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The Moto G is generating a lot of interest worldwide as it hits new markets. Promoted by Motorola as having “quad-core speed” and “exceptional price”, it is a compelling pitch that catches eyes and ears immediately. The phone is built to please: it does not make any design statement, but has a clean look with a plethora of color customizations through clip-on accessories. Inside, the Moto G runs with an almost-stock Android experience which Motorola has promised to keep updated as fast as possible.

For $179, this sounds pretty appealing, but is the Moto G as good as it sounds? This review will tell you how it feels to use the Moto G in the real world and what are its true strengths and weaknesses. Ready?

Moto G Specifications (modest)

  • Display size: 4.5”
  • Snapdragon 400 processor quad ARM A7
  • Resolution: 1280×720
  • Pixel density: 326
  • 8GB or 16GB of storage, Micro-SD: No
  • OS: Android 4.3
  • Battery mAh: 2070
  • Removable Battery: No
  • Camera (main): 5 Megapixel
  • Thickness: 0.46”
  • Weight: 5.04oz
  • $179

Motorola may be right when saying the Moto G is a “quad-core” phone, but pay attention to the details: the Snapdragon 400 chip is an entry-level processor that uses four ARM A7 central processing units, which are much slower than the typical ARM A9 designs widely used in most phones for a few years, and it just can’t compare with the ARM A15 designs currently used in some of the most powerful handsets today.

The internal storage is 8GB, which is enough for storing contacts, songs and photos, but don’t plan on watching a whole lot of HD movies (5GB a piece), and if you create a lot of content (HD photos, or HD video recordings), you will have to move some of those off the phone every once in a while. To make up for this, Google is providing 50GB of free Google Drive storage for two years. Beyond that, you will have to subscribe to the service. If you can spend a little more, I recommend 16GB.

Not LTE: This is not obvious when looking at the official information but the Moto G is 3.5G and can top HSPA 21+ speeds, but this is not as fast as 4G LTE. Your mileage will vary depending on the coverage. HSPA+ in itself is not bad, but some carriers have better coverage than others. Since coverage is primarily a function of “where you live”, you will need to do some homework.

Context

Before we dive into the review, let me tell you how I use my phone. After all, our own usage model is going to affect how we perceive the devices we review, so it’s helpful that you know what kind of phone user I am.

I tend to use high-end phones, and I own both iPhones and Android phones. I typically use the smartphone to keep up with my email and a couple of social network updates. I browse the web whenever I’m in line or waiting for something and I fire the Maps application whenever I go to a new place. I don’t play much, or watch movies on my phone, even if I have some pretty big ones.

Industrial Design (open to all)

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The Moto G is a departure from the Droid RAZR family of phones. That series was built with power and speed in mind, and that was very much reflected in the “racing” design language that Motorola had chosen then. The Moto G is built to be a phone that is customizable and that fits any user profile. It can receive a number of colored accessories and overall, I find it to have a very clean, nice design. “Super-cute” is the word that I would describe it with, but this is highly subjective – but I like it, and I think that this is one of Motorola’s better design.

The front is completely clean and nearly all-glass without any sort of branding. That’s how I like my phones, and I wished that more manufacturers would do that. The speaker grill is the only element that stands out, and I suppose that Motorola took this decision so that we could easily tell if it’s upside down. Not a bad trick: I have that problem fairly often with other phones.

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The sides are very clean: on the left, there are no buttons whatsoever, while the top only features a 3.5mm audio jack and a tiny hole for a microphone. The right side hosts the typical Power and Volume control, and the bottom simply has a micro USB connector for sync/charge.

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The back of the phone is pretty clean as well, and you will find the main camera+LED flashlight along with the Motorola logo in the back. The back is made of what seems to be plastic with a soft paint touch, which is less prone to fingerprints and slippage than glass phones or aluminum phones. It is however not as “noble” of a material, but it’s up to you to make a choice. I can just tell you that it doesn’t feel “cheap”.

