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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