Not even two years ago, finding a 5G-enabled smartphone in the United States was both difficult and not worth the effort. The networks were either nascent or nonexistent, and the number of devices that actually supported 5G was stunningly low. Lord, how times have changed.

Even if 5G networks are still hit-or-miss depending on where you live, you can at least get a 5G phone without breaking the bank now. That’s definitely true of the new Moto G Stylus 5G, an updated version of the $299 Moto G Stylus. To its credit, Moto didn’t just slap on an extra $100 for the privilege of faster network speeds, as this new phone also packs more memory, a massive battery, and a new rear quad-camera array. As the name suggests, it’s also got a pressure-sensitive stylus for all your creative types.

At just $399, the Moto G Stylus 5G can sure do a lot, but is it good at any of it?

Would’ve preferred a short king

The display is big and sharp. Emphasis on "big."
The display is big and sharp. Emphasis on “big.”

The first thing anyone who gets the Stylus 5G will notice is how immense it feels in their hands. At 6.8-inches, the full HD display is bright and sharp, though the refresh rate is stuck at 60Hz. It’ll be a little while before more mid-range phones go up to 90Hz or higher, it seems. It’s a very nice display for the price, but the size is a pretty big turn-off for me, personally. I like to do everything one-handed with a phone and the Stylus 5G’s impressively large footprint makes that difficult, even as someone who doesn’t have small hands.

Moto didn’t rock the boat too much with the rest of the Stylus 5G’s physical features. To the right of the display are conventional volume and power buttons, with a SIM tray on the opposite side. A hole-punch front camera sits in the upper-left corner of the screen, and on the bottom of the phone you’ll find a USB-C port for charging, a chamber for the stylus, and (imagine a drumroll here for maximum excitement) a 3.5mm headphone jack. Yes, they still make phones with headphone jacks. The sky hasn’t fallen yet.

There’s also a fingerprint sensor centered on the upper back of the phone. Even as someone who has had trouble with biometrics before (my fingers are weird, I guess), I was pretty pleased with how well the sensor here works. When I remembered to use it, I never had to give up and input the PIN to unlock the phone. Unfortunately, the Stylus 5G’s size is a problem here, too, as it isn’t really possible for me to reach the sensor with my index finger while holding the phone the way one normally holds a phone. You’ve either got to two-hand it or assume a weird hand stance for a few seconds. It’s not ideal, especially with the lack of a face unlocking feature.

Previously, the non-5G version of this phone topped out at 128GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. Moto bumped up those specs a bit, with the Stylus 5G going up to 256GB and 6GB, respectively. Battery life has also gotten a serious upgrade, with a 5,000mAh engine fueling the Stylus 5G. That’s up from 4,000mAh in the last model. More on how well it works later, but just know that it’s a very large battery for the price.

There were four cameras on the back of the older Moto G Stylus and that setup hasn’t changed here, though they’ve been arranged into a square bump rather than the rectangular one from last time. A 48MP main lens is joined by a 5MP macro lens, an 8MP ultra-wide lens, and a 2MP depth sensor for portrait photography. The aforementioned hole-punch front-facing camera is 16MP. 

The Moto G Stylus 5G also comes in only one color right now: “Cosmic Emerald.” There’s no denying that this mid-range phone looks and feels more expensive than it is thanks to a gigantic display, a ton of cameras, and some upgraded specs. However, the low price and its associated performance trade-offs become more apparent when you actually use the thing.

Middling performance and stylus styling

Quad-cameras and a fingerprint sensor
Quad-cameras and a fingerprint sensor

Roughly 95 percent of the time, the Moto G Stylus 5G is a pretty normal Android 11 device. Moto didn’t fill it with too much proprietary bloatware or anything like that, which is a plus. When used as a conventional Android phone, the Stylus 5G mostly gets the job done, but a mid-range price means mid-range performance.

I put the Stylus 5G through Geekbench‘s benchmarking app, which simulates a bunch of different common smartphone applications to measure a phone’s CPU performance, which is then compiled into a score. With a multi-core score of 1,633, the Stylus 5G comes well short of expensive flagships like the Samsung Galaxy S21, which scores 3,176 using the same testing methods.

