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Motorola Moto G Review - TechNow

Motorola Moto G Review

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IMG_0002 copyMotorola was bought out by Lenovo in a surprise move that cost Google a few billion US $ earlier this year.  A strange move considering Motorola has started making some of the boldest moves since the company came out with the first so-called ‘Super-phone’, the Motorola Atrix in 2011. Boldest of all, the Motorola Moto G, the cheaper sibling to the flagship Moto X. It’s proven incredibly popular, but is it any good? Keep reading…

 

Exterior

Let’s make this clear from the off – The Moto G is a budget handset.  It can be had for £100 in the UK, and at this price-point, competitors are cheap, plastic affairs with poor screen resolution, limited features and little to compliment on.

The Moto G is different in most respects.  Despite still being of plastic construction, it feels a lot more solid than any other handset at this price point.  This is partly due to the fact that the back is adorned with a pleasing rubberised finish, but also because the phone itself does not feel too creaky or poorly constructed.

It’s not a miniature phone, but isn’t exactly huge next to today’s phablets and monster phones.  It’s only a little taller than an iPhone 5s at 129.9 x 65.9 x 11.6 mm, but is on the heavier side of Apple’s finest at 143g – though it doesn’t feel it.

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The front is one single glazed piece of Corning Gorilla Glass 3, so expect no scratches or scuffs to easily mark this screen.  On the top left there’s the front-facing camera, in the middle the earpiece, and to the right the sensors for automatic brightness and more.

The right side is home to the Moto G’s only two physical buttons – one for power / waking the phone; the other – a single volume rocker bar. The headphone socket is nicely centred on the top edge of the handset, and the micro-USB connector mirrors it on the bottom side. There’s no capacitive buttons below the screen, all the buttons are on-screen and contextual – by far the best approach.IMG_0018 copy

Unlike a lot of other new phones, the rear panel can be removed, which gives access to the SIM-card slot, but curiously the battery is bolted in place with some warranty stickers advising that the battery is not user-replaceable – which is a little bizarre.  I’d also expected to see a Micro-SD card slot under there, but alas Motorola decided to keep to Google’s Nexus mantra of relying on cloud services rather than having an abundance of local storage.

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InteriorIMG_0029

Budget phones have crappy screens, processors and cameras too right?  Well in the case of the vast majority of second-rate handsets from the big brands that claim to cater for the low end of the market, that’s absolutely right.  The Moto G is quite different though; there’s been no unnecessary financial wastage on ruining Android with hideous skins, and you can tick off all the boxes for the specifications people want from a smartphone.

First up, the screen – it’s a HD beauty.  Forget 480p screens that grace most sub-£200 handsets, this is a 4.5″ 720p IPS LCD screen that stands up against anything else this side of £300.  The screen can be set to automatically adjust brightness thanks to the included ambient light sensor, which luckily isn’t too aggressive at adjusting the screen.

Helping the very latest version of Android (4.4.2 KitKat) fly zippily along, is a quad-core 1.2gHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, coupled with an Adreno 305 GPU.  It’s not anywhere near the scorching heights of the latest Snapdragon 801, but there was little I threw at the MotoG that this chipset couldn’t handle – just don’t expect to play the latest games on maximum settings.

Coupled with the processor is 1GB of RAM, which is plenty for all but the most fervent multi-taskers.  Onboard storage is (as to be expected at this price, limited.  The model I reviewed had a paltry 8GB of non-expandable memory, though a 16GB version is available which will set you back an extra £40.

Power comes in the form of a 2070mAh battery, which is far more than you’ll find in any of the G’s rivals, and even more than the 5x more expensive iPhone 5s.  This means you’ll get an easy two days of use out of the G before you go in search of a micro-USB cable, unless you’re burning too much of the life away with a graphically intensive game or HD video.

Extras include an FM Radio, GPS, Bluetooth 4.0 and N-grade Wi-FI.

 

Software

IMG_0025 copyAs you’d expect from a smartphone that came out whilst Motorola was still under the protective wing of Google, the flavour of Android you’ll find on the Moto G is the latest (4.4.2 KitKat), and is pretty darn close to a vanilla Android experience.  Motorola have added a few little extras, but nothing that detracts from the experience.

Unlike on the Moto X, Motorola’s Active Display notification system for clock and notifications icons on the screen, even when the phone is in stand-by, is not available on the Moto G. The chipset isn’t quite so sophisticated, and being an LCD the display would likely drain more battery if the feature was included.

Lock-screen widgets are a welcome addition beyond the stock selection of Gmail, calendar and messages.  The camera widget is probably the most useful, and gives you a live camera view right on the lock-screen rather than forcing you to swipe an icon off to the camera application like you’ll find on most other phones.  You can’t adjust the camera’s settings in this mode, but for quick snaps it’s very handy indeed.

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To find the other additions to Android you’ll have to go delving in the settings menus, but once you find them – you’ll find the surprising addition of an equaliser for audio – adjustable for either the built in speaker or wired headphones.  This is a greatly welcomed feature that other manufacturers should note to include in future smartphones.  It negates the need for using separate music apps with the facility included and actually goes a long way to improving the aural experience.

