Review: Motorola Moto G

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Motorola has gone through some truly tough times. The once industry leader had issues keeping up with the offerings from its competitors, up until the day Google bought them over. They went quiet for a while, but later on launched a highly capable midrange device, with plenty of technological innovations, called the Moto X. It was the first device to feature things like a dedicated processor for audio processing, a custom SoC that had Qualcomm’s Snapdragon in it, together with a different kind of camera altogether.

The model we’re looking here today, though, is not the Moto X, but rather, it’s younger, more budget oriented sibling, the Moto G. One should not take the Moto G lightly however, as despite its aggressive pricing well below 200 USD, it’s a highly capable device, or at least that’s what Motorola wants you to believe. Then again, surely Motorola has learnt a trick or two from their brief but fruitful relationship with Google.

Does the Moto G have what it takes to help Motorola reclaim back some of its market share from its competitors? As always, there’s only one way to find out, and that is to dive right into it, and study it for every bit that it is.

Note: Just as stated in the previous article Motorola Mobility is now owned by Lenovo. Judging from the phone I reviewed in my last article, I believe Motorola is under good hands.

Unboxing


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The Moto G comes in a small simple box with a print design of the phone up front, together with the Motorola branding and since this is the Asian version, it has a sticker up front which mentions that it comes with a Free Motorola Shell and a Screen Protector. I’m assuming then that the Shell’s colour is random and not up to the user’s choice. Moving around the side of the box reveals nothing much, except for the fact that it’s actual model is the XT1033, with 8GB of storage. Down the back you have a slight description of the features of the phone. Popping the box open you’ll find:

  • Motorola Moto G Smartphone
  • Wall Plug MicroUSB Charger (UK Head), 5v @ 500mAh
  • Motorola Earphones with Microphone (White)
  • Extra Moto G Rear Shell (In this case, Lemon Lime)
  • Glossy Screen Protector
  • ‘Free 65 GB Google Drive Storage’ flier
  • Instructions on removing the back shell
  • Quick Start Guide in English & Chinese
  • Safety & Handling Guide in English & Chinese
  • Warranty Booklet

Opening up the box, first thing up front is the Moto G phone, without any protective plastic around it (aside from the front screen) but securely fitted on the top of the box. It comes with a default Black rear shell. Moving that aside and going in lower, you’ll find the wall charger with an attached MicroUSB cable. I won’t deny that I was disappointed in seeing this. I kind of expected the chargers these days to come with a USB port and a USB to MicroUSB cable rather than with an attached cable with a MicroUSB end. The wiring for the cable feels a little bit cheap as well, and looks rather unappealing. Nearly the same could be said for the MicroUSB Head. To top it off, the charger is rated at a rather low 5v @ 500mAh. To put things into perspective, a Galaxy Note 3 wall charger is rated at 5.3V @ 2A. The key here is to look at the amperage, as the difference between 500mAh and 2A is charge times. With that said, don’t expect charge times with the stock charger to be all too quick.

The same could be said, if not WORSE, for the bundled earphones. They look generic, and that’s being extremely kind. They’re not even labelled right from left, they look and feel EXTREMELY Cheap, and perhaps to top it off, they sound EXTREMELY cheap as well. As it is, you’re better off tossing these out into the bin, and getting a proper earpiece to use with this phone.

The provided screen protector is good and decent enough, though I found that it’s fitting was just a little bit tight, making installation just a little bit difficult. I needed about 5 tries to get it right, just because you need to get it perfect in order for the screen protector to sit properly as there’s a bit of a lip on the edges of the screen of the phone that if placed imperfectly, cause the screen protector to fly up. Once that’s done and cleaned up however, it looks and works great. It’s just installation that was a bit of a pain.

Motorola felt it necessary to give a bunch of manuals with the device, and for the most part, that’s not a bad thing, especially since even I found some of them useful, as things like removing the back cover may not be apparently possible at first glance.

Overall, I like the packaging of the device. It’s clean and simple enough, and while not exactly screaming of poshness, I find that alright. The contents are packed together nice and snugly, and has a nice small footprint

On to the device, but first, its specifications.

