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TCL 50 XL 5G First Impressions: So Many Features for a $160 Phone

This is one of the cheapest phones thus far to include NFC for Google Pay and a 120Hz refresh rate display.

Mike Sorrentino Senior Editor
Mike Sorrentino is a Senior Editor for Mobile, covering phones, texting apps and smartwatches -- obsessing about how we can make the most of them. Mike also keeps an eye out on the movie and toy industry, and outside of work enjoys biking and pizza making.
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Mike Sorrentino
4 min read
TCL 50 XL rear of phone

The TCL 50 XL 5G is just $160.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

The $160 TCL 50 XL 5G goes on sale Thursday with a hefty feature list, especially for a phone that costs under $200. I spent a few hours with it, and so far this cheap phone seems quite capable at most tasks. While this TCL 50-series phone is not the NxtPaper model that includes a paperlike screen that's easier to see at night, it's one of the lowest-priced phones I've tested so far that has a 120Hz refresh rate display and NFC contactless payments.

TCL ships the 50 XL with Android 14, 128GB of storage, a 5,010-mAh battery and -- in another rarity for phones in this budget range -- 1080p resolution on its 6.78-inch display.

Front of the TCL 50 XL 5G on homescreen.

The 6.78-inch display is the phone's best feature, with a 120Hz refresh rate while running at 1080p resolution.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

There are some early caveats to note. This phone is currently a T-Mobile exclusive, likely one of the reasons it has such a low price. It will also only receive one major software update to Android 15 and two years of security update support, which is on the lower side compared to the three years of security updates Motorola offers to its Moto G phones or the five years of security updates coming to Samsung's $200 Galaxy A15.

But if you can deal with those caveats, this might otherwise be one of the most feature-rich phones you can find at this price.

TCL 50 XL cameras

The large, circular camera bump on the TCL 50 XL is unmissable.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

The camera bump

The TCL 50 XL is big, just as its name implies. But what really sticks out is the large circular camera bump, which adds a bit of styling that we typically see on OnePlus phones. There's three lenses within it: a wide, an ultrawide and a depth sensor. The main camera has a 50-megapixel sensor, the ultrawide a 5-megapixel sensor and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. On the front is an 8-megapixel selfie camera.

I took a few quick office photos, and while I'll have to test the cameras more, initial images look OK, with balanced colors. But I found these early photos to struggle when it came to details.

Grass wall in CNET's office

The grass wall in CNET's office, taken on the TCL 50 XL 5G.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

For instance in the photo of the grass wall in CNET's office, it shows off the various shades of green -- but also notice that the individual blades of grass blur together. 

Self-taken photo in podcast studio

Selfie using the 8-megapixel front-facing camera on the TCL 50 XL 5G.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

Meanwhile the selfie I took in a well-lit podcast studio is noticeably blurry. However, I found that front-facing camera useful for a video call I took with my friend.

Self-taken photo in podcast studio

This self-taken photo in the same podcast studio is using the rear main camera.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

That whopping great camera bump made it quite easy for me to line up the rear camera to take a photo of myself with the better lens, which captured slightly more shades of color than those taken with the front-facing camera.

Watch this: TCL's New Phone Has a Paperlike Screen

TCL 50 XL's design, screen and specs

The rest of the TCL 50 XL's back has a textured-plastic finish that's reminiscent of the feel of leather, but I wouldn't confuse it with the more pronounced texture that we're seeing on this year's Moto G line. On the 50 XL, you can feel some subtle bumps that are more tactile to the touch, but the phone still has a more slippery feel closer to plastic.

The 6.78-inch display is the best feature. It looks sharp and clear thanks to the quick refresh rate and high resolution. TCL also includes its NxtVision HDR settings, which increases the color saturation for videos or games.

The phone has dual speakers -- which sound tinny -- but provide decent stereo separation and can get loud for the music and videos I've streamed. There's also a headphone jack, which we often see in these cheaper phones.

TCL 50 XL 5G playing a YouTube video.

The 1080p display combined with TCL's NxtVision HDR setting makes YouTube videos like this one look nice, especially for a $160 phone.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

The phone has a MediaTek Dimensity 6100 Plus processor and 6GB of memory, which should help with multitasking. The 50 XL ships with its RAM expansion feature turned on, which uses storage to virtually simulate an additional 6GB of memory. And while the 128GB of internal storage is a lot for this price (by comparison the $150 Moto G Play has just 64GB), the 50 XL also has a microSD memory card slot to expand storage up to 2TB.

I've been able to launch in and out of a mix of games and apps fairly easily, although games chugged along when I bumped the graphics from low to medium. It was easy to set up my various texting apps, scroll through news and stream YouTube, with the latter benefitting from the smoother 120Hz refresh rate.

I almost did a double take seeing the Google Pay setup screen, since there are no other phones at or below the TCL 50 XL's $160 price tag that include the feature. Considering how prevalent contactless payment terminals are, it's nice seeing NFC for Google Pay on more sub-$200 phones. It comes in handy for everything from transit systems to vending machines.

TCL 50 XL 5G refresh rate settings.

The refresh rate options on the TCL 50 XL 5G.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

TCL 50 XL has a lot of potential value

While I have to run the TCL 50 XL through our variety of review tests, it's striking to see so many high-end phone features make their way down to a $160 phone. The big 1080p display should provide plenty of space for most apps and media, while NFC for contactless payments will make the phone useful for making purchases.

Even if the phone's cameras and software support fall short, ultimately the low price is still compelling for someone who just wants a functional phone.

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