Original review published 17/11/2013
The Motorola Moto G is an important phone. It's the first phone released by Motorola in the UK in a long time, and it's also one of the best-specced phones we've ever seen for under £200.
It's not a case of being 'too good to be true' either. This is the sub-£150 to buy, and our best gadget of 2013.
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The Moto G is a plastic phone, with a curved back that cares more about feeling good in the hand than being terribly thin or light. At 143g and 11.6mm thick, it’s significantly thicker and heavier than most phones with similar specs. However, for the average buyer this won’t be much of a sacrifice.
The back is smooth and comfy, and as the 4.5-inch screen is smaller than many high-spec Androids (if quite large at the pice), the Motorola Moto G is easy to use one-handed. It might lack the recognisable design of the Razr-series phones, but it offers a level of customisation thanks to an array of available body shells.
Thought removable phone fascias were dead? The Motorola Moto G is trying to bring them back. 19 different backs are available for the phone, coming in all sorts of different colours, and three main types.
There’s the normal one, bundled as standard, flip-style cases like those you can get for the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and a back that gives a bit more protection, with chunkier sides and a slight protrusion of around a millimetre in front of the screen. This ensures the glass front of the screen doesn't take the brunt of any drop impact.
The idea is that the Moto G is not a phone you need a separate case for. We used the phone with the standard black plastic back, and there’s thankfully no hint that the back is meant to be switched.
There’s an inoffensive ordinariness to the Moto G that we think is the right move to make at this price. It’s what rivals like the Samsung Galaxy Ace phones go for, too. There's just one issue: the black case is a magnet for greasy finger marks.
One of the most notable things about the design is something that has no function at all. The Motorola logo sits on the back of the phone sits in a concave indent that just wills you to stroke the thing’s back as if it’s a miaow’ing pet. Completely pointless as it may be, but like the Moto G’s alternative to a comfort blanket it’s an oddly reassuring presence.
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Although the Moto G doesn’t quite have the aesthetic purity of the Nexus 5, with both matt and gloss finishes on show and non-colour-matched buttons, it still looks more expensive than it is. This looks like a £250 phone, not a £130 one.
Motorola has employed a water-resistant ‘nano’ layer inside the phone, designed to protect it from light splashes. The design also keeps any power connections away from water, by sealing in the battery. It’s non-removable, which some of you may not like, but finishing touches like mild water resistance are the last things we expect at this price.
There are features missing you’ll often find in more expensive phones, though. There’s no microSD memory card slot (Motorola says this is not a price issue, though), no NFC, no 4G and no integrated support for wireless screen mirroring.
These are the sacrifices the Moto G has had to make in order to offer such a high-spec screen at such a low price. But they're the right ones. They're features that are relatively little-used by the vast majority of people.
With the entry-level £135 model you get 8GB of internal memory, around 5GB of which is accessible, and there’s a 16GB version that costs £160. While some may complain about not having expandable memory, we’re nevertheless impressed by what Motorola has managed to cram in. Some phones at the price only offer 4GB of internal memory.
The Motorola Moto G is a phone that proves how cheaply a high-quality phone can be made with a bit of aggressiveness and the right decisions. It stands out among its peers as the new 'phone to beat'.
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The Motorola Moto G’s most impressive feature is its screen. This is the first time we’ve seen a 720p screen on a phone that costs less than £140.
This gives the phone the sort of ultra-sharp text and images that we’ve only seen in much more expensive phones to date. 720p resolution stretched across a 4.5-inch display gives a pixel density rating of 329 pixels per inch (ppi). Higher-end Androids may offer 1080p screens these days, but that’s still higher than the ppi rating of the iPhone 5S (326ppi).
Such a sharp screen makes small text easily readable in the browser. It makes 3D games look a lot less ‘jaggy’ than they would on most rivals, too, which tend to have 800 x 480 pixel screens at this price.
Resolution is not everything, but general image quality is good too. The Motorola Moto G uses an IPS display, the same type used in both the HTC One and iPhone 5S, and it's a good one.
Performance is stellar for the price. Colours are well-saturated and vivid, contrast is strong and the evenness of the backlight is on-par with phones costing several times the price. It doesn’t look quite as natural as a top £500 phone’s screen, especially at top brightness, but this is undoubtedly the best phone screen we’ve seen at the price from a major manufacturer.
