Motorola Moto G review: Well-built and affordable, but slow

Summary: The Moto G has its drawbacks, but it's well built, and if its features are sufficient for your needs, then it delivers superb value for money. If you're looking to equip a workforce with a basic Android phone, it's arguably the best choice currently available.

  • Editors' rating:
    8.5
  • User rating:
    6.9
  • RRP:
    USD $179.00
    GBP £120.00

Pros

  • Solid build quality
  • Affordable
  • Plenty of colourful accessories
  • Runs no-frills Android 4.3
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Unimpressive performance
  • 16GB internal storage maximum
  • No MicroSD card slot
  • Lacks LTE support
  • 2.4GHz Wi-Fi only
  • Moderate-quality camera

When Motorola launched the Moto G last month, CEO Dennis Woodside said: "Most people in the world can't afford a $500 or $600 smartphone: in fact, the average price of a smartphone is close to $200 — the problem is, the experience that smartphones in this class provides is really, really bad." This, in a nutshell, is the problem that the $179 (£135, €169) Moto G (with 8GB of storage) is designed to address.

Initial impressions at the launch were good: a 4.5-inch screen, a quad-core processor, 8GB or 16GB of storage and a 'pure' implementation of Android 4.3. But how does this handset stand up to closer examination?

moto-g-main

 

Design

Although the understated Moto G has few 'design' pretensions, this solidly built 143g handset has a quality feel in the hand that belies its entry-level price tag. The chassis measures 65.9mm wide by 129.9mm deep by 6-11.6mm thick, with the front dominated by the 4.5-inch screen and the curved back housing the camera lens, LED flash unit, main speaker grille and a discreet Motorola logo. The default colour scheme is black, but removable backplates and flip covers are available in six alternative colours.

moto-g-rainbow

We were supplied with a slate-grey flip cover which not only features a patterned, easy-grip texture, but also automatically puts the handset into sleep mode when closed. A word of warning: the backplate takes quite a bit of determined manipulation to remove — at least, it did on our review unit. Beneath the backplate you'll find the handset's 2,070mAh battery and a Micro-SIM slot.

Above the screen is a speaker grille, the front camera lens and a notification LED; the audio jack is on the top and the Micro-USB 2.0 charging/PC connection port is on the bottom; the power button and volume rocker are on the right. The handset is small enough for most people to be able to use one-handed.

The Moto G's 4.5-inch, 720p (1,280-by-720-pixel) Gorilla Glass-protected LCD screen delivers a very respectable 329 pixels per inch (ppi), and its image quality is more than acceptable: brightness, contrast and colour vibrancy are all better than you might expect for an entry-level smartphone. It's no OLED with eye-popping colour and super-high contrast, but it's not at all bad either.

Features

Underpinning the Moto G is a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 SoC, which includes a 450MHz Adreno 305 graphics processor. There's 1GB of RAM on-board, along with either 8GB or 16GB of internal storage. Conspicuously missing is a Micro-SD slot for expanding the limited internal storage capacity: if you run out of space, your only option is to use the 65GB of Google Drive space that's available (15GB as standard plus 50GB free for two years). This isn't a powerful smartphone platform by any means, as the benchmarks reported below attest.

When it comes to connectivity, the Moto G further betrays its entry-level status, offering GSM/GPRS/EDGE/UMTS/HSPA+ (and CDMA for US markets) but not LTE, and single-band (2.4GHz) 802.11b/g/n wi-fi but not dual-band (2.4GHz/5GHz) 802.11a/b/g/n/ac. Also present are Bluetooth (4.0), GPS (with GLONASS support) and an FM radio, but not NFC.

moto-g-photo

High-end smartphones are increasingly boosting the resolution and functionality of their cameras. This is not a feature of the affordable Moto G, however, whose cameras deliver a moderate 5 megapixels at the back and 1.3 megapixels at the front. Motorola's camera app is neat enough, accessing settings via a left-to-right swipe and taking a picture (or starting a video) simply by tapping anywhere on the screen. Image quality is adequate at best, though (see an example, right).

The Moto G runs a largely 'pure' implementation of Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), with a guaranteed upgrade to version 4.4 (KitKat) by January 2014. All of the usual Google services (Gmail, Google Plus, Google Maps, Google Play, Google Now, QuickOffice) are present, plus a couple of Motorola apps: Assist and Migrate. Assist helps to ensure that your phone behaves appropriately when you're in different situations (in a meeting, driving or sleeping, for example), while Migrate helps you move your 'stuff' (photos, videos, SIM contacts and call/text history) from your old Android phone to your Moto G.

Performance & battery life

The Moto G's performance is on a par with its limited feature set. Starting with GeekBench 3, we can see that the Moto G lags behind both of Google's most recent Nexus phones — by some distance in the case of the Nexus 5 :

moto-g-geekbench

The gap between the Moto G and the higher-end Nexus 4 and (particularly) Nexus 5 is even greater when we look at 3D graphics performance, as revealed by the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark:

moto-g-3dmark

However, when it comes to simpler tasks such as rendering JavaScript in the web browser, the Moto G holds its own somewhat better, particularly against the Nexus 4 (note that in this graph, shorter bars are better):

moto-g-sunspider

We didn't formally test the Moto G's 2,070mAh battery, for which Motorola claims 24 hours of 'mixed use'. We can confirm, however, that the handset comfortably stays alive all through a normal day's usage involving wi-fi and 3G connectivity, and only occasional GPS operation. A recharge overnight and it's good to go for another day.

Conclusion

The Moto G is not without its drawbacks. Depending on your particular requirements, it may 'fail' on internal storage capacity, storage expandability, camera quality, wi-fi support, LTE support, performance or some other feature. Having said that, it's well built, and if the features you do get are sufficient, then it delivers superb value for money.

If you're looking to equip a workforce with a basic Android phone, or buy a seasonal present that doesn't cost too much, it's arguably the best choice available right now.

Further reading

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Mobility, Reviews

About

Hello, I'm the Reviews Editor at ZDNet UK. My experience with computers started at London's Imperial College, where I studied Zoology and then Environmental Technology. This was sufficiently long ago (mid-1970s) that Fortran, IBM punched-card machines and mainframes were involved, followed by green-screen terminals and eventually the pers... Full Bio

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