Moto G 2014 Review: Even Better With Android Lollipop

Reviews Richard Goodwin 14:37, 6 Mar 2015

Motorola attempts to follow up its biggest selling handset of all time, the Moto G, with a second-gen device that is also called the Moto G

Typical Price: 
Excellent display; Decent build quality; Android KitKat 4.4.4; Stock Android UX; Limited bloatware
No LTE; Imaging leaves A LOT to be desired
A near-perfect budget smartphone hampered only by Moto's odd decision NOT to include LTE

It wasn't that long ago that Motorola was stagnating; the company had gone from being one of the most prominent manufacturers when mobile phones were first taking off (ie: feature phones) to lagging behind as the smartphone race hit. That all changed when Google bought up the ailing firm, and what followed was a series of incredibly compelling, comparatively low-cost devices with a high-degree of polish, some unique features, and a near-stock implementation of Google's Android software (with the most up-to-date versions and regular updates too).

The Moto G was Motorola's budget offering, but aimed to offer plenty of bang for your buck - a goal at which it was very successful; it proved to be one of the best selling Motorola handsets ever. Once Motorola changed hands again, this time going over to Chinese firm Lenovo, many were left wondering what this meant for Motorola's fledgling series of clearly Google nurtured devices.

We needn't have been worried, as it turned out, because the 2014 revamp of the Moto G and Moto X handsets are every bit as competetive as their predecessors. Read on to find out why the Moto G 2014 is so damn good.

Lenovo, owner of Motorola, confirmed some pretty impressive sales figures for the once Google-owned phone maker. According to Lenovo, there were 10 million Motorola handsets shipped last quarter, and while the company did not go into specifics the bulk of these shipments is likely to be the super-affordable Moto G. Still, 2014’s Moto X has received rave reviews across the board, so that handset is likely to factor highly in the 10 million as well. 

"The two newly acquired businesses are achieving great momentum in their first quarter of integration.  They are definitely becoming our growth engines. Motorola is already a global strength: for the first time it sold more than 10 million units in the quarter and it is now re-entering the China market," Lenovo said at its recent earnings call. 

We take a look at the second-gen Moto G to see if Motorola has kept the magic alive.

Moto G 2014 Review: Design

The overall look and feel of the handset hasn’t changed all that much from last year’s handset; the Moto G still retains much of its original design language, including that now iconic, concave Moto dimple on the backpanel. It is A LOT bigger though –– 141.5 x 70.7 x 11mm –– on account of the new 5in IPS LCD display that completely dominates the front of the handset. Everything else (power/unlock key, volume rocker) remains in the same place, however, so existing Moto G 2013 users should feel right at home. 

The original Moto G was a fairly unassuming handset, focused on delivering excellent performance at a seriously affordable price point. The Moto G 2014 does exactly the same thing but, like Nick Cave, it manages to do it in a much cooler fashion than 99.9% of its peers. It does feel a lot better now that it has filled out somewhat, as the weight (now 148g) is nicer, more reassuring in the hand and this in turn makes the whole thing feel more substantial and premium –– and that’s rare on cheaper handsets. 

The battery is still non-removable (despite the fact you can remove the backpanel) and Motorola is sticking with its colourful and swappable backpanel shells this time around too, in the form of its bespoke Shell and Flip Shell variants. So if you fancy swapping out your boring white back plate for something a little jazzier you can for as little as £15. The outer exterior of the handset (even with a jazzy case on) is now splash-resistant too, meaning it can survive certain encounters with water (spills and the like) but nothing too serious (a drop in the toilet). 

Moto G 2014 Review: Specs & Hardware

The Moto G is fully kitted out with decent specs and hardware but there is one thing that Motorola have excluded that is positively STUPID. I’m talking about LTE here… and for the life of me I cannot figure out the logic behind the move. Unless, of course, Motorola is pulling a fast one and plans to release a 4G-ready model later on in the year as it did with the Moto G with 4G. Either way, this move, whatever its motivations, does not sit well with me and will likely be a sour point with many consumers looking at this handset as a potential upgrade. 

Look beyond this hugely glaring error, however, and you’ll see a decently-specced handset with solid, key updates in important areas. The chipset of choice here is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 (that’s a quad-core CPU clocked at 1.2GHz) running alongside 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage. With mobile data, as noted above, there’s no LTE but you do get HSPA support as well as Wi-Fi 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0 LE for connecting to things like speakers and Android Wear smartwatches. 

The Moto G runs Android KitKat 4.4.4 out the box and will, Motorola assures us, be updated to Android L as soon as it is made available by Google. This is a big USP of Motorola too, no other OEM –– save for Google –– pumps out Android updates like Moto; the Moto X, Moto G and Moto E got Android KitKat before pretty much every other non-Nexus Android handset on market earlier on this year. If you like Android, want to always have the most up to date version, and don’t fancy a Nexus handset, you could do a lot worse than Motorola.

