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Featured Review: Moto G

March 5, 2014 - Written By Tom Dawson

It’s hard to get excited about a device that doesn’t have any remarkable features, offers a decent range of specs and more for great value, and yet the Moto G has been something of a hero device from Motorola. Why? That’s what we’re going to find out in this review, as we take a look at the understated device that undoubtedly offers the best value for money out there when it comes to budget minded devices. With stock Android, an unremarkable design and some of the special sauce, such as Motomaker and Active Notifications missing from the Moto X, is the Moto G really the best budget phone we’ve all been waiting for?

Design

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How much is there to say about the Moto G? Well, not a lot really, and that’s an excellent thing. Because the Moto G is such an understated device, there’s very little to complain about, even if the black version Vodafone sent me is a little drab. The Moto logo on the back dips into the device and offers a decent place to rest a fingertip and the whole rear of the device is covered in soft touch material, which makes it easy to grip in the hand. As for the volume and power buttons it does feel a little strange to see them on the same side, but the silver look makes them stand out and they have some good feedback. At this price point, you’re not going to get a Rolls Royce smartphone, but the Moto G certainly never felt “cheap” during my use. The logo-free display front of the device houses the 4.5-inch 720p display and it’s clean without being boring. If you were looking for more design flare, then you’ll need to look elsewhere, but personally I like design that gets out-of-the-way, and the Moto G ticks that box.

Display

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When the Moto G was launched, its display – with a ppi of 326 – was touted as its best feature and we’re inclined to agree with Motorola on that score. My camera doesn’t do the display justice, but the 4.5-inch display is both sharp and colorful. It’s not as colorful as a Super AMOLED display, but text was super-sharp when reading text, and videos looked good enough. For the most part, I felt that colors were accurate, if not a little muted, but I didn’t have the feeling that the display was either struggling with the range of colors or cheating me out of finer detail. To my eyes, things were a little blue-ish, but I use warmer-tone displays so, take that for what you will. For the $179 you can pick one of these up for, this display is excellent and next to my personal Nexus 5, the display more than held its own. A display that offers a decent compromise on size and resolution, Motorola got one of the most important parts of their device right.

Performance

So, we’ve established that the Moto G has a good-looking display on it, but what good is that if you never want to use it? Thankfully, the quad-core Snapdragon 400 at the heart of the G is good enough to keep most users happy. Of course, we need to remember that we’re talking about a sub-$200 unlocked phone here, so the performance isn’t going to match a Galaxy Note 3. The Moto G is fast and fluid throughout most daily, everyday tasks and throughout my usual routine I never found myself too frustrated with the performance here. There are moments when the device needs to catch up a little bit and certain games take a while to load and frame rates aren’t amazing, but the experience isn’t displeasing, it could just be better. Motorola have really shown what difference using clean, bloat-free software can have on a device’s performance.

Key tasks like browsing the web, sending a message, listening to music, taking a photo and so forth were speedy. That’s speedy without caveats, it could be faster, but it’s fast. I did a few non-scientific tests side-by-side my Nexus 5 to see how stock KitKat scales from a 2.3 Ghz Snapdragon 800 to a 1.2 Ghz Snapdragon 400 and I was genuinely shocked. In a number of cases, the Moto G was less than a second behind, and even heavy webpages didn’t upset this little guy. All-in-all, I would say that the Moto G is a fast device, it’s not quite as immediate as something more high-end with a Snapdragon 800 or Tegra 4 in it, but you won’t be frustrated with the performance. Especially when you remember how little it cost you, off-contract.

Software

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We’re not going to go into too much detail here, as the Moto G simply runs stock Android 4.4, with a few tweaks. These aren’t visual tweaks mind you, nor do they change the way Android acts, they’re device-specific sort of stuff. For a smartphone at this price point to run Android 4.4 already is pretty incredible, as high-end devices from the likes of Samsung and LG are only just getting their updates now. There are a few apps added in here, such as Motorola Assist and Motorola Migrate, which we’ve covered before, but the Migrate app is particularly useful for those upgrading from another Android device. There’s an FM Radio app in here as well, so you can always listen to something without worrying about streaming music or having filled up all of your storage. It’s a pleasing software build at work here, and even those that aren’t familiar with Android will be able to use it in minutes.

