The original Motorola One 5G debuted last year as a relatively affordable 5G with a simple problem — apart from its price tag, it really didn't stand out from the growing crowd of more affordable 5G phones. Motorola's response to that challenge? Make the follow-up phone even cheaper.
Unfortunately for Motorola and its new Motorola One 5G Ace, the rest of the world hasn't stood still. The Ace may be the least expensive 5G device Motorola has ever sold, but rival phone makers have come out with cheaper 5G devices of their own. While battery life improves dramatically with this version of the Motorola One, this phone still struggles to carve out its own space.
Starting price: $399
Screen size: 6.7 inches (2400 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 750
RAM: 4GB, 6GB
Storage/Expandable?: 64GB, 128GB/Yes
Rear cameras: 48MP (f/1.7) main; 8MP (f/2.2) ultrawide; 2MP (f/2.4) macro
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.2)
Battery size: 5,000 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:03
Size: 6.5 x 3 x 0.39 inches
Weight: 7.5 ounces
In this Motorola One 5G Ace review, we'll look at a phone that's good at a number of things, but not really great at enough of them to make a lasting impression.
Motorola One 5G Ace Review: Price and availability
As with its predecessor, the best thing the Motorola One 5G Ace has going for it is its price — an attractive $399. That's roughly $50 less than what the first Motorola One 5G cost, and it's a $100 discount off the Pixel 4a 5G, which for my money is the best budget 5G phone you can get.
Inexpensive as the Motorola One 5G Ace may be, it's not the only 5G device pushing prices lower. The TCL 10 5G UW costs the same and, as a Verizon exclusive reaps the benefits of Big Red's super-fast Ultra Wideband towers. The OnePlus Nord N10 5G just arrived in North America and its lowered the pricing bar even further, down to $299. You almost have to feel bad for Motorola, which just wants to sell people a cheaper 5G device.
You can buy the phone unlocked from Motorola's website and Best Buy. Several carriers are set to offer the Motorola One 5G Ace as well, though it doesn't appear to have arrived at any as of this writing.
Motorola One 5G Ace Review: Design and display
The Motorola One 5G Ace doesn't feel like an inexpensive phone when you hold it, even if that case is noticeably plastic. The Frosted Silver color of my review unit looks pretty stylish, and I'm a fan of the textured pattern on the back of the phone, even if I had to wipe it down regularly to get rid of the fingerprints. I also appreciate that the Motorola One 5G Ace retains a headphone jack, right on the bottom of the phone next to the USB-C charging port.
At 6.5 x 3 x 0.39 inches, the Motorola One 5G Ace is on the bulkier side of things for a 5G phone, as it's taller than both the OnePlus Nord N10 5G and TCL 10 5G. That means there's room for a 6.7-inch screen, which is bigger than the display on those other two 5G phones.
The screen itself features minimal bezels as Motorola has moved the fingerprint reader to the power button on the Ace's side, and the front camera is housed in a punch-hole cutout at the center of the LCD panel. That leaves a lot of room for enjoying videos, which are display with a reasonable array of colors.
In saturated mode, the Motorola One 5G Ace can recreate 128.1% of the sRGB color spectrum, a percentage that drops to 106% when you switch to normal mode. For context, the OnePlus Nord N10 captures 124.8% of the sRGB spectrum, while TCL's 5G phone reproduced 105.1%. Colors weren't as accurate on the Motorola One 5G Ace, which had a Delta-E rating of 0.35 in saturated mode. The OnePlus and TCL phones had ratings of 0.22 and 0.28, respectively. (Numbers closer to zero are more accurate.)
None of that affected my viewing of the No Time to Die trailer on YouTube. Other LCD screens sometimes have trouble with the more shadowy sequences in the long unreleased James Bond installment, but I found it easy enough to spot Daniel Craig in the dark.
When we measured with a light meter, the Motorola One 5G Ace peaked at 635 nits, which places Motorola's phone in Pixel 4a 5G (638 nits) territory. It's certainly brighter than comparably priced phones like the OnePlus Nord N10 (405.7 nits) and the TCL 10 5G (385 nits).
Motorola One 5G Ace Review: Cameras
Little's changed with camera optics on the Motorola One 5G Ace, though you won't find the depth sensor that adorned the back of the original Motorola One. Still left over is a 48MP main camera augmented by an 8MP ultrawide lens and a 2MP macro camera. (That's also a step back from the 5MP macro lens on the first Motorola One 5G.)
These cameras aren't going to challenge the best camera phones out there, but they produce some solid shots, and a few of the photos in my testing stand up well to the competition. Unfortunately for Motorola, we're living in an era where the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G both offer outstanding cameras for $349 and $499, respectively, so a $399 phone that takes merely adequate pictures isn't going to set hearts aflame.
Take this shot of a plate of lasagna, which is too cool in the Motorola One 5G Ace's rendition. The wood grain on the table is washed out, the green broccolini is dull, and you'd be hard-pressed to guess if I was drinking a glass of merlot or Pennzoil. The warmer colors captured by the OnePlus Nord N10 5G make for a much more appetizing meal and a more attractive image.
Things got better when I moved outside to take a photo of a camellia tree in my backyard. The Ace has darkened the white garage wall behind the tree a bit more than the OnePlus did, but otherwise, there's little separating these two photos. The camellia flowers themselves are a bright, pinkish red, suggesting to me that the Motorola One 5G Ace's cameras do just fine when given enough natural light.
Pulling back to test the ultrawide lens, I like the composition of the Motorola shot. It seems more in focus around the edges than what the OnePlus Nord pulled off — the flowers on that bush to the left are less fuzzy in the Motorola photo.
