TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (2024)

Budget phones are all about compromises. You’re not spending a fortune, and while you can assume the basics — it’ll have a processor, it’ll have a camera, it’ll have a screen at some level — you’re going to have to compromise on some level of power relative to the mid-range set, or even premium phones. You’re paying less, so you get less, right? Different manufacturers have varying takes on this, whether it’s the processor, cameras, battery capacity or build quality.

One area where you don’t tend to see a whole lot of differentiation is in displays. Budget smartphones have started to ship with faster refresh rate screens, but beyond that you’re almost always staring at a basic LCD display with bezels and the manufacturer’s choice of either a teardrop or holepunch to house the front-facing selfie camera.

Powered down, you might think that the TCL 40 NXTPAPER was playing from that classic budget phone playbook. It features a 6.78 inch LCD 90Hz screen with a holepunch dead centre at the top. So far, so normal.

A combination power button/fingerprint sensor sits on the right-hand side beneath the volume rocker, while the left-hand side houses a dual Nano-SIM plus microSD card slot. At the base there’s a USB-C for charging and data as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack. Powered down, about the only eye-catching feature of the TCL 40 NXTPAPER is the sparkly “Midnight Blue” back casing, predictably in plastic at this price.

Power the TCL 40 NXTPAPER up, however, and it reveals its core selling point, and the reason why it bears TCL’s NXTPAPER suffix.

While the TCL 40 NXTPAPER has an LCD display, it’s been engineered and software modified to allow for a visual mode that’s meant to replicate the look of an e-Ink reader in either colour or straight monochrome ink modes. The idea here is that it reduces blue light glare and offers a visual experience that’s less fatiguing to your eyes over time.

TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (1)
TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (2)
TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (3)

It’s important to note that while it mimics the look of an e-Ink display as you might find on an Amazon Kindle, it’s not e-Ink, just a screen that looks like it could be.

You switch between the regular colour display and NXTPaper modes via a toggle in the notification blind, with an animation that’s eye-catching the first time you see it and quite tiresome the fiftieth time you encounter it.

While it’s a minor grumble, I do wish TCL had incorporated a direct button on the side of the phone for toggling, as it’s otherwise a multi-tap process anyway. Maybe a feature for the TCL 40 NXTPAPER’s successor?

The regular colour display of the TCL 40 NXTPAPER has a matte finish, which does mark it out against most other phones that go out of their way to push genuinely OTT colour washes, but again that’s in service to the idea that this is a phone that might be kinder to your eye health than other devices.

Does it work? I’m going to say… maybe.

The issue with assessing a product like the TCL 40 NXTPAPER is that a lot of my observations on it having tested it out over the last week have to be mostly subjective.

I don’t have a control clone of myself (though damn, that would be SO HANDY) to give me a proper evidence-based assessment of whether my time with the TCL 40 NXTPAPER has been kinder to my vision than competing smartphones, after all. A lot of blue light products are clearly snake oil, although it’s pretty clear that staring at phones for as long as (let’s be honest here) we all do isn’t great for us.

TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (4)

Using the TCL 40 NXTPAPER as an e-reader is a genuinely good experience, and I did feel as though I was able to read more and for longer than I might have on a regular screen without feeling a lot of eye strain. At the same time, I was keenly aware of the fact I was thinking about this a lot more than I might have with a regular screen. I didn’t have a mathematical way to quantify that level of improvement, or remove perceptual bias based on the fact this is the TCL 40 NXTPAPER’s key selling point.

It is nice that you can opt for either a colour e-ink style if you’re reading a lot of web pages with photos or colour illustrations if needed, or a straight-up black and white look for more classic book reading. It works fairly well for the web, but it’s much less impressive – as you might expect – for most video sources unless you’re going for that classic noir look.

The NXTPAPER technology is the TCL 40 NXTPAPER’s big selling point, but as I mentioned at the start, a lot of budget phones have compromises to meet their price points. The TCL 40 NXTPAPER is no different, because elsewhere, it’s a much less compelling phone.

Camera is just OK, even at this price

The camera recipe for the TCL 40 NXTPAPER is quite familiar one for the budget space right now, packing in a 50MP wide, 5MP ultra-wide and 2MP macro lens at the rear, as well as a 32MP front-facing selfie camera.

Smartphone photography is more than the sum of its megapixel counts, however, and while the TCL 40 NXTPAPER isn’t a terrible camera phone for the money, there’s not much here that’s all that compelling.

TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (5)

If you never really take your photos off your phone, they’re actually going to look just a tad more flat on the TCL 40 NXTPAPER. This is thanks to that matte display, but even examining them on a brighter and sharper screen quickly shows where its limitations lie.

Images are generally on the dull side, detail in dark areas is lost and like every other phone with a 2MP macro lens, you’ll struggle to get particularly pleasing close-up shots with the TCL 40 NXTPAPER’s macro camera.

TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (6)
TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (7)
TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (8)
TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (9)

The 32MP front-facing selfie camera does a fair job of capturing detail, even in trickier lighting situations, though TCL’s AI-assisted portrait mode did still leave me feeling as though I’d been green-screened into my own photo here:

TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (10)

All of this is just average, not necessarily bad; there are precious few smartphone cameras in the $349 price space that have genuinely good cameras. But if photography is your passion, you really don’t have to jump too much further up the pricing scales to get something a bit more compelling.

Where the TCL 40 NXTPAPER really has its compromises is in the more general Android performance arena.

Low performance, even at this price

Expecting flagship performance out of a $349 phone would be a fool’s errand, but the reality here is that TCL does have a lot of competition at the TCL 40 NXTPAPER’s price point and also it turns out based on its performance, in substantially cheaper phones.

