If $350 is the new $650, then $200 is the new $350. That’s the best way I can prepare you for the Moto G review you are about to read. Just last year, it seemed crazy that a device like the Nexus 4 could come in at only $349, completely unlocked and off-contract. Google and the Google-owned Motorola are making that kind of pricing a habit now. Starting at just $180, the Moto G is the phone that will put Motorola on the map. If low-end devices are where the next huge market share boom is going to come from, Motorola is leading the charge. And companies like Samsung should probably be afraid.
Build quality and design
The Moto G has a lot of what I’ve been asking for in an Android phone for a long time. And that starts with the build quality and design. I’ve come to the thinking in recent years, especially after the debut of the HTC One X, that a phone doesn’t need to be made out of metal or glass to feel like a completely premium device. Plastic is perfectly acceptable and in some cases more appropriate. Two companies have really proved that this year. Apple, who is synonymous with quality-built products, and Motorola, also known for their build quality in the past, have both stepped it up this year in terms of how plastic is being used in handsets.
The Moto X, in my mind, is exactly how you’d want a plastic phone to look and feel. The Moto G inherits this, and adds a little something extra. Where the Moto X has a permanent, non-removable colored back, the Moto G’s is replaceable. I expected this to take away from the quality of the device, but not at all. It still looks and feels fantastic. There are some very minor size sacrifices made (the Moto G is a little thicker), but if I could choose, I’d rather the Moto X have a replaceable back as well. There’s something fun about switching the color of your phone on the fly using Motorola’s flip shells (which are great).
The buttons on the Moto G feel extra clicky (though they do have a little wiggle room) and there are no creeks or bends on the body. Nothing about the Moto G looks or feels cheap. The Moto G suffers from the same problem the Nexus 5 does, in that there aren’t enough places people can go get their hands on one and check it out for themselves. You really need to hold a Moto G to truly appreciate the work that has gone into making this affordable handset feel so nice.
In the past, I’ve argued that the display is probably the most important part of a phone. It’s where you spend all your time on a device. Perhaps that’s why I like the Moto G so much.
I am a sucker for the incredibly over-saturated colors and deep blacks of AMOLED displays, but the Moto G was never hard to look at. For the most part, I can say I even prefer the display on the Moto G over other more expensive LCD sporting devices.
It’s a great size. Right around the 4.5 inches, the Moto G feels just about perfect. The 720p resolution is more than dense enough. And the colors look great to my eyes. But I do have some complaints. I have a dead pixel in my display. I have talked with other Moto G owners, and I am the only one who was unfortunate enough to have a display with a dead pixel. I imagine Motorola, or Amazon, would be kind enough to replace the device.
And then there’s the light leak. On my Moto G, there was a small amount of light leak near the top of the display. In other words, there was a bright spot where the lights behind the display were showing. On colorful, full-screen images, you would never know it was there. But with Android still sporting a black bar at the top most of the time, it was noticeable. I am happy to report that not everyone seems to have light leak problems, but I did find a couple people who noticed it as well, all to varying degrees. Buying a phone, no matter what price it is, means you are playing the panel lottery. Sometimes you get a really good display, sometimes you need to pitch a fit to receive a replacement. With a sub-$200 phone, perhaps the win-to-lose ratio is a little worse than with a $350 or $650 phone.
The main thing you should take away from the display on the Moto G is that despite both of these problems, which a replacement device would almost surely help with, I can still say it has a display that can rival much more expensive phones. And can stomp other devices in its price bracket into the ground. Color, density and viewing angles are great.
There are two major areas where the Moto G cuts back in order to reach the price point Motorola was looking for. Connectivity is one of them. There is no LTE and no NFC, the consequences of which are pretty straight forward.
Without NFC, things like transferring files between Android phones, using a Moto Skip and wireless payments are either harder or impossible. Was there a single time I thought, I wish this thing had NFC? Not at all. Maybe you have some sort of setup or routine that requires NFC, but I do not. I imagine most people will be in a similar situation as me.
