Phone Reviews & Buying Guides
Summary: Google provided us with a review unit for one of our writers to test. Read on for their full take.
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Google has been in the smartphone business long enough to produce six generations of Pixel phones. They've all been good value and decent phones, but with the Pixel 6, Google seems fully focused on trying to create a truly great phone, rather than being content playing catchup with Apple and Samsung.
It's a very good phone at a ridiculously attractive price point, and at just $599, it's a steal. Here's why it's worth considering (even if you were thinking of buying an iPhone):
2021 has been the year of the camera bump, and the one on the Pixel 6 is so big it has its own off-ramp. Above and below that bar, you'll see two tones of color, making for a nice look. Color options for the Pixel 6 include Cloudy White, Kinda Coral, Sorta Seafoam, Sorta Sunny, and Stormy Black (our model).
This phone should withstand most scratches, but be careful with falls. The front and back of the phone are covered in a chemically strengthened glass known as Gorilla Glass, with the toughest glass being placed on the front. It's slippery to hold and can slide itself off a table if you're not careful.
Apart from creating space for the cameras, the camera bump also offers a nice place to rest your finger, helping to hold the phone in place and making it less likely you’ll drop it. In fact, the bump is so big I was able to hang the phone off signs using just the bump.
Google also claims the phone has an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, an industry-standard measurement which means it can survive in up to 1.5 meters of clean water for thirty minutes. Salt and chemicals can still affect the phone, so it'll survive in the rain, but not as well in the ocean or pool.
On the performance end, this phone holds its own against the competition. Gaming is really smooth, and I found it ran Call of Duty Mobile flawlessly, although I did run into a judder problem with a couple of apps.
IMDB and Amazon both experienced quite a bit of lag when scrolling. This manifested itself only once during my testing period, and it's hard to tell if this was a problem with the app, the processor, Android 12, or a combination of the three. The behavior has not repeated itself, so it's also possible it was a fluke, but it's definitely something to be aware of.
I used the Pixel 6 on T-Mobile in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and rural Virginia, running the gamut of connectivity. At times in the countryside and in the mountains, the phone lost its signal altogether, which is not uncommon for the area.
For comparison, I also carried an iPhone 13 running on T-Mobile's network. The Pixel 6 had marginally better connectivity than the iPhone, but there were times one phone had a signal and the other didn't, and vice versa.
Colors pop on this screen and it's very readable, even in bright sunlight. Text is sharp, crisp, and easy to read. You also get great viewing angles with little color change when looking at the phone screen from the side. It's right up there with other flagship phones like the iPhone 13.
The 6.4-inch display on the Pixel uses a couple of technologies to give great pictures. First, it's an FHD+ (Full High Definition) screen, meaning it's the same kind of display as your HD TV (known as 1080p). It also uses a new screen technology known as AMOLED screen, which lights up individual pixels (the tiny 'dots' on your screen), and turns them off when they're not needed, meaning you get deeper blacks and a bigger difference between light and dark colors.
What's most attractive about the display are technical improvements to the way it refreshes itself. Typical phones, such as the iPhone 13, will refresh the screen 60 times per second, while this phone refreshes 90 times per second, (known as a 90Hz refresh rate).
What this means is much smoother scrolling and animations when opening apps, or powering on the phone. When you're doing something that doesn't require the content on the screen to change, like reading a book, the refresh rate can drop to as little as ten refreshes per second, which saves a lot of battery life.
If there is one thing Pixel phones are famous for, it's having great cameras. This being Google's flagship phone, there's quite a legacy to uphold here, so where does the Pixel 6 stand? First, let's talk about the hardware.
There are two camera sensors on the back of the phone. The first is a 50MP (megapixel) main camera and a 12MP ultrawide sensor. This is pretty standard for phones these days, and is more than good enough for all but professional photographers. That said, most flagship phones these days have a third sensor with a real physical zoom lens. That means the physical lenses in the phone are set to blow up a photo by anywhere between 2x to 10x.
The Google Pixel relies instead on a hybrid digital zoom that takes a smaller section of a photo, and blows it up, using the phone's AI chip (which is called Tensor and was made by Google itself) to fill in the gaps to make a "zoomed in" photo.
In use, it’s disappointing. The Pixel 6 has 2x digital zoom in the camera software. It can go up to 7x zoom, but things go very bad very quickly, so I'd recommend sticking to 2x zoom as your maximum. This surprised me, as I'd hope Google would be able to use AI to help out with a hybrid zoom capability, but that's simply not the case.
The primary difference you'll notice between the ultrawide and main camera sensor is a distinct lack of detail in the ultrawide sensor. Things like leaves, grass, and landscape lose a lot of detail compared to the main sensor. There is no noticeable color difference between the two sensors, which can sometimes be an issue with other phone cameras.
When it comes to landscapes, even the 50MP camera doesn't capture as much detail as we'd usually like to see, although this is really only evident when you put those photos onto a huge computer monitor and blow up the photo to 100%.
When the lights go down, so does the quality. The main thing you'll notice is a lack of sharp focus on subjects that are moving. At night, the difference in sharpness between the ultrawide and main camera becomes even more pronounced.
Otherwise though, photos are pretty solid. Lights in the foreground don't get overblown. Shadows are just a little grainy, but overall better than you'll usually see on a camera in this price range. Color reproduction is still quite good. As long as you're not shooting things that are moving, this camera holds up pretty well.
On the front the 8MP selfie camera is also a lot better during the day than at night. Again, focus is the main offender in the selfie department. For a flagship phone, Google needs to do better—we're living in a world where selfies are so common, meaning this is not a place to cut corners.
Google has also added some neat photo editing tricks to the Android software on the Pixel 6. The most notable of these what's called a Magic Eraser that can remove unwanted extras from your photos - like people in the background, a sign, or even a vehicle from the road. Google uses AI to guess at what the background would normally look like, and often it's spot on. I ran into quite a few use cases where that feature came in handy.
Video is pretty smooth whether you're walking and shooting, or just panning across a nice scenic landscape. Transitioning from a dark area into a light area, such as emerging from under a bridge, also gives you a pretty smooth transition so the picture isn't blown out or oversaturated. At night, video quality is "social media good," meaning you can shoot decent videos with the camera, but don't have ambitions beyond Instagram or Facebook. The darks are quite grainy, but that's less evident when viewed on smaller screens.
The Pixel 6 comes with a battery big enough to easily get you through a full day, and I found even with a lot of photography, I was still getting on average 34% in the tank at bedtime. As I was in a scenic area during my testing period, much of my time was dedicated to taking photos, listening to downloaded podcasts, and going in and out of areas with network coverage. It's likely more common usage would yield even more battery life.
My standard battery test involves navigating with the phone for 30 minutes at 75% brightness, followed by streaming Netflix on Wi-Fi at 75% brightness, followed by 30 minutes of gaming at 100% brightness. These three activities tax the phones battery the most, so I feel like it's a pretty good representation of how phones stack up against each other.
After that test, the Pixel 6 was at 81%. By comparison, the Pixel 5a came in at 83% and the iPhone 13 Pro also came in at 81%. In terms of capacity, batteries are measured in milliamp hour, which measures power over time, with the Pixel 6 coming in at 4614 mAh. However, this isn’t a great guide, because how long a phone actually lasts depends a lot on its software.
The Pixel 6 comes with Google's latest version of Android, which is Android 12. Additionally, Google promises three years of major operating system upgrades (up to Android 15) and five years of monthly security updates.
From a support perspective, that's pushing up into Apple territory (but not quite there). It’s an important move for Google, and future proofs the Pixel 6 far more than other phones running Google’s Android software, which are notorious for often not getting updates in a timely manner.
The Tensor chip, the first Google has built itself, allows a lot of the processing work into the phone itself which makes things faster, more reliable, and generally more capable than other chips. These capabilities are reflected in the software enhancements that are exclusive to the Pixel 6.
Voice processing is one of the key features on the Pixel 6, as evidenced by features like Direct My Call, Assistant Voice Typing, and Live Translate. Direct My Call helps you navigate a phone tree, like when you call a customer service number. Google will listen to the voice prompts and print them out on the screen for you, so you don't have to remember what every number is. When you tap on the voice prompt, that number is pressed on the phone tree.
