It's been a running joke for me that almost all of the virtual press briefings I've had this year have been hosted by Motorola. It feels like every other week I get an invite to check out a new product the company's coming out with, and that's fully evident with just how many phones it's released so far in 2020. Looking at just the U.S. alone, we've had eight new Moto devices unveiled this year.
One of those devices is the Motorola One 5G, which is launching as Motorola's most affordable 5G handset for North America. At first glance, the phone looks like one of the best values of the year — offering a 90Hz display and the Snapdragon 765 processor for just $445.
There are certain aspects of the Motorola One 5G that Moto absolutely nailed, but when you factor in its various shortcomings and the fierce competition it's currently faced with, that initial feeling of an unrivaled value starts to dwindle. It's not a bad phone by any means, but it also feels unnecessary and a bit confused.
At a glance
Motorola One 5G
Bottom line: The Motorola One 5G is an interesting phone, sitting somewhere in between the Moto G and Motorola Edge lineups. Some of its specs are rather impressive, namely the 90Hz LCD display, massive 5,000 mAh battery, and little goodies like a headphone jack and expandable storage. Those aspects all work really well, but when you start piling on the various downsides — weak cameras, limited availability, and lacking update support — the Motorola One 5G becomes a tricky recommendation at its $445 price tag.
- 90Hz display looks really good
- Reliable fingerprint sensor
- Fast, smooth performance
- Excellent battery life
- Has a 3.5mm headphone jack
- Disappointing cameras
- Mono speaker
- Weak vibration motor
- Only promised one software update
- Exclusive to AT&T and Verizon
Motorola One 5G Design and display
Design-wise, the Motorola One 5G is an interesting mix of good and bad. There are certain things about the phone that I appreciate, but it's also far from my favorite Moto design we've seen this year.
Just like almost every Motorola phone, the Motorola One 5G is made out of plastic. It's a sturdy construction with no creaking or rattling buttons, and the back has a pattern finish that reflects rainbows depending on how the light hits it. It looks really nice right when you take it out of the box, but at the rate it picks up fingerprints, it ends up looking like a smudged-up mess more than anything else.
|Category||Motorola One 5G|
|Operating System||Android 10|
90Hz refresh rate
21:9 aspect ratio
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 765|
Expandable up to 1TB
|Rear Cameras||48MP primary
|Front Cameras||16MP primary
3.5mm headphone jack
15W wired charging
|Dimensions||168 x 74 x 9mm|
This also happens to be one of the heaviest phones I've used in a while, clocking in at a hefty 210g. That's slightly heavier than the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and you really feel that added weight when using the Motorola One 5G. It's a phone that makes its presence known anytime you're using it, and coming from the petite Pixel 4a, it took some time getting used to.
Perhaps the most noteworthy design decision for the Motorola One 5G is its fingerprint sensor. It's embedded into the power button on the right frame of the phone, and in my testing, I never had any issues with it. It does make pressing the power button a little more difficult than usual, but the sensor itself is just as fast and reliable as I could ask for.
You can't swipe down on the sensor to view your notifications like you could if it was positioned on the back, but Motorola has equipped it with a new gesture it calls "power touch." Double-tap the sensor/power button at any time, and you can configure it to show a list of app and contact shortcuts. I currently have it set with just one app, the camera, and it automatically opens the camera whenever I do the gesture. I'm not sure if I prefer this to a notification shortcut or not, but it works as intended and is a nice extra feature to have.
I'm happy to see USB-C charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack. I personally don't use wired headphones anymore, but for those that do, Motorola is one of the few companies that keeps supporting the port. What's not so great, however, is the Motorola One 5G's single external speaker. It's a bottom-firing one that's easily muffled, and for whatever reason, the top speaker grille isn't used for media playback at all — just phone calls. This is a feature that you get on the $250 Moto G Power, so why Motorola didn't include it on the Motorola One 5G is beyond me.
Finally, I'm not happy at all with the Motorola One 5G's vibration motor. It's weak, hollow, and reminds me of something I'd expect to find on an old OnePlus phone.
That brings us to the display, and I promise I have a lot nicer things say about it than I do for the design.
Looking at the specs of the Motorola One 5G's screen, we have a 6.7-inch LCD panel with a Full HD+ resolution. Those aren't very interesting on their own, but they're backed up by a 90Hz refresh rate and 21:9 aspect ratio. Overall, everything looks really nice. Text is crisp, colors are punchy enough, and the screen gets plenty bright. You do get a bit of color distortion at certain viewing angles, but if you're looking at the phone head-on, there's not much to complain about. The 90Hz refresh rate works exactly like you'd expect, which is awesome to see given just how affordable the Motorola One 5G is. It's every bit as smooth and responsive as the Motorola Edge or Pixel 4 XL, and I hope this is a feature we see trickle down to the Moto G series next year.
As for the taller 21:9 aspect ratio, I think it'll be hit-or-miss depending on the user. It's certainly great to have for watching movies or YouTube videos that natively support the form factor, but if you're watching content in a more traditional 16:9 ratio, it means you lose more of the video if you zoom in to fill the entire screen. There's also the fact that reaching the top of the screen can be quick tricky, and when you factor that in with the Motorola One 5G's heft, it's often a phone that requires two hands for comfortable use.
