Motorola has bossed the budget smartphone market with six successive generations of the Moto G family. No one makes desirable, well-rounded smartphones for a £200/$250/AU$400 budget quite like the Lenovo-owned brand.
The Motorola One isn't so much a step above the current Moto G6 range as it is a curious alternative. It sits right alongside the Moto G6 Plus in terms of launch price, but with a very different approach to both hardware and software.
Costing £270 / $400 (around AU$480) but already down to £200 in most UK stores, the Motorola One creeps into the lower end of mid-range territory, though is better value in the UK than the US.
It's well below the likes of the Huawei P20 Lite and the Nokia 7 Plus in the UK, and a little below the Honor 8X. It's also less than the Samsung Galaxy A6 in the UK, but costs more than the A6 in the US.
As those devices have shown to varying degrees, you can expect to get quite a lot of phone for this sort of money. In particular, we’ve come to expect a certain flagship flavor when it comes to design and feel, alongside a couple of stand-out features.
The Motorola One fits the mold with a dependable all-round package and a suitably modern design, but it only really stands out for one particular reason. Thankfully, it’s quite an appealing one.
There's only One Motorola
- Runs slick Android One software
- Likely to be updated to Android 9 Pie soon
Motorola describes the One as "smart, secure and simple". That alliterative trio of words refers to one thing: Android One.
The Android One program started life as a means to lower the hardware threshold - and thus end price - for smartphones in developing countries.
More recently, Google has been working with manufacturers to supply Android One options at a higher price point in developed countries. The Xiaomi Mi A2 was one recent example of this shift, and the Motorola One is another.
The benefits of running Android One are clear. You get a clean, fast, and more secure version of Google’s stock OS.
The lack of tinkering also means that these phones are primed to receive updates much quicker from Google, and indeed Motorola claims that the Motorola One will be among the first to upgrade to Android 9.0 Pie soon after launch.
We're massive proponents of stock Android here, and we'll talk more about some of the reasons for that a little later. But let's be honest for a second. Motorola is just about the last company in the world that needs to make an Android One phone.
The company's own software has always been among the most lightly and thoughtfully reskinned takes on Google's OS. What we'd really like to see is a Samsung One or a Huawei One, marrying those manufacturers' top notch hardware with Google's bloat-free software.
But perhaps we're being a little churlish here. If you want an affordable phone that's going to get Google's latest OS very shortly, then the Motorola One is vying with the Xiaomi Mi A2 for pole position.
Design and display
- iPhone X-style design is smart but derivative
- 5.9-inch 720p display not particularly sharp
The Motorola One design has undeniably been heavily influenced by the iPhone X, both front and back.
It has a more or less edge-to-edge notched display, albeit with a chin that makes it look a little lopsided. The phone also has a glass back and a vertically-aligned dual-camera module.
The Motorola One is far from the only phone to follow the iPhone X blueprint, of course. The Huawei Mate 20 Lite, the OnePlus 6, and even the Google Pixel 3 XL have all jumped on that particular bandwagon in recent times.
But those who recall the days of Motorola as a company with its own distinctive design approach (the customizable second-gen Moto X springs to mind) may just let out a wistful sigh when they see the Motorola One.
The notch itself is much more iPhone X than Pixel 3 XL - and thank goodness for that. It’s relatively wide and shallow, and thus easy to grow accustomed to.
Conversely, the flagship Google Pixel 3 XL at least had the decency to stash two cameras and a speaker in its notch as a way to justify its existence.
We'd argue that a no-frills mid-range Android smartphone like the Motorola One has no need of a notch. It's a complete affectation; a purely cosmetic response to Apple's practical design compromise.
Notch aside, the Motorola One is a pleasant phone to wield. At 7.97mm thin and 162g in weight, it fits that vague 'just right' feeling that means it won't jar your nerves every time you pick it up or slip it into your pocket. It's only a smidgen taller and wider than the iPhone XS.
Despite the clear nod to a much more expensive phone, the Motorola One doesn't feel that much more premium than it is. While the rim is aluminum, it has a glossy paint finish that looks and feels a little like plastic.
The rear glass panel, meanwhile, attracts fingerprints like nobody's business. Again, this isn't a problem unique to the Motorola One. But it does get grubby awfully quickly.
The natural home for fingerprints on the rear of the One is its recessed biometric sensor, which is well placed and reasonably accurate. It isn’t the most reliable or speedy example we’ve encountered, but it’s perfectly adequate.
It's also reassuring to find both a USB-C port and a 3.5mm headphone port on the One’s bottom and top edges respectively.
While that 5.9-inch 19:9 display dominates the front of the Motorola One, it doesn’t particularly impress.
It gets plenty bright enough, with a default auto-brightness setting that gets the job done in most situations - something that you don’t always find at this price point. The color balance is perfectly fine, too, with an eye-pleasingly natural tone.
But there’s a lack of pop to the picture that it outputs, which seems to come largely from a sheer lack of pixel density. At 720 x 1520, you’re looking at a 720p resolution. Stretched out over almost 6 inches, this results in a far from ideal 287 pixels per inch.
You won’t particularly notice this when flicking through the tidy menus of Android One, sending text messages and emails, or navigating through the phone’s menus. But interacting with visual media (such as films and games) and browsing text and thumbnail-heavy web pages shows up the lack of sharpness.
Apple might be pulling a similar trick with the iPhone XR, but on Android we’ve come to expect 1080p at this size and price point. Even Motorola’s own Moto G6 and Moto G6 Plus pack Full HD displays.