Live Translate is another step closer to that Universal Translator we're all looking for from Star Trek. You can speak into the translate app and it will translate the speech in real time on the phone. Someone else can then reply and it will automatically translate that text back. Additionally, you can point your phone's camera at a sign and it will translate the sign in real time on your phone screen.
Assistant Voice Typing is pretty slick. With voice typing you can simply activate Assistant by saying "Hey Google, type" and then dictate what you want to type (as long as there’s a text field on screen). During my testing, the phone was quick to pick up the ends of sentences, periods, question marks, and capital letters to start new sentences.
All that being said, the Pixel 6 is not immune to the occasional bug. The most notable was when the icon for the fingerprint sensor appeared in the wrong place on the screen, and when you pressed the icon, the actual fingerprint sensor activated and failed to read since your finger was not in the correct place. Google still has some work to do on Android 12.
Google sells this phone starting at $599, which is really inexpensive for what it offers. You get a fast processor, amazingly smooth user experience, and a nice set of cameras. Another option to buy the phone is in the Pixel Pass, which bundles in a number of Google services such as Youtube Premium, Google One storage, and more for $45 per month.
If you use all those services, that might be a good deal, but keep in mind if you want to use family plans for any of those services, that's not offered yet.
The closest comparison we can make for this phone is the iPhone 13. The Pixel 6 has better specifications in almost every category, and it comes in at $200 cheaper. Of course specifications don't tell the whole story. Google's Tensor chip is in its first generation while Apple has been doing this for awhile, so if you're leery of first-generation hardware (and we wouldn't blame you if you were), then you might want to wait. But otherwise, the Pixel 6 compares quite favorably to its fruity counterpart. Will iPhone owners switch? Probably not. But the Pixel 6 will undoubtedly stop a lot of Android phone owners from switching to an iPhone.
Apple provided us with a review unit for one of our writers to test. Read on for their full take.
The number of new iPhone models to choose from has been increasing each year. During its September 2021 event, Apple released four handsets within its iPhone 13 range.
This included the entry-level iPhone 13 mini, the iPhone 13, the iPhone 13 Pro, and the flagship iPhone 13 Pro Max. Each phone has been designed to appeal to a different type of user, and they come in a range of sizes and prices.
The iPhone 13 occupies the space in the middle, offering impressive, high-end specs and quality without paying a relatively high-end price. We recently tested the iPhone 13 to see how well it performs against a range of everyday tasks, as well as more intense activities like gaming, streaming, and remote working.
We put Apple’s battery life claims to the test, put its new camera technology through its paces, and tried out the new features of iOS 15 to discover whether the iPhone 13 is the best new iPhone, or if it’s worth investing elsewhere.
As with everything Apple makes, the iPhone 13 is a well-designed device that looks and feels sturdy and luxurious. It comes with the same aluminum frame and a reinforced glass back seen on the iPhone 12.
The 6.1-inch display is coated in a type of glass known as Ceramic Shield, which Apple claims offers four times the protection of rival smartphone glass, and the handset measures 5.78 x 2.82 inches. These features are all identical to the iPhone 12. The iPhone 13 is 0.1-inch thicker, which is accompanied by the iPhone 13’s increased weight (6.1 ounces up from 5.73 ounces).
Despite these increases, the iPhone 13 is comfortable to hold and easy to use one-handed. The display size means the on-screen keyboard is not fiddly, as is the case with the smaller iPhone 13 mini, and it’s large enough to stream TV shows and films.
Playing basic games on this display is fine, but if you’re playing games with more detailed menus (Minecraft or Fortnite, for instance), you may find the display a little on the small side. You may also find it too small and a little straining on your eyes if you’re planning to replace your TV or tablet and watch all of your content on this phone.
The addition of the notch—the small, curved black protrusion at the top of the screen where the FaceID sensor is stored—further reduces the display real estate. However, the notch is 20% smaller than on the iPhone 12.
The Lightning charging port is sandwiched between a set of dual speakers on the bottom of the device, and the power button sits on the top right-hand side, opposite the volume buttons on the left. In addition to being able to charge the iPhone 13 via Lightning cable, you can charge the phone wirelessly using any Qi-compatible wireless charging plate, as well as Apple’s own MagSafe charging plate.
MagSafe is powered by a circular magnet fitted beneath the phone’s backing glass and can also be used to attach MagSafe accessories, such as the MagSafe wallet. This is a leather wallet where you can store your most-used cards and which stays attached to the phone via magnets. You can use the Find My feature to locate any MagSafe accessories in the same way this feature can be used to pinpoint where your iPhone, iPad, Airpods, and other Apple products are on an on-screen map.
On the rear of the iPhone 13, the camera sensors are now diagonally lined up in the top left-hand corner, rather than one above the other. This makes the camera bump marginally wider than seen on older iPhones and, while it may seem like a small change aesthetically speaking, it means you’ll need to buy a new case because an iPhone 12 case won’t fit. The protruding camera bump also stops the iPhone 13 from sitting flat on a table, unless it's in a case.
Color-wise, the iPhone 13 comes in five choices: starlight (off-white), midnight (black), pink, blue, and PRODUCT(RED). Proceeds from sales of the red model go toward AIDS charities as part of Apple’s long-running partnership with the charity.
As is the case with all Apple products, it’s not possible to physically expand the built-in storage on the iPhone 13. Thankfully, Apple has doubled the entry-level storage option from 64 gigabytes (GB) on the iPhone 12 up to 128GB on the $799 iPhone 13. You can then pay an extra $100 for 256GB ($899), or an extra $300 for 512GB ($1099). This is in addition to the 5GB of free iCloud storage Apple gifts every iPhone user.
These increased storage options are a welcomed upgrade, and unless you’re a power user, even the lowest of these storage options should be adequate. If you do need more, you can pay for iCloud+ storage. Prices start at $0.99 a month for 50GB, $2.99 for 200GB and $9.99 for 2TB.
Just as the design of the iPhone 13 has remained largely the same versus the iPhone 12, so too has the screen quality. It has a Super Retina XDR OLED display with the same resolution seen on the iPhone 12: 2,532 x 1,170 pixels. This means the iPhone 13’s display is crisp, bright, and clear from all angles.
Colors look vibrant and realistic, particularly when the phone is on the highest brightness setting, and this is great for playing games and watching HD videos. Even the most brightly colored games and shows like Candy Crush Saga, and Ru Paul’s Drag Race never once looked washed out or faded.
Each OLED pixel on the iPhone 13 has its own light source, which helps make blacks look deeper and darker, improving contrast. This is great for both watching Netflix shows and for reading ebooks or web content. It makes text lines sharp and clear, even when the font is small.
The refresh rate on the iPhone 13 display is 60Hz. A refresh rate refers to how many times an image is updated every second. The faster the refresh rate, the smoother and less blurry the image will look. For everyday tasks, a 60Hz refresh rate is more than adequate, and you’ll rarely, if at all, have any issues with it on the iPhone 13.
However, if you’re a keen gamer, this may cause problems when playing graphic-intensive games. If you fall into this camp, you may want to opt for a phone with a higher refresh rate, like the Google Pixel 6’s 90Hz, or the 120Hz refresh rate seen on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max.
The iPhone 13 handled everything we threw at it during our tests well and without any lag. The screen immediately unlocks with FaceID; it’s fast to switch between apps and tasks, and the screen is responsive. This is largely due to the way Apple has optimized its iOS 15 software to work with the hardware on the iPhone 13. It's also not uncommon for Apple iPhones to feel powerful and fast straight out of the box.
Apple does also credit this to its A15 Bionic chip. This chip's new computer processing unit (CPU)—the unit that handles most of the phone’s everyday computing power tasks—is said to be up to 50% faster than the competition. Its new graphical processing unit (GPU), which is what powers graphics seen in games, augmented reality, and the phone’s camera features, is said to be up to 30% faster.
