TCL 20 R 5G review: 5G for less than $350

Electronics brand TCL is a more recent addition to the smartphone market. But, thanks to the background in TV manufacturing, it has done a decent job at entering this very crowded field with its own unique devices. As you would expect, TCL puts a fair bit of effort into its phone screens, and that’s one of the main focuses of the brand.

TCL is the latest of a string of brands to release cheaper 5G-compatible phones, with the TCL 20 R 5G the most recent device added to the ‘20’ range released this year. Priced at $349 AUD RRP, this price point places the TCL 20 R 5G as one of the cheapest 5G phones on the market, along with the Samsung Galaxy A22 5G.

Curious to see what you’ll get for your money? Read on for our hands-on review of the TCL 20 R 5G.

TCL 20 R 5G Features and specs

Back of grey TCL 20 R 5G phone on wooden surface with pot plant

  • $349 AUD RRP (available at Vodafone, Harvey Norman, Officeworks, Mobileciti)
  • 5G compatible
  • NFC functionality
  • 6.52 inch HD+ display with 90Hz refresh rate and NXTVISION technology
  • MediaTek Dimensity 700 Octa-core processor
  • Rear-mounted fingerprint reader + facial unlocking
  • 4,500mAh battery
  • Triple rear-camera setup (13MP + 2MP depth + 2MP macro)
  • 8MP front-facing camera
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB internal storage (plus up to 1TB expandable micro SD storage)
  • Granite Grey and Lazurite Blue colourways
TCL 20 R 5G Pros TCL 20 R 5G Cons
  • Nice and vibrant screen, amplified by the fun moving wallpaper options
  • Speedy performance overall
  • Macro photos pretty decent and capable of picking up details
  • Cameras not that great, verges on the blurry and over-exposed side
  • Slow unlocking at times
  • Doesn’t always respond to first touch, requiring multiple touches

Jump to:

Design and functionality

Closeup of TCL 20 R 5G phone in grey
The TCL 20 R 5G is a fairly decent-sized phone at 6.52 inches. It feels quite sturdy, while at the same time feeling thin and lightweight. Even though it’s a reasonably large phone, I found it quite comfortable to hold in one hand, despite finding phones around this size a bit too big for my smaller hands.

There are two colour options — grey and blue — and the grey I was using is a fairly plain and simple finish. The matte texture on the back is quite nice, but it’s prone to smudges, so you’ll probably want to use the clear jelly case that is included. It’s a rather plain-looking phone, without any texture or holographic effect to make it stand out. If you prefer your phones to be a bit more understated in design, you’ll probably like this device.

Even though the camera bump sticks out a bit, when you have the clear case on, it sits almost completely flat, which is a nice change compared to many other phones being released around this time of year, which tend to wobble if you’re trying to use it lying flat on a surface.

The fingerprint reader is on the back of the phone, which is a bonus if you prefer that placement to the side button fingerprint scanners seen in many newer phones now. Both fingerprint and facial unlocking were rather reliable, but could be a bit slow at times.

Overall, I feel like the TCL 20 R 5G is a very inoffensive phone when it comes to its approach to design and functionality. It’s on the plainer side of things when it comes to looks, which could be a pro for some, or a disappointment for others. It ticks all the boxes when it comes to ergonomics and being a comfortable phone to use.

Performance

Person holding TCL 20 R 5G phone showing phone screen
You would expect from an electronics and TV manufacturer that the screen would be its strongest feature, and luckily it is one of the best assets that the TCL 20 R 5G has going for it. With the price point in mind, it is a nice screen — it’s clear and vibrant. One addition I really liked was the option to use a moving wallpaper, which I feel really made the most of the screen.

It’s also a very quick, seamless and fluid phone to use — whether scrolling through social media, playing games or watching video. The phone is capable of a 90Hz refresh rate, but you have the option to switch it to an auto mode or down to 60Hz if you want to save battery. Testing out its 5G capabilities I was able to record speeds of 257Mbps using the Optus 5G network.

