(Pocket-lint) - A flagship smartphone from the likes of Sony, Samsung and HTC will cost you the best part of £600 off-contract and while you get all the bells and whistles with it, there is a lot more you can do with that kind of money. Well, that's what Motorola thinks: enter the Moto G.
Motorola claims only 20 per cent of the 7 billion people in the world own a smartphone, largely because they are too far out of reach in terms of cost. In response to this, the company created the Moto G as "an affordable smartphone for people who don't want to compromise on quality, experience or style".
We've been living with the Moto G since its launch in November 2013 and it recently received the promised Android 4.4 KitKat update, making it one of the first non-Nexus devices to do so. It's certainly affordable with its £135 price tag and even as low as £100 from some retailers, but does it give you everything you need and will you be satisfied if you choose the Moto G over one of the all-singing, all-dancing flagship devices?
The Moto G was designed with a focus on comfort and we are impressed by how good it feels to hold. It fits into one hand without a problem and you don't feel you're going to drop it if you don't bring in a second hand for back up.
The curved back is a delight, soft and warm to touch with a matte finish and we took a big liking to it. Removable and changeable backs isn't a new concept in the smartphone world but the choices you are offered with the Moto G and the option of matching accessories is welcomed, presumably with Motorola eyeing younger users.
The Moto G backs are not only cheap enough that you could change them every couple of months, but the colours available are also vibrant and exciting and really add something to this device. There are 15 options so you have enough choice for more than a year of changing the back every month if you wish. We found when we switched to the yellow back, it automatically drew more attention, and good attention at that. The various cases available are great too as they feel like they are part of the phone itself, rather than bulking it out and ruining the slim design.
Measuring 65.9 x 129.9mm with the curve between 6 and 11.6mm, it is a lovely size and nothing feels out of place, from the gunmetal-coloured power and volume buttons on the side, to the charging port centred at the bottom. It weighs only 143g too so this device feels light compared to some of the other flagships on offer.
On the rear it has a speaker, camera, LED flash and the Motorola "M" logo in an indented circle, matching the Moto X launched in the US earlier this year. This is the only branding you will find on the exterior of the handset, and its subtlety is appreciated.
Occasionally we did find our finger sat more comfortably over the camera lens as opposed to the indented M when we held it to our ear, but we made an effort to move it and we suspect you will probably become accustomed to using the M indented circle for holding the device as you spend more time with it.
For a £135 device, we think the design is brilliant. It is simple but effective and it looks somewhat premium for a plastic handset. When we showed it to friends and family, it received a good response and many were surprised at its low price.
Motorola claims the Moto G has the sharpest display in its class and while that may be the case for in the 4.5-inch handset market, the 4.3-inch HTC One mini's beautiful display is a force to be reckoned with, so we would have to argue if you are buying a device purely for the display, the HTC One mini could be the better choice. However, Motorola's definition of "class" probably includes the price bracket, so we can't really argue.
The Moto G's display is brilliant though, its 4.5-inch screen puts out a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution with a pixel density of 329ppi and the colours are vibrant. Images are super-sharp, detail is great and viewing angles are very good. We were impressed to say the least, and when we put it against a couple of flagship devices, the Moto G really stood its ground.
We switched the wallpaper to one of the other custom options - the macaroons - and every time we look at our screen we feel hungry. The colours and detail make them look good enough to eat.
The thin bezel and edge-to-edge display comes from the Moto X design, and it looks wonderful. You don't feel you have been robbed of a bigger display in favour of more phone, and the Corning Gorilla Glass 3 is a welcomed addition. We have had this phone in our pockets and bags, against keys and change, and we have yet to scratch it. It's pretty tough and we tested the water-repellent coating by splashing it, thankfully finding the coating worked as it said it would.
Hardware and performance
The Moto G has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 1.2GHz quad-core CPU under its hood and it performs well. We put it up against our Sony Xperia Z1, which has a 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor at its heart, and the Moto G loaded both Candy Crush and Despicable Me Minion Rush slightly faster, although there wasn't much in it.
