Moto G review: a phone for every man and every woman

December 3, 2013
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High-end Android devices these days dazzle with specifications, rich feature sets, and unique selling points. It’s the effect of fierce competition in a booming market, and we, the users, benefit from it enormously.

But somewhere on the road to this mobile bliss, the distinction between what we need and what we want disappeared. Our smartphones began to deliver more than we could ever need, but we’re still happy to shell out more cash, either upfront or through pricey contracts, for even more features and even better specs.

Motorola’s Moto G is a breath of fresh air in this respect. It delivers just the must-have features, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily lacking compared to phones that are more expensive.

We’ll compare the Moto G with pricier phones throughout this review, because its price tag casts a new light on all of its features. We’ll also look at how Motorola’s new phone stands on its own: is the Moto G worth your attention even when money is no object? Is the Moto G the phone for every man and every woman? Let’s find out.

Moto G specifications

Display4.5-inch LCD, HD (1280 x 720), 326ppi
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 400, quad-core @ 1.2GHz, Adreno 305
RAM1GB
Storage8GB, 16GB
Battery2070 mAh
Cameras5 MP rear LED flash, 1.3 MP front
Networks3G/GSM
ConnectivityGPS, GLONASS, microUSB, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 LE
Dimensions129.9 x 65.9 x 6-11.6mm
ColorsBlack/White, replaceable colored backplates
SoftwareAndroid 4.3

Design and build quality

While it’s not a “Mini” edition phone, the Moto G does bear a close resemblance to the flagship Moto X, with the main difference being its thicker profile.

The Moto G is thoroughly mid-range, and that’s visible in the size of the display and the overall build quality of the phone. Coming from a different platform, it may seem strange that a 4.5-inch display is considered mid-range, but that’s how it goes in the world of Android. The size of the Moto G makes it easy to pocket and handle, yet the display is large enough to deliver a great user experience for most users.

The phone feels comfortable in hand, thanks in part to its curved back, and it’s easy to reach all the corners of the display without stretching your thumb too much. If you’re looking for a device you can use with one hand, the Moto G should be high on your options list.

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The phone is plastic all-around; the finish on the back can become slippery at times and it can pick up some grease, but fingerprints are not a major issue. We liked that the power button and volume rocker are “meaty” and have a good tactile feedback.

On the top of the device, you have the headphone jack, while the microUSB port is on the bottom. The front of the Moto G is all black, with only the earpiece and camera breaking the monotony at the top.

Thanks to its generously rounded corners, the phone has a friendly look to it that won’t turn any heads, but is very well suited for its low price-tag and no-frills attitude.

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The Moto G isn’t customizable the way the Moto X is, but it does allow you to swap its back covers with different colored ones. The covers snap securely into place, as we demoed in our unboxing.

Display

The Moto G features a 4.5-inch LCD display of 1280 x 720 pixels resolution (HD), which translates to a density of 326 pixels per inch. For comparison, that’s actually crisper than the Moto X (316 ppi) and on par with the iPhone 5s (326 ppi). Let that sink in for a minute – this budget phone is as crisp as a premium smartphone that is more than three times its price.

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Sure, the Moto G can’t compare to best in class Full HD devices like the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One, but it doesn’t need to; in its own price range (and quite a way above it), the Moto G is simply unmatched. That’s a very important point, because the quality of the display is one of the most important factors in the overall experience. For the same money, other devices give you small, crappy displays with half the pixel density.

There’s more to a display than pixel density, but the Moto G doesn’t disappoint there either – viewing angles are good and colors are very enjoyable.

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Know that the Moto G features an LCD display, not an AMOLED like the Moto X. This means colors and contrast levels are a bit dimmer, but more importantly, you won’t get Active Notifications (more about that later).

Performance

Just like in the display department, in terms of hardware and performance the Moto G clearly rises above its budget condition.

You get a relatively new Snapdragon 400 processor, bringing together four Cortex-A7 CPU cores clocked at 1.2GHz with an Adreno 305 GPU. There’s also 1GB of RAM. Once you correctly set your expectations, you see that the Moto G does really well, as our empirical performance test demonstrates.

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Compared to high-powered devices equipped with twice the RAM and fast processors, the Moto G will unsurprisingly lag behind, but the Snapdragon 400 does well enough most times.

