Ever since it launched last September, Motorola’s2nd Gen Moto G has been the best budget smartphone to buy. That is, until the incredibleVodafone Smart Ultra 6 staged a surprise coup last month and completely redefined what we should expect from a budget smartphone – much like the original Moto G did back in 2013.
Of course, being a Vodafone handset, the Smart Ultra 6 does require you to be a Vodafone customer in order to use it, which isn’t necessarily ideal if you’re happy on a different network. Luckily, Motorola has just launched an all-new 3rd Generation Moto G in an attempt to win back its crown. This new version is a much more refined handset than its chunk-looking predecessor, and while the specs haven’t leapt forward quite as much as we’d hoped, Motorola’s superb build quality and sheer number of features make the 3rd Gen Moto G yet another budget marvel.
That said, with prices now reaching up to £209, the new Moto G isn’t a straightforward budget bargain like its predecessors. The cheapest model admittedly costs a more budget-friendly £159, but this only comes with 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM. If you want to choose your own colours and personalise your new Moto G with Motorola’s Moto Maker service, you’ll need to add another £20 onto that price, and the 16GB version (which also comes with 2GB of RAM) is another £30 on top of that.
While the extra storage isn’t so much of a problem thanks to the Moto G’s microSD card slot, the extra RAM will make a difference to the phone’s overall speed and multitasking ability. We haven’t been able to test the 8GB / 1GB model at time of writing, as we were sent the 16GB / 2GB version for review. As a result, the performance benchmarks mentioned below won’t be an accurate reflection of how the basic model copes under pressure. However, we’ll update this review as soon as we get our hands on the £159 handset to give you our full and final verdict on what we think of each model. For the time being, though, here’s our review of the top-end £209 3rd Gen Moto G.
Regardless of which model you choose, the new Moto G’s design is far superior to any other budget handset we’ve seen from Motorola so far. Taking several design cues from Motorola’s Moto X series, the metal effect frame curves almost seamlessly into the removable back plate, creating lovely smooth contours.
While its overall girth of 11.6mm isn’t particularly svelte, the edges taper to a pleasing 6.1mm and its weight of 155g makes it feel very strong and durable. We much prefer it to the flat, angular edges of the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua and Samsung Galaxy A3, and even the gorgeous rubbery finish on the HTC Desire 626 can’t quite compare to the sheer comfort afforded by the 3rd Gen Moto G. The machined, textured finish on the power button is a particularly nice touch as well, as this makes it much easier to find in comparison to the flat volume rocker.
The Moto G’s removable rear panel is a boon rather than a curse. These come in a variety of different colours and can be swapped in and out as you please, making it much more personal and customisable than any other handset at this price. It certainly beats having to make do with the slightly dull finishes on the EE Harrierand Vodafone Smart Ultra 6, and each grip shell and flip case also comes with a subtle ribbed texture. This feels very classy under your fingers, and provides an excellent amount of grip, which is vital if you’re going to use Motorola’s ingenious hand gesture shortcuts to access certain parts of the phone.
A double karate chop will turn on the phone’s rear flashlight, while a double twist of your wrist will instantly open the camera. We wouldn’t feel quite so confident performing these actions on other handsets, and it’s these kind of thoughtful handy features which help set the Moto G apart from the rest of the crowd.
Likewise, when the back is properly clipped into place (and you’re reminded as such as soon as you turn on the phone), the Moto G becomes waterproof thanks to its IPX7 rating, meaning it can be dunked in up to one metre of water for up to 30 minutes without taking damage. It’s not entirely watertight, though, so if you do happen to drop it down the loo, you’ll need to make sure you take off the back and give it a quick wipe, as we found a fair few droplets still lingering beneath the shell during our testing.
Underneath the rear panel, you can access the micro SIM card slot and microSD. There’s full 4G support, of course, but it’s a shame the microSD card slot only takes cards up to 32GB. Still, that should be plenty for most users, in addition to the 8GB or 16GB of memory provided – although only 4GB or 12GB is actually available to the user after taking Android and other apps into account.
As far as we can tell, the 3rd Gen Moto G uses an almost identical screen to the one used on the 2nd Gen Moto G. Both have a 5in 1,280×720 resolution display, which we feel strikes just the right balance between screen size and pixel clarity, and our colour calibration tests bore very similar results.
