Motorola One Action review: It has a dedicated video camera, for some reason

While Motorola tends to struggle in the premium segment of the smartphone market, the mid-range segment is where the Lenovo-owned company has seen some success, particularly with the Moto G lineup. Lately though, we’ve seen the firm continue to expand across the mid-range lineup with the newer Motorola One series.

The series of devices is named after Android One, meaning that they have stock Android and are meant to receive updates in quick order. But they’re also sort of specialty devices, mid-range smartphones that have one really interesting feature.

For the Motorola One Action, that’s its dedicated video camera. This handset actually has a triple-lens camera, and you can only use one of them for taking pictures. One of them is an ultra-wide sensor that’s dedicated to video. In fact, it’s sideways. meant to take landscape video while holding the phone in portrait orientation. It’s a pretty neat idea.

Specs

CPU Samsung Exynos 9609, quad 2.2GHz Cortex-A73, quad 1.6GHz Cortex-A53
GPU Mali-G72 MP3
Body 160.1×71.2×9.2mm (6.30×2.80×0.36in), 176g (6.21oz)
Display 6.3 inches, 1080×2520, 21:9, 432ppi, IPS LCD
Storage 128GB UFS 2.1
RAM 4GB
Camera 12MP + 16MP (dedicated video) + 5MP (depth), Front – 12MP
Aperture f/1.8 + f/2.2 + f/2.2, Front – f/2.0
Video 4K – 30fps, 1080p – 60fps, Action Cam: 1080p – 60fps, Front: 4K – 30fps, 1080p – 60fps
Battery 3500mAh
Color Pearl White
OS Android 9.0 Pie
Price $349.99

Day one

Design

While it also comes in Denim Blue, the model that Motorola sent me is called Pearl White, and it’s actually very similar to the Moto G7 that I reviewed earlier this year. It has a white back and a chrome-colored frame. And yes, once again it’s made out of plastic. That’s fine though, as you really wouldn’t know it by looking at it. The Motorola One Action is quite stylish.

Unfortunately, there’s still no wireless charging, despite the plastic back. I guess that it’s still something that you just won’t find at the $349.99 price point, which is $50 more than the Moto G7 started at. In fact, these two devices are very similar, although the One Action is taller and has the dedicated video camera.

On the back, you can see that there’s a fingerprint sensor with the Motorola logo on it. If you’re a fan of dedicated fingerprint sensors, you’re obviously in luck here. Also, on the top-left, you’ll find the vertical camera housing that’s found on the Motorola One series, even though we’re still seeing circular cameras on the Moto series.

There’s also some good news if you’re still a fan of the 3.5mm headphone jack. This handset does have one, and it’s located on top of the device.

Unfortunately, it’s not on the same side as the USB Type-C charging port, which is on the bottom, alongside of a lone speaker grille.

On the right side, there’s a power button and on top of that, a volume rocker.

Finally, there’s a nano-SIM/microSD card slot on the left side. All of this is pretty standard stuff. The good news is that there isn’t one of those dumb Google Assistant buttons that seem to be so popular among Android phones these days.

Display

The Motorola One Action has a 6.3-inch FHD+ display with a 21:9 aspect ratio, and it feels kind of weird because it is super-tall. Most phones these days are around 19:9 or 19.5:9, but 21:9 is kind of crazy. The pixel density is 432ppi though, so the resolution is fine.

The bezels on the top and sides are the same size as each other, and instead of a notch, there’s a hole-punch cut-out in the top-left corner for the front-camera. The cut-out seems strangely large though, with extra room around the camera sensor itself.

The bottom bezel is larger than the rest, something that’s especially common with LCD screens. I just don’t get it though, because it makes the phone even taller. I really don’t understand what made Motorola say that it needed a 21:9 screen at all, let alone one with a chin underneath it. It’s all a bit much, especially when you consider that there really aren’t any apps that support the aspect ratio.

The display itself is quite nice though, with vibrant colors. That’s one thing that I’m really happy to see in the mid-range, which is better LCD screens, than we got just a few years ago.

The navigation options are either the old three-button navigation that we’ve had for years, or Android 9.0 Pie gestures. Part of the value proposition of any Motorola One phone is supposed to be that it’s Android One and therefore would get frequent updates, but the lack of Android 10 is just confusing here.

