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Hands on: Moto G Stylus review

G Stylus to the people

What is a hands on review?
Moto G Stylus
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

The Moto G Stylus’ big selling point - the stylus - is neither innovative nor essential, but don’t let it detract from what appears to be an impressive phone at the top of the budget spectrum.

For

  • Sharp, vibrant display
  • Good specs and storage
  • Well-rounded camera setup

Against

  • Stylus usefulness is debatable
  • Stylus fiddly to remove

The Moto G Stylus is Motorola’s new budget smartphone with a twist. The name is a giveaway: this is an affordable phone with a stylus, albeit one without the fancier features of other phones packing that accessory.

Even without its prime feature, the G Stylus is still an impressive budget smartphone, with enough specs, camera capability and battery to compete with pricier handsets. 

And that might be the best way to judge this phone, as the stylus essentially enables more precise touch control along with a handful of decent, but basic applications. You can write notes in the new Moto Notes app, but it won’t transcribe into text like the similar function in the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.

That’s a bit unfair, given the Moto G Stylus costs a third of Samsung’s flagship stylus phone. But it’s good context that speaks to the essential thrust behind Motorola’s new specialized G-series handset as an affordable, lower-featured version of the more expensive handsets dominating the stylus niche. 

It also distinguishes the G Stylus from most of its competition, which are budget phones sporting middling specs and features. The company is trying to shift it and it’s sibling handset - the Moto G Power - into clearer niches with the latter boasting a big battery while the G Stylus has… well, a stylus.

That’s enough to create some excitement for the G Stylus as a variety pick in the frequently dull budget marketplace - but the phone’s also got the performance chops to keep it competitive. In our limited time with the phone, we found it promising, though we’re cautious if the stylus functionality puts it above the sea of cheap phones.

(Image credit: Future)

Price and availability

The Moto G Stylus price starts at $299 (around £230, AU$440) with a US release date sometime in ‘Spring 2020’ (likely April-June). Motorola hasn’t announced availability in other countries, nor official pricing.

But we can guess when the G Stylus may come out: its semi-predecessor Moto G7 series trickled out through March and April 2019, so it’s a worthwhile assumption that the G Stylus and its partner will come out in that window.

(Image credit: Future)

Design

The Moto G Stylus is very much a G series phone: sleek, if a bit hefty, with a polycarbonate frame that looks much like the classy aluminum of pricier handsets. The bezel isn’t too thick for a budget phone, with a clean back coming in a dusk-esque ‘purple indigo’ hue.

Clean, that is, except for the strip of lenses and sensors in the upper left corner. Yes, the G Stylus has entered the modern age with a trio of camera lenses, and they’re arranged in a perfunctory (if not pretty) vertical line. Otherwise, a fingerprint sensor under a Motorola logo is placed toward the top of the back (rather than being embedded within the screen on the front) - an acceptable compromise for lower price. 

The eponymous stylus is tucked away on the right side of the base of the handset. You’ll have to tug with a surprising bit of force to pluck it out, so you might need some nails or a tiny screwdriver to yank it every time. On the plus side, such resistance means the stylus might not get drawn out if it gets caught on string or pockets.

The stylus itself is a black-and-silver cylinder about half the phone’s length; it’s ovoid-shaped, so you won’t likely stick it back in the phone the wrong way. The tip is actually a metal mesh, which could stand up to a bit more wear than rubber or silicone ends.

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(Image credit: Future)
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(Image credit: Future)

Stylus

The stylus functions simply, as a capacitive endpoint much like a finger. That means no Bluetooth tricks like acting as a shutter remote or controlling via gestures, as Samsung’s Note series do. Also, those bumps at the G Stylus pen’s base aren’t buttons - just nubs to lock it into place once it’s tucked fully into the phone. 

