Moto G Stylus review: Long battery life, basic stylus support, $300 price


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Regular readers know I am a major Samsung Galaxy Note fan, starting back in 2012 with the Galaxy Note II. The Galaxy Note is one of the most expensive phones launched each year, but there are some other alternatives that provide stylus support at more affordable price levels.

When I saw Moto announce the availability of the Moto G Stylus I immediately placed an order for one so I could see how well it did with stylus support. At $299, it was tough to resist and after more than a week with the phone it stands up well at that price point.

Also: Moto G Stylus gives note takers on a budget a good option

While the $299 price for an unlocked model from Motorola is a great buy, you can also now purchase one at Google Fi for $249 when you activate it on the Fi network. Existing Google Fi customers qualify for the $50 discount as long as you purchase the phone with the same email as your Fi account.

Moto G Stylus specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 665
  • Display: 6.4 inch, 2300 x 1080 pixels resolution IPS 19.17:9 aspect ratio (399 ppi)
  • Operating system: Android 10
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 128GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: 48MP f/1.7, 16MP Action Cam, and 2MP Macro Vision rear cameras. 16 MP f/2.0 front-facing camera.
  • Water resistance: Water repellent nano-coating
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5, GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO, FM radio
  • Battery: 4,000 mAh non-removable
  • Dimensions: 158.55 x 75.8 x 9.2 mm and 192 grams
  • Color: Mystic Indigo

It’s great to see solid internal specs like 128GB internal storage, 4000 mAh battery, USB-C, Bluetooth 5, and more. However, it’s also frustrating to see the omission of NFC, which in 2020 should be a staple of all Android phones.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus review: Best business phone improves in speed and S Pen capability

Hardware

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The Moto G Stylus is primarily a glass and plastic phone, which isn’t a bad thing as that makes it a bit more resilient to accidental drops and bumps. The Mystic Indiglo is a very dark blue/purple color that looks nice in direct light. The back is very glossy and a serious fingerprint collector though so I spent a lot of time wiping it clean. The edges are also glossy black plastic, but the phone doesn’t feel cheap at all.

The Moto G Stylus has an ample 6.4-inch display with an 89% screen-to-body ratio so you get a lot of space to work with in a reasonably sized phone. There is a small hole punch camera in the upper left part of the display for the 16MP front-facing shooter. I actually like the placement on this side, compared to the right side we see on other phones, as I tend to look to the upper right for status icons and notifications.

The 1080p display looks just fine to me and I enjoyed viewing photos and watching video content on the display. Given that I’ve been testing 90 Hz and 120 Hz panels though, it is tough to go back to 60 Hz. Then again, you have to keep recalling that this is a sub-$300 phone.

The tactile power button and volume buttons are on the upper right side. The SIM card/microSD tray slot is on the upper left side. A mic opening is up top. The 3.5mm audio socket, USB-C port (nice to see on a budget phone), and lower speaker are on the bottom. The integrated stylus silo is also positioned at the far right edge of the bottom.

The stylus secures perfectly into the silo and is also easy to remove with the ridged top of the stylus. It is mostly metal with a glossy plastic cap and feels good in the fingers. The tip is a soft mesh material that is more pointed than a fingertip, but not as fine-tipped as a proper stylus found on flagship Notes.

The camera array is positioned over on the upper left corner of the back panel. The 16MP action camera stands above and apart from the other cameras in the far left corner with the flash near it. This camera lets you capture ultra-wide (117 degrees) video content in landscape orientation while holding the phone in portrait orientation. You can also toggle off this mode and when you do the phone switches to the standard 48MP camera found next in line.

The main 48MP camera provides the option to use pixel binning to turn out 12MP images with less noise. You can toggle the 48MP mode on or off in the software.

The third camera lens is a 2MP macro lens. It does a decent job of capturing images as close as 2cm, but the colors captured are not as true as other macro lens cameras on more expensive phones.

It’s great to see the rear Motorola logo being used as the fingerprint sensor since it is something I wanted to see since the days of the Moto X with the Motorola logo simply being a dimple on the back to help you hold onto the phone. The fingerprint sensor is well-positioned and makes unlocking the phone quick and easy.

