Thursday, 27 August 2020

Moto G Pro (Moto G Stylus)

I have been trying to work out why I am drawn to this device as I really don't have much use for the Stylus beyond a play-thing and am continually frustrated by Motorola squelching on promises to keep their existing devices up to date with major OS and Google Security releases. But then I remembered my humble 'Motorola One' sitting here, bang up to date, well over a year after launch - and the reason? The AndroidOne Programme. Just like this Moto G Pro.

I can decide how to justify this to myself, as we always do, but that one factor, to me, is a big one! I do have confidence going forward that this mid-range sub-£300 phone from Moto will be supported properly with two OS updates (up to Android 12) and three years of Google Security (to summer 2023). Released in summer 2020, this model is known as the Moto G Stylus in the USA, but over the pond does not come as an AndroidOne device. All very odd and much, much less attractive as a result.

The phone is pretty much the same size as the Motorola One Zoom (wallowing on Pie) and Moto G8 Plus here in almost all dimensions. Spookily similar, but a tad fatter (presumably for the stylus) at 9.2mm. It's a chunky phone and weighty too in the hand or pocket at 192g, but then the other two are no lightweights. The difference between the three, in terms of RRP, is about £70 for the One Zoom and in some respects this is reflected, for example with the One Zoom sporting a glass back over the G Pro's plastic and an AMOLED screen over LCD. TPU (in the box, for all) and you'd never know about a plastic back anyway! There's a "TurboPower" 15W charger in the box (not in the USA) with a pokey-tool for the Dual SIM/microSD Card Tray and a USB-C to USB-A cable. Moto offer the same 'water-repellent coating' but no formal IP-rating.

The biggest difference for me is that the One Zoom has that AMOLED screen and the G Pro and G8 Plus, LCD. They are all 1080p but I have often argued that there's nothing quite like OLED and it stands true here too with those deep blacks and punchy colours. How much of a deal-breaker that is for me depends on how the Peek/Approach has been implemented, which I'll come to, least well on the Motorola One, great on the One Zoom and good enough on the Moto G8 Plus.

This phone is the (only available) Mystic Indigo colour and the plastic back is made to look very much like glass, if you do take off the TPU, as is the trend these days with shimmering finish as it catches the light. It's nice enough and the sides slide round in broad curves to meet the same aluminium frame that the One Zoom has, but not the G8 Plus (plastic). In the middle of the back, quite high up, there's a capacitive fingerprint scanner with Moto 'M' inside and to the left-top (portrait) the camera cluster and LED flash.

The knurled power button and volume rocker on the right appear to be plastic but in use seem solid and sturdy enough. On the left is that SIM/microSD Card Tray and down the bottom, 3.5mm audio-out, USB-C port and one of the pair of stereo speakers. Tucked away in the bottom right corner is the Stylus which pulls out with a fingernail, no fancy spring-loaded mechanisms here, but it feels firm enough when held in place and pulls out easily enough. Stop biting your fingernails, boy!

AndroidOne
certainly is a deal-clincher here for me. As soon as I turned on the phone it updated right up to the current month with Google Security and it arrived of course with Android 10 installed, so all that Gesture navigation support and dark theme stuff everywhere including inside all the Google Services. A warm, fuzzy feeling! This, along with Nokia, is the closest we get really to Pixel. The AndroidOne programme has been a star and it seems that Google have forced OEMs to comply with the ideals developed and presented by the scheme at the outset. Great stuff. Al
most makes me want to forgive Motorola for all the other phones languishing outdated. The Motorola One had Android 10 pushed to it about 3 months or so after Google released it, so I'd trust that this G Pro will get Android 11 in 2021Q1.

Supplied here is a 6.4" IPS LCD flat 1080p panel which returns 399ppi. I say again, it's no OLED, but the LCD screens are raising the game and are indeed getting better all the time, like with the G8 Plus. Changing the Colour in Settings to Boosted makes a difference, for a change, and brings things out a little more making colours a bit more saturated. The brightness is absolutely fine indoors and going outside today in the overcast north of Wales using the camera, there was no problem seeing the screen clearly. How that would manage in bright Johannesburg sunshine, I can't tell you!

The screen being flat works excellently well (no pesky waterfalls here) and the supplied TPU is so well-fitting that Android 10 Gesture navigation swipes never miss. Watching video content on the screen is a delight, indoors or out and the small punch-hole Selfie, top-left, disappears from consciousness quickly. With the brightness wound up high (the display peaks at 421 nits and in auto 642 nits according to GSMArena) and stereo sound blasting from the speakers (which I'll come to later) it's a real immersive experience. Being picky, it's not quite OLED with the colour saturation and deep blacks, but unless the average consumer puts it next to a screen of that ilk, they're going to be completely satisfied with what's on offer here.

