With new flagship phones now offering less innovation and excitement than their predecessors while increasingly costing more, more customers are looking to hang on to the devices they already have or purchase cheaper ones that still offer high performance.
Giant’s like Google and the big Korean Samsung have pushed out the Pixel 3a and Galaxy A-series respectively, while trimmed down versions of the flagships offered by Chinese upstarts like the Xiaomi Mi9T, Huawei P30 Lite, Oppo Reno Z, have also added further competition.
Motorola, now itself a Chinese company after being acquired by Lenovo, has been steadily building a reputation for decent, cheap smartphones running unobtrusive versions of Android OS.
Its Moto G series has been consistently one of the best value smartphones for years, but with the release of the Motorola One Vision ($499), the company is looking ever so slightly further upmarket.
The Motorola One Vision is one of the better-looking phones at this price range, a welcome departure from the dependable drabness of the Moto G series.
The phone technically comes in two colours, blue and bronze, but I’ve had no luck tracking down a blue one, either through Motorola’s online store or from the One Vision’s exclusive retailer JB Hi-Fi.
This would be an issue if the bronze gradient didn’t look as nice as it does, and while I would call it more of a coffee-brown colour than a bronze per se, it strikes a nice balance between the staid greys and blacks previously expected on a cheaper phone, without going too far in the other direction with garish patterns and holographics seen on certain other devices.
The fingerprint sensor has mercifully been placed in its proper position at the back of the phone where it can be easily, accurately and reliably used, rather than under a screen where you’ll just end up using the pattern or PIN lock after repetitive unsuccessful attempts.
The One Vision is one of a growing number of devices to use the 21:9 screen ratio.
This gives the device a more narrow profile which I personally prefer as something of a mask for the gargantuan size of current phones.
The One Vision has a 6.3-inch display, but doesn’t feel as big as other phones with the same screen size due to its longer profile.
The narrow screen ratio is supposed to make viewing movies more immersive by skirting around the black bars created by different viewing formats.
While it does do this, it can also throw off the user experience in some apps that haven’t been updated or optimised to properly utilise it, resulting in – you guessed it: black bars.
Things will likely improve as time goes on and apps are updated but for the moment it’s a tough pill to swallow to gain black bars in one area to avoid them in another, particularly one as niche as watching a movie on your smartphone.
The full-screen design uses a 25MP punch hole front-facing camera, and while I prefer this to the centred tear drop or notch found on other devices, on the One Vision this punch hole is just a little too big.
The small adjustments Motorola makes to Android do actually improve the phone.
The one-touch navigation is one of the better gesture languages across all Android devices though it’s still not quite as good as the gesture navigation on Xiaomi’s devices.
These issues are expected to be fixed in Android 10 anyway, which as a member of the Android One program, the Motorola One Vision should receive soon after it launches.
My all-time favourite Moto feature Fast Torch has also returned on the One Vision and is once again a beautiful addition that should be included on more phones.
Motorola is one of the few non-Samsung companies to use the Korean tech giant’s ARM based Exynos processors, confusingly putting it at odds with Samsung’s own A70, though other A-Series devices use them too.
The Exynos claims its focused performance is on AI and Camera functions, but it’s an all-around decent chip and I didn’t run into any major issues during my time, though as expected things can slow down a little under heavy use.
Camera performance is pretty much on par with its rivals, using the same 48MP Sony sensor as a lot of them and then binning all those pixels into a 12MP image.
Imagery was a key focus of the One Vision, as the name suggests, with a suite of improvements like image stabilisation and night mode among Motorola’s attempts to improve photographic performance.
Perhaps the biggest improvement and advantage over its rivals however is Motorola’s very genius and unfortunately rather unique decision to give users the option to save photos in RAW DNG format using the stock camera app.
While these RAW files take up more space and can take longer to process, with 4GB RAM and 128GB storage it’s unlikely to present much of a problem.
The lack of a Qualcomm chip does mean the loss of the aptX Bluetooth codec, a potential dealbreaker for audio heads.
Android can use Sony’s LDAC codec but support from compatible audio equipment is less prevalent outside of Sony’s own products.
Motorola has also included some Dolby Audio features that essentially boil down to some EQ presets.
I briefly entertained the thought that this could be a useful feature before quickly deciding switching between different sound profiles when going from listening to music to watching a video to playing a game was a waste of time for extremely little benefit, and instead advise you audition them and decide on one you like.
Battery life on the One Vision is respectable and easily good enough to make it through the day.
When it’s not Motorola’s TurboPower technology and the included charger resuscitate the device via USB-C with a decent amount of battery life in around a quarter of an hour.
At $499, the Motorola One Vision is more expensive than its cut-price G-series stablemate, but it’s hardly overpriced for what it is.
It’s nice to see Motorola going further up the market in a move one can only assume leads to them finally releasing a new phone with the word Razor even vaguely associated with it, finally sating the appetite of the tech press and providing yet another nostalgia-hit in a world of reissued gaming consoles and Stranger Things.
The Motorola One Vision also has a few tasteful generosities included in the box, such as a clear plastic case (because covering the bronze would be too much of a shame) and a pair of pretty decent sounding but still wired earphones (from which I gained a new set of silicone ear tips to squirrel away like acorns, because you can never have too many).
After years of success from the cheap Moto G phones, Motorola’s adventure north into the premium mid-tier device category is largely a successful one.
While there are a few issues and annoyances, none of them are egregious enough to say they’d entirely put you off.
It’s nice to see Motorola hasn’t just blindly copied other devices in the category and has sought to offer some points of difference, but perhaps the One Vision’s biggest advantage is in the areas where Motorola has done very little or even nothing at all, instead giving users the close to stock Android experience.
This combined with a sharp design and good camera performance make the Motorola One Vision a very decent all-rounder.