Motorola's One Vision packs a cinematic screen and a clever camera

It's about as un-Motorola as Motorola phones get.

We're not even halfway through 2019, but Motorola already has a handful of notable hardware launches under its belt. For its next trick, the Lenovo-owned brand is trotting out a fascinating, inexpensive smartphone — the Motorola One Vision — for markets around the world. Normally, we wouldn't fuss much about a mid-range Motorola phone, let alone one we can't buy, but the One Vision is so unusually ambitious that we can't help but pay attention.

Haven't heard of the Motorola One series before? We can't blame you — the original One quietly went on sale in the US late last year after making appearances in Europe and Latin America, and the One Vision isn't slated for a US launch at all. (For now, Motorola says it's satisfied with the spread of smartphones it sells in North America.) This is actually kind of a shame, because Motorola's One devices tend to focus on new features, flourishes and design choices in a way that make them very different from the brand's more mainstream phones.

That's why the One Vision is the only phone in Motorola's line-up with a 6.3-inch, 21:9 CinemaVision display. (Long story short, the screen is taller and narrower than most to better accommodate cinematic videos.) It's also the only Motorola phone to ditch the now-traditional screen notch in favor of a hole-punch that lets a 25-megapixel front-facing camera peer through the display.

The "Vision" in the phone's name refers in part to this unusual display, but it's also Motorola's way of drawing attention to the dual camera around back. The star of the show here is a 48-megapixel Samsung sensor (as opposed to the Sony IMX586 we've seen in other phones recently), which you'll probably never use to shoot at full resolution.

Motorola is using what it calls "QuadPixel" technology here, which is marketing jargon for a process better known as pixel binning — for the unaware, that means the One Vision treats clusters of four pixels on the sensor as a single, bigger pixel for improved clarity and low-light performance. Sure, the resulting photo is only 12-megapixels, but it should look a lot better than those 48-megapixel raw files. There's also a secondary 5-megapixel camera around back, but that's purely for capturing depth data for use in making bokeh-filled portraits.

Motorola One Vision

We've seen Motorola invest more significantly in artificial intelligence over the past two years, so it isn't a surprise to see the company talk up new smart features for that rear camera. Some are straightforward enough; the AI shot optimization feature looks at what's in front of the camera and suggests that you use Portrait mode if it sees a face, or the new Night Vision mode when it's dark out. Others, like AI shot composition, are a little more nuanced. Once this feature is enabled, the phone can look at the photo you just took; if it "sees" that the image is slightly skewed, it'll crop and level the image to look a little tidier. (Don't worry, the phone will never overwrite your original photo.)

Curiously, all of these AI features — plus the typically clean build of Android One — are powered by an octa-core Samsung Exynos 9609 chipset and 4GB of RAM. (Based on Motorola and Lenovo's choice of components here, the One Vision seems to have more in common with mid-range Samsung phones than Motorola's other devices.) The rest of the spec sheet is pretty standard: the One Vision is only available with 128GB of storage (though it takes microSD cards as large as 512GB) and packs a 3,500mAh battery into some handsome bronze and sapphire bodies.

If you can feel yourself falling prey to the One Vision's oddball charms, you can pick one up as early as today — assuming you live in Brazil, that is. Over the coming weeks, the phone will continue its world tour with launches in Mexico and Europe — with any luck, Motorola will decide to sell a few of these around here, too.