Earlier this year Dan checked out the TCL 30+ and found it to be a “good phone” without being spectacular in any particular area. We headed into the TCL 30SE review with trepidation given these thoughts from Dan – after all, the 30+ is meant to be the flagship of TCL’s 30 series of smartphones.

The TCL 30SE differs from the 30+ in that it has an IPS LCD display instead of the AMOLED display and that LCD display is just 720P resolution. The display is not the only downgrade with the 30SE sporting a slightly lesser specced Mediatek chipset which is ominous given the poor performance of the slightly better Mediatek Helio chipset in the TCL 30+.

The main rear camera setup is exactly the same, although it looks different – the camera in the triple camera set up sports the exact same lenses. The front-facing selfie camera in the 30SE is also a slight downgrade from 13MP to 8MP – not a huge issue but we’ll see how it goes in the camera tests below.

Design and hardware

The TCL 30SE is most definitely a plastic build and feels as such. There is no mistaking that lightweight feeling but in saying that it sits comfortably in the hand. The rear of the device is a plain black without any fancy star pattern that the 30+ sported and as such is a fingerprint magnet – if you buy this phone buy a case not only to protect it but to prevent it being covered in fingerprints.

Speaking of fingerprints, the rear mounted fingerprint sensor makes a return in the 30SE and disappointingly it was hit and miss. This was most likely because the fingerprint sensor sits relatively flush with the rear of the device and thus there isn’t a decent sized shelf guiding your fingertip into the sensor.

The advantage of using the fingerprint sensor over the face unlock, aside from it being more secure, is that face unlock requires you to turn the display on using the power button as there is no lift to wake option in the operating system. The fingerprint sensor though, when activated, will turn the display on and unlock it at the same time – albeit relatively slowly.

The front of the device sports the large 6.52-inch display with a teardrop notch for the selfie camera. The top of the device houses a headphone jack – something you rarely see these days. The bottom of the phone has the USB-C charging port and a single downward-firing speaker.

Inside the TCL 30SE is a MediaTek MT6762G Helio G25 which is a very cheap chipset, as you may expect at this end of the smartphone market. This combined with just 4GB of RAM results in a fairly slow performance. Apps took longer than you would expect to open with some stuttering and hanging within certain apps and games. This is most certainly one phone you should not be buying if you want to play a fast-paced game on it.

A similarly priced phone such as the Motorola G62 5G, offers much better performance with much less lag and stuttering. It’s disappointing as Mediatek has previously used decent quality chipsets and although the chipset may only be a fraction of the reason for the poor performance it is something that TCL could have improved to make a decent improvement in the performance.

On a day-to-day level, without playing games, the phone was relatively slow when changing apps and navigating around the operating system. It does get there eventually but don’t expect flagship performance with the TCL 30SE.

Before we go any further we need to discuss something that Dan touched on his TCL 30+ review. The lack of 5GHz Wi-Fi support. In 2022 this is unacceptable and really should not exist, even in a phone this cheap. It really messed me around – I took the TCL 30 SE to the Qualifying final at the MCG between Geelong and Collingwood and due to the more than 91,000 people there the network coverage wasn’t great. My son was able to hook up to the MCG Wi-Fi without any issues with his OnePlus 9 Pro. The TCL 30SE on the other hand could not do as – yes, you guessed it, the MCG Wi-Fi only operated on 5GHz, not the 2.4GHz that it only supports.

The display

TCL has been doing displays of some sort for quite a while now and it shows. Even in this cheap phone with an IPS LCD display the colours are quite good. They pop with decent blacks making for a very enjoyable experience when viewing any sort of media.

For those who further want to tweak how the screen looks you can dig down into the NXTVision app to set just how they want their screen to appear – such as warmer or colder, more or less saturated colours etc.

If you are a viewer of a lot of YouTube or other visual media then this phone will help you view it at its best – at this price range, assuming you can get onto the local Wi-Fi router.

Software

The TCL 30SE comes with Android 12 on board with TCL UI v4.0.1 running over the top which adds in support for a slightly different UI from stock Android and some baked in apps. The software has not seen a security patch since February 2022 but considering the lack of long term support that we generally see for phones in this price range, that is hardly surprising.

TCL has promised security updates through until December 2023, however haven’t mentioned any feature updates to Android 13 or beyond.

The Android experience on the TCL UI is quite good, not diverging too far from stock Android. There are some thoughtful touches though including a decent launcher with themes, and a revamped quick settings UI putting quick actions like auto-rotate, torch, mobile data and screenshot in smaller buttons – and you still get separate Wifi toggle. The app drawer allows you to sort apps in a number of ways, offering by category as the default.

The baked in apps include Linkedin which can simply be uninstalled, but there’s more system apps like the notes, sound recorder etc. which, while very useful, are unable to be removed. There are also some handy tools including a radio app if you plug the wired headset in.

I am a big fan of the Edge Bar which allows you to have fast access to apps, contacts, functions like shortcuts to take a selfie and even a ruler. The Edge Bar is a UI element that sits up at the top left edge of your screen letting you quickly swipe it across and get to what you need. I use the OPPO version of it routinely on my Find X5 Pro to launch the camera and other apps such as Google Lens so I was happy to implement the TCL version for a lot.

Camera

When discussing the camera, we do need to temper expectations given that the phone has a RRP of just $329. As such I did not expect much at all. The results though were decent with the camera picking up colours quite well, although the detail was lacking when compared to a high-end smartphone such as that in the OPPO Find X5 Pro.

The camera in the TCL 30SE triple rear camera setup is a 50MP main camera, a 2MP depth camera and a 2MP macro camera. The 50MP camera is overkill although it does bin down to a 12MP shot instead of the full 50Mp as a rule but even with this the detail is still lacking when zoomed in on images.

The macro camera produced some really good images when taken in Super Macro mode but there is no optical zoom so you are stuck with digital zoom only – be careful you don’t push this too far.

Low light imaging is not as good as the daytime photography with AI enhancement designed to help the night imaging but struggling to bring the images to the top level we all want from our phones. As I said above though, remember, this is an entry-level smartphone and as such the hardware components such as the cameras will not be anywhere near as good as a phone costing five times as much.

The selfie camera produced similar results to the rear camera. Decent but lacking in the detail you’d see in a high end smartphone.

Battery and charging

The TCL 30SE includes a large 5000 mAh battery with 15W fast charging support with a 10W USB-C charger included in the box. This is disappointing and they aren’t the only company to do this – Why not include the full charger support? To save a few dollars most likely but is it really more expensive?

With everyday usage it was able to easily last a day of heavy use for me – which is enough. I dare say those who purchase this phone will not be the heavy user that I am and will be able to eke out very close to two days with the battery.

Should you buy the TCL 30SE?

With a fairly stacked budget range phone market, the TCL 30SE is a tough sell. Where other offerings use more premium processors, the TCL 30SE offers a lower end option which is sluggish, though the display offers some promise for anyone watching a lot of visual media.

TCL also have some work to do on the camera which is decent but not great. It picks up colours well but struggles with image detail though it is not uncommon in this entry-level segment.

The major problem is that the competition including the Motorola G62 5G offers a speedier experience and a slightly better camera so unless you specifically want that slightly better display then there is little attracting you to this phone.

If you do want this NXTVision display on your entry-level smartphone then you can pick up a TCL 30SE for $329, available in Atlantic Blue and Space Gray from Harvey Norman, Officeworks, Big W, Target, Mobileciti, Amazon, and Dick Smith.