The TCL 40R 5G is a mid-range device doing its best to offer more than most at the £199/$220 price range – and it succeeds in many ways. It looks good, performance is solid, and the battery life isn’t bad, either.
Its simple camera setup leaves some to be desired for anyone looking for a better option and I’d have liked an OLED display, but it’s definitely one of the best cheap phones we’ve tested in recent months – and offers that all-important 5G connectivity if you need it, too.
- An eye-catching design
- All-day battery life
- Just about powerful enough to game on
- 720p resolution
- 2MP macro lens isn’t great
- Plenty of pre-installed bloatware
- Decent budget performanceIt won’t be taking on flagships but the TCL 40R 5G offers impressive performance at this price range, easily able to handle plenty of mobile games.
- Huge displayThe panel here may be LCD, but it’s still big and bright – and offers a 90Hz refresh rate, too.
- 5,000mAh batteryThe TCL 40R 5G should power through your day with relative ease thanks to a big battery.
It feels like we’ve finally got past the realm of budget 5G phones jettisoning much of what makes them dependable workhorses for improved connectivity.
For a fair while, it felt like a sub-£300/$300 device that wanted to offer 5G had to sell its soul for the privilege. The result was 5G handsets with compromised internals and displays, that would cost the same as a more capable mid-range phone.
Manufacturers have started to find a better balance, though, and it gives models like the TCL 40R 5G – as well as the cheaper TCL 40 SE – a great chance to shine.
Offering a phone with solid performance and battery life at just £199/$220, with 5G and a nice design, would’ve felt a little like witchcraft a year or two ago, but it works and works well.
Naturally, some corners have to be cut, but for this price it feels churlish to complain about a higher resolution display or better cameras when what you’re getting otherwise is priced for perfection.
The TCL 40R 5G is out now in Europe, with other regions to follow later in 2023. It starts at £199.99/$219 for the 64GB version, with a 128GB version on the way – although no pricing has been disclosed yet.
Design and screen
- Good looking for a budget device
- Large 6.6-inch display looks soft
- 90Hz refresh rate
The TCL 40R 5G is a good-looking device, and feels great, too, thanks to a lightly textured back panel. My review unit is the Stardust Black option, but it also comes in Stardust Purple.
But while the overall design looks and feels great, we’re kicking things off with the negative I mentioned in the intro – the display.
While there’s still a lot to like with the 6.6-inch LCD display, its 1612 x 720 “HD+” resolution feels lacklustre by any metric. Aside from the sharpness, it’s not particularly bright, either, with 400 nits max.
On the plus side, it does offer up to 90Hz for its refresh rate, which definitely makes gaming and scrolling feel smoother. TCL does offer an option to boost colour, contrast and sharpness in images, and the option to turn that on is found during the setup process. I found the differences fairly negligible, though.
There’s a “lip” at the bottom of the screen and a central notch at the top, the latter of which houses an 8MP sensor. The right side has a volume rocker, and a Sleep/Wake button that doubles as a fingerprint sensor – although you can use the basic Face Unlock, too.
The left side has a SIM tray, and charging through the bottom edge is through USB-C – there’s no wireless charging to be found here, rather unsurprisingly.
- Three rear sensors but only one worth using
- 50MP main camera
- Struggles to take good selfies
The rear of the TCL 40R 5G has a trio of cameras within its rectangular module, but I’m sorry to report only one of them is really worth using.
That distinction goes to the primary 50MP camera, which, while unspectacular, at least offers the kind of clarity not found on the 2MP depth or macro cameras.
As you can see in my picture of Batman, the Dark Knight is detailed enough, but the Stream Deck buttons next to him are more than a little washed out. The anime figure’s colours fare similarly, but there’s still detail in its face and outfit.
The 2MP macro lens, on the other hand, works fairly well when zoomed on the D20 in interior conditions, but struggles in natural light as it drops some of the detail from the shot.
Video capture is capped at 1080p, which perhaps isn’t too surprising given the sub-1080p display on offer here, although 30FPS is a little disappointing.
The 8MP front camera fares a little better, but it does automatically enable a beautification feature which needs to be switched off in the menus. Whether that’s on or off, it has some trouble distinguishing dark hair from a dark background – as seen in my examples.
- Decent budget-level performance
- Plenty of pre-installed bloatware
- No software update commitment
The TCL 40R 5G’s biggest strength, as I’ve been alluding to, is its performance. The MediaTek Dimensity 700 and accompanying 4GB of RAM won’t beat flagship devices, naturally, but for under £250 it’ll give them its best shot.
