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Moto G5 review: Motorola's affordable mid-range handset continues to impress

sandra-vogel.jpg
Written by Sandra Vogel on
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8.5

Motorola Moto G5

Excellent
$154 at Amazon
Like
  • Affordable 5-inch smartphone
  • Metal backplate
  • Fingerprint scanner with optional navigation controls
  • Additional gesture controls
  • Separate second SIM slot
Don't Like
  • No NFC
  • Average camera
  • Disappointing audio

The Moto G has been a leading budget smartphone since the original model launched in 2013, receiving plaudits for its "superb value for money". The 2013 Moto G was the first handset to appear following Google's acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which changed hands again in 2014 and is now owned by Lenovo. The 2017 Moto G5 comes in two variants: I'm looking at the five-inch Moto G, and there's also a 5.2-inch Moto G5 Plus.

One thing that's apparent is how little pricing has changed for the Moto G range: the original Moto G cost around £135 in 2013, and here we are in 2017 with the G5 coming in at around £160. That's not much of a hike over time, especially when we consider the eye-watering prices being asked for today's flagship handsets -- Samsung's Galaxy S8, for example, costs £689 (inc. VAT).

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The Moto G is available in dark grey and gold liveries. The 5-inch handset weighs 144.5g.

Images: Motorola

This affordability will be welcome to anyone on a tight budget, especially if they're looking for an unlocked phone. But is there a trade-off in terms of specifications? Up to a point, yes -- but there are also high-end features such as a fingerprint sensor, a metal backplate, and rapid-charging support.

That metal backplate is cool to the touch and has a smooth finish. On my dark-grey review sample it looks workaday, but of a higher quality than might be expected for such an affordable handset. There's also a gold option which, if it's anything like the colour of the Moto G5 Plus I was also sent, is much more showy.

The shell is relatively thick at 9.5mm, and this is not a unibody phone. The backplate comes off, providing access to the battery, SIM and MicroSD card slots, and there's plenty of plastic to be seen beneath it.

There's a chunky bezel along the screen's long edges which I measured at 3mm to the outside of the front plate -- a sure sign that this is not a premium phone. This handset's screen-to-body ratio is 65.4 percent, whereas today's flagship devices come in at around 70 to 80 percent. The Moto G5's full dimensions are 73mm wide by 144.3mm deep by 9.5mm thick, and it weighs 144.5g.

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When I tried to bend the Moto G5 in my hands, the backplate and front had a tendency to pop apart. The specifications tell me that the screen is 'scratch-resistant', but there's no mention of Gorilla Glass (the G5 Plus boasts Gorilla Glass 3 rather than the more recent 4 or 5 versions).

The five-inch screen is considerably smaller than the 5.5 inch Moto G4 -- even the G5 Plus only stretches to a 5.2-inch screen. All three handsets offer the same resolution, though: full HD, or 1,080 by 1,920 pixels.

As with last year's model, the screen is an IPS LCD. It isn't eye-poppingly sharp or vivid, even with the optional colour mode setting switched to 'vibrant' instead of 'standard'. Still, I was quite happy with the image quality, and felt comfortable watching video, and reading web pages and ebooks. Fans of ebooks and of late-night use may be disappointed that there's no reduced-blue-light 'night mode'.

There's a fingerprint scanner beneath the screen, and settings within the Moto app can configure this as a navigation button. A swipe to the left goes back; a swipe to the right brings up recent apps (with an option to use a split-screen view with supporting apps); a tap on the scanner plate returns to the Home screen; holding a finger on the plate for a short while goes to the lock screen, while a long hold calls up Google Now. This is a similar arrangement to the navigation controls on the high-end Huawei P10 and P10 Plus.

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The 5-inch Moto G5 next to the 5.5-inch Moto G5 Plus.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The processor is an octa-core Snapdragon 430, which is a less powerful CPU than the Snapdragon 617 found in the Moto G4, although it has a more competent Adreno 505 GPU. Clearly the Moto G5 isn't going to compare on speed and power to today's flagship smartphones, but it felt perfectly competent during testing. If processor speed is part of the trade-off to keep the cost down, I think it's a fair one.

Although the spec sheet lists the Moto G5 as available with either 2GB or 3GB of RAM, the two third-party vendors linked to at the UK website (John Lewis and Carphone Warehouse) only offer 2GB of RAM.

The Moto G5 has 16GB of internal storage, which by modern standards is relatively little. Out of the box the handset reported 10GB free. That's not a great deal, but at least it can be augmented via the MicroSD card slot.

The SIM and MicroSD card slots sit under the backplate, and the battery needs to be removed to access them. This is a dual-SIM handset, and there's no need to sacrifice the second SIM slot in order to use a MicroSD card as there's a separate second SIM slot. This is very welcome, and something that manufacturers who use the shared second SIM/MicroSD card slot arrangement should consider.

Dual-band 802.11ac wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.2 are supported, but there's no NFC, which rules out services such as Android Pay. There's a 13-megapixel rear camera and a five-megapixel front-facing camera. There's nothing particularly remarkable about either unit, although I do like the ability to toggle HDR easily, and the rotating exposure calibrator control that provides some control even with a simple point-and-click image.

The Moto G5's single speaker is disappointing: even at its loudest it's pretty quiet, and audio quality is only average. Bass tones are weak, rendering the output somewhat tinny.

Android 7.0 Nougat is untroubled by any sort of overlay, although Motorola has added a couple of its own bits and pieces -- notably a Moto app that lets you configure a whole range of gesture controls. A double flick of the wrist (or what the Moto app calls, rather aggressively, a 'double karate chop') toggles the LED flash unit on the back of the phone for use as a torch; a twist of the handset fires up the camera (you can also make a setting so that a double tap of the power button launches the camera); flipping the handset face down turns off the ringer and notifications; picking up the phone when it's ringing switches to vibrate; and a swipe upwards into the screen shrinks it to a size more suitable for one-handed use.

The Moto G5's 2,800mAh battery will keep the handset going for up to 24 hours, according to Motorola. I got nowhere near this, however. A usage pattern involving some mobile GPS usage, streaming, web browsing, and book reading usually reduced the battery to well below 25 percent by early evening.

The good news is that a rapid charger is included in the box, so if this is handy it should be easy to get a quick power boost. It works most efficiently when the battery is at a low charge to start with. The battery is charged via a standard Micro-USB connector, which will please those who are not yet ready to add USB-C to their collection of mobile paraphernalia.

Conclusions

In evaluating the Moto G5 we have to remember that it costs just £159. Given its affordability, a metal backplate, a good fingerprint sensor with additional controls on the sensor pad, a range of additional gesture controls, a separate second SIM slot and a decent 5-inch screen are all significant plus points. That said, it's not a big advance on last year's Moto G4, which has a larger 5.5-inch display. The 2016 model remains an attractive option, and could be real bargain if picked up second-hand.

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