Motorola swept us off our feet with the affordable Moto G. But after two months and a software update, how has life fared for the little phone that could?
Back in late November 2013, Alex Dobie and myself tooled up and headed to London to meet Motorola's latest Android smartphone. We already knew the name, but what we didn't know was just how much Motorola would blow us away that afternoon with the new Moto G. It's easy to pay lip service to budget devices and then forget all about them. But one thing was immediately clear; the Moto G was different. This was a phone we wanted to take notice of.
Motorola has had something of a reduced presence in recent times outside of North America, with the last new UK release being the RAZR i about a year before. With the Moto G, it was back with a bang. Back with a product that was so well priced for what was on offer that folks would find it hard not to pick one up just to see it for themselves.
In the two months or so since launch, I've used the Moto G regularly. It's easy to get swept up in the new high-end devices, but using the Moto G hasn't been the chore that using a budget phone once would have been.
Join us after the break for some long-term thoughts on the Moto G.
Low cost, but up to the task
The bottom bezel is massive, whichever way you look at it.
The first thing you notice — at least if you're familiar with the Moto X, that is — is the family resemblance with its bigger brother. Sure, it's pretty boring to look at round the front, but the screen size at 4.5-inches is just about right for me. The bottom bezel is massive, whichever way you look at it, but with the size of the phone I'm actually glad of it for once. No, I didn't bang my head, promise. The size and the shape of the Moto G means that the size of the bottom bezel puts that 4.5-inch display in the perfect location for how I hold the phone in my hand. Even on something like the iPhone with its smaller 4-inch display, I have to reach down with my thumb to hit the bottom icons, and it isn't comfortable. No such issues on the Moto G. Of course, not everyone holds their phone like I do, but the Moto G is a really comfortable device to use.
Then we come to the main visual cue on the phone — the colored backs (if you have them.) The early ones, including ours, came with the black back pre-installed. But it lasted about 12 seconds, while I figured out how to put the yellow one on. The removable back covers in various colors are really great, but damn, do they get dirty quickly. I've got a yellow and a red, and neither are looking particularly fresh right now. I'm not so down on it, since replacements are £8 (or about $15 in the U.S.). I don't want to have to keep buying them, but at least if they get too bad to clean down, it's a relatively cheap thing to replace.
Besides getting grubby very easily, the phone has held up well. No major scratches or dents, even after a couple of scary falls onto a hardwood floor from about four feet in the air. The back cover generally pops off without damage, and the front glass is — so far at least — proving it can stand up to scratching pretty well.
The gaps around the edge of the glass are just too wide.
The biggest issue with the actual hardware that I've had is pocket lint. Sure, it happens, and it's always irritating to see bits of it embedded around the edge of the display glass or in the earpiece. But man, the Moto G is bad with it. The gaps around the edge of the glass are just too wide, and as such from two months of going in and out of pockets and bags, I've now got a pretty permanent white border round the display. Maybe other folks aren't so frustrated by it, but I am. And no matter how hard I try, I can't get rid of it all. And even if I did, it'd soon come back.
The display is still pretty awesome
A 720p display at 4.5-inches works just fine. There, done. Well, OK, you want more? At the launch event for the Moto G, Motorola proudly declared it had a better pixel density (PPI) than Apple boasted on the iPhone's Retina Display. This is true — just barely — at 329ppi to 326ppi on the iPhone. That in itself is impressive enough, but then consider the price difference between the two. The Moto G is more than £300 cheaper than the iPhone 5c and still over £200 less than the now two-year old iPhone 4s.
Moto really has done the business with this display.
I regularly carry an iPhone 5s, and the display on the Moto G is every bit as impressive as the Retina Display. And that shouldn't be taken for granted. Browsing the web, looking at photos, watching videos is an excellent experience on the Moto G. Add to that great color reproduction, and Moto really has done the business with this display. Two months in, and I'm not left wanting for more at all. 1080p at this size would probably be a waste.
KitKat tastes really sweet
Apart from some areas, and some launch markets just coming on line, a large majority of Moto G owners should now be rocking Android 4.4.2 KitKat. We were promised it at the launch event, and Motorola delivered on time, and ahead of schedule for some. For its budget device. Other OEM's should sit up and take note. Since the Moto G ran a pretty much un-molested version of Android 4.3 anyway, we were never going to be disappointed with the update to 4.4.
We got the visual tweaks on the homescreen, with a translucent bar top and bottom and all the white icons. The launcher remained the same – no Nexus 5-esque action over here – but the visual alterations while subtle, added a nice edge. And of course, no major visual changes for those regular folks who don't look into these sort of things as much as we do.
The Moto G gives its owners that un-tampered Android experience that just hasn't been seen on budget devices of old.
And, for the adventurous, 4.4.2 brought the experimental ART runtime to the Moto G. I've used it for a little while, and yes, I do think there was a little performance bump. But I'm not so adventurous so I switched back. The best thing to note about the update is that – at least in my experience – nothing broke and performance is great. The Moto G gives its owners that un-tampered Android experience that just hasn't been seen on budget devices of old from the likes of HTC, Samsung, and the Chinese OEM's such as ZTE and Huawei. And that's possibly the absolute best thing about it.