Especially for power users, switching between multiple tasks may leave a little to be desired, an effect of the limited RAM. You won’t get bogged down, but you’ll have to wait slightly more for every task, compared to a faster, more expensive phone. Overall, the Moto G is no speed demon, but it can handle everything you can throw at it, unlike other devices in its price range.

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Hardware features

The no-frills motif continues in the inventory of hardware features of the Moto G. You can get it in 8GB or 16GB storage options, and, unfortunately, there’s no card slot for expanding the onboard storage. There’s a bevy of connectivity features, with only NFC missing. The close proximity communication standard is a nice to have feature, but its absence shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for most users. However, the lack of LTE may be a dealbreaker, depending on your location and expectations. The HSDPA standard should be good enough for most users, but if you need (or just desire) the highest mobile internet speeds available, the Moto G is not what you should buy.

Speakers pump out loud sound, but fidelity is lacking. Call quality, however, is excellent.

Battery life is a pleasant surprise on the Moto G. In our testing, the 2070 mAh unit took us through two whole days of moderate usage. Even if you are a power user, you should be able to get through a day of work without fear of an imminent shutdown. The Moto G’s battery life rivals that of devices with much larger batteries (3,000 mAh or above), possibly thanks to the hardware that doesn’t draw as much power, as well as to the bloat-free operating system.

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Camera

For the most part, you get what you pay for in the camera department. The 5MP rear shooter is nothing to write home about, but it’s serviceable, as long as you don’t have lofty expectations. For Instagraming, sharing on Facebook or Twitter, or simply viewing images on the Moto G or on a PC, the camera is adequate. It is when you zoom in that the problems become obvious – details are lost in a pixelated haze, and there’s no way around it.

For someone used with low-light sensitive sensors and optical image stabilization, the Moto G camera may come short. Those are features that not even all premium smartphones have, so expecting them from a phone that costs less than $200 unlocked is obviously going to end up in disappointment.

The camera app is simplistic, but rather slow. Focusing takes a while, and you will have to drag the focus point on the screen to refocus (no tap to focus). After you click the shutter button, you will have to wait some more for the app to create the file. This is not a phone for those who like to take pics in a snap, at least in its current state, because a software update could theoretically improve performance in this department.

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One noteworthy software feature of the Moto G camera app is the Auto HDR mode, which aims to take the guesswork out of applying HDR enhancement. The app doesn’t always get it right though.

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Software

The Moto G runs a mostly stock version of Android 4.3 (KitKat update promised for the next weeks). Motorola refrained itself from any cosmetic modifications to Google’s operating system, but did add some of its own applications.

To start with what’s missing (if you know the Moto X), the G lacks the two most interesting features of its more expensive sibling: ActiveNotifications and always-on voice control. That’s due to hardware limitations – ActiveNotifications are only efficient on AMOLED displays; the Moto G’s LCD screen would draw too much power. Its Snapdragon 400 SoC also lacks the Moto X’s cores dedicated to processing sensor information and voice signal.

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Even without those features, the Moto G is still a great little phone that packs all the power of the Android ecosystem, without much bloat to stand in your way. You do get a few Moto apps, but nothing crazy: Moto Assist, which mutes notifications at night or during meetings, Moto Security, for locating misplaced devices, and Moto Migrate, for transferring personal content to a new phone.

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The Moto G gives you an almost Nexus-like experience, without any cruft from Motorola or carriers. You get a blank canvas that you can add features to with apps, but if you prefer to keep it simple, you still get everything you need from a good smartphone.

Pricing and final thoughts

With many phones, the pricing section of our reviews is just a short phrase. That’s because most quality Android devices that we review hover around the price same level of $600 unlocked.

The Moto G is different. It’s a quality Android phone with a budget price tag, and that’s the most amazing thing about it. Unlocked, the Moto G 8GB costs just $179 (€170), while the 16GB version goes for $199 (€199). With a carrier contract, you should get it for free or very affordably.

The Moto G is truly a smartphone designed for every man and for every woman, and it achieves this feat supremely well. With it, Android – clean, fast Android as Google wants it to be – is more accessible than ever before, to more people than ever before. It does have a few shortcomings, but nothing that detracts from the incredible value you get for your money.

We strongly recommend the Moto G to anyone looking for an affordable smartphone, but also to anyone who wants a phone that just works great out of the box.

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