Review: Motorola's Moto G is the best smartphone for around $200

The third-generation Moto G is better than its predecessors, and it offers a camera that actually snaps nice photos!

At a Glance
  • Motorola Moto G (2015)

    Greenbot Rating

    The third-generation Moto G offers plenty in its condensed little package: a 5-inch display, long-lasting battery pack, capable camera, and a bloat-free version of Android. Best of all, it's fully...

What makes a great Android phone? Is it the software? Its camera? Is it how good YouTube looks on its relatively small screen? I personally think a great phone is one that can do all those things really damn well. It doesn’t have to be covered in metal and glass like the current crop of flagships, nor does it need specs that are powerful enough to power a spaceship, for instance. It just needs to work.

The Moto G is one of those phones that works really darn well, despite the fact that it’s not as powerful as the high-end Samsung, LG, and HTC have recently released. But that’s Motorola’s niche: making phones that aren’t as costly as the other guys’ flagships, but that are just as capable. This year’s Moto G offers a leg-up over its predecessors: not only is it a solid performer in the battery and processor department, but it also offers a 13-megapixel camera that doesn’t suck

Strong as an ox

If you’re looking to buy a phone in the $200 price range, you probably aren’t setting your sights too high. But with the Moto G, you can get a phone for that price without compromising hardware and software. You can even customize the back panel and the accent bar on the back of the phone with 10 different colors now that the Moto G is part of Moto Maker program.

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It’s a pretty cute phone, ngl. 

No matter the color you choose, the Moto G is a cute, cartoony little phone. It’s got a nicely curved back with a grippy cover, a microUSB charging port on the bottom, headphone jack at the top, and a volume rocker and power button on the right. The speaker’s on the front, though there is only one—no stereo speakers.

motog down Florence Ion

The Moto G’s headphone jack is at the top of the device.

Like its predecessor, Motorola stuck with a 5-inch, 720p display. The screen is the perfect size for reading ebooks or watching a half hour of video on the train ride home from work, though it’s not the most legible in direct sunlight even at the highest brightness setting. The display also has a propensity to be a bit too bright at night, which can contribute to some serious eye strain. Since it isn’t a high-end display, don’t expect to see the blackest blacks or proper blues. Instagram photos will appear a big faded from time to time, and the Moto G’s viewing angles will make it difficult to share the screen with someone else.

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A comfortable phone to hold indeed.

The Moto G also features a removable back cover, so you can pop in a Micro-SIM or MicroSD card. There’s no removable battery pack, but that’s the tradeoff for the durability of the device. The back cover is also what makes the Moto G water resistant, though while the phone can withstand 30 minutes in up to 3 meters of water, you shouldn’t take it into the bath with you.

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The Moto G’s back cover is what helps keep it water resistant. 

’Just-enough’ performance

The Moto G is available in two flavors: 8GB of storage with 1GB of RAM, or 16GB of storage with 2GB of RAM. The latter is the version we benchmarked here. It costs $40 more ($219 vs $179), though you may not need that extra gigabyte of RAM considering the Moto G ships with 32-bit Android. 

The Moto G also received a slight specification bump from last year's model. It runs a 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor, which is enough for browsing the web, streaming podcasts, taking a bunch of pictures, or playing the melody-driven Adventures of Poco Eco. You will notice longer loading times between launching applications, however—this SoC just isn’t as fast as what’s inside the current flagships, though it certainly fares much better than some of its more affordable competitors.

moto g benchmarks 3dmark Jason Cross

While the new Moto E and new Moto G both have the same Qualcomm SoC (the Snapdragon 410), the Moto E’s 3D graphics benchmarks are slightly higher. This is probably because it has a lower resolution display (960 x 540) and thus doesn’t have to render as many pixels.

moto g benchmarks pcmark Jason Cross
moto g benchmarks vellamo Jason Cross

The Moto G is definitely a workhorse when it needs to be, and was particularly impressive in our Vellamo and PCMark benchmarks. This phone is definitely capable for all the standard day-in, day-out stuff. 

moto g benchmarks geekbench

In Geekbench, the Moto G performed about average compared to other phones in its class. The Alcatel One Touch Idol 3 fared better simply because it contains a more powerful processor, the Snapdragon 610.

