TCL 20 R 5G review: Hits the sweet spot of price and performance
- Battery Score
- Camera Score
- Design Score
- Performance Score
- Battery Score
- 90Hhz NXTVision display is lovely
- Ridged edges feel nice in the hand
- 5G capable
- Good battery life
- Protective case included
- Mediocre camera
- Slow Android security updates
- Slow charging
|Launch price (RRP)||$0|
You've got a lot of choice when looking at 5G capable smartphones under $400 right now. TCL's the latest entry in the sub $400 club with the TCL 20 R 5G. It's not TCL's first play in affordable 5G handsets. But, it does sit square in the lowest cost 5G bracket. At least for now.
Realistically, there's not enough consumer use cases for 5G to make it the sole reason why you would buy a particular smartphone. While we're at the start of the death of 3G, 4G networks will be with us for some time to come. With that in mind, any 5G smartphone has to stand up on its own merits.
Like many budget phones, the TCL 20 R 5G is a mix of compromises, and whether they'll work or not for you depends on what you need from a smartphone. It's overall a well balanced handset with a practical design and decent battery life, and well worth considering if you're in the budget phone space.
TCL 20 R 5G review: Design
The TCL 20 R 5G is built around a 6.52 inch 90Hz capable display with a 720x1600 pixel resolution. That's an interesting mix of technologies, because while it's not impossible to score a Full HD (1920x1080) phone panel at this price, that's typically going to be one that's locked to a slower 60Hz refresh rate. As tradeoffs go, this one is decent, with the option to choose between 90Hz for that smoother scrolling goodness, or 60Hz if you want or need to eke out a little more battery life from the TCL 20 R 5G.
Like other recent TCL models, you also get the option to enable "NXTVision", TCL's take on screen colour optimisation that punches up colours in video and stills to give a more vibrant effect. It's somewhat a taste matter, because depending on what you're watching that NXTVision punch up can give some real oomph or just look artificial. But, you're not stuck with it. In any case, at this price, getting options like this is quite nice.
The TCL 20 R 5G sells in either a grey or blue finish. I'm a sucker for blue phones, but the model supplied for review was the rather more plain grey one. Plain is the right word here, because outside of that 90Hz display here, the design is quite understated.
It has a rear mounted fingerprint sensor, volume and power buttons on the side, top mounted headphone jack and a teardrop notch for the front-facing selfie camera. Plain isn't bad, mind you, and I did rather like the small touch of the slightly ridged sides that made the TCL 20 R 5G easier to hold when it's not in a case.
The TCL 20 R 5G does come with a simple clear case in the box, which is a nice touch and a smart inclusion for 2 reasons. Firstly, it rather obviously protects the phone. Secondly, it also provides a simple way to more easily hit the fingerprint sensor's sweet spot for unlocking. Like many cheaper phones, the fingerprint sensor can be a bit fussy when unlocking, so any help there is appreciated.
TCL 20 R 5G review: Camera
At the back of the TCL 20 R 5G there's a vertical bar of camera lenses, with a primary 13MP f/2.2 sensor, secondary 2MP macro sensor and finally a 2MP depth sensor. The teardrop notch at the front houses an 8MP f/2.0 sensor for your selfie needs.
Sure, the TCL 20 R 5G is a lower cost phone, and that's always a compromise story, but here TCL is slightly falling behind the trend. Pretty much every low-cost camera – including many that cost quite a bit less than the TCL 20 R 5G – has dropped a 2MP macro sensor into their phones this year, and they've all been uniformly mediocre. If you're very lucky you might get a workable shot in a dozen of them. But, expect a lot of blurry takes that you'll need to delete along the way.
That puts the heavy work on the shoulders of that primary 13MP f/2.2 sensor, because you never shoot with the 2MP depth sensor at all. It's just there to provide depth information for focus effects.
When you launch the TCL camera app, you might be surprised to see that it offers a zoom capability, given there's no zoom lens on the rear. This is just simple digital cropping with increasingly diminishing results.
Here's a sample shot taken from the roof of a nearby shopping centre carpark to show what I mean. This is the standard lens:
2x magnification is acceptable:
But 4x magnification, which is as far as you can take it, really starts to fall apart:
The rest of the camera experience with the TCL 20 R 5G is what I'd call capable, but nothing more. Like many cheaper camera phones I found it somewhat slow to fire up and find focus and white balance at times, so patience is called for if you want decent results for your photos, especially with the front-facing selfie camera.
