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Featured Review: Motorola Moto G (3rd Generation)

August 4, 2015 - Written By Alexander Maxham

It was almost two years ago, when Motorola held an event in Brazil to announce a new smartphone. Which turned out to be the original Moto G. At the time, it was an amazing smartphone for its price, which is still just $179 unlocked and off contract. Since then, we’ve gone through two revisions of the device, and now have a whole lot more competition for the Moto G in that price range. From companies like ASUS, Alcatel, and even HTC and Samsung to an extent. So now in 2015, how does the $179 Moto G hold up to the competition? Is it still worth it? Can it continue to be Motorola’s top-selling device? We’ll answer those questions and more in our full review.

Video Review

Specs

Motorola didn’t update everything about the Moto G, spec-wise. But they did update enough. This time around, we are looking at a 5-inch 720p display which has 294PPI and uses Corning Gorilla Glass 3. There’s also the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 which is a 64-bit CPU. For those that really want to know, it’s the MSM8916, which uses four 1.4GHz cores, and has the Adreno 306 GPU clocked at 400MHz. Additionally we have options for 1GB of RAM with 8GB of storage, or 2GB of RAM with 16GB of storage. Our model has 2GB of RAM. There’s also a 13MP sensor on the back (Motorola noted that it is the same one from the Nexus 6), additionally there is a 5MP front-facing shooter. We also have a 2470mAh battery inside, which Motorola states will last you 24 hours of mixed usage. We’ll be the judge of that. And it comes in black or white, unless you are in one of the countries that has Moto Maker, in which case the colors are endless.

Hardware

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So this year, we saw the biggest update to the look of the Moto G, out of the previous years. It looks more like the Moto X Pure (unless you’re outside of the US, then it’s Moto X Style). We have that strip on the back, which didn’t look to good in the leaks. But after seeing it in person and using it for a bit, it does look quite nice. That stripe is also customizable into about 10 different colors. The stripe houses the 13MP camera, the dual tone flash as well as the Motorola dimple we all love. Motorola also has a textured back. Now they didn’t mention what material it was, but it does feel like polycarbonate. It is a bit flimsy, when you take off the back cover. But nowhere near what Samsung’s back covers have been like.

Inside the back cover you get access to the Sim card slot and microSD card. Motorola notes that this microSD card slot only supports up to 32GB of storage. So if you’re looking to toss in a 200GB microSD card, you’re out of luck here. Otherwise, everything is locked up tight in the back, and that’s going to lead us to our next point. The Moto G is IPX7 waterproof. And we did do a waterproof test, you can check out that video below.

The Volume rocker and Power button are still on the right side of the device. The power button is a bit more textured than the volume rocker is, so you can easily tell them apart in the dark. On the top sits the 3.5mm headphone jack as usual, with the micro USB port on the bottom. On the front we have a single speaker, along with a front-facing camera (which is a 5MP shooter).

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The feel of the device in the hand is actually quite nice. We still have that curved back as usual from Motorola, and it sits in the hand quite nicely. Now it does get a bit annoying when its sitting on a table and you are trying to type on it. But other than that, it’s a great feeling device, and quite the looker as well.

Display

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There’s been a lot of fuss over Motorola keeping with a 720p display here, when the device is a 5-incher. I will say this, yes I can see the pixels. However, the normal user likely will not. It gets nice and bright outdoors, and gets pretty dim inside at night, when you want it to be. No real complaints about the display on the Moto G 3rd Generation here. Sure we’d love to see a 1080p display, but Motorola has to cut corners somewhere and make some cash.

Performance

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This part of my review has been very popular this year, thanks to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 808 and 810. This time, Motorola is using the Snapdragon 410 though. Which isn’t really a new chip. We’ve reviewed plenty of devices with this chip and haven’t had any issues. And with the Moto G, still no issues. It does play games pretty well with its Adreno 306 GPU along with 2GB of RAM. In everyday tasks, it works like a champ. It has only gotten warm when playing games for about 20 minutes or so. But then again, every device will get warm doing that. RAM Management issues from other devices are not present here on the Moto G either. Which is good to see.

Speakers

Many see a downgrade here. Last year, Motorola had dual front-facing speakers, this year we have just one. And its at the bottom of the front of the device. While it is just one speaker, it performs quite well. It gets nice and loud without getting distorted. Now it’s no BoomSound from HTC, but for those using the Moto G, I think you’ll be quite happy.

Software

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When it was announced that Lenovo was buying Motorola, many of Motorola’s fans were a bit upset. And were hoping that Motorola wouldn’t ditch stock Android for the skin that Lenovo uses on their devices. Actually it’s quite the opposite. Lenovo told us earlier this year that they are adopting Motorola’s vanilla Android approach. At least for their devices outside of China. The software on the Moto G 3rd Gen is quite familiar, especially if you used last years Motorola offerings. Or even the Moto E 2015.

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Here we have Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. We also have a few additions from Motorola here, but not many. Basically all that’s pre-installed – aside from Google’s apps – are the FM Radio app, Migrate and Moto apps. It’s worth mentioning that we do have Motorola’s own messaging app this time and not the AOSP Google Messenger which debuted in Lollipop last year.

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With the Moto app, you have most of the Motorola features here. Including Asisst, Actions and Display. Unfortunately there is no Motorola Voice. Which is likely due to the processor the Moto G is using as well as the price point for the Moto G. With Moto Assist, nothing has really changed. You can set it so it’ll be quiet when you’re sleeping. Which you can customize those times. You can also set it to use your calendar to mute when you are in a meeting. Although there are some new features here. Which include the ability to add a place. For instance, you can have it set so that when you arrive at work, it will stay quiet and only allow priority notifications to come in. With Moto Actions, you basically have two gestures here. One is the double-twist to open the camera, which we’ve had for a while. The other is the double chop to turn on the flashlight. These work quite well. However, I will note that it seems the double-twist to open the camera is a bit too aggressive. Sometimes when I set my phone down on a table, it will open up the camera for some reason. Finally we have Moto Display, which allows you to see your notifications by picking up your phone without turning on the display. Motorola has added some other features here, where if you are playing music, you can also change it or pause it from the Moto Display screen.