There’s also some minor additions in the form of settings to enable your Moto ID – a handy feature if you’ve had previous Motorola smartphones or tablets, but otherwise largely redundant.  Then there’s a couple of other inclusions such as a settings page to adjust privacy settings – what’s shared with Motorola and what isn’t, and a tick-box in the display settings to decide whether the notification LED is constant or pulses.

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Benchmarks

I haven’t reviewed many budget phones this year, so I have little to compare it against, but the Motorola worked through all the benchmarks I set it without any issues.

The familiar Futuremark 3D Mark test was where I started my testing, and the MotoG offered up an average score on IceStorm Unlimited of 4634, putting it firmly in the territory of the Samsung S4 Mini and HTC Desire 601 – pretty impressive considering it has a higher resolution screen than either of those.

Antutu pegged the Moto G with a score of 17586, which lands it somewhere around the same score as the Samsung Galaxy S3, and a little higher than the LG Nexus 4.  Both phones which were considered power-houses barely more than 18 months ago.

I ran web-browser based tests from SunSpider to start with, where the Moto G scored an average score of 1430ms.   BrowserMark awarded a score of 2183 to land the G in the top 37% of scores achieved.

Overall then?  Pleasing enough scores that aren’t to be sniffed at.  The newer chipset than other phones mentioned obviously gives it the advantage, and for web browsing and using day-to-day apps, the Moto G is more than fast enough.

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Camera

IMG_0021 copyI’ve used a lot of smartphones with really awful camera quality, and these terrible sensors aren’t just the preserve of budget phones either. Only in the last year have manufacturers really started to appreciate the quality of camera that users both desire, and expect.  As far as the Moto G’s camera performance goes, I really have to give it high praise indeed.

OK, it’s not perfect – low light shots are average at best, and sometimes the camera struggled to get the right balance when the LED flash was called in to action.  Use the camera outside though and the story is different – I took some truly stunning photos and was amazed with the amount of detail the 5MP sensor was able to capture.

One photo particularly wowed me, and so I’ll do it the justice of having a full-width representation here before showing some of the other efforts I managed:

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There’s a slight purple-hue to areas of the photos with sunlight reflecting through the lens, but it would be difficult to be unhappy with the results if you compare them against the results that other £100 smartphones manage.

There’s not a wide range of adjustments to the relatively basic camera application, but I welcome any smartphone with HDR support, and the Moto G’s has an automatic mode that can selectively turn itself on in certain shooting conditions.

The camera app has broadly the same minimal interface as that found on the Moto X, which includes just two on screen buttons on the right-hand side for video recording and changing to the 1.3MP front-facing camera. Tap the screen to take a single photo, or enable burst shots with a tap-and-hold.

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For more settings, swipe from the left edge of the screen to the right, which opens up a wheel-style interface with a number of toggles, including HDR, flash, touch focus, panorama, geo-tagging, widescreen mode, and shutter sound. You can also zoom in an out by swiping up and down (rather than pinch to zoom), while a swipe from the right edge of the screen opens up the gallery.

Despite being capable of 720p, video recording was not quite so immediately impressive.  The bitrate is obviously quite low, and although video manages to maintain a steady 30FPS, the quality quickly deteriorates in low light or fast moving scenes.  There’s also a slow-motion video mode, where the quality of the video drops even further – but it’s at least a fun feature to have a mess around with.

 

IMG_0038 copyConclusion

I was looking forward to reviewing the Moto G after seeing it launch at such a competitive price, and thankfully I was nothing short of impressed.  Sure, there’s better phones out there – but not at this price.

The camera gave some excellent results, the screen was more than clear enough for all but those with the most discerning eye-sight, and Motorola’s implementation of Android is a fantastic balance of the stock UI, with some little extras to polish things off.

Downsides only come in the form of a lack of expandable memory and a video performance that doesn’t quite match the photographic capabilities.  Everything else can be easily overlooked for a phone of such excellent value for money.

 

Positives

+ Excellent value for money.

+ Fantastic screen for a budget smartphone.

+ Surprising camera performance.

+ Some good extras such as audio equaliser.

 

Negatives

– Removable back plate but not battery.

– No expandable storage.

– Video recording is lacklustre.

8.5

Price: SIM-Free 8GB – £99, 16GB – £139.   Free on monthly contracts from £13/m  (Vodafone)
More InfoMotorola
Operating System: Android 4.4.2
Size: 129.9 x 65.9 x 11.6 mm at 143g.
Extras: Wi-Fi (802.11 A/B/G/N), GPS, Bluetooth 4.0, 5MP rear camera with 720p video, 1.3MP front-facing camera.
Battery Life: 2070mAh.
Memory: 8/16GB onboard storage, 1GB RAM.
Processing: 1.2gHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 with Adreno 305 graphics.
Screen: 4.5″ IPS LCD capacitive touch-screen, 1280*720 resolution, 16M colours.

 


Thanks to Vodafone for providing this handset to review – If you’re considering a top smartphone then take a look at Vodafone’s offerings.

 

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