Review

The Motorola Moto G (2nd gen) review: The ultimate low-cost smartphone

The smartphone industry is constantly advancing; everyday we see newer smartphone technology emerging in every part of the devices, starting from their chipsets, through to their displays, battery life and even their size (with smartphones progressively becoming thinner). Do we really need the latest and greatest device, though? For most people, all they'd like is a phone that works and works well. A smartphone doesn't need a 1440p screen or fingerprint scanner: what it needs is a clear display and OS updates once in a while. More importantly, however, it that smartphones don't need a $700+ price tag attached to them.

The original Moto G attempted to become the ultimate low-cost smartphone and, just short of a few issues, it was almost there. Motorola claims to have addressed the shortfalls of the old Moto G with the new Moto G that has just been released, and in this review we'll analyze the device to see whether or not it meets the mark.

 

The new Moto G has a larger five-inch display compared to its 4.5-inch predecessor and the smartphone is largely built around it. It doesn't have an edge-to-edge display and there is a small yet noticeable bezel around the edge of the display. 

The device has a curved back— much like the Moto X— so although the phone is 11mm at its thickest point (curving off to 6mm on the sides) It hardly feels that it is 11mm at all— holding the smartphone feels extremely natural and comfortable. Interestingly enough, the device has the same Motorola indentation, camera and flash spacing on the back of the phone as the Moto X.

Although the device is mostly made of plastic, the materials that have been used appear to be top of the range. Initially I was concerned about the backplate as it was coated in some rubbery material—my concerns revolved around two areas: (1) is this going to make the smartphone hard to pull out of the pocket of my jeans and (2) will this become a dust and dirt magnet. Luckily, during testing, I found out that both of these concerns were not true. Not only was the phone very smooth when putting it in and taking it out of my pocket, but the back didn’t attract any more dust than anything else. Using the phone with sweaty hands, however, will give you a lot of issues with fingerprints but it is far from what you would get on a glossy-plastic surface. It's worth mentioning that there are various colors and designs of the backplate that can be purchased separately, but I didn't receive any for this review.

Unlike the previous Moto G, the speaker is now placed at the front, making the entire front-face of the device appear extremely symmetrical. Speaking of the speaker, it is now a set of speakers, and they sound extremely great. A fairly common complaint about the previous device was the loudspeaker, however it sounds like this issue has been heard and very well resolved.

Outside of a charging/data port at the bottom and a 3.5mm headphone port at the top, there are no other holes on the outside of the device. Aside from the aforementioned, the phone has a volume rocker and an on/off button on the right side of the phone. Other than that, there are no other buttons on the device, and the Android navigation buttons are soft-buttons (on-screen) only.

Notice the two SIM-card slots on either side of the phone, and the SD-card slot at the top.

The specific version I received has two SIM-card slots and allows you to use both SIM cards at once. It has various interesting features which I’ll get into later in the review.  As far as the design, however, the SIM cards are on opposing sides of the device. Addressing another complaint on the previous Moto G and Moto X, the new Moto G now has a SD card slot allowing for expandable memory. The battery is not removable.

 

The five-inch screen has a very reasonable 1280 x 720 IPS panel—a display that is fantastic for its price. Although it is only 720p, the phone was very natural to read, as the text is very clear and free of artifacts, and the colors and saturation in images is very vibrant and natural.

The panel has great blacks which, although they're not as deep as what is expected from the high-tier range of smartphones, are still quite deep. As the device uses on-screen buttons, they use up about 0.3-inches of the screen's real estate. The soft-buttons, however, automatically hide themselves when running any full-screen apps.

The only place the display suffers is in strong daylight, which makes the display very difficult to see even at full brightness. Still, unless you spend most of your time in direct sunlight, this is hardly a deal breaker.

One of the most annoying features I experienced throughout testing was that the screen was way too sensitive. When scrolling up a twitter feed, I'd easily accidently favorite someone's tweet, tap on a photo or even press on a link. This wasn't a rare occurrence— it happened about a half-dozen times a day. I'm not sure if this is just my device or if the manufacturer intentionally set the screen to be so sensitive, but ultimately I found it quite annoying. 

The screen itself is covered in Gorilla Glass, which has become the gold standard for tougher screens.

 

  

Left to right: AnTuTu, Quadrant Standard, 3DMark

The Moto G is a device aimed at the lower-tier market so it doesn't intend to have specifications that would make a customer do a double-take. Nevertheless, the device is more than capable to hold its own, but it is disappointing in some ways. In comparison to the previous model which had 4G, the new Moto G lacks 4G connectivity (I've heard that they may be receiving a 4G variation in the future, however, so look out for that if that is a deal breaker for you). 

