Moto G Review: Now With 4G And MicroSD

Reviews Paul Briden 12:07, 22 May 2014

Motorola is back in the game with the affordable Moto G. Can it take the budget market by storm?

Rating: 
4
Typical Price: 
£119.00
Pros: 
Compact and lightweight, Interchangeable back panels, Excellent screen, Good performance, Stock Android, Adequate storage, Low price
Cons: 
3G-only model lacks microSD, Mediocre camera
Verdict: 
Google and Motorola showing other manufacturers how the budget Android smartphone should be done. A well-rounded little handset at a bargain price

Google's no longer Motorola's boss, as Lenovo has now bought the phone-maker. It'll be interesting to see how things change.

Hopefully they won't change too much, however, because of the small number of phones produced during Motorola's short time under Google, the Moto X and Moto G were absolute diamonds.

Google's influence was pretty clear with the Moto G too, following the company's own success with the affordable, well optimised and competetively specced Nexus 4, it's perhaps not surprising that it may have encouraged Motorola to attempt the same trick further down the pricing tree.

So how does the Moto G fare in this role as the Nexus 4's little brother?

Design and build

It’s not going to win gold in any beauty contests but at the same time the Moto G is not a bad looking device all things considered. The shape is your typical smartphone slab with rounded corners, the front fascia has a slightly glossy and tacky look and feel, while the power and volume rocker are similarly cheap feeling – they actually rattle a little.

Also, and I know I’ve said this elsewhere before but it really does bear repeating, despite what Motorola may have said in its official blurb on the Moto G, the display is in no conceivable way edge-to-edge. It just isn’t. There’s a good 4-5mm of bodywork on either side of the screen. Motorola should know better too, as one of the few companies to actually produce what I would consider a genuine edge-to-edge handset with the Razr i, such an inaccurate description is somewhat unexpected.

Aside from this though, things look pretty interesting thanks to a curved and swappable back panel design. Motorola has a number of options for buyers here, each in a range of colours. There’s the standard matte finish back panel, a textured flip-cover and a soft-touch “bumper” cover which wraps around the front slightly, meaning if you leave the phone face down on a surface the screen won’t get scratched.

While there is the aforementioned wobble in the keys, aside from this the build quality is quite good with a fairly solid feel in the hand and not much in the way of noticeable give to the chassis when squeezed. The positioning of the buttons is also good for use with either hand.

Size wise it fits comfortably in the palm, the Moto G is fairly thick but it’s relatively lightweight.

Display

The capacitive touchscreen is a 4.5-inch TFT panel with a 1280x720 pixel HD resolution, giving a pixel density of 326 pixels-per-inch (ppi). Sharpness levels are very good, with text in particular being very clear, but the really impressive thing about the overall picture quality is the brightness, colour depth and contrast, which are all well above what I’d expect from a TFT, particularly at this price point. For a moment I thought it was AMOLED and I checked with Motorola just to make sure. Viewing angles are wide and readability in bright sunlight is very good.

Hardware, storage, connectivity and web

The Moto G originally shipped as a 3G-only device, but now there's the Moto G 4G version which does include LTE capabilities and means you can run the phone on superfast networks. You can still get the 3G only model and both variants feature full HSPA+.

I found the handset picked up a connection quite easily while out and about and mobile data speeds were reasonable where a decent signal could be found. It also has Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n with Wi-Fi Hotspot, Bluetooth 4.0, microUSB and GPS. Wi-Fi connectivity was also relatively robust in actual use with decent speeds and it rarely dropped a connection.

Web performance is quite zippy in terms of page load speeds, although oddly benchmarks didn’t reflect this and gave fairly average results. Sunspider clocked up 1301.4 milliseconds while Vellamo’s HTML 5 test gave it a score of 1955.

On storage the Moto G does very well relative to its pricing point. You can get the 3G-only model with 8GB at a reduced price of £119 and there's also a 16GB version now reduced to £139. Then there's the 4G version which is only available with 8GB of onboard storage from £149. These are decent prices but you can expect some retailers and networks to undercut them, mark them up, or even offer the handsets for free on certain tariff deals. The 3G-only model lacks microSD support, which is a bit of a shame, but fortunately the new 4G version does have a microSD slot for cards up to 32GB, giving it a nice bit of flexibility and offsetting the fact it only comes as an 8GB model. On all variants you also get an additional 50GB of Google Drive cloud storage on top of the usual allowance.

Software and UI

So the latest version of Android, 4.4 KitKat, is now on KYM's Moto G review unit following an over-the-air update. If you pick up the phone now it will be coming with KitKat pre-installed, but what's so great about it?

Well, as has been noted in other articles on the site, anyone expecting some massive overhaul and a batch of new functionality might actually be left dissapointed.

Google's UI changes are present and correct, and rather dashing they look too with a much cleaner interface - white icons on transparent menu components are nice and sharp, while the Quick Settings toggles have adopted a warm orange highlight colour.

The thinner font and larger app icons seen on the Nexus 5 don't seem to have been adopted and while some native app icons, such as the camera, have been re-styled, others do not appear to have been tweaked, such as the dialler.

Aside from this we haven't found much to thrill so far. No doubt there's the usual box of bugfixes and the Moto G does seem to operate a little smoother than it did already - no doubt due to the fact that KitKat has been made with lower-end hardware in mind as well as Google and Motorola's dedication to optimisation.

