Moto G5 Plus review: Best sub-$300 smartphone lets you forget about the flagships

  • Editors' rating
    9.6 Spectacular
  • $262.49

Pros

  • Snappy performance with pure Android OS experience
  • Best standby screen of all Androids
  • Productive multi-function home button/fingerprint scanner
  • Radios support AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and more
  • Low price, with Amazon Prime option
  • Long battery life
  • Handy gesture support

Cons

  • No NFC, so no Android Pay support

I am blessed to write about smartphones here on ZDNet and tend to overspend on the high end flagships because of how much time I spend using phones every day. However, after 10 days with my T-Mobile SIM in the new Moto G5 Plus, it will be very difficult to justify spending more than $300 on a smartphone again.

The Moto G4 Plus, check out my review from last year, was a solid choice and earned an 8/10 rating from me. There were a few tradeoffs, but at $300 that is expected. With the G5 Plus, I was only able to come up with one con and even that con can be overcome by using Android Pay on your Android Wear smartwatch.

At just $300 for the model I tested, businesses can purchase the Moto G5 Plus and provide a complete smartphone experience to employees. You get a stock experience with Moto enhancements that increase your productivity. Motorola has also shown an excellent track record of monthly Android security updates over the past year and I have no hesitation in recommending the Moto G5 Plus.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 2.0 GHz octa-core
  • Display: 5.2 inch 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution LCD screen, 424 ppi
  • Operating system: Android 7.0 Nougat
  • RAM: 2GB and 4GB (I tested the 4GB model)
  • Storage: 32/64GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: 12 megapixel rear f/1.7 dual autofocus with 5 megapixel wide-angle f/2.2 front-facing camera
  • Water resistance: Splash resistant nano coating, not to be submersed
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, GLONASS
  • Battery: 3000 mAh non-removable with Turbo Charge
  • Dimensions: 150.2 x 74 x 9.7 mm and 155 grams

One powerful feature of the Moto G5 Plus that we don't see in flagship carrier variations is the support for virtually all mobile networks, both GSM and CDMA. You can pop in a SIM from Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, and their prepaid partners and be off and running with the Moto G5 Plus. In addition, you don't get any of the massive carrier bloatware that so many carriers love to add.

The one specification that is lacking here is NFC, which means you won't be able to use Android Pay. You could always pair up a new Android Wear watch or Samsung Gear S3 to use Android Pay though.

I have also moved to USB Type-C for most of my cables, but the Moto G5 Plus still uses a microUSB port for charging. Thankfully, there is also still a 3.5mm headset jack.

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While many not appreciate it, the Moto G5 Plus does come with a FM radio. As a sports fan, I enjoy having the ability to listen to my local sports radio when out and about on my phone.

Hardware

The Moto G5 Plus presents a different shell than we have seen in the past. Moto used aluminum for the back panel and frame. It's very well done with matte finish on the back, polished metal around the edges, and a slightly raised edge around the glass front display. It looks classy and works well in a business environment.

While the LG G6 pushes the smartphone world forward with its 18:9 display and fantastic camera, it is also priced twice as much as the Moto G5 Plus. You won't find anything special about the 1080p display on the Moto G5 Plus, but fonts are crisp and colors look just fine.

Even at just $300, Lenovo brought some innovation to the Moto G5 Plus that we have yet to see on other Android phones. I am not a fan of the front-facing fingerprint scanner on the Moto Z line that does not act as a home button. With the G5 Plus, you will find the home button does perform as a fast fingerprint scanner and home button. Even better, there is an available Moto Actions setting where you can use the fingerprint sensor for navigation. Simply enable it and then swipe left to go back and swipe right to view recent apps. My productivity has improved significantly with this one button navigation feature and I would love to see this on other devices.

Moto devices have had good speaker performance in the past, but with the Moto G5 Plus we see a single speaker that plays out of the headset. This front-facing speaker isn't a bad idea, but the speaker isn't anything you will want to use for regular listening of music or video content.

There is a microUSB port, microphone, and 3.5mm headset jack on the bottom. The SIM card and microSD card tray is found up top. There is nothing on the left side while the power and volume buttons are on the upper right side.

The camera and flash are positioned at the center of the upper back with a rather large protrusion that extends out the back. A Moto logo is centered below the camera while the second mic is also placed near the top of the back.

It stuns me that devices like the HTC U Ultra, priced at $749, do not come with any level of water resistance in 2017. The $300 Moto G5 Plus continues to use the nano coating that Moto has used for years so you have a device that can take a splash or light rain without failing. This is just what I need and should be the minimum standard for all phones at this time.

Software

The Moto G5 Plus launches with Android 7.0 Nougat and the evaluation device I have in hand has the January 2017 Android security update. The UI is stock with a few Moto widgets and the Moto app.

The Moto utility gives you access to toggles for the various actions and display settings available on the G5 Plus. Actions include:

  • One button nav to swipe for back and recent apps
  • Karate chop twice to turn on the flashlight (don't drop the phone)
  • Flip the phone face down to silence notifications and calls
  • Pick up the phone when it rings to switch to vibrate
  • Twist your wrist twice to launch the camera
  • Swipe to shrink the screen

Display options let you toggle on notifications that appear while the display is off. You can choose to block apps from the display, set how much detail is shown, dictate when the display should remain dark, and toggle on touch vibration.

