Motorola One 5G Review – Say Hello Moto, Goodbye To Last-Gen Networking

00 Motorola One 5G review AH 2020 EC Award

Motorola takes aim at brilliance with the One 5G and only just misses the mark

Motorola One 5G
$444.99
Rating
star star star star star
Pros
  • Great in-hand fit, with great coloration and curves
  • Lightning quick in-power-button fingerprint scanner
  • Mostly great 48-megapixel quad-camera experience
  • Top-level mid-range performance
  • Bright, crisp, and responsive display
  • Long-lasting 5,000mAh battery with 8+ hour on-screen time
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • Advanced audio features and a great-sounding speaker to match
  • 5G support
Cons
  • No unlocked variants, carrier locked
  • Night Mode only works great under optimal conditions and camera zoom is terrible
  • Lots of carrier bloatware
  • Charging feels slow, even at 15W

The Motorola One 5G is a next-generation mobile device poised to take its place near the top of the pile in the mid-range smartphone world. And that's not just because of the pricing either, at well under $500. There are a few caveats at its price, of course. But the Motorola One 5G is a phone that can and does do just about everything very well, under review.

Whether I needed to snap a quick photo or wanted to play a game, and even if I wanted to do some fairly extensive photo editing, this phone just performs. And the hardware powering that is coupled with a great display panel that sticks it out at a 90Hz refresh rate. All of that, so that it can take on its competition in the often-overcrowded mid-range without backing down.

Let's take a closer look at how this phone performs in real-world use.

The hardware here is heavier than expected but pretty

Motorola's hardware decisions speak for themselves with this handset

Now, the Motorola One 5G is a gorgeous-looking smartphone. In Oxford Blue, the handset has a cross-hatch-like pattern when viewed up-close. But that ultimately only serves to inject different hues under different lighting, as shown in the images above and below.

Of course, this smartphone feels great in-hand, if a bit heavier and bulkier than might be desired if this were a top-tier handset. But its aesthetics really speak for themselves, even in images. And the plastics used in the body and frame are grippier than glass but still have a glass-like smoothness.

The biggest drawback to the materials used, though, is how staticky this device can be. By that, I mean it attracts dust and other particulates like nobody's business. Although the glass does seem to get dirty more often than other phones too.

Small touches in the design from this device are nice too. Such as the use of a dual-LED-fueled lightbar for the rear flash, a ring LED around the macro camera, and a power-button-embedded fingerprint scanner. None of the ports are wobbly or loose. And each button has a more solid click-through than might be expected.

The above-mentioned fingerprint scanner is among the quickest I've had the pleasure to use, as well.

In terms of hardware quality and looks, aside from its ability to gather unwanted motes that make it look less-than-pristine, the Motorola One 5G is a great phone.

The display with Motorola One 5G is very good for the price

If we look past the obvious annoyance of larger bezels, there's not a lot to dislike about the Motorola One 5G screen

The bezels surrounding the display on the Motorola One 5G were a frequent annoyance during my review. They aren't necessarily overly large. And they aren't placed in such a way as to result in accidental taps. They fall somewhere between a budget device and a bezel-free flagship. And the two moderately-sized camera punch-holes aren't necessarily bad either.

No. The problem with the bezels on this phone is that they feel mismatched with the display itself. They serve as a near-constant reminder that this isn't a flagship phone. More succinctly, that's because the display itself doesn't look or feel like a budget-minded mid-ranger at all.

Although — like the rest of the phone — the display attracts dust and smudges like a magnet, the display technology is top-notch.

That, in itself, is an anomaly. The Motorola One 5G only packs a 6.7-inch Full HD+ panel. And that's an LCD screen with a cinematic-friendly 21:9 aspect ratio. Despite all of that, the screen is bright and crisp, looking as close as is possible for an LCD panel to look to an AMOLED panel. And the 90Hz refresh rate doesn't hurt either since that's significantly better than what most mid-range and budget smartphones ship with.

In terms of responsiveness, I didn't notice any input latency at all with this panel.

So how's the battery life?

03 Motorola One 5G review AH 2020
The battery experience with Motorola One 5G was much better than expected

As we'll discuss momentarily, using the Motorola One 5G during this review meant using a device that was constantly looking for a signal. That's not necessarily bad since it's circumstantial. But it does mean this battery test can't be taken at anything like face value.