Also: The LG V60 ThinQ challenges the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 for stylus champ

Software

The Moto G Stylus is running Android 10 with the February Android security update. Motorola doesn’t have the greatest track record for regular updates to its phones, but that is one trade-off you assume with a budget phone.

Given the name of the phone, the focus is obviously on the stylus capability. Within the settings, there is a dedicated stylus area for you to setup to your preferences. You can check to launch a default note app when the stylus is removed while the device is locked and also choose what you wish to launch when the device is unlocked. Unfortunately, when I remove the stylus with the display off all I see is a pop-up that shows, “This feature is not available.” Hopefully, a software update fixes this bug.

There are spots to select up to five options in the shortcuts button when the stylus is removed. Stylus-focused options include write a note, screenshot editor, and Moto Note. I currently have Keep Notes and Messages in the other two slots, but you can choose to launch any app installed on your phone. You can choose to have the shortcuts panel appear, have a single specific app launch, or have nothing happen when you remove the stylus.

The write a note option with Moto Note is the most useful option as it launches Moto Note with the pen interface so you can scribble away on a note. If you add an option for Google Keep Notes or other app where you want to enter text then you should install the Google handwriting keyboard. This will then have the keyboard area appear as a blank slate so you can handwrite your text. Automatic handwriting to text then takes place, including Google’s text suggestions.

In order to help you manage your stylus, you can have a reminder appear if it has been removed for a time period, record the location and time of your last removal, and vibrate when you insert the stylus.

Thankfully, the phone is very close to stock Android, similar to a Google Pixel. In addition, there are useful Moto Actions. These include:

  • Quick capture: Twist your wrist to quickly launch the camera
  • Fast flashlight: Two chopping motions toggle the flashlight on and off
  • Three finger screenshot: Touch the display with three fingers to capture a screenshot
  • Flip for DND: Turn the phone over and put it face down to enable Do Not Disturb
  • Pick up silence: Pick up a ringing phone to silence the ringer
  • Media controls: Use the volume keys to change tracks when the display is off

Moto Peek and Attentive display options are also available to let you interact with notifications with the screen off and keep the display on while you are looking at it. These types of useful features are awesome to see on a budget phone.

There is no carrier bloatware or any extra apps installed on the phone so it is all up to you to customize the experience exactly as you desire.

Daily experiences and conclusions

Over twenty years ago when I first started using PDAs, the stylus was the standard for navigating and manipulating data on mobile devices. Samsung remains one of the few who offer an integrated stylus experience and for that functionality launch prices near $1,000 are common. Thus, the $299, or $249 at Google Fi, entry price to use a stylus on the Moto G Stylus is a welcome addition to the mobile space.

There were two stylus functions I used 95% of the time with the Moto G Stylus; new Moto Note entries and touchscreen navigation. Much like my usage of the S Pen on a Galaxy Note, I prefer to use a stylus to navigate around my phones, scroll through websites and lists, and select items on the display. I don’t have large fingers, but they still get in the way of my experience so a stylus is preferred over fingertip navigation.

The key function of handwritten notes works well with Moto Notes, but I wish there was a bit better integration with Google Keep Notes so it would automatically launch right into a new ink note. It’s only one more tap on the display to get there, but it would be great if I could pull out the stylus and have a new Google Keep Notes ink note opened and ready to go.

I’ve been taking lots of photos with this phone, and others, as I try to judge image quality. The cameras do pretty well, but definitely lack detail found in phones that cost at least twice as much. You can definitely get by with this phone as your camera for social media and sharing, but it will take some serious skills to turn out high quality images.

Over the past week, I’ve regularly experienced 5-6 hours of screen-on-time and charged the device up every two days. I never worried about charging it during the day and was satisfied using USB-C to top it off every other night.

The price justifies a mid-level processor and the Snapdragon 665 performed well most of the time. I had a few times where things would lag a bit and noticeable pauses in reaction appeared. I also had to restart the phone twice due to some mysterious freezes. Overall though, I was able to have great phone conversations via cellular and WiFi Calling connections, work all day with it as my primary device, enjoy a couple shows, and proved to myself it could be my main phone if I didn’t care that much about the advanced technology found in flagship devices.

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