Starting price: $299
Screen size: 6.67-inch LCD (2400 x 1080)
Refresh rate: 60Hz
CPU: Snapdragon 480 5G
Expandable: Yes, up to 1TB
Rear cameras: 50MP (f/1.9) wide, 5MP (f/2.2) ultrawide, 2MP macro
Front cameras: 16MP
Battery size: 4,500 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:46
Charging speed: 18W
Size: 6.5 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches
Weight: 7.1 ounces
Colors: Midnight gray
Shopping for a cheap phone — even one of the best cheap phones under $300 — means making compromises, and the TCL 30 V 5G exemplifies that trade-off. Buying this $299 phone is an exercise in deciding what is and isn't worth that lower price.
Want a long-lasting phone that keeps you connected to Verizon's fastest 5G network? Then you'll find the TCL 30 V 5G quite a bargain. Looking for a phone with a little processing muscle that's capable of challenging the cameras on other budget phones? You may want to keep shopping for your next phone.
Our TCL 30 V 5G review finds a budget handset that's a very mixed bag. Its appeal will depend on how closely the phone's clear strengths align with your wants and needs.
TCL 30 V 5G review: Price and availability
The TCL 30 V 5G appeared alongside other new TCL phones at CES 2022, arriving in the spring. When it did debut, the phone landed as a Verizon exclusive. That's good news if you don't mind getting your wireless service from Verizon (and you shouldn't — it's one of the best phone carriers), since the TCL 30 V includes support for the C-Band 5G network Verizon is rolling out to more cities. Verizon's C-Band 5G will reach 175 million people by the end of the year, with faster 5G speeds that have a wider reach than Verizon's initial mmWave-based 5G installations. As of this writing, C-Band 5G covers more than 100 million people, with Verizon's slower nationwide 5G reaching about 230 million.
Of course, if you don't want to Verizon as your wireless provider, the TCL 30 V 5G isn't an option for you. There's no unlocked version, and you won't find it at other carriers.
TCL 30 V 5G review: Design
There's nothing about the TCL 30 V's design that will fool you into thinking this is anything other than a budget phone. The back of the device is plastic while also managing to retain fingerprint smudges. The vertical rear camera array is not very obtrusive, as a narrow rectangle houses the TCL 30 V's three lenses, but the array does jut out from the phone's back.
A fingerprint reader is just to the lower right of the camera array, making it properly placed to unlock the phone from behind. Even better, it's a very responsive fingerprint reader, quickly unlocking the phone without too many false readings. The Pixel 6, which costs $300 more, could learn a lesson from TCL's phone. The TCL 30 V retains a 3.5mm headphone jack, which you'll find on the phone's top side — good luck finding such a port on other phones these days.
That's not to say every design decision for the TCL 30 V 5G pays off. The phone's curved edges make it somewhat hard to pick up when it's lying on a table, and I think they might also make the device prone to slipping out of people's hands. The placement of the power button on the left side of the phone feels a little low to me, as I often found myself hitting the volume button when I meant to put the TCL 30 V to sleep. Perhaps a little more time with the phone would improve my muscle memory.
TCL 30 V 5G review: Display
By now you should know that a cheaper phone doesn't restrict you to a smaller display. The TCL 30 V 5G uses an expansive 6.67-inch panel, providing ample space for playing games, watching videos and scrolling through online articles.
If only the screen could be brighter when you do that, though. Using a light meter, we measured the peak brightness for the TCL 30 V 5G at 420 nits, with adaptive brightness turned off. The OnePlus Nord N20 5G and Moto G Stylus (2022) — two phones in the TCL 30 V's price range — outshone it at 567 and 560 nits, respectively. When using the TCL 30 V, I found I needed to crank brightness all the way up to make out details on the screen, and I wound up disabling adaptive brightness so the phone wouldn't dim when I returned to it later.
The TCL 30 V includes the company's Nxtvision features, which can adjust contrast and colors in real time to take full advantage of the phone display's wide color gamut. I've been more impressed with Nxtvsiion on TCL's AMOLED phones, as it didn't seem to make much of a noticeable difference on the TCL 30 V's LCD panel. Bright colors like the red panda in Turning Red seemed vivid enough on the TCL 30 V screen, but darker scenes like a concert in Girls5Eva looked dim and indistinct, even with the singers' bright outfits.