In fact, the battery life I experienced because of that was much worse than what most users should see. Especially since I kept the display brightness maxed out and volume up. But, again, it may not be better at all, even if you turn on battery saving measures. Other 5G devices I've tested have drained much more quickly than might be expected. At least when connected to 5G.

Setting all of that aside, I saw a fairly staggering 8-hours and 25-minutes of screen-on time from the Motorola One 5G during my review. That was predominantly utilized for movie and music streaming or playback — for downloads, on the latter. But that was also around 2-hours of browsing, emails, and chatting. And just short of 2-hours for dedicated gaming. With 20-minutes set aside for taking photos.

The charging side is not so great. This phone only took around 45-minutes to reach half-filled. But it takes over 2-hours to fill completely from drained. That's despite that Motorola includes 15W charging for the 5,000mAh battery.

Audio quality stands apart but not by much

Motorola One 5G gives users two audio output options; a bottom-firing speaker or 3.5mm audio jack

Those who love audio are going to love the Motorola One 5G. Not only does this phone pack Bluetooth 5.1 for those who don't use wired headphones. This Motorola still comes with a 3.5mm audio jack.

Audio through those works as would be expected but is made even better by Moto Audio — found in the Settings app under "Sound."

With Moto Audio, users can fine-tune their listening experience with presets. Both for their headphones and their smartphone's speaker. The equalization for each can also be fine-tuned at an entirely another level. That includes bass boosting as well as boosting for treble, vocals, or a flat tuning. The automatic setting will work best for most users. But the options are there for those who want them too.

With regard to the built-in speakers, audio via the earpiece speaker is clear. So my app-based web calls came through great, at any rate. However, that speaker is only used for those applications rather than in stereo with the bottom-firing speaker.

As a result, anybody could be forgiven for thinking the audio experience here is going to be awful. Most smartphones are, and that only gets worse with single-speaker arrangements. But that isn't the case at all here.

The speaker in the Motorola One 5G performs on a single output component as well as almost every flagship I've ever tested. And that's saying quite a lot. Sound is balanced with bass being well-represented — if not pounding because that just doesn't happen with smartphones. This phone leaves tinny audio behind for the majority of its competitors to deal with.

Of course, it's also possible to adjust volumes across individual apps or synchronize vibrations with the ringtones. And audio out through the Motorola One 5G mics for this review was on-point.

Performance from Motorola One 5G is exactly what you want

05 Motorola One 5G review AH 2020
A Snapdragon 765, 4GB RAM, and 128GB storage drive the Motorola One 5G package

The hardware packed inside the Motorola One 5G is some of the most powerful around. In fact, it's only a step or two down — compared to newer chipsets — being a flagship. So it should come as no surprise that I didn't experience any latency or lag at all in apps while reviewing the Motorola One 5G.

In fact, the one area where some issues could potentially crop up is in multitasking. Especially with less RAM here than is found in a majority of competitors in the price bracket. But I never found that to be the case during my tests.

The sole area of contention appeared when I used some of the most intensive apps around — for photo editing. And that was just a longer wait between finalization and image processing. Otherwise, this phone is going to perform as well as any other counterpart that isn't a flagship. Particularly for users who are fed up paying almost or over $1000 for a smartphone.

This one is going to come very close to matching the top-level standards on performance those phones can deliver.

Cameras are something Motorola has always done well and this is no exception

Motorola One 5G has plenty of camera features to spare and all but one works brilliantly

One area where Motorola smartphones have almost always excelled is on the camera front. The Motorola One 5G proved, under a thorough review of its shooting modes, that it's no exception to that rule. Motorola is still on top of its game on this front.

That is, with one noteworthy exception highlighted in our Motorola One 5G Flickr album. That is, of course, night mode. For whatever reason, this phone has a night mode but that only appears to work under lighting conditions where the naked eye can make out details. In darker conditions, pixelation and other problems become a problem. Blurring, in particular. And even more so when a tripod isn't used.

When a tripod is used, night shots are as crisp as any other phone I've put through a review. Up to a point. Taking shots of the night sky with this phone, even under decent twilight lighting, is not great by any stretch of the imagination.

