Motorola under Lenovo has maintained a stronghold on the budget market in many parts of the world — particularly India and Latin America — but its U.S. tenure hasn't been as assured. With the Moto G6, the company butts up against rising component prices and emerges with a budget champion that's also full of compromise.
Price: from $240
Bottom line: While it's clear sacrifices were made to reach its $249 price, the Moto G6 is one of the best budget phones around.
- Great build quality and design for the price
- Excellent main rear camera
- Good battery life
- Moto Display is still amazing
- USB-C charging
- Screen quality isn't great, even for the price
- Occasional performance stuttering
- Moto G line isn't known for swift software updates
- Lacks NFC
Moto G6 The details
I've been using an unlocked U.S. Moto G6 for a week as my daily driver — Android 8.0, Build OPS27.104-15-10, with a March 1, 2018 security patch date. It has 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, which aligns with the $249 "base" model.
Moto G6 The Prelude
When reviewing a phone that's less than half — and in some cases a full third — the price of the flagship products we normally look at, it's important to put its review into context. Most people choose a budget phone like the Moto G because they don't have a lot of money to spend. Makes sense, but the matter is complicated by the varieties of ways people buy their phones.
The Moto G6 is a sequel to either the G5 or G5 Plus depending on the market.
In North America, most people buy their devices through carriers, which amortize the cost over a year or two, tacking on the cost of the phone to their monthly bill. In parts of Europe, the cost of the phone depends on the cost of the plan — the more expensive the plan, the less one pays for the phone. In South America, India, and certain other countries — where Motorola dominates the market — phones are bought outright in order to keep plan costs down. If a carrier doesn't have to subsidize, or even stock, the phone being used, it has less overhead and can charge less for what it's really there to provide: service.
It's with that lens that I look at the Moto G6, because at $250 it attempts to reproduce the look and experience of pricier models, becoming convincingly aspirational in markets where most phones sold are under $300 and suitably disruptive in markets where flagships sell in volume.
Most Moto G6 users will likely be upgrading from previous budget phones, which means we have to frame the device in that light. Me, I'm reviewing this after using "budget" flagships like the $529 OnePlus 6 and canonical flagships like the Huawei P20 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S9.
The Moto G6 is objectively impressive, but it's particularly so when using it right after those phones.
Moto G6 The Review
Until Lenovo purchased Motorola in 2014, the Moto G line emphasized function over form. The first four iterations weren't ugly, but they had no real design, no true eye-catching appeal. That changed in 2017 with the Moto G5 line, which traded plastic for metal, and a year and a bit later we have the Moto G6, which trades metal for glass... and a bit of plastic.
The Moto G6, which sits in the middle behind the $199 Moto G6 Play and the $349 (ish — it's not available in North America) Moto G6 Plus, has Gorilla Glass 3 on the front and back, with matching shiny acrylic sides. While slippery, I appreciate the way the rear curves to meet the frame, making it a pleasure to grip the tall-and-narrow frame. And while the device, which has a 2:1 aspect ratio, is taller than its predecessors, it's also immediately identifiable as a Moto product, mainly due to the signature rounded camera module and front-facing fingerprint sensor.
I really like this design. It's not symmetrical, but it's balanced, and despite the fingerprint sensor's reduction in surface area, it's responsive and easy to use, even when standing in for the on-screen navigation keys with One Button Nav.
A note on One Button Nav
Motorola introduced the One Button Nav feature with the Moto G5 line, adapting it from parent company India-centric Lenovo's Z2 Plus, and has since brought it to every phone in its lineup that has a front fingerprint sensor.
It works by mimicking Android's on-screen navigation buttons — Back, Home, Multitasking — with a set of swipe and tap gestures. Swipe left for back; swipe right for multitasking; tap quickly for Home; tap-and-hold for Google Assistant.
When it debuted, I couldn't use it. The sensitivity was abysmal and I experienced too many false positives for it to be even remotely useful. With the Moto G6, I decided to give it another go and found it much better. In fact, I used it for the entire review period, and aside from a few situations found it reliable and enjoyable. While I'm not sure I could transition full-time to it, it's an interesting feature that frees up screen space, allowing apps to use the Moto G6's full 5.7-inch display.
