Feb 6th, 2020

Flagship smartphones always get the most attention thanks to their cutting-edge specs and new features, but the mid-range segment has gotten a lot more interesting as of late. Devices like the Motorola One Action take a different approach, delivering great value with a unique twist. 

Design

Looking at the Motorola One Action doesn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary. The phone features a plastic frame, sandwiched between a 6.3-inch display in front with a plastic back which has a tendency to show off every smudge imaginable. The fact that this is a $300 (or $50 less on Amazon) smartphone is made obvious by its rear fingerprint sensor, the fact that it only has a single speaker and that you barely get a splash resistance rating. That being said, you do get a headphone jack with Dolby Atmos audio and an FM radio. I was also pleasantly surprised by the phone’s haptic feedback which feels better than many premium devices. 

Performance

The Motorola One Action’s midrange Exynos 9609 chipset is significantly underpowered when compared to flagship devices these days, but it’s essentially a tweaked version of the 10nm Exynos Exynos 8895 that Samsung used in the Galaxy S8. That means there’s more than enough power to play high end and fast-paced games like Fortnite and Call of Duty Mobile without any issues. The experience won’t be as good as say, the Galaxy Note 10 offers, but it’s definitely acceptable when you factor in the price of this phone. 

The limited 4GB of RAM can be felt from time to time if you’re heavy multi-tasker. I didn’t have any issues with the phone dumping regular apps from memory, but if I tried jumping back into a game after 30 minutes, it would often need to reload from scratch before I could resume playing. 

Battery Life

Unfortunately, you won’t be getting endless hours of gaming with the One Action. The phone has a 3,500 mAh battery that offers only 5-6 hours of screen on time on a single charge. It’s enough to get you through a full day, but quite a bit less than what the Moto G7 Power has to offer. 

Display 

The 6.3-inch display is a bit of a mixed bag. Having a 21:9 aspect ratio makes it ideal for watching movies, but with such a large hole punched out of it for the front-facing camera, the experience is less than optimal. While we’ve tried to not make a big deal about hole punch or notch displays as of late, the cutout here is pretty ridiculous and definitely the largest we’ve seen. Since it’s an LCD panel, you also notice that the area around the hole is dimmer than it should be due to the placement of the backlight. 

Fortunately, the screen is actually pretty bright and there really isn’t as noticeable color shift at extreme angles. A Quad HD resolution would have been preferable at this size, but that certainly wasn’t feasible at this price point. As long as that hole in the top left corner doesn’t drive you mad, you should have any complaints here. 

Cameras

So far, the Motorola One Action is a respectable mid-range smartphone, but we haven’t even gotten to the feature for which the phone is named. In addition to its 12MP main camera and 5MP depth sensor, Motorola has equipped the phone with a unique 16MP action camera on the back with a 14mm ultra-wide lens which can only capture video. The sensor doesn’t have OIS, but it does use EIS and the stabilization it offers is respectable. The other unique feature here is that the sensor is mounted at 90 degrees, which means you can record horizontal video while holding the phone vertically. Personally, I hate vertical video, so forcing people to record horizontal video when holding their phone upright is a stroke of pure genius. The only issue is that it’s harder to see what you’re recording. Or course, the perfect solution would have been a circular sensor like Snapchat uses in its spectacles, but it’s doubtful we’d see something like that on a smartphone, especially at this price point. 

The quality of the video is good, though it’s limited to 1080p @60 FPS. Now, that’s not really that impressive when you compare it to a mid-range GoPro, but for some reason, quite a few manufacturers don’t allow you to record video with the ultra-wide-angle cameras they’ve included on their smartphone, even flagship tier devices. 

The downside here is that Motorola doesn’t allow you to capture images with this camera which is quite odd, though you can snap a screenshot in the camera app once you hit the record button. Not really sure who thought that was a good idea. 

Surprisingly, low light video capture is much better than what we’ve seen from any other smartphone and its wide-angle lens. That’s because Motorola is using a sensor with 2-micron pixels, the same size as what we saw on the UltraPixel camera HTC used back in the day. If you want 4K video capture, you’ll have to switch over to the main 12MP sensor. The video is good, but still a step below what you’ll typically get from a $500 smartphone. 

When it comes to taking pictures with the main camera, the results are actually surprising when you consider how much the phone costs. The default settings can be a bit dull on a cloudy day, but the AutoHDR mode manages to deliver adequate dynamic range to highlight details in the shadows while the exposure and white balance turned out fine in most shots. But don’t be surprised by a bit of inconsistency. If you want full control, Motorola even included manual mode in the camera app, giving you full control over the cameras setting and even allowing you to capture RAW images, something that’s pretty rare for a budget device like this. 

The 5MP depth sensor comes in handy when taking portrait shots. The settings for this mode are actually a lot more intuitive than they are on most other devices, giving you control over the blur and different lighting effects without having to dig through the menus. The final results aren’t going to blow you away, but they’re a great option if you want to take a photo with a bit more drama. 

The 12MP front-facing camera is surprisingly good at this price point, offering single-sensor portrait shots which actually turn out quite well and a group selfie mode which stitches together multiple images like a panoramic shot so that you can fit a large group in. 

Final Thoughts

The Motorola One Action may not come close to competing with a flagship smartphone, but not everyone has $800 or more to spend on a smartphone every few years. This phone’s unique camera allows it to stand out, making it the perfect fit for someone who’s been eying an action camera to simply record more video or for someone who wants to vlog, allowing them to shoot, edit and post from a single device. 

If that’s not something you’re interested in, the Motorola One Hyper may be a good alternative. It costs $50 more, but it’s a more powerful and sleeker-looking phone than the Motorola One Action. 

SEE THE MOTO ONE ACTION ON AMAZON

 

Motorola One Action Rating: star_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_75star_empty (3.7/5)

The Good

  • Amazing price
  • Unique wide-angle action camera
  • Decent performance

The Bad

  • Disappointing battery life
  • Bland design

The Bottom Line

The Motorola One Action is a unique phone with a specific user in mind. If you’re on a limited budget and are looking for a smartphone that can give you that amazing wide-angle action cam look for video recording, this phone is the perfect buy.