We won’t go into details about Android KitKat here, but for a full picture of its attributes, features, and functionality do be sure to check out our Android KitKat 4.4.4 Review

Android Lollipop 5.0 Rollout Begins

Motorola has officially confirmed it has begun rolling out Android Lollipop 5.0 to its current catalogue of handsets, including the Moto G (2014).

The company posted on its official blog revealing that users in the US would be the first to receive the upgrade starting today. As well as the new "Material Design" language added to the interface, Motorola outlined some of the new features users can expect to encounter on their Moto G handsets:
"The most ambitious release yet, Lollipop brings a number of tasty enhancements, including:

  • A new look and feel. Google brings its all-new Material Design to life with a bold, new visual style. The new user interface is designed to enable better, more natural touch screen interactions and introduces vivid new colors, typography, and edge-to-edge imagery to make using your phone more fluid.
  • Your device, your rules. Catch up with notifications on your lock screen and even dismiss them without unlocking. New "Downtime" and "Interruption" settings also allow you to decide what people and what notifications get through at times that you choose.
  • Share your device. You know that moment when your kid plays with your phone or a friend needs to borrow it? Use "Guest" mode or another account you’ve set up to share your device. You can also pin a view to limit the user to a particular application. 
  • Let there be light. Shine a light by using the new flashlight in Quick Settings. Just swipe down with two fingers from the status bar to see it. 
  • Battery saver. The Battery settings panel now shows an estimated projection for how much time you have left even while you're charging. You can also enable a new battery saver mode that will save power by reducing performance and most background data operations to extend your battery life."

While Motorola is yet to comment on a wider rollout, the company has proceeded to push software updates out globally pretty quickly in the past, so there's good reason to suspect we will only be waiting a matter of a few days or weeks at most before it lands in the UK, Europe, and elsewhere.

For more details of Android Lollipop's features, see our areview of the preview build here.

Moto G 2014 Review: Camera 

The Moto G’s camera is now an 8MP setup, up from 5MP on 2013’s Moto G, however, the results aren’t exactly great. You have things like auto-focus and HDR mode, as well as the ability to shoot video in 720p, but quite a bit is lacking with regards to image quality, meaning it’s OK for things like Instagram and Facebook – but that’s about it. You need excellent light and a very steady hand to capture anything remotely resembling a mediocre shot. And don’t expect any help from the camera application either; it is about as basic as defecating in a bucket in the woods.

Moto G 2014 Review: Battery 

Battery performance can be a bit of a variable factor, one that depends on who the user is and what their phone use patterns are like. Because the Moto G 2014 uses the same 2070mAh battery as the Moto G 2013, but has to accommodate a much bigger and higher resolution display, the results, depending on how one uses the phone, will vary greatly between different types of user. Motorola says the Moto G has staying power, and can last a full day and then some from a single charge, but as is often the case with manufacturer claims… this isn’t exactly true in all contexts. 

I’m a power user and that means I work my phone hard, using it for email, music, IM, text and as a primary caller throughout the day. My Nexus 5, now a year old, struggles to get past 2pm these days and while the Moto G did perform better across the board, it held its own until around 6pm on most occasions, this won’t always be the case, however, as the handset gets older and battery degradation sets in. This happens to all smartphones, but those with small batteries are often the worst offenders, as they have less available juice to begin with so the results are more pronounced.

Of course, no one smartphone has truly solved the battery dilemma yet and all are relatively rubbish in the grand scheme of things, so we can’t be too harsh on the Moto G in this regard. Having said that, if you’re a stickler for battery performance you might want to think about upgrading to a handset with a larger battery pack inside it. The Moto G can handle power usage, but it won’t make it late into the evening –– say, 11PM –– without a top-up mid-way through the day. In our Django Test, where we run the entire Django Unchained film through once with everything turned on and the screen at full brightness, the Moto G had 58% battery left –– again, not bad but also not really anything to write home about. 

Moto G 2014 Review Conclusion 

I like this handset A LOT. It offers unprecedented design and decent hardware for the ultra-low asking price. You can do a lot with the Moto G too, so much so I hardly missed my allegedly superior Nexus 5 during testing. There are certain issues –– imaging, for instance –– that when experienced do highlight its budget-nature, but beyond these blemishes the handset itself is a fine example of just how far things have come in the mobile space; two years ago a handset with these attributes at this price was a pipe dream. 

The only thing I really do honestly hate about the Moto G is that it doesn’t feature LTE… to me excluding this now common feature ruins everything else about the handset’s very positive USPs. And the fact that turning on its latent LTE capabilities would cost Motorola next to nothing –– it’s effectively a node on the Snapdragon 400 CPU –– makes the situation all the more irksome. 

BUT –– if LTE isn’t important to you and you’re after a super-affordable, but still very, VERY good handset, then the Moto G 2014 could be just what you’re after. 

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