The Camera

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How good can a 5-megapixel camera be? I asked myself when I played around with the shooter on the Moto G, and the answers I found were just as you might expect; unremarkable. It works, and it’s pretty quick, which is good news for a phone at this price point. Noise creeps in pretty quickly, and the flash is more of a pain than it is a help, but in the vast majority of situations anyone that knows anything about taking pictures will be using this in, it’ll perform just fine. You can get some usable shots from the G, but if something really matters to you, chances are you’ll be taking a camera with you, or you already own a better specced smartphone. In my eyes, the results from the Moto G were slightly pinkish and a little over saturated, but they weren’t awful pictures and I wouldn’t feel too bad about sharing them online. These days we expect the world from a smartphone camera, but frankly the reality is that they simply can’t meet these expectations a lot of the time. A usable camera for sure, don’t expect too much from it and you’ll get along just fine.

Battery Life

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How I use my phone is not how you use your phone, so take this with a little bit of salt. Overall, I was impressed with the Moto G’s battery life. During the day I don’t really use my phone all that much, I have a computer at my disposal after all, but what I did find was that the Moto G made my Nexus 5 look a little silly in terms of longevity. A number of times I didn’t even need to charge the Moto G overnight, something I have had to do with every smartphone I have ever owned, so that surprised me. The display of the Moto G can be cranked pretty high in terms of brightness so there is that to watch out for, but on 3G and WiFi the battery life is impressive. We expect this is down to the Cortex-A17 based chip inside, which itself is designed to be power efficient and the 2,070 mAh battery which for a 4.5-inch sized device is a decent capacity.

Call Quality

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Considering this is a device aimed at emerging markets and those not too concerned with 4G, good-old fashioned phone calls will be a regular thing. Thankfully, Motorola have gotten this right as well. Callers said I was loud and clear, and I could say the same for them. There was an issue that resulted in some quiet phone calls, but that’s been fixed by Motorola and this is a good-sounding smartphone and I was genuinely impressed with the call quality. The same was said for sound quality when listening to music.

Pros

  • Exceptionally good value – no matter where you’re buying this in the world, it’s fantastic value for money.
  • Android done right (at this price). With no complicated or bloated features, the Moto G remains fast despite its lower-end processor.
  • G00d-looking display without busting pockets. Slimmer bezels have reduced the overall size of smartphones, but at 4.5-inches with a 720p resolution this is a great display.
  • Despite its price, the Moto G does not feel cheap and feels good in the hand.

Cons

  • Not the best camera out there, a bump to 8-megapixels and a better flash would help.
  • Despite its speed, it doesn’t feel as immediate as higher-end phones, but this does cost a fraction of the price.
  • No 32GB option. With the max option being 16GB and no microSD card slot, it would be nice to see more storage available to those willing to pay the extra.

The Final Word

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There’s something very compelling about the Moto G, despite my initial thoughts that I’d have little to say about it. Certainly, the Moto G won’t take your breath away, but that’s mostly the point – it’s not meant to. Instead, the Moto G is supposed to be a no-compromise device for those that can’t afford (or don’t want) a month-to-month contract or to pay several hundred dollars for an unlocked flagship. Sure, the Nexus 5 is not too far away from this price point, but the Nexus 5 has some corners cut, like its camera and display. Here though, Motorola tried their best to get everything right, and for the most they did. It’s a speedy device, and it never felt cheap in my use, it’s got good battery life and runs the absolute latest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat. Really, all that’s left to say is that the Moto G is the best smartphone at this bar, bar no other.

The Moto G used in this review is a UK GSM model running on Vodafone. You can purchase your own Moto G from Amazon and it’s also available on Verizon Prepaid, Boost and other GSM carriers across the globe including most of Europe as well as India.