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Motorola's 4 newest sub-$400 phones are here, and we went hands-on

Our first impressions of the 2021 versions of the Moto G Stylus, Moto G Power and Moto G Play, along with the Motorola One 5G ACE.

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
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.
Expertise Apple | iPhone | iOS | Android | Samsung | Sony | Google | Motorola | Interviews | Coffee equipment | Cats Credentials
  • 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.
Patrick Holland
5 min read
Motorola budget phones

From left to right: The Moto G Play, Moto G Stylus, Motorola One 5G ACE and the Moto G Power.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Motorola isn't wasting any time in 2021. The company has already announced four new budget phones , including the new Motorola One 5G ACE, which at $400 is the most affordable 5G phone the company sells. There are also three new Moto G  devices: the Moto G Stylus , Moto G Power and Moto G Play, the last of which costs $170. You could buy 5.88 of them for the price of the iPhone 12 Pro , though I'm not sure how you carve out 88% of a phone.

Motorola is known for creating compelling feature-packed phones that don't break the bank. Since 2013, it's sold over 100 million Moto G phones, and this year's lineup looks promising. In the US, all four phones are now available to buy unlocked. There are plans to bring the Moto G Power, Moto G Play and Motorola One 5G ACE to Canada, but Motorola hasn't announced a specific date. The phones won't be available outside North America but for context, $400 converts to about £295 or AU$515.

Motorola prices and models compared

Motorola One 5G ACE $4006GB128GBsub-6
Moto G Stylus $3004GB128GBnone
Moto G Power $2504GB64GBnone
Moto G Power $2003GB32GBnone
Moto G Play $1703GB32GBnone

On paper, these four phones offer a good value for the money and each is priced to fit different budgets. More so than last year's Moto G lineup, there are clear benefits if you pay a little more to upgrade from one model to the other. 

The ACE is the only 5G phone of the four, and at $400 it's one of the more affordable 5G phones you can currently buy in the US. But there are several other budget 5G phones for around the same price, including the $400 TCL 10 5G and the $500 Galaxy A51 5G which Samsung currently sells for $300. As of this month, you can get a OnePlus Nord 10 5G for $300.

Watch this: Hands-on with Motorola's 2021 budget phone lineup

All four phones run with Android 10 with Motorola's helpful shortcuts and customizations (like twisting your wrist to open the camera or double chop to turn on and off the flashlight). They don't run Android 11 as that would have meant delaying the phones by months and Motorola wanted to make the phones available as quickly as possible. The company promises one major OS update and two years of security updates on all four models, which seems fair for phones at this price. But compare that to the $349 Pixel 4A and the $499 Pixel 4A 5G from Google which get three years of Android OS updates.

Here is an overview of the phones and my first impressions. Over the coming weeks, we'll be doing in-depth testing and analysis of each phone.


The Motorola One 5G ACE has a silver speckled finish that's called Frosty Silver.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Motorola One 5G ACE

The most conspicuous phone of the group is the One 5G ACE. If it seems familiar, it could be because of the Motorola One 5G from last year, still available through AT&T and Verizon . As the name suggests, the ACE supports 5G, specifically the sub-6 spectrum, and is compatible with the "still in their infancy" 5G networks from all major US carriers. There's no word from Motorola if there will be a mmWave version of the ACE that works with ultra wideband 5G networks that offer ridiculously fast speeds.

The ACE has an enjoyable chonky design and the one I got to try has a sweet business-casual silver speckled finish called frosty silver. Some of the ACE's stoutness comes from the fact it houses a 5,000-mAh battery, which Motorola claims will survive two days on a single charge.

When I tested the AT&T version of last year's Motorola One 5G, which also has a 5,000-mAh battery, it lasted the second-longest time in our video battery test of any phone in 2020. And that version has a 90Hz refresh-rate screen, whereas the ACE has the more common 60Hz refresh-rate display. So in theory, it could eke out a little more time. We'll have to see when we test it.

Motorola One 5G Ace is a budget phone that doesn't look cheap

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Accentuating the back of the ACE is a postage stamp-sized camera bump that houses three cameras: a main camera, an ultrawide-angle camera and a macro camera. The main camera has a 48-megapixel sensor that uses a technique called pixel binning to combine four pixels into one. This helps reduce image noise and increase brightness.


The Motorola One 5G ACE has three rear cameras: A wide, ultrawide and macro.

Patrick Holland/CNET

The ACE lacks the dedicated depth camera and the nifty ring light flash that was built into the macro lens on last year's One 5G. As cool as a ring flash seemed on a phone, I rarely used it in real life and think it's a smart omission.

The ACE has a 6.7-inch HDR10 display with a cutout for the selfie camera. Powering the ACE is a Snapdragon 750G 5G processor and 6GB of RAM. 

Moto G Power, Moto G Stylus and Moto G Play

The Moto G Stylus, Moto G Power and Moto G Play are all new versions of phones launched last year. Technically in 2020, Motorola switched up the naming convention and the Moto G Fast replaced the Moto G Play in name only. But this year the cheapest Moto is back to its usual name.

The three Moto G phones are similar in terms of design. The Moto G Play and G Power both have centered square camera bumps while the Moto G Stylus has a rectangular camera bump off to the left side. The G Stylus and G Power have side fingerprint readers on the power button which can also be used to trigger software shortcuts. The Moto G Play has a fingerprint reader incorporated into the Motorola logo on the back of the phone. All three phones have a headphone jack, as does the Motorola One 5G ACE. The layered colors on the back keep the G series phones from looking dull or "cheap." 


From left-to-right: The Moto G Play, Moto G Power and Moto G Stylus.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Both the Moto G Stylus and G Power displays have a hole-punch that houses the selfie camera and make the phones look more premium than the Moto G Play, which has a teardrop-shaped notch. Last year, all three G phones had a 6.4-inch display. This year, the displays range from 6.8 inches on the G Stylus to 6.6 inches on the G Power and 6.5 inches on the G Play. But despite the change in screen specs, the phones on the whole aren't drastically different in size.

Motorola claims the Moto G Stylus and its 4,000-mAh battery can last two days on a single charge and the Moto G Power and G Play that each have a 5,000-mAh battery won't die for three days. Last year's Moto G Power lasted nearly as long as the One 5G in our video battery test and had the third longest time out of every phone we tested.


The Moto G Stylus has three rear cameras: A wide, an ultrawide and a macro. It also has a depth sensor for portrait mode photos.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Out of the three, the Moto G Stylus offers triple rear cameras and a dedicated depth sensor. Whereas the G Power has two rear cameras and a dedicated depth camera and the G Power a single rear camera and a dedicated depth camera.

As its name indicates, the Moto G Stylus has a built-in stylus for pinpoint control when you edit photos, jot down notes, mark up screenshots and so on. The phone gets an updated Moto Notes app that supports customizing colors and a "swipe to split" screen interface along with writing and text input.

There is much more for me to explore with each of these phones and I look forward to reviewing them.