The camera won't win awards, but it's not horrific
You buy a cheap phone knowing that you're not going to get an amazing camera round the back. And that's OK. Trade offs need to be made to make an all round great device like the Moto G for the price point it hit. But, I don't think the Moto G camera is that horrible. Outdoors. In good light. With HDR on.
I'm also adamant that the update to KitKat has improved the overall performance of the camera. Not so much from an image quality standpoint, but the time it takes to process. Part of my initial frustrations were that HDR photos just took too long to capture and process, leaving them blurry if nothing else. KitKat seems to have improved that, with HDR images now capturing, processing, and sending you back to the viewfinder in a flash. Or it could be the Placebo Effect and I could be imagining it all. But I'm taking much better photos with it since KitKat arrived.
Seeing the exposure change before your eyes as you move it around is a really simple way to help take better looking photos.
The Motorola Camera app is also proving a hit. Since we didn't get the Moto X in the UK until recently, the Moto G was our first experience with it. I love the simplicity, and I love the focus/exposure bracket. Seeing the exposure change before your eyes as you move it around is a really simple way to help take better looking photos.
Our original thoughts on noise remain however; there's plenty of processing going on to leave photos looking respectable and darker areas do still retain chroma noise. The further from the focus point you get too things get awfully soft looking in places.
But, while outside things can be quite positive, indoors and in low light it's hard to be so pleased. I wouldn't expect anything outstanding, but the biggest problem I've encountered is the flash. It's just dim-witted, to the point you end up with a horribly out of focus photo or it's on too long and you end up with a photo that in no way represents the colors of the subject you're shooting. It's something I've highlighted before, but it's still misfiring. Thankfully, the slow focusing at least seems to be fixed.
It's really a mixed bag, but with a little work you can get some nice enough looking shots. There's a gallery of some more recently taken ones below.
Worth buying the Google Play edition over the regular one?
I haven't handled the Google Play edition, but I can honestly say that if I could buy one, I wouldn't. There's enough in the Motorola Moto G that there isn't in the GPe Moto G to continue to recommend the regular one. The software version is the same in most locations, and the Moto launcher actually looks nicer with the transparent top and and bottom bars than the GPe launcher.
But delving deeper, the added Moto features like Motorola Assist and Motorola Migrate are worth having. I'd have loved to see a driving mode in Assist on the Moto G, but for the average user it's more useful having it around. Same with Migrate. You're going to be moving from another phone, and while the average reader here might not need to use it, the Moto G isn't necessarily going to be picked up by your average smartphone nerd.
Picking up a phone now without Trusted Bluetooth makes me a little sad.
Perhaps the feature I'm happiest with the most is Trusted Bluetooth Devices. In fact, I'm so happy with it, I want it on all my devices. And my MacBook. Picking up a phone now without Trusted Bluetooth makes me a little sad. It's such a simple, yet insanely convenient feature. I listen to music most of the day using a phone and a pair of Bluetooth headphones. With the Moto G, those headphones are my trusted device, and the phone never locks. I use another phone, and get frustrated every time I want to open the music app because I have to enter the unlock code. I love Trusted Bluetooth.
It's testament to what Motorola has done with the Moto G that there's little to no reason to go GPe. There's a cojant argument as to why you might want to do so with the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4, but the regular Moto G is good enough you'd be at a loss.
Battery life to take on the biggest and best of them
Using it as a hotspot, listening to music and constant emailing isn't enough to totally drain it in a day.
The Moto G doesn't have a removable battery, which initially was a disappointment. Despite the back cover being removable, inside you just see black plastic and a sticker. Thankfully, that hasn't proved to be much of a problem, since I'm regularly getting two days use out of it before it needs to find a charger. Mine doesn't have a SIM card in right now – since I'm using it with the newly switched on LTE in my area on another device – but the Moto G has always been in my arsenal when I've been travelling. Because even hammering it with using it as a hotspot, listening to music and constant emailing isn't enough to totally drain it in a day.
And on the subject of LTE; it'll disappoint some people in some markets that are used to LTE on all of the things. But if you've never had it you won't miss it, and the lack of it has to contribute to the stirling battery life.
Still the best budget phone you can buy. On any platform.
After two months of use, the Moto G if anything is more pleasing than when it first came into our lives. At launch, we were convinced it was the best budget Android smartphone you could buy and that's still true today. I compared the Moto G to the similarly priced Nokia Lumia 625 back in November, because Nokia pretty much ruled the roost in the low-cost space. That is, until Motorola came along and gave it a swift knee in the gut. The Nokia felt like more of a hardware compromise, just highlighting yet further how good a job Motorola had done.
So, two months in and a KitKat update in tow, the opinion is still the same. The Moto G is hands down the best budget smartphone around right now. And it's still a phone we'd recommend to anyone who wanted to listen.