In Vivid mode, the TCL 30 V captured 121.7% of the sRGB color gamut and 86.2% of the more demanding DCI-P3 gamut. The Moto G Stylus, which also features an LCD screen, tallied results of 127.8% and 90.4%, respectively, and that's nobody's idea of a colorful display. At least TCL's colors were more accurate, with its Dealt-E score of 0.23 beating out the 0.27 rating we recorded for Motorola. (Numbers closer to zero are more accurate.)
Some recent budget phones tout faster refresh rates — the Moto G Stylus offers a 90Hz display, for example. The TCL 30 V features a standard 60Hz rate, but a Smart Refresh State mode can downscale the refresh rate automatically to save power. (And save power it does, as we'll get to below.)
TCL 30 V 5G review: Cameras
When you shop for phones in the less-than-$300 range, you're tacitly accepting the notion that the best camera phones are beyond your budget. But you should at least expect competent photos, and on that front, the TCL 30 V largely delivers, though with some glaring omissions.
The phone's main camera is a 50MP wide-angle shooter with an f/1.9 aperture. Other lenses making up the triple camera array include a 5MP Super Wide shooter with a 115-degree field of view and a 2MP macro camera. If you've read Tom's Guide phone reviews before, you'll know we think that dedicated macro cameras don't serve much of a purpose other than to inflate a phone's camera count, and the TCL 30 V's version will not be forcing us to rethink our position.
But let's focus on the more useful lenses first, comparing the TCL 30 V's efforts to the photos captured by the Samsung Galaxy A42, a Verizon exclusive from a year ago that's still available for just $60 more than TCL's phone. If the TCL 30 V can match the output of this slightly more expensive phone, you figure your photo needs will be in good hands.
We start off well with this photo shot indoors at a local taqueria, where both phones capture the bright colors of my three-taco combination platter. The white onions topping the tacos look sharp and clean in each shot and the side of pickled carrot is a vibrant shade of orange.
I think the A42 does a better job of making the carnitas on the taco in the background look properly shredded — lost details in the TCL shot render that meat into more of an amorphous pile — but that's nitpicking the differences between the two phones.
The calculations change when sunlight enters the mix. Some unforgiving sun at a nearby fruit stand gives the Cara Cara oranges and Fuji apples too much of a glare in the TCL photo. As a result, the image looks a little of focus. The A42 did a better job of balancing the mixture of sunlight and shade, and its image looks more clear as a result.
I think the ultrawide lens on the TCL 30 V fares pretty well against the Galaxy A42 when comparing ultrawide lenses, even if the Samsung phone captured more of the scene featuring my local movie house just before sunset. Both phones capture the rapidly diminishing blue sky (though there's a more noticeable patch of white on the middle right of the TCL photo), and the lit up theater marquee doesn't throw off either camera. The details on the theater's facade stand out a little more in the A42 shot, but what the TCL produces is perfectly acceptable.
Neither phone has a dedicated telephoto lens, so you're relying on digital zoom when you try to get closer to your subject. I set both phones at 4x zoom across the street from the theater, and I was impressed by what the TCL 30 V produced. The lettering on the marquee remains legible and the lights are properly illuminated. There's a little bit of fuzziness around the sign because of that digital zoom, but it's a perfectly acceptable shot.
Things get less acceptable when we test out the TCL 30 V's other features. When shooting a portrait photo of my daughter, TCL's phone overly smoothed her face, which seems obscured by shadows. It's a much lighter image that the A42 produces, and you can make out facial details like the freckles on her nose. The TCL 30 V gets the background blur right, but that's easy to overlook when the subject of the picture is so murky.
Selfies shot by the 16MP front camera on the TCL 30 V aren't much more appealing. Everything's more washed out in TCL's self-portrait — the brick background, my green-and-gold hat, even my skin. The Galaxy A42 goes a little overboard in making my skin so ruddy, but at least its other colors are more accurate.
I should mention that the TCL 30 V's camera does include an AI color mode that retains the color of the subject in your shot while turning everything else into a monochrome. The end result should be that your subject stands out, and that's certainly happened thanks to the black-and-white background in this selfie. (Not that the phone had to take out that much color to begin with.) It's a nice-to-have feature, as opposed to a must-have, but at least it shows some picture-taking flair on the TCL 30 V's part.
I would have appreciated a night mode more, but that feature's MIA on the TCL 30 V. There's no point in including a photo comparison as the TCL shot would just be a series of dark, indistinguishable shadows compared to a phone that has a dedicated night mode. And these days, that includes most budget phones save for maybe the iPhone SE (2022) — and that happens to be the most glaring omission on Apple's latest phone.
