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TCL's NXTPAPER display tech is better than ever and I want it on my next phone
Last year, at CES 2023, I got my first look at a phone called the TCL NXTPAPER Phone Concept. The concept took the NXTPAPER display tech from TCL’s tablets and brought it to an Android smartphone for the first time. Although the phone itself wasn’t terribly exciting overall, the idea of having a smartphone display look and feel like a Kindle display was novel and exciting.
As its name suggests, though, this concept wasn’t destined to hit the market. But TCL eventually did roll out commercial smartphones with the same technology. Now, one year later, the company has rolled out NXTPAPER 3.0, which will debut with the TCL 50 series. I had some hands-on time with the line-up at CES 2024, and I’ve gotta admit: I officially want my next phone to have a NXTPAPER screen.
Would you buy a phone with TCL's NXTPAPER display tech?
What is NXTPAPER 3.0 like?
If you’ve never touched a NXTPAPER phone or tablet, it might be difficult to imagine how it feels. The NXTPAPER name is appropriate, as it does feel a lot like paper. It’s smooth but has a noticeable texture that your finger just glides across. To get an idea of what it’s like, run your finger down the length of your smartphone’s uncovered display. Notice how the glossiness of the glass creates a slight resistance as the oils in your skin stick to it? Imagine that not happening, and that’s what NXTPAPER feels like.
The problem with the original concept phone, though, wasn’t the texture — it was that the display was incredibly dim. Not only did this make seeing display content challenging, but it also left colors looking dull and faded. NXTPAPER 2.0, which launched on the TCL 40 series, was a bit brighter and more colorful but still just not nearly as good as a “normal” phone.
NXTPAPER 3.0 finally brings the tech to a level I would call ready for primetime. It’s much brighter than the original concept phone and far more colorful than any NXTPAPER 2.0 phone. Now, it can comfortably sit on a shelf next to a typical smartphone and hold its own.
Why I adore NXTPAPER
There are three reasons why I feel a NXTPAPER display is superior to a typical glossy one.
The first and most important one is fingerprints. Have you ever rubbed your smartphone on your shirt to wipe off the grease and grime left by your filthy fingers? Of course, you have — if you’re like me, you do it several times a week. But NXTPAPER displays don’t attract fingerprints nearly as much as a typical smartphone. That means less shirt wiping, which is a massive win in my book.
The second reason to love NXTPAPER is that it makes viewing the phone in bright situations much better. When the sun or a very bright light hits a standard smartphone screen, it becomes a mirror. Unless you have a phone with an incredibly bright display, you will have difficulty seeing what you’re doing. NXTPAPER doesn’t have this problem, though, because that matte display doesn’t become so reflective.
Finally, the third reason I love NXTPAPER is that it’s easier on the eyes. The matte display blocks out a lot of blue light, which has been linked to the development of vision problems. With the amount of time I spend looking at screens on any given day, any blue light filtering I can get is terrific.
While I really, really appreciate these aspects of TCL’s NXTPAPER tech, it does have some major caveats.
Of course, there are some significant trade-offs
NXTPAPER might be great, but it is far from perfect. The first drawback is that it is LCD tech. You won’t find any matte OLED displays in TCL’s portfolio, which is a sacrifice for those of us who are used to OLED’s deep blacks and power-saving efficiency.
Also, despite the admirable advancements TCL has made with the tech, it’s still not as bright or colorful as a typical mid-range phone display, to say nothing of the blinding radiance you’ll get from something like the Pixel 8 Pro, which has an unbelievable peak brightness of 2,400 nits. The fact that TCL has gotten as far as it has in just one year makes me hopeful for the future, but it’s not even in the same league today.
The third and most significant drawback to NXTPAPER is TCL itself. TCL doesn’t make premium smartphones. The most premium product in the TCL 50 series is firmly a budget phone, probably landing in the $400 range. So if you want a phone with a NXTPAPER display, you need to abandon hope of getting a premium processor, terrific cameras, wireless charging, fast wired charging, or any modern-day flagship features.
However, this could represent a significant opportunity for TCL.
Maybe TCL could just license this to other OEMs?
TCL is primarily a display company. It is currently the second-largest TV seller in the United States and has become a global powerhouse specifically because it controls its own supply chain. A TCL TV is made from the ground up by TCL.
Smartphones have always been a secondary thing for the company. It sticks to the budget and mid-range markets because it knows it would need to step way out of its comfort zone to even hope to compete with the Samsungs and Apples of the world. Therefore, it is a bygone conclusion that we’re far from seeing a TCL phone that could compete with the likes of a Galaxy S23 Ultra.
But what if TCL licensed its display technology to other brands? If it did, we could finally get a NXTPAPER display on a premium device.
I don’t think we’d ever see this from a company like Samsung (and its own Samsung Display sub-division), but Chinese brands would probably be willing to give it a shot. OnePlus, for example, is usually looking for ways to differentiate itself on the market, and NXTPAPER could be a great way to do that. At least on paper.
I’m not holding my breath for that to happen, but I really want it to. NXTPAPER was one of the coolest things I saw at CES. I want it on my next phone, but I don’t want to sacrifice all the premium features I depend on to get it. I can only hope that the same consumer feedback that pushed TCL to bring NXTPAPER to phones in the first place can push it to take the next step and make a truly amazing phone with it.