Motorola One 5G Performance and battery
If there's a section of this review where the Motorola One 5G really shines, it's right here. At the heart of the phone is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 765 processor, which as of right now, makes the Motorola One 5G the cheapest phone in the U.S. with that chipset. I praised the Snapdragon 765 for its flagship-like performance in my review of the Motorola Edge, and I'm happy to report that it feels every bit as fast on the One 5G.
The Snapdragon 765 is impressive, though I can't say the same about 4GB of RAM.
Apps open quickly, navigating through the user interface feels great, and there's ample power for games like Call of Duty: Mobile. Outside of some slowdowns in the camera app (I'll talk more about that in a bit), everything on the Motorola One 5G feels wonderful.
That said, I do have some concern regarding the phone's memory. There are just 4GB of RAM in the Motorola One 5G, and while that's understandable for a $200 - $300 phone, it's a bit less forgiving with a retail price of $445. I've already noticed that apps tend to close in the background a little faster than I'd like, and while it isn't a deal-breaker right now, it could be an issue in regards to the long-term performance.
On the battery side of things, the Motorola One 5G is an absolute champ. It's packing a 5,000 mAh battery, which for most users, should give you around two days of use on a single charge. Even if you consider yourself a "power-user" and are on your phone a lot, you can still expect around a day and a half before needing to charge up. Motorola's been very generous with the battery capacities in a lot of its phones as of late, and I hope this is something we keep seeing from the company for a long time to come.
The 15W wired charging supported by the Motorola One 5G is pretty disappointing given the much faster charging solutions offered by so many other companies, but with battery life this good, I'm not too worked up over it.
Motorola One 5G Cameras
Cameras have never been a strong suit for Motorola. The company made considerable progress with its Motorola Edge+ flagship earlier this year, but took two steps back with the baseline Motorola Edge a few months later. Unfortunately, the Motorola One 5G proves that there's still a lot of work that needs to be done in this department.
On paper, the Motorola One 5G sounds impressive enough. It has a 48MP primary camera, 5MP macro camera, 8MP ultra-wide camera, and 2MP depth camera. You'll be spending most of your time with that 48MP sensor, and for the most part, it tends to be hit or miss. I've captured some photos that I think are genuinely great, others that are just mediocre, and some that I don't want to share at all.
The secondary cameras all serve their purpose, but they won't blow you away anytime soon. The ultra-wide camera gives you a much wider field-of-view and the macro camera can be fun to mess around with, but both give you these unique shooting modes at the sacrifice of overall image quality.
Above all else, what makes shooting with the Motorola One 5G so frustrating is how poor its overall performance is. It often takes forever to focus properly on a subject, the shutter button occasionally does nothing when I press it, and it takes far too long to actually capture a shot once everything is working — making it darn-near impossible to take a good picture of a fast-moving subject. The lack of optical image stabilization certainly doesn't help for any of this, resulting in a camera experience I won't miss once I have to send my unit back.
Before we move on, I suppose I should say something about those two selfie cameras on the front of the Motorola One 5G. As you've probably noticed by now, the display on the phone has two cutouts for dual selfie cameras. It's something we don't see that often in the smartphone space, giving it a potentially unique edge.
The 16MP primary selfie cam is fine. It does the job for quick shots or video calls, though I think the detail is a bit lacking. The 8MP ultra-wide camera, on the other hand, is downright awful. Pictures are incredibly grainy, there's hardly any clarity if you zoom in just a little bit, and images often come out looking like a bad watercolor painting. Even for an affordable/value smartphone, it's inexcusably bad. I really wish Motorola just hadn't included it at all, because you're now stuck with another hole-punch in the display that serves no legitimate purpose.
Motorola One 5G Software
Whenever I review a Motorola phone, one of the most frustrating sections to talk about is this one right here — software. Motorola does so much right with its Android interface, and in a lot of regards, it's my favorite one out there.
Aesthetically, Moto software is indistinguishable from what you'd find on a Google Pixel. The launcher, quick settings, and everything else is what we've come to expect from "stock Android" these days, and it looks fantastic. It's clean, easy-to-navigate, and not overloaded with a bunch of cruft. Well, at least for the most part.
The AT&T variant of the Motorola One 5G I was sent to review came with a heap of pre-installed apps — 30, to be exact. Some of these could be uninstalled, but that's not the case for all of them. DC Universe, GOT: Conquest, Great Big Story, and a myriad of AT&T-branded apps are perpetually on the Motorola One 5G with no option to be removed. Maybe it's because it's been a hot minute since I used a carrier-branded phone, but that's all a bit gross.
C'mon, Motorola — you're killing me with this one update nonsense.
I know AT&T is to blame for that more than Motorola is, but an area in which the blame falls entirely on Motorola's shoulders is the situation around software updates.
The Motorola One 5G ships with Android 10 out of the box, and as you would hope/expect for a phone launching this late in the year, it is promised to get an update to Android 11. Unfortunately, that's the only big update the phone will ever see. Just like with so many of its other phones, the Motorola One 5G is promised just a single software update and nothing beyond that.
