Motorola's under-$200 phone can handle most tasks right now, but its future is murky.
The Moto G Stylus is one of the most capable $200 phones I've used so far. Unlike the $170 Moto G Play -- which struggled on many basic tasks -- I found the Stylus to smoothly run most apps, games and services while also taking decent photos on its 50-megapixel main camera and 8-megapixel front-facing camera.
The Moto G Stylus has a 6.5-inch 720p display with a 90Hz refresh rate, a sluggish but otherwise capable MediaTek Helio G85 processor, 64GB of storage that's expandable with a microSD card slot, 4GB of RAM, a 5,000-mAh battery and -- as per its name -- a stylus with a built-in slot. Stereo speakers, a fingerprint sensor and a headphone jack round out the phone's hardware -- all of which are welcome.
Even though the stylus is one of the phone's selling points, its addition feels more like a "nice to have" perk than a necessity. When popping the stylus from its slot, you get a quick menu to access a screenshot-editing tool, a note application, a handwriting calculator and Google Keep. You also get a handwriting keyboard that lets you scribble into most text fields, which is nice for quick words but is frustrating to use for longer sentences. But if you are a fan of stylus phones, it's here and is functionally fine.
Motorola ships the Stylus with Android 13 onboard, and similar to other Moto G phones, will only get one major software update (to Android 14, which launches this fall) and three years of security updates. This timeline is fairly average for this price range, and I wish Motorola could offer something more like four to five years of security updates for people who want to use their phone until it's broken.
That short update lifespan, made worse by the phone's lack of 5G connectivity, leads to the biggest problem with the Moto G Stylus. While I found the phone works great with most tasks, the phone's lower-end processor, 4GB of RAM and lack of 5G may lead it to get left behind as apps and services become more advanced and take advantage of faster internet speeds.
That's particularly of note as 5G phone prices begin to drop below $200, with Samsung already offering the Galaxy A14 5G and TCL starting to bring its 40 series of phones into the US market. However, if you simply don't care about whether your phone has 5G, and you just need a cheap phone right now, the Moto G Stylus does offer plenty of comfort features to enjoy at its budget price.
The Moto G Stylus has what I would consider the minimum specs needed to functionally run most apps and tasks without frustrating lag or storage problems. The MediaTek Helio G85 processor paired up with the phone's 4GB of RAM allows most apps to launch quickly while handling a little bit of multitasking. It's by far the most noticeable improvement when comparing the Stylus to the $170 Moto G Play, whose Helio G37 processor and 3GB of RAM created a stuttered phone experience where some apps wouldn't even load.
The more powerful processor does appear to help the screen with its refresh rate, which functions at a noticeable 90Hz. Also unlike the Moto G Play, which only had an "auto" refresh rate up to 90Hz, you can set the Moto G Stylus to run consistently at that higher refresh rate. This allows for smoother scrolling through web pages, apps and in game animations.
The phone's 64GB of storage is on the smaller side by today's standards but should allow you to still store enough apps, photos and videos before reaching for a microSD card.
The phone's 5,000-mAh battery lasts roughly two days under medium to heavy usage. During my review period, I typically ran the phone through our benchmark tests while using it for video calls, social media and photography throughout the day. These tests include monitoring the battery through roughly an hour of active use, consisting of 10 minutes of playing Marvel Snap, a 10-minute video call, a 20-minute voice call where I also browsed several apps and rounded out with 15 minutes of YouTube videos. During that period, the battery started at 78% and depleted down to 69%.
As I mentioned before, the included stylus is a nice perk, but it's also one that I'm confused by at this price range. The phone's lower-powered specs make it useful for most tasks, but a stylus implies that the device is meant for productivity -- like creating drawings or annotating PDF documents. Aside from taking a few quick screenshots, circling or highlighting important details and sending the annotated image off in a text message, I'm not entirely sure what more to make of the included stylus. Instead, it would have been great to see either NFC for contactless purchases or perhaps wireless charging make its way down to the sub-$200 price, even in lieu of 5G connectivity.
The Moto G Stylus has one of the better camera systems I've used in the $200-and-under phone space. The phone's 50-megapixel main camera captures a lot of detail, especially when outdoors or in well-lit areas. As is typical in this price range, photos taken in indoor spaces get a little noisy, resulting in slightly less-details, but I was quite happy with a lot of photos I took over a Sunday afternoon brunch at Comfortland in Astoria, Queens.
The photo of the crab cake benedict particularly highlights the camera's capability for food photography, sharply capturing both the main portion of the dish along with the tomatoes on the plate.
The 50-megapixel main camera is paired up with a 2-megapixel macro lens, which are used together to provide a blurred background bokeh effect in portrait mode. In other cheaper phones that I test with portrait mode, results are usually somewhere between unnoticeable to badly rendered. However these photos of my friend Cole taken on the patio at Diamond Dogs in Astoria correctly keep him and his flowing hair in focus, while blurring out the people behind him.
Even more surprising is the portrait mode also working well with the 8-megapixel front-facing camera, which my friend Kevin tested out while we hung out in the bar's backyard.
Indoor selfies had more image noise but otherwise work for a quick photo. I also found the front-facing camera acceptable for a group chat, with colors being more muted in general while indoors. Again, it's fairly typical for phones in this price range to struggle more while in darker settings.
The cameras shoot 720p-resolution video at 30 frames per second, resulting in footage that is fine for a quick clip, but I wouldn't use it for any special occasions. This isn't a phone for shooting a dramatic film, but it will work for grabbing quick shots of scenery or of a pet.
Compared with my current favorite under-$200 phone, last year's $160 Samsung Galaxy A03S, the Moto G Stylus captures more detail with its camera. Sections of the CNET office plant wall that are blurry when taken by the A03S are visibly clearer in the photo taken by the Stylus.
While the Moto G Stylus is quite functional right now, it's worth noting all the ways that this phone could struggle after its first year of use. Aside from the Motorola-imposed limit of only getting a bump to Android 14 sometime next year, the phone's lack of 5G connectivity could become more noticeable as new phones continue to arrive in the $200 and less price range. The phone's current processor and memory are able to run any of today's apps easily, but these less powerful specs could hit a wall after two or three years with the phone.
While we haven't yet tested the $200 Galaxy A14 5G, prospective buyers who don't consider the stylus a must-have should keep it in mind, simply because that connectivity could help it adapt better as apps and services begin to take advantage of those faster data speeds.
However, if what you need is a phone for right now that includes the stylus, is as cheap as possible while being capable enough to run your favorite apps and you'd like to have it take decent photos, the Moto G Stylus does offer a lot of good features for its $200 price. Just keep in mind its limitations and the possibility that you might find yourself wanting to jump to a more capable phone in a year or two.
Every phone tested by CNET's reviews team was actually used in the real world. We test a phone's features, play games and take photos. We examine the display to see if it's bright, sharp and vibrant. We analyze the design and build to see how it is to hold and whether it has an IP-rating for water resistance. We push the processor's performance to the extremes using both standardized benchmark tools like GeekBench and 3DMark, along with our own anecdotal observations navigating the interface, recording high-resolution videos and playing graphically intense games at high refresh rates.
All the cameras are tested in a variety of conditions from bright sunlight to dark indoor scenes. We try out special features like night mode and portrait mode and compare our findings against similarly priced competing phones. We also check out the battery life by using it daily as well as running a series of battery drain tests.
We take into account additional features like support for 5G, satellite connectivity, fingerprint and face sensors, stylus support, fast charging speeds, foldable displays among others that can be useful. And we balance all of this against the price to give you the verdict on whether that phone, whatever price it is, actually represents good value.