While we're here talking about the screen, let's cover that do-or-die on the Approach/Peek AoD issue. As with the Motorola One, running AndroidOne flavour, the Approach is not present. So you can't wave your hand over the screen and make it show you clock, date and notifications like you can with Moto's AMOLED screened devices (and LCD's with no AndroidOne). I think that's the logic and formula, but am happy to be proved wrong. The One Zoom (AMOLED, no AndroidOne) works perfectly in this respect, like the Z3 Play (AMOLED, no AndroidOne) and also the G8 Plus (LCD, no AndroidOne) but not Motorola One (LCD, AndroidOne). Certainly seems to be the case here with a number of test Moto devices and those which I have reviewed in the past. But all is not lost as the user can double-tap the screen for the same result. I guess you could argue that if you're waving, you might as well tap!

When you double-tap, the screen shows the information for a few seconds and if, during those seconds, you press and hold a notification it behaves in the same way as the other more alert Moto devices. While you're holding, you get a summary at the top at which to Peek. If you no longer need it, drag it down to the bottom and let go over the word Dismiss and it considers it dealt with. Want to read it, you can drag the icon up to the summary and depending on your screen security measures, open up the app and launch into it to read.

Most of us have some sort of screen-lock of course, so you then need to unlock. However, again, all is not lost as if you set up Face Unlock and you have the phone 'up and looking at you', the Face Unlock will bypass the security. Lift to wake is also possible and notifications actually coming in briefly light up the screen too. Nudge to wake also works. Lots of options but yes, stops short of the full-blown Approach. After all of that, if you have the phone in your hand anyway, the capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back falls right under your finger to get you in. It's super-fast to set up and works 100% of the time, just like on the G8 Plus but not like the (slightly) slower under-glass on the One Zoom. Needless to say, you get all the other Moto Actions add-ons like chop-chop for torch, three-finger screen-shot, twist-twist for camera, swipe to shrink, flip for DND, pick up to silence, attentive display - the usual array present and correct.

As good as the mono speaker in the One Zoom is, it feels at this point that I should really be comparing the G Pro with the G8 Plus, with similar stereo speaker output. The bottom line surprised me. I thought that they would be very close in terms of volume and quality but the G Pro is capable of louder output and certainly better quality, even before any tinkering is done with the Dolby settings on either. The G Pro is a little bit fatter which I guess might give the sound more space to move around - or perhaps in the eight months of time passing between their releases Motorola have been working on a better sound with Dolby or indeed using new components. Don't get me wrong, neither are at (or anywhere near) Razer, Marshall or ROG Phone levels, but there is certainly a difference for the better. I can't imagine any user will be thinking that they need more, even for listening to music out and about.

Like the G8 Plus, there are controls in the equaliser/Dolby system-wide to adjust the sound, though the G Pro's options have been expanded slightly with a Game and Custom setting available (for speaker use as well as headphone) over the G8 Plus' and the common-to-both Smart (Auto), Music and Film. There is a difference with the title of the Dolby implementation being "Dolby Audio" on the G8 Plus and "Moto Audio tuned by Dolby" in the G Pro, whatever that means! Net result though is that the latter is better. The stereo output is 'proper' stereo like the G8 Plus and not faux, which is very popular these days, though rotating the phone does not auto-detect and swap the left and right channels. The G8 Plus gets the top mark here for making that switch automatically. The One Zoom is left way behind the others here with no system-wide controls, Dolby or stereo, though it does have a strong mono speaker, noted above.

Headphones output via the 3.5mm audio-out socket is not the high quality you would expect from another higher-priced audio-centric phone but for most people it is well loud enough and of good enough quality. Again, the system-wide equalisation can make meaningful changes. Plug in a high-powered DAC adapter and of course this can be transformed and moved to another league. Bluetooth 5 is of course available (across all these devices) and in my tests here it hooks up quickly and easily (they all seem to these days) and the sound output is much, much better than wired (without a fancy DAC adapter), depending on the quality of the connected gear of course.

The G Pro and G8 Plus share the same SnapDragon 665 chipset and execute tasks as well as each other. There's very little slowdown anywhere moving between tasks, pages of text and pictures and rolling videos in the likes of Twitter and YouTube, which scroll beautifully smoothly and the same 4GB RAM doesn't seem to have a problem jumping between running tasks any more problematically than the One Zoom with the 6GB.

