Inexpensive smartphones all come with compromises, but we’ve reached a point when those glaring setbacks are less noticeable. The new Moto G is totally solid phone, which will make you wonder why you’d pay for a flagship when what you get for $220 is so damn good.
What is it?
The Moto G is one of those “cheap” phones that defies the definition. It runs stock Android with Motorola’s excellent software additions and some other impressive specs: 5-inch 1280 x 720 screen, 2470 mAh battery, IPX7 waterproofing, 13-megapixel camera. The phone has LTE and is supported by all major U.S. carriers. It starts at $180 with 8GB of on-board storage and 1GB of RAM. I tested the $220 version which has 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM.
Why does it matter?
Cheap smartphones don’t suck anymore. Last year’s Moto G was the best cheap smartphone you could buy, and this year Motorola has beefed it up with significant improvements: It’s waterproof and it gets faster LTE data from the skies. Plus, it’s a little snazzier looking.
This phone is not a flagship powerhouse, but the next closest reasonable option is probably last year’s OnePlus One. It’s a better phone but costs $300.
The question isn’t whether the Moto G is a good smartphone for the money—that question already has an answer. It’s the de facto choice if you don’t want to, or can’t, sign a contract to get a subsidy for a pricier device. It was good last year, and now it’s better.
The question is whether the new the Moto G is good enough that it stands on its own as a phone anyone could buy without hesitation. It’s close.
The Moto G’s aesthetic design has been subtly but very noticeably improved this time around. First up, it’s now available through Moto Maker online, so you can customize the look of the phone for free. The most noticeable change is that the removable back cover of the Moto G now has lightly-textured banding, which makes the phone easier to grip. Motorola also added a little metal plate around the camera, kind of like those old Lumias. The plate has a tiny dimple, though it’s not as lovely as the dimples on Motorola phones like the Moto X and Nexus 6. The older Moto G has a more pronounced dimple—I’m a big fan of this design feature, and I miss it now. It’s what makes otherwise unwieldy phones easier to handle. Luckily, it’s not as important on smaller phones like this.
The new guy is fractions of a millimeter taller, wider, and thicker than its predecessor, but owing to some clever line design, which makes the back cover thinner, I actually thought this was smaller at first. By today’s standards the Moto G is average in overall size, though at its 11mm thickness, the Moto G is fatter than most others out there. I never really noticed the bulk though. It’s just comfortable.
The second-generation Moto G, the new Moto G, and the much larger Nexus 6
The display has the same resolution as last year’s, but now with a cleaner color profile. Comparing websites in Chrome on the 2014 and 2015 models, the older model has a yellow cast on the whites. At higher brightness, 2015’s Moto G looks like a premium display even if its comparatively low-resolution compared to QHD screens on flagships like the G4 and Galaxy S6.
Oh and it’s waterproof! Which is just great. I left the Moto G in a glass of water by my desk for about 20 minutes. It still works great.
I’ve been using the Moto G for a week after wielding the LG G4 for a few months, and maybe the strongest endorsement I can give this phone is that I’m not immediately clambering back to my much more powerful G4. I like the Moto G in most situations, and with the exception of a few maddening quirks, I would be totally satisfied with it as my go-to smartphone.
As with other phones in the Moto line, one of the biggest strengths is that the G runs stock Android with useful Moto software as helpful additions. The skins that manufacturers like Samsung, LG, HTC, run on top of Android have made design strides in recent years—going from unbearable to slightly tolerable—but they’re still a step back from the clean build designed by Google. Moto’s software enhances Android without getting in the way.
Moto Display is wonderful.
In particular, Moto Display makes checking notifications from your lockscreen super easy. You see the icons from your apps all lined up, and you just touch an icon to reveal more details. From there, swiping up opens the app, a swipe down unlocks the phone, and a swipe right dismisses the notification. Thanks to Moto Display, I spend less attention my phone and more on my actual life.
Moto’s speech and gesture support is also awesome. Since we last checked in, Motorola has added a new “chop” gesture that turns on the flashlight. Unfortunately, like the last Moto G, you can’t just wake up this phone by talking to it as you can with the more expensive Moto X (and the new Moto X Style).
One blemish on the software is that I accidentally trigger the camera gesture all the time on this phone in ways that I haven’t on other Motos. If you’re not familiar, this feature allows you to quickly open the camera with two quick twists of your wrist. Usually it’s useful, but with the new Moto G, I find the camera opening when I drop the phone on my bed or even just when I briskly take it out of my pocket. It’s annoying, but not enough to keep me from loving this phone.
Generally, the performance of the phone’s mid-grade Snapdragon 410 is totally fine. Most apps launch smoothly and run without a hitch, though big huge games like Monument Valley drag upon launch. The addition of LTE speeds is a major plus, letting you make a quick bank transaction or checking the status of Subway trains on the fly.
That said, the phone is occasionally buggy. Sometimes, the Wi-Fi connectivity is inconsistent even when other devices are working reliably. In the office we can’t seem to download Dead Trigger 2 on either of our Moto G units, whereas our Nexus 6 and LG G4 have no problem. And yeah, the occasional app will crash or freeze more often than its $600 counterparts.
The 13-megapixel camera is much improved from last year’s 8-megapixel shooter. And more than just passable, this camera is pretty good. I was able to get usable shots on the fly for my Converse story last week. Still, the Moto G’s shooter isn’t as snappy, sharp, or good in low-light as the excellent cameras on phones like the LG G4 and iPhone 6.
Finally, the battery. I can’t seem to kill this phone. It’s regularly lasted me a full 24 hours under moderate use. (Though, it’s pretty much dead after that.) lower-resolution display, an under-powered processor, and a big ‘ol battery are a winning combination if you want a phone that just keeps going.
Crazy cheap price. Improved design. Solid camera. Great battery life. Waterproof.
Occasional bugginess and sluggishness. Display isn’t top tier.
The best part
That price. The Moto G is a great phone for the money.
Annoying bugs, like Wi-Fi spottiness and accidentally activating the camera gesture, keep the Moto G from being the best it can be.
Should you buy it?
Yes, yes, oh god, yes. Look, it’s not a flagship monster. It’s just not. If you’re looking for the very best camera or the very sharpest display, this is not the right phone. But if you’re OK with good enough features plus some nice touches like excellent software and a waterproof build—not to mention an incredibly good price—this phone is the one.
The only reasonable competitor out there is the remaining stock of the OnePlus One, which is still available starting at $250 (though only the $300 model is currently available). It’s definitely worth considering, but with the even cheaper Moto G, you can’t go wrong.