Motorola Moto G review: When good phones go cheap

Image: Michael Homnick

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At a Glance
  • Motorola Moto G

Good news, everyone! Worthy smartphones don't have to cost an arm and a leg. Motorola already proved this with the relatively affordable Moto X, and now it's continuing the tradition with the release of a midrange handset meant for emerging markets: the Moto G. 

The Moto G has all the workings of its premium counterpart: a high pixel density screen, a customizable chassis, near-stock version of Android 4.3, and a sizable form-factor.  For $179, the unlocked Moto G is a steal, but its low price point also means that it's quite literally the poor man's Moto X. 

Cheap, but not flimsy

motog 5 Image: Michael Homnick

The Moto G is the perfect size for your hands. 

The Moto G is essentially the Moto X in a cheaper-to-manufacture package. It feels durable, though it doesn't have that same premium look as its predecessor. The Moto G is also a bit bulkier and it feels more dense, but it's still easy to hold and use one handed.

motog 7 Image: Michael Homnick

The Moto X and the Moto G, side by side.

Almost every button and component on the Moto G is in the same place as on the Moto X. There's a camera lens and flash on the back; a microUSB port on the bottom; and a volume rocker and power button on the right. Though it's not as customizable as its bigger sibling, you can swap out the Moto G's plastic back for one of six colors. Removing that back panel lets you access the micro-SIM slot, but you can't swap out the battery.

motog 3 Image: Michael Homnick

Not as thin as other smartphones, but thin enough.

The Moto G and Moto X are only slightly disparate in appearance. The real difference between the two is what's on the inside.

Performance that's a little behind the times

motog 1 Image: Michael Homnick

Hello, Moto. 

The Moto G isn't the leader of any pack, but it shares the same specifications as some other midrange hardware, like the HTC One mini and Samsung Galaxy Mega. It has a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and 1GB of RAM, and while that gets the job done, you will see longer load times for games and a slight lag when you're scrolling through some applications. Low memory will likely become a problem over time, too, as some apps become more reliant on those particular resources. If you're mainly in the market for a midrange phone for the bare necessities, however, the Moto G will certainly fit that need.

The Moto G doesn't support 4G or LTE, which is unfortunate for those on major carriers who are interested in the device. It doesn't offer dual-band Wi-Fi, either, so the device will only latch on to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi connections. At least it's sold unlocked, so you'll be able to take it with you almost anywhere around the world. 

The 5-megapixel camera isn't much to boast about either, though I didn't expect much after my disappointing time with the Moto X's photo-taking abilities. The Moto G's camera was too inconsistent: Photos would sometimes come out blurry, with washed-out colors, while others appeared normal, with proper white balance. 

motog testshot 4

I swear the red and gold are bolder in person.

Getting the camera to focus was also a weird struggle, due in part to the spot focus feature that lets you drag around the exposure point in the preview window. I had to try hard to make it work for each individual photo situation, and there were only a few instances where I didn't totally hate the end result of a photo.

motog photos

At least outside shots aren't too bad with the Moto G. 

motog photo2

The tree looks alright indoors, though the colors are a bit faded. 

motog testshot zoomin

When you zoom in, you can barely tell that it's Han and Greedo. How will you know who shot first?

If you're looking for a phone you can just set and forget in your pocket, the Moto G's 2070 mAh battery pack is good for that. The phone lasted through 8 hours and 45 minutes of constant video streaming, and it barely ate through 20 percent of its battery life while hanging out in my bag over the course of a weekend.

A screen that's nice—just nice

motog Image: Michael Homnick

Bright and visible from any angle. 

The Moto G's 4.5-inch LCD display would have been considered top notch a few generations ago. But while it has a better pixel density than the Moto X, a side-by-side comparison shows some obvious differences. The Moto G's whites and black appear a bit washed out, even at the highest brightness level. 

motog 8 Image: Michael Homnick

The Moto G's screen (left) is bright and vivid, but sometimes colors looked more washed out than on the Moto X's (right), especially at the highest brightness.

Still, the Moto G's 720p display is not a low-quality one, and its viewing angles are such that you could share the phone with a friend to watch a video clip. And at least there's no light leaking or issues with color saturation, problems that usually plague other midrange devices.

Same ol' software

motog software

I'm happy to report that the Moto G sports a mostly untouched version of Android 4.3 Jelly Bean—even more untouched than the Moto X, since some of its variants feature carrier bloat. Its pristine, mostly stock nature also means you won't get the neat features of the Moto X, like its Touchless Controls or pulsating Active Notifications. Motorola couldn't actually bundle those in with the processor that's inside the Moto G, so it just omitted it altogether. It does have an FM Tuner, however, which is a rarity these days. And Motorola provides a few extra apps, like Assist, which puts the phone into certain modes depending on whether you're driving or in a meeting, and the proprietary camera application with the same slide-from-the-left-for-options interface as featured on the Moto X.

Motorola has announced that it's rolling out Android 4.4.2 KitKat to the Moto G. It's unclear how long Google will support the phone with updates, but if it goes by the same timeline as the Nexus devices, the Moto G will likely be supported for at least 18 months. 

Bottom line

The Moto G is one of Motorola's smartest moves to date. It brings a lot of what low- to midrange smartphones don't usually offer in emerging markets: a sharp display, a customizable chassis, long-lasting battery life, and the latest version of Android. It's also extremely affordable, even for those markets where Apple and Samsung dominate. I just wish it took better photos.  

For a midrange phone, the Moto G is well-worth its measly price tag. And even if Motorola's venture into emerging markets will end up being a bit of a battle for the struggling company, its handset ought to set the precedent for what midrange phones should look, feel, and act like. 

This story, "Motorola Moto G review: When good phones go cheap " was originally published by TechHive.

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At a Glance
  • Motorola Moto G

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