TCL 20 R 5G Review: 5G For Less

5G phones are thing now. Over the past couple of years, it was only the expensive flagship phones that featured support for the mobile broadband standard, but more recently the technology has filtered down to more affordable price points.

On this front shout out must go to Samsung as it has done more than most to bring 5G to its mid-range offerings. In recent months, however, the South Korean outfit is not the only making a dent when it comes to 5G, which brings us to a name that many might not associate with phones – TCL.

At the beginning of October the company announced that the TCL 20 R 5G would be made available in South Africa for R3 899 (RRP), and over the past couple of weeks we have had it in for review.

So, is this a one trick pony that is extremely affordable or is there more to the TCL 20 R 5G than its price tag and support for 5G?

Here’s what we found out.

Pretty standard

Starting off with design and by modern Android phone standards, the 20 R 5G is not serving up anything special per se. Here it offers up a large 6.52″ HD+ (1600×720) display with relatively narrow bezels and a dew drop screen notch housing the front facing camera.

The rear is a hardened plastic, also featuring a fingerprint sensor for biometrics, and in the Granite Gray colour option that our review unit came in, the device is rather muted.

One thing that we instantly noted when picking up the 20 R 5G is just how light it feels in hand at 185g. In fact, we started to think that this device featured a removable battery, but that is not the case. We will touch on the battery a little later, but for all intents and purposes, the TCL 20 R 5G looks just like any other mid-range Android phone at the moment.

That changes, however, when you power the unit on.

Here the phone is running Android 11 out of the box, and a relatively solid UI that should do the trick for most. There are a few duplicated apps, but these are removed relatively easily in favour of options made by Google.

One interesting aspect though, is a set of recommended apps that sit in a folder waiting to be downloaded from the Play Store. These apps cannot be removed from the home screen, which turned out to be quite frustrating. It is not the first time that we encountered this either, with some Chinese phone makers often doing the same. If we could have deleted said apps or indeed the folder they sat it, the UI experience would have been uneventful and without incident.

As such, this is the only real blemish in an otherwise pleasing OS and UI setup.

Surprises, both welcome and unwelcome

Shifting to some of the components now and powering the 5G experience is an octa-core MediaTek Dimensity 700 processor. This is paired with 4GB of RAM on our review device, yielding another solid experience once again. There was no noticeable lag while multitasking and the only issue we picked up while using the TCL 20 R 5G is some spotty WiFi connectivity.

The 5G was decent enough, with our Vodacom SIM (also used in our daily driver iPhone) picking up connectivity in and around the Rosebank/Parkhurst area. The download speeds were comparable to the 100Mbps fibre line in our home, and while more is promised from 5G, the performance on this front is more to do with your network than it does the smartphone.

Therefore if you are in an area where your network offers 5G, the TCL 20 R 5G should pick it up with ease and deliver the expected speeds.

Shifting to the chipset again and in our benchmark testing this phone performed ably. It registered a multi-core and single-core of 1 753 and 560 respectively on GeekBench. For reference a comparable performance was found on the Samsung Galaxy A33 5G and POCO X4 Pro 5G, both of which are more expensive than the TCL offering.

While processor performance is comparable, the cameras are not. Put plainly the primary 13MP camera found on the rear of the 20 R 5G is disappointing. This as images were noticeably overexposed, to the point were I stopped wanting to snap pictures on the device.

It is not a deal breaker per se, but given how fine the margins are in the mid-range when it comes to comparing similarly specced devices, having a sub-par camera experience does count against the TCL 20 R 5G here.

It is a real pity too, as in all other aspects the device is definitely punching above its weight.

At least the 4 500mAh battery lasts a full day and then some, but once again that is not a standout feature in the saturated mid-range market these days.

Final verdict

All in all then, at R3 899 the TCL 20 R ticks all the boxes expect for one.

Cameras don’t define the smartphone experience, but it does make up a significant part of it. When other similarly specced devices that are slightly more expensive can boast better cameras than this one, it becomes a little bit more difficult to make a case for the TCL 20 R 5G.

As such, it is not a device we can wholeheartedly recommend, despite the fact that we came quite close to doing so. For better value in this space then, it is likely best to look elsewhere.


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