^ The 3rd Gen Moto G (left) has a much more refined design than the 2nd Gen Moto G (centre) and the 2nd Gen Moto E (right)
For instance, our colour calibrator showed it was displaying 85.4% of the sRGB colour gamut. This is around average compared to other budget phone displays, and while it obviously can’t compare to the rich vibrancy of the Galaxy A3’s Super AMOLED display, our resulting colour gamut had a very even spread across all the main primary colours. Reds were weakest, but skin tones looked much more natural than rival phone displays, such as the HTC Desire 626, when we lined them all up side by side. We also preferred it to the 2nd Gen Moto G’s screen, which also looked very warm and pink compared to the new model.
Black levels were reasonably dark at 0.36cd/m2 on max brightness, and the screen’s contrast levels of 1,061:1 provided plenty of detail. Likewise, the Moto G’s viewing angles were excellent, even at more extreme angles. However, you’ll struggle to make out darker images and video scenes when using the phone outdoors, as its peak brightness of 339.38cd/m2 is only really suited for web browsing and using apps with lighter backgrounds when you’re out in the sun.
Inside the new Moto G is a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 chipset. We’re very familiar with this processor from numerous budget and even a few mid-range handsets, including Motorola’s own 2nd Gen Moto E, Samsung’s Galaxy A3 and the HTC Desire 626. However, here it’s running at 1.4GHz rather than the usual 1.2GHz, giving the Moto G a small speed boost compared to rival smartphones.
As mentioned above, the phone comes in 1GB and 2GB RAM variations. The larger memory pool is reserved for the £209 16GB version of the Moto G, while the more common 8GB model (the one you’ll find available from network carriers and retailers) only comes with 1GB of RAM. Our review sample came with 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM, so benchmark results may be slightly different to the 8GB / 1GB model, but we’ll update this review with both set of benchmark results as soon as we’ve had a chance to test both handsets.
In the meantime, the 2GB Moto G model showed itself to be significantly faster than its 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 rivals in our suite of benchmarks. In Geekbench 3, for example, it finished the single core test with a score of 525 and the multicore test with 1,590. The 2nd Gen Moto E, on the other hand, only managed 470 and 1,397 respectively. We could see the difference in day-to-day use, too, as apps and menu settings loaded a touch faster and it we didn’t see any noticeable slow down even when we had several apps open at once.
That said, it’s never going to be a handset for those who want the very best performance when multitasking between resource-hungry apps, as there are plenty of other similarly handsets which now come with the more capable octa-core Snapdragon 615 chipset, such as the EE Harrier, Sony Xperia M4 Aqua andVodafone Smart Ultra 6. This makes the £209 model we have feel a tad slow for its price.
Still, the Moto G continues to put up a fight when it comes to web browsing, as it scored an impressive 731 in Futuremark’s Peacekeeper test. This is one of the faster scores we’ve seen from this chipset, and it’s not too far off what we saw on the Snapdragon 615-based Vodafone Smart Ultra 6, which scored 741, and EE Harrier, which scored 737. In practice, web pages loaded quickly and we were able to scroll down complex sites with several embedded images with almost no signs of stutter whatsoever.
A faster clock speed doesn’t necessarily equal smoother graphics performance, though, as its score of 105 frames in the offscreen Manhattan test in GFX Bench GL 3.1 can attest. This only equates to an average of about 1.7fps, but this test is extremely demanding and we found that simpler 2D games such as Threes! and Alphabear still ran perfectly smoothly. Likewise, while other Snapdragon 410 phones have warned us that we didn’t meet the recommended specs for playing Blizzard’s Hearthstone, we saw no such notice on the Moto G, so it should be able to handle almost any game currently available from the Google Play Store.
Motorola’s managed to squeeze an extra 80mAh into the 3rd Gen Moto G’s 2,470mAh battery this time round, but what a difference it makes. With the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2, we managed an impressive 11h 12m of continuous video playback in our battery life test, which is 90 minutes more than what we managed with the 2nd Gen Moto G under the same conditions. It also beats every other phone in its price bracket save the Samsung Galaxy A3, whose energy-efficient AMOLED panel helped it last just over 14 and a half hours.
One of the biggest new additions to the 3rd Gen Moto G is its 13-megapixel rear camera. This is a big step up from the 2nd Gen’s 8-megapixel snapper, and according to Motorola, it’s the same sensor found in Google’s Motorola-madeNexus 6 handset, which is pretty impressive considering the Nexus 6 is more than twice as expensive. It also has a dual LED colour-balancing flash, which is meant to adjust colour temperature so flash-lit shots look more natural, and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera.
