Jeremy Laukkonen is automotive and tech writer for numerous major trade publications as well as the creator of a popular blog and video game startup. A fan of EVs since the early 2000s, he stays up-to-date on the myriad complex systems that power battery electric vehicles.
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Nice stylus with an easy eject function
Massive colorful display
Decent battery life
Shadows around the display
Cameras aren't great
No wireless charging
No 15W charging
The Moto G Stylus (2021) is a marginal improvement over the previous model in most ways, but some of the changes are confusing. It remains a great option if you’re looking for a mid-range phone with a built-in stylus.
We purchased the Moto G Stylus (2021) so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for the full product review.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) is the second iteration of the hardware, superseding the fantastic Moto G Stylus (2020). Following on its predecessor’s heels a mere nine months later, the Moto G Stylus (2021) features a bigger display, an improved stylus, and an incrementally better processor.
Specifications such as the amount of RAM, display resolution, and Android version all remain unchanged. Yet others, specifically the rear camera array, are in some ways bafflingly worse. While the Moto G Stylus (2020) was a pleasant surprise that added something important to the Moto G lineup, the 2021 refresh doesn’t stick the landing quite as well.
The bottom line is that this is a sub-$300 phone with a built-in stylus, and the stylus functionality is excellent.
It still fits the same niche of providing a built-in stylus option at an attractive price point, but Motorola made some strange choices that I don’t quite understand. The same is true of the Moto G Power (2021), so the updated line as a whole is in a bit of a weird place.
Since I was such a big fan of the 2020 version, I was excited to drop my SIM in this new phone and take it for an extended test drive. I used the Moto G Stylus (2021) for about a week as my daily driver, checking out everything from call quality to stylus functionality and overall performance.
I remain a bit disappointed that Motorola didn’t go the extra mile with this one after they really nailed the previous version, but the 2021 refresh of the Moto G Stylus still has a lot going for it.
If there’s one thing Motorola knows how to do, it’s design a mid-range phone that looks and feels more premium than it really is. The Moto G Stylus (2021) fits that bill, with a big display that hits nearly 85 percent screen-to-body ratio, a relatively slim pinhole front camera, and a frame and body that, while made of plastic, sport a premium look and feel.
There’s a bit of a backslide here from the previous model, with the frame being plastic instead of aluminum, but it’s plastic with a shiny metallic look that could easily fool the casual observer.
My review unit came in Aurora Black, which is actually a very dark shade of blue with a bit of an iridescent texture. It’s also available in Aurora White, which is white with that same shimmery texture. The texture is purely visual regardless of color scheme, as the phone's plastic back is smooth as glass and has a similar feel to the velvety smooth display around front.
The massive display takes up most of the phone's front, framed by asymmetric bezels that are thinner on the sides, slightly thicker on top, and thicker yet on the bottom. Despite the fairly chunky chin, it’s a bit slimmer than its counterpart on the less expensive Moto G Play. The top bezel is also a bit thinner, owing to the pinhole camera that’s found in the upper left corner of the screen.
The left side of the frame houses the SIM drawer, which also includes space for a microSD card. The right side has a thin rocker for volume control, and a thicker power button that’s beefed up size-wise to accommodate a fingerprint sensor.
The top of the frame is bare, but the bottom is where you’ll find the 3.5mm audio jack, USB-C port, speaker vent, and stylus. That’s one area where the 2021 Moto G Stylus improved over the previous version. That stylus had to be dug out with your fingernail, with varying difficulty depending on fingernail length. This stylus has an easy eject feature: Push on it, and it pops out.
The stylus is a bit on the short side, and it’s a solid unit without any way to extend it. It’s just long enough to hold like a pen without too much trouble, although I would have found it more comfortable if it were able to extend a bit. It works quite well, and it’s also pretty convenient.
Pop the stylus out when the phone is locked, and the notepad automatically shows up, allowing you to quickly dash off notes or make a quick doodle. Put the stylus back in its holster, and the phone locks back up. And don’t worry about security, as unlocking the phone in this manner doesn’t give you access to anything but the ability to scrawl a new note.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) has a bigger display than the previous version and a slightly higher screen resolution, with a 6.8-inch IPS LCD panel that runs at 1080 x 2400. The increase in resolution doesn’t quite keep pace with the increase in screen size though, as the 2021 Moto G Stylus features a pixel density of about 386ppi compared to 399ppi on the older model.
Aside from just being large, the display is also bright and colorful. It looks great in most conditions, with one caveat: If you don’t have the brightness cranked up all the way, you’ll notice big, ugly shadows creep in along the edges and around the pinhole camera.
