Tech giant TCL has just released a new range of mobiles. Well, within the last few months at least. Now we’ve had TCL phones float across the desk in the past, and while none of them we’ve seen have attempted to take on the current flagships, I feel like TCL is slowly cementing themselves in the mid-range market, as their handsets not only look pretty decent and stylish but are also extremely capable handsets when it comes to their performance. I’ve just got my hands on the TCL 40R 5G, which was recently showed off at CES 2023, and wanted to give it a bit of a test ride. So, let’s dive in.
Starting around the back as this is definitely the most interesting aspect of this phone, as there’s an etched curved pattern that reminds me of some kind of astrophotography timelapse. The phone comes in two colours, black or purple, of which we have the black one here, and I must say it does look pretty smart. The rear of the phone and casing is made from plastic, so it does feel extremely lightweight though the etched pattern in the rear offers a decent level of grip so say something like a Samsung or iPhone that is housed in glass.
Down one side you have your lock button which doubles as a fingerprint scanner. It works well and opens up the phone almost instantaneously. But if fingerprint scanners aren’t your thing, there’s also facial recognition you can rely on to get your phone unlocked. Above the lock button, you have a volume rocker. The rim of the phone is matte in colour and you’ve got a speaker grill on the bottom, as well as a USB Type-C charging port and what feels like an extremely rare headphone port for those users who like to use wired headphones. The phone, unfortunately, is not waterproof because of this reason, so don’t go swimming with it.
The TCL 40R 5G sports a 6.6-inch IPS LCD screen that’s actually pretty sharp and bright at 400nits of brightness. It’s a 20:9 aspect ratio with a resolution of 720 x 1618 with a contrast ratio of 1500:1. It’s got a 90Hz max refresh rate, which can be turned down to 60Hz if you want to save some battery life and it’s also got a smart setting where it can auto-select the refresh rate depending on what you are doing with the phone. The 40R 5G also has access to TCL’s NXT Vision software which offers various settings to aid with image quality. It’s split into three, being image, video and game enhancements, and all aid in increasing things like contrast ratio and sharpness, shadow detail and overall resolution. With NXT Vision there’s also a reading mode and eye comfort mode to aid with minimising eye strain. And finally, a way of changing the colour temperature of your display. From warm, cool and a neutral white balance. The small notch at the very top of the screen, well, more of a teardrop style of notch that hides the selfie camera. It doesn’t at all distract away from the screen which is great. It’s very unobtrusive and out of the way.
So, under the hood, you’ve got a quad-core MediaTek Dimensity 700 CPU, with two cores clocking at 2.2GHz and the rest at 2.0GHz. This is backed up by 4GB RAM and a 64GB or 128GB storage capacity depending on which one you choose. You can also add an extra terabyte of storage using a microSD card if needed. You’ve also got inside an ARM G57 MC2 graphics chip driving visuals.
Running a Geekbench 5 benchmark test the phone gave us a score of 541 on a single-cor and 1,655 on a multi-core score which pretty much puts it on par with the Xiaomi Poco X3, Oppo Reno 2, and the Samsung A22 5G. So, a very mid-level performance that’s for sure. But, saying that, if you’re going to be using this phone to check your Facebook notifications, or catch up on your Instagram feed this phone is way more than capable. There was admittedly stutter when opening new apps for the first time, and coming from something like a Google Pixel 7 Pro as my daily driver, opening apps is a slower process, but now slow enough to not recommend this phone to someone who doesn’t need all the bells and whistles of a flagship handset.
Following on from this we ran a 3DMark test, just to see what kind of gaming performance you could get from the device and it gave us a score of 1,206 with an average frame rate of 7.2 on its recommended Wildlife test, which in all honesty isn’t really that bad considering the benchmark test pushes the phone’s resolution to a 1440p resolution. The phone will be able to play some Candy Crush or Clash of Clans, but if you’re going to be needing a phone for PUBG or Call of Duty Mobile, then you’re going to have to be looking elsewhere for a more powerful handset. And for comparison, similar phones with similar scores are the Huawei Honor X9 5G and Motorola Moto G71 5G.
The TCL 40R 5G is running Android 12 with a TCL UI 4.0 skin which isn’t a bad experience really at all. From first glance it’s pretty close to a stock Android experience, however, in TCL fashion, there’s some bloatware that comes with the phone, but I must say, not a huge amount. There’s an optimisation app that frees up memory usage, a Support Centre that which allows users to submit feedback and troubleshoot issues and check on the health of components like your battery, and finally a heart rate monitor and pedometer for tracking steps. So not much in my opinion and certainly so much better than other eastern mobile phone manufacturers. There are a few customisation options that help with phone personalisation like widgets and backgrounds, if you want buttons or gesture control to navigate Android or even the layout of settings in your notification panel. All pretty much standard things now with Android and nothing really stood out as being bad. It’s a nice experience using TCL UI 4.0.
