Motorola sees LG’s exit from the smartphone market as a big opportunity. The company claims it holds an 8% share of the US market and thinks it can improve its position to number three — behind Apple and Samsung — in terms of volume. How’s it going to do that? By offering phones with 5G across various price points. That’s why Motorola added 5G to the Moto G Stylus, bringing the next-generation network tech to its capable mid-ranger. Find out if this is the 5G phone for you in the Android Authority Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G review.
What you need to know about the Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G
- Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G (6GB/256GB): $399
Motorola already has a Moto G Stylus phone in the market, but this new device is meant to augment the vanilla version by adding a 5G-enabled processor and a bigger battery. Little else differentiates the two stylus-toting phones aside from some minor design tweaks.
Motorola’s approach to the Moto G Stylus 5G is simple: sell it everywhere it possibly can. The device, which retails for $399 unlocked, will be available from AT&T/Cricket, T-Mobile/Metro, and Verizon/Visible, along with Spectrum, Xfinity, Amazon, BHPhoto, and Motorola.com. That about covers the gamut of major carriers and retailers in the US. Sales kick off June 14 at Amazon, BHPhoto, and Motorola, with carriers to follow later at their own pace.
The phone comes in several configurations, with either 4GB of RAM with 128GB of storage or 6GB of RAM paired with 256GB of storage. The unlocked retail units will be sold in the 6GB/256GB configuration, but the carrier versions will ship with 4GB/128GB. Carriers will be responsible for their own pricing and Motorola has not revealed those details. There’s also no word yet on a broader release in Europe and other markets.
The Moto G Stylus 5G will be sold in a single color called Cosmic Emerald.
How is the hardware?
The Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G (no, that name does not just roll off the tongue) is a big, big phone. The 6.8-inch screen and internal stylus support mean you have an extra-large chassis. It’s actually larger than even a phone like the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max. It can be a handful to use, there’s no question of that.
The phone is constructed mostly of plastic. The front may be glass (Motorola hasn’t disclosed what kind, we’ll update when we hear back), but the mid-frame and the rear panel are made from polycarbonate material. A glossy finish coats the frame, and the rear panel has a glass-like look to it. The Cosmic Emerald color is charming, though surely not for everyone. There’s a reflective sheen to it that gives it some personality. It does attract fingerprints, but I’ve seen much worse. These components are all put together well and everything about the chassis is tight and form-fitting.
As with most Motorola phones, don’t expect full waterproofing. Instead, the innards have been sprayed with a nano-coating that protects them from splashing, rain, and sweat, but not submersion. We wouldn’t typically expect a $400 phone to be waterproof anyway, but it’s worth noting nonetheless.
Functional elements are spread around the outside of the chassis. The power button and volume toggle are on the right edge. The profile of the power button is too low, making it harder to find in a hurry. Both buttons are a bit “clacky” when you press them, meaning travel and feedback could be better. The combo SIM/microSD tray is tucked into the left edge of the phone, while the headphone jack, USB-C port, speaker, and stylus dock all crowd the bottom edge.
The 6.8-inch screen and internal stylus support mean you have an extra-large chassis.
Motorola gave the Moto G Stylus 5G a Full HD+ Max Vision display. It’s an IPS LCD with a punch-hole for the user-facing camera and a standard 60Hz refresh rate. Bezels are kept in check but there’s a slight chin at the bottom. The screen comes across as bright and colorful. Indoor visibility is no problem, but sunlight will negatively impact your ability to see the screen. Together with glare, it can sometimes be a challenge to use outdoors. The resolution and clarity are good for a phone in this price category.
On the security front, the Moto G Stylus 5G has a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. It is placed a little high up the panel if you ask me, but it is easy to train and quick to unlock the phone.
Lastly, you’ll find the camera module pushed into the upper-left corner of the rear panel. It is a four-camera array and Motorola kept the size reasonably tight. It sticks out from the rear surface, but not overmuch.
It’s nothing spectacular and it’s definitely on the large side, but the Moto G Stylus 5G is a modestly-designed piece of hardware for $400.
How is the battery life and processor?
The Moto G Stylus 5G packs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 5G chipset. This sits at the top-end of Qualcomm’s entry-level 400 series and represents an improvement over even all but the very latest 600 series processors.
