Moto G, simply the best phone under $200 [Review]

I don’t think any company’s released a more talked-about handset under $200 than Motorola with its Moto G. And for good reason. It’s the first time anyone’s really brought a great experience, and decent spec-list to a phone in that price range. I got one just over a week back and have grown to like it a lot, although it does have its problems.

Design

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The Moto G’s design should be applauded. It feels fantastic in hand. This is mostly because if its curved, comfortable rear shell and matte finish, and it’s at that “Sweet Spot” size. It’s not too small, like the iPhone, or too big like the HTC One and GS4. But the curved back isn’t just a practical decision. Yes, it slips in to a pocket effortlessly, but it also looks fantastic. One thing that really surprised me was that even though the rear shell is removable, when it’s clipped in place, you can’t tell. It looks like it belongs on the phone and fits brilliantly. One thing I will say is that it is something of a fingerprint magnet. After a few days using it, it had completely lost its smooth, spotless finish, and because of its matte finish, wiping the grime off wasn’t as simple as it might be on a glossy back. But that’s just nit-picking. Another huge plus point is that you can buy different color shells to fit the Moto G, and really make it fit your style.

From the front, when switched off, the surface is glossy, black and still. There’s little interfering with the single glass panel except the front facing camera and earpiece. It’s a fairly standard and classic look, but it works well. One thing that did puzzle was the bad use of space. The display takes up most of the space – as you’d expect – but there’s a large portion of the frame below the screen with nothing on it. No branding/decoration, no capacitive buttons, no nothing. It’s a good finger’s width thick and does make the display look out of place, especially since the top part is much slimmer and features an earpiece and camera. It just looks weird, face on. I couldn’t help but think it could do with losing a few millimeters from the bottom edge. That, or gain some capacitive buttons.

Display

Motorola proudly boasted about how its display was sharper than the iPhone’s. And technically, that’s true. Its 1280×720 resolution display has a density of 329ppi, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at it next to an iPhone. Or any other high-end device for that matter. And it’s here you see where compromises had to be made to get it in on cost. It lacks brightness, contrast and saturation. Images seem flat, colors are a little washed out and the lack of contrast makes it seem less sharp than it should. To call it fuzzy would be an overstatement, but even viewing high resolution images left me with the impression that this was no Retina display. But comparing the display against an iPhone’s shows just how good it really is for its class. If I started comparing it to cheap Android phones, its display would shine.

One puzzling choice ties in with the design complaint I have: It has virtual onscreen buttons. The back arrow, home and app history buttons take up a portion at the bottom of the display, meaning you don’t get the entire 4.5-inches of real estate all the time. If Motorola had made use of the bottom part of the front frame by putting in some touch-sensitive buttons, we wouldn’t need them on the display, and it’d make for a much more immersive experience.

Although it was lacking in some areas, I was impressed by the viewing angles. I’ve used a lot of devices (including current high-end ones) where whites would turn green, yellow, pink or blue once you start turning the phone away from your face. If the angle was anything other than head on, whites onscreen would not come through clean. With the Moto G, I experienced a consistent color regardless of what angle I held it. No fading, no warping, no loss in sharpness. Apart from the aforementioned weak points, it’s still a good display.

Camera

No device under $200 is going to have first class optics. I wasn’t expecting it. And I didn’t get it. If you’re someone who has to have the best camera possible on a smartphone, you’re almost certainly not looking at the Moto G as an option in the first place, so let’s not pretend that it’s the one thing that’ll stop people buying it. With the camera, it’s almost the exact opposite of the display. It lacks sharpness, but its color reproduction contrast and white/black levels are pretty good. It’s the shutter speed and fuzziness that let it down. Lowlight performance leaves a lot to be desired too.

I can’t mention camera without giving kudos to Google for its camera interface. Using gestures to bring the simple-to-use controls in from the left side of the screen is so intuitive and effortless, as is swiping up the screen to zoom in. It’s fantastic. It’s just a shame the camera isn’t a little better.

Battery and Performance

If you’re worried about your smartphone not lasting a full day, It’s safe to say, your worries are eased by the Moto G. It lasts really well on a single charge. I easily got 1-2 days out of it on a full charge when I was using it as my primary device. When it switched to a secondary device (used mostly for email and web browsing), I got 5 days from a single charge. It’s impressive.

