The Moto G, Motorola’s bestselling smartphone since the original RAZR, is back for a third generation. But in 2015 the market isn’t as empty as it was in 2013 when the original came into the spotlight, so does the 3rd Generation 2015 Moto G have what it takes to keep its crown? Read on to find out.
Disclaimer, The Moto G we reviewed was provided courtesy of Motorola, it is the XT1541 model and have been using it as our daily device for about 12 days, we are using build LPI23.72-33, and Motorola have given us beta access to the Moto suite update on Google Play.
The Moto G 3rd generation follows closely to the category it created, provide the best possible experience without throwing the best possible specs at it. The 3rd Gen Moto G has a 5” 720p IPS screen, it’s decently bright, with nice colours and viewing angles. It appears to be a similar panel to the 2nd generation, albeit with higher peak brightness and lower contrast because of that. The Display seems to be set back a small amount from the cover glass, which is supplied by corning and is Gorilla Glass 3. In our nearly 2 weeks of testing, we have not gone easy and pampered the device, but if you looked at the front you’d never be able to tell. A quick microfiber cloth over the glass and everything is spick and span.
Staying on the front of the Moto G, up top we have the earpiece, and on its left is the proximity and ambient light sensor, followed by the 5mp Front facing camera. There is no autofocus but it is able to take 1080p video or, and this is more exciting, 720p60 slo-mo video. We are used to seeing it in some form on the back, even the first Moto G had 720p60 slo-mo on its back camera, but now the front camera can do it, along with 1080p. Underneath the screen we have what appears to be the second of the dual speakers, but alas this is a lie. Unlike its predecessor which did have dual front firing speakers (they weren’t all that great, but it had them) the Moto G 2015 has but a single speaker underneath the screen. It sounds really quite nice as long as you don’t max out the volume slider. About 2 notches from the top is the ideal maximum in my experience; loud and full without sounding a bit naff.
Up on top of the new Moto G we have the 3.5mm audio jack, partnered with a noise cancelling microphone. Moving on to the right hand side of the device we have the now Motorola standard layout for physical controls; power button on top followed by the volume rocker. Unlike the first two Moto G’s, this years’ is slightly different. It follows last year’s Moto X a bit more closely. The buttons are smaller, thinner, and the power button has a raised texture similar to the texture on the back of the phone. Other reviewers have noticed that earlier batches of the Moto G had some issues with these buttons, some saying theirs were mushy, others saying there was light bleed from the display through the holes around the buttons, and others saying that their buttons just rattle. I have to say I’m in the “mushy power button that rattles a bit” camp. It isn’t enough for me to not enjoy using the device, and I’ve heard newer batches have this under control, but it’s still something to note. The bottom of the new G houses the MicroUSB 2.0 port and on the left of that is a notch to remove the back plate. Lastly the left side has nothing, nothing at all. It’s as bare as my wallet is the week before payday. The back of the Moto G has probably undergone the most drastic change from previous versions. Everything of note on the rear of the Moto G (and the X Play and Style too) is housed in a metallic stripe in the middle of the device near the top, this includes the 13mp camera, dual-tone LED flash and yes, the fabled Moto Dimple, even if it is slightly less noticeable here than on our first or second gen units. It’s a nice touch, and it leads on to one of the most interesting things about this new Moto G, It’s able to be customised through Motomaker.
Motorola made the wise choice to include this year’s Moto G in the Motomaker roster, letting you choose between black or white front fascia, a multitude of accent colours, including Red, Blue and Yellow. Motomaker also lets you change the rear shell, and engrave the rear shell to your liking (as long as it fits and is not obscene). You can also order flip shells that replace the rear cover, as to not add any extra bulk that doesn’t need to be there. In the same vein as engraving the rear, you can have a message coded into your boot up animation. I imagine a fair amount of people are going with “Hello Moto” and if they aren’t, well then they should be ashamed, because that is pretty much the only thing you should put.
