Moto G5S Plus review: Get creative with the dual camera for $300

  • Editors' rating
    8.3 Excellent

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
  • Long battery life
  • Handy Moto Actions support

Cons

  • No NFC, so no Android Pay support
  • MicroUSB still used for charging

You will soon be able to order an Apple iPhone X for $1,149 or you can pay a quarter of that for a smartphone that offers most of what you need.

The Moto G5S Plus is the latest affordable phone from Motorola. It was just a few months ago that the Moto G5 Plus was released and this newest model improves upon that phone with a dual rear camera setup, larger 5.5 inch display, minimal RAM option of 3GB, and an improved front-facing camera.

I've spent the last two weeks with the Moto G5S Plus and my T-Mobile DIGITS SIM inside to allow me to use it as a secondary daily driver. Once we get a break for the latest smartphone releases, I may try to go a month with the G5S Plus because I honestly think it does all I need at a price that doesn't stress me out.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 2.0 GHz octa-core
  • Display: 5.5 inch 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution IPS LCD screen, 401 ppi
  • Operating system: Android 7.1 Nougat
  • RAM: 3GB and 4GB (I tested the 4GB model)
  • Storage: 32/64GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: Dual 13 megapixel rear f/2.0 cameras with depth editing software. Front 8 megapixel 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: 153.5 x 76.2 x 8.0 (9.5 at the camera) mm and 168 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 G5S Plus. In addition, you don't get any of the massive carrier bloatware that so many carriers love to add.

The one specification that continues to be lacking in the US model 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.

Another annoyance is that the Moto G5S Plus still uses a microUSB port for charging. In 2017, every Android phone should launch with USB Type C.

Hardware

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The Moto G5S Plus has an all-metal unibody aluminum design. It is available in Lunar Gray and Blush Gold. I tested out the Lunar Gray model with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal storage.

The 5.5 inch 1080p display on the Moto G5S Plus is constructed of Gorilla Glass 3. While it isn't as brilliant as the AMOLED Galaxy Note 8 or other phones priced two to three times as much, fonts are crisp and colors look just fine.

Even at less than $300, Lenovo brought some innovation to the Moto G5 Plus that we have yet to see on other Android phones. With the G5S Plus, you will find the home button performs as a fast fingerprint scanner and home button. We saw Motorola implement this on the latest Z phone, the Moto Z2 Force, after having an odd button on older Moto Z devices. 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 G5S 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 and microphone on the bottom. The 3.5mm headset jack is positioned on the top. The SIM card and microSD card tray is found on the lower left side. The power and volume buttons are on the upper right side.

The rear cameras and flash are positioned at the center of the upper back with a rather large protrusion that extends out the back. This dual rear camera design is similar to the Moto Z2 Force.

The dual camera setup on the Moto G5S Plus is provided as one color sensor and one monochrome sensor. I personally like this dual camera approach as black and white photos interest me and having this setup offers more options for editing.

The improved 8 megapixel front-facing camera has a wide angle lens with additional support for panorama mode so you can capture the crowd.

The $300 Moto G5S 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 G5S Plus launches with Android 7.1.1 Nougat and the evaluation device I have in hand has the June 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 G5S Plus. Actions include:

  • One button nav to swipe for back and recent apps
  • 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. You can now also reply to text messages right on the lock screen, without ever unlocking the phone and turning on the 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, professional (manual), and depth enabled modes. Like the Moto Z2 Force, tap the three dot menu icon in the lower 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.

The panorama mode now supports 360 degree panoramas so you can take a photo and upload to Facebook 360 without needing to purchase a dedicated 360 camera. There is also now a LED flash on the front for better selfies.

The depth enabled mode is new when compared to the G5 Plus and is possible thanks to the dual rear camera setup. When depth enabled mode is turned on you can take photos with a subject near you to add different effects. After taking the photo tap it to open in the depth editor. The depth editor gives you option on the bottom of the display for original, selective focus, selective B&W, and replace background. The selective focus mode lets you change the level of background blur.

The selective B&W and replace background modes are labeled beta. The selective B&W option lets you turn your photo into black and white with the ability to tap on the photo to have that part of the photo appear in color. It's a fun effect to use, but has limits on color too. The replace background option lets you selective part of your photo and then place that selected piece on an image from your gallery as a different background.

You can see a few comparison photos of the Moto G5S Plus with the dual camera setup on the Note 8 and Apple iPhone 7 Plus in my Flickr gallery showing full resolution images.

The Moto G5S phone app integrates visual voicemail, which is a personal pet peeve of mine where high end devices like the HTC U11 and LG V30 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 G5S Plus is available now in the US at Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, Costco, Flash Wireless, Frys, Motorola.com, NewEgg, Republic Wireless, Target, Ting, and Walmart. The G5S Plus is currently available for $229.99 with 3GB RAM/32GB storage and $299.99 with 4GB RAM/64GB storage. This is $50 off the MSRP, but this price may not be permanent.

Other options in the sub-$300 range include the Honor 6X for $250, the Alcatel Idol 5S for $200, and Nokia 6 for less than $200. Looking at the specs, Moto actions, and track record of timely security updates, the Moto G5S Plus is a great option to consider.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

There are always some compromises you have to make when you are paying a couple hundred dollars for a smartphone. NFC and microUSB are the apparent hardware compromises, but when it comes to software Motorola actually offers more than some flagship products.

With phones like the Moto G5S 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 two to four times 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.

Dual cameras are becoming a staple of the top flagship phones today so it is interesting to see Motorola bring this capability to a low cost smartphone. The experience is enjoyable, but the quality and functionality isn't up to the level of the expensive flagships. Then again, the dual camera works fine for social media and taking great photos has more to do with the photographer than the camera. 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 G5S Plus was fun to use and I've been seriously considering picking up one for myself due to the low price and solid performance.

Specifications

Cellular
Type Smartphone
Operating System Android 7.0 Nougat
Display
Diagonal Size 5.5 in
Processor
Clock Speed 2.0 GHz
Manufacturer Qualcomm
Processor Core Qty Octa-core
Dimensions & Weight
Width 3.00 in
Depth 0.31 in
Height 6.04 in
Weight 5.93 oz

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Lenovo, Reviews, Smartphones

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