It’s a tale of two cities when I talk about speed and performance. On the hardware, app-loading side, its quad-core processor makes light work of almost everything. But, its lack of LTE means that it’s somewhat hampered outside the comfort-zone of a Wi-Fi network. That said, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ is no slouch, and since the US GSM model accommodates both the 1700 AWS and re-farmed 1900 bands, you should find a decent level of mobile speed on your travels, providing you’re in an area of ample coverage.

With it having a decent display, great battery life, a fairly good camera and a fast processor, I assumed that it would have one real area of weakness. I was right. It’s the audio. The loudspeaker on the Moto G is so tinny and lacking in any tonal depth that it was a pain to hear. In fact, it’s one of the worst loudspeakers I’ve heard in a long time. To hear anything required pumping up the volume to the maximum, which then distorted the audio to make it fuzzy and lacking in clarity. Simply horrible. Thankfully, in-call audio through the earpiece isn’t so bad, but it’s no example of audio clarity either.

The Good

  • Great Feel
  • Interchangeable Covers
  • Fast
  • Good battery

The Bad

  • No LTE
  • Storage is limited, only 8GB/16GB options with no option to expand
  • Loudspeaker is terrible

Wrap-Up

When designing and creating smartphones there are many, many things a manufacturer can use as the main focal point. For Apple, it’s the user experience. For Samsung’s high-end devices, it’s all about how many features they can pack in to one device. With any approach, there are always going to be compromises, but none more so than when the price point is the biggest concern. For Motorola, with the Moto G, the idea was to create a sub-$200 device that gave the best experience possible. That meant making it fast, a joy to use, and having a great display. Of course, there are compromises, but I feel in this case that Motorola sacrificed all the right things. Simply put, there are no handsets on the market at this price point that come anywhere near offering the same experience and quality. It may not match the iPhone or the Galaxy S4, but it leaves every other low-end device eating its dust.

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  • Outrager

    Ewww.. You could have at least blew off the hair/dust on your keyboard before taking a picture of it.

    • besweeet

      I think he wanted to demonstrate the phone’s ability to capture everything :D.

    • RedGeminiPA

      I’m surprised you forgot to mention his coffee cup… *eye roll*

      • Outrager

        I’m surprised you took this comment seriously… *eye roll*

  • epsiblivion

    when will it be in tmobile stores directly?

    • steveb944

      Never. Have you seen the Moto X make an appearance?

      • Marcus Kilgore

        it would be nice to see the Moto X at T-mobile. Still confused why T-mobile never carried it

  • Alex Zapata

    I’m very pleased to see that Motorola is stepping up to the budget game and actually pulling it off well.

  • cjsmile1908

    I ordered 3 of these things for my family and I canNOT wait to get my hands on them. This is an absolutely perfect phone for teenagers – nothing special, nice and cheap, but works like a charm.

    • landmarkcm

      Its perfect for everybody actually. It’s Better then then the other mid range phones that Tmobile is selling directly.

  • steveb944

    I just wish it brought a wall adapter. I missed that tidbit on the website, so now I’m using an old black Samsung adapter with the white Moto cable.

    The ‘chin’ is comparable to my Nexus 5, so for me it’s no biggie. Never EVER suggest throwing in capacitive buttons like other manufacturers. In this day and age, Android is built to have on screen buttons so you can easily use the device horizontally or vertically.

    • ChristianMcC

      Exactly! Never will I get a phone with capacitive buttons again. They disappear when you don’t need them, and you press them accidentally much less than capacitive.

  • Tim S

    No LTE= crap. Sorry,

    • dontsh00tmesanta

      So iphone 4s and down is crap gotcha

      • Tim S

        4s is an old phone!!!

        • RedGeminiPA

          As if ALL of the low-end Android or Windows phones are running with NEW, up-to-date internal hardware…

          Shiny and new on the outside doesn’t mean they’re sporting new internals. Ever wonder how they’re priced so low compared to NEW premium handsets?

        • dontsh00tmesanta

          Doesnt matter it does not have LTE so it is crap to you

    • landmarkcm

      Funny thing though the HSPA+ is quite satisfactory though at least for me. Overall the phone because of the processor runs so much more smooth then others I had like the lg f6 that had LTE. I like the Moto G so much better. It even seems to connect to my wifi faster & has a stronger signal then other devices I used.

