TCL 30SE – entry-level mid-range with NFC (Review)

The TCL 30SE is one of its new 2022 models that are tangibly better than its previous 10-and-20-series.

TCL Mobile (website and not to be confused with its TV and home appliances division) handles smartphones, tablets, and AR glasses. TCL also licences the Alcatel brand, although the former seems to have all but disappeared from Australia. In terms of market share, it has only been selling TCL branded phones here for the last three years. As a result, the lack of approved retail distribution (basically Harvey Norman and Officeworks) for the Australian certified models holds this brand back.

It is nice to see a smartphone maker maturing. It is a challenger brand, and our tests on the TCL 30SE and TCL 30+ (TCL 30+ – OLED screen and NFC at $399 (review) show generally acceptable performance and quality. You can compare both here.

5-minute review: TCL 30SE 4/128GB, 4G, Hybrid dual sim/microSD Australian Model 6165H1-2BIZAU12

WebsiteProduct Page
Price$329
FromHarvey Norman and Officeworks
Warranty2-years ACL
Country of originChina
CompanyTCL Technology (originally an abbreviation for Telephone Communication Limited) is a Chinese electronics company headquartered in Huizhou, Guangdong Province. It designs, develops, manufactures, and sells consumer products, including television sets, mobile phones, air conditioners, washing machines, refrigerators, and small electrical appliances.
MoreCyberShack TCL news and reviews

Deep-Dive review format

It is now in two parts. As this is a low-cost device, we will do a brief summary and a separate 300+ line database-driven spec, including over 70 tests to back up the findings. It also helps us compare different phones and features.

Most section headings have FAIL (did not meet expected standards), PASS (all you can expect in that category) or EXCEED (better than you can expect).

Don’t buy grey market

Regrettably, there is a substantial grey market (see Don’t buy a grey market phone – guide), and you need to be ultra-careful if you want an Australian Consumer Law warranty.

The ‘H’ model is for Australia and must have the 2BIZAU12 (you will find this on the box. No box? It is grey market) after it and the RCM C-Tick under Settings>System>Regulatory and Safety. Other versions may not have all AU Telco bands and no NFC. Do not buy H or A versions.

First Impressions – another glass slab – Pass

Sorry, but there is nothing exciting about a typical glass slab smartphone as this format is the best way to deliver value, not innovation.

It has a flat glass front, flat glossy plastic back (fingerprint and grease magnet), tri-camera hump, the important 3.5mm jack on the top, and a dedicated dual sim and microSD slot (that is three simultaneously). The power button and volume rocker are on the right side, and the fingerprint sensor is on the back.

Outstanding features – the 2-year warranty is nice, but apart from that, it is one of many phones in the highly competitive upper-entry-level bracket.

Screen – 6.25″ 1600 x 720, 8-bit 16.7m colours IPS LCD – Pass

TCL-owned CSOT (China Star Optoelectronics Technology) makes its LCD and OLED screens (as on the TCL 30+), and overall, the quality is quite good for the price bracket. It is quite bright at around 400 nits, and its NXTVISION adjustment App allows you to customise it to your tastes.

It is a 60Hz screen (fine for the price), but the colour accuracy is a little off, with colours appearing a little washed out. The screen suffers from a further loss of colour accuracy/saturation when viewed off-angle.

Processor – MediaTek Helio G25 – Pass (barely)

As with many MediaTek SoCs, we could not run some key GPU performance tests.

This is a slow processor made worse by the 4GB RAM and slow eMMC flash storage. We experienced many lags and stutters under load, but it is fit for purpose as a phone. The GPU struggles to play modern games (PUGB 22fps and GTA 5 18.1fps), but it is acceptable for less graphic-intensive ones. The AI for image post-processing is around 3 TOPS (the flagship processors are 28-30 TOPS), so its effect is limited.

Throttling was minimal at 10% over 15 minutes.

Even though it is slow, some 50 other smartphones use it, notably – TCL 306/30E/SE, Moto E7/g pure, Nokia G10, and several Xiaomi models.

Summary: It is a two-cylinder, no turbo! Note that the TCL 30+ uses the MediaTek G37, which is about 20% faster – still not a powerhouse.