The TCL 40 NXTPAPER runs on a MediaTek Helio G88 processor with a Mali 52 GPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The Helio G88 is by no stretch a particularly new processor, and it really did show in benchmark terms with the TCL 40 NXTPAPER.

Its Geekbench 6 CPU scores (430 single core/1407 Multi-core) were only a shade above that of the much cheaper Samsung Galaxy A05s but also considerably below phones like the Motorola Moto G84… which is also a cheaper phone. It’s the same story on the graphics front, where the TCL 40 NXTPAPER’s Wild Life Extreme score of 174 sits well below that of similarly priced competitors.

The TCL 40 NXTPAPER isn’t supremely slow, to be clear, but it’s equally not fast even by the standards you might expect at this price. Including 256GB of storage on the phone is nice, and I’m always a fan of phones that do offer microSD card storage.

I’m much less of a fan of phones that have a lot of bloatware pre-installed, and TCL’s gone all out on that score, with Amazon, Booking.Com, Facebook, LinkedIn, OfficeSuite, Jnotes, Super Chinese and folders of links to install a range of “Hot Apps” – hot in the sense that money was placed into TCL’s hot little hands to include them – all part of the standard install.

TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (11)

I know I’m screaming into the void just writing this, but I truly wish phone makers wouldn’t go down the bloatware route. It’s kind of saddening to think that the primary manufacturer who doesn’t clobber you with lots of extra apps is Google, they know they’re going to clobber you with ads and data harvesting instead…

The TCL 40 NXTPAPER is an Android 13 phone with TCL’s own TCL UI 5 on top of it. That’s a needed step in this case to enable features like the NXTPAPER mode in the notification blind, but it does mean you’re absolutely at TCL’s mercy when it comes to Android updates… and they don’t appear to be coming along all that fast.

Android 13 is already behind the pace, and while some reports suggest it should get an Android 14 update, that hasn’t happened as yet. To further complicate that picture, at the time of writing, the TCL 40 NXTPAPER’s security updates were only running up to the November 2023 level, which really isn’t good. There’s been a long trend for budget phone makers to offer slower and fewer updates to their phones, but the TCL 40 NXTPAPER is notably poor in this respect.

The TCL 40 NXTPAPER is a 4G-only phone that’s performed perfectly adequately on Telstra’s Sydney network during my testing time. From the looks of it, TCL does have a 5G variant of the TCL 40 NXTPAPER in some international markets, but that’s not what we’re getting here in Australia. Again, if that matters to you, there’s a number of 5G-ready handsets that can be yours for this kind of money.

Can an e-ink screen run longer than a colour one? Let’s find out

On the battery front, the TCL 40 NXTPAPER packs in a 5010mAh battery, which is technically 10mAh above the average of 5,000mAh you can expect out of just about every Android phone right now, not that you’re going to get a lot out of that additional 10mAh in real-world use.

I ran the TCL 40 NXTPAPER through the Official Gizmodo Australia BatteryTest, pitting it against the entirety ofAvengers Endgame in both regular colour modes and ink paper modes to see if the use of a monochrome display might make a little more out of its battery.

The results were honestly mixed; at the one hour mark the TCL 40 NXTPAPER in colour mode had 93% battery compared to 92% for the ink paper mode. At the two hour mark positions reversed, with the ink paper mode retaining 83% of its battery compared to 79% on the colour display, before finishing out with 66% of the battery power remaining in colour or 68% in Ink Paper mode.

Essentially Ink Paper mode might be slightly more power efficient than having a full colour display, but not by that much, and the actual endgame here was that the TCL 40 NXTPAPER is a very mid-range battery performer.

Although I will say that watching Avengers Endgame in monochrome is a very weird experience; the dramatic moments have maybe a little more punch, but it’s awful for action sequences where details quickly disappear into the murk.

TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (12)

Having that much Tony Stark to watch also made me painfully aware of one of the TCL 40 NXTPAPER’s shortcomings if you’re a fan of using your smartphone as an ad-hoc speaker. The TCL 40 NXTPAPER’s speakers are really soft even at maximum volume. That’s maybe good for not getting punched in the face for blasting your music into a quiet train carriage (seriously, don’t do that), but it’s also not terribly satisfying if you did want decent audio output when you’re making a phone or video call in speaker mode.

Should you buy the TCL 40 NXTPAPER?

If it was just another basic LCD-screen smartphone, especially for $349, I’d say hell no. The lack of Android updates, the mediocre app performance and the weak base speaker are all downsides to the TCL 40 NXTPAPER experience.

However, there is, I think, a phone user out there for whom the TCL 40 NXTPAPER might be a very good buy. That’s if you spend a lot of your time glued to your phone reading, whether it’s web pages, documents, eBooks, comics or other essentially static media where the glare of a regular screen may leave your eyes dried and crusty.

You probably should stop before the crusts form on your eyelids and the spiders move in, of course, but let’s be real here.

You’re not going to do so until you have to, and the TCL 40 NXTPAPER may allow you to sneak in just a few extra pages before bedtime.

The TCL 40 NXTPAPER is $349.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

It’s the most popular NBN speed in Australia for a reason. Here are the cheapest plans available.

At Gizmodo, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.

TCL 40 NXTPAPER Wants Your Phone to Be an E-reader (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jamar Nader

Last Updated:

Views: 5255

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (55 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jamar Nader

Birthday: 1995-02-28

Address: Apt. 536 6162 Reichel Greens, Port Zackaryside, CT 22682-9804

Phone: +9958384818317

Job: IT Representative

Hobby: Scrapbooking, Hiking, Hunting, Kite flying, Blacksmithing, Video gaming, Foraging

Introduction: My name is Jamar Nader, I am a fine, shiny, colorful, bright, nice, perfect, curious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.