Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G Review1
All this converges in the Moto G Stylus 5G, the newest member of the G series and Motorola’s first 5G smartphone with a built-in stylus. Priced at $399, the device is poised to appeal to anyone who appreciates an extra layer of precision at their fingertips. Does it succeed?
Mostly yes. The Stylus 5G certainly gets more things right than wrong, enough that most people may be perfectly pleased with the experience offered. But a few glaring omissions make it fall short of stellar. If that pen is a deal breaker, this is your de facto choice. For everyone else, there are probably better values out there, whether from competitors or from Motorola itself.
Design & Display
The Stylus 5G is practically a doppelgänger for any number of recent Moto phones, sporting a square, four-lens camera bump and a back-facing fingerprint reader printed with the ‘M’ logo. The phone is large, but it’s neither unwieldy nor large, with a sensible 20:9 aspect ratio and lightweight feel, thanks to the omission of heavy, premium materials like metal or glass.
The left and top sides of the device are bare safe for the SIM tray and a mic, while the right side houses the volume and power buttons. As usual, the power button has a textured surface for easy tactile identification. The bottom of the device is populated by a single speaker, a USB Type C port, a 3.5mm headphone jack (remember those?), and the stylus, of course.
The phone’s body gleams with a gorgeous iridescent shimmer, shifting from green to black depending on the angle. The plastic back feels sturdy enough, and though it has a glossy finish, it’s not too slippery to hold. All in all, it’s a handsome design with reasonable build quality.
The LCD display is quite expansive at 6.8 inches, and it’s got a 2400 x 1080 resolution, making it Full HD+. That’s pretty average for 2021, especially considering the 60Hz refresh rate (no buttery-smooth magic here). But still, the screen has decent saturation and contrast for an LCD, and brightness is adequate for most settings. A new Super Brightness mode kicks in in direct sunlight, and this boost lends it an extra bit of legibility.
Compared to the high-resolution AMOLED panels gracing flashier handsets, the Stylus 5G’s is quite humble, but it gets the job done.
The stylus is clearly the main attraction here, and Motorola has redesigned it from the ground up. It is now symmetrically round, and so it can be inserted in any orientation. The slim pen is easy to hold and use, and the single ballpoint-style button on top is satisfyingly clicky.
Moto Notes is still the default app to pop up when the stylus is removed, and it has a few new tricks up its sleeve. Most notably, a virtual ruler now allows for easy guided doodles with a bit more structure and finesse. For artists, the revamped Coloring Book app also offers new features, like AI-assisted custom drawing templates.
There’s no fancy pressure-sensing or anything like that, but the Stylus 5G provides a considerable amount of utility with simple optimized software. Though I still prefer typing out my notes and to-do lists, I found myself reaching for the stylus for arranging Instagram stories, playing casual games, and editing photos.
Motorola can churn out devices at unmatched speeds. One reason is that the camera setup is often recycled across devices in the brand's roster. This isn’t always a bad thing; a capable set of sensors is often at the center of it, and that's the case here too. The Stylus 5G's competent exposure and colors offer consistently good picture quality, even if it doesn’t quite reach flagship grade.
Like many of its brethren, the Stylus 5G’s main camera is a 48MP sensor with pixel binning, which yields 12MP photos with enhanced dynamic range. Indeed, the sensor is adept at capturing details across a wide range of lighting, and its colors are also balanced and rich. Highlights can be blown out in more challenging shots, but overall the performance is quite strong.
At night, Moto’s Night Vision kicks in. There’s too much artificial sharpening, but a good amount of detail is unearthed. While it’s not the best, it’s still nice to have and provides adequate results. In a nice touch, it’s supported on the front-facing camera as well.
< Night vision ON Night vision OFF >
There’s also 8x digital zoom onboard, which is basically equivalent to 2x optical + 4x digital thanks to the high resolution sensor. Unfortunately, fully-zoomed shots are quite soft, but it’s not bad up to 4x or even higher, if needed.
