Not long after the arrival of the Moto One Vision, Motorola is quick out of the blocks with yet another phone in the family for 2019: the Moto One Action.
To look at, both of these phones appear much the same, with an elongated 21:9 aspect ratio screen. But the Action has one big difference: not only does it feature a triple rear camera system, one of those cameras is dedicated to video only.
Why one dedicated to moving images? Well, Moto has turned the sensor by 90-degrees, meaning you can hold the phone vertically to capture horizontal format clips, meaning greater comfort for capture with the correct orientation as a result. Is it a genius move or one that today's vertical video generation won't care for?
Design & Display
- 6.3-inch 21:9 aspect ratio LCD screen (Full HD+ resolution: 2160 × 1440)
- Dimensions: 160.1 x 71.2 x 9.15mm / Weight: 176g
- Two finishes: Denim Blue / Pearl White
- Punch-hole front-facing camera
Front-on and the Moto One Action has the same face as the Vision: it's a 6.3-inch LCD panel with a 21:9 aspect ratio, meaning it's a lot taller than many other phones on the market. The idea is to match said ultra-wide format content, some of which you can get on Netflix, for example, but as it's not a given standard we find that the phone feels a bit too long. It's very easy to hold though, given the limited width.
There aren't that many other 21:9 screens on the market at present, so the Moto One family seems to be forging its own path. Sony does also have a rival in the Xperia 10 Plus, but that's got bigger 'chin and forehead' bezels and is much pricier overall. This Moto is just £219 at launch, putting it in the same territory as the Moto G7 - which is perhaps a little confusing having Motorola competing against itself with two largely similar phones.
The Action continues down the line of punch-hole camera to the front, meaning there's no notch or massive bezel. However, as we said of the first implementation of this, the circular opening for this camera is massive - especially compared to its rivals, such as the Honor 20. Moto says this is for stability, to avoid the screen cracking under pressure, but we're not sure people will think that far ahead - especially when competitors' equivalents simply look better in this regard.
Furthermore the Action is rather over-keen when it comes to auto-brightness, opting to dim the screen beyond usable levels a little too often. This is for the preserve of battery life - which we'll get to later - but it's something we'd like to be less heavy handed in use. You can set the brightness manually, of course, should you prefer.
Elsewhere in spec terms the Vision is fairly complete for a mid-range phone at this asking price. It offers a 3.5mm headphone jack, so no compromise there if you have wired headphones, while the fingerprint scanner can be found nestled in the Moto 'batwing' symbol to the rear, recessed nicely so that it's easy to find and use. This works just fine for rapid log-in, even if it's not as fancy as an under-the-screen solution found in pricier handsets.
Colour finishes come in two options - blue or white - with some subtle markings and dottings if you look up extra close, but that otherwise won't be noticed. The rear camera unit doesn't stick out too far and squeezes those three lenses in close together, which is the way to do it - it's far less disruptive than the Honor 20 Pro's implementation, for example, and neater than the hideous-looking Apple proposal on the iPhone 11.
Spec & Performance
- Samsung Exynos processor (9609), 4GB RAM, 128GB storage
- 3500mAh battery capacity, USB-C recharging
- Android One stock software
- Moto Display/Actions app
Under the hood and Motorola continues with its interesting choice of chipset: it's Exynos, from Samsung, not the typical Qualcomm or MediaTek pairing. In this instance, the octa-core 2.2GHz processor is the Exynos 9609, which is the same as found in the One Vision; a tweaked version of what you'll find in the Samsung Galaxy A80.
This is good news, as we already found that the Vision performed rather well. The Action follows exactly the same path in performance terms, albeit for a slightly lower price point. The processor, paired with 4GB RAM, is adept enough to handle day-to-day tasks without any issues - and even some gaming, which we've found it to handle just fine. Don't think of it as a RAM-packed flagship that'll do everything in a blink, but it's also not the clunky kind of performance that you'll get from the HTC Desire 12S.
The only downside we've found is that Wi-Fi and mobile connectivity just doesn't seem as speedy as our typical flagship phones. Downloading a 500MB patch for South Park: Phone Destroyer, for example, took several minutes despite being on a quick connection. No biggie, as in isolation you won't really notice, but it's just a small point of note.
