Selecting a budget smartphone usually means compromising on performance and features just to stay within a sub-£200 price range. But Motorola’s first smartphone to get a UK release since being acquired by Google – the Moto G – comes packing an impressive set of specs for a paltry £135 price tag. So what’s the catch?
The device itself has a fairly typical layout: power button and volume rocker on the right-hand edge, 3.5mm headphone jack atop and micro-USB port beneath. At the fore we have the Moto G’s 4.5-inch LCD touchscreen, speaker, mic and 1.3 MP front-facing camera. The notification light next to the front camera was a great design choice on Motorola’s part, as it glows softly rather than flashing brightly, meaning you could happily ignore it in a darkened bedroom at night but still notice it when you want to.
Unlike a lot of Android phones, the Moto G lacks mechanical touch-sensitive buttons as these are included in the OS. This was presumably a way to save costs on the casing since the gap left behind is not filled with anything and makes the screen seem a little off-centre, though it does act as a handy place to grip the phone while watching videos.
Considering Motorola’s history of designing handsets with quirky and interesting form factors, it’s a little disappointing that the Moto G is such a generic black rectangle, but this is understandable given the price. Many low-cost phones try to make up for lacklustre specs with a gimmicky design and the results are often hideous and tacky, so Motorola’s cost limitations may have turned out to be a strength.
Having said that, the Moto G comes out of the box sporting a glossy black back-cover that gives it a fragile and distinctly toy-like feel. The back can be replaced with a selection of coloured shells (£8.99) or flip covers (£18.99) slated to reach UK shores before the end of the year. The flip covers in particular, as they’re made of a more durable textured plastic, seem like they’d offer the best protection against the elements long-term, though they strike me as a little pricey for what they are.
But really it’s what’s under the shell that has everyone talking about the Moto G and for good reason. The Moto G is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU with a quad-core Cortex-A7 chip clocked at 1.2GHz, not mind-blowing but very impressive for the price, and packs a respectable 1GB of memory. Navigating menus and using less processor-intensive features were as slick as you’d expect, even coping admirably when switching between apps rapidly with no visible latency. Though you wouldn’t expect a supposedly budget device to be much good for gaming, its Adreno 305 graphics chip is shared by a number of mid-range phones and, combined with the decent frame rate enabled by the CPU, makes the Moto G a competent gaming device.
It comes with comparatively meagre 8GB storage capacity, though a 16GB model is available for an extra £25, and there’s no way of supplementing that with an SD card. It also lacks 4G connectivity, which may be a dealbreaker in the US and some other countries but isn’t really a problem if you’re in the UK and live outside the major cities.
The Moto G flaunts a crisp 720p screen, matching that of yesteryear’s mid-range phones like the Nexus 4 and Galaxy S3, and plays HD video with incredible sharpness. My only complaint is that the LCD display lacks the colour richness you’d get with an AMOLED screen, giving videos a slightly washed-out appearance. The rear camera is perfectly serviceable and about what you’d expect for this price bracket. It won’t win any awards, but it’s decent enough for the casual photographer and is run on Motorola’s own software featuring a varied but straightforward menu of settings to control photo quality.
None of this comes at the expense of draining the phone’s power source either, since the 2,070 mAh battery is a stalwart companion in keeping the Moto G running. With Android’s built in battery saver systems, I was able to eke out a good 36 hours of life with moderate use and even a little over 12 hours when I was hammering it with updates, games and music streaming. Given the hardware it has to support, Motorola might have rendered the Moto G almost unusable if they’d skimped on the battery, so it’s encouraging to see thought went into even these minute details.
At the moment, the Moto G comes running the slightly older Android 4.3 Jelly Bean but is slated to receive an update in January to the latest version (KitKat), with reports this has already begun rolling out for certain devices. Whilst the Android OS itself hasn’t undergone much alteration, Motorola has thrown in a ‘Migrate’ app that streamlines the process of copying the data on your old handset over to the Moto G (assuming it was also an Android). There’s also ‘Assist’, a somewhat over-auspiciously named app that simply lets you set times for your phone to fall silent automatically, such as during meetings or at night.
Along with the normal selection of apps for Google’s services pre-installed on the phone, you’ll be invited to enable ‘Google Now’ on first startup. This is effectively a system to deliver time and location-sensitive information to your phone’s notifications window automatically, such as traffic conditions for your commute home, weather and nearby restaurants. It’s an nice idea but I found it lacking in customisation, since it’s almost entirely automated rather than letting you adjust when certain notifications arrive. Eventually I just switched it off.
The Moto G is a great device all-round and almost indistinguishable in performance from a mid-range handset costing upwards of £100 more. It’s not without compromises, but clearly Motorola has taken pains to ensure these were done strategically: saving money in specialist areas, like the camera and case design, and putting it into improving the experience for a general user. It’s received rave reviews elsewhere and I think you can fairly predict that it’s going to be a game-changer in the budget mobile arena for 2014.