Moto G Pure: 3 things I like about Motorola's $160 phone

Motorola's most affordable phone tempts with its low-key charms.

Updated Oct. 14, 2021 6:07 a.m. PT

Written by  Patrick Holland
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Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
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  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
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Moto G Pure

The Moto G Pure surprised me with its back-to-basics vibe.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The $160 Moto G Pure is the lowest-priced phone I tested in 2021. I wasn't sure what to expect. It lacks support for 5G , has a 6.5-inch screen with just a 720p resolution and has a MediaTek Helio G25 processor which in our benchmark performance tests received the lowest score of any phone I tested. But after a few days of using the Moto G Pure, I'm genuinely impressed by its low-key charms.

The sole purpose of this phone's existence is to be cheap. And by cheap, I don't mean poorly made; quite the opposite, actually. The Moto G Pure costs $160 and that's before discounts, of which surely there will be some. To put that into perspective, for the price of an iPhone 13, you could buy four and a half Moto G Pure phones. Or buy one and save $569. Clearly the iPhone 13 is a superior phone in nearly every way. But I'd argue that at $160, the Moto G Pure punches well above its weight when it comes to the basics. (The phone won't be available internationally, but $160 converts to roughly £120 or AU$220.)

The Moto G Pure has a refreshing, minimalistic vibe. It handles the basics fine. It's not peppy, but it's not annoyingly slow either. And there are few things about it that stand out to me.

The Moto G Pure has good battery life

The Moto G Pure packs a 4,000-mAh battery. That's big, but it's not the biggest battery you can get, even in a phone by Motorola . But combine that battery with a close-to-stock version of Android 11, the MediaTek processor, a lower-resolution display and  4G LTE connectivity, then you have a satiated phone in terms of battery life. Motorola quotes two days on a single charge. In the few days I had the phone, I charged it twice. Meaning you should have no trouble getting through a day.

Moto G Pure

The Moto G Pure has a 13-megapixel camera and a depth sensor.

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The Moto G Pure camera works but doesn't wow

There is a single rear 13-megapixel camera. Technically there is a second camera in the form of a 2-megapixel depth sensor. The two work together for things like portrait mode and spot color photos. I'm not sure what I'd expect out of the camera on a $160 phone, but the Moto G Pure definitely exceeded my expectations.

Is the Moto G Pure's camera on the level of the iPhone, Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy S21? Of course not. But those phones cost $300 to $500 more than the Moto G Pure. Are you going to be able to take decent photos most of the time in good lighting? You betcha.

The camera has HDR, portrait mode and Google Lens. It doesn't have a night mode and the photos taken indoors under dim lighting have image noise and softness.

Moto G Pure

An early morning architecture photo.

Patrick Holland/CNET
Moto G Pure

Clearly the Moto G Pure doesn't have the best dynamic range. But for a $160 phone, this it nailed exposing the photo for the cable car.

Patrick Holland/CNET
Moto G Pure

I have to acknowledge that there is a bit of image noise and blurry noise reduction. But I dig this photo of the Bay Bridge at sunrise.

Patrick Holland/CNET
Moto G Pure

Here's another photo where the dynamic range isn't great. By exposing on the Transamerica building, it renders pretty much everything else in dark shadow. But a consequence of that is a very dramatic looking photo.

Patrick Holland/CNET
Moto G Pure

Here is what a photo taken at night looks like from a $160 phone.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The Moto G Pure has a Pro mode where you can dial in settings for photos manually. Pro mode even has a floating window histogram. Phones that cost four or five times more than the Moto G Pure don't have a histogram in the default camera app.

The camera also includes Moto shortcut features like Auto Smile Capture, and Gesture Selfie where you hold up your palm to trigger a selfie photo. I do miss the Moto Action shortcut where you double-twist your wrist to open the camera app.

The Moto G Pure is a minimalistic phone

Phones are often marketed based on their specs or a new flashy feature, but what really makes a phone appealing is how a company is able to bring all the different elements together into a cohesive whole. The Moto G Pure and its clean modern design is a good example of this. The Pure has a minimalistic harmony about it.

Moto G Pure

I like the simplicity of the $160 Moto G Pure.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The only thing that looks dated is the teardrop cutout in the display for the selfie camera. The back is plastic coated with an appealing textured purple finish. The fingerprint reader (remember those?) is on the back and easy to use without looking. But what really ties everything together is the near stock version of Android 11 with small software flourishes by Motorola. There's Gametime to minimize distractions while playing games like Alto's Odyssey and Asphalt 9. There are also Moto Actions that, for example, let you turn on and off the flashlight by performing a chopping motion while holding the phone.

The Moto G Pure lives up to its name by offering you a pure 2021 phone experience without the complicated frills that define more expensive phones. While the Moto G Pure definitely has its shortcomings, it all but makes up for them with its price.

In the US, you can order the Moto G Pure universally unlocked for $160 at Best Buy, Walmart , B&H Photo, Amazon and on Motorola's website.  A Verizon version is also available to order. Over the next few months, T-Mobile , AT&T , US Cellular, Cricket, Consumer Cellular, Boost Mobile , Xfinity Mobile, Spectrum Mobile, and Republic Wireless will sell the Pure and Metro by T-Mobile will give you a free Moto G Pure when you switch to its service.