I guess gamers might pick fault with the fluidity of the experience with the mid-range chipset, though I have tried a car-racing game here and I really couldn't see anything wrong with the experience. Maybe PUBG or the like would be more of a challenge, but for casual gaming, there really isn't any problem. The Gaming sound profile is available for selection in the Dolby settings, but I don't really hear much difference. Missing from the G8 Plus but present here is a Moto Gametime section of the Moto App which enables the user to block interruptions, disable adaptive brightness and switch to that Dolby profile automatically. Finally, there's also a Game Management dialogue which detects any games you have installed and lets you launch them from there.

All of these phones have a microSD Card slot which I have tested with my 512GB Samsung Card fully-loaded and they cope admirably with fast enough read-writes. The G8 Plus is left behind here by the other two as it has only 64GB whilst the others have 128GB Storage. The One Zoom steps ahead of the other two though with the full implementation of HDMI-Out, meaning you can cable-up to a monitor or TV and quickly and easily watch or play any content held on the phone or card without having to rely on any network, wifi, casting or anything else. That's a big plus in my book still and a shame that it has not been included. USB OTG seems to work with pretty much anything I plug into it including my 2TB Extreme SSD, but that's also true of all the devices here. In fact, that's getting to be so standard maybe I'll stop reporting it in reviews (until devices start coming with no ports at all, when it will once again become a selling point, like 3.5mm Audio-Out sockets are now)!

We come to the USP of this device, the Stylus. It's about 3" long with a plastic top 25% and what appears to be metal 75% to the end where there is some sort of nib for writing. As I said earlier, it pushes into its home which is a hole, bottom right next to the bottom-firing speaker, and needs to be pulled out with a fingernail. There is a Stylus item in Settings to define behaviour but by default when you pull it out, it launches Moto Note (even when the phone is locked), lets you make a note and then it auto-saves to Moto Note. There is also a Share icon, top-right which enables saving to whatever apps you have installed. I tried with Google Keep and it works a treat.

The stylus is 'dumb' so there are no fancy buttons and deep-integrated actions and/or bluetooth stuff going on like you would get with a Samsung Note device. It's just a scribbling tool which interacts with the phone based on how you set it up. If the screen is already on and you remove the pen, you get a little floating icon pop up which can be moved around. Tap it and there are four slots to assign in Settings the functions and/or apps you want to use them for - the dialogue will search the device and you can select pretty much anything. By default there's a screenshot/edit button, shortcut to Moto Notes and one to Google Keep.

Put the stylus back in the hole and the floating icon disappears. The included tools let you change colours of your scribbles, thickness, style of pen and background of page. You can scroll-downwards to make your Note 'longer', undo changes and use the erase tool. And that's about it really. It's clearly designed not to be a work-based productivity tool but a quick-note/scribble tool for lists, or notes-to-self for later, or shopping lists. There's no image embedding, snipping stuff (apart from screenshots), magnifying or zooming that you'd expect from the posh Samsung one but you can use it in any other app you fancy (which accepts drawing) as a dumb-pen, like Google Keep for example. It's fun and useful to have, yes, of limited use, but certainly handy for the odd jotting down of something to remember when you're out and about. I like it!

All of these Moto devices have got a Sony Quad-Bayer camera setup in some shape or form. Each of them have features the others don't so if photography with a phone is important to you, these differences might have an impact. (Here's the best I can do with a photo today in the rain!) First off, the One Zoom is the only one here with an optical zoom, being 3x - and again the only one with OIS is the main two cameras. Apart from that, they all have a 48MP f1.7 main shooter and G Pro/G8 Plus have Laser AF. The G8 Plus lacks a wide-angle camera for photos whereas the G Pro gets that in video-shooting but the One Zoom does get proper wide-angle photos. The G Pro follows a couple of other Moto models recently in placing that big wide-angle video-only lens at the top, not available for photos, and when the user fires the video camera up it forces the user to hold the phone in portrait whilst it produces landscape footage. I still find this arrangement an odd one, presumably as an attempt to stop people shooting portrait-video. The only one with a Macro lens is the G Pro - though it is a lowly 2MP f2.2 unit. The video camera capability looks to be pretty much universal and the G Pro's Selfie drops to 16MP compared to the other two's 25MP.

Enough of the tech-twaddle though and to me with real-world use and the G Pro. I guess you know what I'm going to say - yes, perfectly good enough for most people for most uses - if you want more, get a camera! Right, that's got that out of the way! Seriously though, that 3x optical zoom has been genuinely useful on the One Zoom and OIS assisting in low light makes a difference to results. Digital zooming is a bit hit and miss at the best of times and a steady hand is needed for those wanting to use their phone's camera for anything other than social media and fun down the pub!

