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Motorola One Macro Review

por Chase Waller (2019-12-28)

Motorola One Macro Review
Motorola’s growing family of One phones offer a pure Android experience combined with a single stand-out camera feature, all at an affordable price.

Following on from the Motorola One Vision, the Motorola One Action and the Motorola One Zoom, the Motorola One Macro is notable for two things. As per its name, the Macro packs a unique secondary camera that lets you take extreme close-up shots.

Perhaps more significantly, the Motorola One Macro is the cheapest phone in the range by some margin. Priced at just £179, it’s one of the most affordable handsets in the current Motorola lineup.
Naturally, there have been a few compromises in order to reach that price point, some of which are more consequential than others.

Motorola One Macro design – Wider and cheaper
There’s definitely a shared design language at play with the Motorola One range, but the accents differ slightly.

The Motorola One Macro’s shiny back and curved edges follow on from its siblings, as do the basic shape and alignment of its camera module and fingerprint sensor. But the front of the phone adopts a dewdrop notch, rather than the hole-punch design of the Vision and Action devices.

It’s a much wider and stockier device, because Motorola has reverted to a slightly more orthodox 19:9 display aspect ratio. That makes it trickier to wield in one hand; but by the same token it doesn’t have the same jarringly lanky proportions.
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While the fingerprint sensor is well placed, not to mention speedy and reliable, the volume buttons are positioned too high on the right-hand edge. I could just about reach the textured power button with my thumb, but found that I had to shuffle the phone in my hand if I wanted to adjust the sound.
There’s a certain heft to this phone, but 186g isn’t exactly heavy by modern standards. It does look a little cheaper than the Motorola One Action though, perhaps because of the shiny two-tone finish to its plastic rear. I’m not saying the effect is unpleasant exactly, but it definitely looks a little chintzier than its more sober and professional siblings.

Even if you’re enamoured by that flashy finish, it won’t stay pristine for long. This handset wears fingerprints like an autumn coat.

There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top, and despite the cheaper price tag you still get a USB-C port on the bottom; it sits alongside a mono speaker.

Motorola One Macro display – Don’t get too close
The Motorola One Macro’s 6.2in IPS LCD panel is big and, as we’ve just discussed, more uniformly proportioned than its siblings. 19:9 makes for a much more "normal" all-around viewing experience than the super-stretched 21:9 screens of the Action and Vision.
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Sadly, it lacks sharpness. One of the ways in which Motorola appears to have achieved the Macro’s lower price point is by cutting the pixel count, which means a 1520 x 720 resolution. This is also known as HD+, or a slightly longer form of the classic 720p standard.

This was one of the negatives of the original Motorola One, which launched in 2018. And while the Motorola One Macro is a cheaper phone, coming in well under £200, I still don’t think this is a compromise that should have been made.

It isn’t that the Motorola One Macro’s display is bad. It’s clear and balanced and plenty bright enough – in most conditions, at least. But hold it next to a similarly proportioned 1080p phone such as the Motorola One Action, as I did, and the difference is clear to see.
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Motorola One Macro
We would like a slightly higher-res screen

The One Action display is brighter and cooler, giving the One Macro a slightly sickly tint by comparison. It’s that small details simply look crisper and, well, more as they should be on the sharper device.

For example, image thumbnails in Google Photos look properly representative on a 1080p display like that of the One Action. They look horribly pixellated on the One Macro, like they’re being stored in the cloud and have yet to properly load.

Without comparing the two, the Motorola One Vision display is perfectly fine and functional. You might not even notice the slight fuzzy nature that it lends certain UI elements.

But 1080p feels like table stakes for a phone edging north of £150 in 2019. And on that front, the Motorola One Macro comes up short.
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There’s also a certain irony to having such a display in a phone that seems to encourage you to get closer and revel in the fine detail.

Motorola One Macro performance – Surprisingly speedy
Call me an ill-informed tech snob, but when I saw that the Motorola One Macro was powered by a MediaTek processor, I assumed that the phone would suffer in the performance stakes.

MediaTek generally produces cheaper chips for low-end phones, which helps manufacturers hit those challenging entry-level price points. But the results are often correspondingly modest.

Given that both the Motorola One Vision and the Motorola One Action packed the Samsung Exynos 9609, this seemed likely to be the case again.

However, I’m pleased to say that the MediaTek MT6771 Helio P70 in the One Macro comes up with the goods. I wouldn’t describe it as an out-and-out power house, but it produces a level of performance that makes pretty much any task feel comfortable. And that’s all you can really ask for at this price.

