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Hands-on review: TCL 30 SE mobile phone

TCL continues to provide consumers with budget phones that still pack a punch with the TCL 30 SE mobile phone.

The TCL 30 SE is a big beastie. It's still, just about, pocket friendly at 165.2mm x 75.5 x 8.9mm. Weighing in at 190g the phone feels solid despite its plastic chassis. There's nothing about the phone's look and feel that suggests that it is a budget device. To be honest, I was quite surprised at just how cheap the phone retails (which is around NZ$370/AU$270).

The 6.25” IPS screen looks vibrant and sports a resolution of 720x1600. Whilst a lower resolution than I'd like, it doesn't look bad for day-to-day use, but it may put off those that like watching movies on their phone.

Inside, the phone runs Android 12 on an octa-core Cortex A53 (4x 2.0GHz and 4x 1.5GHz) CPU and a PowerVR GE8320 GPU controlled with a MediaTek MT67662G Helio G25. There's 128GB of storage for your apps and 4GB of RAM. The memory can be expanded via the microSDXC card slot. I found my apps opened reasonably quickly and, on the whole, the phone is fairly responsive. But it's not an overly powerful phone and I do wonder how it will fare after a couple of years.

There are three main HDR cameras: 50MP (f/1.9,28mm wide, 1/2.76", 0.64µm), 2 MP (f/2.4 macro) and 2 MP (f/2.4 depth). You can also capture panoramic images and video at 1080p@30fps. The single 8MP selfie camera is HDR and records video at 1080p/30fps.

The photo quality does betray the price-point of the camera. Whilst of acceptable quality for casual snaps, the results were nowhere near the quality of my four-year-old Huawei Mate 20 Pro, especially in low light. Even recording video at only 1080p and thirty frames-per-second is also a bit old hat these days. The phone's selfie camera supports facial recognition for security, and there's also a fingerprint reader on the back.

Connectivity is via Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n with allowance for Wi-Fi Direct and creating a mobile hotspot, Bluetooth 5.0, and USB Type-2 2.0. There's even a 3.5m audio jack for regular audio headphones.

A standout feature is the whopping 5000 mAh battery, which should give you a couple of days of use on one charge. TCL says it'll last 16.72 hours in their lab tests. The battery does support 15W charging but will charge in three hours using a regular 5W 2A charger. I charge my phone overnight, but the extra capacity will come in handy if you are travelling, etc.

We were sent the Space Grey version of the phone to review, which is a very dark grey. It's also available in Atlantic Blue, a dark blue, and Glacial Blue, which is a very striking light blue.

The brushed pattern on the back of the phone looks nice but, being plastic, is easily scratched. There was no protective cover included in the packaging, unlike other TCL phones I've looked at. There is also no mention of the TCL 30 SE being water resistant.

During my time with the phone, it did exactly what I wanted it to do. Whilst I was surprised at the price, which I only looked at when I started assembling my thoughts into the review, it explained some of the phone's more underwhelming features. Were this a premium phone, I'd be judging it a lot harsher, the camera quality in particular.

To look at and for everyday use, though, the phone is not really that much different from phones costing a considerable amount more. It feels robust, looks pretty stylish, and your finger glides nicely across the 2.5D glass screen (a sticky screen being a dead giveaway for a cheap phone).

The TCL 30 SE is not a top-of-the-range Samsung or Apple phone. It's designed to offer a premium look for a budget price. If you are all about content creation with your phone this one is not for you. It's great for everyday use and for someone that doesn't want to take out a mortgage for a top-end device. I do think that you are going slightly more than you are paying for, but you have to understand that there are compromises.

It's the sort of phone I'd be happy packing off with the kids to school. I'd feel safe in the knowledge that it'll likely do everything that they want it to do, it's stylish enough for them to not feel embarrassed with it but cheap enough that if they break or lose the device, I'm not going to feel too bad about replacing it.

The TCL 30 SE looks and feels like a premium phone. It's only under scrutiny that you can see where the manufacturer has made compromises. Discerning users will likely be frustrated by the screen resolution, photo quality, and performance. Most users, however, are going to be happy with the phone, especially at the price.

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