Here's a shot taken with the 2MP Macro lens. Not great for anything artistic much, but nice and close - useful for reading instructions on minuscule leaflets! The colours seems to have been replicated true to life as they have been with the main lens and wide-angle to my eyes. There's the usual array of Moto additions in the camera, most of which we've seen before, including a full Manual mode for tweaking most settings, Google Lens built-in for smart stuff, Spot Colour and Cutout, Cinemagraph to make fun GIF or MP4 files and Night Vision which is quite smart as you watch it take lots of shots as you hold still, think it's a noisy pixelated mess then magically it is made into a usable image, Google Camera AI style!

Portrait mode on the rear camera will only play-ball if it detects a face, which is a bit rubbish but the natural 'bokeh' using the main camera isn't bad anyway for portrait-style shots. When it does detect a face you can use the 'slider' to adjust the DoF, including inside the Selfie dialogue - which all works very well. The usual HDR and Active Photos options are all present. I'm really not a pixel-peeper but the test photos I have taken with the G Pro on a very rainy North Wales day look perfectly good enough to me for most uses but won't push any boundaries. I would have loved the 3x zoom and wide-angle (in photos) of the One Zoom, but it's not really that important to me. Maybe it is for you.

These three Moto phones all have the same 4,000mAh battery inside so we'd expect similar results from the tests which I employ. Maybe not! First up is my 10% Reading Test. My previous reviews and testing resulted in Moto G8 Plus returning 2 hours 2o minutes, the Motorola One Zoom 1 hour 40 minutes and this G Pro, now tested three times, 2 hours 30 minutes. The G phones are in a similar ball-park and the reason I can only assume that the One Zoom is behind is because of the AMOLED screen on this particular test which requires it to be on throughout. There is also a slightly more powerful chipset involved, which may not be so efficient, but my inkling is that it is that screen. One of the G devices is an AndroidOne device, the other not, so it would seem that this can be ruled out. The Zoom has more RAM. Could that be relevant, I wonder.

Anyway, the G Pro is only really beaten by the G8 Power with the 5,000mAh battery which is my current leader at 3 hours 10 minutes. Still, two and a half hours is pretty good - and puts the 50 minutes of my Pixel 3 to shame! The other test being the average-use-for-me test - in other words, how often do I have to charge it. Much of the time of course, the screen being off, the results are closer - presumably because the One Zoom is not driving that AMOLED screen. We're looking at not having to worry about charging every night and I might just get to the end of Day 2 with average (for me) use. For the G8 Power, you can add another day! But two full days is pretty good, especially when there's no Qi Wireless Charging on any of these phones so placing them on a pad through the day is not an option without a Qi Receiver plugged into the USB-C port. The 15W power-brick supplied in the box seems to get 50% from dead in about an hour and 100% in two.

Connectivity by GPS is quick to lock and track me on Google Maps and various weather apps tested here, WiFi locks on well and holds a good strong signal where some others fail in my test locations and cellular, similarly is perfectly good having fielded a few calls and monitored location, signal and voice quality/lock both ends. Data via cellular is also looking fine and strong on VodafoneUK. NFC is working but again, apologies, that I can't test that with Google Pay without my bank getting sniffy with every phone I have in for review. I'm assured that it works by other reviewers here in the UK.

As usual these days, lots of options for buyers. A heavily populated £200-300 price-range within which phone manufacturers are competing for your hard-earned aggressively. I maintain that for me a clean version of Android, as close to the Vanilla/Pixel experience as possible gets more Brownie Points than other fancy features that some phone-makers might include. Even more so if timely updates are all-but guaranteed under the AndroidOne Programme. If for no other reason, this can be enough to consider those which comply - a few Moto devices, including this one, and many Nokia handsets, leading the way in numbers.

I like Motorola devices and always have. It feels like they are solid, well made with good components mostly. It's true that I have been frustrated by their lack of updates during this difficult 2020 year, but not for AndroidOne devices. The stereo speakers here are excellent, loud and good quality. The battery is great and camera more than good enough for me. The AoD is also good enough and chipset fast enough around the UI for ordinary users not expecting to keep up with huge games.

The stylus is great fun and a useful addition to the tools for quick note-taking as longs as users don't expect a Samsung experience. Good storage and expandable for more, a nice flat screen which, for an LCD is bright and colourful with the power payoff of not being an OLED being useful too. It's a great all-round package which I like very much. There are corners cut of course to hit this price-point (which will, no doubt, come down in time) so we can quibble about Qi Charging and HDMI-Out and IP-rating, but these are just the kind of additions which push the price up. Highly recommended, the Moto G Pro.

The current prices of these phones at AmazonUK are as follows. If you're thinking of buying one, please click on these links as AmazonUK bung me a few quid for the referral and it costs you no more. Thanks in advance.

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