You also get to make probably the most important decision of your Moto G life. Do you go with the 8GB storage and 1GB RAM model for £179, or do you spend the £30 and double both to 16GB/2GB? Spoiler, spend the extra £30. As someone living with a first generation Moto G up until this point, 1GB might be fine for the first few weeks, 6 months, or heck, even a year, but you will start to feel it. It does help that this new G launches with 5.1.1, a build of Android that fixes the pretty horrendous memory leak, something that my first G doesn’t have, since it’s stuck on 5.0.2. So spend the extra £30, you will not regret it. One part that isn’t that important to me is the internal storage, though I feel that the 8/1GB SKU shouldn’t really exist. Neither 8GB of ROM or 1GB of RAM are sufficient in 2015. Though I can most certainly be very content with 16GB, many people can’t, so for those people Motorola Include a MicroSD card slot, which officially only supports up to 32gb MicroSD cards, but some people (Phil Nickinson of AndroidCentral) have put 128GB cards in their devices and had them work flawlessly. Why Motorola imposed a 32GB cap in name only is anyone’s guess, so if you want to throw a 32GB card in you’re going to be fine, any higher, it’ll most likely work, but you can’t blame me or Motorola if it doesn’t.
Since I’ve already spoken a little about the specifications on the Moto G 2015, I might as well extrapolate a bit more. The Snapdragon 400 of the previous Moto G’s has been replaced with the slightly more capable 64bit Snapdragon 410, which swaps out the 32Bit Cortex A7 CPU cores for 64Bit Cortex A53’s. With the architecture jump we also see a pretty hefty IPC jump (up to nearly 50%) with a slight power consumption bump over the Cortex A7. It’s a power hit I’ll happily take, and since the A53’s in the SD410 are manufactured on the relatively inefficient by 2015 standards 28nmLP node as the CortexA7’s in the SD400 in my Original Moto G, a comparison is easier than you’d think. Something else that is comparable to before is the GPU. The Adreno 306 just isn’t all that great in 2015. Back in 2013 the Adreno 305 was perfectly adequate. It did everything that it needed bar the highest end gaming. In 2015, even more apps, further down the pipeline are needing more resources, and the Adreno 306 just really isn’t good enough. Luckily for me I don’t play all that many games, but when testing this phone, I downloaded what seems to be a relatively casual game from the Playstore (Pot Farm: Grass Roots) and when moving the watering hose, I could see it drag behind my hand a bit. You’ll see similar behaviour in games like Asphalt 8. It all works, but the motion controls can be a split second behind. Not quite enough to negatively impact your gameplay, but enough for you to notice.
Motorola has added something else to this year’s Moto G. Something you won’t find on even its higher end phones. Waterproofing. Motorola has gotten the G tested and IPX7 certified, for up to a metre of water for a half hour of submersion. There is no dust protection (that’s why there is an X; it would be replaced with a number for dust resistance) but small amounts of dust and sawdust are fine. I’m sad to report that I just don’t have to guts to submerge a phone in water, even with every single clip and gasket covered. I just don’t have the heart to potentially break a review device. Speaking of clips, there is a lot of them, and there are some finicky ones. There are 20 clips in total, four of them are around the camera module cut one, the other 16 are on the perimeter, like on the Galaxy S5 and S4 Active. You need to make sure these are completely all clipped down, otherwise the Ingress protection rating is useless. If you must see a phone get submerged, I implore you to check out YouTube as plenty of other reviewers subjected their units to water tests.
What about battery you might be saying? Well I hear you and I’m getting to that. The 2470mAh non-removable Lithium-Ion battery in this phone has been doing wonders. I don’t know if the screen Moto is using is particularly power efficient, the lower resolution, the low power SD410 or if they have done some black magic/voodoo with the battery chemistry, but on more than one occasion I was able to go over the 6-hour screen on time mark, and I’m not alone. All of the reviewers I have spoken to have had the same experiences. Not only does the Moto G have great endurance when you’re using it, it also has pretty stellar standby time as well, easily outlasting all other phones in my office by a hefty margin. A friend of mine (Hayato Huseman, of Pocketnow) said he fully charged his on a Monday and only on Sunday did it die, and this was still being connected to Wi-Fi receiving all his notifications. Oddly, Motorola has a bit of an issue with middling use, when you hit the Moto G hard you can get 6 hours of screen on time out of it and it’ll last a day, and if you leave it on a desk it’ll last a week, but when I started using it as I normally use a phone, I was getting similar life out of it but only getting about 4 hours of screen on time. So you can get great battery life if you use it hard and if you don’t use it at all, but if you use it a little bit, you’re just going to get okay battery life. How odd.
