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Moto G

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star
Carrier: Unlocked GSM (works with AT&T and T-Mobile)
Manufacturer: Motorola
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What's Hot: Great quality and a brand you can trust for a very low price, no contract required.

What's Not: For this price, you can't expect top specs.

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Reviewed December 11, 2014 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

We need more phones like the Moto G, lots more. The Moto G is a well made, yet it's an extremely affordable unlocked GSM smartphone from a trusted manufacturer that sells for just $179 retail. No contract or payment plans required, it's simply that inexpensive. Of course you won't get flagship specs or a giant screen for that price, but it's a classy looking device with good build quality, reasonable speed and a colorful display. Motorola, now owned by Google, sells the Moto G direct from their website and via some retailers like Amazon. This is an Android smartphone that looks like the higher end Moto X, but unlike the X, the back is removable and Motorola sells back shells in 6 colors for $15 apiece, and there's a flip cover case with back shell (also available in 6 colors) for $35.

Moto G

It used to be if you wanted an inexpensive unlocked GSM smartphone that works with US and overseas GSM carriers, you had to buy a no-name phone, generally made in China, and likely not sold from big and popular retailers or commercial websites. That could be an iffy proposition in terms of quality, warranty and compatibility. Moto has taken the unknowns out of the equation and their Moto G is less expensive than some no-name brands. The 8 gig model is just $179 and the 16 gig model is $199. With that small a price divide; I suspect many folks will go for the 16 gig version. That's not a bad idea because Google hates removable storage, so there's no microSD card slot here. The Moto G has GSM, 3G HSPA 21Mbps but no LTE 4G. Here in the US, it's compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile, and it will work overseas on GSM networks.

Specs at a Glance

The Android 4.3 phone has a 4.5" HD display and it runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU with Adreno 305 graphics and a gig of RAM. It's available with 8 or 16 gigs of storage and it has a 5 megapixel rear camera with LED flash and HDR. The phone has single band (not the more common and preferable dual band) WiFi 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0 and a GPS with GLONASS. It does not have NFC. The phone uses a micro SIM card that's under the removable back cover. The 2070 mAh battery isn't removable, despite the pop off rear cover.

Moto G

Clean Android

The 4.5" Android 4.3 smartphone runs a clean, Nexus-like Android build, and Motorola promises Android 4.4 KitKat is on the way. We suspect it will be treated much like a Nexus device given Google's involvement and the fact there are no carrier customizations or testing to slow down the update process. The Moto G lacks the Moto X's light customizations of Android that mostly handle touchless notifications and location awareness. We would love to see that here, but this is a less expensive phone and it lacks the custom CPU with DSPs to handle those features. The UI is completely stock and you'll find all the Android/Google staples like the various Play Stores, Gmail, Email, Maps and the Chrome web browser along with an FM radio app, but no 3rd party additions. It's clean, light and fast.

Moto G

Display

The Moto G has a colorful and sharp 4.5" LCD display running at 1280 x 720. That might not sound like much compared to full HD flagships, but given the small screen size, it translates into an impressive 329 PPI pixel density. Motorola concentrated on the features that everyday users rather than tech enthusiasts would appreciate, and a sharp and color saturated screen is something that everyone enjoys, not just us phone geeks. Our only ding is brightness: even at max brightness, this isn't a very bright display. It's fine for indoor use but outside under direct sunlight it can't compete.

 

Deals and Shopping:

 

Moto G Video Review

 

Design and Ergonomics

The Moto G is a near dead ringer for the Moto X. They share the same curves, design language and the G is only a hair thicker due to the removable rear cover. The Moto X is a sharp looking phone, and the same holds true for the G. That's especially pleasing because design and materials usually take a hit on budget models. The Moto G doesn't look budget in the least; rather it looks like a high quality handset.

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The phone ships with a soft touch matte plastic black back that's grippy and fells great in hand. The relatively small size of the phone and its ergonomic curves are a delight, as are the affordable, colorful optional shells (back covers). Motorola sent us the teal blue back and it looks great, though it's not as soft touch and luxurious feeling as the stock back. The rear cover takes some effort to remove. You'll pull it off at the micro USB port and work your way around the edges; it's on tight. Putting a cover on is much easier than removing it. Motorola also sells cover shells, and these are replacement backs with an integrated flip cover that's lined inside with soft felt. The flip has a magnet that wakes the phone when you lift it off the display. These are available in the same colors as the back shells and cost $35.

Calling and Data

This is a good sounding phone with average earpiece volume and clear, full audio for incoming and outgoing voice. Loudspeaker volume isn't terribly loud, but if you hold it close in a very noisy environment, you'll be able to hear it. As mentioned, it's unlocked, and that means you can use any GSM carrier's micro SIM in the phone. It has 2G and 3G that work on AT&T and T-Mobile, but it won't work on Sprint and Verizon (they're not GSM carriers, but rather CDMA). Motorola lists a CDMA model, but we don't know if and when it's coming to the US. There's no LTE 4G here, that's a casualty of the price and inexpensive unlocked phones rarely have LTE. It does have 3G HSPA 21 Mbps (but not the faster 42 Mbps standard). We tested it with an AT&T SIM card and saw download speeds in the range of 6.5-9 Mbps and upload speeds of 1 Mbps (3G upload speeds are often capped to allow for faster downloads). That's fast enough for good webpage load times and it's sufficient for streaming YouTube video. Even Netflix is decent at those speeds, but we suspect most folks switch to WiFi when streaming long form video to avoid eating up their monthly data allowances.

