TCL maintained the status quo when TCL announced two budget 5G carrier phones – the TCL 30XE 5G and TCL 30V 5G – and six cheap Android tablets at CES 2022. Since TCL slapped its name on the Alcatel brand in 2020, it has largely stuck on the cheap side of Android while selling it in the US. It’s going to be more crowded.
You only need to look at the plans of the more popular Android brands for the US market in 2022 to see that most are skipping the flagships of Samsung, Apple and (to a lesser extent) Google. So that means these same brands are suddenly jockeying against each other for the same customers, and someone is bound to come out on top — or be left behind.
If TCL wants to be successful, it will have to push Motorola/Lenovo, OnePlus/OPPO, Nokia/HMD Global, Amazon Fire, and any other brands as cheap 5G phones and tablets as possible. It’s not exactly an easy task, but the TCL 30 lineup could be a step in the right direction.
Brands running down
You might not think to include OnePlus in this list, given its success that has led to great flagships and near-flagship phones like the OnePlus 9 and 8T. And the OnePlus 10 Pro looks very promising. But the Europe-only OnePlus Nord 2, the China/India-only OnePlus 9RT, and the apparently-AWOL OnePlus 10 all mark a trend where the brand has essentially abandoned the mid-to-upper-range in the United States. Have given.
OnePlus is focusing on “regurgitated entry-level OPPO phones” in the US
In his breakdown of lesser-known Android brands’ 2022 plans, our Asia editor Harish Jonnalgadda explains how its parent company Oppo will use the OnePlus Nord brand to push the “ragged entry-level Oppo phone”. Success in the entry-level and budget phone categories may have prompted OnePlus to sell 10 million phones in 2021, not just its flagships – which is why Oppo has doubled down on affordable, reliable US phones.
You’ll also see the OnePlus tablet arriving for the brand for the first time in 2022.
Like TCL, HMD Global used CES 2022 to announce several ultra-cheap carrier phones, including the $239 Nokia G400 with 6.6-inch FHD+ display and 120Hz refresh rate, 48MP camera, 5,000mAh battery, 6GB of RAM, 128GB storage is included. and 5G support. It can easily be one of the best Android phones under $300.
HMD-built Nokia phones always offer cheaper prices, clean, near-stock Android software and faster updates than any other OEM from Google, including mid-range flagships like the Nokia 9 PureView and Nokia 8.3 5G in their lineup. are at the top. But starting in 2021, HMD mainly offered sub-$300 phones and no real flagships other than the rugged Nokia XR20. So far, it looks like 2022 will be the same.
It is not hard to guess why. HMD struggled to update Nokia phones in 2021, at a time when Samsung began offering three guaranteed OS upgrades and hit its stride thanks to faster updates across the board. By lowering the price of its phones, it can instead compete against brands like Motorola and TCL, which have poor track records when it comes to updates. “Cheap, long-lasting phones” is not bad practice.
HMD also released its first tablet, the $250 Nokia T20, late last year.
At the bottom waiting for these other brands is Motorola, which has recently become the third largest smartphone OEM by claiming the market share of LG after the shutdown. Arguably, it was also successful given the lack of competition in the low-cost phone space.
The positioning of the Moto brand could be vulnerable to all this new competition. The Moto G Power (222) is a big misstep, lacking key essentials like 5G connectivity, NFC, and fast charging – areas where the new TCL 30v 5G wins – and using a much slower Helio SoC . Its upcoming Moto G Stylus (2022) will also use a much slower 4G Helio chip than the Snapdragon 480 5G.
Motorola’s shaky 2022 low-end phone could leave the door open for TCL.
With Android fans looking for an affordable phone, Moto has more brand recognition than TCL. But it looks like its 2022 lineup could leave the door open for TCL and other OEMs to gain some ground in the budget sector. With mid-range phones like the Motorola Edge (2021) and its upcoming RAZR foldable, it looks like Motorola has ambitions to prioritize this year instead.
Meanwhile, Motorola’s parent company, Lenovo, is mostly known for releasing some of the best cheap Android tablets, most recently the Lenovo Tab P30 Plus priced at $260.
