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

Call quality

ADVERTISEMENT

I tested the G Stylus primarily on AT&T’s 4G LTE network in and around San Francisco, and didn’t experience any problems. With broad support for LTE bands (and even legacy CDMA bands) in the US, it also works fine on T-Mobile and Verizon. Calls were loud and clear, and data speeds matched other devices on these networks. The lack of NFC can’t be overstated though. Moto needs to rectify this ASAP.

Motorola Moto G Stylus review 2021 camera
Motorola Moto G Stylus review 2021 camera

Audio

On the audio front, the new G Stylus gets downgraded to a simple mono speaker. It’s okay for calls and the occasional YouTube video, but nothing more. That’s disappointing because last year’s version packed some of the best stereo speakers I’ve heard on any phone — ever. At least the headphone jack sounds great. The DAC is clean, and the amp is powerful enough to drive even finicky headphones and earbuds.

Performance

Performance is good overall. The Snapdragon 678 ran my usual roster of apps (mostly productivity and social media apps) without breaking a sweat. Clearly, the G Stylus isn’t flagship quick, but it stayed nice and smooth no matter what I threw at it. And with 4GB RAM being the bare minimum to run Android properly, memory wasn’t an issue. Basically, gamers aside, most people will be satisfied with this handset’s performance.

Battery life

Battery life is solid too. The G Stylus will easily last a day and a half on a full charge — even two days, depending on usage. While I’m happy with this, it’s a bit strange that Moto settled for a 4000mAh cell here. Surely, there’s room for a bigger battery in a device this large, especially when smaller phones like the Poco M3 boast a 6000mAh cell. Also, the G Stylus supports 18W charging but only ships with a 10W charger in the box.

Motorola Moto G Stylus review 2021
Motorola Moto G Stylus review 2021

Software

Moto handsets always deliver a wonderful user experience, and the G Stylus is no exception. It runs an almost stock build of Android 10, augmented by a few helpful tweaks. This software is clean and responsive, and everything’s where you expect it to be — from the launcher to the settings to the recent apps. Ditto Moto’s features — from the awesome clock/weather/fitness widget to Moto Actions and Moto Display.

Whether you’re using face unlock, turning the flashlight on/off with a double hand chop, or double-tapping the side-mounted fingerprint reader to activate the Power Touch shortcut menu, it’s the small details that make all the difference. Moto’s also added some functionality to take full advantage of the stylus, including apps like Moto Note (productivity) and Coloring Book (fun), plus some stylus-specific settings.

By default, if you remove the stylus when the G Stylus is unlocked, a customizable shortcut menu appears, but this can be changed to a specific app instead, or none at all. If you remove the stylus when the phone is locked, it creates a new note in Moto Note by default, but this can be changed to launch Google Keep, or do nothing instead. There’s nothing too crazy going on here, but it certainly makes the stylus more useful.

Moto Gametime (a standard game mode) is also present, in case you need some peace and quiet while playing PUBG Mobile. My only concern with the software is that the G Stylus isn’t shipping with Android 11 out the box. On the plus side, there’s no bloatware here, no pre-installed carrier or partner apps. All you’ll find is Google’s familiar apps plus a few Moto apps — and that’s it.

Motorola Moto G Stylus review 2021 verdict

On the surface, the 2nd gen Motorola Moto G Stylus is a pretty good phone. It bundles a lovely display, decent performance, and strong battery life in a nice, affordable package — all while delivering a wonderful user experience. Dig a little deeper though, and the flaws become more obvious. The middling cameras, mono speaker, and missing NFC make the G Stylus significantly less compelling. And then there’s the $300 price tag.

See, here in the US, the OnePlus Nord N10 5G also costs $300, and while it lacks a stylus, it boasts 5G, more RAM (6GB), a 90Hz screen, stereo speakers, and NFC — plus similarly excellent software. So here’s the question: are you willing to sacrifice all of that for a built-in capacitive stylus? I don’t think so. Thankfully, the price of Moto’s handsets usually drops quickly, so when the G Stylus gets below $250, it’ll be a different story.

In the end, though, it feels like Moto’s just cruising along. I’ve been complaining about the G-series’ underwhelming shooters, missing NFC, and bloated initial pricing for years now — and I’m not the only one. Is anyone at Moto listening?