Performance and Horsepower

Remember: this isn't a phone for power users who want the very best specs and are willing to pay top dollar. You get a 1.2GHz quad core Snapdragon 400 CPU with Adreno 305 graphics, and that's low man on Qualcomm's current totem pole of mobile CPUs. That doesn't mean it isn't completely adequate for average use: it is. You'll notice that very large applications like 3D games take longer to load, and you won't get as smooth frame rates on the Moto G as on the fastest phones like the 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800 equipped LG G2 when playing tough games like Asphalt 8. Casual games like Plants vs. Zombies 2 and Angry Birds play perfectly and games that are designed to run well on a wide array of hardware like Dead Trigger 2 will do fine. Phone addicts will likely want a faster CPU, but average users won't be able to tell the difference in performance between this phone and some faster models on the market. The one place we'd have liked a little more speed was in Chrome where pinch zooming and YouTube video playback were less spritely than on the Nexus 5, HTC One, LG G2 and Moto X with faster hardware.

Benchmarks

  Quadrant GFXBench 2.7, 2.5 Egypt Offscreen AnTuTu Sunspider JavaScript Test
Moto G 8485 16 fps 17,396 1311
Google Nexus 5 8808 59 fps 27,017 718
Moto X 8357 43 fps 21,377 1097
LG G2 19,762 57 fps 32,990 823
Samsung Galaxy S4 12,276 41 fps 24,776 826
HTC One 12,252 37 fps 24,589 1155
Samsung Galaxy Note 3 22,006 54 fps 35,823 587
Sony Xperia Z 7916 32 fps 20,403 1306
LG Optimus G Pro 11,994 28 fps 18,561 867
LG Optimus G 7235 59 pfs (v.2.5 used) 11,087 1289
Samsung Galaxy S III 5102 51 fps (v.2.5 used) 7011 1825

Camera

The Moto G has a decent 1.3MP front camera for video chats and selfies. It's not a stunning camera, but it's adequate for the task and fits the price. The rear 5 megapixel camera is obviously low resolution compared to more expensive phones, but it takes good photos. Given the Moto X's camera growing pains, and Motorola's distinctly mediocre reputation for cameras on phones, we feared the worst for the Moto G, but happily it's a decent shooter. Colors are saturated and sharpness is good, and our only complaint beyond the low resolution that doesn't allow for much cropping is the sometimes slow focus. It's not slow every time: much of the time it's within normal bounds, but every once in a while it take a second or three.

The rear camera can shoot at 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios, and it has 4x digital zoom as well as an LED flash. The camera supports HDR with auto HDR, and it has panorama mode, slow motion video, 720p video recording and tap to focus. The UI is minimalist and settings are sparse, and the camera uses Google's circular wheel UI that we hate (it's hard to control).

Battery Life

Big screens, fast CPUs and LTE are the big power consumers, and they're notably absent here. That translates into good battery life and the 2070 mAh battery easily makes it through a full day on a charge with moderate use that includes email, web, 30 minutes of phone calls and streaming several YouTube videos. As noted, the battery is sealed inside--don't be tempted by the removable back cover and attempt to pry it out with a screwdriver. It's sealed inside quite well. If you need more power on the road, use a micro USB battery pack to top up the battery.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a budget Android smartphone that doesn't look or feel budget in the least bit, the Moto G is hard to beat. Better yet, it has a clean Android build, will likely get updates as long as the hardware can support it and it's backed by a company you can trust. The screen is very sharp and colorful, albeit not wildly bright, the GPS is solid and the phone feels snappy in general use. Of course, you won't get a huge and high resolution screen, dual band WiFi with wireless display or the fastest CPU, but I suspect that's just fine with many folks. The lower resolution camera and lack of LTE 4G are likely the more important things you'll give up, but you won't find those features on any non-contract phone at this price. In fact, you won't find a phone with this quality and styling for $179.

Price: $179 for 8 gig model. $199 for 16 gig model.

Website: www.motorola.com

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Moto X Review

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LG G2 Review

Motorola Droid Ultra Review

HTC One Review

Samsung Galaxy S4 Review

Nokia Lumia 920 Review

 

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Specs:

Display: 4.5" display. Resolution: 1280 x 720. Has ambient light sensor, accelerometer and proximity sensor.

Battery: 2070 mAh Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable.

Performance: 1.2GHz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU with Adreno 305 graphics. 1 gig RAM and 8 or 16 gigs of storage.

Size: 5.11 x 2.59 x 0.46 (at thickest point) inches. Weight: 5.04 ounces.

Phone: GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz. 3G HSPA 21 Mbps: 850, 1700 (AWS), 1900 MHz.

Camera: 1.3MP front camera and 5MP rear camera with LED flash, HDR and 720p video recording.

Audio: Built in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated single band WiFi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0.

Software: Android OS 4.3 Jelly Bean.

Expansion: None.

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