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Hands On with TCL's $120 5G Phone

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May 9, 2023, 12:12 PM   by Rich Brome

TCL has a new affordable 5G phone for Verizon, and it's very, very affordable (as 5G phones go) at just $120. We spent some time with that phone: the TCL 40 XE. Check out our hands-on report to learn a little more about what $120 buys you in a 5G phone this year.



My first impression when picking up the TCL 40 XE was that it feels like a $120 phone. Not in a terrible way; it feels solid and well-constructed. But it has a very "plastic-y" feel. There has been seemingly no effort to make it look and feel more "premium" than it is.

TCL 40 XE 5G  

The back surface looks and feels a tad cheap. I do appreciate that the pattern looks unique without being too flashy or weird.

The weight feels just right and well-balanced.

I really appreciate that TCL has positioned the buttons low enough on the side that anyone can easily reach them, a basic design principle that seems to be increasingly rare for some reason.

Many cheaper phones cut costs with a lesser screen-to-body area ratio. It's nice to see that's not the case here: the bezels around the display reasonably thin.


The one place TCL (or perhaps Verizon?) has most noticeably tampered with the Android experience is with the app drawer. It's practically unrecognizable and I hate it. Yes, you'll probably put the apps you care about on you home screen, but I shouldn't be assaulted with a keyboard covering half the display every time I pop open the app drawer. It puts you right into active search mode for some reason, and that keyboard just gets in the way for me.

They've also messed with the app drawer in other ways I don't like, but that's the big one. I trust you can fix this with a settings change, but you shouldn't have to.


The rest of the software is fine. The camera app is fairly basic, with the usual set of modes and features for this class of phone. Instead of a long-exposure option in manual mode, there's a simple "light trace" mode, which is the TCL way. There is slow-motion mode and also a stop motion mode, which could be quite fun if you have the patience for that.


This is really just a modest upgrade to last year's 30 XE, which fulfilled the same role of super-affordable 5G phone. There are two key differences: a larger battery (always a good thing), and a much lower price. The 30 XE was listed at $198k, while this year's model is just $120. That's a big jump (down) in price with almost nothing sacrificed in terms of specs and features. That's a win-win for everyone.

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About the author, Rich Brome:

Editor in Chief Rich became fascinated with cell phones in 1999, creating mobile web sites for phones with tiny black-and-white displays and obsessing over new phone models. Realizing a need for better info about phones, he started Phone Scoop in 2001, and has been helming the site ever since. Rich has spent two decades researching and covering every detail of the phone industry, traveling the world to tour factories, interview CEOs, and get every last spec and photo Phone Scoop readers have come to expect. As an industry veteran, Rich is a respected voice on phone technology of the past, present, and future.

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May 10, 2023, 2:17 PM

TCL is Pretty Good

I used a TCL 20S not too long ago for a while -- a surprisingly good Android phone.
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