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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
It has premium looks
Comfortable one-handed usage
Good battery life
Can find it very cheap now
Muted, low-resolution screen
Hit-or-miss camera quality
Hours of security updates
The Motorola One is a solid budget smartphone that looks fancy, even if it’s not. For under $200, it’s a worthy bargain.
Motorola’s phone lineup used to be easy to understand at a glance: the Moto Z was the flagship, Moto G was the budget/lower mid-range brand, and Moto E was the bare-bones budget offering. The Motorola One complicated that slate a bit, with a mix of budget and mid-range internals paired with an iPhone X-inspired design that gave it a higher-end allure.
Since last year’s launch of the original Motorola One, the company has now spun off several other One devices—including the Motorola One Action and Motorola One Zoom—that offer varying designs, feature sets, perks, and price points. But the original Motorola One remains the simplest and most straightforward of the bunch, and now at a reduced price, it’s a solid option for an affordable phone that doesn’t look cheap and holds its own in terms of performance.
It’s undeniable at a glance: the Motorola One was clearly designed to be Motorola’s budget-friendly response to Apple’s iPhone X design, which has now extended to the iPhone XS and iPhone 11. Motorola didn’t try matching Apple on materials or overall design finesse, which makes sense given the vast gulf between price points—but otherwise, it’s pretty spot-on.
On the front, the large camera notch at the top is very similar in size to that of Apple’s iPhones, although this notch only has a standard selfie camera (no 3D facial scanning sensors). The budget downside here is the sizable “chin” of bezel at the bottom, as well as the Motorola logo that gives away its non-flagship status. The glossy metallic frame also looks like Apple’s stainless steel finish, but it’s plastic. Looks can be deceiving.
The back is pretty much plain glass (in white or black), as with Apple’s, although the two cameras are separate rather than sharing a module, plus Motorola’s “batwing” logo on the back also serves as the fingerprint sensor. It’s fast at recognizing your touch, as indicated by the rapid vibration, although the screen doesn’t fire up immediately likely due to the slower processor within.
It’s undeniable at a glance: the Motorola One was clearly designed to be Motorola’s budget-friendly response to Apple’s iPhone X design.
The Motorola One is just a smidge larger than the iPhone X in all dimensions, but actually 12 grams lighter, and it feels great in the hand. It’s a well-sized phone for one-handed use and is easily gripped—but Motorola includes a thin, translucent silicone case in the box in case you want a little extra protection, or to boost the grippiness.
You’ll find just 64GB of internal storage in the Motorola One, which isn’t a lot to play with, but you can easily add up to 256GB more via affordable microSD cards. The phone also has dual SIM support for multiple carriers and includes a 3.5mm headphone port, although water resistance is limited to P2i splash resistance—basically the bare minimum.
Right off the bat, setting up the Motorola One was straightforward. Simply follow the onscreen prompts, which include logging into a Google account, accepting the terms and conditions, and restoring from a backup or moving data from another phone. You should be up and running in a matter of minutes. The Motorola One ships with Android 8 Oreo installed, but you’ll be able to upgrade to Android 9 Pie once you’re all set up (and subsequently to Android 10).
Unfortunately, there was an unexpected hang-up after that: the need to install a year’s worth of monthly security updates, one at a time. I haven’t encountered this with other Android phones I’ve reviewed, and there was no option to bundle them all in one big update. It took several hours to get them all installed and bring the phone up to date. That was an unpleasant start to my time with the Motorola One.
The Motorola One uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 chip, which is on the lower end of the mid-range lineup, along with 4GB RAM. It’s not as powerful as the Snapdragon 632 chip found in the newer Moto G7 line, but it’s clearly a cut above the very sluggish Snapdragon 435 chip in the budget Moto E6.
In PCMark’s Work 2.0 benchmark test, I registered a score of 5,095, putting it roughly square in between the Moto G7 (6,015) and the Moto E6 (3,963). Everyday use lines up with that placement, as the phone doesn’t feel consistently snappy and bringing up apps can take a beat or two longer than expected—but it’s not detrimentally slow like the Moto E6.
Likewise, this isn’t a phone built for high-end gaming. Fast-paced racing game Asphalt 9: Legends had frequent bouts of slowdown during play, even with significantly lowered graphic quality, while Call of Duty Mobile ran decently only with both visual detail and frame rate chopped down. GFXBench registered 7.2 frames per second (fps) on the Car Chase benchmark, and 35fps in the T-Rex benchmark. The Motorola One has the same Adreno 506 GPU as the Moto G7, but puts up better frame rates due to the lower-resolution screen.
The Motorola One is compatible with GSM networks, which means you can use it with AT&T or T-Mobile, but not Verizon or Sprint (which are CDMA networks). On AT&T’s 4G LTE network just north of Chicago, I saw varying speeds that maxed out around 60Mbps download, with upload speeds topping out at 9Mbps. You can also connect to both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi networks.