A sad omission from the Moto G is any type of Quick or Rapid or indeed Wireless charging, and my only guess as to why this is, is a cost saving measure as the Snapdragon 410 supports all the hardware for QuickCharge 2.0. Motorola didn’t want to pay the price for the QuickCharge licenses etc from Qualcomm to get everything certified, which makes sense. Those cost money and would have nudged up the price of the handset, something Motorola obviously didn’t think was worth it. No Wireless charging was not as much of a surprise. No Motorola phone to my knowledge (except for Verizon Exclusives) have had Qi Wireless charging and whilst it would have been nice, I’m not quite as surprised that it isn’t here. One odd thing about the Moto G, at least here in the UK is that they are not providing a wall adaptor in the box any more. They didn’t do it with the G 2013 or 2014 either, and they aren’t with the E either. Only Motorola’s high end phones get wall adaptors in the box anymore.
Motorola made a big deal about the camera in the 2015 Moto G, and if I’m honest, whilst at the event I didn’t really pay all that much attention to it. Motorola has been promising awesome cameras for years, and I’m sure we all remember the ClearPixel debacle. Motorola made it very clear to us that the camera in the Moto G 2015 was the same module as in the Nexus 6 (albeit with OIS). Now, if you’re like me, that wouldn’t bring you much hope. The Nexus 6 was never lauded as having a phenomenal camera, but that device costs ~£500. This costs more than half that in its most expensive configuration. The Camera in the Moto G is pretty damn amazing, even if you don’t consider the price. The default Motorola Camera app is a rather spartan affair, something I’m rather fond of, and I also like the fact that it defaults to a 16:9 view, cropping that 13mp sensor down to an effective 9.7mp, but with the option to go to 13mp 4:3. The more pleasing result was a viewfinder that spanned the entire screen with no interruption.
In daylight the Moto G is able to take some pretty great shots. Nice colour reproduction, good autofocus and exposure. They even have a very Nice AutoHDR mode which I left on all the time, because in my opinion it was very good at guessing when to and when to not use HDR and the results were always really nice. Thanks to the double twist to wake gesture, I was able to get shots with this before other phones in my pockets. The gesture was so reliable and I had faith that I could get a decent shot. It is not the best camera in the world. It’d benefit from OIS, probably a laser autofocus module as well, but those are all components that cost more and would have added to the BOM cost of the phone. Where the phone starts to fall apart is when it comes to low light. The 13 MP Sony IMX214 sensor in the 2015 Moto G has smaller pixels than in the 8MP IMX179 sensor found on the 2014 Moto G (1.1µP compared to 1.3µP, respectively) – the smaller the pixels, the less sensitivity to light. Motorola tried to offset this with a wider f/2.0 aperture, which is as helpful in this regard as putting a plaster on an amputated wrist. The damage has been done, but points for trying.
Video fairs quite well on the Moto G. It corrects for exposure swings quickly and effectively, and it does the same with focus. As with photos, the video isn’t the most colourful. Colours look nice, but it’s the same as looking at an LCD after looking at an OLED screen; the green is the same green on both, but it clearly looks nicer on one than the other. The G takes 1080p resolution video at 30fps on the front and back cameras, and also slo-mo (720p 60fps) on both the front and back cameras. This is in contrast to the first generation, which only shot 720p 30fps and 720p 60fps on the rear camera, and the front camera couldn’t even shoot video.
