Motorola Moto G Stylus review (2021): a Galaxy Note for the rest of us

The 2nd gen Moto G Stylus offers a rich experience but with poor cameras

Motorola Moto G Stylus review 2021
Moto G Stylus review

Bottom line

The 2021 Moto G Stylus is a large, affordable 4G phone with a stylus. While it provides a wonderful user experience, it suffers from lackluster cameras and lacks NFC.

Overall
3.7

Pros

  • Beautiful display
  • Solid battery life
  • Headphone jack
  • Superior user experience
  • Almost stock Android

Cons

  • It’s really big
  • Plastic build
  • Middling cameras
  • Mono speaker
  • No NFC

The $300 Motorola Moto G Stylus was first introduced early 2020 with — you guessed it — a small built-in capacitive stylus, plus a few related software tweaks. It was well-received, so it makes sense that Moto decided to launch a sequel for 2021. But what’s the 2nd-gen 2021 Motorola Moto G Stylus like? It costs the same, so what’s changed? Does it live up to the G-Series legacy? Is this the affordable Galaxy Note you’ve been waiting for? Let’s dive in for our Motorola Moto G Stylus review.

What is it?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Moto’s G-series by now. These excellent mid-range smartphones have been very popular for years now — especially in the Americas — thanks to a combination of decent specs, clean software, and affordable prices. While initially consisting of a single model, the lineup quickly grew into a range of handsets with suffixes like Fast, Play, Plus, Power, and Stylus.

With a 6.8-inch display, this year’s G Stylus is a really big phone (vs. 6.4-inch last year). It measures 169.8 x 77.9 x 9mm and weighs 213g. That makes it slightly larger and heavier than Samsung’s mighty Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Other than the glass front, the mid-frame and back panel are made of plastic. While faux metal and glass are pretty standard at this price tier, it’s a step down from last year’s real aluminum mid-frame.

Strangely, the G Stylus’ design language has more in common with the Moto One series (side-mounted fingerprint reader) and the competition (Samsung and OnePlus-like rectangular camera pod) than other G-series handsets. At least the stenciled Moto logo, rectangular LED flash and dimpled pattern under the faux-glass are on-brand. My review unit is the Aurora Black version, but the G Stylus also comes in Aurora White.

In front, the G Stylus features a 6.8-inch FHD+ IPS screen (2400 x 1080 pixels, 386ppi) with a 20:9 aspect ratio. There’s a punch hole in the top left corner for the 16MP f/2.0 1-micron selfie camera (which carries over from last year), and a thin earpiece above the display. Bezels are reasonably small, except for the chin, which is more pronounced. Then again, this is to be expected for an IPS panel in this category.

Motorola Moto G Stylus 2021 backside
Motorola Moto G Stylus 2021 backside

This new G Stylus inherits its predecessor’s 48MP f/1.7 0.8-micron main shooter (with PDAF) and 2MP f/2.2 1.75-micron macro (with AF), but makes due with a basic 8MP f/2.2 1.12-micron 118-degree ultrawide (vs. 16MP last year). It also swaps the laser AF module for a 2MP f/2.4 depth sensor, bringing the rear lens count up to four. There’s no OIS here — overall, this camera system is par for the course for a $300 phone.

Next, let’s take a tour around the edges. On the right side, you’ll find a volume rocker and capacitive fingerprint sensor, which doubles as the power/lock button. Along the bottom edge there’s a stylus silo, mono speaker, primary mic, USB Type-C port, and headphone jack. The left side is home to the nano SIM / microSD tray, and the secondary mic is located on top. Other than the Stylus silo, this is Moto’s usual layout.

Speaking of the stylus, it’s a little fancier this year. It’s still capacitive (passive) but there’s now a spring-loaded push-pull release mechanism similar to what you’ll find on the end of a ball-point pen. By contrast, last year’s stylus didn’t have any moving parts. And despite having a stylus, this handset boasts a water-repellant design. On the power front, the G Stylus packs a 4000mAh battery with support for 18W charging (USB PD).

Motorola Moto G Stylus
The stylus housed inside of the Motorola Moto G Stylus

Peek under the hood, and you’ll find Qualcomm’s recently announced Snapdragon 678, mated here with 4GB RAM and 128GB of storage (plus microSD support up to 512GB). This “new” 4G-only chip is basically a souped-up Snapdragon 675 (which launched back in early 2019). Still, it’s an improvement over last year’s Snapdragon 665, and is perfectly suited for affordable mid-range phones like the G Stylus.

Other specs include CAT 12 LTE, WiFi ac, Bluetooth 5.0 LE, A-GPS / GLONASS / Galileo, an FM radio, plus a bunch of sensors (proximity, ambient light, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, and barometer). Unfortunately, the G Stylus lacks NFC for contactless payments. I’ve been complaining about NFC missing on Moto’s US-market G-series forever now, but one year into Covid-19, it’s simply unacceptable.