 

Specifications


 

  • OS: Android 4.3 Jellybean (4.4.2 has begun rolling out in some countries already)
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 Quad Core Cortex A7 Processor @ 1.2Ghz
  • GPU: Adreno 305
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Internal Memory: 8GB (16GB available as well)
  • Camera: 5MP Rear Camera w/LED Flash, 1.3MP Front Camera
  • Display: 4.5” IPS LCD Display @ 1280×720 (326 ppi)
  • Connectivity:
    • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n dual band
    • Bluetooth 4.0
    • A-GPS + GLONASS
    • Dual Sim
  • Battery: 2070mAh Non-Replaceable
  • Dimensions: 129.9mm x 65.9mm x 11.6mm
  • Weight: 143g

 

Walk around the device


 

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Front of the Moto G is home to the modest 4.5” IPS LCD Display, with a screen resolution of 1280×720, to me a perfect resolution for that screen size, as a 4.5” does not need a 1080p display in my opinion. The display is good news as well, as blacks are nice and deep on it despite not being AMOLED, viewing angles are great, colours are vibrant, and outdoor visibility is good as well.

Bezels on the side are a little bit thick for my liking, with the bottom bezel being the worst offender in my books. Given that the Moto G doesn’t have any capacitive buttons on the bottom of the display either (Navigation is on screen), I don’t see why the Moto G has some pretty massive bezels down the bottom of the device. It’s there once you take notice of it though, but through normal usage, it’s hardly noticeable. The edges of the front have a glossy piano black finish as well.

Aside from that, you’ll also find the earpiece, the 1.3MP front facing camera, together with things like the sensors for light detection, etc.

I’ll have to say though, that perhaps I’m conditioned to a bigger screen, or I have big hands. I am a primary user of a Galaxy Note 3. When using the Moto G, I found the phone size just a little bit small for me, where I’d constantly fumble the wrong letter when typing with my thumb. Still, this is more of a preference on screen size, and for many people who have smaller hands than mine (I’m known to even have hands twice as large as some friends), they should find the phone size and screen perfect for them.


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The original back of the Moto G is made of plastic, with a black matte finish on top of it, giving it a nice touch and feel when wrapping your hands around the device. It doesn’t seem to leave any markings as well if you happen to have oily hands, so that’s always a plus.

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Up the top, you’ll find the 5MP f2.4 camera with an aluminium trim around it, followed by the speaker grill on the left of it, and the LED Flash as well as the Motorola logo, which has a smooth roundish indent on the back.

Popping the back cover off is not entirely straight forward, but still an easy task to do, by peeling off from the Micro USB port on the bottom of the device. The cover is held on quite firmly, as I found that many times I had to aid the removal by sliding my fingers along the edges as I peeled the back cover off. Once it’s removed though, you’re greeted with the non-removable battery with a sticker to remind you that it’s not removable, micro SIM 1 on the top right of the device as well as micro SIM 2 on the bottom left of the device.

For the most part, taking off the back cover is just to have access to the dual SIM slots as well as to change the rear shell, with the other colour bundled with this particular Moto G device being ‘Lemon Lime’. I have to say that despite being a full black lover, I love the ‘Lemon Lime’ rear shell a bit more as it gives the device a bit more life, and breaks up the device’s slightly monotonous black with a bit of colour.

Holding the phone is pleasant as well, as it has nice rounded off edges, and the back itself is rounded off to fit flush in your hands. It may be slightly heavier for a device in 2014, but I find that it works in the device’s advantage, as it gives it a very solid and firm feel when held and used. Props to Motorola for really giving out a solid build quality device at this price range.


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The right of the device is where you’ll find all the buttons of the device, as it houses both the power button and the volume rocker below it. Both buttons have a mild chrome like finish to them, and are really well built. They wobble just a tiny bit if you place your finger on them, but on pressing them, they have a very satisfying depress and feedback pop that makes pressing the buttons actually feel good. They also have a good amount of extrusion from the body, making the buttons easily found, and easily distinguished from one another based on length profile.

