I went hands-on with TCL Stylus 5G — first impressions

The TCL Stylus 5G promises swift note-taking at the ultimate value. Here are our initial impressions.

TCL Stylus 5G
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

The TCL Stylus 5G promises swift note-taking at the ultimate value. Here are our initial impressions.

Pros

  • +

    Surprisingly good stylus latency

  • +

    Great Note-taking app on-board

  • +

    128GB storage

Cons

  • -

    Worried about MediaTek chip

Why you can trust Tom's Guide Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

TCL Stylus 5G specs

Price: $258 (T-Mobile) / $269 (Metro by T-Mobile)
OS: Android 12
Display: 6.81-inch Full HD (2460x1080)
CPU: MediaTek Dimensity 700 5G
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 128GB; expandable up to 2TB
Rear camera: Quad-lens: 50MP main, 5MP ultrawide, 2MP macro, 2MP depth
Front camera: 13MP
Battery: 4,000 mAh
Size: 6.67 x 3.01 x 0.35 inches
Weight: 7.51 ounces

The TCL Stylus 5G is the first stylus phone from TCL, promising a pocketable handwriting experience at a lower price. Starting at $258, it undercuts one of the very few budget stylus smartphones, the Moto G Stylus (2022) while upping the ante by shipping with Android 12.

It's far from an alternative to the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, but it is nonetheless an option for those note-takers who revel in the feedback of pressing a pen to paper — er, stylus to screen. And with appropriate specs for the price (albeit, a wariness based on our previous experience with MediaTek chipsets), the TCL Stylus 5G could become one of the best cheap phones by delivering where the Moto G Stylus fell short.

We briefly demoed the TCL Stylus 5G and plan to conduct a full review after collecting benchmarks, grading photo comparisons and gauging performance. But for now, here are our TCL Stylus 5G first impressions.

TCL Stylus 5G price and availability

The TCL Stylus 5G is available as of June 2, 2022. It debuted as initially for T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers, priced at $258 and $269, respectively. Availability at other mobile carriers is expected to come later this year.

It comes in the one 128GB/4GB configuration, and a single color, Lunar Black.

TCL Stylus 5G design and display

While its flat screen and chin reveal it's no Android flagship, the TCL Stylus 5G is still a rather sleek-looking phone. Most of that is credited to the fingerprint-repelling matte rear casing, which offers a slight glimmer in the sunlight. The camera bump, though pronounced, isn't the thickest we've seen. It sits on the upper left corner of the handset.

TCL Stylus 5G

(Image credit: Future)

On the left edge the TCL Stylus 5G features a SIM card slot, while the SD card reader and side button sit on the right. (The button doubles as a biometric fingerprint reader, though the phone also has facial unlock.) The bottom features a USB-C port for charging, stylus housing and a 3.5mm headphone jack. We saw speaker grilles on the top and bottom edges of the phone, too.

TCL Stylus 5G

(Image credit: Future)

The TCL Stylus 5G sports a 6.81-inch Full HD display promising SDR to HDR real time upscaling for videos and other perks of the company's Nxtvision panel. Nxtvision is what TCL calls its in-house display engine, borrowed from the company’s own television division. It didn't appear to get very bright in our brief demo, but most of our display observations came from stylus testing, which we'll go over.

TCL Stylus 5G stylus features

No surprise here, the TCL Stylus 5G has a stylus and a collection of stylus-driven tools to match. The experience is perhaps best complemented by a partnership with the Nebo app. Nebo is one the best note taking apps, and it's packed with features that justify its $11.99 download fee on the Google Play Store. But TCL Stylus 5G users get Nebo pre-installed, providing cloud-based note taking, scribble-to-text, support for multiple file types and more.

Users will also get MyScript Calculator, another normally-paid app that lets you write down math equations and have them calculated in seconds. Otherwise, for quick notes or numbers, you can eject the stylus and leverage the phone's native note-taking program even when the phone's unlocked.

In a few minutes testing the stylus, we were surprised by the swiftness. TCL doesn't offer a latency spec, though we'll admit for the phone's price we expected a lackluster experience. But taking notes in Nebo felt smooth. It wasn't quite as instantaneous as using the Samsung's newest S Pen, but plenty suitable from what we saw.

TCL Stylus 5G cameras

Though we didn't have the time to test out the TCL Stylus 5G cameras, we can go over the specs. It features a quad camera system on the back, with a 50MP main camera, 5MP super-wide, 2MP depth and 2MP macro lens. It shoots video at 1080p at 30fps. These are all fairly typical specs of a phone this price. 

TCL Stylus 5G

(Image credit: Future)

Instead, the standout camera could wind up being the 13MP front facing camera. It seems to prioritize for video-chatting more than stellar selfies, as this phone is targeted toward young business professionals.

If you're interested in one of the best camera phones for less, you might want to wait for the Google Pixel 6a coming in July.

TCL Stylus 5G battery life

The TCL Stylus 5G battery life battery life is rated for 16 hours use. Though our in-house battery test will give us a definitive battery life rating, we expect a shorter stamina. For comparison, the Moto G Stylus lasts 12 hours and 30 minutes, while the Moto G Power (2021) has the best battery life overall with 14 hours and 4 minutes of juice. No TCL smartphone is currently on the list of the best phones for battery life.

TCL said the TCL Stylus 5G will charge from 0-100% in approximately 2 hours when charged with the included 18W charger.

TCL Stylus 5G outlook

There aren't many budget stylus smartphones on the market, so TCL could successfully cater to those who enjoy note-taking handsets but don't want to or can't spend much money. That said, whether we'll recommend the TCL Stylus 5G will come down to benchmark testing and longer hands-on experience. MediaTek chipsets have yet to impress, but perhaps TCL's latest smartphone will write a different story.

Kate Kozuch is an editor at Tom’s Guide covering smartwatches, TVs and everything smart-home related. Kate also appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account (opens in new tab), which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her on an exercise bike, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.