Display (nice)

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Despite being a mid-range smartphone, the Moto G comes with an IPS LCD display, which looks very good. If you are unfamiliar with the IPS technology, it basically provides a much better viewing angle which means that when you are looking at the screen from a shallow angle, the image’s color hue and brightness should be more consistent than with regular LCD displays. The contrast and black levels tend to be better as well.

The resolution of the screen is 1280×720, which is “HD”, but not “full HD” (1920×1080), so things could be crisper on more expensive phones. However, with a 4.5” phone and a 326DPI (dots per inch) pixel density, this is still very good, and I think that most people will be happy about the display quality. There’s no point in adding pixels just for the sake of it, and since pricing is important here, this is a smart decision. This is the best balance between price, quality and graphics performance.

Moto G Camera / Imaging (not great, but good enough)

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Since this is a mid-range device, I didn’t really come in with very high expectations, and I was right. While the photo quality looks very decent on the screen, a closer look at the images shows that they aren’t very crisp and this is no “high-end mobile photography” by any means. This matches what I expect from a 5 Megapixel mid-range camera phone. Look at our flickr gallery to see full-size photos.

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this photo was shot in a low-light environment with only 58LUX of brightness. The camera did OK

That said, I think that Motorola has done some things right: out of the box, the color-balance looks good and is life-like. Low-light photography is pretty decent and I would say that for web usage (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…) it’s good, so the Moto G’s camera gets the job done, as long as you don’t plan to print or look at the photos on a high-resolution and/or large display.

The video capture pretty much reflects the same image quality attributes, so you get a good user interface etc, but don’t expect the image quality to topple the best smartphones out there. It’s good enough for a lot of people who need casual imaging capabilities.

Software – Android 4.3 + Moto

The Moto G was launched with Android 4.3, which is a little behind the latest 4.4 update, but that’s well comparable with what’s on the market, so I wouldn’t fret about it. The good news is that Motorola has been making sure that it makes as little changes as it needs to Android so that its customers will get the latest update faster. Only the future will tell us if Moto will hold up to its promise, but structurally, they should be able to do so.

Motorola has a couple of apps that may be worth checking: Motorola Assist is a program that makes your phone a bit smarter and will prevent it from ringing loudly if it sees in your calendar that you are in a meeting. You can also tell it go be silent during your sleeping hours — something that I appreciate because thanks to my international network of friends, Social Media updates keep coming 24/7.

Something that may come in handy is Motorola Migrate: the app is designed to help you move your data from a previous phone (including iPhones… but no iOS 7 support). I personally prefer to sync all my data to cloud services, but I can see how someone who’s not very cloud-oriented could be helped by Motorola Migrate. I haven’t really tried it, but it should at least move the main data: your contacts. If there’s a demand for it, I can setup a phone and try to migrate the data, but it should be pretty simple to use.

Software – Moto G Google Edition (clean!)

moto G review 01 640x426Interestingly enough, the Moto G also comes as a “Google Edition”. That particular handset is sold on the Google Play store and comes with the stock Android distribution, just like other Google Edition phones such as the HTC One, The XPERIA Z1 or the Galaxy S4.

Although the hardware is the same than a regular (non-Google) version of the phone, there is no network lock and the OS bootloader is not designed to be a pain to unlock. To most people, the main advantage of a Google Edition is the lack of bloatware coming from the handset maker or the wireless carrier. That said, Motorola does a fairly good job with that already.

Entertainment (very good)

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As I’ve said before Motorola has managed to snatch a very decent screen and I was very pleased with it while looking at photos or watching movies. The black levels aren’t as good as the top IPS displays out there (LG G2), and certainly not equivalent to an AMOLED display (Galaxy S4, Note 3), however, it is actually comparable to an HTC One for example or an XPERIA Z. In this price range, it’s very nice.

"MOVIES AND MUSIC ARE EASILY HANDLED AND EVEN GAMES ARE PLAYABLE"  

The loud speaker is pretty good, but it is clear that the top phones will sound better. For example, I had an LG Flex on hand, and there’s no question that it sounded better. That said, the relative lack of “body” of the Moto G’s sound is not bad at all, and if I didn’t have some high-end phones around to compare with, I would be quite happy. For movies, headphones are still the preferred way to listen anyway, right?

