Motorola's 2021 phone strategy doesn't make much sense, but it'll still come out the winner

Moto G 2021 Lineup
Moto G 2021 Lineup (Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Android enthusiasts have a long and storied love/hate affair with Motorola. In the beginning, Motorola released very underpowered phones with convoluted changes to Android (remember MotoBLUR?) that morphed the company into what looked like a Verizon Wireless subsidiary in the United States.

Then Google swept in and bought the important bits that make up a Motorola phone and we loved the company. Phones like the Moto X looked great, had great hardware (for the time), and were quick to get both important and feature updates because Google was basically in control. That's the exact recipe for success if you want to cater to the hardcore Android crowd, and it worked.

Apparently, Google didn't love owning the Moto brand as much as we loved Google owning the Moto brand, though. Welcome to the Lenovo era, sometimes known as Motonovo or Lenoverola. Now, we really don't know what to think because Moto makes some of the best cheap phones but it also is just so random with its U.S. phone releases.

Take one of the new phones Motorola announced yesterday: the Motorola One 5G Ace (not sorry but I love that name) and its Snapdragon 750G, huge battery, and inevitably horrible camera. It's a 5G phone that doesn't have mmWave support (at least until Verizon releases its own version) and costs $400.

Moto One 5G Ace

Source: Joe Maring / Android CentralThe Moto One 5G Ace is 2021's "Top Gun" phone (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

That's not bad. The 750G will perform as well as the 765G for all intents and purposes, there is 6GB of memory and 128GB of storage, and unless you really need a decent camera, it's a good phone against the likes of the Pixel 4a if you want something with a bigger 6.7-inch display. Too bad it will ship with Android 10 and only ever get one update because Motorola doesn't think you deserve two.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Moto G Play. Its list price is $169 and you're getting exactly what you imagine a $169 phone would be: Snapdragon 460, 3GB of Memory, and a low-resolution (1600x720) 6.5-inch display. But you also get a gigantic 5,000mAh battery and a $169 price tag.

Moto G Play (2021)

Source: Joe Maring / Android CentralThe 2021 Moto G Play is exactly $169 worth of phone (Image credit: Source: Joe Maring / Android Central)

These two phones are apparently the best Motorola can offer in 2021. Both are budget models with the Ace being the high end of the budget and the G Play being the bottom and Motorola could sell enough of either to make a bit of a splash, especially with any carrier support. If either came with a promise of timely security patches and shipped with Android 11, I'd probably feel good about recommending them.

But Motorola also released two other phones that are just clones of 2020's offerings, only worse. The Moto G Stylus and Moto G Power have nothing that lets you know you're using a model that is a year newer than the last Moto G Stylus and Moto G Power, and that includes the software. Both ship with Android 10 and a promise of an update to Android 11 sometime in the future, just like 2020s versions did. Both look the same. They use different chips, but the performance compared to the 2020 models will be very very similar.

Moto G Stylus 2021 and Motorola One 5G Ace

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

There was no need to do this and Motorola could have simply continued to sell the 2020 models to the few people who care about buying either of these two phones. It's possible that Qualcomm moved the needle and doesn't really build the "older" chipsets anymore, but that's just a guess. My other guess — and the one I feel more confident about — is that Motorola just did it because it can and only Android enthusiasts will notice.

Motorola has become complacent in a category they own.

No matter what is going on in Motorola's offices — I like to picture an extra-large broom closet inside a giant blacked out Lenovo 100-story megacorp center — it really seems like nobody cares. To which I say somebody needs to care.

Motorola has almost no competition in this space. Nokia and LG try to compete, but let's be frank — nobody is buying these phones in any number worth counting. OnePlus is trying to break into the space, but it's started poorly by offering two models with confusing names and too little differentiation for normal consumers. So, for now, this is Moto's house. They own it.

Moto G Stylus 2021 and Motorola One 5G Ace

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

I think this has made the company complacent. Whatever it releases doesn't matter because the only real competition is between its own models. That's great for Motorola and Lenovo's bottom line, but it really sucks for consumers. Motorola needs to do something here because a cheap but better phone from Samsung or LG or even Google could take the space away, and quickly.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.