The new Moto G appears to be using the same chipset as the old Moto G—the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 (MSM8226), which is clocked at 1.2 Ghz. The Snapdragon 400 is a quad-core chipset, however it is based on the low-power ARM Cortex-A7 architecture. In the world of ARM, the Cortex-A7 is similar in intention to the Atom series made by Intel. This isn’t all bad however—as stated, it is a quad core device, so it handles extremely well. One of the benefits of this chipset is that it also switches off unneeded cores, so most of the time it can operate a single core at just 300 MHz. This conserves battery life significantly, making the phone easily last all day— even with heavy use and even with the fairly small 2070 mAh battery inside the Moto G.

The new Moto G uses the Google Now launcher and it doesn’t skip a beat. All of the transitions, movements, swiping and various navigation around the phone are extremely smooth and doesn't lag at all. Throughout the week I spent with the device, I did not experience any slow-downs, jittering, or similar.

The only time a user would notice issues is when pushing the device to its limits: as the smartphone only has 1 Gb of memory, exceeding this would result in back-grounded apps being suspended and slow to start again. This is far from being significant, though, as the phone is not sold on the premise that it is a powerhouse. Nevertheless, its ability to handle multitasking was still more than enough.

The new Moto G has an Adreno 305 GPU clocked at 450 Mhz, which appears to handle graphic-intensive situations pretty well. Asphalt 8 on “high” mode was fairly smooth throughout, and only lagged when crashing. Less intensive games such as Angry Birds and Temple Run were smooth as butter. This device won’t satisfy the needs of the hard-core mobile gaming users, but it is more than enough for the casual gamer.

The benchmarks weren’t revolutionary and it's where the Snapdragon 400 processor really showed its face: compared to most higher-tier devices, the new Moto G trailed somewhere towards the end. In the 3DMark “Ice Storm Unlimited” test, it scored 4712. Similarly in the AnTuTu benchmark, it scored a total score of 18350, trailing about 4,000 points behind the Nexus 4. It did however shine when it came to the browser benchmark: on Futuremark’s Peacekeeper it performed better than all of the Windows Phones and lagged just slightly behind the Snapdragon 800-carrying Samsung Galaxy S4. The takeaway from all this is that it won’t deliver the world’s greatest gaming performance, however it definitely won’t be slowing down when it comes to web browsing.

Other specifications include 1 Gb RAM, 802.11 b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and dual-SIM functionality.

 

The dual-SIM functionality has been implemented extremely well and it allows for a number of great features, such as setting one SIM card as your default to make calls with, and setting another as the default for data. It tells you which SIM card you're using whenever you're sending things like text messaging, and it really makes life easy for people who have to carry two phones (personal phone and a business phone). Otherwise, it allows people access to two different providers, who may offer different rates for different services and allow you to tailor certain actions to certain providers.

The review model I received of this device is only 8 Gb with a little over 5 Gb of usable space. This quickly filled up— just Asphalt 8 was over a gig in size, and music, photos and videos will quickly cover the rest. Storage is expandable via SD card, however, which makes things a little easier in case you do fill up the device. If you are planning to buy the phone, then its probably worth investing a little more and getting the 16 Gb version.

 

When it comes to bloatware, the Moto G has very little of it, and what it did have was what 99% of us wouldn’t mind at all. Out of the box, it comes with a full-range of Google apps including Gmail, Maps, Play Music, Movies, Books, Games, Drive, YouTube, Photos, Hangouts, QuickOffice and Translate. It also comes with Google+ and Play Newsstand, but those are very easily removed. Additionally, it also comes with a few Motorola apps, all of which were actually pretty interesting and susprisingly useful.

 

These are the apps that are pre-installed on the device.

Motorola Alert allows you to designate certain users to whom you can send emergency notifications when there is an issue. This notification includes things such as your GPS coordinates so people would know your location—this makes it extremely useful for the elderly and the young, both of whom might find the feature interesting and comforting.

Motorola Assist allows you to set different settings for different contextual scenarios. For example, it automatically detects when you’re driving, and you can enable it to automatically read text messages for you. You can also enable it to automatically pair to your radio and start playing music when it notices that you’re driving—another great contextual feature. It offers further settings for meetings, sleeping (night time), and when you’re at home.

Motorola Migrate makes it easy for you to leave your old phone behind. It allows you to select your older device (Android or iPhone), and automatically sync over all of your media, contacts, and call and text history. I personally found this app extremely useful and it allowed me to very easily transition to the phone.