TCL 20 R 5G Sample Photos
TCL 20 R 5G review: Performance
The TCL 20 R 5G is, like every other low-cost 5G phone this year built on Mediatek's Dimensity 700 processor. TCL pairs that up with 4GB of RAM and just 64GB of onboard storage, although you can boost that with microSD cards if needed.
The Dimensity 700 isn't what I'd call a fast processor, and that's very much the nature of a lower cost platform as it is. As a result, when benchmarking the TCL 20 R 5G, I wasn't expecting high benchmark results. That's totally what I got, but it did just manage to eke out a victory over other Dimensity 700 phones in a comparative sense.
Here's how it compares using Geekbench 5's CPU test:
On the graphics front, it's a similar story, and while the TCL does top the charts, it's not to a degree where you'd pick the difference in real world use. Here's how it compares against the same handsets using 3DMark's GPU tests:
What does all that mean in real world use? Like every other Dimensity 700 phone I've tested, it's entirely possible to hit laggy moments when using the TCL 20 R 5G in day to day usage. It's still very much a budget handset, and while those have improved in recent years, there were instances where apps or web pages stuttered a little while loading.
The TCL 20 R 5G is an Android 11 phone with TCL UI launcher on top of it. The challenge here – as it is for most phone makers – is in keeping Android up to date for both major operating system releases and security patches. Here the TCL 20 R 5G didn't impress, as it was only up to the October 2021 security patches by December 2021, which doesn't speak well of TCL's security update regimes.
On the 5G front, it's a sub-6GHz phone that TCL claims is capable of up to 2.69Gbps throughput, which would be a hell of an achievement for any sub-6Ghz device. The reality does come back down to a more realistic figure in real world tests. Using the Telstra 5G network, I could hit between 200-300Mbps down on a repeatable basis, which is exactly in line with other Dimensity 700 handsets.
TCL 20 R 5G review: Battery
The TCL 20 R 5G ships with a sealed 4,500mAh battery. That's only really average within this price class in a pure battery capacity sense, because many of the TCL 20 R 5G's competitors offer 5,000mAh batteries instead.
However, battery capacity and battery endurance are 2 different matters. Testing battery endurance is always a qualified affair, so to test this out I ran the TCL 20 R 5G through Finder's YouTube based battery test with the screen set to 90Hz mode. Here's how it compared:
Phones that drop below 90% will often struggle to last a single working day, and that wasn't an issue for the TCL 20 R 5G. While that was tested at 90Hz, actual 5G usage was minimal. If you're planning to use it with a lot of 5G mobile data, you can expect a significant battery hit.
The TCL 20 R 5G recharges via a standard USB-C charger, which means it's nicely compatible with a range of plugs. However, the supplied charger is not particularly quick. If it's the only charger you've got, put aside a fair few hours for it to get back up to maximum battery life.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you want a decent all-rounder 5G phone.
- Don't buy it if you need better camera quality.
TCL's shift from selling budget phones largely under the Alcatel brand to using its own brand for affordable handsets hasn't always led to phones that I could recommend. They've been reasonable handsets, but there's nearly always been a better alternative at the same price point.
That's not the case for the TCL 20 R 5G. It's a good value handset with decent performance and good battery life, as well as the longer term prospect of 5G compatibility, although that's still no reason to buy a phone by itself. The camera is the weakest part of the phone's offering, and if that's important to you you could consider handsets like the Motorola G50 or Oppo A54 in the same price bracket.
TCL 20 R 5G review: Pricing and availability
Compare TCL 20 R 5G plans
You can also purchase the TCL 20 R 5G on a handset repayment plan from Vodafone. This will split the cost of your new phone over 12, 24 or 36 months, and you'll get a mobile plan with it too.
Power, storage and battery
How we tested
The TCL 20 R 5G was tested over a 2 week period, assessing its build quality (including in-box accessories and charger), camera performance in a variety of conditions, performance via both benchmarks and day to day usage and battery life. The author has tested hundreds of smartphones and mobile phones over his 23 year tech journalism career. The TCL 20 R 5G used for review was supplied by TCL Australia.
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