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Up top is home to the 3.5mm earpiece jack as well as the noise cancelling microphone. The headphones jack on top of the Moto G means business. I mean, this headphone jack is SOLID. Plugging a few 3.5mm jacks in, is followed by a really nice and solid click at the end of it, with absolutely ZERO wobbling of the jack when plugged it, no matter how much I try and nudge it. Even twisting the jack around requires a little bit of force.

Clearly the kind of quality that you’d expect from a top tier manufacturer, but usually only found on top tier devices. Again, it’s nice to find this kind of status quo defying quality in the Moto G.


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The bottom of the Moto G is home to only the Micro USB port, and just like the headphone jack, plugging in the phone via USB is very nice and solid, with very little if not no leeway for the USB port to bounce around. Plugging the Micro USB cable in as well has a nice distinct click to it.

The left of the device is left empty without any buttons to press, so summing things up, the Moto G is definitely the most solid budget minded phone that I’ve held so far. I feel that Samsung’s and HTC’s offerings don’t even come close to this kind of build quality and I have to say that as Motorola’s inception back into the market, it’s a very pleasing and delightful start. It’s certainly the kind of quality you would expected from Motorola back in it’s prime, but not quite the build quality (in a good way) that you’d expect from a phone that costs 666 MYR (200 USD).

 


Hands On and Benchmarks


I have to say that this has got to be the device with the cutest/most delightful boot animation that I’ve seen. You’re first shown the Motorola ‘M’ Logo on a miniature planet showing an ocean, where it starts to then animate and transition into things like the beach, cities and landscapes, all with the M logo on them. Best of all, it doesn’t have any tacky boot sounds to go with it as well, so Motorola has possibly got my most favourite stock boot sequence of any manufacturer. Powering up the device from a cold start, it takes 26 seconds for it to get to the lockscreen, which is pretty fast.

By the time this portion of the review was written, the Android 4.4.2 KitKat update had begun rolling into Malaysia, and as such, my particular unit as well, has been updated into Android 4.4.2 KitKat, again, a nice bonus for a budget device to run the latest Google OS.

The lockscreen on the Moto G is exactly as you’d find it on the Nexus line of phones, running KitKat, with the circular unlock ring, a caret symbol down the bottom of the screen that you can launch ‘Google Now’ from, and immediately to the right of that, a camera icon that you can swipe to the left to quickly launch the camera.

Despite now running Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the default launcher is still the same as the ones you’d find in Android 4.3, i.e. not the Google Experience launcher. Of course, you could always side load this into the device, so that’s always an option. I won’t go into detail about the launcher, as it’s pretty much a standard affair for those who have played around with any Nexus or AOSP device before. Moving into the settings, there are three things that set themselves apart as different that normal Nexus devices, and that is the ability to enter settings for Dual Sim operation, and Motorola Privacy as well as Motorola Device ID.

Despite being rated as 8GB in this particular model, the Moto G only has about 5.52GB of user available storage to use for applications and misc storage. That said the Moto G comes rather barebone, with applications like Motorola Assist, that has the ability to silence/ deny phone calls, except important numbers when you’re sleeping or in a meeting, and Motorola Migrate that helps you move your data over from either another Android device, or an iPhone. Aside from that, you have the default plethora of Google Apps, like Chrome (no generic ‘Browser’ app), Drive, Gmail, Hangouts, Music, Maps, and YouTube to name a few.

For the most part if you’re a light user, you’re probably okay with 8gb, but if you’re looking to use the Moto G as a device to play music, watch movies, or install plenty of games, you’re better off getting the 16GB version, as it doesn’t cost that much extra to opt for extra storage either (an estimated 30 USD).

To cap this section off, usage of the Moto G is butter smooth. Butter smooth probably because of the combined efforts of Project Butter and Project Svelte, both of which are found in KitKat, and both of which that really help the Moto G pull through despite only having 1GB of RAM. That said though the Snapdragon 400 with its quad Cortex A7 processors coupled with the Adreno 305 found inside the Moto G is no slouch either, as we’ll soon cover in the next section.

