When Google acquired Motorola back in 2012 things changed for the company massively. It went from lingering behind in the smartphone race to carving its own path separate from the rest of the pack. And what’s more, that path was actually very successful. With Google pulling the levers behind the curtain, Motorola offered a range of competitively priced handsets featuring optimised hardware and the latest Android software, running stock as Google intended it.
The budget option, the Moto G, has become Motorola’s best-selling handset to date - selling even better than all those devices that made Motorola the leading mobile maker back in its heydey of 90’s feature phones. Since following this strategy with the Moto G, Moto E and Moto X line, Motorola has reported a massive uplift in sales; the company stated its sales grew by 118% in 2014 alone.
Lenovo acquired Motorola from Google inside 2014, but this 2015 line-up is the first batch of new phones launched without any prior influence from Google, and, reassuringly, Lenovo has recognised when it’s on to a good thing and has allowed Motorola to continue the same strategy.
That’s great news for the consumer, because Motorola’s current set of devices does offer a few things difficult (if not impossible, in some cases) to find anywhere else.
So now Motorola has presented us with the third-generation Moto G. Officially it is simply called the Moto G, there’s no year date on the end of it, although it’s far easier for us to refer to it as the Moto G (2015). We’ve spent a bit of time with the affordable little beastie to bring you our thoughts and observations.
Motorola Moto G (2015) Design
A quick glance at the Moto G (2015) and you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s not much different from the previous gen model, and in terms of visual design that’s largely true. It’s more or less the same shape; your pretty standard smartphone slab with rounded corners, and it has the same 5in display size and screen-to-body ratio as last year’s Moto G.
The back panel follows a similar left-to-right curvature as the Moto X Style, and also features a similar metal plate design around the camera port, LED flash, and Motorola logo. This is a nice touch as it breaks up what often becomes a large expanse of samey bodywork. A key difference from the Moto X, however, is that this plate on the Moto G is recessed into the rear panel rather than protruding slightly; likely due to the device’s waterproofing certification. That is an important point actually; you only get the benefit of the IPX7 waterproofing (nice addition too) for the Moto G (2015) if you snap the back panel on securely all round, and that includes around the rear plate - easy to overlook in a hurry.
However, there are some other distinct and more crucial differences.
As with previous iterations of the Moto G there are standard, off-the-shelf models in either black or white finishes, but for the first time Motorola is introducing the Moto Maker web store previously used for the Moto X flagship, to the budget option Moto G handset too. The back panels are interchangeable as before, so you’re not necessarily limited once you choose your back panel colour (or even if you buy a standard off-the-shelf version, ostensibly), although we must admit we haven’t yet seen any of Motorola’s plans for selling back covers as optional accessories as with previous generations.
Regardless, that’s pretty much the only exterior feature you might be able to change outside of the Moto Maker. Inside Moto Maker you can also choose an accent colour for the phone’s back plate, either a white or black front panel, a flip-shell, a custom engraving, a custom greeting message for the Android software, and a homescreen wallpaper. Your option are pretty varied from a wide range of colours, although it’s not as diverse as the Moto X and there are not different finishes - each option is plastic.
However, that’s the other crucial difference we referred to; the build quality. While I was quite happy with the build quality of Moto G handsets for the past two generations, being slightly better than what I’ve come to expect of budget devices, it still had a scratchy, somewhat sub-par feel to things.
There is a substantial difference between the feel of the Moto G (2015) and its predecessors, noticeable as soon as you pick it up. The front panel surround, while still plastic, feels much more solid than before. The back panel plastic has also improved, at the same time gaining a striped texture which lends further to the quality feel, looks interesting, and actually helps with gripping the handset. This is an extremely solid smartphone in the hand, without being overly chunky, heavy, or unwieldy. It’s a nice comfortable size and well-proportioned, and the control keys are well-placed for operation with either hand. The power key and volume rocker feel solid, with a satisfying operation and feedback, while the power key has a ridged texture to aid operation by feel.
Overall I’m very impressed by the exterior of the Moto G (2015).