There is also a new Neural Engine that has been designed to carry out up to 15.8 trillion operations a second. This means any tasks that use AI or machine learning, like Siri’s text-to-speech tools, directions in Maps, the iPhone 13’s new Cinematic mode (read more about this in the Camera section below), and iOS 15’s Live Text feature are fast, work as promised and don’t slow the phone down, or cause it to heat up, in the process.
While it was hard to quantify Apple’s claimed percentage increases and how many operations the phone was performing every second during real-world tests, we can confirm we didn’t once experience any lag or overheating on the iPhone 13.
Not when we were playing Fortnite, not when we were streaming episodes of The Chestnut Man on Netflix, not when we were switching between emails and Google Docs when editing a feature. There was no delay when opening the camera, and there was minimal delay (less than two seconds) between taking a photo on Portrait mode, and the photo’s bokeh being processed.
When tested using the GFXBench app, which records how good the phone is at playing games of varying intensities, the iPhone 13 scored 52 frames per second (fps) on the Car Chase benchmark—a little short of the 56fps seen on the iPhone 12—but the same 60fps score on the less-demanding T-Rex benchmark.
The iPhone 13 supports 5G as well as Gigabit LTE/4G and Wi-Fi 6. These are all the most advanced versions of their respective technologies, meaning no matter which network you’re connected to, you should get the fastest speeds possible for your area and data plan.
Put more simply, if you’re having connectivity problems, it’s unlikely the iPhone 13 is the problem.
The iPhone 13 has an increased number of bands compared to the iPhone 12 range, meaning it will work in more 5G areas than before, and, in our tests, this meant the signal was stronger and rarely dropped out. We experienced problems only while on vacation in a forest, but that was more likely due to the strength of the signal from our network operator and not the phone itself.
On paper, the camera setup on the iPhone 13 looks nearly identical to that seen on the iPhone 12, but don’t be fooled. Apple has made a number of software and sensor upgrades that make this camera among the best we’ve used.
On the back of the phone, the Wide camera sensor is now larger than before, meaning it captures 47% more light. Letting more light into a camera sensor helps improve how much detail is captured, and helps improve the contrast of images, particularly those taken in low light.
Apple has also added a new sensor on the Ultra Wide Camera on the rear of the iPhone 13. This has similarly been designed to reveal more dark areas within your photos. As a result, shadows are darker and clearer, while areas of light are better illuminated. This makes the handset great for use indoors, where light may be poor, and for use outside as the winter nights come in and the weather takes a turn.
One negative is this camera setup uses 12MP sensors. By comparison, the Google Pixel 6 has a 50MP sensor—the higher the sensor, the more pixels it captures. This typically equates to a better-quality photo, but the software and hardware tweaks Apple has made to its proprietary camera setup means it still performs as well, despite this lower number specification.
Elsewhere, the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have Night mode, Deep Fusion, and HDR video recording with Dolby Vision. Night mode helps take even better photos at night, while Deep Fusion captures multiple shots at multiple exposures and “fuses” them together to present the best possible image.
Software-wise, Apple has added two new features that combine with these hardware upgrades to make your photos and videos look highly professional. The first is called Cinematic Mode, and it uses what’s known as “rack focus.” This is a technique popular among cinematographers in feature films to guide the viewers’ attention. It works by switching focus between subjects and adding a depth-of-field effect.
Although the mode wasn’t as straightforward to use as Apple’s demonstrations suggested, when we mastered it, we were so impressed with the results that we almost couldn’t believe we’d filmed them.
The second new feature is called Photographic Styles. It’s not quite as impressive as Cinematic Mode, but it does add a level of professionalism to photos that we hadn’t seen before. Each time you take a photo, the iPhone 13 will show you five different versions. A balanced, true-to-life image alongside four alternative styles—Vibrant, Rich Contrast, Warm, and Cool.
As you select each style, the iPhone 13 is said to use “deep semantic understanding” to apply different adjustments to different parts of the photos and change their overall appearance.
While it may sound like you’re just adding a filter to a photo, the overall effect is much more nuanced and impressive. The adjustments made by Photographic Styles take the lighting, as well as each individual person’s skin tone into account.
This may not seem like a big deal, but adjusting the warmth of a photo and treating each person’s tone the same results in an overall “washed-out” appearance. It also doesn’t represent their skin in a realistic way. This can mess with the overall balance of a photo. By comparison, images taken using Photographic Styles are much more true-to-life.
The 12MP True Depth camera on the front, which also houses the FaceID sensor, has had fewer upgrades and tweaks than the camera setup on the rear of the iPhone 13. However, it does support Cinematic Mode and Photographic Styles. This means you can snap and film selfies using these new tools. The front-facing camera also supports the same Night mode, Deep Fusion and Dolby Vision HDR recording. The latter will be of particular interest to vloggers looking to produce professional-quality content.
According to Apple, the battery on the iPhone 13 lasts “all day." This is a little vague and when you delve into what it actually means, it equates to a promise of 19 hours battery life when watching videos—up from 16.5 hours on the iPhone 12—and up to 75 hours when listening to audio.
In our looping video test, in which we play an HD video on repeat with the screen set to 70% brightness, the iPhone 13 lasted 19 hours and 24 minutes. A slight improvement on Apple’s claims.
In our real-world tests, however, the iPhone 13 lasted an impressive 29 hours. During this test, we used the iPhone 13 as we would do normally for a month; we used it to send WhatsApp messages, play Sim City, make video calls with our parents, send emails, record videos on days out with our toddler, watch TikTok, stream Netflix shows, and more. We then recorded how long it lasted between charges each day and took the average.
The iPhone 13’s impressive battery life is because of the way the software and hardware have been optimized to work with one another. Yet it’s even more impressive when you consider that the Neural Engine is running trillions of operations every second, the display is bright and powerful, and both the CPU and GPU have been given major speed boosts.
You can fast-charge at up to 20W with a Lightning-to-USB-C cord (sold separately), charge wirelessly on a Qi charger at up to 7.5W (sold separately), or use the MagSafe anchor (yep, you’ve guessed it, sold separately). The 15W wireless MagSafe Charger cable magnetically snaps onto the back of the phone and can also be used to charge AirPod cases.
Apple always ships its new phones with its most up-to-date software and on the iPhone 13, this is called iOS 15. It’s familiar enough for existing Apple users, and easy enough for Android users to get to grips with, all while offering a number of new and redesigned features that make it even easier and more useful to use.
On iOS 15, notifications have more rounded edges than those seen on iOS 14. The Weather app uses more visual cues to make it easier to see air pollution, rain levels, and the hourly forecast at a glance, and Apple Maps now displays routes and walking directions with 3D and AR features. Wallet has added support for home keys and there are new privacy controls in Siri and Mail that protect them both from unauthorized use.
You can also now enable Personal Focus, Sleep Focus, and Work Focus settings in iOS 15. Each one lets you disable notifications at certain times, like when you’re trying to concentrate or sleep, and you can ask Siri to send a message to people who contact you during this time, telling them Focus has been switched on.
There is then the option to search for photos directly from the Search bar at the top of the screen, as opposed to going via the Photos app, and Apple has added a new Live Text tool. This uses the Neural Engine in the A15 Bionic Chip to recognize writing in a photo or image. A small text bubble appears and clicking it allows you to cut, copy and share this text as if you were copying from a document.
There’s also a small feature Apple introduced in iOS 14 that is even more useful when used with Live Text. This feature allows you to copy text from anywhere on your phone—from a document, a website, a photo, and so on—and automatically paste it from a shared clipboard onto your MacBook or iPad. This may seem insignificant but it’s been a game changer in terms of productivity.
Elsewhere, the built-in camera app on iOS 15 is where you’ll find the controls for Cinematic Mode and Photographic Styles.
The sound quality on the iPhone 13 is decent. It sounds a little tinny and rattly at the highest volumes but the stereo speakers do an admirable job of filling a small room when played directly from the phone.
The location of the speakers (on the bottom of the device) can cause the sound to become a little muted when watching TikTok, because the audio is directed away from you. Similarly, if you’re watching Netflix or playing games in landscape mode and holding the phone, rather than using a stand, it’s hard to not cover these speakers with your hand. This can make it sound muffled and less immersive than we’d have liked.
