2020 was a mixed year for Motorola in the Android space. The Moto G Power stands out as one of the very best cheap Android phones of the last year, Motorola finally dove back into the flagship space with the Motorola Edge+, and the company made massive progress in the foldable niche with the RAZR (2020).
For all of those highs, however, there were also a few stumbles. Not only does Motorola's lackluster software update policy get more and more annoying with every year that passes, but outside of the G Power, most of the company's other budget phones failed to find strong footing. Sticking with the strategy of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, Motorola's kicking off 2021 by launching four new budget-minded devices all at once.
The Motorola One 5G Ace is leading that charge, touting the title of Motorola's most affordable 5G phone to-date. It's a notable release as far as 5G is concerned, but as an overall product, it ends up being a device that's challenging to recommend.
At a glance
Motorola One 5G Ace
Bottom line: The Motorola One 5G Ace stands out as one of the cheapest 5G phones you can buy in 2021, but unfortunately, that's not enough to overlook the rest of its shortcomings. Performance and battery life are excellent at this price, but thanks to middling cameras, a cheap design, and an unacceptable level of software support, the phone as a whole comes with plenty of baggage. Combine that with the fact that you can get better overall phones for less money, and the One 5G Ace ends up being difficult to recommend unless you really need 5G at this price (which you don't).
- Snapdragon 750G is fast and responsive
- Fantastic battery life
- IP52 water resistance
- There's a headphone jack
- One of the cheapest 5G phones available
- Bland, cheap design design
- Camera is slow and lacks OIS
- Mono speaker
- 5G is limited to sub-6 speeds
- Ships with Android 10
- Promised just one OS update
Motorola One 5G Ace Price and availability
Pre-orders for the Motorola One 5G Ace are live right now, with regular sales beginning on January 14. The phone is available universally unlocked at Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, Walmart, and Motorola's website for $399.99.
The One 5G Ace will also be headed to carriers later this year. According to Motorola, we'll see the phone arrive at AT&T, Consumer Cellular, Google Fi, Metro, T-Mobile, Republic Wireless, Verizon, and Xfinity. Carrier availability for the Motorola One 5G Ace will launch "in the coming months."
Motorola One 5G Ace What I like
Before we get too deep in the bad stuff surrounding the Motorola One 5G Ace, I do want to highlight the things about the phone that work — starting first with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor.
|Category||Motorola One 5G Ace|
|Operating System||Android 10|
|Display||6.7-inch LCD, Full HD+|
|Rear Cameras||48MP primary, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro|
|Dimensions||166.1 x 76.1 x 9.9mm|
This is the first phone launching in the U.S. to be powered by the 750G, and for all intents and purposes, it's an ever-so-slightly underclocked version of the Snapdragon 765G that we saw in so many devices last year. Despite being a technical downgrade, the 750G has been every bit as reliable as the 765G in my day-to-day use. In other words, it's a very fast and capable processor that most users will be served perfectly by.
Apps open quickly, 6GB of RAM allows for good multitasking, and I rarely found myself waiting on the phone to do what I wanted. It's obviously not the same flagship-grade experience available on much more expensive devices, but especially at this price point, there's little to complain about.
I've also been really impressed by the Motorola One 5G Ace's battery life. It's packing a 5,000 mAh battery, and as expected with a capacity that large, this is a device you can use for at least two days on a single charge. Big battery capacities are something Motorola really got right in 2020, and I'm thrilled to see the company's commitment to that holding true in 2021. Still being limited to 15W charging does put a damper on things, and sooner or later, Motorola needs to move beyond this antiquated charge speed.
Performance and battery life are where the One 5G Ace really stands out, with the rest of the positives being smaller but helping to round out the device as a whole.
Performance and battery life are the One 5G Ace's strong suits.
The lack of a 90Hz refresh rate for the display is irritating, but thanks to a Full HD+ resolution and LCD panel, everything still looks crisp and offers pretty good colors. There's 128GB of storage that you can expand with a microSD card, Motorola still gives you a headphone jack, and there's NFC for contactless Google Pay support (something we don't often see with affordable Motorola phones). There's even an official IP52 rating for water-resistance, which is a great value add for a device this affordable.
