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Motorola’s new $400 Android phone really surprised me

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 cosmic black color with stylus
Moto G Stylus 5G (2023)
MSRP $400.00
“For $400, the Moto G Stylus 5G (2023) packs in a beautiful 120Hz display, respectable performance, a massive battery, and a responsive stylus.”
Pros
  • Gorgeous 6.6-inch display
  • 120Hz refresh rate
  • Fast performance
  • Long lasting battery
  • Responsive and fluid stylus
  • Decent cameras
Cons
  • Poor lowlight photos
  • Fast charging maxes out at 20W
  • Only one major software upgrade

These days, it’s actually kind of hard to find a good smartphone with a stylus. Sure, Samsung still sells its flagship phones with an included stylus, but that’s going to cost you a pretty penny. What if you don’t want to pay those flagship prices but still want a stylus with your phone? Thankfully, Motorola’s got your back with the Moto G Stylus 5G (2023).

Motorola has released quite a few phones already this year, from the excellent Motorola Edge Plus (2023) to the so-so Moto G Power 5G, to the lackluster Moto G Play (2023). Given the company’s mixed year so far, I wasn’t expecting too much when I got the Moto G Stylus 5G to review. But I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised, considering the phone and the price point. Here’s my full review.

Moto G Stylus 5G (2023): design

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 in hand with a rose garden backdrop.
Christine Romero-Chan / DIgital Trends

This is my first experience with a Moto G Stylus 5G phone, so I don’t have last year’s version to compare it with. However, it looks similar from what I can gather, and honestly, the design (at least on the backside) looks almost like the also recently released Motorola Edge Plus (2023) — with a few minor differences, of course.

It’s an overall kind of boring phone design. I mean, it’s another slab of phone, basically. The display is flat, but the rest of the phone is slightly rounded and curved. The plastic (specifically PMMA, i.e. acrylic) chassis and frame make the Moto G Stylus 5G rather lightweight, and it’s pretty comfortable to hold, despite the large 6.6-inch size. The plastic material is also highly durable and even water-repellent.

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 on park bench.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Despite the tried-and-true form factor, I actually love what Motorola did with the back of the Moto G Stylus 5G, at least with the Cosmic Black version I got. First, the Moto G Stylus 5G no longer has a glossy back like the previous generation. Instead, it’s now a frosted matte finish, so it’s no longer a fingerprint magnet! Smudges can still happen, but they’re not bad at all.

I actually love what Motorola did with the back of the Moto G Stylus 5G.

But due to the new matte finish, the Cosmic Black version has this slight blue glimmer to it when light hits it from various angles. It’s beautiful and makes it stand out from the crowd. The Moto G Stylus 5G (2023) comes in another color, Rose Champagne, and that’s the color I would have preferred. But honestly, this unique shimmer on the Cosmic Black version makes me happy I got it.

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 bottom edge.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Along the aluminum frame, you’ll find the SIM card tray on the top left, volume and power buttons on the top right, and the bottom has your charging port, speakers, the almost-extinct 3.5mm headphone jack (gasp!), and the stylus tucked away on the right side. The power button also houses the fingerprint sensor, which I had no issues with during my testing — it worked every time I needed it to.

Speaking of the stylus, it’s the main feature of the Moto G Stylus 5G. Just push the little nub, and it will pop out. The stylus itself is slim but has a bit of heft to it since it’s metal. The capacitive tip itself looks a bit like what you’d find on a microphone but in a miniature state. Once the stylus is fully out, the Moto G Stylus 5G detects that and will launch a quick menu of apps (fully customizable), with Moto Note being in the center of the spotlight. When you put the stylus back in, this little popup menu disappears.

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 showing stylus tip
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

For a mid-range device, don’t expect a super fancy stylus — there isn’t pressure or tilt sensitivity like you’d find with the Samsung S Pen or Apple Pencil, as this is not an active stylus.

It also can’t be used for remote capture with the camera. But for what it’s worth, it’s actually not bad. It’s responsive with little to no lag and makes it easy to jot down notes, sketch art, edit photos, copy and paste text, mark up screenshots, and just navigate around the phone itself.

Moto G Stylus 5G (2023): screen

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 in a flowery shrub.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The Moto G Stylus 5G (2023) comes equipped with a large 6.6-inch FHD+ LCD display. It has a 2400 x 1080 resolution, a 20:9 aspect ratio, and an impressive 120Hz refresh rate.

Though I’m used to OLED displays on flagship devices, the Moto G Stylus 5G display does not look bad at all. Text is crisp, images and video are sharp and beautiful, and that 120Hz refresh rate makes scrolling buttery smooth. When using the stylus for hand-writing notes, drawing, and sketching, it’s fluid — as if pen on paper.

