Motorola One 5G Ace review: A good $400 phone, a fantastic $20 one
A solid 5G phone that costs less than your dinner -- if you can get one fast enough.
Updated Feb. 26, 2021 3:09 p.m. PT
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Patrick HollandManaging 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.
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.
When I set out to review the Ace I immediately ran into a problem: The price. At the time I'm writing this review, you can buy the Ace for $20. That's not a typo. And that led to the question: Was I reviewing a $400 phone, a $300 phone or a $20 phone?
The Metro promotion isn't likely the only deal you'll get on the Ace. Motorola has a solid track record discounting its phones throughout the year. Right now, you can get last year's Motorola One 5G for $300. If you're already on AT&T or Verizon and aren't planning to switch carriers, that's the way I'd go -- as long as you can handle all the carrier branding and bloatware.
The Ace isn't the only 5G budget phone to consider. The $300 OnePlus Nord N10 5G represents an incredible value. It has a smaller screen, a smaller battery and a slower processor than the Ace, but comes with a 90Hz high refresh rate display and a fast-charging wall adapter (Warp charge), which the Ace doesn't.
The Motorola One 5G Ace is a good $400 phone, a great $300 phone and an absolutely fantastic $20 phone. Aside from a few absent features, which I'll discuss later, the Ace is similar to last year's Motorola One 5G. I encourage you to read my Motorola One 5G review.
Watch this: Review: Motorola One 5G Ace is a $400 phone you can buy for $20
The Motorola One 5G Ace is chonky
At 212 grams, the Ace is a heavy phone. To give you some perspective the Galaxy S21 Ultra weighs 229 grams and the iPhone 12 Pro Max is 228 grams. The Ace isn't the heaviest phone I tested, but it's not the lightest either. That heft makes the Ace feel solid and well-made for its $400 price. Also, I like the plastic back and finish. It looks attractive and contemporary.
The Ace gets incredible battery life
A lot of the weight comes from the battery. Motorola deserves praise for including large capacity batteries in their budget phones over the past few years. The Ace has a 5,000-mAh battery, which in my testing got through a day and a half no problem and often made it through two days on a single charge. There are phones that cost two or three times as much as the Ace and don't last anywhere near as long.
Motorola One 5G Ace is a budget phone that doesn't look cheap
In battery tests on the Ace for continuous video playback on Airplane mode it lasted 25 hours and 8 minutes. That is the second longest battery life on any phone we tested in the past few years. Only the LG V60 ThinQ 5G beats it with a whopping time of 31 hours, 14 minutes on a single charge.
The screen could be brighter
The Ace has a 6.7-inch LCD screen with a punch out for a single selfie camera. Gone is the vampire bite from the 2020 One 5G that housed its two front-facing cameras. The display and bezels on the Ace look sleek as a package. The screen has FHD plus resolution and support for HDR10. In everyday use, it looked good, but I wish the screen got brighter. When I was outside on a sunny day, it was difficult to make out what was on the display.
The Ace lacks the 90Hz high refresh rate screen found on the 2020 One 5G. As much as I enjoy high refresh rate screens, I don't miss it here and think it was a wise compromise on Motorola's part.
More cameras are not better
The Ace has a main wide-angle camera, an ultrawide-angle camera, a macro camera and a single selfie camera. The main 48-megapixel camera uses pixel binning to combine multiple pixels into one. This helps reduce image noise and increase brightness.
I'm impressed with many of the photos the Ace captured, especially with the main camera. But nearly all of these photos were taken in bright lighting. In dimmer situations, the quality of photos becomes more hit-or-miss, and noise reduction makes the details in photos too soft.
The ultrawide camera performs just OK. Even its good photos aren't anywhere near the image quality of the main camera. Unless you're in good lighting, you're going to get mediocre ultrawide photos.
I don't get the appeal of a macro camera on a phone. If you're into ridiculously close-up shots then it's there for you. I wish Motorola would remove the macro camera, take the money spent on it and use it to improve the ultrawide camera.
A few times while framing a photo, a prompt would appear urging me to change to the macro camera. I would. Then, when I was framing with the macro camera, a prompt would appear suggesting I use the 1x (main) camera. Also, autofocus with the macro camera isn't great. Frequently when I took a photo, the camera would struggle to grab focus.
In terms of video, image quality isn't great and the focus tends to hunt. Good lighting offers good results. And the image stabilization in video is surprisingly good. Check out the video below to see footage shot at both 4K and 1080p resolutions with the Ace.
If the Ace were a $700-plus phone I'd be disappointed with its camera system. But it's solid for a $400 phone. You'd have to pay $99 more to jump up to the stellar cameras on the Google Pixel 4A 5G. As long as you know what the trade-offs are, you're going to be able to take some good photos with the Ace's main camera.
The Ace has a new processor but last year's software
The Ace runs Android 10. For a $300 or $20 phone Android 10 is just fine. But for a $400 phone, I wished it shipped with Android 11. Motorola promises an update to Android 11, but there's no details yet on when that will happen.
The Ace has a Snapdragon 750G 5G chip and 6GB of RAM which is two more gigabytes than last year's One 5G. In my time with the Ace, it worked well. I didn't experience any hiccups or lag time throughout day-to-day tasks. In benchmark testing, it was on par with last year's One 5G sometimes scoring better and sometimes scoring lower. The Ace performed much better than the OnePlus Nord N10 5G and last year's Pixel 4A 5G. See the results below.
Motorola One 5G Ace specs vs. Motorola One 5G, OnePlus Nord N10 5G, Google Pixel 4A 5G
Motorola One 5G Ace
Motorola One 5G
OnePlus Nord N10 5G
Google Pixel 4A 5G
Display size, resolution
6.7-inch LCD, 2,400x1,080 pixels
6.7-inch FHD; 2,520x1,080 pixels
6.49-inch LCD; 2,400x1,080 pixels
6.2-inch OLED; 2,340x1,080 pixels
153.9 x 74 x 8.2 mm (Sub-6 only); 153.9x74x8.5 mm (mmWave + Sub-6)