As for the presence of 5G, it's..a thing. The Motorola One 5G Ace is limited to sub-6 5G speeds, meaning you'll likely see faster performance than LTE but nothing too substantial the way you would with mmWave. It's a good spec to have as far as future-proofing is concerned, but as it goes with any 5G phone, it's not reason enough to buy the Ace over a competing device specifically for the 5G connectivity.
Lastly, there's the software experience we've come to know and love from any Motorola phone. The interface is very clean and reminiscent of what you'd find on a Pixel, and for the extra features that Motorola has added, they all provide legitimate value to "stock" Android.
Twisting the One 5G to open the camera app is convenient, chopping it to open the flashlight is always fun, and Peek Display (the band formerly known as Moto Display) continues to be one of the very best always-on display features on the market. Motorola's software has always found a good balance of remaining simple while still providing plenty of function, and whenever I get to use a phone from the company, that always stands out as one of the main highlights.
Motorola One 5G Ace Where things fall apart
Unfortunately for the Motorola One 5G Ace, that's where the compliments stop. Even with a retail price of $400, there are things about this phone that are really difficult to overlook.
Let's start with the design, which is — as my colleague Hayato so accurately put it — grotesque. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and at least to my eye, the Motorola One 5G Ace is a really unattractive gadget. It's every bit as big as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, the reflective back pattern looks horribly cheap, and the overall construction feels worse than last year's Moto G releases. The frame is noticeably separate from the back plastic, and as such, you can feel the lip of the frame every single time you hold the phone. That doesn't sound too bad in writing, but in daily use, it makes the One 5G Ace unpleasant to the touch.
I've been handling the One 5G Ace side-by-side with the Moto G Power (2021) and Moto G Play (2021), and despite both of those phones costing less than 5G Ace, they feel better in-hand compared to their more expensive sibling. Their plastic backs aren't reflective, their frames and more tightly integrated with the rest of the body, and they're just more enjoyable to use. Out of all the new Moto phones coming out in early-2021, the Motorola One 5G Ace certainly got the short stick in the design/build quality department.
More concerning than a bad in-hand feel is the looming uncertainty of durability for the Motorola One 5G Ace. My unit has two really nasty scratches after just about a week of normal use, and in my years of testing/reviewing phones, this is about the fastest I've seen such deep marks on a phone's display.
Motorola tells me that the One 5G Ace uses NEG glass, or Nippon Electric Glass. It's the first time I've ever heard of the company, and after my time with the One 5G Ace, maybe there's a good reason for that. Every smartphone is bound to show signs of use at some point in its life, but this level of wear-and-tear after a week is incredibly disappointing.
On another design-related note, I hate that the only external speaker you get is a mono one on the bottom frame. It does get surprisingly loud, but the audio quality is bland, and the speaker is very easy to cover completely. We've seen other budget phones like the Pixel 4a use its front earpiece with a bottom-firing speaker for stereo sound, so why the Motorola One 5G Ace doesn't do this is beyond me.
Then we have the camera situation, which is about what you'd expect from a lower-cost Motorola phone. The primary sensor you'll be using the most is a 48MP lens that outputs to 12MP using pixel binning. This seems to be the exact same sensor found on the Motorola One 5G from late-2020, and just like on that phone, it's a mixed bag.
Photos taken in ample daylight often turn out pretty good, showing decent colors (though a tad dull) and sharp detail. Unfortunately, the minute you introduce less-than-ideal lighting conditions, things fall apart. The camera has trouble focusing, images often turn out blurry, and the end results just aren't pleasing to look at. This is more than likely due to there being a lack of OIS for the camera, and that absence is very much present here.
As for the other two cameras, it's hit-and-miss. The 8MP ultra-wide sensor does a good job of showcasing similar colors to the primary one, but with the 2MP macro camera, you're best off ignoring it completely. I suppose there's some novelty in being able to focus so closely on a subject, but the snail's pace of the camera app makes capturing a macro shot that's properly focused nearly impossible.
Unfortunately, that slow performance is something that's seen throughout the entire camera experience. Whether it be opening the app, snapping a photo, or tapping to focus on a subject, everything feels like it's a step behind. Given that the Snapdragon 750G is responsive in virtually all other tasks, I'm not sure what went wrong here.