When using headphones, depending on their quality and the sound quality of the app you’re using, audio tends to have much more depth.
Apple products can never be described as “cheap," but in offering four models within its iPhone 13 range—and with the most expensive iPhone 13 Pro Max model starting at $1,099—the iPhone 13 represents an affordable way to buy a new Apple phone.
It occupies a sweet spot of running Apple’s latest processor, camera, and display technology with its latest operating system in a form and price that make it accessible. There are even enough improvements and new features to warrant upgrading to the iPhone 13 from last year’s iPhone 12.
There are very few phones that can rival the iPhone 13 when it comes to the quality of features versus its price.
The $599 Google Pixel 6 is an exception. For $200 less, you get a larger, 6.4-inch display, a higher-capacity battery, a 50MP rear-facing camera, a 90Hz refresh rate and twice the amount of memory power, called RAM.
Its two-tone design is a little lacking and cheap-looking, in comparison to the more luxurious iPhone 13, and Android 12 is clunky and buggy in comparison to iOS 15. However, if you’re not tied to a particular software, the Google Pixel 6 is an all-around fantastic option.
Check out our list of the best smartphones on the market today, along with our picks for the best 5G phones.
We purchased the Motorola One 5G Ace so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for the full product review.
The Motorola One 5G Ace is a more affordable version of the Motorola One 5G that launched in late 2020. The killer feature is 5G connectivity, and it also brings a massive 5,000mAh battery to the table. Some of the specs line up with its predecessor, while the build quality, processor, and a few other areas took hits to meet a more affordable price point.
This is the cheapest 5G phone Motorola has ever offered, and it’s the path of least resistance if your only goal is to grab ahold of that 5G ring without shelling out for a much more expensive handset.
Before I can really dig into the Motorola One 5G Ace, it’s important to clear up some possible confusion regarding branding and naming schemes. If you’re curious how the Motorola One 5G Ace can be Motorola’s most affordable 5G phone when you’ve seen the Moto G 5G priced the same or even lower, there’s an easy explanation.
The Moto G 5G and the Motorola 5G Ace are the exact same phone with different branding. Motorola did the same thing last year with the Moto G 5G Plus and Motorola One 5G, which is the more expensive, and slightly superior, predecessor to the Moto G 5G and Motorola One 5G Ace.
Interested to see how Motorola’s push for more affordable hardware played out, I shelved my own phone and took the Motorola One 5G Ace for an extended test drive. I used the phone for about a week, getting a feel for its build quality, call quality, testing data speeds, and using it for every phone-related task that came up.
The Motorola One 5G Ace is a large phone, with a 6.7-inch display and a decent screen-to-body ratio. As you may guess from the fact that it also sells under the Moto G 5G name, it shares a lot of design DNA with the 2021 refresh of the Moto G line.
The frame and back are plastic, and it doesn’t even have the premium glass-like feel of the Moto G Stylus (2021). It looks and feels a whole lot like the less expensive Moto G Power (2021) in the hand, right down to the silver color of my review unit. The back does look a little better than the Moto G Power, with an attractive inlaid pattern, but the G Stylus actually looks and feels better in the hand.
Strangely enough, the Motorola One 5G Ace shares a button layout with the budget-priced Moto G Play (2021) instead of the more expensive Moto G Power (2021) and Moto G Stylus (2021). The G Power and G Stylus both shifted the fingerprint sensor to a thicker power button, but the Motorola One 5G Ace still features a thin power button and volume rocker on the right side of the frame, with the fingerprint sensor housed on the back and emblazoned with the Motorola logo.
The left side of the phone houses the SIM card drawer, which doubles as a microSD card slot. The top is bare, while the bottom edge of the frame houses the 3.5mm audio jack, USB-C port, and the speaker grill.
The rear of the phone is where you’ll find the aforementioned fingerprint sensor and a square camera array that stands out from the surface just a bit. It’s located on the left near the top instead of being centered, so the phone is a little wobbly when you set it on its back.
The overall build quality of the Motorola One 5G Ace feels solid enough, with no noticeable flexing or ugly gaps in construction. It will be a bit big and heavy for some, but I found it to be comfortable enough.
The Motorola One 5G Ace features a 6.7-inch 1080 x 2400 IPS LCD panel with support for HDR10. It’s big and bright, and it looks great in most lighting conditions. Colors reproduction is excellent, especially with HDR10 content, and the picture is nice and crisp considering the size of the display and the resolution. It’s even pretty viewable in direct sunlight.
While this isn’t the best screen out there, even on a handset at this price point, it’s perfectly acceptable when taken as a whole with the rest of the phone’s features. If you’re used to a higher resolution, or just a higher pixel density, it may come as a let down.
It also doesn’t have the excellent contrast of an OLED, because it isn’t one. It’s a slight downgrade from the 1080 x 2520 resolution display of the Motorola One 5G, but the difference isn’t that great when you take price into consideration.
The Motorola One 5G Ace received a bit of a downgrade in terms of chipset, shipping with a Snapdragon 750G instead of the Snapdragon 765 found in its predecessor, but it performs and benchmarks at a higher level than you might expect.
Surprisingly enough, the Motorola One 5G Ace actually beat out the Snapdragon 765G-equipped Pixel 4a 5G in some benchmarks.
The first benchmark I ran was Work 2.0 from PCMark, which is a series of tests that show how well a phone can be expected to perform basic productivity tasks. It notched a decent score of 8,210 in that test, which blows the Moto G Power (2021) out of the water, and soars past the Moto G Stylus (2021) as well. For reference, the Pixel 4a 5G scored 8,378 in this test, or just barely higher than the 5G Ace.
Taking a look at specific tasks, the 5G Ace turned in a blistering 16,839 in the photo editing test, 6,400 in data manipulation, and 6,802 in web browsing. These results were all right in line with my own experience, as I had absolutely no trouble tearing through basic productivity tasks such as loading up web pages, writing emails, and keeping up with friends and coworkers in apps like Discord and Slack.
I also ran a handful of gaming benchmarks from GFXBench, starting with the Car Chase benchmark that simulates a fast-paced 3D racing game. The Motorola One 5G Ace managed only a paltry 17 FPS in that test, which isn’t great. However, the Pixel 4a 5G hit only 13 FPS in that same test.
Next up, I ran the less intense T-Rex benchmark, and the 5G Ace fared better there with an excellent result of 60 FPS. That’s better than the 44 FPS managed by the Pixel 4a 5G, and it indicates that the 5G Ace is more than ready to run basic games and even some more advanced games at lower settings.
For a real-world test, I installed the open-world adventure game Genshin Impact. It’s a cross-platform game you can play on both PC and mobile, and it doesn’t run on a lot of lower-end phones. I had a great time knocking out dailies on the 5G Ace though, with no lag, excessive load times, or dropped frames. I was even able to tackle bosses without any trouble, aside from the fact that I’m not a huge fan of touchscreen controls.
The Motorola One 5G Ace supports GSM, HSPA, LTE, and 5G for cellular connectivity, dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.1, and includes NFC functionality. The killer feature here is 5G, as this is Motorola’s cheapest 5G phone. However, the inclusion of NFC is also fantastic. Motorola left it out of the rest of the Moto G line again this year, so it’s really nice to see here.
As a word of caution, the Motorola One 5G Ace supports only sub-6GHz 5G and not mmWave. That limits the upper bound of its 5G speed, which may or may not matter to you depending on whether your local coverage even includes mmWave. While mmWave offers the fastest 5G speeds, sub-6GHz offers a better compromise of speed and coverage.
I saw pretty great results from the sub-6GHz 5G, although your mileage will vary depending on network and coverage. I used the 5G Ace with a Google Fi SIM on T-Mobile’s network, and the fastest speeds I ever see out of LTE usually top out around 20 to 30 Mbps, with sub-10 Mbps common in a lot of places I go.
With the Motorola 5G Ace, I saw speeds up to 80 Mbps. At my desk, where T-Mobile struggles to hit 10 Mbps on LTE, the 5G Ace notched a much more satisfying speed of 41 Mbps.