Compared to Google's own set of navigation gestures in Android P, Motorola keeps things relatively simple, but it will be interesting to see how the feature evolves as devices get updated to Android 9.0 in 2019.
Should you buy the Moto G6, I highly recommend you give One Button Nav a try.
|OS||Android 8.0 w/ Moto|
Gorilla Glass 3
Adreno 506 GPU
|RAM||3GB / 4GB|
|Storage||32GB / 64GB|
|Camera 1||12MP rear, ƒ/1.8|
|Camera 2||5MP rear, ƒ/1.8|
|Connectivity||300Mbps LTE, 19 LTE bands
Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile
|Security||Fingerprint, face unlock|
15W TurboPower charger
|Dimensions||153.8 x 72.3 x 8.3 mm|
|Colors||Black, Deep Indigo, Blush|
|Price||starts at $249|
The 5.7-inch 1080p display is where the first obvious compromise comes into play. It's sharp, yes, but colors are dull compared to more expensive devices and, more importantly, touch response is considerably slower.
It's not going to impede your enjoyment of the device in day-to-day activities — I had no issues typing, for instance — but when playing games that require twitch reflexes, it may become more of an issue. Still, this is an impressive display, and one of the best in its price range.
Thankfully, Motorola hasn't messed with Moto Display, one of the company's legacy standout features. It debuted five years ago with the Moto X and, despite minor improvements to information density, hasn't changed that much but that's completely fine. Being able to not only view but interact with notifications when the screen is "off" — or more accurately, passively on — is still, years later, one of the best mobile user experiences there is. Despite the proliferation of always-on displays, no company has matched Motorola here. Not even close.
Moto Display is activated by tapping the display or physically moving the phone, and while I miss the ability to bring my hand close to the screen to turn it on, those sensors add cost, and cost is a factor with the G6.
I bring that up again because Motorola made a questionable specifications decision with the G6, and one that has positive and negative implications. The Snapdragon 450 SoC in the phone is paired with either 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage or 4GB and 64GB, and despite the chip sharing a lot in common with last year's Moto G5 Plus, it's hard to see this as anything but a downgrade.
Sure, most people won't be upgrading directly from that phone to this one, but with the absence of the Moto G6 Plus in the U.S. market, the G6 is the logical successor (especially because, thanks to increasing component prices, they share the same base price) it's clear you're trading some performance for additional features.
(To be clear, the Moto G line did that for years; it stuck with the Snapdragon 400 and 410 chips between 2013 and 2015, choosing to spend money in other areas.)
Motorola is also keenly aware of the performance regression, since it doesn't mention the specific chip used in the phone anywhere on its specs page, choosing instead to call it a "blazing fast qualcomm Snapdragon 1.8GHz octa-core processor." The Moto G6 Plus spec sheet, on the other hands, mentions the Snapdragon 630 explicitly.
The Moto G6 doesn't feel slow, but there's a perceptible difference between its languid response to commands and the immediacy of a flagship.
To that end, the Moto G6 performs quite well, but everything takes an additional tick to complete compared to devices running 600- and 800-series chips. (Andrew reviewed the Moto G6 Plus, which has a faster Snapdragon 630, and saw no such performance slouching.)
This is especially evident in the camera app, which takes a couple of agonizing seconds to load, and inserts a noticeable beat between shutter and capture. The camera isn't slow the way budget phones were a few years ago, but it's the most obvious area where more powerful hardware justifies its additional cost.
That camera offers a familiar set of specs and drawbacks, too. The main 12MP sensor isn't as good as the one in the Moto G5 Plus — it lacks the autofocus-boosting Dual Pixels feature — and its ƒ/1.8 aperture isn't as fast.
In exchange, you get a second 5MP sensor that offers up a fascimile of flagship features like portrait mode, "stage lighting", and more. You also lose the Moto G5 Plus's 4K video, maxing at 1080p (though at an impressive 60fps).