As far as everyday use is concerned, the phone runs fine. I didn’t notice any real performance issues, though the camera app is a little bit slow to start sometimes. The phone didn’t fare particularly well on benchmarks, but we didn’t expect it to. Most users should be satisfied with the performance of the phone as long as they’re not expecting the phone to be a gaming powerhouse (which it is not claiming to be).
Motorola builds battery champs and the Moto G Stylus 5G is merely the latest to put up solid numbers. Motorola claims the battery lasts a full two days. We got better battery life than that.
Despite heavy usage, including extensive use of the camera and running benchmarks, the phone lasted 2.25 days on a single charge. The 5,000mAh power cell more than does its job. We haven’t tested the non-5G Moto G Stylus from earlier this year, but its smaller 4,000mAh battery likely won’t last as long.
The downside is that charging the phone takes forever. The Moto G Stylus 5G ships with a 10W charger and needs a solid two hours 15 minutes to recharge from zero. There’s no wireless charging, which we wouldn’t expect at this price point.
How does the camera perform?
Motorola gave the Moto G Stylus 5G four rear cameras, though not necessarily in our preferred configuration. The main sensor captures 48MP shots at f/1.7 and bins them down by a factor of four to 12MP. This main camera is joined by an 8MP ultra-wide camera, a 5MP macro camera, and a 2MP depth camera. We’d have liked to see a telephoto in the mix, but Motorola generally goes with macros over teles on its entry-level fare.
The main camera does a fine job in good lighting conditions. You can see the shots I took during the day are clean, in focus, and show good color balance. The same is true for the photos I captured with the wide-angle camera (below), though the focus is just a hair softer. I like that the ultra-wide shoots at a 118-degree field of view. Some optical distortion is apparent around the edges of the frame, but at least there’s no vignetting.
I struggled with the macro camera. You have to hold the phone in exactly the right spot to get the picture to be sharp. One thing I appreciate: the camera will automatically switch to macro mode when it senses you are close to a subject. At 5MP it’s not the lowest resolution macro camera you can find, but it still lacks detail compared to the other lenses.
The selfie camera is really uneven. If you look at the samples below, you’ll see that I’m in good focus in both shots. In the standard selfie, the background is just destroyed by noise, while the selfie looks smoother by way of comparison. I think the selfie portrait mode also overdoes the beautification, which you cannot control.
Photos taken in low light are a bit of a mess. You’ll note tons of grain and soft focus in the shots below. Moreover, there is tons of lost detail, particularly in the shot of the lamp.
The Moto G Stylus 5G actually downgrades the video quality capability of the phone. Where the G Stylus shoots in 4K, the G Stylus 5G maxes out at Full HD (30fps). This is a limitation of the processor in the G Stylus 5G. That’s a bit of a shame, but the footage still looks solid. I saw some noise, particularly in shadows, but color and exposure were on point. They won’t look great if you take them off of the phone and onto a larger screen, however.
You can view full-sized photo samples in this Google Drive folder.
What can you do with the stylus?
The stylus of the Moto G Stylus 5G is no Samsung S Pen but it does add value to an already affordable phone.
First, it’s a completely cylindrical stylus, meaning you can insert it into the garage at any angle and it will go in. This is a welcome improvement over the stylus of the 2020 Moto G Stylus which had a slight shape to it that required it to be inserted a specific way.
The Moto G Stylus 5G's pointer is no S Pen, but it adds value.
Second, Motorola increased the length of the tab for retrieving the stylus. Though the butt of the stylus is flush with the bottom edge of the phone, it’s no problem at all to depress it to pop the tab out. The click is satisfying and grabbing the stylus is easy as pie.
Third, it’s now much harder to lose the stylus. The removal reminder sends notifications when the stylus has been out for a period of time without use. There’s also a way to record the location of the phone when the stylus was last removed. This is no AirTag location-finding magic, but it will get you to the general vicinity in which you last used the stylus.
Now that LG is no longer in the game with its stylus-toting phone, Motorola has the affordable stylus segment to itself.
The core stylus-centric software feature is a quick note-taking app called Moto Note that launches when you remove the stylus. It covers the basics well enough. You can scribble on it, draw vague shapes that are then auto-corrected to a perfect square or circle, add text, and annotate photos.
Then there’s the coloring book app, which is clearly meant for kids. This app has a handful of preloaded pictures that kids can color, but there’s a really neat tool for creating your own: You can take a photo that the app then reduces to a black and white stencil, leaving the spaces for kids to color to their liking. It’s a fun way to kill the time. If you’re a kid.