For the sake of completeness, here's a macro photo captured by the TCL 30 V. (The Galaxy A42 does not have a comparable lens, so no comparison shot.) It's actually not a bad shot of the apples growing in my backyard, if you're the sort who regularly snaps up-close pictures of nature. I'm not, however, and this image doesn't particularly inspire me to become that person.
TCL 30 V 5G review: Performance
A Snapdragon 480 5G chipset augmented by 4GB of RAM runs the show for the TCL 30 V. That's an older piece of silicon, as it also powers budget phones that came out a year ago like the OnePlus Nord N200 5G. As a result, don't expect earth-shattering performance even by the standards of discounted devices.
Still, the TCL 30 V 5G's 1,776 multicore result on Geekbench 5 edged out the Nord N200's 1,602 result. (The newer Nord N20 5G with its faster Snapdragon 695 chipset outpaces both phones with a 1,995 Geekbench 5 result.) In 3DMark's Wild Life Unlimited test for graphics performance, both phones produced lackluster scores of 5.8 frames per second. That's not exactly a gaming powerhouse, though I was able to play PUBG Mobile on the TCL 30 V with only the occasional dropped frame.
Benchmark tests only tell some of the story, though. Jumping between open apps on the TCL 30 V was more or less seamless, though I've seen other budget phones handle multitasking with greater aplomb.
Video streaming on the phone was another matter, with lots of videos suffering from laggy playback. Peacock's app had the most trouble with a lot of dropped frames and fuzzy resolution. Disney Plus at least gave me a clear picture, though I could spot dropped frames during Turning Red. I didn't run into any problems at all watching YouTube videos.
Is this an issue with the apps themselves or with the TCL 30 V 5G's under-powered processor? Having not run into a problem with Disney Plus and Peacock on other budget phones, I lean toward the latter. The TCL 30 V 5G seems peppier than the MediaTek Helio-powered phones that make up Motorola's recent budget Moto G releases, but prepare for some laggy video on this phone.
TCL 30 V 5G review: Battery life and charging
If the performance on the TCL 30 V 5G disappoints, the battery life does anything but. TCL equipped its budget device with a 4,500 mAh battery, and the phone certainly makes the most of that capacity.
On our battery test, in which we set a phone's screen to 150 nits and then have it surf the web over 5G until it runs out of power, the TCL 30 V 5G turned in a an average time of 11 hours, 46 minutes. That places it on our best phone battery life list, just ahead of the iPhone 13 Pro. That's a hard list to crack, as the Nord N20 5G held out for an impressive 11 hours, 20 minutes and just missed making the cut.
Enact that Smart Refresh State mode, and the TCL 30 V 5G lasts even longer. When we turned on that mode, battery life increased to 12 hours and 13 minutes. Suffice it to say, you're going to go a long time between charges with the TCL 30 V.
Don't expect fast charging times when you do need to top off the phone's battery. Using an 18W charger, the TCL 30 V took half-an-hour to get to a drained battery to 39%. The OnePlus Nord N20, which supports 33W charging, reached 56% after 30 minutes.
TCL 30 V 5G review: Software
The TCL 30 V 5G review unit I tested is running Android 11. That seems odd as Android 12 has been out for around for nearly nine months now, and we're drawing ever closer to the Android 13 launch later this year. Not that TCL 30 V owners need worry about Android 13 — they're only getting the Android 12 update and two years of security updates. That's tight even by the standards of budget phones.
Because the TCL 30 V 5G is tied to Verizon, expect a lot of Verizon apps to come preloaded on the phone. In addition to the My Verizon app for managing your account, there's four separate apps that deal with cloud storage, security, call filtering, and voice mail. The phone also comes with preloaded utilities, some of which duplicate the functions of the included Google apps.
TCL 30 V 5G review: Verdict
As you can see from this TCL 30 V 5G review, this can be a frustrating phone to evaluate. For every good feature the phone offers — and there are quite a few for a phone at this price — there's a drawback that would give me pause before making a purchase.
Among budget phones under $300, I think I'd turn to the OnePlus Nord N20 5G first, especially since that device is now available unlocked. (You will need to use it with a carrier to uses T-Mobile's network for coverage if you want 5G service, though.) However, Verizon customers might find plenty to like about the TCL 30 V 5G beyond this phone's support for the carrier's growing 5G network. There's also that lengthy battery life to help you feel like you're getting more for your money.
Next: If you're looking for phones below $300 we recommend checking out our guide on the best cheap phones under $300.