It’s a small thing, but it’s hard to overstate how much the double twist to launch the camera gesture improves the shooting experience on the G. In the same way that I like the Google Now Launcher because Google Now is always there, having this gesture makes me feel that the camera is always ready to take a shot; it’s just ready and waiting, I don’t have to worry about finding and launching the camera, it’ s just there. It’s fast to launch, fast to focus and fast to capture. Now these three things were true of the first generation Moto x in 2013, the only difference is in 2015, we actually get a good photo at the end.
Motorola has a habit of launching with the newest or pretty close to the newest version of Android. With the 2015 Moto G, they have done it again, launching with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. 5.1.1 fixes many of the launch issues with Android 5.0 Lollipop. Many called Lollipop “Android’s Vista” after the infamous Microsoft Windows operating system, and 5.1.1 was “Service Pack 1”. Whilst Service packs are a thing of the past, they weren’t entirely wrong with the comparison. Vista was in many ways prettier than XP, but it was far less stable and caused more issues than it fixed at first.
5.1.1 on the G is very much how Google wanted Android to look. Motorola hasn’t heavily tweaked the UI in many places at all, and where they have been in apps that are updateable in the Playstore. The Motorola Camera, Gallery, Actions, Migrate, FM radio and more are all apps that Moto have made. They have been designed beautifully to blend in with the Material Design aesthetic of Lollipop. They’re updated independently of the system, something that allowed Motorola to drastically improve the original X without giving it a single OTA system update. It allows them to add features to the app when they feel like it. Most notable was the exposure and focus ring that you can enable or disable. Originally in 2013 that feature wasn’t there, but Moto added it to improve the experience. I’m not expecting Motorola to add an extensive Manual mode to its camera app in the future, but the knowledge that they could definitely helps.
Up Until last year Motorola also had a reputation for quickly updating its devices to the newest version of Android, often faster than Nexus devices. Last year this changed. Whilst some devices (notably the Second Generation G and 2014 X) got 5.0.2 incredibly rapidly, they stagnated and got stuck on those incredibly buggy builds of Android, so they stopped the rollout with no way to drop back to KitKat for those who wanted to. It was a long time after that that the Original Moto G got it’s 5.0.2 update, and it’s still there now, on an incredibly buggy version of Android. The 2013 Moto X fared even worse. Hopefully this year isn’t the same and sticks to the first set. We don’t know how big of an update Marshmallow is to Lollipop, but to me, the fact it’s now a full X.0 jump to 6.0 means it’s probably more significant than we initially thought.
The Moto Suite is here, though not in its full glory. We are missing Moto Voice, though of all the things they could have cut, cutting Moto Voice was the right thing to do in my mind.
We have Moto Display, which I initially thought was comparable to Ambient display in Lollipop. I was wrong. Moto Display is superior in every way, a little nudge on your desk makes it wake up, the time in the centre of your display, with a padlock underneath that you swipe down to unlock. If you have a notification the icon will show up instead of the padlock. If you press and hold on the icon bubble you’ll see a preview of the notification. Swipe up and you get taken to the app that made the notification, swipe down you unlock to the home screen, and a swipe laterally dismisses what you were thinking about and puts the display back to sleep. If you have a media app running, such as Google Play Music, Netflix or Google Play Movies, a tap on the icon they leave gives you playback controls, a feature only currently implemented on the Moto G 2015 and not on previously released devices… yet. This in my opinion is superior to Lollipop’s Ambient Display, which is also included here if for some reason you want to use that instead. Opening up the Moto app, under the “Display” option, the “Wake the screen when notifications arrive” option is pressed and you can enable either Moto Display, Ambient Display, or you can choose to disable it altogether for battery reasons. This feature works great on the AMOLED panels of the Moto X’s of late, but Motorola believes they have gotten it efficient enough so that they can release it on LCD panels as well, but because an LCD has to turn on the entire display to display black, there is a battery hit, albeit not one I have really noticed.