For everyday tasks, the Moto G responds quickly and shows no sign of lag, in fact it is very responsive and does what you tell it to without any consideration. We did find a bit of hesitation when we played Minion Rush however, it wasn't quite as fast as we had experienced with other devices, and the Minion took a little longer to do what your finger told it to.
Switching between emails and browsing the internet was easily achieved and we were impressed by its ability to move between tasks without putting up a fight. There was no heating up either - the device was warm when we played Candy Crush but by no means hot, which we have found common on some flagship Snapdragon 800 processor devices in the past, so the Moto G fares well. You get 1GB of RAM, which is less than many smartphones out there offer, but it doesn't seem to be a problem in this case.
In terms of storage there is an 8GB model and a 16GB model available, but despite the removable back which houses the SIM slot underneath, there is no microSD card support - one of the handset's downfalls.
On the plus side, you get 50GB extra Google Drive storage on top of the standard 15GB, giving you 65GB without spending a penny. This is a massive advantage for the device and it means you can store up to 7,000 music files, up to 140,000 pictures, or up to 500 HD video clips, something you aren't likely to fill too quickly.
Like many smartphones today, the Moto G has a rear snapper and front snapper but in terms of megapixels, the Moto G features fewer than many of its competitors, although we can't say we were disappointed with the images it produced. The rear camera is 5-megapixel and the front camera comes in at 1.3-megapixels.
We tested the rear camera in a number of conditions and we found it did very well outdoors on a bright day. The images it produced were full of detail, sharp and the colours brilliant.
It wasn't as impressive in low light conditions and when we compared it to the Sony Xperia Z1, Sony's flagship came out on top in both instances, as you would expect given the attention that Sony has poured into the camera. But that said, we don't think you would be disappointed with the Moto G's camera. It doesn't profess to take images of compact camera quality, and given its price, we think the camera does pretty well.
We liked the idea of swiping from left to right for the settings, which include panorama, HDR and slow-motion mode as it made them easy to access. Swiping from the right to left takes you directly to your gallery, which we found to be useful, especially as it made sharing very simple. We weren't as keen on the swiping for the 4x digital zoom as we found ourselves pinching the display rather than swiping.
There is a shortcut button to switch to the front camera in the bottom left-hand corner, but this was one of the first and only places we found the Moto G slow to react. It took about 2 seconds to switch between front-facing and rear-facing, and vice versa, and it felt a lot slower than other devices we have reviewed.
One thing we did like was that you didn't have to tap a certain button to take the shot. You can tap anywhere on the screen and move the bracket to focus anywhere you like. It worked well and was useful for taking selfies with one hand without having to stretch your thumb to reach the capture button. If you tap and hold, it also takes multiple shots for you, which was a nice addition for a cheaper handset.
The Moto G shipped with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, but Motorola guaranteed an upgrade to Android 4.4 KitKat, which has now arrived. We really like that the Moto G is a raw Android experience with no overlay. Motorola said it was aiming to avoid the fuss of duplication that you find in some rivals and the raw that's true here.
For Android fans, this will be a popular move: there's no need to be side-stepping unnecessary additions from manufacturers. At the same time, you miss out on some of the refinement that you'll get elsewhere. Raw Android's contact handling isn't as integrated or exciting as that from Samsung or HTC, for example, but you can just add apps and get the Android experience you want.
With the update to Android 4.4.2 KitKat, there have been a number of improvements that makes everything that little bit easier. The phone dialer has seen a big change, allowing you to look up contacts directly from the dial pad, as well as see and tap your most frequent contacts so you can call them quickly.
The other big change we took a shine to is the additional photo editing options to the Gallery app. There are not only new filter effects with the update, but you'll also be able to make adjustments to colour, exposure and contrast. The update also brings support for printing photos and other content using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other hosted services, as well as introduced a new version of Google Hangouts. Plus, there are restyled status and navigation bars, along with colour emoji support and a new full-screen mode.
