Monday, 24 June 2019

Motorola One Vision

Tempted as I was by the recent Sony 21:9 phones, I couldn't quite bring myself to pull the trigger because of some hardware and software compromises. I have a track record of loving the Sony name but always being disappointed by their phones. Enter Motorola to the rescue!

I've been fussy about device size over recent months and years, rejecting many very capable handsets because they were, well, just not feeling right in my hand. The risk of this going the same way with this was high, given that 21:9 required 'tall' design going on, making it hard to use with one hand and not pocket-friendly. However, I have been surprised. The Vision, after a few days, feels like it might actually be just the right size. Not too narrow to use the keyboard whilst making mistakes, tall enough to make good use of scrolling social media posts/news, wide enough in landscape mode to watch 21:9 content on YouTube, Netflix and anywhere else where it can be grabbed - and yet, not too tall for comfort in front-trousers pockets. So far, so good!

As usual these days with Motorola, there's a clear TPU in the box which is perfectly good and protects the phone from mild knocks and slippage. The back is Gorilla Glass 3, so will slip around in the hand without it. This unit is what they call Sapphire Gradient so as you might expect, a deep blue, shiny, moving to a lighter shade towards the edges. There's a bronze version also available but which seems harder to come by. The back glass curves around the sides to meet the plastic frame around the edge, which doesn't detract from the premium 'feel' of the device. The back also houses a camera 'bump' (almost flattened by the TPU, but not rocking) on the top-left, an LED flash underneath, an android/one logo and 'M' circular capacitive fingerprint scanner in just the right place for index, about 75% of the way up.

Get Connected
On the left is a Hybrid Dual nano-SIM/microSD Card Tray with pokey-hole, which means that (at least on this UK-sourced unit) you can choose between 2 SIM Cards or one SIM Card and a microSD. You can assign data use to only one of the SIM Cards at a time. WiFi and cellular signals seem very strong, a thing I check for now since I found some (even flagship) handsets to be sadly lacking with (apparently) poorly chosen component aerials. On the right is a volume rocker and power button, the latter being knurled for blind ID, on the top is a 3.5mm audio-out socket and on the bottom, USB-C data/charging socket and single mono speaker. Lastly, on the front, a flat sheet of glass - although nobody quite seems to know what kind of glass. Motorola say that it's '2.5D Glass' whereas they're more specific about the rear panel.

Cinema in the Hand
The 21:9 CinemaVision FHD+ display on the front then is an IPS LCD 1080p (x 2520 for the ratio, returning 432ppi). It's no AMOLED, but much like the Moto G7 Plus which I reviewed recently, it's bright and colourful enough for the unit's price-point. There's a lack of really rich saturated Z3 Play colours, but fiddle with the three options in settings and you'll find it pleasing enough. Remember the price! It's certainly bright enough and remains usable out in bright sunshine, which I tested yesterday. There are bezels, all round, 2 or 3mm, with a larger one on the chin. But we're being fussy, I think. I'm OK with bezels - with the TPU in place it ensures no accidental screen taps. We'd also be fussy to complain about seeing the whole screen in grey in a dark room whenever the screen is woken. It's an LCD!

A Big Hole
What is a problem for many it seems, is the size and position of the Selfie camera. It's big and intrusive and sits in the top-left corner, so naturally bottom-left/top-right when viewing media. The hole is big, the surround is big and it gets in the way. It screws with the Notification shade area in portrait, pushing all the content right, ironically shoving the Android Pie clock back into the right corner and shuffles everything else around. It also makes the Notification shade, because of the size of the cut-out, disproportionately fat. There's no getting around it, the whole arrangement looks odd - and what is worse, intrudes into viewing 21:9 content, pretty much the USP of the device in the first place! Motorola One Vision gets impaired-vision!

