Motorola’s G series phones have long been among PCMag’s favorites, but its early 2021 Moto G Stylus had notable flaws. The company has bounced back with the Moto G Stylus 5G ($399.99), which has the good cameras, excellent battery life, and solid performance that Motorola customers have come to expect. Though the G Stylus 5G is a leap forward from the $300 Moto G Stylus released less than six months ago, it now faces stiff competition from other midrange 5G phones. Motorola has straddled the budget/midrange line for years, but I don’t think anyone would consider the $400 G Stylus 5G a budget phone. Its (admittedly stylus-free) rivals include the Apple iPhone SE ($399), the Google Pixel 4a 5G ($499), and the Editors’ Choice-winning OnePlus Nord N10 5G ($299.99)—some hard acts to follow. The only real reason to choose the G Stylus 5G over the rest is right there in the name: the stylus, which you won’t find on any other phone costing less than $1,000.
Handle With Care
With the exception of the camera module and the fingerprint sensor, the G Stylus 5G looks just like the G Stylus. At 6.7 by 3.1 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 7.5 ounces, it’s a big phone. People with small hands will likely find it a handful.
On paper, the G Stylus 5G’s 6.8-inch, 1,080-by-2,400 pixel hole-punch display is the same as its predecessor’s. When I reviewed the G Stylus earlier this year, its display was one of my biggest complaints. There was noticeable pixelation and ghosting, and the contrast ratio was poor. The first unit was so bad that I actually requested a replacement. But I’m starting to wonder whether they were both faulty, because the G Stylus 5G’s display has none of those problems. The LCD panel is crisp and bright even in direct sunlight, with excellent viewing angles. It was a perfect companion for a long Netflix binge while I was stuck at a hotel with awful cable.
The glossy green backplate looks good, but collects lots of fingerprints. In the upper left corner, there’s a square camera module that’s more refined than the one on the G Stylus. The fingerprint sensor, which was moved to the side on the G Stylus, has returned to the back of the phone. I was a fan of the G Stylus’ side-mounted fingerprint sensor, but the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor looks better and responds faster to touch.
The top edge of the G Stylus 5G is bare. On the bottom, you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a USB-C charging port, a speaker, and a port for the stylus.
The left side of the G Stylus 5G is home to a SIM/microSD slot. A textured power button and volume rocker are on the right. Both buttons require a stretch for small hands. They provide a satisfying click when tapped.
As with all Motorola phones, durability is a concern. The G Stylus 5G is not IP rated. Its plastic chassis and backplate can handle minor drops and dings without damage, but its strengthened glass display panel is unlikely to fare as well. It’s water resistant, and I can attest that it can handle a torrential downpour without issue. If you drop the G Stylus 5G in a pool, however, you’ll probably be shopping for a new phone.
Last Stylus Standing
With LG’s departure, the stylus smartphone market is looking pretty bleak. In fact, the G Stylus and the G Stylus 5G are the only phones released so far this year that come with a stylus in the box.
Motorola’s stylus doesn’t compare with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s optional S Pen, but it’s improved over time. The latest stylus is round, a seemingly minor change that hugely improves the overall user experience. Previous Motorola styli have never been perfectly round, so you have to align them with the port. The round stylus just slides in. When you have it out, the flared end keeps it from rolling off your table or desk.
Otherwise, the tactile experience of using the stylus on the G Stylus 5G is unchanged from the G Stylus. The mesh end drags a little when writing on the screen, but not as much as a pen does on paper.
In addition to changing the stylus design, Motorola has optimized the software on the G Stylus 5G. There’s still no palm rejection, but the edges of the display are less sensitive and are less likely to pick up accidental brushes with your hand. The system also keeps track of when the stylus is removed from the port, and optionally records the phone’s location (as GPS coordinates) at the time. The stylus is a passive device and can’t be tracked and found like an AirTag or Tile tracker, but knowing where you were the last time you took it out is the next best thing.
