Motorola has frequently ruled the roost when it comes to affordable and capable phones. The G series has been – and to some extent still is in its G6 guisethe affordable phone to buy. That's been the case for years.

In 2018, Moto is taking a different tact: the Moto One is cheaper than the G series, it's got a notch (the black-out 'dip' to the top of the panel), and it runs Google's Android One software for a clean and easy experience.

However, the Moto hasn't got the specs to beat its Nokia, Honor and other similar competition. Therefore is it truly the one or simply outsmarted at this price point?

Design & Display

  • 5.9-inch LTPS LCD, 18.5:9 aspect ratio, 720 x 1520 resolution
  • Rear-facing fingerprint scanner
  • Black or white colour options
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 150 x 72 x 8mm; 162g
  • P2i water protection

Despite being a turn in direction for Motorola, the One still embodies many of the brand's known signs and design signatures – the batwing "M" logo within the fingerprint scanner on the rear, for example – but with that notched screen, it's a different fit and feel within the company's phone line-up. 

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That scanner works well given its position within the centre line of the rear glass panel. That design choice does mean this Moto is a bit of a fingerprint smear magnet though, and we think some more exciting colour finishes than just black or white would have been welcome to help disguise this. 

With phones ever-enlarging by design, the Moto One feels refreshingly easy to handle in one hand. Having been using the Honor Play for some weeks, the Moto One feels almost small by comparison – but with a 5.9-inch display it could hardly be considered dinky.

Part of this is down to the aspect ratio of the screen: it's a longer ratio than phones from the past few years, embodying the design trait of more flagship handsets, including the iPhone XR, but without the inflated price tag.

The Moto's screen itself isn't especially high resolution, though, with the 720 vertical lines a long way from even Full HD. Thing is, that's not a dead-and-buried point in the a phone like this: rarely do the pixels leap out and look jagged, therefore visuals look just fine for an LCD panel. Contextually, however, there's less detail than you'll find on a Nokia 7.1 (at a similar price point), while pricier OLED panels deliver more colour pop. 

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The bezel has been kept nice and trim too, hence the sensation of small scale. This Moto doesn't have the 'chin and forehead' mass of the HTC U12 Life, for example, while there's no front-facing fingerprint scanner to take up space either. Why the 'motorola' brand name is still written across the front, however, we don't know – it's really not needed.

Hardware, Software & Battery Life

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 processor, 4GB RAM, 64GB storage, microSD expansion
  • 3000mAh battery with USB-C Turbo Charge fast-charging
  • Android One operating system
  • Moto Experiences app

What really sets the One apart from its siblings – and it makes the name make even more sense – is that it runs Google's Android One platform. Designed to be clean, easy-to-use and update ready – it'll be upgrading to Android Pie soon after shipping, according to Android One's Director, although that's not the case just yet – the software is free of bloat to help everything run smoothly. It comes with free Google Photos online storage too, which is one of the perks.

How you'll find this experience will depend on which phone you've used before. We're used to flagship devices, where apps open near instantly. The Moto One can't compete with that: there's some extra seconds of hanging around to get to the meat of apps, but it's hardly a massive bother and is to be expected at this level.

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Moto has just a single additional app pre-loaded, which handles the company's 'experiences'. There's Moto Display, which handles what displays and when; while Moto Actions is related to how physical actions will cause a reaction (silencing on flip, switching the torch on with a karate chop). Nothing out of the ordinary here. With Google in command, however, there's no Moto Voice to be found in the One, it's Google Assistant only.

In terms of raw power the Moto One isn't all that. Which is fine for daily use, but can be problematic for gaming. Candy Crush? No problem. South Park: Phone Destroyer? The characters run choppily and the lag makes it borderline unplayable. We've been able to browse, email and manage other tasks just fine, though, so if you're a casual user it's no problem.

The issue, really, is one of context. With the Honor Play costing less cash and having a more powerful setup – which means it's actually usable for gaming – the Moto lacks that extra verve when it comes to smoother gameplay and other apps that make heavier demands.

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However, the One's combination of software and hardware means it lasts superbly well in the battery department. Despite its 3,000mAh cell not being the biggest going – for reference, the top-spec Huawei Mate 20 Pro has a 4,200mAh battery on board – we've been getting around 18 productive hours out of it. That's plenty enough for a full working day with some casual commute gaming thrown in on the side.

In terms of recharging, the USB-C port at the bottom supports Turbo Charge, which is Moto's own quick-charge technology – and can provide half a battery top-up within just 30 minutes at the plug.

Cameras

  • Dual rear cameras: 13MP with f/2.0 aperture (1.12um pixels) & 2MP with f/2.4 aperture (1.75um pixels)
  • 8MP front-facing camera, f/2.2 aperture (1.12um pixels)
  • Portrait mode, Spot Colour, Cinemagraph animated GIFs

On the cameras front, the Moto One has a dual rear offering, with each camera clearly separated into its own individual circular lens to the upper left corner. We prefer this positioning compared to the centre disc design found in the Moto G6 Plus, for example, so hopefully it spells the future for Motorola's design department.

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In terms of specs the cameras are, again, fairly middling. With a 13-megapixel main and f/2.0 fast aperture, it's not the most capable camera that Motorola offers in its line-up. There are some fun shooting modes, though, from blurred-background Portrait, to single colour highlighting, and animated GIFs where you can freeze all of the image bar a given area (it's called a Cinemagram).

The camera app loads fairly fast – quicker than its G6 cousins – and is certainly usable. Tap-to-focus works well in good light and it's only really in dim conditions where the camera has to slowly 'think' about things.

That translates in the results too: low-light photos are a bit mushy and lack detail; whereas snaps in good light are far more acceptable. Again, context is the thing: with the high quality found in Google and Huawei's camera offerings of late, it's hard for mid-price models to standout.

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To the front of the One there's an 8-megapixel snapper for selfie fans, which can also incorporate blurred-background software mode (although it doesn't do it in the same way as the rear cameras, as there's no depth camera up front).

Verdict

When the Moto One was first introduced to us it had a prospective £269 price tag, putting it a little ahead of its Moto G6 cousins. Just after launch, however, the One's asking price dropped to a penny shy of £200 – placing it in a far stronger position to stand apart from the likes of the Honor Play.

Indeed, we'd think twice about buying a Moto G – the once best affordable phone series – for the sake of the One. The latter has a tidier design and better battery life, which counts for a lot. Sure, it could have more screen resolution, a more hardcore spec and better cameras, but we're talking about a £200 phone here.

As such, with its rounded day-to-day performance and clean software, the Moto One is an affordable phone for the casual user. It's a sign of where Moto can win some ground once more, only really let down by the surrounding and ever-strong competition.

Also consider

Honor Play review image 1

Honor Play

We described this phone as the best affordable smartphone on the planet and stick by that statement. Its software is much fussier than the Moto's, but the Honor has a lot more power for only a little more cash. Well worth considering.