The Moto G line gets another solid update, but a few confounding choices keep it from perfection.

There is no doubt as to whether the Moto G5 and its larger, more powerful sibling, the Moto G5 Plus, are the most attractive in Motorola's four year-old series. Incorporating subtle curves into aluminum, the devices are comfortable to hold, easy to use in one hand, and belie their entry-level prices.

But when you dig into the phones themselves — especially the more expensive Moto G5 Plus — you come away with the impression of yet another safe and data-driven upgrade in a series that continues to be Motorola's, and increasingly its parent company Lenovo's, most important mobile asset.

Specs

Category Moto G5 Moto G5 Plus
Operating System Android 7.0 Nougat Android 7.0 Nougat
Display 5-inch LCD 1920x1080 (441 ppi) 5.2-inch LCD 1920x1080 (424 ppi)
Gorilla Glass 3
Processor Snapdragon 430 1.4GHz octa-core
Adreno 505 GPU
Snapdragon 625 2GHz octa-core
Adreno 506 GPU
Storage 32GB (LATAM)
16GB (ROW)
32/64GB (U.S.)
16/32GB (APAC)
32GB (LATAM/EMEA)
Expandable microSD card up to 128GB microSD card up to 128GB
RAM 2GB (CA, LATAM, IRL, AU, JP, NZ)
3GB (IN, TR)
2GB (LATAM)
3GB (EMEA)
3/4GB (APAC)
Rear Camera 13MP, f/2.0, 1.1-micron pixels, PDAF 12MP, f/1.7, 1.4-micron pixels, dual AF pixels
Front Camera 5MP, f/2.2, 1.4-micron pixels 5MP, f/2.2, 1.4-micron pixels
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11n dual-band
Bluetooth 4.2
Wi-Fi 802.11n dual-band
Bluetooth 4.2
NFC (except U.S.)
Battery 2800mAh
Removable
3000mAh
Removable
Charging Micro-USB
10W rapid charger
Micro-USB
15W TurboPower charger
Water resistance Water-repellant nano-coating Water-repellant nano-coating
Security Fingerprint sensor Fingerprint sensor
Dimensions 144.3 x 73 x 9.5 mm 150.2 x 74 x 9.7 mm
Weight 144.5 g 155 g
Colors Lunar gray, fine gold, Sapphire blue (EMEA) Lunar gray, fine gold

Moto G5

The smaller of the two phones has made the transition to metal this year, and has been graced with a front-facing fingerprint sensor that looks considerably better than the square obstruction on the Moto G4 (and Moto Z line) from last year. Indeed, that the G5 is physically smaller is a diversion from 2016's Moto Gs, too— the Moto G4 and its Plus variant both sported 5.5-inch 1080p LCD displays, whereas the Moto G5 has been compacted, reportedly at users' requests, to five inches.

The screen, though 1080p, is not great: you can visibly see the lines that make up the panel when the screen is off, and brightness is not going to win awards. It also eschews the Gorilla Glass of the base Moto G4 for, well, nothing. There's glass, for sure, but it's not branded and may not hold up to scratch scrutiny, though we'll have to see.

Inside, Motorola has shifted the base Moto G to a different chip than its Plus variant, further separating the two devices in their assumed demographics. Now with a Snapdragon 430 — an octa-core chip potentially slower than last year's Snapdragon 617, though freer of overheating issues — clocked at 1.4GHz, it should be sufficient for most tasks, but it's clear that the 2017 Moto G is slowly encroaching, or it means to, the same market as the Moto E.

The Moto G5 looks a lot nicer than last year's model, but internally it's a lateral move.

That's not a bad thing. At €199, the Moto G5 is a good deal more expensive than what we've come to expect from the Moto E (which technically still exists, but only in certain markets), and with a metal frame it's going to come across to the average consumer like a much more high-end device, despite the hit in specs. And like previous models, the amounts of RAM and storage differ between markets — 2GB or 3GB of RAM and 16GB or 32GB of storage — but I think most people are going to be pretty happy with the finished product.

If you turn the phone over, the 13MP camera shows itself embedded in a new, circular module that looks akin to the one found on the popular Moto Z line. That brand symmetry is purposeful, but while Motorola wouldn't confirm it, the actual 13MP sensor and f/2.0 lens appears to be the same as in last year's Moto G4. The phone's back cover is also removable, a concession made to people that still want to replace battery cells — there's a 2,800mAh cell in here — though the two metal parts click in place with satisfying precision.

Moto G5 Plus

This is the phone that has received the bulk of the improvements this year. A much-nicer 1080p panel at 5.2 inches keeps the body size down and screen density up, while inside the Snapdragon 625 is an enormous bump in performance and efficiency from last year's Snapdragon 617. Having used the same chip in the Moto Z Play, most G5 Plus owners are going to be very happy with this development.

Like the smaller phone, the Moto G5 Plus is mostly metal — and without a removable backplate — and the 3,000mAh battery should go further than last year's already-efficient G4 Plus. That Snapdragon 625 is paired with between 2GB and 4GB of RAM, depending on the market, and between 16GB and 64GB of storage (though most markets, including the U.S., will have 32GB base). The number of variants is dizzying, and speaks to the data-focused approach the Motorola team took when designing and building this global device.

