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Motorola ThinkPhone review: all business, no fun, no sale

The back of the Motorola ThinkPhone.
Motorola ThinkPhone
MSRP $699.00
“The Motorola ThinkPhone can't escape its business phone origins. While its nostalgic design is fun and the phone's battery lasts for two days, it fails to excite where it matters.”
  • Two-day battery life
  • ThinkPad-inspired design is fun
  • Durable build
  • Disappointing camera
  • No always-on screen

The Motorola ThinkPhone, or the “ThinkPhone by Motorola” as it’s also known, was launched as a business phone at CES 2023. At the time, there was no intention to sell it to the general public.

If you saw it at the time and were disappointed about not being able to own one, Motorola has since done a U-turn and said you and I can purchase it directly, whether we want it for business purposes or not. But does the original business-focused sales pitch mean it’s not worth buying if you just want it for social media and selfies? I’ve found out.

Motorola ThinkPhone: design

A person holding the Motorola ThinkPhone.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The ThinkPhone name ties the phone in with the famous IBM ThinkPad laptops (a brand that Motorola’s owner, Lenovo, also owns), and its release coincides with the 30th anniversary of the ThinkPad name. Motorola has borrowed several design elements for the phone from those well-known laptops that are popular with business types. For example, take a look at the red button on the side that evokes the red track button in the center of the keyboard on a ThinkPad, along with the font used for the angled ThinkPhone logo on the back. It’s a good-looking phone, and I love the carbon-like rear panel, an effect that continues into the camera module.

The flat-sided chassis is made of aluminum, while the rear panel is aramid fiber,which is the same material as Kevlar and makes it strong and light. It’s soft, warm, and grippy, and the slim 8mm chassis is easy and comfortable to hold. The ThinkPhone weighs 189 grams and has an IP68 water- and dust-resistance rating, so all of this combined means it should prove very durable. The red button can be programmed to activate different functions, and by default, it’s linked to Motorola’s Ready For feature, where the phone can be connected to a PC or monitor.

The Motorola ThinkPhone's IBM ThinkPad-style branding.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The flat screen eschews the frivolousness of a curved screen that we expect to see on a flagship device. This is built for spreadsheets and important calls — not Fortnite and tweeting, remember. It comes in one color, Carbon Black.

I’ve found the ThinkPhone to be an excellent everyday device; it’s barely noticeable in your bag or pocket, and the choice of materials means it doesn’t slide around on a table. The low weight and sensible dimensions mean it’s never fatiguing to hold. The few design nods to the ThinkPad are cool, but it’s not a visual competitor to the OnePlus 11, the Samsung Galaxy S23, or the Google Pixel 7 Pro.

What did strike me is that although it’s a bit simple for consumers, it’s perhaps a bit over-the-top for the business world. Tying it into the famed IBM ThinkPad brand is fun, but I’d be surprised if any businesses cared about nostalgia when putting together a bulk order of dozens, perhaps hundreds of new phones. It’s an odd middle ground, where the nostalgic design isn’t quite impactful enough for consumers and probably inconsequential to businesses. It leaves the ThinkPhone in a no man’s land, where the design is not really appealing to anyone.

Motorola ThinkPhone: software

A person holding the Motorola ThinkPhone.
Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

If the Motorola ThinkPhone was originally conceived as a business phone, does this mean it’s full of business tools and apps that will be irrelevant to you?

No, and in fact, if I didn’t know about the ThinkPhone’s business aspirations, I’d never have guessed. It operates and works like any other Motorola Android phone and the business-oriented features that are there are never pushed.

Screenshots taken from the Motorola ThinkPhone.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Like what? Motorola’s Ready For, which works a little like Samsung’s DeX, lets you connect the phone to a PC and make use of screen mirroring, app streaming, fast file transfers, and notifications on both screens — plus the ability to use your phone as a webcam.

Motorola’s ThinkShield for Mobile security platform is also available, but this either runs silently in the background or ia part of an entire solution for a business. In other words, you don’t have to worry about it or any of the other mobile management tools Motorola provides to its business customers here.