The main sensor is supported by three other sensors. A 2MP depth sensor provides 3D mapping for better portraiture, while a 8MP wide-angle shooter lends increased versatility for tight shots or sweeping landscapes. There’s some distortion, of course, but it’s handled rather well, and there isn’t too much of a drop in quality compared to the main lens. It’s only in very dark or otherwise unideal scenarios that it can struggle.
The last camera is the 5MP macro sensor for close-up shots. It’s become something of a staple in Motorola’s photo toolkit, and the shooter provides some limited utility. Results can be quite good if the lighting cooperates, but it still feels too niche to really be exciting. That’s not to say it isn’t fun to play around with, though!
Along the front, there’s a single 16MP selfie shooter that also features 4:1 pixel binning. Details and exposure largely mirror the main camera, but it can be overzealous with skin tones and colors overall. I’m pretty pale, but the Stylus 5G likes to give me a distinctly orange tan in some angles.
Performance & Interface
The Stylus 5G ships with a Snapdragon 480 SoC, just like its overseas cousin, the Moto G50. The SD480 is a new generation of entry-level processor, and its inclusion opens a Pandora’s box of smartphone philosophy. Is it okay to have a low-end SoC in the midrange market if the actual performance is good enough?
After spending some time with the Stylus 5G, I’m actually inclined to say yes. The phone sails through everyday usage without breaking a sweat, and most games run fine without noticeable stuttering as well. While its processor may not be a powerhouse, it’s more than adequate, especially when paired with the lightweight software interface and a respectable 6GB of RAM.
Overall, the performance is surprisingly solid, keeping up with higher-grade phones like the Pixel 5. It actually scores very similarly in benchmarks as well. While better processors can be found in a competitive price range, I’d wager that the actual difference in day-to-day use is negligible for most, if not all.
On the software side of things, Moto’s UI sticks to the familiar recipe of clean Android with a few choice additions. Moto Actions is present, of course, offering quick reach for everyday features like accessing the camera or taking a screenshot. My UX is also baked in so you can dial in on your preferred aesthetic.
Motorola is promising one OS update and two years of security patches, which translates to Android 12 by early next year and security updates until 2023. This is neither abysmal nor stellar, but two OS upgrades would have been nice. One of the downfalls of having so many successive releases, perhaps.
Connectivity & Sound
Thanks to the system-on-chip’s built-in X51 modem, the Stylus 5G is equipped with access to next-generation mobile networks. This is probably the single biggest change from the previous G Stylus model, and while it may seem pretty passive as far as features go, the futureproofing is always nice to have. 5G has grown tremendously in the past year, and it’s making ground towards ubiquity.
While this is a good step forward, Motorola remains stubbornly stuck in the Dark Ages of pre-NFC times. That’s right, no contactless payments to be found here, which will be an especially sore point for the remainder of this cursed pandemic. Every phone comes with drawbacks, but this is definitely one to weigh carefully before diving in.
The speaker setup isn’t bad, for the price, but you won’t be transported to aural nirvana by any stretch of the imagination. The single bottom-firing speaker gets quite loud (up to 86dB, according to Motorola), but highs and mids tend to be mushy and the bass lacks oomph. In contrast, calls remain pretty clear and largely without issue.
Motorola says better battery life is the single biggest wish list item for its user base, according to the brand’s market research, and it’s clear that longevity has been made a priority. The battery’s been beefed up to an excellent 5,000mAh, matching the G Power. And paired with the power-efficient SD480 processor, the Stylus 5G has enough juice for days of use. Most users should expect two days without a problem, and lighter users may even find it lasts longer depending on usage patterns.
Of course, a larger battery necessitates longer charging times, and the Stylus 5G’s 10W charger takes a good two hours to fully top up. Not terrible, but less than great compared to the hyperspeed charging offered on others. Wireless charging is missing, too.