Admittedly, we were a little disappointed by the flash’s performance in our indoor photo tests, as we actually thought it made our still life arrangement look rather green. The fur on our teddy bear was particularly noticeable, and the blocks of watercolour paint were also less vivid than our non-flash shots. It did eliminate a lot of the noise we saw when we didn’t have our external lamp turned on, but colour quality definitely suffered.
^ With the flash turned on, our indoor test images looked rather green around the gills
^ Turning the flash off, however, produced a much more natural looking image, despite the increase in noise
Still, there was plenty of detail present, regardless of whether we were indoors or outdoors, and our outdoor shots in particular looked superb. Colours were rich and vibrant and shadow areas were well illuminated. It’s quick to shoot, too, and its simple interface is easy to get to grips with. Camera settings are revealed with a quick swipe in from the left, while a swipe from the right will take you straight to the Gallery.
There aren’t a huge number of settings to choose from, but HDR, Panorama and Motorola’s new Night mode should be more than enough for most. HDR was a little strong at times, but it does help bring out the details and clouds looked particularly dramatic.
^ Outdoors, colours were rich, accurate and there was plenty of detail on show
^ Switching on HDR mode lightened the image even further, and made the clouds really stand out
Android 5.1 & Moto Apps
As we’ve come to expect from Motorola phones, the 3rd Gen Moto G runs almost pure Android, and this particular handset comes with the very latest 5.1.1 update. This is great news as far as we’re concerned, as it not only means Motorola can push out updates much faster, but the clean, simple UI is also very easy to use.
Even better, Motorola’s included a few neat features of its own to really make the 3rd Gen Moto G stand out. For instance, open up the Moto app and you can set the phone to automatically go into silent mode when you’re at home or in a meeting, or turn off the screen and all notifications while you’re asleep, allowing only favourite contacts through or anyone who tries calling twice in five minutes.
^ Motorola continues to use a largely unaltered version of Android, which is great in our books
You can also adjust how notifications are displayed on the lock screen. Android Lollipop already does this to some extent when you turn on the phone, but the Moto G can display the time and up to three interactive notification buttons when the screen is turned off, which is both good for your phone’s battery life and incredibly handy if all you want to do is check the time.
If you want to open one of those notifications, you can swipe up, dismiss it by swiping to the side, or simply unlock your phone as normal by swiping down. This is by far one of our favourite features on the Moto G, and for us is absolutely one of the main attractions of choosing a Motorola handset over other handsets around the same price.
^ The Moto Display is one of our favourite Motorola features, as you can see the time at a glance without having to turn the screen on
With a higher base price of £159 and rising to up to £209, the new Moto G isn’t a purebred budget handset anymore. However, we feel its exquisite design and useful apps and features are more than enough compensation for Motorola’s slightly disappointing choice of chipset, and even the faster Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 and Sony Xperia M4 Aqua can’t beat its amazing battery life or stunning camera.
While we’ve yet to test the £159 8GB / 1GB model, there’s no denying that the £209 version is still one of the best and most attractive smartphones you can currently buy in this price range, and we’d easily pick this over the Samsung Galaxy A3, EE Harrier, HTC Desire 626 and Sony Xperia M4 Aqua. Likewise, the Moto G’s 5in display makes it more manageable than the big 5.5in Vodafone Smart Ultra 6. Plus remember that for your money you get to customise the phone to your liking, with numerous colour combinations on offer and even an engraving option thrown in.
The 8GB version of the 3rd Gen Moto G also has the edge on contract, as you can currently get 1GB of data, 300 minutes and 5,000 texts for £15.50-per-month with no upfront cost from Carphone Warehouse. The equivalent deals on the Sony Xperia M4 Aqua, Vodafone Smart Ultra 6, Samsung Galaxy A3 and EE Harrier, on the other hand, all cost £20-per-month or more. Three’s contracts for the Moto G are slightly higher than Carphone Warehouse’s, but you do get a voucher to customise your phone in Motorola’s Moto Maker, allowing you to get a personalised phone for £159 instead of £179 direct from Motorola. Three is also offering a plain non-Moto Maker version on prepay for just £140.
The 3rd Gen Moto G might not be the best value budget smartphone any more, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of Motorola’s best. We’ll update this review once we’ve tested the £159 version, but for now, the £209 model comes highly recommended.