The established mantra for the Moto G is that it’s an excellent bit of kit, from a respectable manufacturer, at a wallet-friendly price.
This has been true for 2 years, but does it still stand up as the best budget phone, when there’s been an assault of cheaper Android devices hitting the market this year. We’ll go over the basics in this review, however we’ll also look closely at some things that might get glossed over during the fanfare of a new release, and really investigate the claim that this is an excellent budget phone. The new Moto G looks very similar to the 2nd generation model. My partner even kept picking it up mistaking it for hers. The biggest difference is in the back cover, which is now a textured or ribbed hard plastic. I and other 5 year olds can have fun running our nails up making silly noises. This adds significant grip although it’s a bit of a dirt trap. Motorola phones aren’t for dimension and weight obsessives. The tapered edges make them look thinner than they are, however there are a fair few thinner and lighter models available. This is a solid, bulky build which manages the Goldilocks ‘just-right’ effect – suitable for most hand sizes and weighty enough for those that like to ‘feel’ their phone rather than worry it will float away. It would have been nice if Motorola allowed owners of the previous generation to carry on using any extra coloured shells they’ve purchased, but unfortunately they haven’t. The slight chassis changes means there’s a new range of these. Most manufacturers deliver new accessories for each generation, so you can’t really blame them and these are fairly cheap when compared to others. Nothing about the Moto G’s looks will offend anyone’s tastes, unless you have very small hands, however there’s also nothing particularly striking. Many other manufacturers are making a play in the budget space, and some of them such as Alcatel, have brought slick, lightweight designs with them. The 720 HD panel is still a passable resolution at this size, however it’s understandable that in its 3rd year some will be disappointed it’s not higher. Budget devices are about compromise and this is probably still the best option – keeping the screen size large and accessible with a comfortable resolution saves money. A Full HD panel would also drain the battery faster. Brightness is very good and so is readability in a number of light sources, including direct sunlight. Motorola have also included the hardened Gorilla Glass 3 covering. One thing that did strike me almost immediately was the screen felt a lot slicker and more responsive than the 2nd Gen I’ve been using for almost 6 months. My touch felt almost ‘closer’ to the LCD panel below, perhaps indicating a slimmer construction. This may also have been due to a factory applied coating on the glass that wears off over time, but either way simply touching it was pleasant. It would have been harsh to really knock the Moto G for not having a 1080 panel, seeing as this is still marketed as a budget phone. If Motorola make a 4th Generation next year though, it will probably be expected with price drops in technology. Overall this has decent colour quality while being bright and responsive. Motorola needed to improve the cameras on all their phones this year. The last few Gs have all been lacking, not just in raw resolution but also in a fairly lacklustre application delivering washed out results. Unfortunately the results are still a bit of a mixed bag. The jump to 13 megapixels can provide more detailed images, although the application itself still lags behind the competition. For some people cameras can make or break a phone. They are an integral experience for many users, who want lots of features and top results in a variety of lighting conditions. There are also though plenty of us that also don’t really mind so much, as long as it can take a decent snap or two when we need it. The Moto G 3 still falls in to the latter of these camps. Improving the camera must have been on the agenda for the team behind this phone – there is a larger sensor and a dual LED flash – and there have been some additions to the software. Overall though, the app interface is very basic, and whilst there are new options to change light balance, a low light mode and manual focusing, everything still seems to feel like a work in progress with sub-par image processing. Good light and a steady hand can produce some lovely shots, as you’d hope. There are however often times when colours can feel muted, or dusky natural light or flares can really mess with the processing, casting a murky haze or spikes of unnatural colour. This isn’t a deal breaker by any means. Most of the time this is a decent shooter that will serve most of us just fine. It is a stark reminder of the price though and something to bear in mind if you are a big camera user with high expectations. The last G was loud and this one matches up. I usually have my phones turned up to max because I’m a nightmare for missing calls yet for once there’s no need here. Even the earpiece for calls can have people on the other side of the room listening in! At first glance you’d think this was because of the dual speakers adorning the front, however the top bar on the fascia is in fact a pretender! This hides the earpiece but there’s no main speaker here, making the volume and clarity of the G’s sound even more impressive as it comes from a single mono speaker on the base. Call quality has always been excellent, with little to no