I'm fascinated by TCL’s new e-reader-style screen for smartphones

TCL nxtpaper 40 series smartphones
(Image credit: TCL)

There were a lot of things to check out when I was at MWC 2024 in Barcelona last month, some of them good and some not so good. One of the things that really stuck out to me was TCL’s Nxtpaper technology which replaces the smooth glossy phone screen with something a little more akin to what you'd find on a Kindle or some other e-reader.

The idea behind Nxtpaper is that it’s supposed to be a lot better for your eyes than a traditional smartphone screen. While also tackling issues like fingerprint smears and glare from ambient light, some TCL tablets with Nxtpaper have gained the ability to switch off the color, turning the screen into a black-and-white e-reader-like display while also maintaining touch controls.

I do have some concerns about Nxtpaper, but I like the idea of more eye-friendly displays — particularly ones that don’t block blue light by tinting everything with a horrible orange filter.

Nxtpaper looks better, and it's nicer to your eyes

TCL nxtpaper 40 series smartphones

(Image credit: TCL)

I don’t know about you, but I hate the blue-light filter on my devices. It’s scheduled to turn on after the sun sets on both my laptop and phone, and I really dislike the fact it turns everything into a horrible shade of orange. I don’t like my phone screen to have so much sepia filtering that it looks like there’s a major wildfire happening somewhere upwind. 

Nxtpaper doesn’t do this, though TCL claims it still emits 61% less blue light than a normal phone screen. This happens because the blue light filter is filtered out with hardware, rather than software, thanks to all the different layers in the Nxtpaper display. Certain Nxtpaper tablets going on sale in Europe also have a button that will turn off all color, switching the UI to some kind of smartphone/Kindle hybrid.

TCL has programmed Nxtpaper phones with software that times how long you’ve been using your phone, and encourages you to give your eyes a break. The company follows the 20-20-20 rule, and uses a pop-up every 20 minutes to push you to look at something more than 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

TCL nxtpaper 40 series tablet in B&W mode

(Image credit: Future)

As someone who looks at screens all day for various reasons, it’s easy to forget that it’s not great for your eyes. While I typically don’t respond well to alerts telling me to do stuff like drink more water or get off my butt and move around, taking a minute out of my hour to not look at my work is definitely something I can get behind.

Arguably the biggest win for Nxtpaper screens is that they reduce screen glare by a pretty considerable amount. While it can’t stop all light reflecting back at you, it’s still nowhere near as reflective as a traditional glass phone screen. For starters, this means that you don’t need to worry about picking up reflections of you or your surroundings.

Likewise, Nxtpaper is able to minimize the effects of extra-bright lighting, such as the sun, without having to pump up the display brightness like a lot of flagship phones. It’s only March right now, but the sun is already getting strong enough that it’s interfering with my phone use outside. The matte display also means Nxtpaper doesn’t pick up fingerprints anywhere near as much as regular display glass — a problem that’s often a lot more noticeable in bright conditions.

I still have some reservations

TCL nxtpaper 40 series smartphones

(Image credit: TCL)

Of course, Nxtpaper displays aren’t perfect, and I do have some concerns about how they function. My main worry is it’s not clear how durable those screens are, and how much accidental damage they can handle. I’m quite sure that adding a screen protector would defeat the purpose of the paper-like display too.

You also have to contend with the fact the Nxtpaper material does add an extra haze to everything on screen. And like the extra roughness of the top layer, that isn’t going to appeal to everyone. 

Similarly, the screen can’t really offer the same level of brightness of color that you’d expect on traditional phone displays. Then again, the anti-glare feature means it may perform better in situations where normal phones may need ultra-high brightness to offer the bare minimum.

The Nxtpaper screen is also LCD, meaning you don’t get all the same benefits as the OLED screen on your iPhone 15: No true blacks, no power-saving benefits and so on. But, for all the display nerds out there, you’ll be happy to hear the viewing angles on Nxtpaper don’t seem to be too bad. Maybe not as good as if this was an OLED screen, but it’s not like you have to be looking straight at the screen all the time.

The biggest issue is that TCL tends to stick to budget phones, rather than super-advanced flagships. That means Nxtpaper probably isn’t coming to one of the best Android phones anytime soon. Even if, like me, you're happy not to upgrade to the latest and best phones every year or two, you aren’t going to be able to take a Nxtpaper screen out for a spin —not without seriously downgrading your handset to one that costs less than $300. 

It’s kind of a shame, really. I would like to try out a Nxtpaper display more long term, but I also don’t want to pick up a brand new phone that’s arguably worse than the one I have — especially if it would mean going back to taking mediocre pictures. But then again, maybe my priorities are just in the wrong place

Nxtpaper is coming to the U.S. later this year 

TCL nxtpaper 40 series smartphones

(Image credit: TCL)

The good news is that those of you that want to experience Nxtpaper for yourself will be able to in Q3 of this year. After already launching Nxtpaper devices in Europe, TCL has confirmed two Nxtpaper smartphones will be coming to the U.S. market as part of its 50 series of phones. 

The $229 TCL 50 Xl Nxtpaper 5G features a 6.78-inch Nxtpaper display with FHD+ resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. Also packaged in is a 50MP main camera, 5MP ultrawide, 2MP depth lens, an 8MP selfie camera, 128GB of storage, 6GB of RAM, a 5,010 mAH battery and support for up to 2TB microSD cards.

The TCL 50 XE Nxtpaper 5G is cheaper at $199, and comes with a 6.6-inch display with HD resolution and a 90Hz refresh rate. There’s also a dual camera comprising a 50MP main lens and 5MP ultrawide, plus an 8MP selfie camera, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a Dimensity 6100 chipset and a 5,010 mAH battery. 

Sure neither of these devices are the most exciting phones on the market, but they do have quite a cool display. It would be nice to see the Nxtpaper on a more premium phone, but that’s not what TCL is about. The phone maker told me that it's all about offering advanced features, like 5G, for affordable prices. And hey, if you end up disliking the Nxtpaper screen in the long term, at least you haven’t sunk that much money into it.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.