- Tremendous value
- Sharp, vibrant display
- Clean software
- Surprisingly capable performance
- No LTE support
- Limited storage space
- Mediocre camera
- Choppy web browsing
Excellent screen, impossible value at this price point.
For the price.
Those are the words that’ll dictate your opinion of the Moto G. Taken on its own, Motorola’s mainstream gambit is more or less a flagship phone from a year or so ago, with some modernized design cues added in. It’s built well, plenty fast, and fit with a sharp, beautiful display.
It’s also $180. Unlocked. And when paired with a Verizon prepaid plan, it drops down to just $99.
For most people, buying a phone is all about maximizing value — and with price tags like that, the Moto G suddenly morphs from a capable midrange handset to one of the biggest steals on the market today.
It’s not unprecedented, but by offering this handset at this price point, Motorola just might liberate us from the hunks of old plastic we’re usually forced to carry around if we want a sub-$200 phone. It could be a market-changing device – if it’s any good. Let’s take a look.
Build and Design
The primary point of comparison for the Moto G is the Moto X, the one flagship phone Motorola launched during its ‘a Google company’ era before getting shipped off to Lenovo. Generally speaking, the G is a stripped down version of the X, omitting some flashier features here and changing up some spec details there.
This all starts in the design. The Moto G is more or less a pudgier version of its more expensive cousin, like the Moto X if it went on an ice cream binge and didn’t get off its couch for a few days. Its back is composed of the same sort of smooth polycarbonate material, and its sides are similarly plastic. It’s comfortably curved around its top and rear, with the same rounded edges and little back dimple that I can’t stop running my finger across. (Really, I love the back dimple.)
That it rips most of its cues from the Moto X is a good thing, as the Moto G has the same mix of understated yet handsome looks. It’s simply a class above the other kinds of phones you’d see in this price range.
Nevertheless, a Moto X mini this is not, and the Moto G does have some of the annoyances you’d expect from a phone this cheap. It’s heavier than the X, for one, at 5.04 oz total. Much of that heft feels shifted towards its bottom, so if you’re like me and rest your phone on your pinky when you’re holding it, you’re going to feel some strain after a while.
That curved, polycarbonate back is just a little chunky in general. It’s a bit fatter, longer, and heavier than devices of a more premium caliber, though it’s by no means an anchor in the hand. It is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, however, and it didn’t take long for us to smudge up the Moto G’s rear.
The front and sides of the Moto G aren’t fused together the way they are on the Moto X; instead, the plastic edges form little protruding ‘lips’ around the side of the display. Those can be a bit of a nuisance when you press the phone up against your face during a call, and they do prevent side-to-side scrolling from being as smooth as it is on something like the Nexus 5. Some dust and other debris can accumulate in there too. None of those things are dealbreakers, but they’re little nitpicks you’ll have to live with.
Only one side of the Moto G is adorned with any physical keys. A plastic power button and volume rocker sits on the right edge of the phone, and they’re cheap-feeling compared to the rest of the hardware here. The front of the device has the usual three-pronged set of capacitive keys, while the right side is completely barren. A standard headphone jack and micro-USB port are on the phone’s top and bottom, respectively, while the speaker and camera lenses rest above that dimple on the back. That rear panel is removable, and underneath it is a slot for your micro-SIM.
There are really no wacky signature tricks here (outside of the dimple), just a clean and compact phone that’s easy to pick up and use. It’s like the anti-Droid, in that sense.
It isn’t very colorful, though. Motorola is selling a number of different colored cover shells to try and infuse each Moto G with some more personality, but there’s no Moto Maker shop support, so the level of customization isn’t as deep as it could be. Our unit came with an all-black coating, which is a tint we’ve seen hundreds of times before.
But again, that’s a nitpick, and just that we’re actually comparing the Moto G’s design to that of the Moto X makes it a success at this price point. It even one-ups the X in the sense that it’s a truly one-handed device, something that’s still a rarity among higher-end handsets these days. Yes, it has issues that wouldn’t fly on a modern flagship, but it’s all about keeping expectations in check here. And for a $180 smartphone, this is probably the highest-end design we’re going to get.
That same sentiment applies to the Moto G’s display, which is just fantastic for what you’re paying. On paper, it’s a 4.5-inch IPS LCD panel, coated in Gorilla Glass 3, with a 1280×720 resolution that’s good for around 326 pixels per inch. Off paper, you’d have to be looking closely to notice any major differences between this screen and the ones on the latest Droids or the Moto X. The display is typically where “cheap phones” make their biggest sacrifices, but Motorola made it a point to not fall into that trap with the Moto G.
They succeeded. Everything is as sharp, clear, and bright as you could ask for on a panel in this range. Viewing angles are great, and the contrast here is especially praiseworthy, as the deepest blacks and lightest whites here can compete with those on handsets three times as expensive. Its bezels aren’t exactly thin, but they aren’t large enough to be a distraction either. And that Gorilla Glass coating keeps the whole thing sufficiently sturdy and scratch-resistant.
The only issue with this picture is that it’s very blue. It’s immediately noticeable, and it causes the screen to be too dark for our liking on auto-brightness settings. This, combined with the notable contrast levels, almost makes it feel as if the Moto X has an OLED display like the one you’d find on a Samsung Galaxy S4. The overall color calibration just seems to be a bit off by default, which is disappointing given how much the rest of the display excels.
That’s just about the only significant fault we can find, though, and even then it’s excusable given the value you’re getting here. Is 720p going to blow anyone away in a world where 2K phones are on the horizon’ Of course not. But again, expectations. This is a display that you’d find on a phone priced around $100 on contract, so it really goes above and beyond anything we’re used to seeing in this segment of the market.