Given the impressive pedigree of the Moto G5 Plus, the camera situation here is unfortunate, but it's not all grim: I was impressed by most of the photos taken in daylight and moderate indoor light, and even managed to eke a couple of decent nighttime photos after a few throwaways.
The lens has a difficult time locking onto subjects, even outdoors, but once it locks the lens gets some magnificent bokeh, largely negating the need for the portrait mode — which has also improved this year, with much better edge detection.
But either because of the poor quality of the secondary sensor or an immature depth algorithm (or both), portrait subjects emerge with a cartoony halo around them, with inconsistent borders and little gradation between the foreground and rear. I'd have much rather seen Moto spend the extra money on a better primary sensor and lens, but when the market speaks, companies must listen.
That said, though it did take me a few tries, I got a pretty nice portrait of my dog, Zadie, outside on a hot day.
So the camera is a mixed bag — if you're coming from a Moto G4 or G5, it's a huge improvement. Better sensor, faster lens, superior low-light shots. But if you're looking at this, like many North Americans are, as the successor to the Moto G5 Plus, it's more of a lateral move.
I compared the Moto G6 to the Moto X4, which shares a 12MP sensor of similar quality to the G5 Plus (though its ƒ/2.0 lens is a bit slower) and found the G6 to produce richer, more vivid photos indoors and out, but with considerably more grain in areas with poor light.
That's a trade-off I'm willing to make — the X4 is more true-to-life and produces cleaner, more editable photos whereas the G6's photos are more instantly 'Grammable.
The camera's saving grace, however, is its app. Still accessible with a double-twist of the wrist (another 2013-era gesture that, along with "chop-chop for flashlight," still holds up nicely) it's received a nice redesign for 2018, putting the most important sections within thumb's reach. The object recognition stuff that Motorola touts as "Smart Camera" is neither smart nor helpful, but it's easy enough to disable and doesn't get in the way.
In fact, software is the entire phone's saving grace. Running Android 8.0 Oreo with only minor changes to what you'd find on a Pixel phone, the software is what makes the Moto G6 feel as snappy and mature as it does. Apps load quickly and generally perform well, though my unit cleared out its 3GB of RAM more quickly than I'd like, forcing apps to reload after a few minutes idle.
Unfortunately, the return of Moto Voice — supposedly new and improved — is a big disappointment. Motorola touts the service's ability to perform local commands like "turn on Wi-Fi" or "play cat videos" but everything I tried in Motorola's short list of acceptable phrases could be reproduced better and faster with Google Assistant. My suggestion is to ignore this duplicative feature completely.
Some important miscellany
- There's a single front-facing speaker built into a earpiece above the screen. It's pretty good and gets surprisingly loud. ✅
- The phone charges via USB-C, which has been incredibly useful during my review period. The phone comes with a compatible 10-watt charger in the box along with a USB-A to C cable, so if you're moving up from Micro-USB, welcome to the rest of your life. ✅
- There's a headphone jack on the bottom of the phone, but I only used Bluetooth headphones in my time with the phone, and they all worked perfectly. ✅
- Call quality is really good, as is usually the case with Motorola phones. ✅
- Motorola's famous "Water-repellent nano-coating" meant to keep water out of the phone's internals works really well. I dropped my phone in to a water fountain for a few seconds and it showed no signs of damage. ✅
- In addition to the front-facing fingerprint sensor, there's whip-fast face unlock that works in all but the worst of lighting conditions. ✅
- At 167 grams, the Moto G6 is 12g heavier than last year's Moto G5 Plus, but thanks to a taller body and improved ergonomic design, it actually feels lighter. ✅
- The Snapdragon 450 SoC maxes out at 300Mbps down and 150Mbps up, but I consistently reached speeds over 120Mbps on Canada's TELUS network, which is hard to complain about. ✅
- The good news is that the phone supports all four major U.S. carriers, including Verizon and Sprint, and will work on T-Mobile's growing AWS-3 (Band 66) network. No Band 71 support, though. ✅
- The less attractive side of that coin is the lack of aggregation diversity; the Moto G6 only supports 2x20MHz carrier aggregation, which not only limits overall speed but coverage potential in areas with many different wireless bands. 🚫
- There's no NFC, so no Google Pay. It's 2018, Motorola — this is still a bad decision. 🚫
Finally, on battery life, the 3,000mAh battery has fared remarkably well, largely thanks to the power-sipping 14nm Snapdragon 450, which maxes out at a leisurely 1.8GHz per core. In my week using the phone full-time, I didn't have to recharge during the day at all, and even though I hit the red (below 10%) by bedtime, I never felt battery anxiety. What's most surprising, though, is just how similar the phone's longevity was to devices twice or three times the cost.