Otherwise the smooth operation is partly due to the software on board: the One Vision runs on Google's Android One platform, which is a tried-and-tested approach from Google itself. There's only one extra app from Moto to handle Gestures, Actions and Display - you can, say, karate chop to turn the torch on, or three-finger swipe to take a screengrab (all of these can be individually switched off) - but that's otherwise it. That keeps everything running just fine, avoiding confusing pre-installed apps and the like too.
For a narrow-body phone such as this to squeeze in a 3,5000mAh battery is pretty good going too. Thing is, it doesn't perform all that well. Expect it to get you through a day - we've been edging 14 hours from full to absolute zero - but you may begin to get battery anxiety about 10 hours into the day when there's sub-30 per cent showing in the top corner. Given the capacity is fairly high, that's not great going, but acceptable.
That triple camera setup
- Rear triple cameras:
- 16MP 117-degree video only (2.0um, f/2.2) with Quad Pixel technology
- 12MP standard (1.25um, f/1.8)
- 5MP depth sensor
- Front: 12MP front-facing selfie camera, punch-hole implementation
- Portrait, Cinemagraph, Spot Color modes
The big sell of the Action is its triple rear camera setup. This isn't the most comprehensive selection of sensors that Moto has ever used, however, given the price point - instead it's more a focus on points of difference.
Really, from a stills point of view, the Action has a single rear camera that's paired with a depth sensor for better blurred-background portrait shots. This camera is a 16MP unit, not the 48MP one as found in the Moto One Vision (although, funnily enough, the resolution of both is the same - as the Vision used four pixels in one to produce 16MP shots, using what it calls Quad Pixel technology). That's a large part of how the Action is able to be low-priced.
That main camera performs just ok, rather than great. It's not got the technological guts behind it to beat better optics, sensors and processing available on the market. That said we've never struggled to take a shot thanks to reasonable autofocus - it's just the results are often a little washed-out, while detail in low-light conditions isn't particularly clear. There is automatic HDR (high dynamic range) to help balance out shadows and highlights, which does a better job in the results than you see in preview on the screen.
However, the dedicated video camera, which is 16MP, does use the same Quad Pixel pixel-binning technology as the Vision. That means four 'pixels' will make up a single one, helping to produce sharper results. The maximum resolution output is Full HD (1080p), in either 16:9 or the elongated 21:9 format (the former also available at 60fps, the latter not).
That video camera is a really interesting idea too. Hold the phone vertically, hit record, and you'll see the capture in horizontal format on the screen (looking tiny, it has to be said, given the horizontal format in the vertical orientation).
All we can ever think of is the hilarious Glove and Boots YouTube video about VVS (Vertical Video Syndrome), mocking those who shoot vertical videos. That was from 2012 - and even then the commentary recognises that some people "just don't care". Some seven years on - and with increasing numbers of apps supporting unusual formats, such as Instagram and Facebook - we wonder if people care even less. And physically turning a phone by 90-degrees really isn't that hard.
Perhaps the bigger success of this video camera is that it offers a wide angle of view - 117-degrees, a much broader field of view than the standard 78-degree camera - and also has dedicated electronic stabilisation to smooth out results. It works really well, too, giving smoothed-out results when walking, as we found when walking the streets of Strasbourg to give it a real-world test.
The Moto One Action brings unique thought to video capture, with its 90-degree rotated sensor, making it an interesting proposition - although one that, for those who really care about video orientation and who will simply turn their phones, is arguably overkill. That said, thanks to a wide-angle of view and dedicated electronic stabilisation, shots from this camera are steadied and smooth.
Ignore the seemingly gimmicky camera setup for one moment, however, and the Moto One Action impresses for how well it performs overall at this price point. Despite costing just £219 (at lauch), the Android One software makes for a fluid experience whether you want to run simple tasks such as email and browsing or even want to play games.
If only the screen's auto-brightness wasn't so keen and the fairly large battery capacity lasted a bit longer, that'd make for genuine day-to-day handling improvements. Plus the 21:9 aspect ratio screen won't suit all and that punch-hole camera opening is rather huge.
Overall, for the asking price, the One Action has got the guts to take on the increasingly successful Chinese brands - think Redmi Note 7 and similar - and, you know what, this Moto can stand tall as a result. Gimmicky lead camera feature or not, the majority of this phone's feature set stands up to scrutiny.
Redmi Note 7
The Redmi Note 7 is a perfectly usable phone and for the price it's compelling - great build, a camera that will take a decent photo and enough power to do most things, all pushed along by a solid battery - but it does have some downsides too, mainly in the fussy software solution. It is £40 cheaper than the Moto though.