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The specs printout gives us a better idea on the specifications, in particular the CPU inside, being the MSM8226.

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Here’s where things get a little bit interesting for the Moto G, with its Snapdragon 400 with quad Cortex A7 cores clocked at 1.2GHz. In theory, the MT6589, clocked at 1.2GHz would have been the direct competitor, but we find that even the MT6589T, clocked at 1.5GHz is no match for the Snapdragon 400. Despite both processors using quad Cortex A7 processors of ARM’s design, the lower clocked Snapdragon 400 comes out on top by a pretty significant margin at 17503 on Antutu Benchmark, though a lot of this could be attributed to the GPU, which we’ll go into next.

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3dMark shows the Moto G flying high above the PowerVR SGX544MP found in both the MT6589 and the MT6589T, with the Moto G scoring nearly 50% more than its competitor, clearly being the more superior GPU. It still comes just a bit short however, of the PowerVR SGX544MP2 found in the FonePad 7 CloverTrail+ Tablet.

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Epic Citadel is tested on two settings, ‘High Quality’ and ‘Ultra High Quality’. Under ‘High Quality’, the Moto G performs very well topping out at the 65fps cap for this device, and scoring a good average of 57.0 fps. It manages to do quite well as well in ‘Ultra High Quality’, coming in at an average of 34.3 FPS, with the FPS topping this value most of the times on runtime. Bear in mind though that the rendering resolution comes out at 1200×720 because 80 pixels from the right hand side are used for the on screen navigation keys.

Sound, Speakers and Usage


 

Calls and voice with the Moto G is great. The mouthpiece is sensitive, and is loudly heard on the other side, where as the earpiece also delivers very loud and clear volumes.

The vibration strength of the phone is generally good as well, as you can most definitely hear it vibrating if left on the table, and the speaker volume is actually quite loud, making phone calls quite hard to miss. The good thing is that not only is the speaker loud, but it sounds quite good as well, though music playback lacks a bit of bass, resulting in a rather sharp playback.

As per usual, I tried playing the h264 encoded movie of 2011’s ‘The Thing’ at 1080p, in an MKV Container, and playback using the default player was just a little bit on the chuggy side, though shifting over to the preferred player, MXPlayer, the results were a lot better, with playback being smooth and hitch free.

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With audio testing, I decided to instead test the Moto G with my Koss KSC-75’s, to get a good gauge of the audio playback quality. The tracks I tested the device with are my usual trio of Zedd’s Legend of Zelda, Clarity (Andrew Rayel Remix), and Stay the Night (Kevin Drew Remix), as well as Armin van Buuren’s Save my Night. First impressions seem to be that the bass pumped out seems to be on the weaker side of things as I would have liked them a bit more balanced. Trebles and midtones are nice and clear however, the mids can come off a bit soft at times, just like the bass. Output from the headphone jack is nice and loud, even at mid setting, with plenty of leeway for those who need to pump up the volume for headphones with higher impedance.

Plugging in the Moto G via USB doesn’t bring up any menus, and connects to the PC in MTP Mode. Transfer speeds are about 14-15mbps for a 1.4gb movie, which is pretty much standard USB speeds.

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The Moto G registers a maximum of 5 touches at any given time, a realistic number unless you find yourself with octopus limbs.

Camera


The camera interface on the Moto G is Motorola’s own take on a camera application. The interface is extremely minimalist, as you won’t even find a shutter button; photos are taken by tapping on the screen. Aside from that, there are two smaller buttons, one to enable video recording, and the other to switch to the front facing camera. Swiping from the left of the screen while in the camera brings up a slightly more extended menu that lets you enable/disable things like HDR, Flash, controlling exposure and focus by dragging the focus ring, slow motion video, panorama shot, gps tagging, widescreen resolution shooting and shutter sounds.

If you’re looking for the ability to chase shooting resolution and sizes, you won’t find it as the Moto G doesn’t have the option to choose shooting sizes; all photos are taken in the full 5MP, except those that are taken while doing video recording, in which they come out in 1280×720, the same resolution as the video recording itself.