For Wi-Fi connectivity, I tested the Motorola 5G Ace on my gigabit Mediacom cable internet connection in conjunction with my Eero mesh Wi-Fi system. The results were fantastic. Measured within about 3 feet of my router, the Ookla Speed Test app reported a download speed of 446 Mbps and upload of 68.2 Mbps. That’s significantly better than the Moto G Power (2021), which managed only 314 Mbps, and it’s one of the best wireless speeds I’ve seen on my network ever.
Next up, I moved into a hall about 10 feet from the router. At that distance, the speed dropped to 322 Mbps. Measured at a distance of about 60 feet with a few walls in the way, I saw the speed drop to 185 Mbps. At a distance of about 100 feet, out in my driveway, the connection speed dropped to 43.6 Mbps.
In terms of call quality, I found the Motorola 5G Ace to perform great on both cellular and Wi-Fi. Calls were uniformly clear, with no issues hearing or being heard. The phone is a bit big and heavy, which you’ll tend to notice more during long conversations, but I have zero complaints about call quality.
The Motorola One 5G Ace fits right in with the Moto G crowd, with a pretty lackluster mono speaker. It’s less forgivable here than it is with the lower-priced Moto G handsets, but it’s also the exact same setup found in the more expensive Motorola One 5G, so I guess Motorola is just betting that most people aren’t trying to listen to their phones via the built-in speaker.
In practice, I found that the Motorola One 5G Ace comes across a bit more clearly than the G Power or G Stylus, with a slightly less hollow sound. It gets loud enough to fill a room, but there is a bit of unpleasant distortion at maximum volume, especially with higher tones. It’s heavy on the high tones too, without a whole lot of bass to speak of.
The 5G Ace does include a 3.5mm headphone jack, and you’ll probably want to get used to packing along a nice pair of headphones. The speaker is passable enough, especially at lower volumes, but I wouldn’t want to listen to music on it for any length of time.
The Motorola One 5G Ace features a three-camera array on the back and a single selfie shooter on the front, and they’re all pretty mediocre for a phone at this price point. The Moto G Power (2021) has a similar setup, and I was far more impressed with these results in a $200 phone than in a $400 phone.
The main camera in the rear array is a 48MP sensor. It has an f/1.7 aperture and supports quad binning, turning in pretty slick 12MP shots given the right lighting conditions. It also has an 8MP ultra-wide lens, which is an improvement over the G Stylus and G Power, along with a 2MP macro lens. The selfie cam is a 16MP quad-pixel sensor that features an f/2.2 aperture.
I was able to capture some pretty nice shots with the 48MP main camera, but I found the results to be heavily dependent on having good light. With the right light, I was got nice, crisp shots with excellent color reproduction and decent depth of field.
In lower light, I ended up with several muddy shots without a whole lot of detail. Night Mode helps, but photos taken with that feature tended to look overexposed.
While the ultra-wide lens is an improvement over the G Stylus and G Power, neither of which have an ultra-wide lens in their 2021 incarnations, I wasn’t able to make much use of it. I found it to be even more heavily dependent on having great light, with most of my shots lacking detail and exhibiting an annoying amount of noise.
The macro camera didn’t turn in great results either. I had some frustrating experiences where the camera would bounce back and forth between wanting me to use the macro camera and wanting me to use the main camera, and the macro shots I did take tended to have focus issues.
The selfie cam turns in great results in good lighting conditions, with daylight shots taken outside turning in crisp results with great color. Low light shots turned out OK, if a bit flat. I’m less a fan of the portrait mode, with the bokeh effect failing to correctly operate in a lot of situations.
The Motorola One 5G Ace features a massive 5,000mAh battery, the same cell found in the G Power, and it provides pretty great results despite needing to shoulder a heavier load.
Motorola advertises the One 5G Ace as providing over two days of battery life, and that precisely lines up with my own experience. I consistently found myself with a decent amount of battery left after two days, but I’d throw it on the charger at that point just to be safe.
To see exactly what this battery is capable of when paired with the rest of the hardware, I performed a basic drain test. I switched off the cellular radio and Bluetooth, connected to Wi-Fi, and set the phone to stream YouTube videos nonstop. Under those conditions, it lasted 16 hours before it finally shut down. That isn’t as long as the Moto G Power, but it’s still a significant amount of run time to play with.
The One 5G Ace doesn’t support wireless charging, but it does support up to 15W fast charging. Unfortunately, Motorola gives you only a 10W charger in the box, so you’ll have to pick up a 15W charger if you want to spend an excessive amount of time feeding this massive battery.
Despite its name, this is not an Android One phone. That means no cutting-edge Android out of the box, and no guaranteed two years of updates. In fact, the One 5G Ace ships with the exact same Android 10 operating system you got with last year’s Motorola One 5G, which actually was an Android One phone.
The inclusion of Android 10 is a bit of an annoyance in Motorola’s lower-priced Moto G line, but for a $400 phone seemingly positioned in the Motorola One line, it feels like a really questionable move. What’s more, Motorola has committed to only one upgrade, Android 11, instead of the standard two years of operating system upgrades typically seen from Android One devices.
Android 10 is a fine operating system, and the implementation presented with the Motorola One 5G Ace is close to stock, with the addition of Motorola’s My UX. I’m a fan of Motorola’s flavor of Android 10, as My UX adds some nice conveniences, such as snapping a screenshot by touching the display with three fingers or shaking the phone in a chopping motion to activate the flashlight.
The problem is that at this price point, this far into the life of Android 11, the phone should not have shipped with Android 10.
With an MSRP of $399.99, the Motorola One 5G Ace represents a decent enough deal if you’re looking for a 5G phone and you’re working on a budget. You can get a much better phone for your money if you’re willing to stick with LTE for a bit longer, but the 5G Ace provides a nice mixture of features and capabilities for a 5G phone at this price point.
With an MSRP of $499, the Google Pixel 4a 5G provides pretty solid competition for the Motorola One 5G Ace.
The Pixel 4a 5G's display is a bit smaller, but you get a beautiful 6.2-inch OLED panel with a higher overall pixel density. It also has a lower MP main camera sensor, but the Pixel line is known for its cameras, and the Pixel 4a 5G turns in much better shots than the 5G Ace. Battery life is lower as well, thanks to a much smaller battery, but it supports significantly faster 18W charging in addition to wireless charging. The Verizon flavor of the Pixel 4a 5G also supports mmWave if you’re looking for the fastest 5G speeds around.
While the Pixel 4a 5G beats the Motorola 5G Ace in a lot of areas, including chipset, the Motorola 5G Ace actually benchmarks better in some tests. It also has a much more powerful battery and, crucially, costs about $100 less. If you’re all about that 5G, and price is your biggest concern, the choice is pretty clear.
We purchased the Moto G Stylus (2021) so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for the full product review.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) is the second iteration of the hardware, superseding the fantastic Moto G Stylus (2020). Following on its predecessor’s heels a mere nine months later, the Moto G Stylus (2021) features a bigger display, an improved stylus, and an incrementally better processor.
Specifications such as the amount of RAM, display resolution, and Android version all remain unchanged. Yet others, specifically the rear camera array, are in some ways bafflingly worse. While the Moto G Stylus (2020) was a pleasant surprise that added something important to the Moto G lineup, the 2021 refresh doesn’t stick the landing quite as well.
It still fits the same niche of providing a built-in stylus option at an attractive price point, but Motorola made some strange choices that I don’t quite understand. The same is true of the Moto G Power (2021), so the updated line as a whole is in a bit of a weird place.
Since I was such a big fan of the 2020 version, I was excited to drop my SIM in this new phone and take it for an extended test drive. I used the Moto G Stylus (2021) for about a week as my daily driver, checking out everything from call quality to stylus functionality and overall performance.
I remain a bit disappointed that Motorola didn’t go the extra mile with this one after they really nailed the previous version, but the 2021 refresh of the Moto G Stylus still has a lot going for it.
If there’s one thing Motorola knows how to do, it’s design a mid-range phone that looks and feels more premium than it really is. The Moto G Stylus (2021) fits that bill, with a big display that hits nearly 85 percent screen-to-body ratio, a relatively slim pinhole front camera, and a frame and body that, while made of plastic, sport a premium look and feel.