I didn’t notice the shadows as much with the brightness turned up all the way, but I was still able to see them when viewing the screen at a severe angle. It isn’t a good look, and it mars an otherwise decent-looking display.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) features a Snapdragon 678 chip, which is a marginal improvement over the Snapdragon 665 found in the previous model. In practice, I found the Moto G Stylus to flawlessly run when performing normal productivity tasks, with no hesitation when navigating menus or launching apps, and great responsiveness when surfing the web, streaming media, composing emails, and jotting down notes with the stylus. I was also able to use it to play some games, although serious gamers will probably want to look elsewhere.
For some hard numbers, I downloaded and ran a number of benchmarks. I started with PCMark and ran the standard Work 2.0 benchmark that tests how well a phone can be expected to handle a range of productivity tasks, from web browsing to video editing. It notched an overall score of 7,617 in that benchmark, which is pretty decent.
At a more specific level, the Moto G Stylus scored 8,417 in the writing benchmark, 14,776 in the photo editing benchmark, and 5,975 in the data manipulation benchmark. Those scores all reflect the ease with which I was able to execute basic productivity tasks during my time with the phone.
While this isn’t really a gaming phone, I also ran a few gaming benchmarks. I started with Wild Life from 3DMark, with predictably dismal results of just 2.1 FPS. It did a little better in the Sling Shot benchmark, registering 13.8 FPS, but that’s still a result that says this hardware isn’t likely to satisfy serious gamers.
Benchmarks from GFXBench were a bit more promising. While the G Stylus managed only a meager score of 483.9 and 8.2 FPS in the Car Chase benchmark, it hit a score of 2151 and 38 FPS in the less intense T-Rex benchmark. That indicates it’s capable of running games, just not the latest and greatest.
For a bit of a torture test, I loaded up the Zelda-clone Genshin Impact and ran through a few bosses. I’m not a huge fan of on-screen controls for third person action games, but I had zero issues other than that. The painterly landscape of Mondstadt was rendered beautifully as I jumped into a few minigames offered by the Invitation to Windblume festival event, and then it was time to get back to work.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) supports GSM, CDMA, HSPA, and LTE for cellular connectivity if you opt for the unlocked version. It also supports both Bluetooth 5.0 and dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity, and includes a USB-C port for wired connections. Motorola still isn’t including NFC support in the 2021 Moto G line, which is a bit of a letdown.
During my time with the Moto G Stylus (2021), I primarily used the phone with a Google Fi SIM on T-Mobile’s network for cellular calls and data, and a gigabit Mediacom cable internet connection. I found call quality to be crisp and clear during both cellular and Wi-Fi calls. Cellular data speeds were about what I’m used to seeing from my Google Pixel 3, but a bit lower than the results I recorded back when I tested the Moto G Stylus (2020).
For Wi-Fi connectivity, the Moto G Stylus (2021) put up excellent numbers. When connected to my Eero mesh Wi-Fi system and a connection that measured 986 Mbps at the modem at the time of testing, the Moto G Stylus recorded a maximum download speed of 305 Mbps and a maximum upload of 65.4 Mbps when in close proximity to the modem. That’s better than I saw from the 2020 version of the Stylus.
After testing close to the modem, I moved about 10 feet away into a hallway and checked again. At that distance, the Stylus dropped to only 231 Mbps. At a further distance of 60 feet, with a couple walls in the way, it dropped to 205 Mbps.
Finally, I took the Stylus outside to my driveway, at a distance of over 100 feet. The connection speed dropped to 30.7 Mbps, which is still fast enough for streaming HD video.
Sound is another department where Motorola made some questionable decisions with this phone. The 2020 version had stereo Dolby speakers that sounded excellent at any volume. The 2021 refresh ditches one of the speakers for a mono configuration, and subsequently also gets rid of the Dolby certification.
The results aren’t horrible, but it’s a glaring downgrade and one of the few things that really hold the phone back.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) doesn’t sound that bad, and the speaker certainly gets loud enough to fill a small room. There is a bit of distortion when you turn the volume all the way up, but it isn’t as bad as the Moto G Play (2021), which is really unpleasant at maximum volume.
This is one area I’d love to see Motorola improve on for the next iteration of this hardware, but at least they give you a 3.5mm headphone jack in the meantime.
The camera array is another stumbling block for the Moto G Stylus (2021), especially when compared to the last generation. The camera was one of my favorite things about the 2020 version of this phone, and probably the phone’s best feature aside from its stylus.
The main rear camera is the same 48MP sensor that came with the last version of the hardware, and the 2MP depth sensor looks like it’s also the same, but the ultra-wide sensor pixel count has been reduced from 16MP to just 8MP.
I didn’t have any trouble taking great shots in full daylight and under excellent indoor lighting conditions. Those shots turned out colorful, crisp, and with decent depth of field.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) created better shots than the Moto G Play (2021) and a lot of other budget phones I’ve tested, it’s just a step down from the excellent results I saw with the last version.
