The Moto G Stylus finds itself in a bit of a pickle. This mid-range phone debuts at the same time as both the Moto G Power and Moto G Fast. It should come as no surprise for a trio phones that come from the same manufacturer and sport similar price tags, that these handsets are essentially dead ringers for one another.
The Moto G Stylus, Moto G Power and Moto G Fast share matching looks, identical screen sizes and the exact same mobile processors. But the Moto G Stylus trades in the Moto G Power's marquee feature — epic battery life — for a stylus. Think of this phone as kind of a discount version of Samsung's more extravagantly priced Galaxy Note 20, which just debuted for three times the price of the Moto G Stylus.
Starting price: $299
OS: Android 10
Screen size (Resolution): 6.4-inch LCD (2300 x 1080)
CPU: Snapdragon 665
Expandable: Yes, up to 512GB
Rear Cameras: 48MP (f/1.7) main; 2MP (f/2.2) macro; 16MP (f/2.2) Action Cam
Front Camera: 16MP (f/2.0)
Battery Size: 4,000 mAh
Battery Life (Hrs:Mins): 12:13
Size: 6.2 x 3 x 0.36 inches
Weight: 6.8 ounces
Having completed my Moto G Stylus review, I'm not sure the stylus-for-big-battery trade works out in this phone's favor. While the Moto G Stylus has some other features to recommend it, including a 48MP main camera and more built-in storage, I look at Moto's two new budget phones side-by-side and can't help but feel the Moto G Power has more to offer.
Moto G Stylus review: Price and availability
You can buy the phone directly from Motorola. It's also available from Best Buy, B&H Photo and Amazon. Carriers offering the Moto G Stylus include Verizon, Republic Wireless, Google Fi and Metro by T-Mobile. It's not hard to find the Moto G Stylus at all.
Moto G Stylus review: Design
The Moto G Stylus looks so similar to the Moto G Power that, when reviewing the two devices, I would occasionally grab the wrong one. From the front, they look very similar, with their matching 6.4-inch displays surrounded by thin (though still noticeable) bezels and similar dimensions. The Moto G Stylus is 1.4 millimeters shorter and 0.4 millimeters thinner than the Moto G Power. The smaller battery inside the 6.8-ounce Moto G Stylus means it weighs 0.2 ounces less than its sibling.
There's one chief difference in design between the two phones, and it's what gives the Moto G Stylus its name. The right corner of the phone houses a 3.8-inch stylus that you can pull out and use to jot down notes and spot-edit photos. The stylus remains in place securely until you dig it out via a little notch in the corner of the phone, at which point it slides out fairly easily.
Flip over the Moto G Stylus and again, you get a similar look to the Moto G Power with a fingerprint sensor on the back middle of the device and three camera lenses that descend from the upper left corner. The Stylus looks a little flashier than its sibling, thanks to its Mystic Indigo color scheme that gives the phone a dark blue/almost purple sheen. But like the Moto G Power, the Moto G Stylus is made of plastic, so there's no mistaking that this is a budget phone.
You'll find a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the Moto G Stylus. Motorola says the phone has a "water repellant design," meaning that splashes are OK, but dunks are most certainly not. There’s no IP rating here.
Moto G Stylus review: Stylus
You won't confuse the stylus included for Motorola's phone with the S Pen that's a highlight of Samsung's vastly more expensive Galaxy Note phones. On recent Note models, the S Pen has added Bluetooth connectivity, which enables features like using the stylus as a remote control for presentations, music playback and taking pictures. On Motorola's phone, the stylus is just a stylus — an input device used for scribbling on the screen.
Still, the stylus on Motorola's new phone will come in handy for people who really want to scrawl things down at a moment's notice without even pausing to unlock their phone. Pull the stylus out of a locked, sleeping Moto G Stylus, and the phone immediately springs to life, launching a notes screen where you can jot, scribble and draw to your heart's content, using three different drawing tools and seven different colors. When you're done, you can save your scribbles to the included Moto Notes app. Restoring the stylus to its slot on the phone returns you to the Moto G Stylus lock screen.
When the phone's awake, removing the stylus produces a shortcuts menu on the right side of the screen for creating notes in Moto Notes, sketches in Google Keep and snapping screenshots. (The screenshot tool captures the entire screen, but you have the option of editing it if there's a specific area you want to highlight or markup.)
The stylus can also come in handy when you're editing photos. Like other recent Motorola phones, the Moto G Stylus' camera supports a Cinemagraph feature in which you can designate some areas of your still image to feature movement. Using the stylus I was able to mark off a much more precise area than I could using my finger to edit a Cinemagraph image.
It's all pretty handy, but I found myself wishing the stylus could trigger more shortcuts on the Moto G Stylus.
Moto G Stylus review: Display
As with the Moto G Power, the display on the Moto G Stylus is the device's least appealing feature. It's an LCD panel — a trade-off we should all be willing to make for a sub-$300 phone — and the Full HD+ resolution of 2300 x 1080 is sharp enough for my eyes.