Comms – Wi-Fi 4 N (Fail), BT 5.0 and NFC – Pass

If there is one area, we are critical of, it is Wi-Fi 4 N single-band 2.4Ghz tops out at 78Mbps. To put this in perspective, a download takes six times as long as Wi-Fi 5 AC. What was TCL thinking by putting this in a $329 handset when everyone has Wi-Fi 5 AC at 433Mbps?

As it is not a Qualcomm SoC, it does not have aptX sound codecs, which means you are limited to SBC and AAC with 200+ms latency – too high for gamers.

GPS performance is adequate and accurate to <10 metres, but the phone takes a long time to find satellites and recalculate routes limiting its effectiveness for in-car navigation.

Phone – Pass with caveats – for capital city and suburbs only

As seems typical of MediaTek Helio SoCs, it could only find the nearest tower, albeit at a reasonable 1-3pW signal strength. It is a Pass for capital city users only.

Battery – 5000mAh – Exceed with caveats

We have had past issues with MediaTek SoCs with GFX Bench and Geekbench 5 performance testing software. We managed to run the Manhattan and T-Rex battery tests but obtained vastly different results over three runs.

We can confirm that it takes 4 hours and 44 minutes to charge at 5V/2A/10W (claim 3 hours 7 minutes) and will video loop for 18 hours and 44 minutes (excellent), but this is at odds with the results of the GFX Bench Tests, which are around 8-10 hours. Full load drain is 6 hours 31 minutes.

It is 15W charge capable and that reduces charge time to 3 hours 22 minutes (closer to TCL’s claim), but for the sake of a few cents, it should have come with a 15W charger and cable.

We expect it should last two days, but that largely depends on your use.

Sound – mono for voice-only – Passable

We don’t test mono phones because they focus on 1-4kHz for clear voice. This gets to 81dB, but hands-free has slightly low volume, and with one mic and no noise-cancelling, keep it close to your face.

SBC and AAC codec means Bluetooth earphones have average volume and stereo sound stage.

Build – Pass

TCL offers a 2-year warranty, so we would typically allocate Exceed here. But the chrome finish plastic frame looks cheap, it is pretty slippery in hand, and the lack of any IP Rating (when the competition has IP54 or X4) puts it behind.

You likely will not find third-party cases and screen protectors in-store, and you will need to go online to Alibaba or eBay to find some.

Android 12 – Pass (no update policy)

To be fair, this is a ‘sell and forget’ phone. While its 30+ sibling gets security patch updates to December 2023, the website is silent on this model. In any case, it is unlikely that it will get an OS update either.

I am not yet a fan of TCL UI 4.0X. It is a relatively light touch over Android, and there is no learning curve. But it has a set of TCL apps that double up on Google Apps, and the launcher keeps asking to let these have system permissions. Saying ‘no’ does not impede its operation, but you cannot delete these baked-in apps either.

There is a lot of bloatware – remove: Amazon Shopping, Booking.com, Facebook, LinkedIn, an Office suite (not Microsoft), and non-Google apps to clear up storage.

Missing – all good

Our biggest gripe is single band 2.4Ghz Wi-Fi 4 N when most phones at this price have Wi-Fi 5 AC.

But the thing that is most missing is the power you need to do more with the phone. The SoC runs the phone well, but step outside that and MediaTek’s website description is just plain nonsense.

The MediaTek Helio G25 enables mainstream gaming smartphones with the benefits of HyperEngine technology, providing smooth performance, enhanced power efficiency and reliable, low-latency connections.

For example, the 50MP sensor cannot take images at that because the SoC only supports 13MP (12.5MP binned). Video cannot be compressed to H.265/HEVC – ditto. AI post-processing features are minimal because it simply does not have enough AI power.

So, if it is a phone you need, then all good.

Camera – TCL 30SE – Needs lots of work – Passable

The main issue with this camera is inconsistent results. We shoot a bracket of shots (using a tripod) and select the best for publication. Well, these shots are quite a long way off the TCL 30+ and well below comparably priced smartphones. As we said in the TCL 30+ review – TCL needs to work on the firmware.

In theory, it should be a decent 50+2+2MP camera setup as it uses the TCL 30+ camera setup. Of course, it has a lower-powered processor, so it only sees the 50MP sensor as 12.5MP and AI image post-processing is not as good.

