TCL’s entry-level Stylus 5G is sensible for somebody on a strict finances who completely should have 5G and a built-in stylus. That’s fairly a particular demographic, and I’m unsure many individuals meet all of that standards.

The TCL Stylus 5G is accessible for $258 from T-Cellular or $269 from Metro by T-Cellular — they’re the very same mannequin — and for now, these are the one methods to buy it within the US. The Stylus 5G can be the third notable finances stylus cellphone to reach on retailer cabinets within the US this 12 months, alongside the 2022 variations of Motorola’s Moto G Stylus and Moto G Stylus 5G. Obtained all these product names straight? Good, there’s a quiz later.

TCL’s stylus cellphone is the least costly of the three, and its specs replicate that. It doesn’t supply fairly as a lot RAM because the Motorola choices or the $282 non-stylus OnePlus Nord N20, its 4,000mAh battery is on the small aspect for the category, and its 6.81-inch LCD affords neither a sooner refresh fee nor the richness of an OLED — choices its equally priced rivals supply.

This all leaves the TCL Stylus in awkward territory. It’s cheap, to make sure, but additionally totally unremarkable. Even underneath $300, a cellphone can supply one thing that stands out, and the TCL’s mixture of a low worth, 5G, and a stylus doesn’t add as much as a worthwhile proposition.

The cellphone’s efficiency is suitable, although there’s a noticeable stutter and hesitation right here and there as I leap between apps, kind emails, and scroll timelines. The Stylus’ MediaTek Dimensity 700 chipset and 4GB of RAM are satisfactory to get by means of day by day duties, however I wouldn’t anticipate much more from them. Battery stamina isn’t best-in-class, however it’ll final by means of a day of reasonable use.

The Stylus’ 6.8-inch display is an space the place it looks as if TCL may have carried out higher, given its main enterprise making TVs. It’s a 1080p LCD, so decision is satisfactory, and the display will get brilliant sufficient to make use of in direct daylight. However fairly than supply a sooner refresh fee, TCL continues to lean on its NXTVISION expertise as its standout function, and it’s simply not spectacular.

In concept, this function enhances photographs on display to spice up shade and distinction. In actuality, it’s exhausting to identify the distinction with the function turned on or off, and the colours typically look oversaturated even in “pure” mode (it’s set to vivid by default). There’s nothing essentially incorrect with this display, and allowing for the sub-$300 worth, it’s okay for the value. It’s simply that TCL may do some extra on this division, and it most likely ought to, given its pedigree.

A model of the Nebo notes app is pre-downloaded.

The cellphone’s headline function works because it ought to: pop the stylus out of its silo, and also you’ll see a customizable display of shortcuts to stylus-friendly apps. Along with a inventory notes app, TCL has partnered with Nebo to supply a model of its current notes app that’s constructed round handwriting recognition. It doesn’t fairly have all of the sturdy options of the paid model of the app, however it does embody some options not accessible on the standard notes app. For instance, you’ll be able to underline a handwritten phrase to transform it to daring textual content or add spacing by drawing traces by means of handwriting. It’s additionally extra conducive to mixing handwriting and keyboard-typed textual content.

Particular person notes are formatted both as dominated pages for textual content or grid-lined freeform pages higher suited to doodling. Consequently, the divisions between notes are extra inflexible than Motorola’s tabbed interface. You’ll be able to add a freeform part to a text-based web page, however you’ll be able to’t simply add textual content or convert handwriting on a freeform web page. There’s not a lot you are able to do to model your word web page with completely different background colours, both — for that, you’ll have to go to TCL’s customary notes app.

There’s additionally a handwriting-friendly calculator app known as MyScript 2, additionally made by the identical firm as Nebo. It takes written equations, turns them into textual content, solves them, and saves the ends in the app’s historical past for later reference. It’s a pleasant addition that’s not included on Motorola’s stylus telephones — however it’s additionally a $3 app that anybody can obtain, so it shouldn’t be a deal maker or breaker. Exterior of these two apps, there are a number of different helpful gadgets on the stylus shortcut menu, like a display magnifier and GIF maker — nothing that’s revolutionary and even essentially requires a stylus however mimic a number of the pen choices Samsung offers on its premium S22 Extremely stylus cellphone.

There are three cameras — plus a depth sensor — on the TCL Stylus 5G’s rear panel.

The Stylus 5G ships with Android 12, because it ought to, as a result of Android 13 is nigh. TCL’s advertising director, Stefan Streit, says that the cellphone will get Android 13, however that would be the solely OS improve that it sees. It’s solely scheduled to obtain two years of safety updates, which isn’t a lot. Each Motorola and OnePlus supply three years of safety updates for equally priced telephones, so TCL’s two-year coverage is on the low finish, even amongst finances gadgets.

The Stylus 5G consists of three rear cameras — there are 4 lenses, however one among them homes a 2-megapixel depth sensor you’ll be able to disregard. There’s a 50-megapixel fundamental digicam, a 5-megapixel ultrawide, and a 2-megapixel macro. Round entrance, there’s a 13-megapixel selfie digicam.

It’s a really related configuration to the TCL 30 V 5G, and efficiency is analogous. The digicam does way more face-smoothing than I desire, and it’s liable to some unusual lens flare — refined however noticeable. In any other case, images in good and even reasonably low gentle look nice, with vibrant (if a tad cool) colours. In dim gentle, the mixture of face-smoothing and low shutter speeds imply you’ll get a number of blurry individuals images. Video recording tops out at 1080p, and clips look fairly shaky even with the system’s digital picture stabilization enabled.

The Stylus 5G is an satisfactory finances choice for stylus followers however is in any other case unremarkable.

The TCL Stylus 5G is basically unremarkable, and even contemplating its very affordable worth, it’s exhausting to advocate. The stylus works properly, and its pre-downloaded handwriting apps do some greater than the usual choices from Motorola. However as a complete bundle, it falls properly wanting Motorola’s 5G and non-5G stylus telephones with a lackluster display, middling efficiency, and one much less 12 months of software program assist.

If a stylus is a must have and there’s some flexibility in your finances, then the 2022 Moto G Stylus 5G is properly value the additional cash. The model that T-Cellular sells has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which is lower than the 8GB / 256GB unlocked model we reviewed, however it prices $300 fairly than $500. For $40 extra, it’s a good bit pricier than the TCL Stylus 5G, however it’s a a lot better system with an additional 12 months of safety updates promised.

If a stylus isn’t vital, the OnePlus N20 is a wonderful choice for these on T-Cellular. It affords one of many nicest screens within the class and quick wired charging — and at $282, it’s inside putting distance of the $260(ish) Stylus 5G.

Realistically, TCL might be making an attempt to scoop up a number of the finances stylus cellphone market that LG left behind when it took its Stylo telephones and exited the smartphone enterprise. Fittingly, the final Stylo cellphone (properly, the primary, too) I reviewed included good stylus options however was finally too sluggish to advocate. TCL appears to put on LG’s footwear a bit of too comfortably right here.

Pictures by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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