Zoom shots fall into a similar category, becoming too easily blurred with pixelation starting at just 2-times zoom.

But elsewhere, the Flickr gallery speaks for itself, highlighting the great hardware Motorola packed into this phone — led by a 48-megapixel snapper. Selfies aren't half-bad either, thanks to the quad pixel tech utilized in the dual 16-megapixel front snapper.

Connections are unfortunately limited with Motorola One 5G

This Motorola One 5G, at least for the model reviewed, is AT&T-only

Now, this particular phone isn't necessarily unique in the Motorola line-up. In fact, it's very nearly the same gadget as the Motorola Moto G 5G+. One key difference here, however, is just how limited this particular handset is. In fact, the model of Motorola One 5G under review here is only available with one carrier. That's AT&T. There's no unlocked variant.

Other carriers will have their own model. There will even be a Verizon-specific UW model to catch the fastest 5G in the nation. But that also marks the return of a trend toward carrier-specific devices. And that's really no good for anybody who needs a device in the price bracket.

Not only does it cause quite a bit of confusion for buyers. It means I wasn't able to actually test the 5G on this handset. The carrier I utilize for testing is Google Fi. It has access to T-Mobile and US Cellular bands. But not to AT&T, leaving me with only WiFi for this review.

Setting aside that connectivity caveat for this series — and it's one that prevented a top rating here — the connections here should work just fine.

Dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth 5.1 worked like a charm. So, if 5G is as well-thought-out as those, this phone is going to be one of the best next-gen networking handsets around. Or at least that's locked to a carrier with no option to bypass that restriction.

Bloatware is unusual on a Motorola but not the One 5G, unfortunately

08 Motorola One 5G review AH 2020
Motorola One 5G comes with Android 10 and a promised update to Android 11

There is at least one other major Motorola One 5G issue I noticed during this review. Or at least one other that related to connectivity. And that's bloatware stemming chiefly from this phone's position as an AT&T carrier device.

Summarily, Motorola traditionally installs a minimal number of apps on its handsets at any price. But this device is one of the few exceptions to that. Not only does it come with standard Moto fare, which isn't more than a couple of apps. It also packs in a ton of AT&T-specific and -partner services.

A total of 24 extra apps are in the box ranging from Panera Bread to AT&T-associated news and theater apps.

Most of those can be uninstalled right out-of-the-box. But it's unappealing, to say the least, anytime a carrier forces partner apps onto a phone that would typically be closer to an Android One Program device.

In terms of software features, what users get at the system-level is near-stock Android 10. Complete with dark mode, Digital Wellbeing, and gestures. All of that, and Motorola's gaming and driving modes, work smoothly and without lag. So, generally, it's a great experience aside from the extras that almost no user actually wants on their mobile device.

The included extras such as double-tap features on the power button, theming, and adaptive performance enhancements help offset that. But not by a whole lot.

You probably won't regret buying this phone

09 Motorola One 5G review AH 2020
Motorola One 5G is a beautiful phone for serious buyers that only just misses being one of the very best devices overall

Motorola One 5G is a smartphone that really only falls short of an Editor's Choice award in three key areas. First, it's a carrier-specific device. That means it's going to be limiting in terms of who can use it, to begin with. But it also means that there are potentially going to be big software and subsequently performance differences between carrier versions.

The second area it falls just short in is the materials used. Although it feels great in-hand, the Motorola One 5G simply got too dirty and smudgy too quickly under review. That made taking photos a real pain but, more importantly, is going to mar the beauty of the device for anybody who cares about that. And the design here is actually very good. So that's a bigger deal than it might be with some other devices.

Finally, Motorola utterly misses the mark when it comes to the Night Mode on the camera. Although the feature works extremely well on a tripod — at least for shots that are partially lit — that falls apart in darker shots. And it seems to not work at all for taking pictures of darker scenes such as the sky or a night landscape. Low-light shots were just too pixelated when taken by hand too, and probably will be for all but the steadiest hands.

In other words, this phone comes close to nailing down and cementing a position as a top-ten mid-ranger. And it misses the mark on just a very few points. So it seems incredibly unlikely this phone will disappoint anybody who might be considering it for their next smartphone.