  • Bklynman

    I don’t know about it being the best under $200.00 phone on the market,
    unless he is only taking about Android phones,if he talking all smart
    phones,let’s not forget the 521,520 Limia by Nokia. Also CNET did
    nice job comparing 8 different phones from the G to the The Blu phones,
    another 6 cell phones I never heard of before.

    • Bklynman

      Yes I just realize I miss spelled it,sue.

    • RedGeminiPA

      He was referring to Android phones…

  • krazytrixxxsta

    What’s the name of that Batman wallpaper?

  • Guest

    How did you get the carrier name on the status bar. it does not work for mine Moto G

  • MasonMathews

    This site has really gone down hill. Really such a poor review. The phone was dirty in almost every picture and I didn’t even want to finish after reading your opinion on the screen! Literally all of the reviews I’ve seen on this phone, leave the reviewer bowing down to Motorola because of how amazing the screen is. Engadget even stated that they had to recheck that it wasn’t an AMOLED because of how deep the blacks were and how fantastic the displays contrast is. You point the screen out as where they ‘obviously’ cut costs which apparently isn’t true. I don’t even know if I’m going to come back to this website. Just sad.

    • Bklynman

      The problem is this,ever since David,got kick out his Tmo informers,his
      ninjas went with him. I don’t think this site will ever be the same again
      no matter who phone mutt gets. So if anyone comes here looking for
      inside news for Tmo,they are not going to find it. I notice some regular
      don’t come here any longer, or if they do,they don’t comet any longer.

    • Anonymous

      It’s not a dirty screen, those are actually the folds on Batman’s cape. Took me a while to notice this, haha.

  • MusicCityChad

    After 2 days of “no new news” on this site, all we get is a phone review of a phone that has been reviewed weeks ago by most sites. Sad. I miss coming here every day for new Tmo news. They should just shut this site down.

  • ThomasBDX

    Lumia 520/521 is $50 funny how you don’t talk about that in the article. Also the same title as a gizmodo article? Was that in a article by numbers payoff packet provided by Moto/Google?

    • Bklynman

      $50.? Where did you see it for$50?

      • ThomasBDX

        Best Buy

        • Lagurl323

          your best buy my best buy inLA its not 50 bucks the att GO Phone nokia 520 is 90 bukz thats the cheapest nokia they have at that price 90 the other nokias they have are more expensive

        • ThomasBDX

          Look on slickdeals, the 520 and 521 are on sale all the time.

        • Bklynman

          I think you are thinking about One Touch,Best Buy is selling it $50. They have 521,on sale for $79. Online
          anyway. Cam you should do head to head with the Lg
          F6,I believe Tmo is selling it also for under $200.

        • landmarkcm

          The Moto g is so much better then the F6 or L9 or f3 just got rid of F6

    • Napster87

      but the lumia is a horrible phone. i sell phones and literally half the lumias get returned.

    • Cam Bunton

      $50 SIM-free, off contract?

      • BlackJu

        $69 at the Microsoft Store (online and B&M) right now. Frequently goes on sale for 60-80.

    • http://twitter.com/SParKlngCyaNide SparklingCyanide

      Also funny how you don’t mention how much better Specced the Moto G is compared to the Lumia… sorry @ThomasBDX:disqus your argument has holes.

      • ThomasBDX

        Much better? For a person looking for a cheap phone? They could utterly destroy their $50 520 that has 90% the same functionality three times over and still be where they are with the moto g.

      • BlackJu

        It’s funny how you don’t mention that it’s less than half the cost.

  • PiCASSiMO

    Got 2 of them, 16GB US variants, for my parents which came in yesterday.

    Nice phones… with screen a little small compared to the Nexus 5 that I’m used to. Otherwise, very happy with the purchase.

    • http://twitter.com/SParKlngCyaNide SparklingCyanide

      Bought my Mother one, been setting up since yesterday for her… I don’t want to give it away. lol

    • http://www.youtube.com/#/mrjlwilliams J. Williams

      How long did it take before it shipped?

      • PiCASSiMO

        Bought them back in November on the day they launched (I think it was the 26th). They had delays and eventually delivered yesterday 16th.