Ably assisted by 4GB of RAM, the Motorola One Macro felt fluid and stutter-free throughout my time with it. My Geekbench 4 benchmark tests confirmed this; indeed, an average multi-core score of 5732 easily trumped the Motorola One Vision’s 5123.

The Helio P70 packs the same Mali-G72 graphics chipset as the Samsung Exynos 9609, so you’ll get similar gaming performance. Most advanced games will default to Medium settings, but I was able to push Call of Duty Mobile’s and PUBG Mobile’s graphics settings to High and still get perfectly playable (if perfectly smooth) results.
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Motorola One Macro

That 720p display will doubtless have helped in this regard, of course. Together with a solid CPU and ample RAM, having fewer pixels to push around makes the Motorola One Macro a surprisingly competent gaming device.

You get 64GB of storage to play with, which no longer seems as generous as it once would have given that there are now affordable phones with 128GB out there. But you can expand this using the included microSD slot.

Motorola One Macro software – One for all and all for One
You’re getting Android 9.0 Pie with the Motorola One Macro, but not just any old sloppily reskinned version. This is Android One, which means tampering has been kept to a minimum.

In particular, the general navigation experience is as pure an Android affair as you’re going to get this side of a Pixel phone. Everything from the app icons to the menus to the implementation of the Google feed (just swipe right) is as Google intended it.

Perhaps best of all, the stock selection of apps is all Google. You get Gmail for emails, Google Calendar for organisation, and even Google Keep for taking notes – which is an app that’s very often left off by third-party manufacturers, for some inexplicable reason.

This all combines to make for a very clean, cohesive experience, with none of the confusing bloat of phones that apply heavy custom skins and unwanted apps.

You get given a couple of basic navigation options early doors. By default there’s the old-fashioned three-button method, with virtual keys for back, home, and app switching along the bottom of the homescreen. But you’ll soon be prompted to try the more modern, gesture-based approach.

This gives you a single elongated home button. Swipe left from this to go back and swipe right to switch to the previous app. Swiping up, meanwhile, brings up the full app switching menu.

I still don’t find Android’s gesture system as fluid or intuitive as that of iOS, but it’s a tidy enough way to get around the OS once you’re attuned to its quirks.

While it’s slight, Motorola has made its own imprint on the One Macro’s UI. The camera app is all its own for one thing, but Moto Actions also proves useful. These are a range of potentially useful customisable gestures, such as a double-twist to send you into the camera and a double-chop to activate the flashlight.

Motorola One Macro camera – The devil is in the detail
One of the big differentiating factors between all the Motorola One phones is their individual camera offerings. The Vision has a pixel-packed main camera, for example, while the Action offers enhanced video capabilities and the Zoom features a telephoto lens.

Motorola One Macro
It’s quite a distinctive camera array

In the One Macro you get a dedicated Macro camera. This means you can get up to five times closer to your subject than might be possible ordinarily.

In practice, I was able to get within an inch or so of flowers and insects – the Motorola One Macro’s camera was still able to lock on and take detailed shots.

Or at least that’s how it appeared on the One Macro’s slightly fuzzy screen. When I opened up the captured macro shots on a large, sharp MacBook Pro display, the results were a little disappointing.

Yes, they’re generally in focus, and I was able to get a uniquely clear perspective on things like a ladybird feasting on an aphid. But, sadly, the detail from this camera proved to be lacking, with a noisy, grainy look that perhaps speaks to its humble 2-megapixel specification.

There’s also the simple fact that macro photography is something of a niche proposition. Certainly in comparison to the singular strengths of the Motorola One Vision, One Action, and the new One Zoom, being able to get super-close to your subject isn’t going to improve your everyday shots.

Performance isn’t amazing away from the macro camera, either. General snaps are taken care of by a bog-standard combination of a 13-megapixel f/2.0 main camera and a 2-megapixel f/2.2 depth-sensing assistant. You also get a Laser AutoFocus time of flight (ToF) sensor.

The general shooting experience is a mixed bag. The Motorola Camera app is intuitive enough, but it’s a little wallowy and occasionally slow to focus, resulting in the odd blurry shot. I also noticed a sizeable delay when taking portrait shots, although the results are pretty good for such a cheap phone, with a sharply defined subject and not too much in the way of weird edge artefacts.

I found the quality of normal shots to be lacking, however, with a generally flat and washed-out appearance. The One Macro also has a tendency to overexpose clouds and other bright areas, despite the auto HDR mode kicking in quite reliably.

Dark shots are more or less a no-no, with no dedicated Night mode and a relatively dim f/2.0 main lens. The results are grainy alright.