We also know the 50MP Samsung S5KJN1 sensor and what to expect. It is used in more than 100 smartphones, including TCL 30-series, a few Motorola g-series, Samsung Galaxy A13/23, realme 8/9i, Vivo 21T, OPPO A96 and several other 2022 models coming here.

In short, lower levels of AI means it needs reasonable light levels to get the best out of it.

Camera summary

Photos

  • 50MP – not available
  • Ultra-wide – not available
  • 12.5MP binned (normal ‘auto’ shooting mode) with AI lacks accurate colours (washed out) and details with too much noise in the background
  • 2x Zoom – loses definition in the background
  • 4x Zoom – forget it – overblown, poor detail and noisy
  • Macro – must be at 4cm or blurred. Good shots otherwise
  • Office Light 400 lumens – Colours are off, soft focus and a little noisy
  • Bokeh – depth camera did not focus properly
  • <40 lumens – camera struggles
  • Night mode – Not available
  • Selfie – OK, in good light but the wide-angle means there is a lot of background showing
  • Video: Poor dynamic range leads to washed-out colours and lack of detail in light and dark areas

CyberShack’s view – TCL 30SE is acceptable as a phone, but that is it

We objectively test phones and compare them to others in the same price bracket. We conclude that this phone is overpriced and performs under par.

It is $329 (Harvey Norman has it for $278), and for that, you can get the Samsung A23 4G, OPPO A75 5G, OPPO A76 4G, Vivo Y70 4G runout Samsung A22 5G. All these seriously outclass the TCL. The closest comparison is the Motorola e7 Power at $169 (on runout).

It is not TCL’s fault that prices are askew – the volatile dollar, COVID supply, factory shutdowns and more all affect costs. But I do suspect we will see a price adjustment soon.

CyberShack Smartphone comparison v 1.1 (E&OE)

TCL 30SE

BrandTCL
Model30SE
Model Number6165H1-2BIZAU12
Price Base4/128
   Price base$329
Warranty months24-months ACL
 TierLower-mid range
Websitehttps://www.tcl.com/au/en/mobile/tcl-30-se.html
FromHarvey Norman, Officeworks
Country of OriginChina
CompanyTCL Technology (originally an abbreviation for Telephone Communication Limited) is a Chinese electronics company headquartered in Huizhou, Guangdong Province. It designs, develops, manufactures, and sells consumer products, including television sets, mobile phones, air conditioners, washing machines, refrigerators, and small electrical appliances.
MoreCyberShack TCL news and reviews
Test date5/5 to 2/6/22
Ambient temp15-18°
ReleaseFebruary 2022
Other models not for Australia (Don’t buy)The ‘H1’ model is for Australia and must have the 2BIZAU12 after it. Other versions may not have full AU Telco bands and no NFC. Do not buy H or A versions.

Screen

Size6.52″ centre mini notch
TypeIPS LCD (from CSOT owned by TCL)
Flat, Curve, 2D, 3DFlat with slightly curved edges
Resolution1600 x 720
PPI269
Ratio20:9
Screen to Body %89.11
Colours bits8-bit 16.7m colours
Refresh Hz, adaptive60Hz
Response 120HzN/A
Nit typical testClaim 450 (tested 398)
Nits max, testN/A
Contrast1000:1 (blacks are grey)
sRGBClaim 99% (Test 96%)
DCI-P3Test 67%
Rec.2020 or otherClaim 70% NTSC
Delta E (<4 is excellent)Around 4
HDR LevelSDR
SDR UpscaleNo
Blue light controlYes
PWM if known
Daylight readableLimited
Always on DisplayNo
Edge displayYes
Accessibility
DRML3 (lowest) – 480p at best but Netflix will not play
GamingNot for gaming
Screen protectionClaim’ Scratch resistant’
CommentDarker colours are a little washed out, and screen adjustments do not fix this.