Other low-cost handsets like the Moto G6 Play and Moto E5 Plus rely on enormous batteries to eke as much uptime as possible because they have older, less efficient processors. The Moto G6 finds the right balance.
Moto G6 The competition
So what of the competition? When you're in the market for a cheap phone, the choices are seemingly endless and yet there are so few standouts. If you're in the U.S., the obvious choice would be the 2018 version of the Nokia 6, also known as the Nokia 6.1, which sells for a reasonable $269.
What it lacks in design it makes up for in solidity: it's milled from a single piece of Series 6 aluminum, and features a faster Snapdragon 630 SoC in addition to 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Its 16MP camera is higher resolution, but doesn't match the Moto G6's for speed and features. It also runs Android One, with a clean version of Android 8.1 that is sure to appeal to many in the unlocked phone space.
Between devices like the Nokia 6.1 and Honor 7X — not to mention other Motorola phones — the G6 has more competition than ever.
Of course, that Nokia 6.1, like most in this price range only supports T-Mobile, AT&T, and its MVNO partners; Motorola made sure to support all four major U.S. carriers with its Moto G6 line this year. That's a big advantage, and helps it slip into higher-volume carrier channels Nokia will likely never enter in the U.S.
Then there's the Honor 7X, which shares a lot in common with the Moto G6, including a 2:1 screen and dual cameras. At $199, it's a little cheaper and a bit more powerful, but its EMUI software is a mixed bag, as is the camera. The Xiaomi Mi A1 is also similarly great.
Outside the U.S., there's plenty in the €200/£200 range, from the Xiaomi Mi A1 to myriad devices from ASUS and Huawei, but Motorola holds court over the category, as it's done for half a decade now.
That court extends to other Motorola phones, too. The Moto G6 Plus is sold alongside the G6 in many parts of the world, and it takes what I love about this phone and improves on it in every way — better display, faster processor, and significantly improved camera. Similarly, the Moto X4, which stands in for the G6 Plus in the U.S., may not share the tall-and-thin design language of Moto's 2018 lineup, but it's still a heck of a phone, and can be procured for roughly the same price as the G6.
Moto G6 Bottom line
When evaluating the Moto G6, it's important to mark its proper place in Motorola's hierarchy: it's not the direct successor to the Moto G5 Plus despite seeming that way in the U.S. market. When viewed as a sequel to the G5 Plus, it doesn't fare particularly well because improvements like battery life, design, and features come at the cost of speed and camera quality. Unfortunately, because the G5 wasn't available in the U.S. and the G6 Plus will be similarly absent, the line of succession becomes murkier.
But when looked at on its own, as an objectively good budget phone in 2018, the value proposition is clear. Despite some obvious shortcomings, there is very little separating the experience of using the Moto G6 to that of much more expensive phones. And if, like many Moto G owners, you've never used a flagship, or have no desire to spend between $700 and $1000 on a smartphone, the Moto G6 offers outstanding value. Similarly, in markets where the Moto G6 does succeed the Moto G5, the phone is an improvement in every way.
As with all Motorola phones, it remains to be seen whether the company will maintain the G6's software. A year on from the Moto G5 lineup, security patches have been rare, and a jump to Oreo, while promised, has taken far too long.
Despite some misgivings, there's very little I dislike about the Moto G6. Motorola's crafted a solid, dependable, and enjoyable budget phone, and one that I would heartily recommend to anyone looking to spend under $300.
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