Skyrocketing smartphone prices do have a side effect—better affordable phones. Most people can’t (and probably shouldn’t) buy a $1,000 phone every few years, and that’s why the budget to midrange market is thriving. Motorola’s Moto G Stylus and Moto G Power are the latest Android phones to add to the not-too-expensive pile.
These are good phones, but they show that Motorola is growing complacent. The company has cornered the budget market for some time, yet its phones are quickly falling behind. Competitors like Google and Apple are offering dramatically better handsets that don’t cost much more. In particular, the Pixel 3A and iPhone SE have some superior features, like significantly better cameras, faster performance, and a promise that software support will continue for much longer. Of course, the new Moto G phones have perks these other devices don’t, like expandable storage and three whole days of battery life. However, Motorola needs to learn that it will have to add more than that to the spec sheet to stay competitive.
The Moto G Power and Moto G Stylus are very similar. Both have the same nondescript design—they’re almost the same size, and the plastic backs are close to alike—and both are equipped with 6.4-inch LCD screens. That includes a hole-punch 16-megapixel selfie camera too. Powering both phones is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 665 chipset with 4 GB of RAM. The Gs also each have a headphone jack and a MicroSD card slot, in case you want to add more storage. On the back, you’ll also find a 2-megapixel macro camera for extreme close-up shots.
But there are many other differences to know if you’re deciding between the two.
Moto G Power ($250): The Power is all about battery life, and it’s fitted with a 5,000-mAh capacity, which is why it’s a little thicker than the Stylus. Because it’s a little cheaper, you only get 64 GB of storage. The main camera has 16 megapixels, and it’s joined by an 8-megapixel ultrawide camera.
Moto G Stylus ($300): The Stylus is a little thinner and lighter because it has a smaller 4,000-mAh battery. Instead of a big battery, you get … a stylus! As the name implies, it’s built into the phone. You also start out with double the storage: 128 GB. The camera system is quite different, with a main 48-megapixel sensor at the core, paired with a 16-megapixel ultrawide that can only be used for videos (more on that later).
The Right Notes
Three days. That’s how long I managed before needing to charge both of these phones. The large battery capacities paired with low-power specs mean either phone will have no trouble powering through a full day of heavy use. The G Power’s bigger battery did get me to the night of the third day, whereas I had to plug in the G Stylus to its USB-C charger earlier in the morning on day three. When it comes to endurance, it’s hard to beat these two Motos.
Performance isn’t as excellent, but it’s sufficient. You’re going to see the screen stutter now and then, and apps won’t feel as snappy as they are on more powerful phones, but in my testing, I was able to do all the things I usually do without feeling like pulling my hair out. That even includes winning a few matches in Call of Duty. Just be prepared for long loading times.
Both phones have the same screen, and it’s solid. It’s no OLED, so you’re not going to see deep blacks and punchy colors, but it’s plenty sharp. Minimal bezels around the screen help make this design feel a bit more modern than say, the new iPhone SE. I do wish the screen got a tad brighter—there was one day when I was outdoors walking my dog (with a face mask!) when I had to run to a shaded area to be able to properly read a message. That was on a particularly sunny day, and most of the time, I didn’t suffer many readability issues.
The Wrong Notes
Both the G Power and G Stylus run Android 10, and aside from some bloatware you’ll want to uninstall, you get a pretty simple and uncluttered experience. Gone are the days when manufacturers piled on unnecessary skins that hogged system resources. But Motorola hasn’t improved its stance on software updates; this phone will only get one Android version upgrade and “security updates on a regular basis.” By “regular,” Motorola means quarterly updates, but even that’s “subject to change.”
That’s not good. Most Nokia phones, which also sit on the more affordable end of the phone market, get two years of Android upgrades and three years of security updates. Pay a little more for the Pixel 3A and you get the same guarantee, and the new iPhone SE will likely last you five years before Apple stops issuing updates. These updates are important; not only do they provide new features, they also keep the software secure by patching potential vulnerabilities. It’s disappointing that Motorola doesn’t rank longevity and security as priorities.
NFC is excluded on this phone, which might not be a problem for a lot of people, but it’s nice to be able to use your handset for contactless payments via services like Google Pay. I’ve been paying with my phone for the past few years at local delis and grocery shops—now I need to bring my wallet. Other budget phones have this capability, so it’s baffling to see it missing here.
The only other thing I don’t like is, ironically, the stylus on the Moto G Stylus. If you’re going to include one, is it so hard to build some basic palm rejection technology into the phone? The screen still detects the fleshy heel of your hand when the stylus is pulled out of the phone—something better pen-focused phones know not to do—which means I can’t rest my palm on on the screen while I’m writing with the stylus. I find it hard to write any other way, even if I’m just scribbling down a shopping list, so the stylus has largely stayed in its sheath.
The Camera Divide
Photograph: Julian Chokkattu
The 16-megapixel ultrawide camera on the Moto G Power. It doesn’t offer up the sharpest details even in good lighting.
Despite (slightly) lesser battery life and a useless pen, the G Stylus is still the better of the two phones, and that’s because of its cameras. It snaps sharper photos during the day, though both phones take photos where colors can look a little unnatural at times. The differences become much more noticeable when shooting at night or when using Portrait mode.
In fact, the Moto G Power doesn’t have a night mode at all, so its low-light photos are frankly poor. That doesn’t mean the G Stylus is leagues ahead—the focus is a little soft, and photos show a ton of grain—but the resulting snaps manage to retain a decent amount of color and detail. The G Power does have an ultrawide- angle camera up its sleeve for a little more versatility.
The Moto G Stylus has an ultrawide-angle camera as well, but it has a specific purpose. It sits rotated 90 degrees in its module, so when you hold the phone in portrait orientation, you can shoot videos in landscape format. Hold the phone horizontally and you get vertical videos. The point is to make it easier for people to shoot landscape videos, and it works. My hands are a little more stable when I hold the phone one-handed in portrait mode. It’s just a shame the video quality isn’t great.
The lack of two years of support and a decidedly average (if not mediocre) camera are what make me say you should buy Google’s Pixel 3A instead of either of these phones. Google’s lower-priced handset can frequently be found for $300—just know that a new Pixel 4A is rumored to be on the way later this spring, probably for $400. The Pixel 3A has a spectacular Night mode for great low-light photos, and tons of helpful software smarts like Call Screening, which filters out robocalls.
If you can save up a little extra money and don’t mind switching to iOS, the new iPhone SE adds IP67 water resistance and wireless charging on top of flagship-grade performance, making it a much more compelling offer at $400.
But a $100 price jump from these Moto Gs to those Apple or Google devices is still a big one. If you’re on a tight budget these phones will serve you well. Just don’t expect them to last you as long as other options.