Motorola One Action review: budget doesn't get better than this

This could be the best budget smartphone on the market right now

T3 Platinum Award
Motorola One Action Review
(Image credit: Motorola)
T3 Verdict

The Motorola One Action is one of the best budget smartphones money can buy. It has all the drive your average Joe will ever need, and more than enough built-in storage to match, a camera that won't disappoint, a screen that's simply fantastic, and it'll last a full working day.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    21:9 screen is fantastic

  • +

    Camera doesn't disappoint

  • +

    Performance is incredible (for a budget handset)

  • +

    Style on tap

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    It's missing Gorilla Glass

  • -

    Battery life could be a bit better

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The Motorola One Action is one of the most exciting smartphones to have come across our desk in recent times. That's not something you hear all too often when talking about a budget smartphone, but the One Action is unique; it's innovative. The massive 6.3-inch LCD screen on the front has an elongated 21:9 aspect ratio. That's advantageous for two reasons: You can squeeze more on the screen at once, and it eliminates the frustrating black bars above and below cinema-level 21:9 footage.

But that's not where the exciting features end. Motorola has crammed the One Action full of exciting video-recording tools, headlined by the ability to film landscape footage while holding the handset upright. It also ships running the coveted Android One version of Android 9 Pie, which is essentially a promise from Motorola that the device will receive software updates every month for at least two years following its (August 2019) release, so you can rest assured it won't be forgotten anytime soon.

Motorola One Action Review: Set Up and Design

Setting up the Motorola One Action is a doddle. Just rip it out the box, pop in a SIM, boot it up, then follow the on-screen instructions. You'll be asked to connect to a Wi-Fi network and enter your Google credentials. Once you've done that, the handset will work its magic, assembling all of the little software chunks that make the device whole. After a few seconds, the One Action will be ready to use. Now you can begin transferring your files and start downloading all your favourite applications.

Surprisingly, the Motorola One Action does not feel like a £219 smartphone. The entire thing is constructed from glass, save for a thin aluminium frame sandwiched in between the front and back to hold it all together — like most flagship devices. It's sturdy and luxurious in hand, and looks fantastic from a distance and up close. Unfortunately, Motorola had to make some compromises to keep the cost down, the most notable of which is the decision to not coat the handset with Gorilla Glass.

Here's the issue: Gorilla Glass is somewhat of fée marraine for smartphones, shielding them from the minor knocks, bumps and tumbles that would otherwise shatter the front and back, so it's a must. Had Motorola included it, we'd have had no issue awarding the One Action top marks because it excels in every other department. Still, there's an easy solution — the silicone case Motorola bundles in the box should do just as good as a job at shielding the handset from impact. 

The rest is all rather basic. At least, for a flagship handset. For a budget device, it’s totally bonkers – the screen is interrupted by a 12MP front-facing camera mounted in the upper-left, there’s a triple-camera on the rear (12MP + 5MP + 117°). Positioned slap-bang in the center of the back of the unit is a fingerprint sensor, which consistently authenticated us in a mere matter of milliseconds. Up top, you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, and on the bottom, there’s a USB Type-C slot. That's it. 

Motorola One Action Review: Features and Performance

(Image credit: Motorola)

While the Motorola One Action may not be the most powerful device on paper, it has all the hardware needed to breeze through all the usual, non-intensive tasks a user is bound to throw its way. There's a Samsung-made Exynos 9609 processor running the show, which taps into 4GB of RAM to keep the lights on. In layman's terms, you will have no trouble responding to emails through Gmail and using WhatsApp, while  calling upon Netflix and Spotify to breathe some entertainment into your day.

There's also 128GB of (expandable via microSD) internal storage for saving anything and everything you could possibly need — be it documents, music, movies or videos.

However, the screen is the reason you're going to want to purchase this handset. As we said earlier, 6.3-inch FHD+ LCD (2,520 x 1,080). That's the same size and resolution as that of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, but because it's using a 21:9 aspect ratio, it doesn't feel as big — it's long, rather than wide. The benefit? You can fit more on the screen, from top to bottom. The reduced width also eliminates the pesky black bars that show up on the top and bottom of 21:9 footage (often movies).

The triple-camera isn’t half bad, either. We used the Motorola One Action on a trip to IFA 2019 in Berlin and shot some images around the city, all of which are brimming with detail, with punchy, vibrant colour rendition. In fact, having used several budget devices over the course of the last few weeks, we’d go as far as to say that the One Action has the best camera you’ll find on sub-£400 (new) smartphone, let alone a sub-£220 model. There are heaps of interesting features to toy around with, too.

Just one of those tools is the aforementioned "Action" feature that uses the 117-degree lens to squeeze four times more of the scene into one frame, letting you film landscape video while holding the handset upright. It's a neat tool that works well, but we can't help but wonder why it need exist. Is it really that difficult to hold your smartphone lengthways? No — especially not when the handset is as slim and long as the Motorola One Action. But the 4K Ultra HD video-recording is a nice touch.

After using the handset for around three weeks, the one area we found that could do with some improvement is the battery life. We struggled to squeeze more than half a day out of the handset's 3,500mAh cell, unhooking it at around 6:30 AM, only to dock it again at 6 PM. Granted, we probably use our smartphones a lot more than any average consumer would, and that's still enough juice to see you through the entire day, but a morning-to-morning lifespan would have been preferred.

Motorola One Action Review: Verdict

(Image credit: Motorola)

We're confident in saying that the Motorola One Action is one of the best budget smartphones money can buy. It has all the drive the average consumer would ever need, and more than enough built-in storage to match, a camera that won't disappoint, a screen that's simply fantastic, and it'll last a full working day — commute and all. Just remember: It doesn't have Gorilla Glass, so you're going to need to dress it in the included silicone cover, or invest in something a bit better. 

Having spent half a decade writing about the latest news for some of the world’s largest publications, Josh is one of the most recognised reporters in the space. Nowadays, in addition to covering the odd news article, he spends most of his time keeping T3's long-form consumer content up to date, while also researching and reporting on the best deals to help you save some serious scratch.