Screenshots taken from the Motorola ThinkPhone.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Otherwise, the ThinkPhone has Android 13 with a selection of Motorola interface tweaks. There are plenty of customization options, from overall themes to changing the design of the icons, but it largely follows Google’s Material You design philosophy. Notifications are swiped down into view from the home screen, Google Discover is found to the left of the home screen, and apps can be placed into massive folders. Motorola has its own floating shortcut button, plus gestures including a “karate chop” motion to turn on the flashlight and a flip for Do Not Disturb, but they’re all optional.

I don’t like the annoying favorites app that appears in the dock, which cycles through previously used apps and needlessly takes up space, but worst of all is the lack of an always-on display. There’s no excuse for not providing this as an option when the hardware supports it, but there’s no such feature on the ThinkPhone. It’s very frustrating when even the iPhone provides an informative always-on screen today. Another disappointment is the complete lack of any IBM ThinkPad-style design nods in the software, which would have helped give it some personality for fans.

Motorola has promised three years of major Android version updates and four years of security updates with the ThinkPhone. This puts it in the same league as the Google Pixel range, but it still falls slightly behind OnePlus’ and Samsung’s even lengthier commitments. It’s still good news, though, and should mean the phone will last for at least this period of time without it suddenly becoming out of date. That’s good for businesses and you.

Motorola ThinkPhone: screen and performance

The Motorola ThinkPhone playing a video.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

There really is no excuse for not giving the ThinkPhone (or any other Moto phone) an always-on screen, as it has a technically suitable 6.5-inch pOLED screen on the front. It’s lovely, with a 2400 x 1080 pixel resolution, a smooth 144Hz refresh rate, and a peak brightness of 1200 nits. I’ve had no problem seeing it outside on sunny days and have left the refresh rate on automatic mode without issue. I may not like the flat glass, but the screen looks great, with vibrant colors, and the dual speakers sound decent too.

This makes the ThinkPhone a good multimedia device, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor and 8GB of RAM make it excellent for games, too. I’ve played through Asphalt 9: Legends without seeing any slowdown or judder. The screen’s ambient light sensor is a little dim-witted, as it sometimes likes to very slowly dim the screen when I’m trying to read, even when Motorola’s Peek Display feature — which keeps the screen on when it “sees” you looking at it — is active.

The Motorola ThinkPhone with ThinkPad-style wallpaper.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I’ve not had any performance issues with the ThinkPhone, and consider the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 an extremely capable processor, but it has been superseded by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 as Qualcomm’s top chip. This presents a problem for the ThinkPhone, as the far more consumer-friendly, interesting, and similarly priced OnePlus 11 uses the Gen 2, as does the Galaxy S23. The amount of money you’d save by getting the ThinkPhone is negated by the fact it’s technically running a processor that’s a year old, and one of the moderately more expensive alternatives has the potential to last you longer.

Calls sound loud and clear, and I’ve had no complaints from the other party either. Connectivity — over Wi-Fi, 4G, and 5G — has been rock solid. These fundamental features matter for both businesses and consumers, and the ThinkPhone keeps up with the best.

Motorola ThinkPhone: battery

The Motorola ThinkPhone's charging port.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The combination of a 5,000mAh battery and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor is a winning one, as the chip’s already-established efficiency makes the most of the battery’s considerable capacity. With normal use, ranging from video calls to short periods of gaming (less than 15 minutes), for a daily screen time of around three hours, the battery hasn’t fallen below 50% by the end of the day. That’s starting out around 7:30 a.m. and turning it off around midnight. I’ve easily got two days of full use from the ThinkPhone on a single charge.

Show it some intensive games, and it still has to work hard, but 30 minutes of playing still doesn’t take much more than 8% to 10% of battery. Running the 3DMark Wild Life Extreme Stress Test illustrates its ability, as the 20-minute repeated sequence took 15% from the battery in one go, which is a strong performance, especially when the device’s temperature increases considerably. Play video for around 40 minutes, and the battery drops by only a few percent.

The battery life and efficiency is easily one of the ThinkPhone’s strongest aspects.