The display also has a small hole punch cutout centered at the top for the front-facing camera. I didn’t feel that it was intrusive or anything, and I prefer it over some other budget phones that have a little dip or notch instead, which I find more distracting. There is a bit of a bezel around the edges, thinner on the sides and top but a tad thicker at the bottom. It’s less bezel than, say, the Moto G Play (2023), so it’s better, but don’t expect any edge-to-edge display on the Moto G Stylus 5G.

Moto G Stylus 5G (2023): performance and software

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 digital wellbeing app.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Inside the Moto G Stylus 5G (2023), you’ll get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 chip with an octa-core 2.2GHz CPU and Adreno GPU. It comes in either 4GB RAM/128GB storage or 6GB RAM/256GB storage variations, and both can expand the storage up to 2TB via a microSD card.

The unit sent to me is of the 6GB/256GB variant. With the Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 chip inside, the Moto G Stylus 5G is surprisingly capable for everyday tasks. I did encounter some crashing apps when initially setting up the phone but haven’t had any issues since then.

My daily use involves constantly checking Microsoft Outlook and Teams for work, Spark for email besides my Gmail addresses, Facebook, Instagram, and Mastodon for social media. I also constantly use the camera to take photos of my daughter, upload those images to the Family Album app, stream Disney+ and YouTube for my daughter, and a lot of Google News and Chrome use throughout the day. All of my apps load fairly quickly, and scrolling on the 120Hz display is nice and smooth.

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 in hand with stylus popped out.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

I love how the phone intelligently detects when the stylus is popped out or removed from its compartment. By default, the main app that will start up when you remove the stylus is the Moto Notes app, and it opens a note in handwriting mode automatically, even if the phone is locked. But you can change it to launch any app you want, as the shortcut menu is fully customizable.

I love how the phone intelligently detects when the stylus is popped out.

I’m not much of a mobile gamer these days, aside from one or two titles. I did try out Diablo Immortal on the Moto G Stylus 5G, as the franchise is one of my favorites, and it’s a good way to test how the phone handles things. I noticed that the graphics are mostly sharp, but some elements appear a bit blurry. The frame rate also dipped a bit at times, but for the most part, it seemed to do okay, at least on the low settings.

It seems that the Moto G Stylus 5G (2023) may struggle a bit with more graphics-intensive titles, especially if they’re on higher settings, but if you’re just playing casual mobile games (i.e. puzzles and the like), it should be good enough. This is a budget device that’s geared for productivity, after all, not a gaming phone.

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 motohub
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The Moto G Stylus 5G comes equipped with Android 13, and for the most part, it’s close to stock Android, which is nice. Of course, Motorola does add some Motorola-specific bits of software, like the Moto app, MotoHub, Moto Notes (which is the default note app when you pull out the stylus), and a few other things. You can choose what to install when setting up the phone, but I liked having the Moto app as an easy way to personalize the device — including gestures, display settings, themes, and more.

However, it’s disappointing that the Moto G Stylus 5G will only receive one Android software upgrade and three years of security patches. That means that if you buy the Moto G Stylus 5G now, it can only get up to Android 14 whenever that’s released. In comparison, Google’s Pixel devices get three Android version upgrades and five years of security updates, while Samsung promises four Android upgrades for many of its smartphones.

Moto G Stylus 5G (2023): cameras

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 camera array.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

One thing that I’ve noticed most budget phones struggle with are the cameras, and that’s no different with the Moto G Stylus 5G. You get a 50MP main camera and 8MP ultrawide lens that also works for macro and depth sensors, so it’s essentially a 3-in–1. The front selfie camera is 16MP, which is respectable.

The photos that you can capture with the Moto G Stylus 5G are okay. They will look sharp and crisp if you have decent lighting conditions, of course, but the quality drops when it comes to lowlight photography — it seems to have trouble focusing when there isn’t enough light. There’s also no telephoto lens, so it relies on digital zoom for any closeups.

I did attempt to use the Moto G Stylus 5G to try and capture my daughter running around at the park, and it did surprisingly better than I expected. There is a slight delay when you tap the shutter button and the moment it actually gets the photo, but it’s faster than the Samsung Galaxy A54, which was horrendously slow for those moments. Portrait images are also decent since they use the 8MP ultrawide lens, with a natural bokeh background that isn’t too overdone.

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 selfie camera.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

I did notice that selfies have a “beautify” filter on by default (set at the second level), which I think makes skin overly smooth to the point you look like a doll. I’m not a huge fan, but it’s helpful when there are blemishes on my face. However, it’s easy to turn off if you don’t want it — just tap the toggle and set it to zero. Overall, selfies are good for what it’s worth but don’t expect the 16MP camera to work miracles in dimmer lighting conditions.

Overall, the cameras on the Moto G Stylus 5G are okay. It’s about average for a phone in this price range, and even then, it’s hard to compete with what Google offers with its Pixel phones, which include the Pixel 6a and Pixel 7a. Because Google’s Tensor G-series chip does a lot of computational photography magic with AI, it’s hard to beat.