Flicking through Android 12 was responsive, aided by that 90Hz refresh rate, but I was impressed by how much gaming I could get done on the device – especially when the slightly cheaper TCL 40 SE struggled with gaming so much.
I spent some time in a fairly mid-level title (when it comes to requiring GPU grunt) in League of Legends: Wild Rift, and enjoyed a few matches with consistent frame rates, although I expect the lower 720p resolution helped.
More graphically demanding games, however, such as the likes of Genshin Impact, saw noticeable stutter. It’s still just about playable, but again, it’s not going to be super smooth or responsive.
While you can connect Bluetooth earbuds, or even make use of the 3.5mm headphone jack, the TCL 40R 5G does have a punchy mono speaker at the base. I was impressed by how loud it can get, but also how balanced it is – even with a mono output.
Some devices tend to offer a cluttered soundstage where mids, trebles and bass all get swallowed by each other, but TCL’s is impressively clear here, at least for music and TV shows. Games can be a little too bombastic, however.
As has been an unfortunate case with TCL in years past, there are a fair few pieces of bloatware to uninstall. When performing a fresh install, there were multiple third-party games to remove, as well as TCL’s own apps. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it still feels a little inconvenient when buying a new device.
On the flip side, TCL’s Android overlay, TCL UI 4.0 (based on Android 12) is impressively breezy, changing very little about Google’s mobile OS. It’s pretty close to the stock Android experience, with some additional features like a sidebar for contacts or even a small ruler, and some additional notification customisation.
I haven’t been able to confirm how many Android updates we can expect for the TCL 40R 5G, however, so that’s something to consider when looking at the device’s longevity.
- 5000mAh battery
- Easily an all-day device
- Relatively slow charging speeds
The TCL 40R 5G has a 5,000 mAh battery, which is pretty sizeable and ensures a full day of use – especially given the lower resolution and brightness than more premium options.
Naturally, you can expect battery to drain more quickly with prolonged or demanding tasks, but in my experience, I got around a day and a half of more casual use.
Running the likes of Wild Rift and Genshin Impact certainly worked the internals, though – I saw each take off 20% in half an hour, meaning you’ll want to keep your charger handy. Streaming fared better, with an hour of HDR content on Netflix having the same result as 30 minutes of gaming, though it’s much less efficient than more expensive options.
Sadly, you’ll probably want an extension lead, too. The charging cable in the box is short, although it is nice to still get a power adapter here (it’s a 15W option).
Charging takes around 3 hours from 0-100%, with the first 50% reached in just under an hour. It’s not fast charging, but TCL says fast charging is supported if you have a higher-wattage adapter.
Should you buy it?
You want a cheap phone that still performs:
The TCL 40R 5G doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to performance, with plenty to see you through the day – whether you’re gaming, scrolling, or watching content.
You want a great display:
The main area where the TCL 40R 5G falls short (aside from its middling camera), is its old-feeling LCD display.
At this price point, the TCL 40R 5G does everything you could need it to. It’s a dependable workhorse that, while lacking in the flash of a brighter, sharper display and a stunning camera system, offers enough under the hood to justify picking it over other 5G budget options.
It won’t outpace your flagship (far from it), but for enterprise purposes, a first phone for a loved one, or even just a backup, it’s hard to say no at this price.
How we test
We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry-standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.
Used as a main phone for the review period
Thorough camera testing in a variety of lighting conditions
Tested and benchmarked using respected industry tests
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Trusted Reviews test data
Geekbench 6 single core
Geekbench 6 multi core
1 hour video playback (Netflix, HDR)
30 minute gaming (light)
Time from 0-100% charge
Time from 0-50% charge
30-min recharge (included charger)
15-min recharge (included charger)
3D Mark – Wild Life
GFXBench – Aztec Ruins
GFXBench – Car Chase
TCL 40R 5G
First Reviewed Date
TCL 40R 5G
50MP + 2MP + 2MP
75.4 x 9 x 164.5 MM
720 x 1612
USB-C, 3.5mm headphone jack
MediaTek Dimensity 700
The type of display usually used on cheaper and mid-range devices. Lacks the punch on an OLED panel.
An abbreviation for milliampere-hour and a way to express the capacity of batteries, especially smaller ones in phones. In most cases the higher the mAh, the longer the battery will last but this isn’t always the case.