box, but that wasn’t a surprise, and there are plenty available on the market.
All in all, pretty standard fare, although the inclusion of the headphones and charger will likely be a plus, given the recent trend of larger brands to forgo these additions in-box.
The TCL 30SE is par-for-the-course when it comes to Android devices, and, as it comes shipped with Android 12, setup is a breeze.
After an extremely quick initial boot (compared to the S22 Ultra), you set up a network connection (though it does have the option to set it up in an offline mode, if preferred) choose whether to transfer your apps, photos, contacts, Google Account etc from another device, set up your Google Account (if you didn’t transfer it over), set your permissions, set up your unlock method, choose the home and lock screen styles, and you’re ready to go.
Battery Life and Charging
The TCL 30SE has a 5000mAh non-removable battery, which is the same size as the S22 Ultra, an impressive load for an entry level phone. What’s more impressive however, is that the TCL 30SE seems to drain that 5000mAh a lot slower than the S22 during comparable ‘normal’ use, lasting for me, over a full day between charges.
Of course, it all depends on your usage, and as a result, sometimes does present worse results – a full load drain occurred in about 6.5hrs, while a video loop test discharged the battery in about 18 hours and 44 minutes.
Sitting without active use in standby mode, in 78 hours it only dropped 20% charge.
That said, TCL claims it will take 3 hours to charge the battery, but even using a 15W charger and cable, I found it closer to 3.5+ hrs, so it’s not going to be good for those who frequently forget to put the smartphone on charge overnight and need it for work.
Wireless charging isn’t supported with the TCL 30SE, but that’s not really as surprise for an entry-level smartphone, although I did find myself missing it (a lot.)
The TCL 30SE has a 6.52 inch IPS LCD screen operating at a resolution of 720 x 1600 pixels (20:9 ratio), and with a pixel density of 269 ppi. This isn’t especially high, but works okay for browsing websites or scrolling messages and contacts.
Given the significant reduction in ppi, resolution and screen size (coupled with the change from the AMOLED 2X of the S22 Ultra) I immediately noticed the difference.
That’s not to say the screen on the TCL 30SE is BAD though, it’s quite good for the price bracket, and is quite bright too (up to 400 nits).
There’s also the added advantage of TCL’s NXTVISION which does help make things a little nicer.
However, it’s still a 60Hz screen, and the colours appear a little washed out when looking at photos, especially when viewed off-angle.
What is interesting to note here is TCL’s focus on eye-health, with the company recently announcing the successful development of hardware solutions to achieve a reduction of harmful blue light in their screens – a worthy endeavour given the dramatic increases in screen time being experienced by both adults and children thanks to the abundance of smart phones and wearable devices in today’s market.
The first iteration of this solution has been rolled out to the TCL30 series devices, with the entire range (TCL30+, TCL 30SE, 305 and 306) including the TCL 30SE seeing impressive benefits of up to 30% hardware-level reduction in blue light. So Kudos to TCL for this inclusion, even for the budget entries.
The TCL 30SE is powered by a MediaTek MTK G25 chipset. This is a relatively slow processor, unfortunately made worse by a limited 4GB of Ram. Under full load, there were occasional lags and stutters. If this were a top end smartphone, I would be highly critical, but it’s fit for purpose in a phone at this price point.
On paper the cameras in the TCL 30SE are fantastic – 50MP+2MP+2MP on the rear, and 8MP on the front, and would probably be its main selling point. In practice, (and I tried hard to be objective and unbiased given how great the cameras on the S22 Ultra are) I found the results to be inconsistent.
In darkened environments the phone struggled, shots became noisy and blurry regardless of how still the phone was held, making the lack of a dedicated ‘night mode’ apparent. Even in better lit environments, I sometimes found the camera to take a while focusing. Macro shots had to be taken at specific distances or they came out blurry, and when zooming it lost definition in the background and made the images noisy and overblown.
Given the TAB10S was able to produce reasonable shots with only an 8MP camera, I was a little surprised at the results of the TCL 30SE.
In comparison, the selfie camera isn’t too bad. It holds its own, with a reasonably good, crisp outcome. In portrait mode you can also blur out the background to achieve a nice well-rounded photo.
One interesting feature which is not on my S22 Ultra is ‘Calorie Detection’, which does its best to estimate calories of food you’re taking photos of. I played around with this feature for a day, and while it’s good at identifying “obvious foods” (like bananas which were pretty accurate with 80 calories against the weight of the banana) it struggles with more complicated dishes like porridge & buttered chicken.
While this feature has unlimited potential, the AI needs to be improved, or the phone needs to request further user input in the form of requesting the meal, or ingredients before it will be anything but a novelty to show off to your friends.
Overall, while you won’t be ditching your DSLR in exchange for this, for ‘every day’ pictures (especially during the day), it’s acceptable for the price point.
There are a couple of speakers at the bottom of the TCL 30SE, offering stereo sound that’s more than adequate for calls, or watching films. That said, you may want to invest in a pair of earphones, since the audio quality is noticeably reduced when the volume is pushed beyond halfway.
Software & Apps
Using Android 12 as its core OS, and with TCL UI 4.0 running over the top, the TCL 30SE has a few nice touches that make the phone easier to navigate. An example is the app drawer, which organised apps by default according to the category of the app (Media, Utilities, Games etc.)
The biggest downside is that TCL has (so far) only committed to one core software update, in addition to two years of security updates. It seems like TCL have shot themselves in the foot a little in this regard, especially given the two year warranty for the hardware, an extra year of software update support would definitely have been a tick in their favour.
The TCL 30SE if a budget-friendly option for someone who just needs a phone, or for parents of a teenager that don’t want to risk a more expensive phone to the whims of teenage fate.
If TCL can improve in a few areas – WiFi speed, low-light camera performance & software update support, as examples – they’d make themselves even more competitive against similarly priced budget phones.
While there are definitely negatives, these are balanced, and in some cases outweighed by the price.
Overall, for what you’re paying, it’s a decent, budget device with a reasonable screen for the price, good viewing angle, brightness, performance and camera. The TCL 30 SE has a RRP of AUD$329 and is available in Atlantic Blue and Space Gray from Harvey Norman, Officeworks (late May), Big W, Target, Mobileciti, Amazon, Dick Smith
I’d like to thank TCL for providing me with the loan of the device.