The Moto G is the new smartphone entry from Motorola, now a Google company, which has been making the rounds lately. It’s a surprising move to release this device, not only by Motorola, but really from any major company at all. Cheap, unlocked Android devices have been available forever in the platform, but they usually come from generic Chinese brands with no warranty or support, much weaker chipsets compared to brand devices, and with questionable build quality. The Moto G, on the other hand, attacks the $199 price point and actually manages to offer much more than its competitors on paper. All while still paying respect to the brand name. But why exactly is this device so cheap, and where does it actually compromise? Read ahead to find out!
In terms of software, the Moto G comes with stock Android 4.3. No skin, no bloat, just the stock Android experience, which is a major plus for most users, and even better, Motorola has already confirmed that the Moto G will receive a 4.4 KitKat update by the end of January. Still, users that are accustomed to Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC’s Sense skins, for example, might not feel as good about it, but it essentially works the same and you should be able to get used to it within a week. Like I said, it comes with stock Android, but Motorola did include a few apps to make the experience better, namely Motorola Assist, Moto Care and Motorola Migrate.
Motorola Assist is an app that will allow you to set profiles and behaviors for your phone. For example, it allows you to set the hour that you usually go to sleep at, and make the phone automatically enable Silence mode:
This app goes one step further with a few extra options, though. For example, the app has options to ring the phone even in Silence mode if a favorite contact calls, or if a contact calls twice within 5 minutes, in case of an emergency:
The app also has a Meeting mode profile, which judges if you’re busy based on your calendar events, and options to detect if you’re driving to disable distractions until you stop. Very cool.
Another app is Moto Care, which basically acts like an instruction manual for your device. You can search the app on how to do something on your phone:
Or outright call or chat with an assistant:
Last, but not least, is Motorola Migrate. This app’s purpose is to move your data and settings from your old device to the Moto G:
All you have to do is install the app on your old device as well, and then the app will copy the information over the the new phone. This app requires Wi-Fi Direct support on your old device, which is not enabled on some custom ROMs and some chipsets, so watch out for that!
The Moto G also has an unlockable bootloader that easily allows the user to root it and replace the OS. If you’re looking for a device that will probably have a huge community, custom ROMs and kernels and maybe even official CyanogenMod support, this would be a good bet for sure. Still, if Motorola continues to push software updates as religiously as it has done thus far, you may not even have the desire to do so, and thus I would say this device is also a great choice if you don’t want to deal with rooting and similar things to get the latest features, as software updates will probably take care of that. It’s also worth mentioning that apps like the Camera and the above apps are also available through the Play Store and will update automatically without needing a software update.
Performance and Battery
In terms of specs, this is a pretty good device. It’s a quad-core, 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 with 1GB of RAM and an Adreno 305 GPU to carry it forward. While the specs are nice, be advised that this quad-core configuration uses four A7 cores instead of the usual hybrid A9 configurations found in higher range devices, so it will not automatically be as performant as a high end HTC or Samsung device. However, it’s more than enough to carry this device, and it’s almost impossible to run into a situation where you’ll be CPU limited, although you can see the device sometimes struggle for a second if you really manage to push it. The available RAM could also be seen as an issue, as most high-end models have switched to 2GB in the past year, but we need to constantly remind ourselves that the Moto G is not a high-end device. Still, 1GB is plenty, and does the job. Even better, with the scheduled 4.4 update already on the horizon, which focuses on RAM optimization, I see RAM becoming a complete non-issue for this device. The GPU is pretty middle-of-the-road, but will run any game you throw at it, probably not keeping a steady framerate on the higher-demanding 3D games, but being playable nonetheless.
The Moto G is available in both 8GB and 16GB versions, which will cost you $179 and $199, respectively. Since the OS and applications eat some of that space up out of the gate, only 5,52GB will be available to the user in the 8GB version, and 12.92GB in the 16GB version. That’s not a lot of space. Even worse, the Moto G has no expandable storage at all, meaning no SD card support. I think most people can probably get by with the 16GB version, but if you’re coming off a 32GB device, you’ll feel the difference. In order to alleviate this, Motorola offers 50GB of free Google Drive storage for 2 years, which is handy, but just not the same. It’s also worth mentioning that, while the storage in the Moto G is somewhat low, it seems to be high-quality storage: all the benchmarks indicate the storage in the device is very fast, which is something that most manufacturers will usually drop the ball on, even on popular devices. In addition, the Moto G, like the Moto X before it, uses the F2FS filesystem to make things even faster. To put it simply, if you can deal with it, the storage will not slow you down, and will have top-notch performance.
Using the above A7 configuration also has an extra benefit: amazing battery life. The Moto G routinely gets 6 to 7 hours of screen-on time, which is not only amazing for a device like this (especially considering it carries a somewhat modest 2,070mAh battery) but actually great for most Android devices. Hardly any battery is used while the device is idle, and I can see the battery pushing 2, perhaps 3 days without charging with casual phone use, especially if you don’t use mobile data. If you’re a power user, the battery should easily last you all day with all the bells and whistles enabled without running into problems, which is more than you can say of most Android phones these days. Quite nice. What’s not so nice is the fact that the battery is not removable, which automatically makes this a no-go if you’re the kind of user that likes to carry spare batteries around.