Moto Actions is another part of the Moto Suite that has had a recent addition. Originally Moto Actions had the double twist to launch the camera gesture, but recently (I believe with the Lollipop release) Motorola also added in a Double chop to launch the torch. Again both of these can be disabled for battery improvements, but they’re another thing I wouldn’t disable. I use the camera gesture multiple times every day. I don’t think there has been a day when I’ve used it less than 10 times. Side note; I’ve found that the subtler I am in the twist gesture the higher the accuracy. You’re supposed to pretend you’re turning a screwdriver, but I found out that if I made the gesture far subtler I could get it to work more often, and I can now activate the camera as I’m taking the phone out of my pocket when I need to take a shot. I use the double chop action less often, but when I do its very useful. Again as with the camera, I don’t feel like I’m launching something, it feels like it’s already there, just waiting to turn on. It’s not difficult to turn on the screen, swipe down the notification shade and click torch, but a double chop is cooler, quicker, and did I mention that it’s cooler?
Moto Assist is the last part of the Moto Suite, and something that has been on previous moto phones, and I’m rather boring with it, I leave Moto Assist to put my phone in a Do Not Disturb type mode, but you can do so much more, if you use a calendar properly (unlike me) and put all your meeting into it, you can have your phone silenced, and then when the meeting ends it auto unmutes. Or if you go to the cinema often, you can tell moto Assist the location of the Cinema, and if you do that it’ll mute it there until you leave the geofence you’ve created. As I said before, I’m boring and only have it set for sleeping, but it can do so much more.
Moto has enhanced the software experience of Android without bogging it down and if I had to choose between a Motorola Phone or any other flagship, the superior user experience is one of the many reasons I would go with the Motorola every time. If I’m truly honest, unless the hardware on the new Nexus phones is mind blowing, I can’t see myself picking that over this either. There are so many little tweaks that add up to big changes.
If you’ve gotten to this point in the review you can probably already guess how this section is going to go. I like this phone, a lot. It doesn’t have the highest end specs in every category, even to competitors in the same price point, such as the Zenfone 2 or the Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 but it does everything it does just well enough that I want to continue using it. It has a less pixel dense screen than both of those other phones, and isn’t on the same level as the Idol 3 when it comes to colour vibrancy. It hasn’t got the sheer grunt of the Zenfone 2 and it hasn’t got the biggest battery with fast charging. But everything it does do, it does great. It does the best it can with the 720p IPS display, including get great battery. The Snapdragon 410 might have been made on an inefficient process node and have a weak GPU but because of the minimal adjustments to Android UI and the extensive optimisations Moto do make this an exceptional phone, it’ll last all day, so I don’t want Quick Charging as much as I did with the Idol . Unlike the Zenfone 2 it has onscreen buttons, and the physical buttons it does have are in the right places. Motorola’s biggest strength has always been able to do more with less, and that isn’t changing with the Moto G 2015.
Motorola have confused many with the choice to release two models of the Moto G. An 8GB/1GB RAM model for £179 and a 16GB/2GB for £209. I mentioned it earlier, but I’ll make the decision easy for you; pretend the less expensive model doesnt exist. For just £30 more you’re getting a device that is infinitely more capable and will be a pleasure to use for longer as well.
The end of reviews is often quite hard for me. I have to take a step back, objectively look at a device not from what I want, but from what I think most people will enjoy and find useful. With the Moto G that isn’t the case. I can wholeheartedly recommend this phone (the 16GB/2GB SKU though, forget the other one exists). Why is this so easy for me? Because I’ve had people come and tell me that they wish they had some of the features the Moto G 2015 delivers on their own phones. I’ve had iPhone users want the double twist feature to launch the camera. I’ve had Samsung users ask for the front speaker, and pretty much everyone I told Motomaker about said “I want it”.
Earlier on I posed the question as to whether or not Motorola had done enough to secure its crown as the leader of the mid-range, a device that doesn’t cost a bomb and doesn’t make you suffer, and I can say yes. It’s not as “mid-range” as it once was. For similar prices competitors are offering better screens, better processors etc, but they haven’t got the fit and finish of the Moto G.
When Lenovo took over Motorola from Google I was worried about what would happen to Motorola, I really was. I’m glad to say that I actually agree with Vlad Savov from the Verge. Nothing has changed and Motorola are now more like a Google Company than they were when they were a Google Company. Very confusing, but that’s how it is, and it’s a good thing.