While I found it to be quite a quick and seamless phone to use, it did suffer from some slowness at times. I found when the phone had to restart after battery drain or after installing an update, it was quite slow to load apps on the home screen after unlocking with the PIN. It also felt like it struggled to respond to touch at times when using the camera app, and I had a few moments of slow loading or delayed response when using YouTube.

You’ll get a 4,500mAh battery, and I found that the battery performance was pretty good overall. Streaming HD video for around an hour drained about 12%, while around 30 minutes of gaming drained around 5% of the battery. Testing the battery on 5G didn’t seem to make much of a difference, with around 10 minutes of streaming HD video only draining around 1% of the battery.

Charging is quite slow, but that is to be expected for phones at this price point, as not many cheap phones include fast-charge compatibility. Testing this out, it took around two hours and 37 minutes to charge from 0% up to 100%. However, the slow charging won’t likely be an issue, as the 20 R 5G seems more than capable of lasting a full day of moderate use on one charge, and even longer with light use.

As for the viewing experience, I found the phone provided a really nice and immersive visual viewing experience. While the screen is quite vibrant, I didn’t feel like the colours were overly saturated when watching videos, which made it feel a little more true-to-life, especially live music videos. However, this is let down by some very average built-in speakers. There isn’t really much depth to sound, and the volume control isn’t as subtle as you might want, with no really super ‘soft’ volume before it mutes completely. At this price point though, built-in speaker quality is never particularly ground-breaking in devices from other brands, so it’s not really a big disappointment and pretty much to be expected.

Overall, I found that the TCL 20 R 5G does a great job when it comes to performance. It felt quite quick and speedy to use, and didn’t really struggle with too much. There were only a few occasions where it struggled briefly, but that’s rather standard across many cheap phones, and didn’t detract from the overall experience.


Related: Motorola Edge 20 review: premium feel, affordable price


Cameras

The TCL 20 R comes with a triple rear-camera setup including 13-megapixel main, 2MP depth and 2MP macro lens, plus an 8MP front-facing camera. You’ll get some extra features such as light trace, portrait mode, and panorama, along with stop-motion and slow motion for video. There’s also a bizarre bit of AI that you can enable in camera settings that shows the calories in food on the screen using your camera — I was only able to make this work with a banana, and it struggled to identify many other foods.

Outdoor photo of ocean and rock pools taken on TCL 20 R 5G phone
Outdoor photo taken on TCL 20 R 5G phone

When I first tested out the cameras for the TCL 20 R 5G, I was quite happy with the performance. However, later on these cameras let me down on multiple occasions. The first major test run I took these cameras on was low-light sunrise on a very overcast morning. Later on when trying the cameras in other light conditions during the day, that’s when I was let down the most.

Panorama shot of rock pools and sunrise over ocean
Panorama photo taken on TCL 20 R 5G

For some reason, the TCL 20 R 5G just does not respond well to sunlight — whether there’s not a cloud in the sky or it’s a bright overcast day. I felt like it really struggled with sunlight and it would end up making everything blurry and adding a ‘glow’ to brighter objects. While it created an interesting ethereal effect that could create some fun photos on occasion, I genuinely struggled to get a decent photo when sunlight was involved — the darker the cloud cover, the better. It also seemed to struggle with adjusting the brightness, and I found that I would have to wait for it to process the image while I was waiting for the option to adjust brightness balance to show up. The above panorama photo shows some of the brightness flaring issues around the cloud coverage.

When the cameras aren’t affected by sunlight, you do get some decent photos. Indoor photography and lower-light outdoor photos stand out, and I felt that for a cheap phone, it did a good job at reflecting more true-to-life colours, but only in certain settings. It’s a temperamental camera setup to say the least.