Otherwise, we have stock or vanilla Android here. Which is a nice thing to see. The software here is quite snappy, and performs quite well. Definitely a nice thing to see. The ability to pick up your phone and quickly fly through the OS and do what you need to do, is something that’s not always present on smartphones that are under $200.

Camera

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It’s no secret that Motorola has always had trouble with cameras. Even back before they were bought by Google and then Lenovo. However, Motorola has said they worked hard to improve the cameras on the Moto G (as well as the two new Moto X smartphones, which we won’t have until September). They noted during the event in late July that this is the same sensor as what the Nexus 6 has. So, as expected, we didn’t have high hopes for the Moto G camera, especially after the past two generations. However, the camera isn’t too bad. I’ve been able to get some really nice looking pictures. It appears to struggle where most cameras do, in low-light. I took a few low-light images and it was only really bad in one of those. So that is a bit of an improvement.

As far as the camera app goes, it’s still relatively minimal. Swipe in from the left and you have your settings. Which include HDR, Flash, Point to focus, Night Mode, Video quality, Picture size (either 9.7MP at 16:9 or 13MP at 4:3. The majority of the pictures in the gallery below are 4:3), Timer, Panorama, Save location, Location, sound, and double-twist for quick capture. It’s not the prettiest UI, but it does work for what Motorola offers. The camera does not shoot 4K video like its brother the Moto X Play and Moto X Style do. However, it does do 1080p and 720p in SlowMo.

The camera is pretty quick. As long as you’re not using HDR, it’s pretty much instant. But as we’ve seen with many other smartphones out there, the Moto G also is a bit slow when using HDR. I’d say the camera is probably the only negative about the Moto G, and it’s not even that big of a negative, in my opinion.

Moto G 3rd Gen Camera Samples (Hosted on Google Photos!)

Battery Life

It’s stupid good.

Seriously though. If we can get this same battery life out of the Moto X Style when that launches in September, I think there will be a lot of happy Motorola users out there. Here at Android Headlines, we don’t do a battery test where we have a video looping all day. We use the phone as we would use our own smartphone (which for me would be the Xperia Z3), as we feel that a “real world” test like that is much more relevant to our readers. Typically, I’d take the phone off the charger around 7am, and put it back on around 11-midnight. Depending on what happened during the day, I’d have between 15-30% battery left. Every day I’ve had at least 4.5 hours on screen time as well. That includes mixed usage of LTE and WiFi, as well as 50% or higher brightness.

In my experience, the Moto G 3rd Gen’s battery is on par with the Xperia Z3. Not quite 2 days – although I never got two days out of my Xperia Z3 anyways. For those that just need a phone that lasts all day, the Moto G is a great phone to pick up.

Call Quality

Something we don’t always talk about in reviews these days, because well who still makes calls? Actually a lot of people do. Those that I did call with the Moto G, said I sounded just fine. I make all my calls over LTE, since I use Google Voice. But I did do a couple test calls over AT&T’s voice network and had the same result. So there’s that.

Moto Maker

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I feel as if this is a big, in fact a huge, feature of the Moto G. Being able to customize it in Moto Maker. Unfortunately, you don’t get all the leathers and woods that you get with the Moto X Pure. But you do get plenty of colors. It’s a great way to personalize your Moto G and make it yours, instead of like every other Moto G 3rd Gen that’s out there. This is the color combination I really like, myself.

The Good

  • Price: In this price range, there are a lot of competitors these days. Like the ASUS Zenfone 2, and the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3. But Motorola continues to deliver with the Moto G.
  • Performance: Yeah it’s running a Snapdragon 410, but don’t discount the 410, or even the 400-series processors. These processors are beast. Give it two gigs of RAM and you’ll be amazed with what you get.
  • Battery Life: Lasts all day and then some. What more could you ask for?
  • Moto Maker: While not everyone would agree, I really do like having the ability to customize my device. And having Moto Maker available for the Moto G is a great thing.

The Bad

  • Camera: While it has improved, I’m not sure everyone is going to love this camera.
  • No Moto Voice: Arguably one of Motorola’s best features, is missing here. Not a huge surprise but would have love to have it available on the Moto G.
  • No Waving for Moto Display: Last year, Motorola debuted the four IR blasters in each corner on the Moto X. This was so that you can just wave your hand over the screen and activate Moto Display. I might be the only one here, but I really miss that feature myself.
  • Display: It’s a good display, but not a great display. Some of the colors are off, and when looking at a webpage with a white background you can see pixels. Would have loved to see a 1080p display here, but Motorola did need to keep the cost down.

Final Thoughts

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The Moto G first launched as a “cheap” flagship. While it didn’t have the specs of its older brother the Moto X, it still performed quite well. It also got fast updates, and gave its users everything it needed. 2 years later and the Moto G still delivers. Once again, the Moto G has me wondering why I’m spending $500+ on a flagship device, when the Moto G does everything I need, and lasts all day long. Not only is it a great smartphone for your parents and teenagers, but it’s a great phone for you as well. As long as you aren’t doing any crazy amount of gaming on your smartphone, you’ll be quite happy with the Moto G.

There is one caveat though. I’d recommend spending the extra $40 to get the 16GB model, as that also doubles the RAM and improves the experience quite a bit. It’s definitely worth the $219 that Motorola is asking for.