The W(hole) Fill
Having said all of the above, the human brain is a flexible organ and very quickly, in just a few days here, I've got used to it - and in all honesty, much like people say about notches, don't see it much. Part of the reason for that is that 21:9 content is not hugely available out there and anything less shifts the display right, so that end of the screen is not used. Which is, in itself, a bit odd, as the 16:9 content is nicely curved at the right corners but sharply squared on the left! I wonder at this point if Sony have implemented this outcome more pleasingly.

Real World 6.3 = 5.3!
The Vision has some weight and feels solid and sturdy in the hand, despite the plastic. It's 180g in weight, which is significant. The only place that the phone feels less than premium in fact is the SIM Card Tray. When you take that out, it's horribly plastic-feeling. Part of the weight is the glass of course and the 6.3" diagonal sounds like it's a giant - but don't forget that it's 21:9, so actually it's not a huge screen in a sense at all. I haven't done the maths but, back of a fag packet, if this had been 16:9 it would have been more like 5.3". So it's in many ways, quite dinky. It's very slightly taller than my Nokia 9 PureView but certainly less wide. It's even less wide than my Moto Z3 Play, though somewhat taller. I can very easily touch my thumb and middle finger around the waist. It's about the same thickness as the PureView and significantly fatter than the Z3 Play. So, deceptive, because of that wacky screen ratio!

Protected Access
Motorola have added an IP5/2 - a "water-repellent design which creates a barrier to help protect against moderate exposure to water such as accidental spills, splashes or light rain. Not designed to be submerged in water, or exposed to pressurised water, or other liquids; may diminish over time. Not waterproof." Straight from the horse's mouth! The capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back works beautifully well, in registration and execution. Fast and perfect every time. It can also be assigned to swipe-scroll-down the Notification shade.

128GB Standard at Last!
One of the key features which made a huge difference for me was the 128GB UFS on-board. This has become my baseline minimum now, given my demands, and with a microSD Card slot ready for 1TB, my 512GB card worked perfectly. Not only that, but the phone will accept my 2TB SanDisk Extreme SSD into the USB OTG port, sees it, reads and writes to it out of the box. Kudos to Motorola for enabling this, where so many others fail. One more step to catch Samsung et al now, to include HDMI-out which like all Motorola phones, sadly, it does not. But with this feature set, we're talking pocket-computer and real file management on a large scale, not just app-running phone.

No Dragons
Talking of Samsung, Motorola have done a deal with the giant company as the Vision employs one of their chipsets. The Exynos 9609, which those who test these things out, are suggesting is not unlike the SnapDragon 660 in terms of performance and efficiency, and not a stone's throw from the 9610 Samsung used in their Galaxy A50 which I recently reviewed and concluded there that it showed some slight slowdown. I put down to the plethora of Samsung software and UI additions that they added. I can almost certainly confirm that to be the case now as this Vision, with next to no extra software and UI changes from 'stock' (what there is, I'll come to), shows no slowdown in anything I throw at it. The chipset is perfectly good for all but demanding gamers, I contend. The 4GB RAM might be considered to be on the lower side, but don't forget that (amongst others) Google's own Pixel models do perfectly well with this with their similarly clean software. The 4GB RAM is perfectly fine for 98% of users' app switching. I really can't fault it - again, remember the price here!

One Clean One
To the software, then - and the Vision arrived with Android 9 Pie and May 2016 Google Security in place. It's an AndroidOne phone, so, much like the Motorola One which I recently reviewed, very clean and near-Vanilla. The Motorola One, also on AndroidOne, got very quick updates over the months - it seems that Motorola are taking the commitment to AndroidOne seriously and keeping up with others, in a way that they don't seem to do with their non-AndroidOne handsets. A lot of that is about additional software of course, which the Vision (and One) don't have, to make work with updates before release. It's often a payoff of 'clean against features' as well as the depth of resources any phone maker can throw at after-sales support.