Moto G Stylus 5G (2023): battery and charging

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 displaying battery info.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

Motorola packed a massive 5,000mAh battery in the Moto G Stylus 5G (2023). With my typical use of the phone, it easily lasted at least two days, as I was only using it on Wi-Fi. If I had the phone connected to a cellular network, I’d imagine that it would have no problem making it through the entire day and then some, depending on the use. I honestly felt like the battery could last forever at times, as I tried to whittle it down, but it can endure a lot before you even need to think about charging.

The charging is a little bit of a letdown, however. It’s capable of Motorola’s Turbo Charge up to 20W, but for some reason, Motorola only gives you a 10W charging adapter in the box, along with a USB-C cable. If you were to use the included power adapter, it would take almost three hours to charge from zero to 100%, which is, well, very slow. I used a faster power adapter to get the 20W speed, and that gave me a 75% charge in an hour and 21 minutes (from 16% to 91%). It’s still a bit slow compared to some of the competition, but better than the 10W power adapter that’s included.

There is no wireless charging with the Moto G Stylus 5G, however, which is not surprising for a phone at this price.

Moto G Stylus 5G (2023): price and availability

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 in bush with handwritten note that reads "Hello There."
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

The Moto G Stylus 5G is currently available directly from Motorola’s website, T-Mobile, and on Amazon for $400. You can choose from 4GB/128GB or 6GB/256GB configurations, and there are two colors to pick from: Rose Champagne or Cosmic Black.

For the price, the Moto G Stylus 5G (2023) has a good amount of competition. For $50 less at $349, you can pick up a Google Pixel 6a, which is still available despite the newer Pixel 7a. The price cut on the Pixel 6a makes it one of the best budget phones you can get if you like having a smaller, more compact form factor with the 6.1-inch screen, good and reliable cameras with Google’s computational photography magic from Tensor G1 chip, and longevity with several years of Android OS upgrades. The screen is only 60Hz, though, but for most people, that’s fine.

Sage green Pixel 6a and Snow Pixel 7a held in hand.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

There is also the Pixel 7a for $100 more at $499, which gets you a 90Hz display over its predecessor, as well as a 64MP main camera, Google’s Tensor G2 chipset, and even wireless charging. The photos on the Pixel 7a (as well as the 6a, actually) look great no matter what the lighting conditions are, thanks to the power of the Tensor chips. So if you care about photo quality above all else, both the Pixel 6a and 7a are better choices than the Moto G Stylus 5G.

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy A54, showing the back.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Then there’s the Samsung Galaxy A54 at $450. It has a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, so it’s a bit more similar to the Moto G Stylus 5G on that front rather than the Pixels. You also get a 50MP main camera, a 12MP ultrawide with a 5MP depth sensor, and a 32MP selfie camera. The only fault here is the fact that Samsung’s Exynos 1380 processor is not the fastest, especially when it comes to capturing action photos, as I mentioned earlier. Samsung also really goes with its reputation of overly saturated colors in photos to the next level too, which may or may not be appealing to you.

But it’s important to remember that the main selling point of the Moto G Stylus 5G (2023) is the stylus. It’s one of the most affordable options on the market right now if you prefer to have a stylus to handwrite notes, sketch, or even just navigate around the phone instead of using your finger. And while it’s not an active stylus like on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra, it’s also a fraction of the cost.

Moto G Stylus 5G (2023): verdict

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 home screen apps.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends

If you are looking for an affordable Android phone that has an integrated stylus and is actually decent in terms of performance, then the Moto G Stylus 5G fits the bill. It’s one of the few Android phones out there with a stylus, and it’s much more affordable than something like the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.

I was afraid that the Moto G Stylus 5G wasn’t going to be good, considering my only other experience with a Moto G phone was the Moto G Play (2023), which I only gave a 4/10 rating. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far with the Moto G Stylus 5G. The Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 chip gives a respectable performance, the 6.6-inch LCD display with 120Hz refresh rate actually looks good, and the massive battery easily gets you through an entire day without worrying about plugging in. And as long as you’re in well-lit environments, the cameras are pretty good. Plus, it’s compatible with 5G networks.

Moto G Stylus 5G 2023 with stylus popped out.
Christine Romero-Chan / Digital Trends / Digital Trends

And the best part is that the stylus, despite being a passive one, is actually a pleasure to use. It quickly launches the notes app, even when the phone is locked, so you can jot or sketch away. I also found it preferable to navigating the device itself, as it leaves fewer smudges on the screen compared to me using my finger.

This is one of the better affordable Android phones right now.

However, at this price, some sacrifices need to be made. The cameras work well in the daylight but suffer a drop in quality when it comes to lowlight environments, and there’s no telephoto lens. And charging can take a while since it’s capped out at 20W for fast charging, but Motorola only gives you a 10W charger in the box for some reason. Oh, and no wireless charging, plus only one Android software upgrade.

Still, if you’re in the market for an affordable Android phone to use right now that also has a stylus, this is one of the better ones to check out.

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Christine Romero-Chan
Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade. She graduated from California…
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