Review: Motorola G

Like a lot of other smartphones announced in 2013, the Moto G is technologically boring. But dismissing Motorola’s latest handset for its lack of headline-grabbing features would be a mistake — particularly given its truly awesome price.

Right now, you can hop on Amazon and preorder the phone for $180 unlocked. Most sub-$200 smartphones — including generic Chinese handsets, Samsung’s Galaxy SII, and Blackberry Curves from a few years ago — are a huge step down from the highest-end handsets. They’re frustrating, they’re slow, and they feel cheap. The Moto G blows them all out of the water.

Even when you compare it to Motorola’s high-end smartphone, the Moto X, the G comes away looking like a great handset, with a pleasing form factor and great display.

At first glance, it’s actually difficult to tell the difference between the two phones. The form factors are nearly identical. Like the Moto X, the G has a slightly curved back that makes it a pleasure to hold, even with its 13 extra grams of heft (it weighs a total of 143 grams). While the difference is noticeable, it’s hardly a deal breaker. In fact, the extra weight makes it feel like a tool, not a toy.

While it lacks the customization suite of its more expensive brother — you can’t go online and customize the bezel and button colors — you can switch out the back, which comes in 15 different colors. This approximates Moto Maker pretty well and is enough to change the phone’s character for those who want to inject some individuality into their smartphones.

Strangely, although you can remove the back panel of the Moto G to reveal a 2070 mAh battery inside, there’s a stern warning that the battery is not user replaceable.

The screen on the Moto G is fantastic. Colors are sharp and vivid, and there’s no ghosting or light leaks around the edges. It’s a full 4.5 inches, but the Moto form factor makes the display feel much bigger. It’s also got plenty of pixels. The display isn’t as dense as some of the 1080p handsets currently available, but with a 1280 x 720 display and 329 pixels-per-inch, there is nothing to really complain about.

The Moto G, like the more expensive Moto X, also runs something that’s very close to stock Android. That means that unlike HTC and Samsung’s offerings, the only real addition to Google’s software is a suite of Motorola tools like a migration app and a lost phone finder. If you enjoy Android, you won’t find anything to complain about here. Hopefully, because Motorola is a subsidiary of Google, the G will stay reasonably current with the latest software updates. Motorola has already promised an upgrade to Android 4.4 KitKat soon, but if you’re looking for a developer’s device running the latest and greatest, you’ll probably want to stick with the Nexus line.

As Mat Honan pointed out in get-gadget’s review of the Moto X, many of Google’s latest handsets point towards a future for Android where your phone is more deeply integrated with the company’s own tools. The idea is these phones will use massive amounts of user-generated data to predict what you want to do before you even know it yourself. The Moto G isn’t a part of that initiative, but in many ways that makes it a better phone for the average consumer.

While Moto G lacks the Moto X’s voice-activated features, it can certainly use services like Google Now. It’s not a phone you’re supposed to talk to for the most part — or one that “listens.” Instead, the G is for people who want to make a few calls, send out some texts, and perhaps check their social media accounts. Sure, those voice-activated features are cool, but they also don’t work perfectly. More importantly, they drain battery. For the first-time smartphone owner, they’re actually more of a drawback than a feature.

Which brings us to the best part about the Moto G: This phone flies. Despite its lower-end processor (a Qualcomm S4), it snaps from window to window with ease. There’s also virtually no lag when booting up, and for someone moving from any two-year old phone, performance will seem snappy and responsive. Side-by-side with a heavily-used Galaxy S4, the Moto G was able to get out of the browser and into the phone app significantly faster. Of course, there are a few peccadilloes to gripe about, mainly related to the phone’s price.

To get the handset under $200, Motorola had to make few compromises. The biggest is undoubtedly its lack of LTE, which means you can’t get the fastest speeds from your cellular network (The Moto G will work with slightly faster HSPA+ networks, however). That will undoubtedly keep power users from adopting this handset, like it did for the Nexus 4. Fair enough. But this isn’t a phone for them anyway.

When you consider that this phone is aimed at the average smartphone user, and that the Moto G is more than $450 less than $200-tier subsidized phones, all these hardware concessions don’t seem like a big deal at all.

In fact, what the Moto G really signals more than anything else is the end of specs. It can do everything you’d expect from a smartphone in 2013: make calls, text, last more than day. It also happens to come in a great form factor. Indeed, for those looking for a simple, reliable tool, not a trophy, you won’t go wrong with the Moto G.

Photos: Josh Valcarcel/get-gadget

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