Let’s start with the basics. The Moto G comes in a surprisingly small and cozy cardboard package that is about the same size as the device itself, with a small compartment at the bottom that houses some of the paper information and a micro USB cable. The phone comes with no wall charger or any accessories but the cable, and you can tell that the packaging matches the price point and overall no-frills attitude of the phone. Although it doesn’t come with a wall charger, you’ll be happy to know that it is compatible with pretty much every other Android charger. The recommended input is 1A 5V, but it will charge just fine from chargers with different specs, although 2A chargers are not recommended. Of course, you can always just charge it from your computer or other USB device, but expect it to take a while longer than a traditional charger.
The build quality in the Moto G is great. This does not feel at all like a cheap device. It’s somewhat light, but doesn’t have any give when you squeeze it or touch the screen. It feels great in your hand, the camera is flush with the device, not raised, and the back has a little dimple that your fingers always seem to find when you’re holding it. It has a volume rocker and lock button on the right side, and these don’t feel as great as everything else, even going so far as to somewhat rattle if you shake the device too hard since they are not flush and have some give. Still, nothing too bad. There’s also a single speaker on the back which is surprisingly loud and does a good job for listening to stuff without headphones. Speaking of the back, removing the back cover is a challenge, and you’ll certainly be scared of breaking it when doing it the first time, as it clamps itself very firmly to the back and requires some elbow grease. However, the cover is surprisingly solid, and once you re-attach it, you can clearly see why it’s so hard to remove: it doesn’t just have some cheap plastic parts holding it together, but actually has some sort of assembly that attaches itself to the back. Once the cover is removed, you’ll see a slot for a microSIM card and the non-removable battery.
The camera has been touted as one of the weak points of this device, but your mileage may vary. The 5MP camera sensor captures decent, not great, pictures, and the Motorola camera actually allows you to manually focus and expose on particular objects, all through a very minimalist and uncomplicated interface. The camera also supports HDR and burst mode, has low shutter latency, and allows you to capture 720p video. Curiously, the camera also supports slow-motion/high framerate mode, a very niche feature that it actually manages to do quite competently. Of course, the camera on the Moto G also has some clear issues: auto-focus is a wash, and the camera can’t seem to make its mind up on what to focus, especially with multiple light sources. Pictures and video tend to be grainy, and low-light performance is terrible. The Motorola camera app also doesn’t come with manual scene settings or anything like that, and tends to err on the side of lesser features compared to similar offers. All in all, usable camera, but it’s also the one obvious component where the device’s price-tag clearly manifests itself, as you can see in the samples below. Hopefully software updates can make it a bit better in the future. The Moto G also has a 1.2MP front-facing camera, which of course, does the job just fine but not great, which is the usual pattern for front-facing cameras.
On the other hand, the display on this phone is simply amazing, especially considering the price tag. The Moto G carries a 4.5 inch LCD, 720p display with 329ppi (pixels per inch), slightly more than Apple’s “Retina Display” offerings on even the current iPhone 5S. Viewing angles are excellent, and it displays vibrant, yet neutral, colors. The display reproduces proper whites, without any sort of yellow tint, and blacks are strong and uniform. It’s not as good as an AMOLED, but it’s in the upper echelon for sure. The display is also covered with the excellent Gorilla Glass 3, which should protect the device from most drops without much of an issue, allow it to resist bad scratches and provide decent protection against fingerprint and other oil smudges. It’s a high-end glass coating that you would only expect on high-end devices, yet here it is. It’s clear Motorola chose not to cut corners when it came to the display on the Moto G.
Additional hardware goodies include a white notification LED, FM Radio, USB-OTG support, and the option to change the back of the device with any of the available covers, including a flip cover that locks and unlocks the device when you cover the screen. While MotoMaker is not available for this device at all, Motorola already has a number of colorful back covers that allow you to customize the look of your device as you wish. It’s not nearly as good as something like what MotoMaker offers for the Moto X, but Motorola has made a huge push to user-customizable devices, and this is a nice workaround. One final thing worth pointing out is that the Moto G does not support LTE at all, only HDSPA+, so if 4G is important for you, consider giving this one a pass. It also does not have NFC, although that’s probably not as relevant to most users, but it would be a nice feature to have nonetheless.
So, that’s about it for the Moto G, an overall great device that offers amazing bang for your buck without any major compromises. The added value of Motorola software updates and handy apps is great when coupled with stock Android, and the build quality is on par with anything HTC or Samsung offers at the high end. The price point, especially considering it’s off-contract, is incredibly appealing and the device performs even better than one might expect, coupled with a great display and excellent battery life. If there’s anything else you’d like to know about this device and that was not addressed in this review, feel free to ask in the comment section below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!