Jan 27 2014, 6:50am CST | by Forbes
Announced on November 13 2013, the Moto G is the lower-cost variant of the Moto X. Do not make the mistake of benchmarking the Moto G in comparison to the Moto X, because the Moto G is one of the firmest performing mid-range smartphone on the market. I’d go so far as labelling the Moto G as ‘the handset to beat’ in 2014 for many manufacturers looking to ship a handset in the sub $200 price range. It’s that good.
At the press launch, Motorola pitched the smartphone at developing markets. It was initially available in Latin America, with Central Europe and North America quickly following. The lower cost of this smartphone makes it attractive as a budget conscious pay monthly handset, and has many merits for Prepaid plans. I don’t think it’s fair to count the Moto G as a low-cost handset – with US pricing at $179 for the SIM free 8 GB handset the Moto G is better pitched as the lowest cost mid-range handset.
When Motorola releases a Moto that hits the $99 mark, that’s when the Google owned company will have a low-cost handset than can be compared to handsets such as Nokia’s Lumia 520. I say this not to minimise the impact of the current price-tag (the Moto G undercuts Google’s Nexus 5 and the pricing of the now discontinued Nexus 4), but to place the Moto G in the correct price banding in the smartphone.
That said, the Moto G passes the ‘good enough’ test for me with flying colours. The tasks and functions that I would consider core features of a smartphone (social media interaction, PIM functionality, connectivity, and peripheral support) are all achievable with ease on the Moto G’s hardware. While a close examination of graphically intensive games (such as Real Racing 3) may not be as smooth as they are on high-end handsets such as the HTC One or the Samsung Galaxy S4, the majority of puzzle and action games that make up the bulk of the Google Play store all run happily without lagging or skipping frames.
If you are looking for a handset that has power without spending too much money (either buying it SIM free or keeping your monthly contract payments low) then the Moto G deserves to be at the top of your list. I’m about to go through the Moto G, pointing out omissions, compromises, and the occasional flaw, but every device that aims low in terms of price will have similar issues to deal with. How a manufacturer deals with these issues determines how good a device they have on sale.
The Moto G is one of the best devices I have used in this price range, and Motorola has balanced the required compromises very well. That said, let’s looks at those compromises.
The handset does not support 4G LTE, so your mobile data transfer will be limited to 2G/3G. Given the focus on developing markets this makes sense for the design both from the capabilities required in the target market, but also to keep the bill of materials lower. While 4G is nice to have, email, IM, and web browsing are all still acceptable over 3G at the moment, but that might not be the case in a year’s time if the Moto G is still on sale.
The lack of any microSD expansion is the biggest limiting factor of the Moto G. Available in both 8 GB and 8 GB storage variants, the memory you have in the box is all you’ll ever have with this handset. Once you add your personal data and a few key apps, the 8 GB model (which I have been using for this review) has 3 GB available for storage. I’m using the streaming option of Google Play for my music and just adding in the occasional album for travelling, but if I was to download ten albums to the handset, that’s almost half of my remaining storage gone.
I would be comfortable with an 8 GB device if it had an SD card for extra storage. As it stands I would be wary of purchasing the 8 GB Moto G, and the increased capacity on the 16 GB model would need to be carefully managed. It’s all well and good advertising cloud services (such as Google Music and Google Drive) as an alternative to on-device storage, but that means a big data pipe and consistent access. With the best will in the world that’s not 3G, and I doubt that the data plans associated with the Moto G will be suitable for extensive use of the cloud over a cellular data connection.
Otherwise the Moto G feels like a well specced handset from late 2012 that can still deliver when you ask it to. The ‘off the shelf’ Snapdragon 400 system on chip sports a 1.2 GHz quad-core CPU and an Adreno 305 as the GPU, both supported by 1 GB of RAM (although this is likely the last wave of mid-range devices where just a single gigabyte of RAM will be cool). The visible but not user-replaceable battery has a capacity of 2070 mAh and coupled with the latest version of Android (KitKat 4.4.2) the Moto G will easily last through a working day, and well into a second day. With careful use of connectivity, the Moto G will run for two days between charges if you need it to be stretched.
One of the main elements that makes the Moto G feel a more competent device than others in this price range is the screen. It’s a 4.5 inch LCD screen, and running at 720p resolution gives a density of 326 pixels per inch. That would have been flagship territory just over a year ago. LCD requires constant backlighting so the blacks are not as black as you might see on other screen display types, dropping the contrast levels very slightly, but this is a well-engineered screen. I feel the screen is actually better than the price of the Moto G suggests it will be.
By going with a 4.5 inch screen, the extra tenths over the more expected 4.3 inch screen at this price give the Moto G a much more luxurious feel. This is helped by the narrower bezels all round the device. By sloping the sides of the device away from the screen the waist of the device is visibly wider when looking directly down on the screen, but the illusion is complete. It also makes the handset feel very comfortable in the hand with the soft blown curves of the back of the handset creating a pleasing shape.
