You can't spend a better $200 on a smartphone, period.
The quick take
The third-generation Moto G is the best thus far, with most of the features you want, and a price that's almost impossible to beat.
- Good build quality
- Not loaded with bloatware
- Performs admirably
- That price ...
- The display is adequate, but that's all
- No quick charging
- Lacking NFC
- Reverts to single speaker
- 5-inch IPS LCD
- 1280x720 resolution (294ppi)
- Gorilla Glass 3
- 13MP, ƒ/2.0 lens
- 5MP front-facing camera
- 2470mAh capacity
- Non-removable, no quick charge
- Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor
- Adreno 306 graphics processor
- 8GB storage/1GB RAM
- 16GB storage/2GB RAM
- microSD slot
Moto G 2015 Complete Review
I admit: I feel a little self-conscious walking around with the 2015 edition of the Moto G. Certainly not as much as I would have with its predecessors, as this one really isn't missing any major features, and it doesn't look like a phone that you unsealed from a bargain-basement blister pack. But, still, it's not an $800 "Super Phone" (whatever that really is).
But hear this, now: You cannot find a better smartphone for $200 anywhere.
Motorola's been through a lot the past few years. Bought by Google. Later picked up by Chinese giant Lenovo. But the mission, insofar as it appears to those of us on the consumer end of things, hasn't changed one bit. Make really good phones. Make them simple, and make them at surprisingly understandable price points.
And Motorola's gone one further this year by bypassing the U.S. carriers altogether. (Though whether that truly was Motorola's decision or whether the carriers were lukewarm to the new lineup remains to be seen. There are a lot of factors at play there in any event.)
Basically, Motorola's given us all we've ever wanted. Good, inexpensive, SIM-unlocked phones. There's gotta be a catch, right?
Let's find out. This is the Android Central review of the 2015 Moto G.
About this review
We've been using the 2015 Moto G (aka the third generation model) for more than a week on AT&T in Pensacola, Fla. It's the XT1540 SKU — with 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM — running Android 5.1.1 and build LPI23.72.33. Motorola gave us beta access to its Moto, Camera and Connect apps for use during our review.
We've used the Moto G with Android Wear (an LG Watch Urbane) and with Android Auto.
Moto G 2015 Video walkthrough
Moto G 2015 Hardware
From left: Moto G 2014, Moto G 2015 and Moto X 2014.
You're not getting a 'premium' phone here, but neither do you feel like you're holding something cheap.
Here's the gist of the new Moto G: It's a biggish (but not huge) Android smartphone that's definitely in the mid-range, but manages to be so without really looking or feeling like it.
The display probably is the weakest part of the phone. The 5-inch panel has a 1280x720 resolution — also referred to as 720p — and that's the bare minimum we'd even take a look at these days. So the pixel density isn't all that great (by today's standards, at least), packing in just 294 of the little things per inch of screen. That means text isn't quite as crisp. Color reproduction isn't great, either, and everything sort of has a soft, hazy feel to it.
But this is a $200 phone. And for a $200 phone, the display is absolutely adequate. (And if you've never experienced a higher-end, QHD phone, you won't know what you're missing anyway.)
The body of the phone has been refined a touch as well, though it's definitely still in the Motorola style. Big glass front (Gorilla Glass 3, for those who worry about such things), and a rounded back. The headphone jack's on the top, and the volume and power buttons are on the right-hand side.
The plastic back cover — which is still removable — has a crosshatch texture to it this year. As it's removable, it's also swappable. There are 10 colors from which to choose, and additional shells (that's what they're called) cost $14.99 each. And that's a perfectly reasonable price for personalization. The shells also are what give the Moto G its water-resistance. Open one up and you'll see the rubber gaskets that keep water out of the SIM card and microSD card slots.
And that brings us to the internals. The new Moto G is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor. All you really need to know is this: It does basic smartphone things just fine. Phone calls? Texts? Web surfing? Email? No problem. When you're only pushing a 720p display — and, ya know, keeping this a $200 phone — the Snapdragon 410 works just fine. We've not run into a single instance in which we've said "Ya know, this would just be so much better if it had a 'better' processor." Some of that may well be that we've got the extra RAM in this thing (and we highly recommend just going ahead and spending the extra $40 for it — that brings the phone up to $219.)
A phone that doesn't get hot when it's just sitting around? Sold!