Processor

Brand, ModelMediaTek Helio G25
nm12
Cores4 x 2.0GHz and 4 x 1.5Ghz
ModemMediaTek cat 4
AI TOPS<3
Geekbench 5 Single-core151
Geekbench 5 multi-core920
LikeToo slow to make a comparison – well below a Snapdragon SD460.
GPUPowerVR GE8320 650Mhz
GPU Test
Open CLWould not run
LikeN/A but too slow for games
Vulcan80
RAM, type4GB LPDDR4x
Storage, free, type128GB (93GB free) eMMC
micro-SDUp to 1TB
CPDT internal seq. Read MBps180
CPDT internal seq. write MBps99
CPDT microSD read, write MBps81/37
CPDT external (mountable?) MBpsNot recognised
Throttle test
Max GIPS86120
Average GIPS82847
Minimum GIPS75785
% Throttle6
CPU Temp50
CommentGood thermal management for a 5W TPD SoC

Comms

Wi-Fi Type, modelWi-Fi 4 N 2.4GHz only
Test 2m -dBm, Mbps-25/78
Test 5m-45/78
Test 10m-56/78
BT Type5
GPS single, dualSingle and slow to acquire satellites and recalculate
USB typeUSB-C 2.0 480Mbps
Alt DP, DeX, Ready ForNo
NFCYes, the Australian version only
Ultra-widebandNo
Sensors
   AccelerometerYes -combo with Gyro is very sensitive
   GyroYes
   e-CompassYes
   BarometerNo
   GravityNo
   PedometerNo
   Ambient lightYes
   Hall sensorNo
   ProximityYes
   OtherFingerprint rear mount
CommentSome of the usual sensors are emulated in the MediaTek SoC

4G LTE

SIMDual sim and dedicated microSD
   ActiveOnly one active at a time
Ring tone single, dualsingle
VoLTECarrier dependent
Wi-Fi callingCarrier dependent
4G Bands1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40, 41
CommentAll Australian 4G bands
Test Boost Mobile, Telstra
   UL, DL, ms25/189/35ms below average
   Tower 1 -dBm, fW or pW-86/1-3pW (average)
   Tower 2No
   Tower 3No
   Tower 4No
CommentTypical of low-cost MediaTek and strictly for areas with lots of towers – city and suburbs.

Battery

mAh5000
Charger, type, supplied5V/2A/10W supplied but capable of 15W
 PD, QC levelNo PD but can use PD chargers
Qi, wattageN/A
Reverse Qi or cableN/A
Test (60Hz)
   Charge % 30mins12%
   Charge 0-100%Claim 3 hours 7 minutes (Test 4 hours 44 minutes at 10W)
   Charge Qi, WN/A
   Charge 5V, 2A5V/3A/15W – 3 hours 22 minutes
   Video loop 50%, aeroplane18 hours 44 minutes
Unable to test with Wi-Fi and streaming video due to L3 DRM
   PC Mark 3 battery14 hours 55 minutes
   GFX Bench Manhattan battery651.7 (10.86 hours) 936 frames
   GFX Bench T-Rex492.3 minutes (8.22 hours) 1759 frames
   Drain 100-0% full load screen on6 hours 31 minutes
   Estimate loss at max refreshN/A
   Estimate typical useWhile the video loop time is good, the PC Mark Test is lower than expected, meaning that you can expect two days under typical use.
CommentIf something can charge at 15W, you should provide a 15W charger.

Sound

SpeakersEarpiece and bottom-firing speaker. Mono
TuningNo
AMPAW87 mono
Dolby Atmos decodeNo
Hi-ResNo
3.5mmYes
BT CodecsSBC and AAC only
MultipointUnknown – likely not
Dolby Atmos (DA)No
EQNo
MicsMono
Test dB – all on EQ flat DA off
   Volume max81
   Media (music)75
   Ring81
   Alarm77
   Notifications76
   Earpiece52
   Hands-freeSlightly low volume, no noise-cancelling, so keep it close to your face
   BT headphonesGood volume and channel separation
Sound quality
Deep Bass 20-40HzN/A
Middle Bass 40-100HzN/A
High Bass 100-200HzN/A
Low Mid 200-400HzN/A
Mid 4000-1000HzN/A
High-Mid 1-2kHzN/A
Low Treble 2-4kHzN/A
Mid Treble 4-6kHzN/A
High Treble 6-10kHzN/A
Dog Whistle 10-20kHzN/A
Sound Signature typeMono – focus on 1-4kHz
 SoundstageMono
CommentSuitable for voice but not for music

