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The new Moto G Stylus and G Power are surprisingly adept cameraphones

Low in trade-offs, low in price

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The $300 Moto G Stylus and $250 G Power can take excellent photos. That’s not a sentence I thought I would write when I started testing Motorola’s latest budget phones. They’re both capable of shooting some of the most detailed, color-balanced photos that I’ve seen from a device at these prices, while undercutting Google’s midrange Pixel 3A by $100.

In addition to the much-improved camera performance, these new Motorola phones have a lot going for them considering their price. They work with every US carrier, including MVNOs like Google Fi. Both have big screens with hole-punch camera systems and, importantly, they include a few quality-of-life extras. Each has a 3.5mm headphone jack, great battery life, a fingerprint sensor, and Motorola’s clever software enhancements that make Android 10 feel more unique on these phones.

Subpar photo performance has so far been the biggest caveat about Motorola’s budget-friendly phones. But now that Google, Samsung, and now Apple have capable phones in the $300–$400 price range, Motorola had no other option than to read the room and make some big improvements. It needed to pack even more than before into its affordable phone, and this year, it did that.

Although they look almost identical in a photo, these two phones have a few key differences. As you might have gleaned from its name, the G Stylus includes a stylus that you can pull out from its bottom. It’s a soft-tipped stylus that lets you draw or jot notes on the phone. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can edit photos if you need more precision than you’d probably get with a finger. When you pull it out, a box pops up along the edge of the screen with a few customizable icons. You can choose a few apps or functions to reside there, like Google Keep, Moto’s note-taking app, or a quick screenshot button. 

Unlike the one that’s included with the latest Samsung Galaxy Note, the stylus doesn’t connect via Bluetooth, so it lacks abilities like acting as a remote shutter. That’s all right with me, but what I didn’t enjoy was the phone’s general lack of palm rejection on the screen. My handwriting looked like even more of a mess than usual because it would occasionally register my palm as the one doing the writing. Still, this is one of the few Android phones to ship with a stylus and that it does so for $300 is cool.

The G Stylus is a little thinner overall than the G Power (9.2mm versus 9.6mm), just a little shorter (158.5mm versus 159.8mm, though the screen-to-body ratio is practically the same) and a few grams lighter (192g compared to 199g). It also has 128GB of onboard storage compared to 64GB. Additionally, its main 48-megapixel quad pixel camera lens outputs photos that are sharper than what the G Power’s 16-megapixel main lens is capable of shooting.

Lastly, the G Stylus has an “action camera” lens that allows for wide-angle video recording at up to 60 frames per second. It’s another small perk that you’ll get for paying the $50 extra. The footage looks decent, although I don’t think it’s worth choosing one phone over the other for. Strangely, the wide-angle lens here can’t be used for taking photos. On the other hand, the G Power has a wide-angle camera lens for taking both photos and videos, though the videos aren’t at 60 frames per second.

I think that all of these features make the G Stylus the better of the two phones for most people, but the G Power has some redeeming features that justify its added thickness and weight. Actually, it’s really just one feature: a 5,000mAh battery compared to the G Stylus’ 4,000mAh pack. With it, Motorola claims three-day battery life, and in my experience, it reliably lasted well over two days per charge when it ran through my usual gamut of apps. So if you’re someone who just wants a phone that will last and last, the G Power is the right choice. 

That’s not to say that the $299 G Stylus is a slouch when it comes to battery life. It, too, usually made it past the two-day mark, though not much further. No matter what phone you go with, the battery life is excellent for the price, and their respective standby lifespan is very good. Inactivity drains the battery just a few percentage points at most overnight. Both of these Moto phones support 10W fast charging, though wireless charging support is still off the table.

Motorola mostly nailed the design and hardware with each phone. They each have a fingerprint reader on their back, USB-C charging, and a headphone jack. As far as specs go, they both have the midrange Snapdragon 665 processor and 4GB of RAM. Plus, they support up to 512GB microSD cards in case you run out of space. These phones have a clean look, with no Motorola branding on their front. This is a break in tradition that I’m sure many will appreciate.

The G Stylus and G Power have the same 19:9 aspect ratio 6.4-inch IPS displays (2300 x 1080, 399 pixels per inch). If you’re someone who watches a lot of YouTube videos or media through video streaming services, you’ll probably be happy with what each phone offers. These are the first Moto phones to have a display with a hole-punch camera system, and as you can see in the images, it gives them a high-end look. Just like every Moto G-series phone before it, I think these are a distillation of the biggest trends occurring now in the flagship market. Although, Moto’s design isn’t quite as seamless as what you’ll find on more expensive devices. 

For instance, the small section of the screen between the bezel and the selfie cam appears a little darker than the rest of the screen. It’s exacerbated if you use a light-colored background. Also, the glass covering the display doesn’t transition perfectly into the rounded edges. It juts out a few millimeters from the phone’s body. These are both understandable concessions to make for the price, and while noticeable, they didn’t impact my experience with the phones.