What’s also seriously impressive is that Motorola has used Gorilla Glass 3 as the screen covering. This toughened glass layer means the phone is less prone to flexing under pressure and scratching than most low-cost phones. Gorilla Glass is not unheard of in the sub-£200 market, though – the LG L7 II and Huawei Ascend G510 have it, although others tend to use ‘unbranded’ toughened glass.
The Motorola Moto G runs Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, one step behind the very latest Android 4.4 KitKat software, first seen in the Nexus 5. Motorola has made very few additions to Android 4.3, and that’s a good thing. Motorola has also promised an Android 4.4 update by January 2014 (Android 4.4 has a slightly nicer-looking interface and a few new features).
Motorola has made all the right moves with the Moto G software. Vanilla Android 4.3 is a mostly clean-looking, easy to use operating system.
You get all of Google’s standard Android apps, including the latest addition Quickoffice. This is a mini Microsoft Office-style suite that lets you make documents, spreadsheets and presentations from your phone/tablet. It’s all sync’d in with Google Drive too, making it remarkably handy if you already use Google Drive to share your documents.
Android 4.3 a pretty complete system, but for flashier extras you’ll need to head to the Google Play store. We found that all we hankered after were a new clock widget, and the third-party apps and games we always download on a new Android device. As with the missing NFC and other advanced features, we didn’t miss the missing software bells and whistles.
As the Moto G doesn’t have a custom interface, performance is very good indeed. This was the one thing we were slightly concerned about as the Motorola Moto G ‘only’ has 1GB of RAM, where the comparable Nexus 4 has 2GB of RAM. However, it's not something that's too apparent when the phone has 20 or so apps installed.
Despite being quad-core, the Moto G also has a lower-mid range processor. The phone uses a Snapdragon 400 CPU clocked at 1.2GHz.
Although obviously not as powerful as the top-tier processors of 5-inch phones, it’s once again very impressive for the price. Snapdragon 400 uses Cortex-A7 cores that are significantly more powerful than the Cortex-A5 cores seen in the £200 HTC Desire 500.
The Moto G is also much more powerful than the LG L7 II or Sony Xperia M, and not that far behind the HTC One Mini and Galaxy S4 Mini. Those more expensive ‘mini’ phones use Snapdragon 400-series processors like the Moto G, but the dual-core Krait kind, which are slightly more powerful.
Where the 1GB will show a little is when the Moto G gets congested with apps trying to run processes in the background. However, if you’re not an app hoarder you shouldn’t have too many problems with slow-down. In our testing, the Moto G was never less than snappy despite having had a barrowful of apps loaded onto it.
There are two extra apps that Motorola humbly bundles into the Moto G – Motorola Assist and Motorola Migrate. Their functions are things designed to make your life easier in simple ways, and both are fairly good.
Motorola Assist is our favourite of the two. It lets you silence your phone during night-time hours, with customisable caveats such as those ringing multiple times can get in, or selected contacts. A little more clever, Assist can also cross-reference with your Google calendar entries and silence the Moto G when you’re in a meeting.
Assist is a little more elaborately executed than some other versions of this very same idea we've seen in other phones – by simply having its own app – but it is very friendly for those not used to using advanced smartphones.
Motorola Migrate is too aimed at the person who can’t necessarily recite the specs of their last phone. It’s an app that lets you drag text messages contacts, media and settings from your old phone to your new one. It works, and pretty well too, but it only does so with Android phones, not iPhones or Windows mobiles.
With more power and more internal memory than we usually get for £135, gaming performance of the Motorola Moto G is predictably excellent too.
The phone isn’t yet supported by the 3DMark benchmark that we usually rely on for empirical 3D tests, but the phone has no problems running high-end 3D games like Real Racing 3. The frame rate was more solid than it was with our initial tests of the Sony Xperia Z, a phone that still sells for over £300.
However, we should stress that the Motorola Moto G does have a mid-range GPU, not a top-end one. It has the Adreno 305 GPU, shared by the Galaxy S4 Mini and HTC One Mini. To even begin complaining about the Moto G, you need to compare it to much, much more expensive phones.