Aside from using it like you would a finger - tapping, sliding to navigate - the stylus has a few special applications. By default, these appear in a dedicated menu when you pull out the stylus, and include the new Moto Note notepad, a screenshot-and-markup app, and Google’s Keep app (the menu can be customized to add or remove apps.)

While the stylus doesn’t do anything a finger wouldn’t, that also means it doesn’t need app support. While app makers might choose to cater their software to the stylus, apps don’t need to be specially designed to work with the accessory.

(Image credit: Future)

Display

The Moto G Stylus’ 19:9 LCD display is functional, with few surprises, but that shouldn’t be a disappointment. In fact, it’s pretty sharp and vibrant, with an FHD+ (2,280x1,080) resolution that’s higher than some prior G-series phones like the Moto G7 Play and Moto G7 Power.

Another upgrade over the G7 series: instead of a notch, the display has a punch-hole in the top left corner that houses the 16MP selfie camera. It’s not as big a hole as the ones that debuted the concept on the Samsung Galaxy S10 line, which is a boon, helping the phone to an 88% screen-to-body ratio.

(Image credit: Future)

Camera

Motorola made a leap with its Motorola One line of budget smartphones in 2019, each one pushing camera tech a bit more forward – and the Moto G Stylus reaps the rewards. Its triple rear camera setup is the most powerful yet for the G series.

The 48MP main lens is the star, though by default, it will use the phone’s quad pixel tech to make more light-rich photos at 12MP (you can still opt for the full 48MP).

There’s a 16MP ultrawide lens with 117-degree field of view, which isn’t the widest we’ve seen, but it’s a great addition for a budget smartphone. While its photo quality doesn’t match the ultrawide shots we’re used to seeing on flagships, the utility is admirable. In our minimal hands-on time, we found it a bit cumbersome to zoom out to access ultrawide – perhaps this gets ironed out in the launch software.

Rounding out the trio is a macro lens much like the signature camera on the Motorola One Macro that launched in mid-2019. It’s surprisingly sharp when capturing subjects even a centimeter or two away, though you’ll have to repeatedly tap to focus, as the phone won’t automatically follow – which is a bit tedious.

The 16MP selfie camera is also an upgrade in sheer megapixels over front-facing cameras in prior G-series phones.

(Image credit: Future)

Performance and battery

The Moto G Stylus is powerful enough, and we didn’t experience hiccups or slowdown as we navigated around the interface. It packs a mid-range Snapdragon 665 chipset and 4GB of RAM, the same as its Moto G Power sibling.

But as the slightly pricier and higher-spec of the pair, the Moto G Stylus comes with 128GB of onboard storage, which is expandable up to 512GB via the microSD slot.

Unsurprisingly, the G Stylus packs Android 10 out of the box, along with Moto’s standard suite of little extras. Yes, your beloved gestures are still here, like chop twice to turn on the flashlight, twist to active camera mode, and so on. Those little shortcuts extend to the new Moto Note – for instance, swipe two fingers to the side and you’ll clear the screen for more sketching. 

The G Stylus has a very respectable 4,000mAh battery, offering a Motorola-claimed up to two days of use before it needs recharging - something we’ll be sure to put to the test during our in-depth review process. That’s not as big as the monstrous 5,000mAh capacity of the G Power, but it’s still hefty and more than enough for most users.

(Image credit: Future)

Early Verdict

The Moto G Stylus is an impressive phone at the top of the budget spectrum, and may compete against some pricier mid-range phones. We’re looking forward to seeing exactly how it measures up – but we’re more curious about the stylus.

The phone’s big selling point is neither innovative nor essential, and we wonder how often users would call on it for daily use, especially since draw-to-text translation isn’t included. Do consumers want to sketch on their phone that much? Do they need more precision than their finger?

It’s possible that we underestimate the demand, or that consumers have been waiting for the right price point to readopt the feature that defined Palm-era handsets. The concept is intriguing – but more, we’d guess, as a bonus on top of good value rather than a make-or-break feature.

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.