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TCL 40 SE wows CES 2023 with 90Hz screen, big camera, $169 price tag

TCL, in typical tech show fashion, has unloaded a whole bag of new devices at CES 2023. Among them is the new TCL 40 series of phones, which cover all the basics from a high-refresh-rate screen to a Google Pixel 7-matching 50MP camera — all for around $200 or less.

Leading the budget phone assault is the TCL 40 SE, which costs $169 and will soon be hitting  retail shelves starting with the European market. It offers a 6.75-inch display with an HD+ resolution, and 450 nits of peak brightness. Those are not eye-popping numbers by any stretch of the imagination, and neither is the thick chin very easy on the eyes. But hey, it’s a dirt-cheap phone, and TCL has at least tried to jazz things up on the rear panel.

Interestingly, TCL’s budget phone more than makes up for it by offering a 90Hz screen. For comparison, the $450 Google Pixel 6a still hangs on to a 60Hz screen. Embarrassingly, Apple serves you a 60Hz screen on the $800-plus iPhone 14, so there’s that bragging right falling in TCL’s lap.

The TCL offering draws power from MediaTek’s Helio G37, an octa-core processor that is married to 4GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage. Just in case you run out of storage, the phone will let you pop in a microSD card of up to 1TB capacity, which will likely cost you more than the phone itself.

At the back is a 50-megapixel camera, sitting alongside a token 2MP sensor for macro photography and another 2MP snapper for collecting depth information. Selfie duties have been assigned to an 8MP front camera, which can take HDR snaps, too.

Authentication is handled by a fingerprint sensor embedded within the power button on the side. Miraculously, TCL’s engineers also figured out a way to put a 3.5mm headphone jack on the phone, something you won’t find on phones that cost six or seven times as much. Unlike its tablet siblings that were announced at CES 2023, the TCL 40 SE runs Android 13 out of the box.

There’s a fairly large 5,010mAh battery fitted underneath, and it supports respectable 18-watt fast charging. Just in case you’re curious, no, TCL is not following in the footsteps of its very rich industry peers. It actually supplies the charging brick inside the phone’s retail package.

The upcoming TCL 40 R 5G smartphone.
This is the TCL 40 R 5G, which costs a bit over $200. TCL

The TCL 40 SE is joined by the TCL 40 R 5G, which will set you back $219, and the TCL 408, which comes in at a much lower $129. These two phones also count a 50-megapixel camera as one of their highlights, and will first be available to customers in Asia and Europe later this quarter.

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Nadeem Sarwar
Nadeem is a tech journalist who started reading about cool smartphone tech out of curiosity and soon started writing…
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