Outside of the aforementioned, the smartphone is bare bones Android 4.4 KitKat. No proprietary apps you can’t remove, and no proprietary launcher from Motorola (it uses the Google Now launcher). This is good for a number of reasons, but more specifically it would allow Motorola to roll out updates for the phone much quicker. As there are no special launchers and such, it means preparing the update is much easier and hassle-free.

 

In clear daylight, photos turned out extremely crisp.

The Moto G’s eight-megapixel f/2.0 aperture rear camera sits about 1/4-inch above the flash on the back of the phone. On a nice, clear day, the smartphone’s camera is exceptional. The colors are relatively vibrant and the saturation is pretty good. There is some issues with the photos being too whitewashed, but overall it’s pretty great. The issue, however, is when the day isn’t nice and clear: colors lost their vibrancy and everything became a lot lighter. It’s still good, especially considering this is a sub-$200 phone, it’s just not as good as someone would hope for.

Indoors  

The photo on the left was taken indoors, and the photo on the right is outside with HDR

Unfortunately, during night-time the rear camera disappoints. If you were expecting Nokia Lumia-level quality then you shouldn't get your hopes up— the Moto G simply can't keep up with the latest and greatest in camera technology. This isn't really a deal breaker, as its only the camera-centric flagships that are excelling in this region, and its a lot to expect from a low-tier smartphone.

The selfie camera is two megapixels and there's not much to say— it's exactly what you'd expect, which is a camera designed for taking close-up photo and video of your face. Outside of the fact that it is also capable of 720p HD video recording, like the rear camera, it is fairly average.

Both of the images below were taken at midday during extremely strong sunlight and while facing in the direction of the sun.

 

In the image on the left, I shifted the focus to the lawn, which heavily darkened the fence in the back. In the image on the right, I shifted the focus to the fence, which lightened the lawn but brought out significantly more detail in the fence.

The camera app itself is much better than the stock Android camera app—it has various features that make it really stand out. One of these is drag to focus, where a user is able to drag a one inch circle on the screen to where they want the camera to focus, and it will automatically focus to that area (including adjusting lighting or enabling flash).

 

The new Moto G comes with the typical accessories, however a few things were surprising and disappointing.

The supplied headphones provide great sound, although slightly lacking in bass and have a somewhat "outdated" design. Nevertheless, they are more than capable for the job and are more than suitable for non-audiophiles.

The supplied charger looks great, however it has a maximum output of 850 mA making charging the phone fairly slow. During this review I didn't have an opportunity to correctly test the charger as it seems to be defective: after having the phone plugged in for 40 minutes, it had only increased 2% in charge, and the charger was making a very high-pitched noise throughout. Ultimately, I replaced it with an iPad charger I had laying around and the phone started charging normally. Charging the battery is not as fast as I had hoped and from start to finish it took about 4 hours to get it from 10% to 100%.

 

Simply put, the new Moto G is leaps and bounds above other low-end smartphones. Maybe I had low expectations for the device which propped up my overall view, but I am still looking at the device and being extremely surprised by what it is:

  • The five-inch smartphone has a 720p display, yet everything is sharper than other 720p displays I’ve seen. This is probably due to the fact that the panel is IPS rather than WVGA.
  • It has just a little over 2000 mAh of juice, but even after intensely going on twitter, heavily browsing on Chrome and playing a few games, I still end up with a chunk of battery left before I'm ready to go to bed. Dare I say that I could probably squeeze two days of battery life out of it by just slightly reducing my usage habits.
  • Even though the benchmarks are nothing to write home about, it still manages to handle high-end graphics without skipping a beat.

To be honest, I wouldn't object to use this as my daily driver from here on out. Earlier I mentioned that the review will analyze whether or not Motorola has produced the ultimate low-tier device, and in my opinion they have. I don't know what else anyone could ask from a brand-name sub-$200 smartphone. Initial concerns of the original Moto G involved things like expandable memory and speaker quality, and both of these have been addressed in this iteration.

Although I've referred to it as a sub-$200 device, its worth pointing out that this is referring to the US pricing of $179.99. Unfortunately, Australia gets the Australia tax, and the price goes up to AUD$260.00. For our readers in the UK, you can purchase the new Moto G for around £145.

 

Report a problem with article
nokia-lumia-530-08
Next Article

Buy a Lumia 530 for $110, get one free, with Microsoft UAE

1_apple-iphone-6-02
Previous Article

Joan Rivers' ghost loves the design of the iPhone 6

17 Comments - Add comment

Advertisement