motorola lead 2021
CNN  — 

Motorola is kicking off 2021 with a slew of affordable, midrange smartphones: the Moto G Play, Moto G Power, Moto G Stylus and Motorola One 5G Ace. All four are up for preorder now:

We spent a little over two days with all four to see if these budget-friendly phones are worth your attention.

The Ace of 5G

motorola one ace 5g back.

Motorola’s been a big part of the 5G story here in the states, and the company is aiming to continue that with the One 5G Ace. At just $399.99, it’s one of the most affordable 5G-capable smartphones.

For that price, it’s a lot of phone. The 6.7-inch FHD+ Max Vision Display is solid for everyday use (and maybe even light gaming) with accurate colors. But its lack of vibrancy won’t exactly snatch your attention quite like a Pixel 4a 5G and TCL 10 5G. The screen does go pretty close to the edges except at the bottom, where there’s a noticeably thick chin.

Like previous Moto smartphones, there’s a pinhole cutout at the top of the screen. It’s not the smallest, but it also doesn’t provide much of a distraction. Inside the pinhole is a 16-megapixel lens. The One 5G Ace features a 48-megapixel main lens, 8-megapixel ultrawide lens and 2-megapixel macro lens. On past Motorola phones, we haven’t been blown away by the performance of macro — and it is really a niche feature. That 48-megapixel lens by default will capture images as 12-megapixel Quad Photos shots. These essentially bin pixels together to provide more detail in a 12-megapixel shot.

As with most budget phones, the One Ace 5G falls in the middle of the road with photography. Processing time for an image can take a second or two, but color us surprised with the performance of the main lens. The binning technology kept in a lot of detail, notably when digitally zooming, without scarifying the color or tone of a shot. The ultrawide is handy as well to have for capturing more in a single image.

motorola one 5g ace screen

Powering the One Ace 5G is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750 5G processor paired with either 4GB or 6GB of RAM. That should be plenty for everyday tasks — think social media, productivity, communication, creativity and even some light gaming. Motorola is known for a light user interface and it’s in full force with Android 10 here. It’s been running smooth during our trial, and there’s not much bloatware weighing it down. For storage, you get either 64GB or 128GB internally with a microSD card slot for expansion.

Arguably the biggest feature is 5G, although it’s not fully baked, with only Sub-6 GHz support in tow. That is nationwide 5G and not the ultra-fast speeds you might have been promised. Motorola’s One Ace 5G in the United States works on T-Mobile’s Sub-6 network at launch, and support for AT&T and Verizon’s Sub-6 should arrive in the coming months.

Rounding out the One Ace 5G is a USB-C power port, a 5,000mAh for two days of battery life, a rear fingerprint sensor and a headphone jack. It’s a mostly plastic build that’s quick to show fingerprints, but it doesn’t feel super cheap. The silver design has a nice iridescence effect as well.

The Motorola One Ace 5G is up for preorder now and will start shipping on January 14. At $399, the One Ace 5G deserves a look if you want a budget handset that’s ready for the future. 5G support is terrific to see at the price — even if it’s half baked.

Three flavors of Moto G

Motorola is sticking with three models under the Moto G name, aiming to provide consumers with more choice in a budget-conscious package.

Moto G Play

1-moto g play underscored

The $169.99 Moto G Play is a step above the Moto Es we’ve tested in the past and delivers solid features. A 6.5-inch Max Vision display clocks in as a 720p HD experience. Out of all four devices, it has the thickest bezels around the display, with a thick chin on the bottom and a teardrop notch at the top. That notch contains a 5-megapixel front-facing lens, with a rear 13-megapixel lens paired with a 2-megapixel depth camera. It should be an average shooting experience but nothing to write home about.

What’s notable about the Moto G Play is up to three days of battery life from a 5,000mAh battery. That’s pretty massive for a budget handset, and it’s thanks in part to an efficient processor. Inside the G Play is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 460 with 3GB of RAM. It won’t be the fastest Android 10 experience ever, but it should be enough for more basic tasks. It’s also a fully plastic build with a USB-C port on the bottom and a headphone jack up top. We’re fans of the Misty Blue color, but like all of these phones, it is fairly large.

Moto G Power

moto g power

Those looking for more power should consider the $199.99 Moto G Power. With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 and either 3GB or 4GB of RAM inside, we noticed it glides along faster than the other Moto Gs in our testing so far. Motorola is also promising three days of battery life here, depending on use. The previous G Power was better at gaming and more complex tasks over other budget phones — the 2021 G Power meets this mark so far. In our testing, it felt swifter than the Moto G Fast and gave us plenty of runway for tasks. Everyday apps (social and productivity) are responsive, and gaming performance was smooth. Notably, Call of Duty: Mobile was playable and didn’t freeze up often. The 662 processor comes in clutch with power and efficiency. It also blows past the Moto E or Galaxy A01.

The imaging system is also a step up, with three lenses on the back: a 48-megapixel main lens, a 2-megapixel macro lens and a 2-megapixel depth lens. We have to test this further, but we’d imagine the 48-megapixel is the most usable out of the trio here. For selfies and video calls, there’s an 8-megapixel lens housed in a pinhole notch. It’s off in the top-left corner on this 6.6-inch Max Vision display that also clocks in at 720p.

At $199.99, it’s a step above the Moto G Play but still lags behind our best budget pick of the year, the Pixel 4a ($499), which features 5G to boot.

Moto G Stylus

moto g stylus underscored

The $299.99 Moto G Stylus is the most intriguing of this lineup. It’s kind of like a budget Galaxy Note, with a basic stylus housed in the phone. It’s easy enough to use for jotting down notes and sketching while on the go. You’ll use it on a large 6.8-inch Max Vision display. Like the G Power, there’s a pinhole notch in the top-left corner that hides the 16-megapixel lens. On the rear, Motorola has stepped up the experience with a 48-megapixel main lens, an 8-megapixel ultrawide lens, a 2-megapixel macro vision lens and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. This provides the best photography experience out of the Moto Gs. The combination of a 48-megapixel lens with a faster processor not only aides in image capture times but improves image processing.

A Qualcomm Snapdragon 678 processor with 4GB of RAM powers the phone. Like all of the other new phones, it’s running Android 10 with some small Motorola tweaks. These include custom features to make use of the stylus, like marking up a screenshot. The actual build of the G Stylus reminds us of the Galaxy Note 2 — plastic, lightweight and very glossy. Motorola is also packing a fingerprint sensor into the power button here — it was easy enough to set up and works with relative ease. At $299.99, it feels the most feature-filled of the bunch.

All of the Moto Gs are up for preorder now and will ship on January 14. And, as of now, there’s not a second-generation Moto G Fast arriving.