There’s a bit of a backslide here from the previous model, with the frame being plastic instead of aluminum, but it’s plastic with a shiny metallic look that could easily fool the casual observer.
My review unit came in Aurora Black, which is actually a very dark shade of blue with a bit of an iridescent texture. It’s also available in Aurora White, which is white with that same shimmery texture. The texture is purely visual regardless of color scheme, as the phone's plastic back is smooth as glass and has a similar feel to the velvety smooth display around front.
The massive display takes up most of the phone's front, framed by asymmetric bezels that are thinner on the sides, slightly thicker on top, and thicker yet on the bottom. Despite the fairly chunky chin, it’s a bit slimmer than its counterpart on the less expensive Moto G Play. The top bezel is also a bit thinner, owing to the pinhole camera that’s found in the upper left corner of the screen.
The left side of the frame houses the SIM drawer, which also includes space for a microSD card. The right side has a thin rocker for volume control, and a thicker power button that’s beefed up size-wise to accommodate a fingerprint sensor.
The top of the frame is bare, but the bottom is where you’ll find the 3.5mm audio jack, USB-C port, speaker vent, and stylus. That’s one area where the 2021 Moto G Stylus improved over the previous version. That stylus had to be dug out with your fingernail, with varying difficulty depending on fingernail length. This stylus has an easy eject feature: Push on it, and it pops out.
The stylus is a bit on the short side, and it’s a solid unit without any way to extend it. It’s just long enough to hold like a pen without too much trouble, although I would have found it more comfortable if it were able to extend a bit. It works quite well, and it’s also pretty convenient.
Pop the stylus out when the phone is locked, and the notepad automatically shows up, allowing you to quickly dash off notes or make a quick doodle. Put the stylus back in its holster, and the phone locks back up. And don’t worry about security, as unlocking the phone in this manner doesn’t give you access to anything but the ability to scrawl a new note.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) has a bigger display than the previous version and a slightly higher screen resolution, with a 6.8-inch IPS LCD panel that runs at 1080 x 2400. The increase in resolution doesn’t quite keep pace with the increase in screen size though, as the 2021 Moto G Stylus features a pixel density of about 386ppi compared to 399ppi on the older model.
Aside from just being large, the display is also bright and colorful. It looks great in most conditions, with one caveat: If you don’t have the brightness cranked up all the way, you’ll notice big, ugly shadows creep in along the edges and around the pinhole camera.
I didn’t notice the shadows as much with the brightness turned up all the way, but I was still able to see them when viewing the screen at a severe angle. It isn’t a good look, and it mars an otherwise decent-looking display.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) features a Snapdragon 678 chip, which is a marginal improvement over the Snapdragon 665 found in the previous model. In practice, I found the Moto G Stylus to flawlessly run when performing normal productivity tasks, with no hesitation when navigating menus or launching apps, and great responsiveness when surfing the web, streaming media, composing emails, and jotting down notes with the stylus. I was also able to use it to play some games, although serious gamers will probably want to look elsewhere.
For some hard numbers, I downloaded and ran a number of benchmarks. I started with PCMark and ran the standard Work 2.0 benchmark that tests how well a phone can be expected to handle a range of productivity tasks, from web browsing to video editing. It notched an overall score of 7,617 in that benchmark, which is pretty decent.
At a more specific level, the Moto G Stylus scored 8,417 in the writing benchmark, 14,776 in the photo editing benchmark, and 5,975 in the data manipulation benchmark. Those scores all reflect the ease with which I was able to execute basic productivity tasks during my time with the phone.
While this isn’t really a gaming phone, I also ran a few gaming benchmarks. I started with Wild Life from 3DMark, with predictably dismal results of just 2.1 FPS. It did a little better in the Sling Shot benchmark, registering 13.8 FPS, but that’s still a result that says this hardware isn’t likely to satisfy serious gamers.
Benchmarks from GFXBench were a bit more promising. While the G Stylus managed only a meager score of 483.9 and 8.2 FPS in the Car Chase benchmark, it hit a score of 2151 and 38 FPS in the less intense T-Rex benchmark. That indicates it’s capable of running games, just not the latest and greatest.
For a bit of a torture test, I loaded up the Zelda-clone Genshin Impact and ran through a few bosses. I’m not a huge fan of on-screen controls for third person action games, but I had zero issues other than that. The painterly landscape of Mondstadt was rendered beautifully as I jumped into a few minigames offered by the Invitation to Windblume festival event, and then it was time to get back to work.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) supports GSM, CDMA, HSPA, and LTE for cellular connectivity if you opt for the unlocked version. It also supports both Bluetooth 5.0 and dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity, and includes a USB-C port for wired connections. Motorola still isn’t including NFC support in the 2021 Moto G line, which is a bit of a letdown.
During my time with the Moto G Stylus (2021), I primarily used the phone with a Google Fi SIM on T-Mobile’s network for cellular calls and data, and a gigabit Mediacom cable internet connection. I found call quality to be crisp and clear during both cellular and Wi-Fi calls. Cellular data speeds were about what I’m used to seeing from my Google Pixel 3, but a bit lower than the results I recorded back when I tested the Moto G Stylus (2020).
For Wi-Fi connectivity, the Moto G Stylus (2021) put up excellent numbers. When connected to my Eero mesh Wi-Fi system and a connection that measured 986 Mbps at the modem at the time of testing, the Moto G Stylus recorded a maximum download speed of 305 Mbps and a maximum upload of 65.4 Mbps when in close proximity to the modem. That’s better than I saw from the 2020 version of the Stylus.
After testing close to the modem, I moved about 10 feet away into a hallway and checked again. At that distance, the Stylus dropped to only 231 Mbps. At a further distance of 60 feet, with a couple walls in the way, it dropped to 205 Mbps.
Finally, I took the Stylus outside to my driveway, at a distance of over 100 feet. The connection speed dropped to 30.7 Mbps, which is still fast enough for streaming HD video.
Sound is another department where Motorola made some questionable decisions with this phone. The 2020 version had stereo Dolby speakers that sounded excellent at any volume. The 2021 refresh ditches one of the speakers for a mono configuration, and subsequently also gets rid of the Dolby certification.
The results aren’t horrible, but it’s a glaring downgrade and one of the few things that really hold the phone back.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) doesn’t sound that bad, and the speaker certainly gets loud enough to fill a small room. There is a bit of distortion when you turn the volume all the way up, but it isn’t as bad as the Moto G Play (2021), which is really unpleasant at maximum volume.
This is one area I’d love to see Motorola improve on for the next iteration of this hardware, but at least they give you a 3.5mm headphone jack in the meantime.
The camera array is another stumbling block for the Moto G Stylus (2021), especially when compared to the last generation. The camera was one of my favorite things about the 2020 version of this phone, and probably the phone’s best feature aside from its stylus.
The main rear camera is the same 48MP sensor that came with the last version of the hardware, and the 2MP depth sensor looks like it’s also the same, but the ultra-wide sensor pixel count has been reduced from 16MP to just 8MP.
I didn’t have any trouble taking great shots in full daylight and under excellent indoor lighting conditions. Those shots turned out colorful, crisp, and with decent depth of field.
Low light photos presented more of a challenge, which is a big change from the 2020 phone. I was able to take some decent enough shots in low light, but a lot of my photos ended up with weird blurring and lack of focus on foreground objects.
The good news is that the Moto G Stylus (2021) does include Motorola’s Night Vision mode, although I wasn’t happy with color accuracy in most of those shots.
The biggest issue is the ultra-wide lens, which is far more reliant on having enough available light. I was able to take some passable daytime shots in great light, but lower light photos came out muddy and unclear.
The selfie cam is more of the same, with decent enough photos and video when good lighting conditions were available.
While I’m not a big fan of the step back here, my opinion would probably be different in a vacuum. The Moto G Stylus (2021) created better shots than the Moto G Play (2021) and a lot of other budget phones I’ve tested, but it’s just a step down from the excellent results I saw with the last version.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) comes with a big 4,000mAh lithium polymer battery. The battery isn’t as big as the one that comes in the 2021 Moto G Power or Moto G Play, but it still provides plenty of juice for a full day of intense use or a few days of more casual use. I found that I was able to easily go two days between charges.