I complain about this in review after review hoping that Motorola will finally do something about it, but time and time again, the company remains set in its ways. As much as I love the software experience Motorola has crafted for its phones, it's becoming increasingly difficult to defend the company when it continues to operate with such an anti-consumer policy.
Motorola One 5G Competition
As mentioned at the top of this review, the Motorola One 5G has a fair amount of competition from other great Android phones that it's going up against. The phone delivers a great amount of value on its own, but when compared to something like the Google Pixel 4a, it puts things into much better perspective.
The Pixel 4a is a fair amount cheaper at just $350, and even with that lower price, it manages to outperform the Motorola One 5G in a few key areas. It has a more vibrant AMOLED display, a vastly superior camera, and comes with three years of guaranteed updates. The processor isn't quite as fast and the battery is only good for about a day of heavy use, but overall, we think it's the better phone for most people. Not to mention, you can buy it unlocked for use on any carrier that you'd like.
There's also the Samsung Galaxy A71, which has a higher $600 retail price but can often be found on sale for just $500. For those extra dollars, you're getting an outstanding AMOLED display with a large 6.7-inch size, excellent battery life with fast charge speeds, and a 64MP primary camera that takes great photos. The A71 is also backed by Samsung's recently revamped software update policy, which means you can look forward to three years of major OS updates.
Looking at Motorola's own lineup of phones, it might be worth just getting the Moto G Power and keeping a couple hundred dollars in your wallet. You're losing the fast refresh rate of the Motorola One 5G, get a slower processor, and there's no 5G or NFC support. Those are a lot of downgrades you'll need to strongly consider, but thanks to an overall great user experience provided by the phone — not to mention the up to three-day battery life it offers — you're getting a lot for your money.
Motorola One 5G Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
You want a large phone that isn't too expensive
Big phones are the go-to if you're someone that does a lot of media consumption, and this is an area where the Motorola One 5G shines. You have a ton of room for all of your movies and games, the Full HD+ resolution keeps everything looking great, and the LCD panel kicks out pretty good colors.
You value a 90Hz display and like the tall aspect ratio
Outside of its large size, the Motorola One 5G's display keeps giving thanks to the fast refresh rate and unique aspect ratio. 90 and 120Hz screens are quickly becoming the new norm for high-end phones, and having that feature on the One 5G is great given the low price. The 21:9 aspect ratio is also perfect if you watch a lot of movies, giving you that cinematic experience right in the palm of your hand.
You have AT&T or Verizon as your wireless provider
The Motorola One 5G is available at AT&T starting September 18, with it heading to Verizon later this year. Given that the phone won't be sold unlocked outside of the two carriers, it's naturally a good choice if you already use either of those networks for your wireless service.
You should not buy this if ...
You prefer buying phones unlocked
Comparatively, if you don't have AT&T or Verizon — or simply don't like buying phones through your carrier — the Motorola One 5G is a non-starter. Motorola is one of the few companies that continues to do carrier exclusives with its major phone releases, and it's something we'd be perfectly happy to see die off in the near future.
You take a lot of pictures
If having a good, reliable camera is important to you, the Motorola One 5G will leave you pretty disappointed. Between the lackluster secondary sensors to the poor camera performance, using the phone to capture pictures is not a great experience.
You want long-term software support
When you buy a new phone, you should be able to trust that it'll keep getting updates for a few years to come. Motorola isn't promising any big OS upgrades for the One 5G beyond its Android 11 update, which could prove to be a deal-breaker for some potential shoppers.
I'm not really sure why the Motorola One 5G exists. I mean, I know why it exists — AT&T and Verizon wanted a sub-$500 phone with 5G support that they can easily sell to their subscribers. 5G is the big push for these carriers, the Motorola One 5G has that feature, and they're bound to offer plenty of promotions to make the phone dirt cheap for new subscribers.
For us consumers, though, where does the Motorola One 5G stand? That's where things get tricky. There are certain things the phone does really, really well — namely the 90Hz display, Snapdragon 765 processor, and that huge 5,000 mAh battery. All of those things are top-notch, especially given the affordable nature of the phone.
The problem, however, is that those strong pillars are weakened by all of the various shortcomings you have to put up with. The cameras aren't reliable, the external speaker isn't good, you're limited to just one software update, and not being able to buy the phone unlocked is a huge bummer — not to mention smaller annoyances like the weak vibration motor and the heap of bloatware the phone ships with.
There are good ideas that went into the Motorola One 5G, but what we ultimately have is a half-baked device that doesn't quite make it over the finish line. I don't think you'll be horribly unhappy if you do decide to buy the phone, but with so many other options out there delivering better overall packages, it's hard to make an argument for why you'd get the Motorola One 5G in the first place.
Motorola One 5G
Bottom line: The Motorola One 5G had potential to be the value phone of the year, but it ends up dropping the ball on its way to greatness. Having the Snapdragon 765 and a 90Hz display at this price is excellent, but the whole experience is watered-down by a myriad of issues that are hard to ignore.
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