The standby notification screen on Moto devices is better than on any other smartphone. You can see notifications from many of your apps and then hold the notification to see more details without ever unlocking or turning on your display. Over the course of a day, you can save yourself a considerable amount of time and also save on some battery life.

The camera app is easy to use and supports auto photos, video, panorama, slow motion, and professional modes. Tap the camera icon in the upper right to switch between the various modes. Swipe in from the left to access settings and in from the right to quickly view photos in the gallery.

I love that the phone app integrates visual voicemail and hate using Android devices like the HTC U Ultra and LG G6 that require a separate app just to add visual voicemail functionality. Google provides this in Android and even though it is a minor detail, all manufacturers should enable this by default.

The rest of the software is typical Android Nougat, including the ability to customize your Quick Actions buttons and see important information at a glance in settings.

Price and competition

The Moto G5 Plus will be available in the US starting on 31 March at Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, Costco, Flash Wireless, Frys, Motorola.com, NewEgg, Republic Wireless, Target, Ting, and Walmart. Pre-orders begin March 24 at select retailers. It will be available for $229 with 2GB RAM/32GB storage and $299 with 4GB RAM/64GB storage. The Moto G5 Plus will also be available as a Prime Exclusive Phone on Amazon.com, at a discounted price for Amazon Prime members (2GB RAM/32GB of storage will be $184.99 for Prime members, and 4GB RAM/64GB of storage will be $239.99 for Prime members).

Other options in the sub-$300 range include the Honor 6X for $250, the ZTE Axon 7 Mini for $200, and the ZTE Blade V8 Pro. Looking at the specs, Moto actions, and track record of timely security updates, the Moto G5 Plus is the best sub-$300 smartphone available today.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

There are always some compromises you have to make when you are paying half to a third of the cost of a high end flagship phone so I wasn't expecting the Moto G5 Plus to be much different. The Honor 6X started to change my opinion and after getting an even better stock Android experience with Moto Actions providing serious productivity enhancements I could easily use the Moto G5 Plus as my daily driver.

With phones like the Moto G5 Plus, it is possible the masses may start looking to more affordable options and realize they don't have to give up much to save a ton of money. As ZDNet's Jason Perlow wrote back in October, the app experience is about the same across most smartphones today. It gets to be challenging trying to explain to your boss while the company needs to pay twice as much for a phone that does the same thing and in many cases may even be better.

Phone calls sounded fine and callers told me I sounded great on their end. I was able to obtain a solid connection at all times and even tested out Sprint and Verizon SIMs without any issues. The battery lasted me a couple of days, even with fairly heavy usage.

Cameras on these low cost phones are generally fine for social networks, but it is not often they are very impressive. Huawei did well with the Honor 6X, but the Moto G5 Plus does even better. It has a 12 megapixel camera with large pixels to capture more light and I have been very impressed with the output.

Check out my Flickr photo album with full resolution images from the Moto G5 Plus and other flagship smartphones to see and judge for yourself. BTW, you also get full image resolution upload to Google Photos for free for at least two years with the Moto G5 Plus.

The Moto G5 Plus sold me on affordable phones and after all of these new phones are tried and tested, I may just be back to using it as my daily driver.

Specifications

General
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, audio player, voice recorder, navigation
Body Color Lunar gray
Cellular
Technology CDMA2000 1X / GSM / WCDMA (UMTS)
Type Smartphone
Integrated Components audio player, front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS, GLONASS, GPS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900 / CDMA2000 1X 1900/800
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Service Provider AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android 7.0 Nougat
SIM Card Type nano SIM
SIM Card Slot Qty single-SIM
Input Device Multi-touch
Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, voice control, call timer, conference call, flight mode, voice dialing, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, magnetometer, gyro sensor
Additional Features Dual microphones, TurboPower techbnology
Security Devices Fingerprint reader
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyro sensor, magnetometer, proximity sensor
Included Accessories Power adapter
Color Lunar Gray
Color Category gray
Image Color Disclaimer the displayed product image may be a different color
Protection waterproof
Messaging & Internet
Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Yes
Processor
Clock Speed 2.0 GHz
Manufacturer Qualcomm
Processor Core Qty Octa-core
Display
Technology IPS
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Pixel Density (ppi) 424
Diagonal Size 5.2 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 13.2 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5.2 in
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 3 (scratch resistant glass)
Color Support color
Communications
Data Transmission EDGE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE
4G LTE Band Band 1, Band 12, Band 41, Band 5, Band 66, Band 7, Band 8, Band 13, Band 17, Band 2, Band 25, Band 26, Band 3, Band 38, Band 4
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.2, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n, NFC
Multimedia
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 506
Memory
RAM 4 GB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC - up to 128 GB
Battery
Capacity 3000 mAh
Header
Brand Motorola
Product Line Motorola Moto
Model G5 Plus
Edition XT1687
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Features
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyro sensor, magnetometer, proximity sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert, voice control, voice dialing
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Additional Features Dual microphones, TurboPower techbnology
RAM
Installed Size 4 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 64 GB
Max Supported Size 128 GB
Supported Flash Memory Cards microSDXC
Graphics System
Graphics Accelerator Qualcomm ADRENO 506
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 5 Megapixel
Lens Aperture f/2.2
Dimensions & Weight
Width 2.91 in
Depth 0.30 in
Height 5.91 in
Weight 5.47 oz

Topics: Mobility, Google, Lenovo, Reviews, Smartphones

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Where To Buy

Motorola Moto G5 Plus (64GB, Lunar Gray)

Part Number: 01108NARTL

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