Really, the only time we've cringed a bit is when seeing what gaming was like. A graphics-heavy game like Vain Glory runs OK on the Moto G, but it doesn't look good at all. Again, that display, and the graphics power of the Moto G is just way below that of the high-end phones and tablets we typically do our gaming on. On the other hand, this is a $200 phone. It'll do Angry Birds and Candy Crush just fine.
And a fun fact: We've barely felt the Moto G get warm, never mind notice it get hot like so many of the top-end phones these days.
The overall look and feel? It's, well, a phone. It's not glamorous, but there is style in its simplicity. It's big, but not too big. The textured back gives a little grip, but not as much as you might hope. This is meat and potatoes, not caviar.
Two flavors of Moto G
As we said at the outset, Motorola lent us the version of the Moto G that has 2 gigabytes of RAM and 16 gigabytes of on-board storage — of which we have access to 11.8GB for apps and pictures and music and what not.
But ... the 2015 Moto G also has an SD card slot. Motorola official says it only takes up to a 32GB card, but we've successfully used 64- and 128-gigabyte cards in it. (Just know that they're not officially supported.)
There's a cheaper, lesser-spec'd Moto G available as well, though. We've been calling this "a $200 phone," which splits the difference between the $220 Moto G with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. For $180 you can get one with 1GB of RAM and 16GB. But we think it's worth that extra $40 to get the full smash — you're still out the door at just $220. That said, at the time of this writing the more capable of the two versions is unsurprisingly out of stock.
Moto G 2015 Battery life
Let's talk battery life. Capacity-wise, we're looking at a 2470 mAh battery — just about 3 percent less than the much more expensive Samsung Galaxy S6.
Motorola likes to throw out lines like "24-hour battery life." That's definitely possible. In fact, standby time is sort of ridiculous. Leave the phone off the charger overnight and you'll probably be fine in the morning. Heck, leave it off for a couple days (so long as you're not actually using the phone) and you'll find that it's still alive. That tells us that the Moto G isn't trying to do a million things in the background.
You'll probably get a full day's use out of the Moto G. And the standby time is very impressive.
As far as actually using it goes? In a week of real-life use, it's yet to not get us through a full day. We're not talking 24 hours — we're talking from about 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. You know, relatively normal days.
How you use the phone will definitely affect the battery life. Take a lot of pictures and video? That'll hit it. In an area with a poor cellular signal? That'll drain the battery faster than anything. (It's actually kind of impressive.) Total battery life really depends on what you're doing.
As far charging, you're back in the dark ages. That is, there's no wireless charging, and no Quick Charge. In our testing the Moto G pulls in a steady 1A. Yes, the Moto G's Snapdragon 410 processor supports Quick Charge, but, no, you don't get it on the Moto G. (We'd guess licensing fees come into play here.) That's probably not a deal-breaker, given that we're talking about a $200 phone here.
Moto G 2015 Software
If you've used "stock" Android in the past year or so, you're going to be right at home on the Moto G. It's got Android 5.1.1, with just a few (but welcome) customizations from Motorola.
So the home screen is simple. Apps, folders, widgets, search bar. The app drawer is the current apps-on-white horizontal scroller (which might or might not change in the next major release of Android). The notification pulldown uses space well — as opposed to the mess that Samsung, LG and others have made out of things — so you'll be able to act on notifications as they come in. And the settings menu is untouched.
If you're new to Motorola phones, this is very much its ethos. Don't mess with a good thing (in this case, Google's user experience), and add only what you need to on top of it. In fact, Motorola has removed some of its own custom features as they've been adopted by Google into the core operating system. (Smart Lock is one such feature.)
The core improvements from Motorola include the "Moto" app — which houses the "Assist," "Actions" and "Display" features — the "Migrate" app for moving files and contacts and the like to or from the Moto G and another phone, and some custom camera and gallery features.
And that's it. No duplicative bloatware. No mucking about with the user interface and reinventing the wheel something that might not work as well anyway. And the real upside to all this is that Motorola has one of the best track records when it comes to pushing out system updates in a timely manner. (Though Motorola does admit it might have done so a little too fast in the Android 5.x era, given that the underlying OS had a few issues.)
You don't get all of Motorola's excellent customizations in the Moto G, but you get enough to keep things interesting.
The features in the "Moto" app really are what have made Motorola phones so special in the past couple years. You don't quite get the full suite in the Moto G — there are hardware components that are missing in this mid-range phone — but you get enough to keep things interesting.