You'll find that everything works as it should, with the likes of Google Now giving you notifications throughout the day and Google Voice Search working well when you don't fancy typing. Sitting on the train saying, "Open Candy Crush" might be quick, but it could also be pretty embarrassing so it might not be something you make regular use of.
There are only a couple of extras Motorola has added and those are Moto Migrate and Moto Assist, as well as a handy battery saver option in the menu.
Moto Migrate and Moto Assist
Moving into a new device can be a huge effort, but Motorola has found a way to streamline it. Similar to what HTC do with its HTC transfer tool, all you have to do is download the Moto Migrate app on the device you are moving from and the rest of the process is pretty straightforward.
Using a QR code it pairs the two devices and moves your photos, SIM contacts, plus your call and text history without you having to do anything following the scan. It took about a minute to recognise the QR code and scan it so be patient with it and don't move it. We liked that you could use either phone while the migrate process was going on, as it meant you weren't just sitting there watching the percentage increase. It was extremely simple and only took around 15 minutes for us to move everything across.
Moto Assist is an interesting feature too and one which we actually grew to like a lot. Once you have set it up, the app uses your Google calendar to figure out when you are in a meeting and sets your device up to avoid disruptions. You can create exceptions to make sure certain contacts can always reach you, or set it up so if someone calls you twice in five minutes, it allows the call through suggesting it thinks it is important.
There is also an Auto reply setting and Sleeping function, which respectively replies to your favourites, and sets your device to be quiet during the time you are asleep. We found everything easy to set up and it worked seamlessly once you had created your favourites and settings. It might not be for everyone, but it is useful if you forget to silence your phone during meetings.
We were pleasantly surprised by the sound this small device managed to put out. We tried it against the HTC One as in our eyes that sets a benchmark for sound quality from a smartphone, and in volume terms, the Moto G could compete. If we move towards clarity, the HTC One produced the better sound overall, with the Moto G being slightly bassier, but we were impressed.
When it came to taking calls on the Moto G, we got a clear line, with no muffling and we were happy with it. The HTC One wins in this sense too, but it costs over £400 more so we would expect that.
Motorola promises up to 24 hours from the 2070mAh battery inside the Moto G, but we have yet to get close to that. On a typical day, we make calls, have emails coming through on a regular basis, Twitter open, WhatsApp running constantly, the camera will get some usage and we will browse the internet regularly, possibly even play a few games. We managed to get around 14 hours from it before it started red-lining, which we were still impressed with.
That will take you through your working day with battery saver on and you can get a rundown on what services you are using that are drinking a lot of juice, which is handy. It's good going for a smartphone so we don't want to be too hard on it, but to manage 24 hours of mixed use, we suspect you can't do much at all.
As with many phones, if you have the display set to be as bright as possible, you will get even less, so it is worth making sure it is set to auto before you start your stop clock on the battery life.
For the price, the Moto G is a fantastic device. It has a beautiful display with bright, vibrant and detailed images, the sound quality is great and the battery capacity will give you a good 14 hours' use in our experience.
We really like the design, especially the option to change the back cover, and the price point that is attached to the accessories makes customising this device affordable and within reach for the vast majority.
In terms of everyday tasks, the Moto G performed without any issues - it was responsive, fast and showed no signs of lag. We experienced a bit of sluggishness when we played Despicable Me and switched between cameras, but it was nothing to be too concerned about and other games such as Candy Crush were responded to with no problems.
If you're looking for a shortcoming, the lack of support for microSD is a disappointment and there's no 4G on offer - not that that will be a huge concern for those looking to save money.
The Moto G's best asset is its price - it is an affordable smartphone and we think it delivers everything it promises - except perhaps the battery life. At no point did we feel we had compromised on style, quality or experience and with the upgrade to Android 4.4 KitKat, we suspect you will be even more than happy to use this device on a daily basis, as we have been.
In fact, we think we will be sticking with this affordable wonder for some time.