For a stress test, I turned off the cellular radio and Bluetooth, connected to Wi-Fi, and set the Moto G Stylus to stream non-stop HD video from YouTube. Under those conditions, it lasted about 13 hours before it finally shut down.
It didn’t last quite as long as the Moto G Stylus (2020) when I performed the same test on that phone, but that’s to be expected considering the fact that the 2021 version pairs a bigger screen and more powerful processor with the same 4000mAh battery.
Charging is a bit of a different matter, as the Moto G Stylus (2021) supports only 10W charging. By way of comparison, the Moto G Power (2021) supports 15W charging, and a lot of other Motorola phones support 18W charging. There’s no wireless charging support, either.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) ships with Android 10 dressed up with Motorola’s My UX modifications. My UX is pretty harmless, essentially just adding some additional functionality such as gesture controls on top of stock Android. For example, you can use Moto Actions to move the phone in a chopping motion to turn on the flashlight. If you don’t like that, you can also turn it off.
The issue here is that the 2020 Moto G Stylus also shipped with Android 10 and My UX. Most of the Android world has since moved on to Android 11, with Android 12 already on the horizon, so seeing the older version of the operating system here is a bit of a letdown.
You are guaranteed one operating system upgrade, which means the phone will eventually see Android 11, but it probably won’t ever get an upgrade to Android 12.
Motorola has, however, committed to supporting the phone with security updates for two years. So while you may miss out on the latest features, at least you’ll get security updates. Some budget phones don’t promise either of those, so things could be worse.
With an MSRP of $299.99 and a street price closer to $279.99, the Moto G Stylus (2021) will be priced just right for some and overpriced for others. The main issue here is that the Moto G Stylus doesn’t have a lot of viable competition in the budget or mid-range in terms of its core functionality.
The bottom line is that this is a sub-$300 phone with a built-in stylus, and the stylus functionality is excellent.
If you’re a stylus fan, then there’s no question: $279.99 or even $299.99 is a great deal for this phone. If you could take or leave the stylus, or would use it only occasionally, the Moto G Stylus (2021) isn’t enough of an improvement over the rest of the Moto G lineup to justify the higher price.
The LG Stylo 6 is the biggest competitor for the Moto G Stylus in the fairly sparse budget stylus phone category.
The Stylo 6 and the G Stylus have the exact same screen size, with the Stylo 6 offering a slightly higher resolution and pixel density. The Stylo 6 also has a slight edge in terms of overall design, although the G Stylus is a pretty nice-looking phone in its own right. The Stylo 6 does feature an unsightly teardrop to house the selfie cam, though, while the G Stylus incorporates a more advanced pinhole.
The biggest difference between these phones, and the reason you’ll want to go with the G Stylus, is performance. The Stylo 6 already had less RAM and a weaker processor than the 2020 version of the G Stylus, and the 2021 version is even more powerful. While the Stylo 6 does have a nice stylus that works well, its overall performance is sluggish compared to the G Stylus.
We purchased the Moto G Power (2021) so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for the full product review.
The Moto G Power (2021) is a budget-range phone that turns in decent performance, sports a pretty good-sized screen, and has enough battery power to go three days without a charge. It rounds out the 2021 Moto G lineup, which also includes the cheaper and less powerful Moto G Play and the larger, more powerful Moto G Stylus.
While the Moto G Power (2021) looks decent enough on paper when you just weigh specifications against cost, it’s in a bit of a weird spot if you look at its pedigree. The 2021 refresh of the Moto G Power hit shelves just nine months after the Moto G Power (2020), and it isn’t an across-the-board upgrade.
The 2021 Moto G Power has a bigger display and better main camera, but the display resolution is lower, the processor is weaker, and it has mono instead of stereo speakers, along with other oddities. Motorola clearly decided to go a different direction with the Moto G Power for its 2021 iteration, opting for lower specs and a correspondingly lower price tag.
Curious as to how that plays out in the real world, I stuck my trusty Google Pixel 3 in a drawer, dropped a SIM in a Moto G Power (2021), and used it as my primary phone for about a week. I tested everything from call quality to overall performance, battery life, and more.
My overall impression is that it’s a good value for the price, but anyone who already owns the 2020 version of the hardware will probably want to take a pass.
The Moto G Power (2021) is built on a plastic frame, with a plastic back and glass front. This is the first, and most noticeable, departure from the 2020 version, which featured an aluminum frame. It feels sturdy, with no noticeable flex or ugly gaps, and it looks nice enough, but you can tell that you’re holding plastic in your hand.
My review unit came in Polar Silver, which is basically just a smooth silver frame and a slightly textured silver back, but it’s also available in Blue and Flash Gray.
The big 6.6-inch display dominates the front of the phone, with fairly thin bezels around the sides and top. Those three sides are pretty uniform, which is made possible by the small pinhole camera that removes the need for a thicker bezel or teardrop. The chin is a bit thicker, but not as thick as the one on the Moto G Play. The screen-to-body ratio is pretty good overall, and a marginal improvement over the last generation.
The frame's left side features a SIM drawer that also doubles as a microSD card tray, while the volume rocker and power button are both located on the right side. The power button also pulls double duty as a fingerprint sensor. It’s a convenient placement, and I found it easy to unlock the phone with my thumb.
The top of the phone houses a 3.5mm audio jack, and that’s it. Down on the bottom edge, you’ll find a USB-C port and six holes that serve as the speaker grill.
Flip the phone over and you’ll find the camera array located near the top and nicely centered. It includes three sensors and the flash oriented in a square formation, and stands out from the back of the phone just a bit. Since it’s centered, the phone still feels pretty steady when set down on its back.
The Moto G Power (2021) received a nice screen size bump compared to the previous generation, with a 6.6-inch display compared to the old 6.4-inch panel, but it’s a downgrade in every other way.
The resolution is just 1600 x 720, yielding a 266ppi pixel density. The last Moto G Power had a 2300 x 1080 display, so Motorola clearly decided to scale back in this area to help meet the lower price point.
The display is very bright, with a sharp picture and great color accuracy. It gets a bit dim in direct sunlight outdoors, but I was still able to see the display even in those conditions. The screen looks great in all indoor lighting conditions. Whether playing games like Genshin Impact, or streaming videos from YouTube and Netflix, the display was nice and clear.
Unfortunately, the display does have a bit of a shadow issue. It’s mostly noticeable with the brightness at about 70 percent, at which point you’ll begin seeing very distinct shadows around the edge of the display and also around the camera pinhole. The effect is less noticeable with the brightness turned all the way up, but I was still able to see shadows when viewing the screen at extreme angles.
It’s a decent enough display for a phone at this price point, but I prefer the shadow-less 1080p panel that I remember from my time with the 2020 Moto G Power.
Motorola cut corners here, too. While the Moto G Stylus (2021) received a moderate upgrade in the chip department compared to its predecessor, the Moto G Power did not. The Moto G Power (2021) features a Snapdragon 662, while the previous version had a Snapdragon 665.
These are similar chips as they share the same GPU and turn in nearly identical benchmarks, so it seems like more of a sidegrade than a legitimate downgrade, but that’s still not the direction I want to see a once-great phone like the Moto G Power go.
Despite the anemic chipset, I don’t have any complaints in terms of basic use and productivity. I had the Moto G Power (2021) as my primary phone for a week, using it to browse the web, stream video, send emails and texts, and other basic productivity tasks, and I never had any trouble with slowdown or lag. Menus are snappy and most apps launch quickly, although some take longer to load than others.
To get some hard numbers, I ran a few benchmarks. I started with the Work 2.0 benchmark from PCMark, which is designed to see how well a phone will handle productivity tasks. The results more or less agreed with my real world experience, with the phone turning in scores that were decent enough, though not extremely impressive. It notched an overall score of 6,086, putting it squarely between the lower-end G Play and the more powerful G Stylus.