Motorola Moto G (2015) Display
Displays are frequently one of the first things to give when trying to put out a reasonably priced phone, being a more expensive component to produce. However, provided things don’t go too far this isn’t always such a bad thing if there’s a balance between image quality and cost, because it can often mean better battery life too.
Anyway, the Moto G uses a 5in IPS LCD touch panel with a 720p HD resolution at 294ppi - pretty similar to the previous Moto G (2014), though with a slightly lower pixel density than the first gen model due to the larger screen size. It’s not even too far behind the previous-gen iPhone 5s!
In terms of the actual image quality there is some visible pixilation, though nothing too serious and certainly nothing to complain about for a sub-£200 phone.
Contrast is decent, brightness is reasonable but not exceptional, and likewise white purity and colour has a tendency to be a little washed out, dull and yellow-tinted. On the whole though it’s not a bad display panel by any means. It’s not the best display on the market, but being a budget model it was never going to be. It is, I think, good enough, though.
Motorola Moto G (2015) Processor, Software & Performance
Again at first glance the third-gen Moto G appears to have only a modest bump in processing power over its predecessor; the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 engine has been swapped out for a tweaked Snapdragon 410. But look a little closer at the details and it’s easy to see why there are significant performance gains here.
For a start, the 410 is a 64-bit chip, making it more efficient all round than the older 32-bit architecture. Add to that ARM’s new Cortex-A53 core architecture (as opposed to the old A7) an increased clock-speed from the old 1.2GHz up to 1.4GHz, and you are getting a fair bit more clout here. The GPU has also been updated from an Adreno 305 to an Adreno 306, and while the lower-end 8GB storage model keeps the same 1GB of RAM as last-year’s edition, forking out for the 16GB storage variant nets you 2GB of RAM instead. Our test unit is the 2GB RAM variant.
One of the best features of Motorola’s recent device generations has been their use of stock Android software and it’s something that has continued on the Moto G (2015). This is great on several levels. Most obvious being that this is a Nexus-like experience, as Google intended it, and even though third-party UIs are improving in how they embrace Google’s simple, clean, Material Design, a truly stock Android experience outside of Google’s own stable is still quite rare.
The other cool thing about it though, is that there isn’t any clutter to drain on processing power; Google has put tons of effort into optimising Android for a range of processors to get the best performance possible at all levels, and when manufacturers start throwing UI overlays and other gubbinz into the mix, well, it’s not surprising that this can be a bit of a drag.
Not so on the Moto G though; Android here is clean as a whistle, meaning in general operation everything ticks over nice and smoothly. Navigating around the interface not only looks exactly how Google’s designers intended it to, but it operates just as well as a really high-end device boasting the latest and greatest supercharged processor hardware. From our time with the device we noticed no lag or hanging, just a slick Android experience. Great stuff.
What about more intensive tasks? Well it doesn’t get more intensive than 3D gaming, generally. However, not all games are created equal, and some are more graphically demanding than others. We decided to try a couple of titles to see how the Moto G would handle them. Dungeon Hunters 5 is a relatively recent title, and while the 3D graphics are quite attractive, the distant isometric perspective and cartoony graphics means that textures and visual effects don’t have to be as flashy. As a result, we found the Moto G ran Dungeon Hunters 5 fantastically well, without any drop in frame rate.
Next up was another recent game; Mortal Kombat X. This is a significantly more graphically intensive title with many more flashy visuals and particle effects, as well as detailed textures and models. In fact the graphical quality really doesn’t seem far off the full-blown console and PC version of the game. The Moto G handled this game much better than I expected, in fact I thought it would be unplayable, but nothing could be further from the truth. I did notice the occasional bit of lag, but primarily this was in the menu screens between fights rather than inside the matches themselves. Certainly there is nothing here that would make me hesitate to attempt a full playthrough for fear of disruptive performance, I think any slight blips such as I saw would barely impact the gameplay for most users.
