Motorola One Action review: Action camera hero or budget flop?

Motorola may have fallen behind some of its rivals in the flagship arena, but its budget phones are still going strong. One of the latest affordable handsets from the Lenovo-owned company is the Motorola One Action.

With so many cheap Motorola phones now on the market, you might be wondering what’s so different about the Motorola One Action, and whether it’s worth a purchase. Find out in Android Authority’s Motorola One Action review!

What is the Motorola One Action?

motorola one action review display

The Motorola One Action is one of the newer members of the ever-expanding Motorola One range. The product family kicked off with the Motorola One and Motorola One Power in 2018.

Things picked up this year with the arrival of the pretty decent Motorola One Vision, then the Motorola One Action, and finally the Motorola One Zoom at IFA 2019. Priced at £219 (~$268) in the UK, the One Action is cheaper than both of its recent siblings, coming in at £50 less than the One Vision in the UK.

Read more: Motorola One Action announced: Is it the GoPro of the smartphone world?

Unlike Motorola’s other mid-to-budget phone family, the perennially popular and mostly straightforward Moto G series, the recent crop of Motorola One phones have their own unique gimmicks and all run Android One.

The One Action’s big trick is in its name. Rather than loading the phone with regular video recording hardware, the One Action has a dedicated video shooter inspired by action cameras like the GoPro.

How good is the “Action” camera?

The Motorola One Action’s “action” camera is a 16MP shooter with an f/2.2 aperture and a 117-degree field of view.

In an interesting move, Motorola has flipped the entire lens by 90 degrees, meaning you can shoot landscape video while holding the phone in portrait mode. If this sounds like it’d be a bit weird, well, it is.

The strangest thing about using the action camera is seeing landscape video recording on your phone in such a small viewfinder window.

If you can get past that, though, being able to record wide-angle video without needing to flip your phone or use two hands is kind of great. This is especially useful if you’re out running or adventuring and want to grab some high-action shots.

Editor's Pick

The camera maxes out at Full HD resolution at up to 60fps. You also have the option to shoot in 21:9 to match the One Action’s display. In addition, the camera is bolstered by some impressive electronic stabilization tech which keeps video nice and smooth even if your hands are a little shaky!

In a strange move, Motorola has made it so you can only shoot video using the camera, so if you’re after wide-angle photos then you’ll be disappointed by the Motorola One Action.

What’s good about the Motorola One Action?

motorola one action review software

Aside from the titular action camera, the Motorola One Action has plenty of other things going for it. Here are the other features we liked: 

Performance — The Motorola One Action ditches the Qualcomm Snapdragon SoCs we see in so many other phones, for Samsung’s Exynos 9609. Backed by a decent 4GB RAM and Android One’s streamlined software, the One Action won’t be winning any benchmark contests, but its real-world performance is impressive for the price.

Android One — Motorola is one of the few manufacturers making phones running Google’s near-stock version of Android. The bloat-free software comes with the promise of two years of guaranteed OS updates and security patches. It’s pretty barebones, but the speedy updates and performance tweaks more than make up for the lack of customization options.

Design — Want a budget phone that doesn’t look cheap? Aside from a loose-feeling volume rocker, the One Action’s curved glass and sturdy metal frame belie its low price tag. It looks great in Denim Blue, Aqua Teal, and Pearl White.

Price — Speaking of price, there aren’t many phones in the sub-$300 price bracket that can compete with the Motorola One Action as a total package.

What’s not so good?

motorola one action review punch hole

There are always going to be some concessions when you pick up a budget phone like the Motorola One Action. Here are a few of the things we didn’t like about it:

Display — The One Action has an extra-tall display with a 21:9 aspect ratio. This makes it great for watching supported 21:9 content (mostly on Netflix), scrolling through social media, and multitasking. Unfortunately, the resulting lanky form factor makes it a little awkward to hold. Regular video also gets saddled with huge black bars which are a bit of an eyesore. The LCD display doesn’t get all the bright either and the adaptive brightness is a little too aggressive with its dimming habits.

Massive punch hole — The One Action’s display is also lumbered with an enormous punch hole. While you do forget it’s there sometimes, it’s still a very thicc boi that gets in the way while gaming and watching movies.