In layman’s terms, that means the guts powering the Stylus 5G are considerably weaker than that of a more expensive phone and it shows. Performance is generally okay, with daily tasks like web browsing, social media, and music streaming all working more or less as intended. But even apps like Instagram and Twitter can take just a little longer to load than I’d like. I never experienced significant lag or hitching while bopping around apps or the phone’s various home screens and menus, but it’s not as zippy as a flagship would be.

Performance does take a hit when the battery runs low, but the good news is that probably won’t happen to you very often. That 5,000mAh battery is billed as lasting for two days and I can’t dispute that based on my testing. Even with a healthy amount of Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, and YouTube use along with benchmark tests and other things that would likely stress the battery more than a normal person’s routine would the battery only drained about 35 percent over the course of a full eight-hour workday.

The battery didn’t even buckle under a stress test that would’ve killed my lowly iPhone 8. I made the Stylus 5G play a 1080p YouTube video continuously overnight for about eight hours after a full charge. When I woke up, the battery level was still above 40 percent. That’s power, folks. If there’s a single thing I’d point to as a selling point for the Stylus 5G, it’s that.

True to its name, this phone does come with a stylus. Retrieving it from inside the phone is as easy as pressing down on the bottom tip while it rests inside its chamber before pulling it out. Doing so while the phone is locked will conveniently open a notes app where you can freely draw and experiment with the pressure sensitivity. For what it’s worth, the stylus is plenty responsive and I didn’t notice any problems with its pressure-sensitive nature.

Props to Moto for including a little pop-up menu that appears when you remove the stylus while the phone is unlocked, too. It has six slots for apps that you can customize, but by default, it’s a handy way to open the notes app, mess around with an included coloring book, or hit a quick screenshot button. 

I’ll freely admit that I have almost zero interest in ever using a stylus on a smartphone. It’s just not my preferred form of input, and I’m not an artist. But the Moto G Stylus 5G’s stylus implementation is intuitive and the pen itself works as it should. That’s something most other phones in this price range, especially 5G ones, can’t say they have.

Speaking of 5G, I wish I could tell you how that part of the phone works, but I wasn’t able to test it due to the lack of a 5G-ready SIM card. I was able to have some fun with the camera array, though.

Quad-cam fun

Daytime shots look nice.
Daytime shots look nice.

Moto G Stylus 5G’s bundle of cameras looks impressive on a spec sheet, but their actual implementation is iffy depending on the situation. I was generally happy with daytime shots, as the greenery at a park near me shone through on a hot summer day. Portrait mode adds a nice bokeh effect that didn’t look too off to me, while the macro lens allows you to get up close and personal with the fine details on objects.

The macro lens lets you see fine details on small objects.
The macro lens lets you see fine details on small objects.
Portrait mode produces a nice bokeh effect.
Portrait mode produces a nice bokeh effect.

I was less impressed by Night Vision, which uses digital post-processing to brighten dark photos just like the Pixels and iPhones of the world. Photos I took at night around my neighborhood came out a little overexposed and blurry for my liking. Even the better ones looked too fake for me, as though they were trying to make the photos look like daytime shots instead of preserving the nighttime atmosphere.

Night Vision could use some work.
Night Vision could use some work.

If you’re hellbent on nighttime photography, I’d stick with a Pixel or iPhone. For most everything else, though, the Moto G Stylus 5G’s cameras are pretty nice for how relatively little you have to pay to get them. 

“It’s nice for the price” could really be this phone’s motto.

Cheap is cheap

If you’re in the market for a mid-range Android phone, the Moto G Stylus 5G should be fairly high on your list of phones to check out. While I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to use the 5G connectivity myself, its mere presence can at least act as future-proofing for when those networks are more widespread and reliable. The inclusion of a stylus that’s easy to use and equally easy to ignore if you don’t care about it is another mark in its favor, as is its powerful battery.

That said, an uncomfortably large screen, awkwardly placed fingerprint sensor, and middling performance keep me from recommending it wholeheartedly. With its more comfortable size and superior nighttime camera, the Pixel 4a is a better value at $349 if 5G isn’t important to you. I certainly couldn’t blame anyone for choosing that sweet, sweet Stylus 5G battery, though. 

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