Why Android OEMs suddenly care about tablets
For years, the Android tablet marketplace looked like a ghost town. You sold your premium S and budget A tablets with One UI software to Samsung, Amazon with its restricted Android skin on the Fire tablet, and Lenovo selling stock Android tablets — except for stock phone software — on 10-inch screens. Blown up looks awful. Google did almost nothing to optimize Android for the big screen, and once the Pixel Slate fizzled, it looked like nothing would change.
Now, we have brands like TCL releasing more and more cheap tablets. Why? Two reasons: COVID-19 and Android 12L.
During the unveiling of the Nokia T20, the team at HMD Global told me that tablet sales are up 53% over the past year, and it plans to “meet people’s changing needs” with cheaper Android tablets Is. For parents and kids stuck at home, tablets offer a superior browsing experience that doesn’t need to be portable, while also providing a distraction or educational tool for antsy kids. There is no doubt that other companies have seen similar figures and scrambled to take advantage of the larger market share.
Android 12L could change the game for cheap Android tablets.
At the same time, Google started working on Android 12L, a new OS update meant to significantly improve its software on tablets and foldables. It takes better advantage of the tablet’s screen space, offers multitasking tools, split-screening, app taskbar and more. Until this spring when the 12L launches, stock Android tablets won’t be nearly as awful to use.
Of course, when it comes to the best Android tablets in 2022, you’re still looking at the upcoming Galaxy Tab S8 or the current Galaxy Tab S7 above anything else. And it is not clear whether low-quality chipsets with less memory will handle multitasking nearly as well. But for those who aren’t willing to spend a lot on a tablet, the new budget Android tablet will offer an alternative for those who don’t like the Fire tablet’s limited app library or design.
Will people leave the Fire tablet behind for a slightly more expensive Android tablet with better software and app selection but worse brand recognition? That’s the gamble TCL and its rivals are making.
TCL’s road ahead in America
Samsung and Apple made up about 80% of the total US smartphone market share at the end of 2021, up from 70% by 2020. Internationally, Apple isn’t nearly as much in the equation, so Android OEMs feel more confident throwing their hats on. ring. But you need a bold American strategy to break into the remaining fifth of sales, which is why many of them don’t bother.
Until now, brands like TCL (5% market share) and Motorola (8%) have evaded direct competition with the big two by selling mid-range flagships like the respectable TCL 20 Pro 5G in the $500 range. TCL will likely continue that trend with the upgraded TCL 30 Pro later this year. It didn’t announce such a device at CES, however, it only announced the 20 Pro in April last year, so don’t take that as a sign that it left out a mid-range phone entirely. Is.
But this year, it has another problem: The One 30 Pro has to compete with the $599 Pixel 6. It’s a tall order even for more expensive phones, let alone ones priced in the same range. The One 30 Pro may do well with TCL phone fans, but it’s unlikely to attract much interest outside.
TCL’s way forward is to undercut Google, Samsung and Apple with cheap, high-quality phones. Unfortunately, we run into another problem there: The last TCL budget phones we reviewed, the TCL 20S and TCL 20 SE, weren’t great! So we expect the company to do better this year with its 30S phone.
Announced at CES, the carrier-exclusive TCL 30 XE 5G (T-Mobile) and TCL 30 V 5G (Verizon) will offer 5G on the cheap. With mmWave 30V, in particular, it looks like it could cut down on the competition for those who want fast connectivity without the flagship price tag. Meanwhile, the XE has a 90Hz refresh rate and a 180Hz touch sampling rate, which shows that even budget phones are getting into the high-refresh-rate trend.
If all else fails, TCL has one strategy left: release a clamshell foldable phone that undercuts the Z Flip 3 and Motorola Razr in price. It canceled its foldable, codenamed Chicago, because it would have been too expensive for its target audience. But it’s still fully intended to release at the “right time,” so apparently TCL expects to be the leader in the mid-range foldable category.
For now, the TCL strategy will follow a more basic playbook: try to strike that tricky, perfect balance between affordability and quality. Most cheap phones don’t make it off, and the OEMs who nail it could be the winners of the 2022 low-price scramble.