Macro photos of flower and spool of thread side by side
Left: Outdoor macro photo taken on TCL 20 R 5G phone, Right: Indoor macro photo taken on TCL 20 R 5G phone

Macro photography is fairly decent. I found when taking macro photos indoors, I could get some good results. Colours were very tru- to-life and it picked up on a lot of detail. However I felt it struggled to adjust a little bit, and there was a tendency for the images to be a bit blurry. Once you could get the focus and the lighting right, it was capable of producing some quality results. The above macro photo (on the left) shows the same issue with light and blur when taking macro photos outside.

Figurine of Grogu from The Mandalorian show
Portrait photo taken on TCL 20 R 5G phone

Portrait photography was another stand out. Many cheaper phones struggle with portrait mode, with the background blur looking a little artificial and with difficulties setting the focus. I found that the TCL 20 R 5G did a really good job at portrait mode for a phone at this price point, especially using the front-facing camera. While the background blur wasn’t as obvious as you’d get in other phones, it does a good job.

Video is pretty standard and it’s nice to have a few extra features. The stop-motion feature is fun to play around with, but it’s a bit of a tricky mode to work out, so you do need to play around a bit.

Overall the cameras and modes of the TCL 20 R 5G are fairly decent for a phone in this price point, but the issues with taking outdoor photos were rather significant. While most cheap phones will have some issues with the cameras, which is to be expected, I found the results of outdoor/sun-exposed photos to be rather frustrating and quite obvious. I really tried to make it work and tried turning settings like HDR and NXTVISION image enhancement off, but it just wouldn’t cooperate. There were a few things I felt it did well for a phone at this price, but was disappointed in the results overall.


Related: OPPO A54 5G review: the latest technology is no longer a premium feature


Should I buy the TCL 20 R 5G?

The biggest plus that the TCL 20 R 5G has going for it is that it is one of the cheapest 5G phones currently on the market. While there are a few other low-cost 5G phones around this price point, if you’re looking to save money on a new phone, but want to be able to access the latest network technology, it’s worth keeping this phone in mind.

The cameras are the biggest let-down of the TCL 20 R 5G. While many cheap phones have fairly average performance when it comes to cameras, which is to be expected, the issues with the light flaring and ‘glowing’ effect were rather unusual. Maybe it’s something that could be fixed with a software update, and if so, it would be worth updating it as soon as possible, as I felt it let down the whole experience of using these cameras. There were some things it did ok, and I did manage to get some rather decent shots, but it was still disappointing.

The overall performance was perhaps its strongest asset. I found that it was rather quick and fluid to use. It could easily keep up with playing games or scrolling through social media, and I didn’t really find that there were many issues that detracted from this experience.

TCL is capable of producing some good phones, especially with a quality screen. While I was disappointed in the cameras, you can still get decent value for money from a TCL phone. The 20 R 5G had some strong points and some disappointments, but for the price point, and considering it’s 5G capability, it would be worth keeping this phone in your considerations.

Consider the TCL 20 R 5G if Don’t consider the TCL 20 R 5G if
You want a sub-$400 with 5G compatibility and a solid performance. You like taking lots of photos and want a good camera setup.

Compare phone plans

The TCL 20 R 5G phone is available to buy outright from a selection of retailers, which you can then pair with a SIM-only phone plan of your choice. If you prefer to pick up your phone on a plan, Vodafone is the only telco currently offering the TCL 20 R 5G that can be bundled with a postpaid phone plan. You’ll be able to repay your device over a 12, 24 or 36-month payment period and bundle with any of Vodafone’s five postpaid plans. Plan prices (excluding the device payment) start at $40 per month with 10GB of fast-speed data (and unlimited data at capped speeds of 2Mbps) and up to $85 for unlimited fast-speed data (no speed caps).

The following table shows all Vodafone postpaid phone plans, which can be bundled with a new phone, from Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Try using our mobile phone plan comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

Product used for review/testing was a free sample provided by TCL.

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