When it comes to video games, I was agreeably surprised: I ran Riptide GP 2 at anywhere between 25-30 and (I played the level 1). The frameframe stays playable because of the 720p resolution instead of trying to cram a 1080p screen here. There’s no secret about: less pixels = higher framerate. And you know what, the image looked absolutely nice and good (this is also true for movies btw). Moto made the right choice there.

Moto G Benchmarks

You don’t need to be a genius to figure out why the specifications of the Moto G are not part of the marketing strategy: the truth is that it is not a “high-performance” phone. At $179 (no contract), it would be somewhat unreasonable to expect top performance. Although Xiaomi and other companies have demonstrated that this is somewhat possible in China, the U.S remains a very different market. As far as I can tell, many other countries like India and Malaysia have demonstrated a high level of interest for the Moto G. "THIS IS ALL ABOUT PERFORMANCE PER DOLLAR, AND THE DATA PROVES IT"  

The charts below basically show that the Moto G is not a speed demon for 3D graphics or CPU computations. This means that if you want to play games at the highest framerates (60FPS), this would be an issue. If you are content with casual games or playing at 25FPS ,then things don’t look so bad. If you don’t play at all, then it doesn’t really matter to you – you are in the demographic that Motorola wants to serve.

moto g antutu 4

moto g basemark x

Performance relative to price: excellent

Since this is an affordable phone, it’s best to look at performance through the prism of performance-per-dollar (bang for the buck) since this is probably what interests you. In that department, the Moto G fares pretty well and actually outperforms nearly every other phones that we ran the Antutu 4 benchmark on. Since most are high-end phones, their price is much higher, so it shows in the ratio.

moto g antutu 4 dollars score

Prices were as seen for phones without contract, on Amazon.com or Bestbuy.com: Moto G ($179), Moto X ($699), Samsung Galaxy S4 ($800), HTC One ($500), LG G2 ($740), Xperia Z1 ($600), Galaxy Note 3($650).

Perceived performance: interestingly, the perceived performance is very good. The user interface is fluid and for most of the day to day tasks, the Moto G is just as fast as any other cool phone out there. When launching apps, you may feel that it is a little slower than high-end phones, and interacting with really common things like the Maps is perceptibly slower, but while this may be annoying to the power-users, I suspect that regular folks won’t notice or care much if they can get a good deal on the phone.

Moto G Battery Life (good+)

moto G review 07 640x426I think that the battery life is very decent. Playing movies (WiFi streaming or local MP4 file) take away about 15% of the battery, which means that you could watch 6.6 hours of HD movies. Gaming with Riptide GP 2 would eat away 22% of the battery, which translates into a theoretical 4.5 hours of 3D gaming – not bad!

During a regular day to day use, the depletion was very acceptable, and overall, I think that it is better than the Nexus 4 in terms of overall battery life.

Conclusion (excellent… for the price)

moto G review 21 640x426It is understandable that the Moto G gets a lot of interest from people who want a good and simple phone at a great price. The industrial design is simple and super-cute and I just wished that it was lighter. On the other hand, its shape feels very good in the hand and is comfortable to use. It is not too small or “big”.

"IF YOU WANT A GREAT PHONE FOR THE PRICE, MOTO G DELIVERS"  

Does the Moto G delivers on its promise of “Quad-core” speed? I’d say bluntly, “no”. However, from where I stand, the Moto G ($179) is a fine choice because of its “exceptional price”. It is significantly less expensive than the already affordable Nexus 5 ($349), and I would rather have the Moto G than the Nexus 4 at this point, because I find the battery life and the camera settings to be better. If you want a great phone for the price, Moto G delivers.

If you seek something more fancy at a great price, the Nexus 5 would be the next logical choice. Beyond that, a world of choice is available to you, but I would recommend looking at the LG G2 and the Galaxy Note 3.

Overall product rating: 9/10

Filed in Cellphones >Featured >Reviews. Read more about Android and Motorola.

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