Aside from that, slo mo recording is interesting, but not all too useful in my opinion, as it presents itself as a rather gimmicky feature rather than anything useful. The Moto G records footage at 60fps, then plays it back at 15fps. The result is footage that is slowed down, but rather choppy, and not smooth. You also don’t get slowed down audio with that.

To recap on things:
– Photo Resolution : 2592×1456 (5MP non selectable)
– Video Resolution : 1280×720 (HD)

Video recording on the Moto G is alright at best, where noise isn’t too much. The 1280×720 recording doesn’t win it any clarity prizes, but what it seemingly does well however, is in its microphone. I found that video recordings in noisy environments did quite well in terms of sound, where most other mobile phone records would probably have their microphones blown and topped out.

Despite being only a 5MP snapper, I quite like the photos taken on the Moto G. Most of the sample photos that I tried taking with the phone were outside in the open, though the indoor shots which I took were pretty decent as well. In outdoor lighting, I found noise control to be great, colour balancing to be nice and vibrant, with just enough bokeh from the lens to give the photos a nice blurred-out look for the background. It’s one thing to get used to dragging the ring around to control the exposure as well as the focus, but when you’ve gotten used to it (which took me about 5 minutes), you can do quite a bit with it, as shown in the sample photos below. Photos don’t seem to be overly sharpened as well, giving it a nice natural sharpness, and the HDR seems to kick in when needed, which gives photos a more balanced look. Both outdoor and indoor photos have their colour balancing done quite well, leading to images that neither look too bluish or reddish. I did notice however, that when using flash, the phone’s software automatically colour corrects the photo to compensate for the slightly colder hue of the LED flash. Probably the only shame then is that the snapper is only a 5MP, albeit a capable one.

Connectivity


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In both the 25m and the 5m Wifi test, the Moto G came out amongst the top of the group, second to only the FonePad 7. The same could be said for its GSM signal pickup as well, where I found that the Moto G consistently got better scores in comparison to my personally used Galaxy Note 3.

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No problems here as well, as the Moto G quickly pulls on a GPS lock with plenty of satellites in view, with navigation proving to be a non-issue for the Moto G.

Battery Life


I ran some applications, collected their battery usage, and based on that, extrapolated the results to bring you these estimates on battery life:

  • 7 hours of video playback
  • 7 Days 10 hours of pure standby (GSM, Wifi)
  • 1 Day 13 hours of normal usage

 

Conclusion


 

If this is Motorola’s way of making itself relevant once again to the smartphone market, then I’d have to say that it’s a damn good start. While the Moto X may not have made as big of a splash as many would have hoped in the mid/ high end scene, the Moto G certainly does make one hell of an indent in its appropriate segment, the budget/mid sector. Things that you would possibly expect to find in a low end device, you won’t find any of it here, instead, you’re greeted with build quality reminiscent of the highest quality of phones back in the days of say the HTC Desire HD/ Sensation. You’ll also find it adorning a beautiful screen, purring out some pretty impressive performance, and while its snapper isn’t the largest (in terms of megapixel) of them all, it still takes some pretty darn good pictures. Top that off with dual SIM capabilities and an array of colourful shells to break the monotones, and you have yourself quite a capable device, with the only thing prodding its side, the box in which it came in.

Pros

  • Very solid phone with premium feeling build quality
  • Snappy and smooth performance thanks to the Snapdragon 400
  • Clean, almost unaltered device that is reminiscent of the Nexus line.
  • Fast and quick updates (Already updated to 4.4.2 KitKat at time of writing)
  • Excellent battery life
  • Camera despite being 5MP can take some really nice photos
  • A steal at 200 USD
  • Colourful replaceable shells are a nice touch

Cons

  • Non-Removable battery
  • No MicroSD slot
  • 5MP Camera; 8MP would have been nice.
  • Lacklustre accessories for a fantastic device.

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All in all, I give the Motorola Moto G an excellent 9/10.
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