Review of TCL Stylus 5G: not quite written

TCL entry-level stylus makes sense for someone on a tight budget, who absolutely must have 5G and a built-in stylus. This is a very specific demographic group, and I’m not sure many people meet all of these criteria.

The TCL Stylus 5G is available for $ 258 from T-Mobile or $ 269 from Metro from T-Mobile – they are exactly the same model – and so far these are the only ways to buy it in the US. The Stylus 5G is also the third notable budget stylus phone to arrive on store shelves in the US this year, along with the 2022 versions. Motorola’s Moto G Stylus and Moto G Stylus 5G. Did you understand all these product names? Okay, there’s a test later.

The TCL stylus phone is the cheapest of the three and its specifications reflect this. It doesn’t offer as much RAM as the Motorola or OnePlus Nord N20 options without a $ 282 stylus, its 4,000 mAh battery is small for the class, and its 6.81-inch LCD offers neither faster refresh rates nor wealth of OLED – options that offer its competitors with similar prices.

All this leaves the TCL Stylus in awkward territory. Of course, it’s cheap, but also completely invisible. Even under $ 300, the phone can offer something that stands out, and the combination of TCL’s low price, 5G and stylus is not a valuable proposition.

The phone’s performance is acceptable, although there is noticeable stuttering and hesitation here and there as I jump between apps, write emails and scroll timelines. The Stylus MediaTek Dimensity 700 chipset and 4GB of RAM are enough to handle everyday tasks, but I wouldn’t expect much more from them. Battery life is not the best in its class, but it will last up to a day of moderate use.

Stylus’s 6.8-inch screen is an area where it looks like TCL could do better, given its core TV business. This is a 1080p LCD, so the resolution is sufficient and the screen becomes bright enough to be used in direct sunlight. But instead of offering a faster refresh rate, TCL continues to rely on its NXTVISION technology as its outstanding feature, and it’s just not impressive.

In theory, this feature enhances screen images to increase color and contrast. In fact, it’s hard to tell the difference when the feature is on or off, and the colors generally look oversaturated even in “natural” mode (it’s set to live by default). There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this screen, and given the price below $ 300, that’s a good price. Just TCL can do a little more in this department and probably should, given its pedigree.

A version of the Nebo notes application has been pre-downloaded.

The phone’s title feature works properly: remove the stylus from its silo and you’ll see a custom screen with shortcuts to stylus-friendly apps. In addition to the stock notes app, TCL has partnered with Nebo to offer a version of its existing application for notes which is built around handwriting recognition. It does not have all the stable features of the paid version of the application, but includes some features that are not available in the typical notes application. For example, you can underline a handwritten phrase to convert it to bold text, or add space by drawing lines in handwriting. It is also more favorable for mixing handwriting and text entered with a keyboard.

The individual notes are formatted either as pages with text ambulances or as free-form pages with a grid, more suitable for drawing. As a result, the separation between notes is stricter than Motorola’s tabbed interface. You can add a free-form tab to a text page, but you can’t easily add text or convert handwritten text to a free-form page. There’s not much you can do to style your notes page with different background colors – you’ll need to go to the standard TCL Notes app.

There is also convenient handwriting calculator application called MyScript 2, also made by the same company as Nebo. He takes written equations, converts them into text, solves them and records the results in the history of the application for later reference. It’s a nice addition that’s not included in Motorola’s stylus phones – but it’s also a $ 3 app that anyone can download, so it doesn’t have to be a dealer or a breaker. Beyond these two apps, there are several other useful elements in the stylus’s context menu, such as a screen magnifier and GIF creation – nothing that is revolutionary or even necessarily requires a stylus, but mimics some of the stylus options Samsung provides to its premium S22 Ultra stylus phone.

There are three cameras – plus a depth sensor – on the back of the TCL Stylus 5G.

Stylus 5G comes with Android 12, as it should, because Android 13 is close. TCL marketing director Stephen Straight says the phone will get Android 13, but this will be the only operating system upgrade it sees. It is planned to receive only two years of security updates, which is not much. Both Motorola and OnePlus offer three-year security updates for phones with similar prices, so TCL’s two-year policy is at a low end, even among budget devices.

The Stylus 5G includes three rear cameras – it has four lenses, but one of them has a 2-megapixel depth sensor that you can ignore. It has a 50-megapixel main camera, 5-megapixel ultra-wide and 2-megapixel macro. There is a 13-megapixel selfie camera on the front.

This is a very similar configuration to TCL 30 V 5Gand the performance is similar. The camera does a lot more facial smoothing than I prefer, and is prone to strange lens highlights – subtle but noticeable. Otherwise, photos in good or even moderate light look nice, with vivid (if a little cool) colors. In low light, the combination of facial smoothing and low shutter speed means you will get very blurry photos of people. Video recording reaches 1080p, and the videos look quite unstable even when the electronic image stabilization of the system is activated.

Stylus 5G is an adequate budget option for stylus fans, but otherwise it is invisible.

TCL Stylus 5G is largely invisible and even given its very reasonable price, it is difficult to recommend. The stylus works well, and its pre-downloaded handwriting apps do a little more than Motorola’s standard options. But as a complete package, it lags far behind Motorola’s 5G and non-5G stylus phones with low screen, medium performance and one year less software support.

If the stylus is a must and has some flexibility in your budget, then the 2022 Moto G Stylus 5G is worth the extra money. The version that sells T-Mobile has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of memory, which is less than 8GB / 256GB unlocked version we reviewed, but it costs $ 300, not $ 500. For $ 40 more, it’s a bit more expensive than the TCL Stylus 5G, but it’s a much better device with the promised extra year of security updates.

If the stylus is optional, OnePlus N20 is an excellent option for those of T-Mobile. It offers one of the best screens in its class and fast cable charging – and for $ 282 is a staggering $ 260 (ish) Stylus 5G.

Realistically, TCL is probably trying to grab some of the budget stylus market that LG left behind when it took its Stylo phones and left the smartphone business. appropriate, the last Stylo phone (well, the first one too) I reviewed it included good stylus features, but was ultimately too slow to recommend. TCL seems to be wearing LG shoes a little too comfortable here.

Photo by Alison Johnson / The Verge

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