Assist lets you create automatic actions based on either activities or location. For instance: The "Sleeping" action keeps the screen dark (and can keep the phone silent) during specific hours. (This is separate from the notification "downtime" that's built into Lollipop. I've always preferred Motorola's implementation of this anyway. It's more much more simple.) Or you can have the Moto G keep quiet and automatically reply to missed calls if it sees that you're in a meeting, based on what's in your Google calendars.
Assist also lets you set actions based on location. This isn't new — we've had that ability for "home" and "work" locations. But we now can set custom locations. Go to a lot of movies? The Moto G can automatically silence itself as you arrive at the theater.
"Actions" comprises two really cool features. You can twist your wrist twice quickly to automatically launch the camera app. (You'll wonder how you lived without it.) And you can making a chopping motion (twice) to turn the flashlight on and off.
And then there's "Display," which allows notifications to intermittently appear on the screen while it's asleep — meaning you don't have to actually hit the power button to see what's going on. It's not as good as what you'll get on the Moto X — no waving your hand near the phone to activate this — but it's still a ridiculously useful feature.
Moto G 2015 Camera Review
Motorola hasn't exactly impressed us with its cameras the past couple of years. And that's in its flagship phones, never mind the less expensive models. But the following sentence is typed without reservation:
The 2015 Moto G has a really good camera for a $200 phone.
Is it a great camera? Nah. In fact, we'd go so far as to say it "feels" like a Motorola camera. About on par with the 2014 Moto X. It gets the job done. You will be able to get some pretty great shots with it sometimes. Other times, not so much. It doesn't really come close to the overall consistency of today's top-end phones, like the Galaxy S6 or LG G4.
But this is the camera of a $200 smartphone. And for that price, it's pretty darn good. (Plus you get that fun wrist-flick motion to launch the camera app — and you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.)
Motorola's using a customized version of Google's camera app here. That means there's no real shutter button — just tap the screen to take a picture. That's generally easier than having to make sure you tap a specific spot of the screen, though it can lead to more misfires. Settings are hidden away on the left-hand side of the screen — just swipe inward to expose them. That's where you'll find options for things like HDR, low-light mode, flash, focus, touch-to-focus, aspect ratio and others.
By default you're shooting at a 16:9 aspect ratio at 4160x2340, but you can change that to 4:3 if you'd like.
The rest Odds & Ends
Just because the Moto G is a $200 phone doesn't mean there aren't the usual bits and pieces that you'll find in other phones. Well, mostly. Here's what's up:
- As mentioned before, there's no quick charge. Standard 1A only here. But, again, the standby time on the Moto G is excellent.
- There's no NFC on board. So if that's a must-have for you, you'll need to look elsewhere.
- Bluetooth has worked as expected for us.
- Same for GPS.
- We've used the Moto G with Android Auto, connected to a Pioneer 4100NEX. The phone worked as expected.
- Audio quality is decent. A little bit behind the Galaxy S6, but probably not enough for casual listeners to notice.
- We've had zero problems with phone calls.
- Don't forget about the water resistance. Don't take it swimming, but don't worry about splashes. (Just make sure the back is properly affixed.)
Moto G 2015 The bottom line
If you somehow missed the underlying theme here (not likely), it's this: The Moto G is a really good $200. As in surprisingly good.
Decent design. Big, but not too big. LTE data. (That's the biggest change out of the box.) Expandable storage. Decent camera. Nearly none of the software bloat you typically get. Water-resistant. Promise of fast updates.
Basically everything you need in a phone, right?
Of course, you can't have a $200 phone without trade-offs. The display isn't great. A 720p resolution at 5 inches is a pretty step backward from today's high-end screens. No NFC will be a deal-breaker for some folks. So, too, may be the lack of a removable battery, as well as quick-charge capability.
Still, this Moto G is arguably the best bang for your buck anywhere in smartphone tech.
Should you buy the Moto G 2015? Yes!
This one's a nearly unmitigated "Yes." It's an affordable first smartphone for someone just getting to the 21st century. It's an affordable second phone if you're looking for a backup. And it's an affordable emergency replacement.
What it isn't is a high-end phone. It's got a lot of bells and whistles, but not all of them.
But it's only $200.
Where to buy the Moto G 2015
As of this writing, the latest version of the Moto G is available only from a handful of retailers. We are expecting a prepaid model in the United States at some point, though. The Moto G 2015 runs $180 for the version with 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM, and $220 for the 16GB/2GB model. (We recommend the latter.)