As expected, you can use the stylus to navigate the user interface and otherwise interact with the phone. It doesn’t have a button or any special wireless features. It’s a simple stylus with simple features.
More reading: 10 best stylus apps and S Pen apps for Android
Now that LG is no longer in the game with its stylus-toting phone, Motorola has the affordable stylus segment to itself.
- My UX: The Moto G Stylus 5G ships with Android 11 onboard and Motorola’s My UX user interface. It’s not so much a UI skin as it is a collection of features that are manageable through the Moto application. We’re talking about twisting the phone to launch the camera, advanced notification controls, and so on. Motorola kept it simple and that’s fine. As for updates, Motorola says the phone will receive one major system update (to Android 12) and it will receive two years of security and other minor updates. That’s not the worst, but the minimum should really be two system updates and three years of support.
- Audio: Motorola wisely kept a 3.5mm headphone jack, which it was able to fit despite the real estate needed to garage the stylus. Audio out via the jack sounded good. The phone has but a single, downward-firing speaker. No stereo music for you. It puts out acceptable sound and room-filling volumes. Thankfully, the phone supports Bluetooth 5.1 and a range of codecs for wireless listening.
- 5G: The Moto G Stylus 5G has very good support for 5G across US wireless carriers. It covers the three major carriers in AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, with the carriers’ prepaid brands supported too. The phone’s 5G is limited to sub-6GHz, however; there’s no mmWave on board.
Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G specs
|Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G|
|Display||6.8-inch IPS LCD|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 5G|
Wide: 48MP, f/1.7
Ultra-wide: 8MP, f/2.2
Macro: 5MP, f/2.2
Depth: 2MP, f/2.2
|169.5 x 77.5 x 9.4mm|
Value and competition
5G is making its way to more affordable phones. Motorola told us it believes 5G will be a differentiator in the market moving forward. It certainly helps the Moto G Stylus 5G stand out. Whether or not 5G truly brings value to the phone is another story. It bumps the price of the phone up considerably when compared to the non-5G variant of the G Stylus. Looking at other $400 5G phones, it’s the stylus that really helps the Moto G stand out. There simply aren’t any competing phones in the market with a stylus and 5G. That gives the Moto G Stylus 5G a value all its own — but it’s something consumers have to value, too.
Motorola’s biggest competition is itself. The Moto G Stylus from earlier this year, which doesn’t include 5G and has a smaller 4,000mAh battery, is a bargain at $299. Moreover, the Moto G Stylus from last year is a near steal at $250. If you want to avoid the 5G tax, you can still get a stylus from one of these two phones for less.
Looking at non-stylus devices, the elephant in the room is of course the Google Pixel 4a, which is available for $349. The 5G version of the 4a costs a bit more at $499, but easily bests the Moto G Stylus 5G in the camera department. There’s also the OnePlus Nord family, which has several options. The Nord 10 5G, in particular, is enticing due to its 90Hz screen, 30W charging, and $299 price point. And we can’t leave out Samsung’s range of Galaxy A devices, including the Galaxy A32 and Galaxy A52 5G, which retail for $279 and $499, respectively.
Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G review: The verdict
The Motorola Moto G Stylus 5G is such a niche play, it’s hard to quantify against other devices. No other 5G-capable, stylus-equipped phone is as affordable as the G Stylus 5G. LG used to compete in this space, but with its market exit, the Moto G Stylus 5G is alone in its niche. You’d have to look at the $999 Samsung Galaxy Note 20 to find the same combination of features.
It is easy to laud the battery life, clean build of Android, and solid everyday performance of the phone, but the Snapdragon 480 5G holds the phone back somewhat. It may sip power, but it doesn’t deliver the fast and fluid experience some potential buyers might want. The camera does well for the most part, though low-light shots and selfies suffer. Motorola’s single-year commitment to updates (and two years of security patches) is also a bit thin compared to Samsung’s A series.
No other 5G-capable, stylus-equipped phone is as affordable as the Moto G Stylus 5G.
The Moto G Stylus 5G is a good phone, but it’s not without faults. As the only comer in the affordable 5G stylus market, those faults might seem minor to some. But the phone is so focused on several key features that unless you’re looking for a phone that meets a very specific criteria, you might be better off looking at some of the more well-rounded alternatives.