Included in the box is a 68-watt TurboPower wired charger, and the phone also has 15W wireless charging. It takes 15 minutes to reach around 60% and about 40 minutes to fully charge. It makes the ThinkPhone one of the fastest-charging smartphones you can buy and a rival to the OnePlus 11. The battery life, the phone’s efficiency, and the fast charging are some of the ThinkPhone’s strongest reasons to buy it — but they aren’t unique.

Motorola ThinkPhone: camera

The Motorola ThinkPhone's camera module.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Motorola ThinkPhone has a 50-megapixel main camera with optical image stabilization (OIS), a 13MP wide-angle camera, and a depth sensor. That’s it, no attention-grabbing industry partnerships like the OnePlus 11 or Xiaomi 13 Pro, and it doesn’t have an optical zoom like the iPhone 14 Pro and Galaxy S23. If you shoot video, it will do so at up to 8K resolution, plus there’s a 32MP selfie camera at the top center of the screen.

Just because the camera setup is modest in comparison to its competition, does that mean the photos are bad? No, they’re not, provided your expectations aren’t high. The main camera takes decent photos of food, items, and flowers. But show it a more complex scene, and it introduces noise, while photos can lack quite a lot of detail.

The wide-angle camera is the same, with a distinct lack of detail when you zoom in and noise in areas where it should be sharp. Consistency is decent, though, and the camera seems to get exposure right. However, it struggles with focus when you try to get up-close to some objects and it doesn’t automatically switch to the macro mode. Macro is surprisingly good, and you could have fun with the feature. By default, selfies employ skin smoothing and have a habit of washing out skin tones.

It’s not an awful camera, but its performance won’t encourage you to do much more than take a few fun snaps. If the camera needs to be good on your next smartphone, look at the Pixel 7 or Pixel 7 Pro instead — or the ThinkPhone’s other main rivals from Samsung and OnePlus.

Motorola ThinkPhone: price and availability

The back of the Motorola ThinkPhone.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

You can buy an unlocked Motorola ThinkPhone directly from Motorola for $700, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a business customer or not. If you are a business and want to buy the ThinkPhone for your staff, you can also do so, and the pricing will vary.

The ThinkPhone has a competitive price, and on the face of it, represents decent value. However, it’s the same price as the OnePlus 11, $100 less than the Galaxy S23 and the iPhone 14, and $200 less than the Pixel 7 Pro. All of these phones are better buys than the Motorola ThinkPhone, as they are more enticing to consumers — with great cameras, lots of performance, and features that may actually help you on a daily basis.

You could also spend less and get a phone that’s almost as good, like the Samsung Galaxy A54, or one with a stronger camera, like the Google Pixel 6a. Sure, none have a hint of ThinkPad about them, but they’re a whole lot more interesting and enticing in almost all other aspects. None of this is the ThinkPhone’s fault because it’s supposed to be a business phone, not a consumer phone. Do consider this before putting your money down for one.

Motorola ThinkPhone: verdict

The Motorola ThinkPhone's red button.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Let me make this clear: There is nothing wrong with the Motorola ThinkPhone. It’s a perfectly serviceable, durable smartphone with two-day battery life and a nostalgic design nod to a popular laptop line. But that’s all it is. The few cute ThinkPad design elements just aren’t enough to make it desirable to many outside of the die-hard IBM fan base. Everyone else will get far more from the OnePlus 11 or the Galaxy S23, and each will last longer too.

Exactly why Motorola has gone back on its original announcement that the ThinkPhone would only be a business phone isn’t known, but the push was a new move for the company, and this sudden switch may mean Motorola’s B2B aspirations are taking a while to take off. This is speculation, but if the ThinkPhone hasn’t excited the business world — where it actually makes good sense with its durable body, long battery life, great call quality, and robust security options — I’m not sure it has what it takes to excite the consumer world either.

If you’ve long dreamed of a ThinkPad-inspired smartphone, or want a phone that an informed few will think you’re being forced to use by your company, the ThinkPhone is for you. For everyone else, it’ll be wiser to buy a smartphone designed expressly for you as a consumer, not one made to kick-start a brand’s business aspirations.

Editors' Recommendations

Andy Boxall
Senior Mobile Writer
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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