Moto G (2014) review: The best smartphone under $200

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Credit: Florence Ion
At a Glance
  • Motorola Moto G (2014)

    Greenbot Rating

    This is absolutely the best mid-range smartphone you can buy at a decidedly low-tier price.

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Face it: life is more convenient with a smartphone, but if you don’t want to spend a hefty $700 on the latest and most-talked about super phones, there’s the new Moto G. It’s better in almost every way from last year’s model, and it won’t break your budget, whether you’re on or off contract. 

The Moto G isn't just an improvement over its predecessor; it's a workhouse designed to offer the most basic smartphone features in an attractive package, at a very attractive price. For under $200, you get a battery-efficient smartphone with great call quality and all of Android's best features, not to mention that you can use it almost anywhere in the world. If what you really want is just a basic smartphone, this is absolutely the one to get. 

Same design, slightly bigger package

moto g laying1 Rob Schultz

The Moto G looks like a premium device from afar. 

The new Moto G is bigger than its predecessor, though not overpoweringly so. Its larger size is a definite response to all the larger phones popping up in the industry, but it's comparable in width and weight to the first-generation Moto X

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The second-generation Moto G (bottom) is both bigger and taller than last year's.

The Moto G's 5-inch, 720p IPS LCD screen is the right size for browsing the web and using Google Maps. The slightly increased screen size also makes it easier to type and tap with two thumbs, compared to last year’s Moto G. I wasn’t too impressed with the overall display quality, however. The Huawei Ascend Mate2 and HTC One Remix, both in this same class, have better viewing angles. I can't chide the Moto G for any color display issues, however, as it’s nicely on par with its flagship counterpart.

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The Moto G is the right size for typing with two hands.

There’s a microSD expansion slot and a 2070mAh battery pack tucked underneath the Moto G’s back covering, and you can purchase additional back covers or Flip Shells to make the phone all your own. Motorola also added a “splash resistant” coating to the Moto G’s chassis to help keep it safe from accidents, though this phone can't be considered a rugged "life proof" device. 

My favorite feature on the new Moto G is its front-facing speakers; they're capable of loudly streaming a podcast or album without the aid of an amplifier or Bluetooth speaker. So, while the Moto G may not have the best display, at least you can listen to Katy Perry’s PRISM in stereo sound. It's the little things in life.

Middle-of-the-road innards

moto g side Rob Schultz

Inside, the Moto G is almost the same as its predecessor. 

Motorola did not opt for a newer processor for this year's Moto G, and instead stuck with the same 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor that fueled its predecessor. While you won’t get remarkable frame rates for graphically intensive games, and too many background apps might make the interface stutter from time to time, this is still a solid performing phone. It’ll fetch walking directions and take selfies, and you can use it to play games and edit photos. And since there’s no overlay, the interface is nice and fluid, and the Moto G actually lasts a whole day out on the town. We'll have the official battery rundown lab results up soon. 

A very basic camera phone

moto g camera Rob Schultz

The Moto G's 8-megapixel camera will get you to Instagram, but not it's a great choice for printable photos. 

The Moto G's new rear-facing camera is a definite improvement over its predecessor, but it's still just a mid-range shooter. The Moto G features an 8-megapixel camera sensor with a f/2.0 aperture, rear-facing LED flash, and 4X digital zoom. It can shoot slow motion video, burst shots, HDR, and panorama. You can also choose between a 6-megapixel widescreen or 8-megapixel standard resolution for your photos, and store your photos directly on an SD card. (You'll probably want to set that up anyway, since the phone only comes includes 8GB of storage, with a 16GB variant coming soon.)

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The Moto G's camera interface is the same as the Moto X's, and hasn't been spruced up much since last year.

The photo quality is about on par with last year’s Moto X, but definitely better than the old Moto G. The end result looks pretty good if you have ample lighting, and though the color quality is fine out in broad daylight, you'll see some fading when the clouds are out.

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The Moto G focuses well in bright light, and the pictures aren't too noisy.

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On a day with ample lighting, colors are bright and vibrant.

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The 6-megapixel camera quality isn't so bad, either.

That 4X digital zoom isn't "Chloe, enhance" quality, but it works if you're just zooming in a little bit on a subject to share a picture on social networks. Its 2-megapixel front-facing camera is great for selfies and video chats. Both the front- and rear-facing camera sensors are a big improvement over last year's Moto G. 

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Can you read the cheese puns?

Video is impressively smooth if you're shooting while standing still, but it's incredibly shaky if you're walking or moving around—I actually had a bit of motion sickness when playing back a video I filmed of me walking up the street. The slow motion camera is a neat add-on, but while you can edit the video so that only a part of it is slowed down, there's no way to precisely adjust the amount of slo-mo. 

Plain Jane Android

Oh, beautiful stock Android. You are so simple, and yet so aching for customization at the same time. The nice thing about the Moto G’s stock Android 4.4 is that there’s no interface overlay to bog down the device, but you will want to spend some time tweaking the interface to your liking.

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Stock Android 4.4.4, as plain as you can get. 

The Moto G doesn’t have any of the Moto X’s always-on, always-listening goodies, but it does come with some of Motorola’s apps, like Alert, which will keep you safe by keeping you connected with family and friends through a virtual buddy system, and Assist, which will automatically silence the phone when you’re sleeping or in a meeting.

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Moto Assist can be set up so that your phone knows to shut up when you're asleep. 

It's worth the buy—even as a backup device

moto g laying2 Rob Schultz

The Moto G is worth buying just to keep as a backup device.

The Moto G is yet more evidence that you don’t need a heaping of bells and whistles and powerful components to make a great smartphone. You can have a perfectly functional device for a mere $180, so that even if you don’t plan to use it as your daily driver it's worth having just as a backup phone. The Moto G is also available with two SIM slots.

There are a few things to consider before you buy the Moto G. There is currently no LTE or CDMA support, so the phone won’t be compatible with Verizon or Sprint any time soon, and you won’t have access to LTE speeds. Also, with smartphone processors becoming faster, powerful, and more energy efficient, the Snapdragon 400 may start to see its age very soon.

Still, this is one of those inexpensive phones I wouldn't mind using on a day-to-day basis, even without the super high-resolution display or the Moto X's always-on capabilities. If you just need a smartphone to get the job done, the Moto G will do it for you, and it will do it right every time. 

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At a Glance
  • Greenbot Rating

    This is absolutely the best mid-range smartphone you can buy at a decidedly low-tier price.

    MSRP: $180

    Pros

    • Awesome front-facing speakers with stereo quality sound
    • It's just the right size
    • Bloat-free interface

    Cons

    • No LTE or CDMA compatability just yet
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