Despite their similarities in terms of specs, the Moto G Stylus feels faster, and I enjoyed using this one more. The G Stylus seems to have a warmer screen temperature by default compared to the G Power, though the displays’ level of saturation can be tweaked to your liking in the settings. It was also a little faster to load into the camera app and start taking photos than the G Power. For me, the G Stylus has a leg up on the other model because it simply takes better photos, too.

As I touched on earlier, these phones can shoot incredibly detailed photos. Even when I zoom in, those details don’t look garish or riddled with artifacts like I’m used to seeing on photos upon close inspection — especially from budget-friendly phones. What also stood out to me is that, whether I shot with the 16-megapixel (f/1.7 aperture with 1.12um pixels) lens on the G Power or the 48-megapixel (also f/1.7 aperture, with bigger pixels at 1.6um; each image is binned down to a single 12-megapixel image) lens on the G Stylus, both phones shoot photos with good color balance and accuracy. 


Another thing I liked is that Motorola’s images don’t have a blue or yellow tint to them. I took a few photos of a bibimbap brunch we made (pictured above), and the G Stylus shot a more favorable photo than my Pixel 3. The egg was white, as it should be, instead of slightly yellow, as it appears in the Pixel 3 shot. The kimchi looks as vibrant and spiced in the image as it tastes. It was the photo that I wanted to share on social media.

Obviously, it’s not fair to expect the new Moto G-series to punch up to the Pixel 3 with every photo. But it’s my benchmark for a phone that can reliably take good photos. Also, I love that its software can help to make my poorly framed and poorly lit photos look good. I’ll humbly admit that I’ve come to rely on Google’s software to solve for the ideal shooting conditions on my behalf. 

Shooting on the Moto G Stylus and G Power is a different story. I mentioned earlier that these phones can take excellent photos, but they don’t always take the photo that I want after the first try. Some come out blurry, either by fault of the camera app being slower than I’d like to boot or the camera itself being slow to capture. The post-processing software on Moto’s end doesn’t compensate nearly as much as Google’s does for unfavorable shooting conditions. My favorite results from Moto’s phones took much more effort to capture, all but requiring plenty of natural light and relative stillness. Make that doubly so when trying to shoot at night. I got some good results, but even when I thought I got a good angle or kept things still enough, my camera roll usually showed otherwise.

Based on my few weeks of experience with both phones, it usually takes a few attempts to get the photo you’ve been after. Though other times, it works perfectly without a hitch. That it’s even possible to get the photo that I want from a $300 phone is impressive, and while I wish it worked perfectly every time, I don’t think those few hiccups get in the way too much.

The G Stylus and G Power each utilize the same 16-megapixel (f/2.0 aperture, quad pixel) hole-punch selfie camera system. Predictably, the detail from this lens isn’t as sharp as what you’ll find on the rear camera array, but it’s better than I expected it to be. It maintains Motorola’s new strides in color balance and accuracy that I experienced with the rear camera array. And once I switched off the intense face smoothing that’s on by default, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The photos look sharp but not so sharp that I feel like the phone is having fun pointing out my imperfections.

Other additions aren’t quite as good. Motorola touts the macro mode in each phone being something you should take advantage of if you want to shoot close-ups on, say, flowers or food. I found this to be the most disappointing aspect of Motorola’s camera system. Both phones utilize a 2-megapixel macro lens with an impressive claim to be able to find focus at as close as 2 centimeters. Indeed, both phone displays showed clear detail when smushed up against objects, though I always found those photos to look much worse than what I’d seen through the viewfinder. 

These lenses have a higher aperture (read: they let in less light), so the lighting just doesn’t look quite right. The difference in color balance between this and the main lens on either phone is night and day. Unless Motorola issues a miracle fix, I wouldn’t suggest relying on it. In my testing, the standard lens on each phone was more than capable enough at capturing close-ups, and especially with the megapixel bump in the G Stylus, you’ll get a much sharper image at the expense of not being able to get super close to the subject.

As much as I liked last year’s Moto G7, I’ve been careful with who I recommend it to. Its numerous features aren’t worth settling for if you really care about shooting good photos. Given this, I wouldn’t have been surprised, or really even all that upset, if Motorola once again released another phone that was good at everything except photos. 

The Moto G Power has incredible battery life, but the rest of it isn’t so incredible.

The new Moto G Stylus and Moto G Power are a sizable step forward, thanks to the boost in camera performance. Following tradition, it’s also bursting with features and a familiar low price. Despite its many improvements, I’m still going to be careful with who I recommend this phone to. It’s not as reliable at shooting excellent photos with every single capture, like the Pixel 3A (which has the same camera system as the Pixel 3 that I directly compared these models to). If you aren’t locked into your budget for a $300 phone, I’d still suggest that you spend just a little more on that phone. However, if you can’t spend more than the Moto G Stylus or G Power cost, or simply don’t want to spend more, you currently won’t be able to find a more well-rounded phone at this price.

Photography by Cameron Faulkner / The Verge

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