Build

Size (H x W x D)165.2 x 75.5 x 8.9 mm
Weight grams190
Front glassNot specified
Rear materialPlastic (possibly clear PMMA) gloss – fingerprint magnet
FramePlastic
IP ratingNot specified
ColoursSpace Gray
Atlantic Blue
Possibly Glacial Blue
Pen, Stylus supportNo
In the box
   Charger5V/2A/10W
   USB cableUSB-A to USB-C 2W rated
   BudsYes
   Bumper coverNo

OS

Android12
Security patch date5/02/2022
UITCL UI V4.01 AAM
It is a reasonably light touch over Android, enabling an Edge Screen.
OS upgrade policyNo OS upgrade
Security patch policyNot stated, but likely at least 12 months
Bloatware There is a lot of bloatware in terms of its substitutes for Google Apps, and these want more permissions than necessary. Remove: Amazon Shopping, Booking.com, Facebook, LinkedIn, an Office suite (not Microsoft), and non-Google apps to clear up storage.
Fingerprint sensor location, typeFingerprint on rear 9/10 test
Face ID2D

Camera – TCL 30SE

Rear PrimaryWide
  MP50 bins to 12.5
   SensorSamsung S5KJN1
   FocusPDAF
   f-stop1.85
   um.64 bins to 1.28
  FOV° (stated, actual)74.4 (68.1-5.6-77.8)
   StabilisationEIS only, although not evident
   Zoom4x digital
Rear 2Macro
   MP2
   SensorGalaxy Core GC02M1
   FocusFixed
   f-stop2.4
   um1.75
  FOV (stated, actual)88.8
   StabilisationNo
   ZoomNo
Rear 3Depth
  MP2
   SensorGalaxy Core GC02M1
   FocusFF
   f-stop2.4
   um1.75
  FOV (stated, actual)88.8
   StabilisationNo
   ZoomNo
Special
   Video max1080p@30fps
   FlashYes
   Auto-HDRAuto
Portrait mode, Macro, Pro mode, High pixel mode, Panorama mode, AI scene detection, Steady snap, HDR, Filter, Gesture Shot, Stop motion, Light trace, Google lens.
   QR code readerGoogle Lens
   Night modeNo

Front

  MP8
   SensorGalaxyCore GC08A3 or Samsung S5K4H7
   FocusFF
   f-stop2
   um1.12
  FOV (stated, actual)80.6
   StabilisationNo
   FlashScreen fill
   Zoom4x digital
   Video max1080p@30fps
    FeaturesFace beauty, HDR
Comment• 50MP – not available
• Ultra-wide – not available
• 12.5MP binned (normal ‘auto’ shooting mode) with AI lacks accurate colours (washed out) and details with too much noise in the background
• 2x Zoom – loses definition in the background
• 4x Zoom – forget it – overblown, poor detail and noisy
• Macro – must be at 4cm or blurred. Good shots otherwise
• Office Light 400 lumens – Colours are off, soft focus and a little noisy
• Bokeh – depth camera did not focus properly
• <40 lumens – camera struggles
• Night mode – Not available
• Selfie – OK, in good light but the wide-angle means there is a lot of background showing
• Video: Poor dynamic range leads to washed-out colours and lack of detail in light and dark areas

Ratings

Features6
Wi-Fi 2.4Ghz and MediaTek SoC are not class-leading
Value6
There are better value phones in this category
Performance5
It is an entry-level value SoC, and you get fit for purpose performance, and it is not for gamers.
Ease of Use7
TCL UI is improving, but it is still a little clunky, and its Apps duplicate Google Apps and are uninstallable. A 2-year warranty is great
Design7
All plastic and no design features
Rating out of 106.2
Final commentWhile there is nothing fundamentally wrong, the TCL30SE is simply not competitive in the current market.

TCL 30SE, TCL 30SE, TCL 30SE, TCL 30SE, TCL 30SE, TCL 30SE,

TCL 30SE

$329 but shop around
6.2

Features

6.0/10

Value

6.0/10

Performance

5.0/10

Ease of Use

7.0/10

Design

7.0/10

Pros

  • Decent battery life (depends on use)
  • Camera needs good light - not for office or low light
  • Good 24-month warranty

Cons

  • Wi-Fi N 2.4Ghz is way too slow
  • Phone reception is limited to good tower coverage areas
  • Camera results are inconsistent and struggle in office and lower light shots
  • MediaTek G25 processor coupled with 4GB RAM and 128GB eMMC is very slow and laggy
  • Sound could be improved


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