Battery life — 3,500mAh is a fairly modest battery size for a budget phone, but the One Action really falls behind on endurance. Expect around 5-6 hours screen on time on average.

Low IP rating — The One Action settles for an IPX2 rating, which means you’re getting very minor protection against liquids and no rating for dust. Considering the phone’s aspirations to be an action camera phone, it seems strange it isn’t better prepared for the elements.

Camera quality — The action camera is great fun, but the rest of the camera suite is a little underwhelming. Shots from the main sensor often have washed out colors and the quality drops significantly in low light. There’s also no wide-angle or zoom lens (just a depth sensor), so it lacks versatility too. You can check out a few camera samples below:

Motorola One Action vs Motorola One Vision: What’s the difference?

Motorola One Vision rear in hand

The main difference between the Motorola One Action and the Motorola One Vision is the camera setup. While you don’t get the action camera on the One Vision, you do get a 48MP main sensor (made by Samsung) which produces pixel binned images down to 16MP. The selfie camera is also only 12MP on the One Action compared to the 25MP shooter on the One Vision.

Editor's Pick

The One Action supports 10W charging, while the One Vision goes up to 15W and has a 15W TurboCharger in the box. The One Vision is also rated IP52 which means you’re getting dust resistance too.

Otherwise, the two phones share the same chipset, RAM/ROM configuration, display size and resolution, rear fingerprint sensors, and they both have a headphone jack.

What alternatives are there?

Moto G7 and G7 Power rear panels

If you’re already sold on buying a budget Motorola phone there are plenty to choose from. Aside from the One Vision and the $400+ One Zoom, there’s also the G series to consider. The Moto G7 and G7 Plus are still great mid-rangers, while the G7 Power offers greater battery life and the G7 Play is even more affordable. There’s also the E series if you want to go even cheaper.

Non-Motorola alternatives vary wildly depending on regional availability. The Honor 20 Lite is one of the more widely available rivals, but if you go further afield hunting for a bargain there’s also the Realme 3 Pro and a whole bunch of Xiaomi and Redmi phones with high specs at a similar price.

Motorola One Action specs

  Motorola One Action
Display 6.3-inch IPS screen 2,520 x 1,080 resolution
21:9 aspect ratio
SoC Samsung Exynos 9609
octa-core at 2.2Ghz
GPU Mali-G72 MP3
RAM 4GB
Storage 128GB
Expandable (up to 512GB)
Cameras Rear
Main: 12MP, f/1.8 aperture, 1.25 micron pixels, PDAF
Secondary: 5MP depth sensor
Action camera: 16MP, f/2.2, video only

Video
Main: 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 30/60fps
Action camera: Up to 1080p at 60fps, slo-mo (120fps), timelapse, hyperlapse, electronic stabilization

Front: 12MP f/2.0, 1.25 micron pixels
Audio 3.5mm audio port
Bottom-firing speaker
Battery 3,500mAh
Non-removable
10W fast charging
IP rating IPX2 splash resistance
Sensors Accelerometer
Ambient light sensor
Fingerprint (rear)
Gyroscope
Proximity
Network 4G LTE, UMTS / HSPA+, GSM / EDGE
Connectivity USB-C
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz + 5GHz, Wi-Fi hotspot
SIM Single nano SIM
Software Android Pie
(Android One)
Dimensions and weight 160.1mm x 71.2mm x 9.15mm
176g
Colors Denim Blue
Pearl White
Aqua Teal

Should you buy the Motorola One Action?

motorola one action review rear

Like the One Vision before it, the Motorola One Action is a budget phone with a bit of ambition that isn’t afraid to have a little fun. At a time where most phones — especially cheaper handsets — are dull and derivative, the One Action is a breath of fresh air.

The Motorola One Action is a budget phone with a bit of ambition.

It doesn’t entirely stick the landing with some of its more outlandish features and it won’t appeal to everyone, but if you want a cheap phone with smooth performance, clean software, and a quirky video camera, the One Action is well worth a look.

And that’s it for our Moto One Action review. Will you buy this phone?

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