        • http://www.youtube.com/#/mrjlwilliams J. Williams

          When I spoke to them today, the rep tells me that they are made to order. I said yeah okay, and she went on the say I will have it before Christmas. Whatever.

        • http://www.youtube.com/#/mrjlwilliams J. Williams

          Update mine shipped today, that was quick. I ordered the other day.

  • tom

    Nokia Lumia 521 easily gets my vote.

    • landmarkcm

      No flash on the 521 camera is a fail right off the bat to me not to mention the better screen app selection and everything else on the g is better.

    • tomarone

      The Lumia 521 is sometimes available for about $100. It’s pretty good, at 4 inches, and I’m hoping Microsoft keeps it updated. Probably not to Windows 9 Phone, but you never know until the fat man sings. The Lumia is smooth. Typing on 4 inches is ok unlike a low end Android phone.

    • Jeezy West

      GREAT PHONE EXCEPT IT RUNS WINDOWS… THAT ALONE MAKES IT SHITTY

  • Mark Sharp

    Just got mine today. Only took 3 days (I’m in SF). LOVING IT!

    • http://www.youtube.com/#/mrjlwilliams J. Williams

      Same here, mine arrives in the morning. I ordered a couple of days ago nice. Do you like it so far? Also, did you get the 4.4.2 update? It started rolling out today.

  • landmarkcm

    The camera is actually pleasantly surprising. I was worried about it. I will say overall it is better then any other 5mp camera pretty much overall that ive used & that has been several. It easily beats all Lg’s 5mp shooters and is right up there with Samsung because Motorola did a good job at processing the photos without much noise on the g. The only thing is the autofocus can sometimes be touchy on the g depending. Camera apps help the experience. & with Kit Kat it should get a bit better too. I would not reccomend buying from Motorola directly though they have poor service (they did finally get me my turquoise shell at least though) But buy the g from Amazon! So much faster on the shipping & no tax.

  • http://www.youtube.com/#/mrjlwilliams J. Williams

    4.4.2 just started rolling out, wow they are doing it big right now.

    • landmarkcm

      Still patiently waiting on my KitKat update.

      • http://www.youtube.com/#/mrjlwilliams J. Williams

        Same here.

      • http://www.youtube.com/#/mrjlwilliams J. Williams

        Just got it, check your phone.

        • landmarkcm

          Thanks ya I got it earlier this afternoon I was doing my random check for updates and bammo it was there. So glad to because now it really does make it the best in its class overall. Noticeable refresh to the camera is bit faster & focuses better! is main thing. I like that the whole screen is seen now on the apps with the white button icons instead of the black. Wish it was like that in the browser too but oh well.

  • Carlos

    So for use with TMO, would it be better to have the global version or US version? I assume US…but know what what they say.

    • landmarkcm

      US version for sure if you want the HSPA+ on Tmobile

  • poorredman

    While the design could be arguably dated, the new Galaxy Light at $150 with nearly identical specs but having LTE is where my money is going. My wife has had hers for about 3 weeks and has no complaints.

    • landmarkcm

      Returning the Light. The g runs faster overall even w out LTE. I don’t really care for Samsungs interface either. Just my thoughts..

  • http://www.youtube.com/#/mrjlwilliams J. Williams

    Just got kit kat a few moments ago, woohoo.

  • Ed

    “I don’t think any company’s released a more talked-about handset under $200 than Motorola with its Moto G.”

    Really? What about 14 months ago, when the $199 Nexus 4 was the hottest topic in the smartphone world?

    • snobrdr2324

      You mean other than the fact it was $299 not $199 therefore doesn’t actually fall under the “Most talked about handset under $200″ and makes your post entirely rude and ill informed?

      • Ed

        Mistaken? Yes…I mixed up the reduced price with the initial offering. But “rude”? You’re reaching for something that’s simply not there.

  • techymexican

    can I install my application on the 50GB cloud storage?

  • ChristianMcC

    I’m sure your question is rhetorical and sarcastic, but if not, no you can’t install an app in the cloud.

  • cousin hector

    agreed

  • techymexican

    exactly, i’m just referring to his comment on the 65GB cloud storage as an excuse for lack of onboard storage.

  • g2a5b0e

    I can’t believe anyone thumbed this guy up. Learn a little respect, kid. Believe it or not, not everyone is going to agree with your opinion. Doesn’t give you the right to insult.