Not Quite Always On
One of the annoyances of this equation for me is the lack of the same Active Display which works so fabulously on Moto's non-AndroidOne phones. There's an AoD but it doesn't respond to movement in front of the phone to switch on. It comes on when there's an incoming Notification, very briefly. If you're quick enough, you can then interact with it in the same way as a full Active display but if you miss it, you then have to 'nudge' or lift the phone to wake it. Not a deal-breaker but a little annoying. You can register your face to get the screen turned on by face recognition but in order for this to work, you have to lift it (or nudge and put your face in front of it), press the power button briefly then hold it in front of your face. It works blazingly fast when you do, but by the time you've done all that, lifted it up, your finger is round the back anyway so you might as well use the fingerprint scanner. The face recognition can also be set to keep the screen on whilst you're looking at it, useful if you're reading a long bunch of text, I guess.

It's a Gesture
Some of the Moto Gestures, Actions and Display stuff survive the AndroidOne bridge, such as the chop-chop torch, twist-twist camera, 3-finger screenshot (with downwards continuation), 1-Button Navigation (which remains a joy to use and the best on the market) and more. The additional software which Motorola add, as we've said before, are useful additions rather than bloat and/or third-party money-spinners.

The rest of the software is pretty standard AndroidOne Pie with all you'd expect from the Notification shade, settings, adaptive battery/brightness, Wellbeing, stock-looking launcher and UI with Google Cards with a right-swipe, At a Glance at the top of the home screen and Google Search field at the foot. Because of the height of the screen this works rather well and doesn't make the space between the two feel too cluttered to make use of various widgets. It's just a bog-standard offering of Android Pie in so many, reassuring ways.

Happy Snapper
Apart from the 21:9 screen, the Vision has a second major feature-set and that is the very capable camera. I'm going to send this over to Steve Litchfield so that he can do an in-depth analysis, but I'm very impressed so far with the 48/12MP f1.7 main camera with OIS, supported by a 5MP f2.2 depth-sensor partner. There's no zoom, but in my tests the Portrait and Night Vision modes work excellently well, especially in low light. There's an array of other Motorola-added modes to their camera software, some gimmicky, some standard but also some very useful for creative shots within the phone, including a full manual/pro mode. 4K video at 30fps is possible with other modes to play with in the video setup too. I've been comparing shots against the JPEGs produced by the Nokia 9 PureView this week and, yes I know it's subjective but, I think that the shots coming out of the Vision are more pleasing with less aggressive sharpening and smoother edges on close inspection than the Nokia. I think that most users who care to look any closer than what's needed to post snaps of their cat to Facebook, would appreciate the difference.

Shallow Hole
That big ol' hole on the front of the camera houses a 25MP f2 Selfie and I've been very impressed with the Portrait mode in testing here. It produces a lovely shallow depth of field and to some degree when you see the results, you forgive the huge hole. A little! In some ways, the selfie-cam is more fun to play with than the rear camera and capable of seriously high-res images! We'll see how it holds up when Steve gets it in his lab! The issue here, as I said earlier, is how the user feels about this huge hole interrupting their viewing pleasure of cinema-centric content. On the other hand, how cinema-like can a tiny screen in your pocket be - with a single mono speaker.

Excellent Speaker
Which brings us nicely to the sound. The speaker is bottom-firing and the natural way to hold the phone in landscape for me is hole bottom-left, speaker right. But users have the choice of left and hole top-right of course. When using the phone for enjoying just audio it doesn't really matter much that it's bottom-firing (except for pocket/cradle issues) or mono. The speaker produces quite excellent sound in actual fact. During my testing here, I was trying to find a phone I have in stock to compare it with and was expecting it to be one of the Nokia devices - or the Moto Z3 Play, but no - I ended up pitching it against the Pixel 2XL. Praise indeed. It's very loud and apart from those cymbal crashes in the top-end and rock-bass-grunge, competes well above its price-position for quality. It's not quite as rich and enjoyable overall, but it really isn't far off. Solo piano and light jazz sound delightful.