5G, But No NFC
The Moto Stylus 5G ships unlocked and has the hardware to work on every US carrier’s LTE and mid-band 5G network. At the moment, AT&T customers are limited to LTE service, but a Motorola representative told me a software update would be sent in the coming months to add 5G connectivity. Band support is solid, with plenty of international bands and even band 77 for upcoming C-band coverage.
I tested the G Stylus 5G on T-Mobile’s 5G network around Chicago. Average speeds clocked in at 128Mbps down and 58.8Mbps up. Those are excellent numbers for a midrange phone, but we recorded slightly higher speeds on the less-expensive OnePlus Nord N10 5G.
Test calls were crisp and clear. With a maximum earpiece volume of 86dB, I had no problem hearing calls on a busy train. Noise cancellation worked perfectly on every call.
The single, bottom-firing speaker leaves a lot to be desired. It has a maximum volume of 92dB. The soundstage is boxy and mids are pushed forward. At higher volumes, distortion creeps in on the high end. It’s fine for video calls, but you’ll want to pick up decent headphones before you install Spotify.
Bluetooth 5.1 is available for audio and wearable connectivity. There’s dual-band Wi-Fi, but Wi-Fi 6 is missing. So is NFC, which seems like a big miss for the G Stylus 5G, since phones that cost half as much offer it. Wireless charging is absent.
Cameras Leap Forward
Like the G Stylus, the G Stylus 5G is equipped with a 48MP primary lens with an f/1.7 aperture and quad binning,an 8MP ultra-wide lens with an f/2.2 aperture, and a 2MP depth sensor. The macro sensor gets a boost from the G Stylus’s 2MP to 5MP. What’s primarily changed is the software, which Motorola has considerably improved. The lenses may be basically the same, but they now take much better photos.
My daylight test photos with the primary lens were crisp, with solid color accuracy. Depth of field is good, and the loss of fine detail is less noticeable than on the G Stylus’ photos. Low-light photos are improved as well, and improvements to Motorola’s Night Vision mode makes the photos look a little less washed out. That said, the photos lack the clarity you’ll find on pics from the Pixel 4a 5G or the iPhone SE.
Not much has changed with the ultra-wide lens. It’s still capable of excellent shots with good light, though I observed some loss of fine details. Low-light test shots were slightly improved compared with the G Stylus, but there was noticeable noise in several photos. I also spotted some distortion, but that’s common with most wide-angle photos, and you’re not likely to notice it unless you’re closely examining a photo.
I’m not a big fan of smartphone macro lenses, but I’ll happily admit the G Stylus 5G’s sensor is greatly improved over the one on the G Stylus. Most of the test photos still appeared flat, but there was far less blurring around the edges of objects.
The front-facing camera on the G Stylus 5G is unchanged from its predecessor. It comes in at 16MP with an f/2.2 aperture. Quad binning is on by default, but you can turn it off in the camera settings. In good light, the G Stylus 5G takes a good selfie. Color accuracy is spot on, and there’s a natural-looking depth of field.
Low-light selfies with Night Mode are improved as well. There’s less noise overall and the depth of field is much better. Colors are slightly blown out in low light, and there’s some blurring in the foreground, but you can still get a shot you wouldn’t be afraid to share on social media.
Portrait mode takes a major leap forward on the G Stylus 5G. The rear camera takes excellent portraits and is far less prone to object mapping issues than its predecessor. Portraits with the front-facing camera are better as well, but I saw some mapping issues around hats and glasses in several of the test shots.
As a bonus, Motorola has added an option to turn off the primary sensor’s quad binning in the camera settings; most people will probably never take advantage of the feature, but it’s a great choice if you want a finely detailed cropped image.
The G Stylus 5G’s camera setup is a vast improvement over the G Stylus’ and will suit you well if you primarily take pictures to share online and don’t stress the quality too much. If you’re a more serious smartphone shutterbug with a midrange budget, you’ll want to look at the Google Pixel 4a 5G.
A New Chip Boosts Performance
The G Stylus 5G ships with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 480 mobile platform. My review unit had 256GB of storage and 6GB of RAM. There’s about 238GB of storage available out of the box, and the G Stylus 5G supports up to 1TB of external storage with a microSD card.