All day battery

Motorola made the right move by packing in a 2,470mAh battery pack with the Moto G. It lasts all day, and then some. I used this phone to rack up loyalty points in MyVegas Slots, knowing that even that silly game wouldn't kill the battery before the day is through. Now I have enough points for a free nitrogen cocktail (whatever that is) at the Beau Rivage!

moto g benchmarks battery Jason Cross

The Moto G offers pretty good battery life, but the Moto E is better off because of its smaller screen size. 

Our battery test offered a more official measure of how well the Moto G’s battery life performs. In Geekbench, the phone lasted about four hours and 41 minutes. That pales in comparison to the Moto E’s almost-six hours, but that particular device has a smaller, lower-resolutions screen to account for. While the Idol 3 offers a bigger battery pack, it’s impressive that the Moto G was able to keep up with it.

Finally, a better camera

I’ll admit: I scoffed when I learned that the Moto G would feature the same rear-facing camera sensor as the Nexus 6. The camera on that phone is abysmal and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Thankfully, Motorola bucked up and kept its promise to improve the camera sensors on its smartphones.

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And now, for some sample shots. 

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Potatoes at the grocery store.

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Shot with the Moto G’s burst mode from inside a moving car.

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Shot outside during a particularly bright, sunny day in San Francisco. Notice the sun glare in the corner.

The Moto G features a 13-megapixel camera with an f/2.0 aperture, 76-degree field of view, and rear-facing dual-LED flash. Its front-facing camera is 5-megapixels and utilizes display flash, so you can snap a photo of yourself with the white light of the display. (It doesn’t work very well, by the way.) Overall, the Moto G is one of the better performing mid-range camera phones out right now, though I didn’t think I’d ever be saying that about a Motorola product.

motog highlight

The Moto G fared well in the lab.

A majority of the Moto G’s photos came out clear and well color-balanced. Some photos were a bit faded if the subject was behind the sun’s glare, but otherwise they were easily distinguishable. The Moto G also offers a low-light mode for night time shots, though it only bumps up the exposure a notch.

motog lamplight

This is the Moto G’s low-light photo taking abilities. 

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At least the dual-LED flash isn’t totally blinding.

There’s also a semi-manual mode that lets you adjusts the focus and brightness of the photo. It’s a bit tricky to learn to use at first, but once you get the hang of it i’ll become an essential tool.

motog cameracontrols

On the left are the Moto G’s “manual” camera controls, and on the right is a look at some of the added options in the camera app, like low-light mode.

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Indoors during the Moto G video shoot. The cantaloupe is the focus point—this was shot using the Moto G’s manual camera controls.

Plain Jane Android

motog ui

I love Motorola’s rendition of stock Android, but I wish it offered just a few more bells and whistles.

Motorola has long been a fan of keeping its version of Android as pure as it can be, with only a few added gems. It’s also been particularly successful at deploying timely software updates. As a result, its phones have become popular among Android purists and newbies alike.

The Moto G offers no filler in its version of Android 5.1.1. Whatever extra added features are included is something you’d actually use, like Moto Assist, which automatically changes the sound profiles based on the time of day or your location. Though I did miss the “Close All” button from the multitasking menu on Samsung’s TouchWiz, the trade off was that I was using Android just as Google intended it.

And of course, part of the reason such an inexpensive phone runs so well is that it's not mucked up with a bunch of built-in apps and a drastically changed version of Android.

A great package

motog 001 33 Adam Murray

What more could you want from a phone than what the Moto G offers?

I’m so happy that Motorola’s found its niche in making affordable smartphones that don’t compromise on features. For around $200, you can get a perfectly capable Android smartphone that offers totally passable camera capabilities, solid hardware performance, long-lasting battery life, and a frequently updated version of Android (based on Motorola’s track record with updating its devices over the past few years). It has most of Motorola's signature extra features like Active Display and Moto Assist, and it’ll also survive a drop in the toilet. The only real bummer about the Moto G is its lack of NFC, so if you were hoping to become a part of the mobile payments trend any time soon, you’re out of luck with this device.

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At a Glance
  • Greenbot Rating

    The third-generation Moto G offers plenty in its condensed little package: a 5-inch display, long-lasting battery pack, capable camera, and a bloat-free version of Android. Best of all, it's fully customizable with Motorola's Moto Maker.

    Pros

    • Battery pack will get you through the day
    • Sold unlocked and supports a variety of LTE bands

    Cons

    • Display is hard to see in direct sunlight
    • No NFC means no Android Pay capabilities
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