Zooming in on an individual camellia with the macro lens on both phones, I prefer the brighter colors that the Motorola One captured. You could argue that the darker cast of the OnePlus Nord photo does a better job highlighting the beads of water on the flower's petals, which get somewhat lost in the Motorola shot, but I was aiming for brightness with this shot, and that's what the Motorola One delivered.
Testing out the Night Vision mode on the Motorola One 5G Ace, we see that darkness is not this phone's friend. The shot is competent enough — you can see the stuffed animals, including that pink monstrosity that might otherwise be lost in the shadows without some serious post-processing. But the Motorola One 5G Ace blew out what light there was in the photo, washing out the wall in the background. The Pixel 4a 5G didn't have that problem with its Night Sight mode, and you get a more balanced shot, even without much light to help out.
Portrait shots reveal how a lack of depth sensor hurts the Motorola One 5G Ace. There's nothing necessarily wrong with the photo of my daughter here, though the Motorola One washed out her skin a little and the background blur isn't very stylized. I also think the OnePlus shot handles my daughter's fuzzy gray beret better. But I was much more impressed by a similar photo I took when reviewing the Moto G Power (2021), a Motorola phone that does feature a depth sensor in its rear camera array.
While the original Motorola One 5G had two selfie cams, this model makes do with a single 16MP front camera. It continues the theme of decent-though-not-spectacular shots for the Motorola One 5G Ace by capturing a pretty well composed though overly smoothed out self-portrait. The OnePlus Nord N10's shot is a more accurate representation of my skin tone, though only the right side of the background gets any kind of blur — the Motorola One shot has a consistent background throughout.
Motorola One 5G Ace Review: Performance and 5G
To keep costs down, phone makers will opt for a lesser processor that's still capable of handling the tasks most people perform on their phones. In the case of the Motorola One 5G Ace, Motorola's turning to the Snapdragon 750G. That feels like a small step back from the Snapdragon 765G silicon powering the first 5G Motorola One, and our test numbers reflect that.
In Geekbench 5, which measures general performance, the Ace's multicore score of 1,983 was only slightly better than the 1,952 result turned in by the first Motorola One. At least, the result was in line from what we've seen from other phones in the Ace's price class — the TCL 10 5G UW, which features a Snapdragon 765G, scored 1,932 while the OnePlus Nord N10 5G and its Snapdragon 690 chipset turned in a multicore result of 1,843.
Graphics testing produced a similar result, with the Motorola One 5G Ace reaching 1,097 frames (6.60 frames per second) in 3DMark's Wild Life Unlimited test. The TCL 10 5G outperformed Motorola with a 1,670 (10FPS) result while the Nord N10's 809 (4.8FPS) result lagged behind. I didn't run into any problems while playing PUBG Mobile on the Motorola One Ace 5G, though my hand occasionally muffled the sound from the bottom-firing speaker when I held the phone in landscape view.
As the name of the phone implies, you get 5G connectivity with the Motorola One 5G Ace, though whether or not you get the promised speed boosts depends entirely where you are. I tested the phone on a T-Mobile SIM, and from my house — where I spend most of my time these days — the signal jumped between LTE and 5G fairly regularly. When I did manage to get a consistent 5G signal, the 14 Mbps download speeds are about what I get from T-Mobile's LTE in my area. Life-changing download speeds, those are not.
Motorola One 5G Ace Review: Battery and charging
Like its predecessor, the Motorola One 5G Ace features a 5,000 mAh battery, but makes more out of that massive power pack. The first 5G-ready Motorola One topped out at 9 hours and 14 minutes on our battery test, which involves continuous surfing over a cellular network until the phone runs out of power. The Ace pushed its result to 12 hours and 3 minutes averaged out across two tests.
5G can demand a lot of power so there's only a handful of 5G phones on our longest phone battery life list, lead by the LG V60 ThinQ 5G (12:46). But the Motorola One 5G Ace is landing on that list with a time that's 15 minutes better than what the OnePlus Nord N10 5G managed.
It's good that the Motorola One 5G lasts a while on a charge, because it takes a fair amount of time to recharge the phone. A half-hour of charging Motorola's drained device only got the battery capacity back to 25%. For context, the Nord N10 5G was up to 68% in that time, helped out by OnePlus' Warp Charge 30T technology. But even the Pixel 4a 5G, which offers 18W charging, got up to 46% after 30 minutes.
Motorola One 5G Ace Review: Software and special features
Buy a Motorola phone, and you get a very clean version of Android that looks a lot like what you'd get from Google itself. The best thing about Motorola's My UX interface is that its few additions actually augment the OS instead of distract from it.
Take Motorola's gesture controls, which return with the Motorola One 5G Ace. As with other Motorola phones, some gesture-based shortcuts can activate features on the phone, such as a chopping motion to turn on the flashlight or a quick camera watch with a twist of your wrist. The latest addition is Swipe to Split, and all you have to do is a drag a finger back and forth across the Motorola One 5G Ace's screen to launch a split-screen view that runs two apps at once.
You don't get a great deal of software support with the Motorola One 5G Ace. While Motorola's committing to two years of security patches, this Motorola One device is only on tap for one software update. With the phone shipping with Android 10 installed, that means you get an update to the already released Android 11, and that's all.
Motorola One 5G Ace Review: Verdict
The Motorola One 5G Ace needs more than just a low price to separate itself from other 5G phones, especially with the TCL 10 5G UW matching its $399 cost and the latest OnePlus Nord N10 available for even less. The long-lasting battery on Motorola's phone helps somewhat, but other positives like a bright screen and strong macro lens aren't going to be the features that make people flock to your phone.
There's nothing wrong with the Motorola One 5G Ace, though I do wish its camera handled low-light photos with more aplomb. But at a time when more phone makers are putting effort into producing lower-cost 5G devices, "good enough" is barely enough to make the grade.