That’s not to say that every game will run flawlessly on the Moto G, because it’s as important for the game to have been developed properly and optimised for the platform and hardware. But going forward, with more and more games being developed for Android Lollipop’s improved 64-bit architecture, there’s every reason to believe that even some very flashy games, particularly the high-production value ones from big developers/publishers, should be ok here.
Motorola Moto G (2015) Camera
Moto G cameras have historically been fairly humble affairs, but that’s quite understandable to keep costs low - imaging hardware is pricey stuff! Motorola has kept stride with the times here, however, upgrading the rear-facing primary on the Moto G from the 2014 edition’s 8MP sensor to a brand spanking new 13MP affair. It features a dual-LED two-tone flash, HDR, and 1080p video.
But it’s a bit of a mixed bag really. Personally I found Motorola’s gesture based interface a little annoying in places - don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with touch-to-capture, but irritatingly you have to set it to a specific mode to allow you to select the point of focus with your finger. Many other rival UIs simply incorporate this very useful feature into the standard mode.
And then there’s the picture quality. On the Moto G’s fairly average display the snaps look reasonable, but get them onto a better screen and even with the uplift in megapixels we’re looking at a similarly average camera quality offering to previous generations of Moto G. Again, that’s not a massive stumbling block as a whole - it’s unreasonable to expect budget phones to pack amazing imaging capabilities unless you make massive sacrifices in other areas - but it does mean that if high quality photography is important to you then the Moto G probably isn’t going to cut it.
The picture quality is a similar story to the display. Dynamic range and contrast is decent and detail is not bad either, but there is a graininess to the snaps and a slightly washed-out look to the colour accuracy. Some photos come out looking like they’ve had a few filters put over them when that isn’t necessarily the case. As you can see, the camera also seem to be a lot better at distance photography rather than close-ups, where everything goes a bit awry.
Motorola Moto G (2015) Hardware, Connectivity & Battery
The Moto G (2015) features a non-removable 2,470mAh battery cell. Running our usual length video test with The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (runtime 161 minutes, downloaded to device) with full brightness and Wi-Fi toggled on saw a 100% charge reduced down to 68% by the time the credits rolled - not too shabby, but you have to bear in mind this means you probably can’t expect more than about five hours of intensive multimedia use from a full battery. Outside of this scenario the battery life was very respectable indeed, with periods of downtime allowing a full day or slightly longer on a single charge.
I already mentioned the storage variants. I found the 16GB quite adequate for a few photos and two very large games installed with room to spare, but some users are going to find it a bit lacking in space for large multimedia collections. There is the cloud, of course, but you also have microSD support for cards up to 32GB, which is welcome indeed.
Motorola Moto G (2015) Conclusion
On the whole I think the 2015 edition of the Moto G is a pretty good successor model for the series. Broadly speaking it builds on the previous models in the right ways, keeping the low-cost smartphone in pace with recent changes in technology. The processor, software and camera have all been upgraded, and while those two hardware components are noticeably better than what came before, they are, understandably, not going to blow you away. But it's tough to beat this capable combination of tailored hardware and software at such a low price point, and with stock Android - you can't really find anything like it anywher else for such a low cost. Fundamentally the performance, particularly for multimedia (which is what most users occupy themselves with when not using a phone's communication capabilities) is very impressive, as is the battery life.
Then on top of that you have the customisation. Again, this is a rarity and Motorola is very, very good at this particular trick. Let's face it, phone ownership is for many quite a personal thing, you spend a lot of time with these devices, and many people do love customisation to make things say something about them and their tastes. Motrola has once again nailed this aspect, offering extensive customisation options without piling on the price.
Lastly, the big gain here for me from previous models is the build quality. As I mentioned, I am a bit jaded with budget phones to the point that I now expect them to feel like they came out of a Christmas Cracker, but with the Moto G I was pleasantly surprised that this couldn't be further from the truth.
Overall you get a lot of bang for your buck here and at a low cost to boot. No it's not going to move mountains, but damn it it doesn't half try with performance and capabilities well above par. If this isn't one of the best budget smartphones on the market I don't know what is