In addition to the standard 256GB/6GB retail configuration, a 128GB/4GB version will be sold through some carriers. You may save a few dollars up front with that setup, but the retail version is a better value over the long term.
The Snapdragon 480 and the G Stylus’ Snapdragon 678 chipset are pretty similar at first glance, but their small differences add up to give the G Stylus 5G noticeably better performance. The Snapdragon 678 has a slightly faster clock speed, but it’s larger and less efficient. The memory bandwidth on the Snapdragon 480 is slightly faster (17GBps vs. the 678’s 14.9GBps), and the overall instruction set architecture is improved.
On Geekbench 5.0, a suite of tests that measures raw performance, the G Stylus 5G earned a single-core score of 501 and a multi-core score of 1,627. That’s a modest gain on the G Stylus (488 SC, 1,590 MC) but falls slightly behind the N10 5G (510 SC, 1,834 MC).
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Motorola has worked out many of the kinks I experienced with the G Stylus earlier this year. The G Stylus 5G is capable of multitasking with ease, and I rarely noticed lag when opening apps.
Gaming isn’t bad for the price. I spent an hour playing Alto’s Odyssey and didn’t encounter any skipped frames. When I tried Genshin Impact, however, load times were incredibly slow, and I noticed more skipped frames than I could count. The G Stylus 5G should do fine with games that don’t require a lot of resources.
Gaming benchmarks echo my subjective experience. On GFXBench, a synthetic benchmarking suite that evaluates gameplay performance, the G Stylus 5G scored 10fps on Aztec Ruins On-Screen and 6.4fps for Off-Screen. Both numbers are fine for budget phones but are a far cry from midrange phones such as the Google Pixel 4 from a few years ago (21 On-Screen, 11 Off-Screen).
A 5,000mAh battery powers the G Stylus 5G; that’s a significant upgrade from the 4,000mAh battery on the G Stylus. It can easily get you through a few days between charges. In our battery drain test, which streams HD video at full brightness over Wi-Fi, the G Stylus 5G eked out 15 hours and 30 minutes before powering down. That’s nearly two hours longer than the G Stylus and more than five hours beyond what you’ll get on the Nord N10 5G.
Useful Software, Lackluster Upgrades
The G Stylus 5G is the only G-series phone that ships with Android 11. Like all Motorola phones, it lightly customizes the OS with My UX, a skin that allows you to modify the icons and menus and provides a few useful features. For example, with Moto Actions, you can complete common tasks using gestures. Need to turn on the flashlight? Just make a double chop motion. Want to grab a quick photo? Flick your wrist twice and the camera app will open.
There are a few special features for the G Stylus 5G. When you pull the stylus out of its port, a floating icon appears with frequent stylus-related shortcuts. If you forget to put the stylus away, your phone will remind you. The shortcuts menu on the right side of the screen also lets you quickly access apps you commonly use with the stylus.
Motorola promises one year of software upgrades and two years of security updates. It also frequently updates many features throughout the Google Play Store. For the price, I wish Motorola’s software upgrade policy were as generous as the three-year upgrade policy offered by Google for its Pixel lineup and Samsung for most of its Galaxy A series.
A Return to G-Series Glory
After a thoroughly disappointing G-series rollout in early 2021, the Moto G Stylus 5G is a breath of fresh air, with 5G connectivity, a beautiful display, good cameras, up-to-date software, and multi-day battery life. If you’re a die-hard stylus fan, it’s an excellent option—in fact, it’s the only option (other than the G Stylus) that will cost you less than $1,000.
At $400, however, it faces some pretty stiff competition in the midrange market. If a stylus is not a must, the Google Pixel 4a 5G is a better value, especially for camera hounds, and the OnePlus Nord N10 5G will give you a similar experience for $100 less. Motorola has put in a lot of work to make a phone with a lot to like, but the G Stylus 5G just isn’t quite the midrange game-changer it’s meant to be.