The main menu is split up into categories which is a nice touch. You can find things like communication which houses the Facebook app, your contacts and messages, and Media where you can find your camera, gallery, music, TikTok and other media-related apps. Categorising your menu this way makes it so much easier to find what you are looking for as opposed to endlessly scrolling through your list of installed apps.
Moving between apps is a pretty smooth experience and I never really experienced any kind of lag or stutter. The only thing that stood out to me was the speed of the bootup time when my phone battery died once. It’s nowhere near as fast as a flagship handset, which is understandable, but it did take a tad too long, enough for me to make a comment anyway.
Inside is a 5,000mAh battery which is more than enough for a full day’s use given the phone’s resolution and refresh rate. In the box, you do get a 15-watt charger and a USB Type-C cable, which is alright. Not really on par with some fast chargers, but it’ll take a couple of hours or so to go from empty to full, so really it’s not too bad. The cable though is incredibly short. Like so short, running it from the floor where an extension plug may be to your bedside table could be a stretch. I would have liked to have seen a longer cable provided.
It also has a feature called Intelligent Charging, which is designed to charge your phone slowly overnight so it hits 100% by the time you wake up. This will extend the life of your mobile phone battery and reduces overcharging.
Around the back are three separate snappers housed neatly in the top left-hand side of the rear panel. The housing is raised, and there is a bit of fear that the lenses could get scratched if laying it down on the incorrect surface. The top main camera has a 50-megapixel sensor with an f/1.8 aperture. It’s classed as a wide-angle lens, and to be honest, the photos shot from this lens aren’t that bad. I’ve definitely seen a lot worse on mid-range handsets in the past. The second is a 2-megapixel macro sensor with an f/2.4 aperture and the third is a 2-megapixel, f/2.4 depth sensor.
Taking photos with the 50-megapixel camera offers a decent quality image, and one that’s not too over-processed. Colours are decent, though a little muted compared to the processed photos you tend to find on higher end handsets but this isn’t a bad thing, and if editing your photos is your thing, there’s room to add a little more saturation in later.
Features inside of the camera app include your standard auto mode. You’ve got a video mode that shoots 1080p at a maximum of 30 frames per second. No 60 or 120fps here for slow-mo either, and there’s not even a slow-motion mode to take advantage of. There’s a portrait mode that takes advantage of that wide aperture and produces shallow depth of field photos and finally a Pro mode and Panoramic mode. Inside of the Pro mode, you have access to your ISO level, your shutter speed, your white balance and a manual focus option.
As I said, photos taken from the device aren’t bad. They’re not super detailed though the phone does produce sharp images and they’re certainly passable if you’re wanting to add them to your Instagram feeds. And in controlled lighting conditions, you can get a pretty decent sharp image from the camera. The colours look pretty good on a phone screen, which follows through to your social media posts. There’s a feature that takes advantage of HDR in both video and photos which aims to reduce those blown-out highlights and increase those dark shadowy areas. TCL’s ‘One Shot’ feature snaps several images at once, and its AI algorithms select the best images based on sharpness and also posing. This follows on to AI tracking so if you’re snapping a moving image, it can detect this and increase its shutter speed to capture a nice and sharp image. It works,
However, when it comes to close-up macro shots, the camera left me wanting a lot more, especially as I’m very much used to my Google Pixel 7 Pro now. The photos produced again aren’t too bad, but you’re not going to be winning any kind of photography awards for your macro photography with this phone. Focusing distance also leaves a lot to be desired, and rather than calling it “macro” mode, I’d call it the ability to shoot images close up.
The selfie cam has an 8-megapixel sensor with an f/2.0 aperture and can also film at 1080p at 30fps. It did quite a good job with the background separation on my selfie image above so I was quite impressed with that result. This is done through facial recognition software built into the camera, which sticks a box around faces so it can produce clearer images. However, whether it’s to do with TCL’s post-image processing, colours felt a little muted compared to how they actually are in the world. I’ve added a similar selfie to to this review taken with a Google Pixel 7 Pro, and I must say when it comes to subject sharpness, especially if you’re viewing them on social media feeds or websites, is pretty negligible. I’m impressed.
The TCL 40R 5G is a quite impressive mid-tier mobile phone, that has some pretty decent performance where it counts. Sure you’re not going to be playing the latest games on this device, but if y ou’re a Candy Crush lover or similar, then fill your boots. Its performance is pretty decent though if you’re only needing a handset to update your Facebook or Instagram with photos and Stories, and the camera is more than capable for those quick snaps of your day, or taking photos of the family at events. It doesn’t feel as premium as some handsets, down to the use of plastic as housing, and surprisingly, it didn’t come with a case. Even one of those thin, basic, transparent cases commonly found in retail boxes these days. It does come with a charger though, so brownie points there. But, can I find a price for here in the UK? No chance. Whatever I Google I can;t find this phone. What I can find however is a price of $229 dollars in the US, so there’s a start. And it’s extremely hard to argue that price tag if it’s reflective of what’s coming to the UK once it arrives. For more information, head to the TCL website.