notable distortion on a number of calls, ranging from standard voice-only signal to high-speed 4G networks. If there could possibly be a downside to excellent audio it would be that’s it’s actually quite hard to make the G be quiet. Android 5.0’s split audio controls can put notifications down to a sensible level, however just one notch up on the slider for the main media speaker and it can still fill a quiet room. That said I should probably stop watching videos in bed when everyone else is asleep… This 3rd Gen Moto G comes in two versions. There’s a normal 8 or 16 GB storage split, each of which get about 3.5 GB eaten up by Android 5.1. Motorola have made the odd decision of giving the bigger phone more RAM: 2 GB instead of 1. This has the frustrating result of the new Moto G actually being two different phones. A difference of 1GB might seem small on a spec. sheet, however with Android 5.1 running the show, we end up with a very notable difference in performance. If you open a lot of tabs and regularly jump between open apps, then you’ll encounter noticeable slowdown on 1 GB. With 2 GB it suddenly all goes away. It’s no surprise major review websites received a 2 GB version from Motorola. That’s not to say the 1 GB version is a slow hog by any means. The experience is on a par with plenty of other phones in this price bracket. That’s not what the Moto G should be though; a phone that used to the best at this price, is now ‘on a par’ with several other brands unless you pay a significant premium to Motorola directly (note that the 16GB/2GB version is not for sale from any retailers). With extra software features the Moto G has always been light on customisation, there is a little bit more in terms of features this year though. The G range has always been light on Android customisation, although there’s a little more Running as standard you’ll find a few gesture based controls included, plus some wizardry going on with the screen and notifications. The first of the gestures is a ‘double karate chop’ motion to launch the torch. Useful if you remember you have got it. The second gesture is a quick launch for the camera, activated by a flick of the wrist. Some reviewers love this but I found it to be incredibly sensitive, launching the camera application almost every time I put the phone down or picked it up swiftly, resulting in several seconds wait for the app to load before I could jump out of it. Perhaps my G-sensor was overly sensitive, or I’m rougher or more animated in my use than I realise. Whatever the reason I got annoyed quickly and turned the feature off – something to bear in mind if you think you have a fault because your camera keeps booting when you don’t expect it. The screen features, dubbed Moto Display, are similarly chalk and cheese. By default the Moto G will light up at minimum brightness and show an interactive icon for a few seconds when you get a notification (missed call, text message, email, push notification from an app). These interactive icons can take you directly to the associated app (after inputting any PIN / pattern from your lockscreen) that can be a time saver. The downside I found to this was that if you have a decent number of notifications coming in, the whole screen regularly lighting is a lot more distracting than say a pulse LED. Also, after the screen goes dark a few seconds later, The Moto G will light up again every time it senses movement, presumably to alert you to notifications you may have missed. Similar to the camera launching gesture, I found my G’s screen lighting up at the slightest movement or bump, sometimes it just seemed to light up of its own accord. This also got annoying quickly and after a few days I disabled the feature. As an aside, I’m also convinced I’ve seen a noticeable increase in battery life since disabling a few of these features. Conclusion, nothing falls below average with the Moto G, indeed a few things are markedly above average. What is average though, especially when considering price and the idea that the Moto G has been the undisputed king of budget phones for two years? Officially the RRP for the 8/1 GB configuration is £179 from Motorola. I’d say in this market that touches the upper limits of ‘budget’. Clove and most other retailers sell around the £150 mark, which is more appealing. The 16/2 GB model is a bit of an annoyance. Currently you can only get hold of one for £209 from Motorola directly. The logic is that it’s worth the £30 upgrade, which would be true if the actual market price of the base model didn’t make this closer to a £60 upgrade. Also, once you’ve broken the £200 barrier, can you really define a phone as ‘budget’? With the brilliant Moto X Play available at just £270, the more expensive version of the G sits at an uncomfortable price point. Looking around at well-reviewed new brands such as Alcatel onetouch, Honor and even some of Samsung’s new J range, the G has a lot more competition than it’s faced in the past. Motorola are likely to continue receiving very good reviews and selling a lot of Moto G units, especially when this phone is visible on the high street and widely available. However if you scratch the surface of the SIM free market and take a walk around, you’ll find the Moto G is no longer the unassailable budget king it once was. It’s still a very good smartphone and a worthy choice though, and it sounds almost incredulous considering the prices of phones just 6 months ago, look around and you might find better value for money.