Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on November 21st 2013
There was a time when Motorola was one of the biggest names in the UK market. You couldn’t watch the TV for 5 minutes without hearing the ‘Hello Moto’ slogan. But in recent years the company’s grasp on these shores has slipped, despite being purchased by Google. In fact, it’s last flagship phone, the Moto X, didn’t even release in the UK.
So why is the Motorola Moto G here? How can it succeed where others have failed? Simple ‘ the £135 price tag (on the 8GB model, the 16GB is £160). The Moto G offers fantastic value, with a spec sheet worthy of a handset double the price. In sticking to a simple design and accessible software the company has made a phone with the potential to shake up the budget market.
The Moto G’s look isn’t anything to write home about, but it does pack a few noteworthy features. The front of the device is plain, although the shiny plastic casing keeps it looking smart. One issue is the bulk at the bottom of the device, that could easily fit some dedicated home buttons. Instead these buttons appear on the screen, wasting display space.
Instead of designing something unique, Motorola has simply let you customise the phone with a range of colourful plastic ‘Shells’, as the company calls them. The standard phone comes in a bland black, but you can switch it out for another colour or one with a protective front cover. The shell backings are made of a sturdy piece of plastic that doesn’t bend easily. The only problem is that these will add to the cost of the phone. While the standard shell doesn’t have a set price yet, a protective ‘Grip Shell’ is £10 and the front-protecting ‘Flip Shell’ is £18.
Despite being owned by Google, Motorola insists that it doesn’t get any special treatment when it comes to the company’s Android OS. That’s certainly true here, as the Moto G runs a stock version of Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, with 4.4 KitKat promised for January.
This makes the Moto G very easy to use, with a menu that’s identical to Google’s Nexus line and built-in apps kept to a minimum. Motorola has added just a few of its own apps to the device, including Assist, which lets you schedule auto-replies and silence your phone for meetings and sleeping. Other additions are simple admin apps, including a direct line to customer services and a service to transfer files over from older phones.
More companies should pay attention to this approach. The free storage space is much more appreciated than the usual bloatware that other manufacturers shove in.
All that said, the phone does drop 4G connectivity, which is a shame given that so many networks are finally starting to increase their coverage, and the similarly-priced Lumia 620 includes it.
To get the best possible price on the Moto G you’re going to have to sacrifice some memory, as the £135 model only grants you 8GB of space. At least you’ll actually have most of this to yourself thanks to the small amount of apps, and Motorola could have easily cut the memory back further. The Acer E2 and HTC Desire 500 (both reviewed this issue) offer half the storage space but cost around £70 more.
One area that the company hasn’t skimped on is the processor. The Moto G uses a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chip, which is very powerful when bringing the price into account. More expensive phones have used the less powerful Snapdragon 200. The 400 is by no means the most powerful chip out there, but it can run a lot of the games on the Play Store. We did encounter a few games that the phone itself warned us wouldn’t be compatible on the device, such as Thor: The Dark World.
Any games you do get running on the handset will look great thanks to the phone’s 720p display. It’s not quite the true HD 1080p that we’ve been treated to on flagship models recently, but it’s the perfect compromise for a phone in this range.
The camera is one of the more disappointing features. The 5 megapixel rear-facing snapper spoils the Moto G’s winning streak, as other budget phones usually have 8 megapixels. Under perfect conditions it can produce crisp images, but slightly shaky hands will blur photos. The camera app itself is just the stock Android app with the photo button removed. This is meant to make the app easier to use but we can only see it confusing first time users that are familiar with a dedicated button.
Motorola has promised a day’s battery life out of the phone, encouraging users to get into the habit of overnight charging. However we found the battery to get two days of use with plenty of calls, texts, and the odd gaming session. Charging from flat to full took three hours.
The Moto G is designed to be the king of the budget market and it certainly succeeds. At £200 this would have been another serviceable Android handset but at £135 its the last word in budget phones. We’d expect a phone in this price range to have made far too many sacrifices in terms of specs, but the Moto G holds up next to phones almost twice as expensive.
Motorola has made a device that deserves to make an impact on the budget market. Hopefully the likes of Samsung and HTC will be rethinking their own cheaper options now that the Moto G is here. Let’s hope the company can keep this kind of momentum up in the new year.
UPDATE: Since this review was first written over seven months ago, the Moto G has gone from strength to strength. It’s dominated the lower-end of the smartphone market, and rightly so – but Motorola isn’t stopping there. A 4G-LTE variant of the device is now available. It’s still cheap at only £160 RRP, and you’ll have access to the fastest data connections available. The rest of the handset remains absolutely identical (which is a good thing), so it’s only grown stronger.