It's time to suck it up and change the Moto G line to USB-C.

The U.S. is getting two versions of the Moto G5 Plus — the smaller G5 is only coming to Canada in North America — one with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, and the other with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Starting at $229, that's not a bad deal, especially for an entry-level device that should be a contender for one of the longest-lasting handsets in its price class.

And then there's the G5 Plus's camera which, though lower-resolution at 12MP, is a considerable upgrade over the 16MP shooter in the premium version of Moto's 2016 variant. While Motorola isn't sharing the exact part, we know that the sensor has 1.4 micron pixels, which should make it much better in low light, aided by an f/1.7 aperture, phase-detection and laser-based autofocus, and a color-balancing dual LED flash.

Moto G5 Plus, indoors

Jargon aside, I found the rear camera to be reliable in most lighting situations — and impressive when holding on to light indoors. Still present is the Moto Action everyone loves, the double-twist-to-camera which, along with the speedy camera interface, should make for the Moto G5 Plus's marquee feature. The front-facing camera, a 5MP sensor with 1.4 micron pixels and a wide-angle lens, appears to be identical to last year — the same as on the smaller Moto G5 — and certainly passable.

Some Moto G5 Plus camera samples.

A 3,000mAh battery rounds out the important bits of the spec list; the same-sized cell should get considerably more uptime thanks to that Snapdragon 625.

I do have some quibbles with the Moto G5 Plus, especially the one coming to North America. First, like its smaller counterpart, it's still using Micro-USB. That's increasingly an aberration in phones of any cost, and while Motorola may be stuck with additional implementation fees, it's a bandage the company will have to pull at some point. The official line is that it ensures compatibility with accessories used for years by Moto G users, and that's fair, but the line won't hold forever.

Second, there's no NFC in the U.S. variant of the phone — the rest of the world gets it — which is an odd omission for a market looking to increase its uptake of mobile payments. Sure, the uses for NFC are limited, and the justifications for cost savings considerable when the U.S. dollar is strong and the pressure to keep prices low is the top concern, but at this point the radio seems like it should be table stakes alongside things like Bluetooth and GPS.

The design, too, plays it safe. I like the offbeat, confident appearance of the Moto Z line — though I'm glad to see Motorola has conceded to a rounded fingerprint sensor — but the Moto G5 Plus is now yet another rounded metal smartphone, a design-by-committee approach to pocket computers. It's not ugly by any means, but it makes little impression.

Software touches

Both Moto G5 variants run Android 7.0 out of the box, and while there are few remarkable things about the software — a good thing, in my opinion, since Motorola keeps things close to Google's idea of what Android should be — the company has made some notable additions.

First, there's Google Assistant, the second (and third) devices beyond the LG G6 and the Pixels themselves that have it built in. The feature wasn't implemented in the demo units I played with, but retail versions will have it.

Motorola has also spruced up the initimable Moto Display feature, adding support for more colors, a more attractive circular time widget, and a very helpful new shortcut feature that jumps right into parts of an app — a specific email, say, instead of just Gmail — that will inevitably save people time.

Finally, there's this neat new feature called One Button Nav that, while probably never going to be a mainstream choice, eschews the traditional virtual navigation keys on Android for a gesture-based system that relies on the fingerprint sensor.

A swipe left is back, a swipe right, multitasking, a press-and-hold becomes Google Assistant and a touch remains home. It's something Lenovo has been noodling with for a while, and though I don't think it's a particularly necessary feature, it's one the company says proved very popular in beta testing, especially when these devices have smaller screens than their immediate predecessors.

A natural evolution

As I am every year, I'm impressed with Motorola's ability to shuffle cards around to make it appear like its latest Moto G product is a bigger upgrade than it is in reality. The Moto G5 is, in some ways, a lateral move, opting for higher build quality over better specs. Users likely won't notice any performance improvements over the previous generation — in daily tasks, it may even be slower — and the smaller battery won't do it any favors, either. But the addition of a fingerprint sensor is important to the company's messaging, and it does feel much nicer in the hand than the plasticky Moto G4.

The Moto G5 Plus is a bit more complicated to talk about. There are real, substantive improvements in every major area, including display, camera, performance and design. I'm happy with the decision to reduce screen size in favor of a phone that is more easily usable in one hand, and the 12MP camera sensor should please everyone invested in the Moto G ecosystem. But the decision to stick with Micro-USB, and the lack of NFC, feel like concessions that shouldn't be necessary in 2017.

But the Moto G line, while popular in the U.S., is tailor-made for countries still building their mobile ecosystems, and these devices show leadership in almost every area. Motorola surveyed thousands of people, and used purchase data from every market, to determine what to upgrade and where to cut and, as usual, it appears they made the right decisions.

The Moto G5 and G5 Plus will be available beginning in early March in some markets. U.S. availability of the Moto G5 Plus has yet to be determined.