Don’t expect much from the Motorola One’s display. This 5.9-inch LCD is low-resolution at 720p rather than 1080p/Full HD, plus it gives off a very muted look—although it is decently bright. It just doesn’t pack much of a punch, and the larger, higher-resolution screen of the Moto G7 is definitely a step up. That said, it’s a completely tolerable screen, especially if you can find the Motorola One on the cheap, but you’ll find better screens on most other phones today.
The Motorola One just has the one bottom-firing speaker, and it’s perfectly adequate. Playback of music and videos sounded fine within the limitations of the mono design, and it gets loud—although it also sounds more muddled the higher you get on the scale. Call quality was solid both through the receiver and in speakerphone.
The Motorola One has a pair of back cameras, but only one is actually used for shooting photos: the 13-megapixel main sensor. The other, a 2-megapixel depth sensor, is used to capture depth data for the portrait mode. Ultimately, image quality falls in line with expectations given the price. It can take very good photos outdoors when light is plentiful, although shots can look a bit soft at times and zooming in tends to reveal a fair amount of fuzziness.
With less light available, especially indoors, the Motorola One is more miss than hit. Even steady shots of non-moving subjects show quite a lot of grain. At the Motorola One’s MSRP of $399, you could do much, much better with the Google Pixel 3a, which has a flagship-quality camera. But with the One found for less than half that price now, you’ll get what you pay for with camera quality on a budget device.
The 3,000mAh battery pack is about average for a smartphone, but with a low-resolution screen and an efficient mid-range processor, the Motorola One has pretty good staying power. I’d usually end a day with upwards of 40 percent of a charge left, which is about 10 percent more than I’ve seen with other phones with this kind of capacity. There’s no wireless charging, despite the glass backing, but the included 15W USB-C TurboCharger provides speedy top-ups.
If you’re looking for a decent phone for under $200, the Motorola One can do the trick.
The Motorola One is designated as an Android One phone, which means a couple of things. First, it’s not loaded up with unnecessary apps (“bloatware”) or customizations, which means the interface and experience here is very close to stock Android. Motorola also offers a couple of optional abilities called Moto Actions, including twisting your wrist twice to open the camera app, or making a chopping motion twice to launch the flashlight.
The other benefit comes with two years of guaranteed Android operating system updates from release, as well as three years of security updates. The Motorola One has already been upgraded to Android 9 Pie, and some users have reported the Android 10 update rolling out as of April. And as mentioned, it’s certainly getting the security updates; once per month is no big hassle, even if handling a year’s worth was a pain right out of the gate.
Even with a pretty clean install of Android, as mentioned, the limited processing power means that Android 9 Pie isn’t quite as fluid or responsive as on some more expensive, more powerful smartphones. I encountered little hitches and bits of slowdown here and there, but not enough to significantly frustrate (as the Moto E6 does).
Motorola’s list price of $400 feels incredibly high for what you actually get here, given the low-resolution screen, middling power, and so-so camera quality. However, the phone doesn’t actually sell for nearly that much anymore. As of this writing, Motorola has it discounted to $250, but Best Buy has it for $200 and Amazon has multiple models listed for about $169-$175.
At that sub-$200 price, it’s easy to make a case for the Motorola One as a true budget option—a functional phone that looks pretty nice and can capably function as an everyday phone, even if there’s little actually great about it. In any case, it’s a much better overall phone than the newer, cheaper Moto E6, which is listed at $150.
The newer Motorola One Action (see on Best Buy) is a very different phone than the Motorola One, and that’s visible at a glance. The Motorola One Action has a super-tall 6.3-inch screen at a 21:9 aspect ratio, with a small punch-hole camera cutout in the screen rather than a large notch. It’s a great screen, and while the Motorola One Action opts for plastic for the frame, it’s still a good-looking handset.
The “Action” in the name comes from the unique dedicated ultra-wide video camera, which can capture landscape-oriented footage even while holding the phone upright. That’s a very niche perk, but even if you don’t care about that, the Motorola One Action is a good all-around mid-range phone. It’s listed at $350, but Motorola is selling it at the same $250 price point as the Motorola One at present, and that’s about the same price that I’ve seen on other retailers.
A budget phone in premium clothing. If you’re looking for a decent phone for under $200, the Motorola One can do the trick. The specs and functionality are modest at best, including an underwhelming screen and merely okay back camera setup, but the Motorola One’s iPhone-inspired looks set it apart from much of the budget pack. You’ve got better options if you’re willing to spend a little more money, such as the Moto G7 and Motorola One Action—but on the cheap, this is a suitable Android option.