Camera

There are three lenses on this phone, but you can only take pictures out of one of them, the main 12-megapixel sensor. There’s also a 5MP depth sensor, and a 16MP sensor that’s reserved for taking 1080p video. And in case you haven’t done the math, 1080p video is about 2.1 megapixels.

That dedicated video sensor is the specialty feature of the Motorola One Action, and frankly, it’s pretty cool. It’s sideways, so you can actually record video in landscape mode while holding the phone in portrait mode, making for a smoother video. I’m kind of surprised that no one has thought of this before.

It’s also an ultra-wide lens, so you get four times more in the video than you would out of the standard lens. Strangely enough, you’re maxed out at 1080p 60fps with this sensor, while the main sensor will get you 4K 30fps. You do get the option of using either one.

If you try to use the Action Cam while holding the phone in landscape orientation, it will take vertical video. It’s just going to do the opposite of how you’re holding the phone, and the viewfinder will reflect that.

While it’s cool for recording video, I don’t quite get it. For example, why can’t I take a picture with this 16-megapixel sensor? I made a comment about how I’m surprised that no one has thought of this before, because it should be pretty simple to do, letting people record landscape video while the phone is being held vertically. Any smartphone sensor has a high enough resolution to do it, even if the sensor isn’t rotated, with plenty of pixels to spare.

I’m not sure who this phone is for. Perhaps there’s a small niche of people that care enough about ultra-wide video to not care about not being able to take ultra-wide pictures. It’s a decent enough idea, but it could have been implemented better.

As for the 12MP main sensor, it’s pretty much par for the course. In fact, that and the 5MP depth sensor are the same as the two lenses on the Moto G7.

Obviously, low-light performance could be better, although it’s fine for a device in this price range. It would be nice to see a proper night mode though, allowing for the shutter to stay open longer to capture more light.

Performance and battery life

Both performance and battery life are pretty good for a $350 smartphone. Motorola went with a Samsung Exynos 9609 chipset in the One Action, making it one of the few devices I’ve received without a Qualcomm chipset. It includes four 2.2GHz Cortex-A73 cores and four 1.6GHz Cortex-A53 cores, along with a Mali-G72 MP3 GPU.

I keep comparing it to the Moto G7 since this is a step up from that in terms of pricing, and the performance is better than on that mid-ranger. Obviously, it’s still not made for high-end gaming, but it gets the job done. General tasks – like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Chrome, and so on – are smooth and for the most part, snappy. I ran into some hiccups here and there, but that’s probably because I’m used to using thousand-dollar phones.

Battery life was great. I had no trouble getting through the day with the Motorola One Action. Most of the time, I still had at least 40% left when I put it on the charger at night, and the lowest was 30%.

For benchmarks, I used Geekbench 4, Geekbench 5, AnTuTu, and GFXBench. Yes, I’m still keeping Geekbench 4 in the rotation since it scores differently from Geekbench 5. Both are good for scoring the CPU though.

We can compare this to the Moto G7, which only got 1,259 on single-core and 4,777 on multi-core. So the CPU that Motorola used here is better than the Snapdragon 632 that’s in the Moto G7. It’s worth noting, of course, that the Moto G7 is now about a year old and the Moto G8 is on the way.

AnTuTu is more of an all-in-one test.

AnTuTu might be a better metric, because it actually shows a percentage of scores that it’s beaten. The One Action beats 21% of other users running the same test, while the Moto G7 beat 24% of users at the time of my review back in March. Clearly, it wouldn’t do so well today.

Finally, GFXBench tests the GPU.

Conclusion

The Motorola One Action is a decent enough phone, but I’m really having trouble understanding who this is for. I guess if you were thinking about getting a Moto G-series but you really want ultra-wide video recording, then this would be for you, as much of a niche case as that might be.

Let’s break this down though. There are two key value propositions here. One is that it’s an Android One device, and that means it’s a mostly-stock Android experience that should get updates faster than other phones. Sadly, this doesn’t work out. It’s still on Android 9.0 Pie, and the mostly-stock experience is really the same as any other Motorola device.

The other is the dedicated video camera. Again, I appreciate the idea of taking landscape video while holding the phone vertically, but I’m not sure that it’s enough. I’d rather have had a proper ultra-wide sensor that I can take pictures with.

Like I said though, it’s a decent enough phone, even if it’s not enough to get me excited. Frankly, I’d recommend holding off until Motorola announces the Moto G8 and see what that device has to offer.

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