Low light photos presented more of a challenge, which is a big change from the 2020 phone. I was able to take some decent enough shots in low light, but a lot of my photos ended up with weird blurring and lack of focus on foreground objects.
The good news is that the Moto G Stylus (2021) does include Motorola’s Night Vision mode, although I wasn’t happy with color accuracy in most of those shots.
The biggest issue is the ultra-wide lens, which is far more reliant on having enough available light. I was able to take some passable daytime shots in great light, but lower light photos came out muddy and unclear.
The selfie cam is more of the same, with decent enough photos and video when good lighting conditions were available.
While I’m not a big fan of the step back here, my opinion would probably be different in a vacuum. The Moto G Stylus (2021) created better shots than the Moto G Play (2021) and a lot of other budget phones I’ve tested, but it’s just a step down from the excellent results I saw with the last version.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) comes with a big 4,000mAh lithium polymer battery. The battery isn’t as big as the one that comes in the 2021 Moto G Power or Moto G Play, but it still provides plenty of juice for a full day of intense use or a few days of more casual use. I found that I was able to easily go two days between charges.
For a stress test, I turned off the cellular radio and Bluetooth, connected to Wi-Fi, and set the Moto G Stylus to stream non-stop HD video from YouTube. Under those conditions, it lasted about 13 hours before it finally shut down.
It didn’t last quite as long as the Moto G Stylus (2020) when I performed the same test on that phone, but that’s to be expected considering the fact that the 2021 version pairs a bigger screen and more powerful processor with the same 4000mAh battery.
The battery isn’t as big as the one that comes in the Moto G Power or Moto G Play, but it still provides plenty of juice for a full day of intense use or a few days of more casual use.
Charging is a bit of a different matter, as the Moto G Stylus (2021) supports only 10W charging. By way of comparison, the Moto G Power (2021) supports 15W charging, and a lot of other Motorola phones support 18W charging. There’s no wireless charging support, either.
The Moto G Stylus (2021) ships with Android 10 dressed up with Motorola’s My UX modifications. My UX is pretty harmless, essentially just adding some additional functionality such as gesture controls on top of stock Android. For example, you can use Moto Actions to move the phone in a chopping motion to turn on the flashlight. If you don’t like that, you can also turn it off.
The issue here is that the 2020 Moto G Stylus also shipped with Android 10 and My UX. Most of the Android world has since moved on to Android 11, with Android 12 already on the horizon, so seeing the older version of the operating system here is a bit of a letdown.
You are guaranteed one operating system upgrade, which means the phone will eventually see Android 11, but it probably won’t ever get an upgrade to Android 12.
Motorola has, however, committed to supporting the phone with security updates for two years. So while you may miss out on the latest features, at least you’ll get security updates. Some budget phones don’t promise either of those, so things could be worse.
With an MSRP of $299.99 and a street price closer to $279.99, the Moto G Stylus (2021) will be priced just right for some and overpriced for others. The main issue here is that the Moto G Stylus doesn’t have a lot of viable competition in the budget or mid-range in terms of its core functionality.
The bottom line is that this is a sub-$300 phone with a built-in stylus, and the stylus functionality is excellent.
If you’re a stylus fan, then there’s no question: $279.99 or even $299.99 is a great deal for this phone. If you could take or leave the stylus, or would use it only occasionally, the Moto G Stylus (2021) isn’t enough of an improvement over the rest of the Moto G lineup to justify the higher price.
The LG Stylo 6 is the biggest competitor for the Moto G Stylus in the fairly sparse budget stylus phone category.
The Stylo 6 and the G Stylus have the exact same screen size, with the Stylo 6 offering a slightly higher resolution and pixel density. The Stylo 6 also has a slight edge in terms of overall design, although the G Stylus is a pretty nice-looking phone in its own right. The Stylo 6 does feature an unsightly teardrop to house the selfie cam, though, while the G Stylus incorporates a more advanced pinhole.
The biggest difference between these phones, and the reason you’ll want to go with the G Stylus, is performance. The Stylo 6 already had less RAM and a weaker processor than the 2020 version of the G Stylus, and the 2021 version is even more powerful. While the Stylo 6 does have a nice stylus that works well, its overall performance is sluggish compared to the G Stylus.
The Moto G Stylus remains the go-to option if you’re looking for a good stylus phone in this price range.
The first Moto G Stylus was an easy recommendation, as it brought together good performance, decent battery life, an attractive screen, and a functional built-in stylus at a reasonable price point. The Moto G Stylus (2021) still hits most of those notes, but it also backslid in a few areas. This probably remains your best bet if the stylus is your killer feature, but it would be an easier recommendation if the camera was better and the display didn’t have any issues.
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