The problem is color — they're simply not vibrant or bright enough on the Moto G Stylus’ display. While watching a No Time to Die trailer on YouTube, shadowy scenes looked extra dark and even those shot in bright sunlight looked rather muted. When I switched over to Dolemite Is My Name on Netflix, the G Stylus screen recreated the 1970s-style haze that the movie was shot in, but Eddie Murphy's garish outfits didn't look as vibrant as they have on other screens.
Our lab testing found that the Moto G Stylus just doesn't show off a wide range of colors, with the phone registering 98% of the sRGB color gamut. While LCD screens don't tend to showcase colors to the degree that OLED panels do, the LCD-equipped iPhone SE captured 111.2% of that same spectrum. The TCL 10L — which has one of the best displays we've seen on an inexpensive phone was even more colorful, with 122.1%.
The Moto G Stylus' colors were about as accurate as the Moto G Power, which had a Delta-E rating of 0.33 to the 0.32 rating of the Moto G Stylus. However, the TCL 10L is more accurate than either Motorola phone, with a Delta-E rating of 0.22. (Numbers closer to zero are more accurate.)
At least the Moto G Stylus screen is bright enough to see clearly in direct sunlight. Using a light meter, we measured 510 nits of brightness for the Moto G Stylus. That outshines the Pixel 3a (401 nits) and TCL 10L (422 nits), though the iPhone SE is brighter at 653. Still, I never had to dig into the Moto G Stylus' setting to crank up the display brightness when I took the phone outside.
Moto G Stylus review: Cameras
The Moto G Stylus goes against the grain for budget phones by featuring three rear cameras — something you typically don't see in low-cost phones outside of... well.. the Moto G Power. But the cameras on the Moto G Stylus are quite different from Motorola's other phone.
For starters, the main lens is more powerful, with the Moto G Stylus relying on a 48-megapixel sensor instead of the 16MP camera on the Moto G Power. The main camera on the Moto G Stylus uses quad-pixel binning to combine four megapixels into one to let more light in.
I don't know that those extra megapixels make much of a difference in this photo of a houseboat that I shot with both Motorola phones. The houseboat itself looks the same in both shots, but there's some differences in the other details. The sky is a brighter shade of blue in the Moto G Stylus photo, while there's more varied greens in the brush growing along the shore in the foreground. The Moto G Stylus has the better shot, but whether it's better to justify the phone's higher cost is debatable.
Other cameras on the back of the Moto G Stylus include a 2MP macro lens and an ultra wide angle lens. The latter is a bit different than the ultra wide angle lens on the Moto G Power, as it can't zoom out for more detailed landscape shots. Instead, the Moto G Stylus' wide angle lens is an action cam used solely for video. Similar to a feature found on the Motorola One Action, this lens lets you film landscape videos even if you hold the phone vertically. That makes it easier to operate your camera one-handed.
The macro lens on the Moto G Stylus produces OK images under the right conditions. You've got to get up very close, hope that the lighting is right, and make sure that nothing moves even a little bit that would add any blur to your photo. There was no breeze when I took this photo of a California poppy, which is probably why its edges aren't as fuzzy as a similar shot I took with the Moto G Power's macro lens. And the lens captured some of the detail in the flower's petals, so I'm satisfied with the shot.
As for how the Moto G Stylus' cameras compare to the ones on other low-cost phones, I grabbed a Pixel 3a XL and the Stylus to photograph a bowl of pasta. (The XL version of Google's budget phone costs nearly $200 more than the Moto G Stylus, but it has the same camera setup as the $399 Pixel 3a so this will give you some idea of how Motorola's phone compares to the best camera phone if you're on a budget.)
The Moto G Stylus holds its own here — while the light streaming into my dining room caused a little over-exposure on the right side of the shot, the pasta itself is well-lit and colorful. The photo is focused enough to where you can make out the flecks of pesto on the rigatoni. The Pixel 3a XL gives everything a blue cast, which makes that cabernet I'm drinking look more like a cup of oil.
Back outside, the breeze picked up when I took another photo of those poppies in my backyard, this time without the macro lens. The Moto G Stylus had a hard time compensating for the breeze and the flowers in the lower right foreground are blurred as a consequence. The Pixel 3a XL does a better job keeping everything in focus, though both cameras kept a good balance between shadow and light.
The Moto G Stylus supports a Night mode for taking shots when the lights are low, but if this is the result, I wish Motorola wouldn't have bothered. This scene — some stuffed animals sitting around my backyard lit only by red LED lights overhead and a lamp in the background — looks nightmarish in the Moto G Stylus' effort. The red light washes out everything, and it's hard to see where one stuffie ends and another begins. The Pixel 3a XL produces a dramatically better shot — the red lights are still there, but they highlight the scene, and the picture's clear enough to see the details on the cement wall in the background.
We're back to comparing the two Motorola phones to assess the Moto G Stylus' portrait effects, and the cheaper Moto G Power actually produces a better shot. The background blur is effective, particularly the way it handles those trees beyond our porch. The Moto G Stylus had a difficult time contending with the shadows and as a result, the colors of my daughter’s blue shirt don't look quite right. The blur here is more pronounced, too, though the Stylus includes tools for adjusting lighting and blur effects.