For more specific tasks, the Moto G Power scored 5,873 in web browsing, which is better than the G Stylus. Scores of 6,773 in writing, 5,257 in data manipulation, and 11,607 in photo editing are all solid results for a phone in this price range, though lower than the G Stylus, and significantly lower than a more expensive handset like the Motorola One 5G Ace.
I also ran a number of gaming benchmarks from 3DMark and GFXBench. The Moto G Power didn’t fare well on the 3DMark benchmarks, managing just 2.2 FPS in the Wild Life benchmark and 12.1 FPS in the Sling Shot benchmark. It did just a little better on the GFXBench Car Chase benchmark, managing 13 FPS, but that’s still an unimpressive result. In the less intense T-Rex benchmark, it managed a much more acceptable 49 FPS.
Beyond the benchmarks, I also played a couple real games on the Moto G Power. First up, I installed Mihoyo’s open-world, gacha-powered, adventure game Genshin Impact, which features beautiful visuals and fast-paced gameplay. It didn’t run that well.
The initial load was really slow, and I also noticed excessive load time every time I teleported. I also ran into more slowdown and frame drops than I’m really comfortable with. While I was able to knock out my dailies during my week with the phone, the one time I took on a boss I ended up having a character die during a particularly long bit of slowdown.
I also loaded up the more lightweight racing game Asphalt 9, which is well optimized for mid-range phones. It ran a whole lot better, with only a few dropped frames, and nothing bad enough to rob me of a deserved win.
The takeaway here is that the Moto G Power (2021) is a great phone for getting work done without having to worry about plugging it in, and you can even expect to get in some casual gaming if you find yourself with downtime. If you’re looking for a gaming phone though, this probably isn’t going to satisfy.
The unlocked version of the Moto G Power (2021) supports GSM, CDMA, HSPA, EVDO, and LTE for cellular connectivity, and dual-band 801.11ac for Wi-Fi. It also supports Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless local device connectivity and includes a USB-C port for wired connectivity. Unfortunately, there’s no NFC support.
I used the G Power with a Google Fi SIM on T-Mobile towers at home and around town, and with a gigabit cable internet connection from Mediacom at home. Call quality was great on both connections, for both cellular and Wi-Fi calling: crystal clear and with no difficulties hearing or being heard.
Cellular data speeds were right in line with what I got out of the previous model, hitting a maximum download speed of about 30 Mbps. Your mileage will vary there, of course, based on which network you use and coverage in your area.
For Wi-Fi connectivity, I connected to my gigabit internet via an Eero mesh Wi-Fi system and checked the speed at various distances from the router with the beacons shut off. At the time of testing, I measured the speed of the connection to be 880 Mbps at the modem.
When held about 3 feet from my router and checked with the Ookla Speed Test app, the Moto G Power managed a top download speed of 314 Mbps, which is marginally faster than the top speed of 305 Mbps I saw from the Moto G Stylus. When checked at about 10 feet from the router in a hallway, the speed dipped just a bit to 303 Mbps.
At about 60 feet on the other side of the house, I saw a maximum download speed of 164 Mbps, which is a bit worse than what I got from the G Stylus. Finally, I took the phone out to my driveway, about 100 feet from the router, and saw a top download speed of 24.2 Mbps.
Overall, the Moto G Power (2021) offers pretty good download speeds on both Wi-Fi and cellular connections. It isn’t too far off from the Moto G Stylus (2021), and far better than a lot of budget phones I’ve tested.
The Moto G Power (2020) had fantastic Dolby stereo sound. In fact, that was one of my favorite things about the phone, after its battery life. Unfortunately, Motorola decided that a single speaker was good enough, and the Dolby setup was sacrificed to hit the lower price point. The result is a sort of hollow sound compared to the previous generation.
While it isn’t as good as the previous generation, the sound quality in the Moto G Power (2021) still stacks up favorably against the competition. It gets loud enough to fill a room, and I didn’t notice a whole lot of distortion even when listening at full volume.
It sounds far better than the Moto G Play (2021), and I was able to listen to YouTube Music, stream videos from YouTube and Netflix, and play games without needing to plug in headphones.
This is an area where the Moto G Power (2021) received an upgrade compared to the previous version. It features the same 48MP main sensor found in the more expensive Moto G Stylus (2021), along with a 2MP macro lens and a 2MP depth sensor. The wide-angle lens from the 2020 version is gone, but it’s still an overall improvement.
Shots taken in good lighting conditions turned out fantastic, but I was also much more satisfied with low light shots than I was when I tested the previous iteration of the hardware. There’s more noise in low light shots than I’d really like to see, but it’s still an improvement, and the Night Vision mode gives you the option to clear up most of that noise in exchange for shots that look a bit overexposed.
Videos taken with the rear camera came out well enough, if highly dependent on the ambient light quality, but they’re limited to 1080p. Despite sporting only a 16MP main sensor, the 2020 G Power was capable of 2160p video.
The front selfie cam is an 8MP sensor, down from 16MP last year. Despite the downgrade, I found the selfie cam to work quite well in natural daylight and good indoor lighting conditions. Low light tended to introduce a lot of noise and artifacting, and the front camera doesn’t support Night Vision.
The battery is the big selling point for the Moto G Power (2021), and it’s a selling point that demands attention. With a relatively economical chipset and a screen that isn’t overly large, the massive battery provides enough juice to keep you going for days. I found that I was able to last about three days between charges, although your mileage will vary depending on usage.
To get a good idea of what this phone is really capable of, I turned off Bluetooth, disconnected from the cellular network, connected to Wi-Fi, and set it to stream YouTube videos nonstop. Under those conditions, the Moto G Power (2021) ran for about 17 hours before it finally shut down. The G Play actually lasted a bit longer, probably because it uses the exact same battery with a lower-powered processor, but it’s definitely into three day territory anyway.
The Moto G Power (2021) supports up to 15W charging, which is an improvement over both the Moto G Play and the previous version of the G Power, both of which were limited to 10W. I’d like to see at least 18W charging on a battery this big, but 15W is a nice start. Unfortunately, Motorola gives you only a 10W charger in the box. Also, there’s still no support for wireless charging.
The Moto G Power (2021) ships with Motorola’s flavor of Android 10, which includes their My UX interface. It’s less important here than it is on the Moto G Stylus, but it remains a painless, fairly transparent addition that offers some nice optional features without getting in the way.
The best thing about it is probably Moto Actions, which simplifies a bunch of basic tasks. For example, you can turn the flashlight on by moving the phone in a quick chopping motion, or snap a screenshot by touching the display with three fingers. I find these additions to be quite helpful, but you can always switch them off if you want.
Moto Gametime, which aims to improve your gaming experience, is also included. It’s another optional feature that you can switch off, or even turn on and off for individual games, that adds a little pop-up menu when you’re gaming. The menu gives easy access to settings, screenshots, and more.
The only real issue here is that Android 10 is getting a little long in the tooth. In fact, the previous iteration of the Moto G Power also shipped with Android 10. That means the guaranteed operating system update will get eaten up by the jump to Android 11, and the handset will probably never see Android 12. Some budget handsets don’t even offer one operating system update, but it still would have been nice if the phone had shipped with Android 11 already installed.
With an MSRP of $199.99 for the 32GB version, and $249.99 for the 64GB version, the Moto G Power (2021) is priced to sell. A lot of Motorola’s confusing choices make a whole lot more sense when viewed through the lens of making the phone more affordable, and they absolutely hit that mark. Despite the long shadow of its predecessor, the Moto G Power (2021) represents a great value.
Due to the way Motorola repositioned the Moto G Power (2021) as a more affordable handset, the question of whether to buy it or the lower-end Moto G Play is very real. The Moto G Play (2021) comes with an MSRP of $169.99, making it just $30 cheaper than the lesser configuration of the Moto G Power. For that price differential, you get a slightly bigger display, better camera, faster charging, and better performance from the G Power.
Crucially, the lower-priced version of the Moto G Power (2021) has only 3GB of RAM and only 32GB of storage, which both line up with the specs of the Moto G Play. With 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, along with a better processor, the more expensive configuration of the G Power is the way to go, if you can fit it in your budget.