Speaking of things going wrong, we have to talk about the software situation with the Motorola One 5G. Despite being released in mid-January 2021 — a point in time where Android 11 has been publicly available for over five months — the phone ships with Android 10 out of the box.
Motorola should be embarrassed by its current stance on software updates.
As if it wasn't bad enough to be shipping a product with an outdated operating system and security patch, Motorola is still promising just one major OS update for the entire life span of the One 5G Ace. Once it gets updated to Android 11 to be on current software (there's still no ETA for when this will happen), that'll be the one and only software update you ever see. I've always taken issue with Motorola's one-update policy, but at the very least, its phones shipping at the beginning of a new year have run the most current version of Android. The fact that the One 5G Ace is being sold with Android 10 and having its single update used to get it on Android 11 is a damn embarrassment.
I don't know if Motorola will ever have a change of heart and overhaul this policy, but at least from my end, this alone makes the Motorola One 5G Ace a phone I'm hesitant to recommend people buying.
On top of all that, I also want to briefly mention what this phone really is at its core: a rebranding of a cheaper phone Motorola sells in other markets. The Motorola One 5G Ace is known as the Moto G 5G outside of the U.S., and in the UK and Europe, it retails for £249 and €299, respectively.
I know it isn't always fair to compare phone prices from country to country, but if Motorola had launched the One 5G Ace for $299 in the United States, we'd have a much more compelling device on our hands. Instead, Motorola changed the branding, upped the price by $100, didn't make any upgrades to justify the increased cost, and that's the product we ended up with.
Motorola One 5G Ace The competition
The Motorola One 5G Ace may seem like a decent purchase when looking at it in a bubble, but as soon as you start comparing it against similarly-priced devices, it becomes crystal clear how lacking the phone really is.
Perhaps the best phone to put things into perspective is the Google Pixel 4a. Compared side-by-side to the Motorola One 5G Ace, the Pixel 4a has a more vibrant OLED display, a substantially better camera, excellent software support, and a higher-quality design — all for $50 less. Unless you absolutely need the Ace's large size and/or 5G connectivity, there's absolutely no reason to buy it over the Pixel 4a.
If you do need a bigger phone and want peace-of-mind with 5G support, you're better off getting the Google Pixel 4a 5G. It is $100 more expensive than the One 5G Ace, but it's also just a better smartphone in every single regard. It's more powerful, has a better display, more capable cameras — the list goes on.
Even when looking at Motorola's own offerings, there are just better Moto phones than what we have here. The Motorola One 5G that came out in 2020 is just a touch more expensive with an MSRP of $445, but for those extra dollars, you're getting a few key upgrades — including a faster processor and a 90Hz display. It is limited to AT&T and Verizon, but if you want a 5G Moto phone, this is a much better offering at a very similar price. There's also the Moto G Stylus (2021), which drops 5G connectivity and has a slightly smaller (but still massive) battery for a $299 sticker price. You still get a big Full HD+ display, good performance, and the exact same camera setup found on the Motorola One 5G Ace.
Motorola One 5G Ace Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
- You need a 5G phone for under $400
- You want a headphone jack + expandable storage
- You can find it on sale as part of a retailer or carrier promotion
You should not buy this if ...
- You care about software updates
- You want a good camera experience
- You want to get the most bang-for-your-buck
I think what upsets me the most about the Motorola One 5G Ace is all of its wasted potential. If Motorola had spent more time on the phone's design, cameras and straightened out its software update situation, this could have been an absolutely killer Android phone for $400. What we ended up with, however, feels like a product that was rushed out without any thought or intention.
Going throughout the rest of 2021, I worry that this is what we're going to keep seeing from Motorola. The company keeps making the same mistakes (along with some new ones this year), doesn't seem to make any genuine attempt at addressing those issues, and releases a myriad of devices that fail to have any real purpose to them.
The Motorola One 5G Ace is the latest result of that process, and at the end of the day, it's not a phone I'll be going back to or recommending once this review is over. As a long-time Moto fan, that's not something I take pleasure in saying. Here's to next time.
Motorola One 5G Ace
There are some things that the Motorola One 5G Ace gets right, but at the end of the day, it's a pretty mediocre Android phone that doesn't do much to push the needle forward. The prospect of getting 5G at such an affordable price is compelling, but between a weak design, lackluster cameras, and indefensible software, your money is better spent elsewhere.
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