The Moto G feels right and when you are in the lower price ranges that feel in your hand, especially in the first moments in the store when deciding on a device, is an important area to get right. I also love the dimple on the rear of the handset where the winged Motorola icon can be found – it’s in just the right location for my index finger to rest in when using the Moto G one-handed, adding a feel of security when walking with the smartphone.
The Moto G is still a mostly plastic unit, with nothing fancy on the removable back cover beyond the dimple of the logo. While Motorola does not have the custom Moto Maker facility to fashion your own colour combination at the factory door as they do with the Moto X, there is a colourful range of back covers you can buy to customise your Moto G.
The impression of quality comes from the shape, not the materials used. It feels like every other plastic smartphone on the market, although the interaction with the screen is helped by a layer of Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3, and a bright notification LED at the top of the smartphone has just the right level of intensity to alert you without being a distraction if you want to ignore it.
Unsurprisingly, the two camera units on the Moto G are nowhere close to stunning. More than any other of a smartphones, picture quality seems directly tied to the price point. With 1.3 MP front facing camera, and a 5 MP camera to the rear, the Moto G delivers acceptable levels of image performance. You’re not going to be looking for studio quality out of a sub $200 device, but be aware the Moto G images are not as sharp as some of the more advanced smartphones, and low light performance is good for memories, but not really for publication. Shot to shot time is slow, but it’s on the right side of acceptable as well.
What is fun in the Moto G is the camera interface. It brings over the same ‘ring based’ menu from the Moto X which slides in from the left side of the screen. Spin it around to see all the options, and tap them to bring up the options on-screen. It’s very much one-handed (one-thumbed even) and it’s both simple to understand and fast to use. With no camera button, a single tap on the screen sets the focus point and takes the picture. Hold your finger on the screen and you get a sequential capture mode, good for taking in a scene of action and allowing you to pick out the best picture at your leisure.
Video recording is at the same 720p resolution as the screen. Given the specs of the device 1080p might just be too many pixels to throw around the chipset, but even at 720p resolution that’s more than enough to capture memories and shoot video for social media, YouTube and personal memories. I like the touch that tapping pin the screen while recording a video takes a picture of that moment without interrupting the video.
Much like the rest of the handset, the Moto G is as good as it gets in the Android world for this price, but if you’re placing a premium on your photography, you might be better off looking at a handset like the Nokia Lumia 720 which has a far better optical output for a similar price.
Audio quality on the external speaker is slightly better than normal for this price range of device. Just like the screen, the camera, and the processor, the Moto G is batting slightly ahead of the average audio quality. The 3.5 mm stereo jack is centrally located on the top of the device and I’ve no issues with sound reproduction (beyond the usual notes of MP3 compression on music). Sound quality during calls is helped with a dual-microphone layout, with the mic at the bottom of the handset taking your voice and the mic at the top used to aid noise cancellation. The slower processor probably contributes to the lower performance when compared to the Moto X, but again, it’s well within expectations for a mid-range handset.
My review handset of the Moto G asked to update itself over-the-air to Android 4.4.2 as I unpacked it, which I was happy to let it do. Maybe a fifteen minute operation after the package was downloaded, the update was painless and the test data added to the Moto G before I started the process remained intact.
The Moto G is as close to stock Android as you will get outside of the Nexus devices. The UI is the usual mix of blue highlights, black dialog backgrounds and white text. Unlike the Nexus devices, even though Motorola is ‘a Google company’ it still has to follow the availability of Android to OEMs and parts suppliers. 4.4.2 should be rolling out to all Moto G units this month.
Some applications have been added, and as noted above Motorola have replaced the stock camera app with their own app and interface. Also making an appearance in the app suite is Assist (a scheduling app so you can set up when alert profiles can be activated, so you get a quiet ring at night, silence during meetings, and very loud alerts during your commute if that’s what you wish) and Motorola Migrate (to help you move data from another Android or iOS device into the Moto G).
Otherwise Motorola has not loaded up the Moto G with any extra fluff to try and sell the device via software tweaks. That’s not the point of this handset, the point is to deliver a great Android experience at a very affordable price. The Moto G easily meets that goal.
The only concern I might have is the Snapdragon 400 paired up with 1 GB of RAM. This combination works in the current ecosystem but as applications for Android improve over the next two years (a typical contract length), the specs of the Moto G will lead to memory and processor constraints on first and third-party apps. Having multiple tabs open in the current Chrome browser does result in the occasional black screen while the rendering engine works away in the background to update the pages. It’s something that could be overlooked given the price, but I wonder where the specifications will leave the Moto G as 2015 draws to a close? The handset feels well placed in the market right now, but there does not seem to be much thought to future-proofing the device.
Motorola has made the correct compromise in almost ever major area to build the Moto G. The only eyebrow raising moment I have is the decision to ship an 8 GB variant. The $20 saving to get an 8GB machine is false economy and will cause issues very quickly for all except the lightest Android user.
Nevertheless, I’ve no hesitation in recommending the 16 GB handset at $199 SIM free. Truth be told this feels like a $249 smartphone, so congratulations to Motorola on cutting the price by 20% on my expectation. It delivers a little bit more in every area than you would assume, it feels good in the hand, and it has enough style to stand up against the boring black box of many handsets at this price.
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