Dolby Audio
The sound can be tweaked by the system-wide (basic) Dolby Audio, which is the same limited version as can be found on the Samsung flagships these days - nothing like the full-blown Razer Phone experience. There's Smart/Music/Film for loudspeaker use and selecting between them makes subtle shifts in the sound of the output, but no real control. It's great to have, rather than not of course - and can be utilised for some recordings with decent effect. In relation to the aforementioned Samsung Galaxy A50 sound output, there's no comparison. The Motorola One Vision produces a much better sound.

Plug in a pair of decent headphones to the 3.5mm audio-out socket and those options suddenly open up to include Custom setting. Tap on the Edit button and up pops a graphic equaliser array with intelligent pre-sets or full manual control. It's still nowhere near the full-blown Dolby version I spoke of, but it certainly adds many more options. With my AKG reference headphones the sound is decently loud and controllable. There's no (24/32-bit built-in or dongle-supplied) DAC here of course, so don't expect miracles without adding an adapter but it's a very nice output as it is. There is a pair of nasty-looking earphones in the box, which is good at least for those who want to build up their ear-wax! I can't bring myself to test them!

Bluetooth and Wireless
Bluetooth 5 works well and as expected, but there's no aptX amongst the other supported protocols. It produces an excellent sound tested here and all those equaliser controls remain available to tweak and play. There's also an FM Radio app included which, like other Moto variants, allows recording and once connection established using something plugged into the 3.5mm socket, allows the phone's speaker to be deployed instead of headphones. It's an excellent additional feature which is often missing these days.

Power Matters
Battery power has been reviewed by others less favourably than I am finding. Some negative opinions have been bounced about but in my testing this week I have been achieving, based on my average use when testing phones in general, everyday and dedicated use, between 24-30hrs per charge with 6-8hrs Screen on Time using Adaptive Battery and Adaptive Brightness. I think that's a pretty good return for the 3,500mAh cell. In my continual-reading and general use test I am seeing a 10% depletion of the battery in about 1hr 20mins. I don't know what others are doing with the phone to get poor results. The battery can be charged for 15 minutes with the 15W brick and USB-C cable in the box for 7 hours of power, according to Motorola.

No Brainer
Leaving the best for last, the price. At £270 Motorola have pitched it right in there with lots of competition but with more features and quality components than many, as they did with the G7 Plus, clean Android and useful Moto signature additions. The price will come down very soon to £229 (or even £199) at which point it would be a no-brainer. A fully featured terrific smartphone with 95% of the features of a so-called flagship from various other makers at five times the price. The niggles, I can live with. The attention to detail dealt out by Motorola is reassuring and the 128GB storage as standard is a peach, making this one of the most exciting phones I've reviewed this year. Highly recommended.


  1. Steve inserts the obligatory audio nit-pick 8-)

    "There's no DAC here of course" There's ALWAYS a DAC, it's just that this is the one built into the Exynos chipset. I think what you mean is "There's no need for an external DAC here".

    A DAC is what enables human analog ears to hear rendered digital music! When a phone has a 3.5mm jack the DAC's internal. When a phone doesn't then it will rely on a DAC in a digital Type C dongle. Except for some Chinese phones, which have internal DACs but output analog audio through pins on the Type C and therefore can use passive/dumb/cheap Type C to 3.5mm adapters.


    1. I can see that I'm going to have to choose my words very carefully to avoid being pulled apart on audio with every review I post! I should have said "no 24-bit or 32-bit" DAC I guess, like is bundled with some phones as the support is NOT inside the phone. LG V30, for example, against Razer.

    2. Text now updated with more accurate wording (hopefully)!

    3. Why point this out SL? Nitpicky indeed!

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.


Shadowtown (2020)

This is a short thriller based in Iceland, created by (unknown to me) Jon Einarsson Gustafsson and Karolina Lewicka. I have mixed feelings a...