The 16MP selfie cam on the Moto G Stylus does a credible job on self-portraits, though it appears to have been somewhat flustered by the sun peaking through the orange tree behind me. That said, it accurately picked up my skin tone — even if if got overly aggressive in smoothing out my skin — and nailed the different colors of my beard. The Pixel 3a XL's picture is darker, perhaps to overcompensate for that tricky sunlight — though the texture of my skin looks a bit more natural.
Using some of the special features of the Moto G Stylus, you start to see the stylus earning more of its keep. Here's the Cinemagraph of me pouring a Manhattan in which I used the stylus to restrict the motion to the cocktail coming out of the shaker and into the glass. I didn't experience the same stray motion that I got on the Moto G Power using just my finger.
The stylus also came in handy using the Spot Color feature to call out a specific color in a photo captured by the Moto G Stylus. Here, I taped on lilac petal and that really emphasizes the flowers in a way that makes them stand out from the rest of the shot. Other colors haven't disappeared — you can still see some hint of color from the rug on the floor — but I think this effect is more striking and I'm not sure I could have gotten it without the stylus to tap a very specific area.
Moto G Stylus review: Performance
The Moto G Stylus features a Snapdragon 665 system-on-chip, which is what you'll also find in the Moto G Power and Moto G Fast. It's no surprise that the three Motorola phones fare about the same in benchmark tests. The Moto G Stylus' multicore score of 1,406 on the Geekbench 5 general performance test is slightly higher than the G Power (1,387) and G Fast (1,394). That means the Stylus also outscores the Snapdragon 670-powered Pixel 3a (1,336), but doesn't quite match the Snapdragon 660-powered Nokia 7.2 (1,498).
In graphics testing, the Moto G Stylus turned in an average score of 1,756 on 3DMark's Sling Shot Open GL test. That was marginally better than the 1,734 average we saw from the Moto G Power, but not as good as the Nokia 7.2 (2,054) or the Pixel 3a (2,543).
At the end of the day, all this means is that the Moto G Stylus performs reasonably well for a lower-priced phone, especially if you're just using your device for everyday tasks like browsing, social media and streaming. Running more processor-intensive apps will likely lead to some hiccups, but when I played PUBG Mobile, I didn't notice too many dropped frames or stutters — in fact, the game even seemed to run better on the Moto G Stylus than it did on the Moto G Power.
Another edge the Stylus holds over the cheaper Power is with the built-in storage. The Moto G Stylus comes with 128GB of capacity, double the amount in the Moto G Power. As with that other Motorola phone, the Stylus has a microSD card slot for adding up to 512GB of extra storage.
Moto G Stylus review: Battery life and charging
The battery inside the Moto G Stylus may not match the beefy 5,000 mAh power pack inside the Moto G Power, but it's still pretty sizable in its own right. The Moto G Stylus uses a 4,000 mAh battery, which keeps the phone powered up throughout the day.
In our battery test, we have phones surf the web continuously over LTE until they run out of power. The Moto G Stylus endured for 12 hours and 13 minutes on our test. That's nearly 4 hours short of the Moto G Power's performance, but it's still well above the average for smartphones and impressive enough to land on our list for best phone battery life. The Moto G Fast, which has the same sized battery as the G Stylus, lasted 4 minutes longer.
Motorola promises 10-watt charging for the Moto G Stylus, but that doesn't translate to speedy charge times. After 15 minutes of charging a drained Moto G Stylus, the phone's battery indicator reached 15%; by half-an-hour, it was up to 29%. That's ahead of the 21% reading we got from the Moto G Power after 30 minutes, but not what you'd get from phones that support 18-watt charging.
Moto G Stylus review: Software and special features
You'll find Android 10 pre-installed on the Moto G Stylus, and as its practice, Motorola does very little to get in the way of that. The few embellishments made to Android are actually useful — Moto Actions let you activate the phone's camera with a twist of the wrist, turn the flashlight on and off with a chopping motion or take a screenshot with three fingers.
Apart from the stylus that gives the phone its name, the only other feature of note is the fingerprint reader on the back of the Moto G Stylus, which is easy to locate without inadvertently smudging the phone's camera lenses. The sensor is pretty responsive, too. I didn't get many "fingerprint not recognized" alerts the way I did with the Moto G Power.
Moto G Stylus review: Verdict
The Moto G Stylus is a solid phone with an interesting feature that makes it easier to jot down notes whenever you want. It delivers good performance for the price and the cameras — while hit and miss — generally produce some decent shots if not the kinds of quality photos you'd get from the Pixel 3a or iPhone SE. If you don't want to spend more than $300 on a phone, the Moto G Stylus is a very good option.
And yet, I don't think it's the best cheap phone option, not even from Motorola.
In terms of performance, camera and design, there's very little separating the Moto G Stylus from the Moto G Power. And the big difference — battery life — skews heavily toward the Power's favor. It would feel like a closer fight if you could do more with the namesake stylus on this more expensive phone, but without support for more apps, the Moto G Stylus feels too much like a gimmick instead of the bargain that the Moto G Power is.