As far as missing LTE goes, that didn’t bother me much either. On T-Mobile’s HSPA+, I was sitting at about 6Mbps down throughout Lansing, Michigan. If you spend most of your time around WiFi and don’t do much other than check email, Facebook, Twitter and post Instagram pictures, then HSPA+ is fine. I think at this point most people know if not having super fast LTE data is going to be an issue for them.
The WiFi worked as it should and so did the GPS and Bluetooth 4.0. No complaints there.
It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating. The Moto G’s main purpose is to tackle the international market. Developing areas lack LTE and are highly unlikely to have widespread access to NFC systems. Cutting both of these out to save money makes sense. Next year will be a different story.
The other area that was cut back on to save money was the camera. And it really shows.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the 5MP camera on the Moto G is pretty lackluster. Is it OK enough to snap pictures to send through text messages and social networks? Yeah, it gets the job done. I suppose for $180, that’s all you can really expect right now. This is another area that we expect to see big leaps in next year.
For now though, it gets the job done. In the right lighting, using HDR and after a couple tries, I was actually able to snap some pretty decent photos with the Moto G. Motorola’s custom camera software, with tap to focus and burst mode, seems to help.
The 1.3MP front facing camera is surprisingly good, and video is is surprisingly bad. Especially slo-mo mode. It’s a neat concept, but it looks so bad it’s clearly just for fun.
There isn’t really a whole lot I can say about the camera on the Moto G that I either haven’t glossed over above, or that the sample photos I’ve included below don’t say for themselves. The Moto G is not for the budding photographer, nor will it ever replace your point and shoot.
Before I received the Moto G, I kept asking myself what kind of performance I should expect out of the handset. I could care less about benchmarks. I just wanted to know if it could load Jelly Splash quick enough. Would it switch back and forth between apps without giving me a prolonged black screen? Open the app drawer without stuttering? Jump into Google Now at a moment’s notice? For $180, I decided that some stutter here and there was acceptable. I figured I’d be happy if most things just ran without major problems. I was in for a huge surprise.
The Moto G is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400, Adreno 305 GPU and 1GB of RAM. Whatever Motorola, or Qualcomm, is doing is nothing short of impressive. I compared the Moto G to a Galaxy Nexus, Google Play edition Samsung Galaxy S4, Moto X and an iPhone 5c. I couldn’t get over how fast the Moto G felt. The Galaxy Nexus was incredibly slow in comparison, but the Moto G didn’t show any major signs of performance degradation next to the S4, Moto X or 5c.
The performance of the Moto G is great. I can’t say it enough. The speed of the device combined with what really is all-day battery life will not leave you regretting a Moto G purchase.
One of my favorite things about the Moto G, and probably a good part of the reason why it’s so fast, is that it runs stock Android 4.3. You can nit pick all you want about what “stock Android” really means, but this is stock Android.
The only custom apps loaded on the device are Motorola Assist, a handy way to automate things like silent mode and auto-reply while you’re driving, in a meeting or sleeping. Moto Care for getting help with your Moto G. And Motorola Migrate for moving things like contacts, media and text messages from your old phone to your new Moto G. There’s also the custom camera software I mentioned above and an FM radio app.
Everything else is just as you would see it on an AOSP device. There’s no Google Experience Launcher like on the Nexus 5 and no always listening mode or active notifications like on the Moto X. Motorola will probably plump up the Moto G with features in the future, but for now it’s still a joy to use. A lot of that is thanks to stock Android.
Oh, and just in case you were wondering, Motorola is promising an update to Android 4.4, KitKat, in the beginning of the year.
It’s hard to assign the Motorola Moto G a simple score. Among all the Android devices available on the market, it’s decidedly low-end. In the low-end, however, the Moto G is the best phone available. Some phones might have LTE, some phones might have a very slightly better camera, but none of them can the boast the full package like the Moto G can. If you’re on the fence about picking up a Moto G, don’t be. Buy one.
With the Moto X, Motorola turned the mid-range device sector on its head. The Moto G does the same thing with the low-end. We can’t wait to see what the refreshed Motorola has in store for us next.