Processor and performance

In the engine bay, you’re looking at a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor. This is a quad-core chip designed for lower-end handsets and based on ARM’s Cortex-A7 architecture. It uses 1GB of RAM, is clocked at 1.2GHz and features an Adreno 305 graphics processing unit.

Performance isn’t perfect, but considering the cost of the handset it is pretty impressively quick and relatively consistent too. For the most part, bouncing between interface screens, multitasking between apps and generally operating the device is quite smooth. You may notice the occasional hiccup, but it really isn’t anything to shout about and doesn’t tarnish the overall experience.

App load speeds can, in some cases, be noticeably slower, but at the end of the day this is the right way round to optimise a lower-power handset as it’s less frustrating to wait a bit longer for apps to load than have them load quickly with poor running performance.

More intensive apps cope reasonably well too. Gaming on two recently launched and graphically flashy titles – Dead Trigger 2 and Real Racing 3 – ran very nicely indeed. Again, you may notice the occasional spasm, but it’s rare and far away from rendering these games unplayable. Quite the opposite, in fact, you have a tremendously playable and enjoyable gaming experience here.

In benchmarks the Moto G scored 8555 on Quadrant ranking very high on the chart, while on AnTuTu it scored 17350 – faster than Google’s Nexus 4 and just behind the Samsung Galaxy S3.

Battery

I’ve actually been using the Moto G alongside Tesco’s Hudl tablet and consistently got similar battery performance from both devices. As with my Hudl review, I found the Moto G would easily last a couple of days with my typical daily light-to-moderate use, comprising mainly social networking, messaging and browsing with more intensive use in the morning and the occasional call during the day or evening.

More demanding apps, games and multimedia did dent this noticeably. The Moto G also performed similarly to the Hudl during The Django Test, running the entirety of Django Unchained’s 2.45 hours from 100% charge with full brightness and both Wi-Fi and mobile data switched on. The charge at the end of the film was 58%, meaning you’re probably looking at between 5-6 hours of video playback in this scenario and a bit longer with auto-brightness on and connectivity switched off.

The battery is a 2,070mAh unit and while the back panel is removable it's worth noting that, despite appearances, the battery pack is not, which is a bit of a shame.

Camera

I’ll put my hand up and admit the Moto G’s camera isn’t as bad as I thought it was when I wrote my first-look hands-on, but still, with a 5-megapixel sensor it is not the best snapper on the market by any means.

This isn’t a criticism really though, because it’s totally understandable – good imaging hardware costs money and the point of the Moto G is to be affordable. Personally, I’ll take a hit in the camera department, where I care least, if it means I can get 16GB of onboard storage and a decent quad-core processor for less than £200.

In good lighting conditions, the Moto G’s detail levels are not too bad and colour reproduction is reasonable. There is discernible noise, however, and both dynamic range and contrast can suffer in less-than-perfect conditions.

It’s a reasonable setup for mid-range shooting, but doesn’t stand up well at close range or in low light conditions. For the price it is fairly solid.

The camera UI is very minimalist and entirely gesture based with controls being swiped in from the left or right. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do it’s quite good and the lack of intrusiveness on your viewfinder is most welcome.

Another bonus feature is the ability to capture slow-motion video, something usually reserved for higher-end models, and there's a panoramic capture mode too.

Conclusion

The Moto G has managed to retain the positive image I initially had of it on launch, which is not something that can be said of every device which passes through KYM Towers. Again, running the Moto G side-by-side with the Hudl is quite apt as there are so many parallels, and like Tesco’s slate the Moto G is a remarkably capable device for such a small outlay.

Certainly, the Moto G ticks all the right boxes when it comes to performance, display, storage and, relatively speaking, battery life. The exterior isn’t too bad either. But what’s really great about the Moto G is that it has been rather tricky to get hold of a stock Android handset in this price bracket for a very long time. Now, finally, there is one, and it’s a pretty good option in other areas that count, as it turns out.

Ferrari Edition Of Moto G Is Coming

Motorola has unveiled a Moto G Ferrari Edition in Mexico, yes, really. The edition officially endorsed by the sports car manufacturer is based on the 16GB LTE version of the device. Under the hood, literally, there isn’t much different here but at least you’ll be able to connect up to 4G like you can on the new version of the device.

The design has changed quite a bit “in the spirit of Ferrari.” The back of the phone is now made out of Kevlar and the logo for Ferrari is scattered all across the device. It’s on the back and on the front as well as being the focus on the home screen in the press images released. Both the front earpiece and the camera on the back also have a red accent which adds to the Ferrari feel of the design.

How much will it be? It’s not certain the handset will be available outside of Mexico right now, but it’s selling there for 4,999 Mexican Pesos, which is roughly £230. Would you like to see the Ferrari version of the Moto G come to the UK?

Specifications

Length 129.9mm
Width 65.9mm
Thickness 11.6mm
Weight 143g
Screen Colours 16 million
Screen Size 4.5-inches
UK Launch November 2013
Phone Style Touchscreen
Typical Price £119
Designer Lens No
Camera Resolution 5-megapixels
Video Resolution 720p
Flash LED
Zoom Digital
Music Formats MP3/AAC+/WAV/Flac
Music Player Yes
Song Storage Yes
Speaker Yes
Radio Yes

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