(Pocket-lint) - Motorola announced the original Moto G in November last year and it ended up becoming one of the greatest phones of 2013 thanks to its performance, lovely design and, perhaps most importantly, a budget £135 price tag.
It was a game-changer in the smartphone arena, not only for making such devices more widely accessible but also for encouraging the introduction of other decent entry-level smartphones. When Motorola then introduced the 4G version (complete with a microSD slot) the Moto G became almost untouchable in a league of its own.
Less than a year later the company has launched the second-generation Moto G and although it comes with a bigger screen and better camera, this is one device that has its work cut out for it to live up to its predecessor. We've been living with the Moto G 2014 to see if bigger really is better or if it slips behind an original that might be too good to beat.
Great design, but not as great
The 2013 version of the Moto G was praised for its fantastic design so we were pleased to see Motorola go down a similar path with the new model.
The curved, smooth back has returned and its soft, warm-to-touch matte finish is a true delight to hold. We loved the introduction of the interchangeable backs with the original model as it offered a way to customise our device and add a bit of colour without having to spend a fortune, so it's great to see the shells carried over to the new model. We didn't get a different colour Shell with our review model this time however, and while the white is nice and fresh, it doesn't offer anywhere near the same punch as the colour versions do.
The rear has seen refinement over the original in that the speaker has been removed leaving just the metal-rimmed camera lens, LED flash and the subtle "M" branding which we have come to expect from the latest Motorola devices. The lack of speaker on the rear makes for a much more streamlined look and it surprised us how much we appreciated this. The speaker didn't bother us when we reviewed the 2013 model but when you place the two devices side-by-side, the 2014 model is the favourite when viewed from behind.
The new model is bigger and although it has a slightly thinner build - the curve ranging from 6mm to 11mm on the 2014 Moto G compared to 6mm and 11.6mm on the 2013 Moto G - it manages to look thicker given its overall footprint. It's a fairly weighty handset, at 149g, which is heftier than we initially expected, and despite only being 6g heavier than the earlier model we can feel the difference.
The bigger display means a larger footprint - measuring 70.7mm x 141.5mm compared to 65.9 x 129.9mm - so that jump in size is quite significant and changes what the phone is all about. The new model is still operable with one hand however, and the larger size and adjusted layout helps the design. On the original model, for example, we found our index finger resting on the camera lens when in a natural position, but that's not a problem with the newer phone.
The metal-finished power button and volume rocker have remained in the same right-hand position as the 2013 Moto G, with the micro USB charging port remaining happily in the centre at the bottom. The headphone jack also stays in the same position as the original, in the centre at the top, but the 2014 model has seen a metal rim added, which delivers a more premium look.
The front is where things have been shaken-up a little and it's a shake we aren't sure about. In similar fashion to the more budget Moto E, the new Moto G introduces horizontal metal bars at the top and bottom of the screen - an aesthetic design extension of the speakers. They were much more subtle on the Moto E though and we thought it added value there whereas we don't think it works as well on this larger handset.
READ: Motorola Moto E review
The bars are a very prominent design feature and, in particular on the white model we had, they drew attention to the thick bezel at the top and bottom of the screen, which we didn't like. And by moving the rear speaker Moto hasn't progressed the sound quality overall, instead it's now average. It's nice to have a fuss-free rear from a design point of view, but we just weren't as impressed by the sound itself.
There is also a sensor sitting between the top metal bar and the display and it really stands out on the white model, immediately drawing your eye to it. The black finish model appears to do a better job of covering this sensor but those speaker bars still seem to add fuss that wasn't needed.
The Moto G does a great job of offering a simplistic design that has almost everything in the right place, but we don't love the front-on view anywhere nearly as much as we loved the original.
Motorola claimed the Moto G 2013 had the sharpest display in its class with a pixel density of 329ppi. If you take price into consideration when defining the class, then we wouldn't argue with that. The 2014 Moto G sticks with the same 1280 x 720 pixel resolution as its predecessor and it also carries the "sharpest display in class" claim, but Motorola has increased the size to 5-inches, meaning the new model has a slightly lower pixel density than the original at 293ppi. So it can't be sharpest in class by definition of the original.
But numbers are one thing, seeing the display in the real world is the most important factor. Despite the pixel density reduction, and while it can't claim a flagship resolution by any means, the Moto G 2014 still offers a decent display with sharp images and lots of detail.
When we looked at the new model on its own, we thought it stood its ground against some of the flagships we had on our desk. Whites are clean, viewing angles are strong, and colours are vibrant. However, when side-by-side with the original Moto G the new model's display appears slightly duller in terms of colours and the whites weren't as white.
A step up in resolution might have helped the new Moto G wow us as much as the original display did, but we wouldn't sacrifice the budget price tag for that extra punch as the display is more than good enough as it is.
Instead of a resolution boost we get a 0.5-inch increase in screen size. Doesn't sound like a lot, but it makes a big difference in practice, particularly as we never felt like the Moto G 2013 model was selling us short with its 4.5-inch screen. The bigger display allows you to watch video more comfortably at arm's length than the original model and it is also easier to look at documents and the like, but it's at the compromise of a bigger, bulkier handset.
The size war will likely divide opinion in this case. If a bigger display is what you're looking for then the Moto G 2014 model will tick that box. We just feel it's an unwarranted change to this particular series.
One of the best things about the Moto G handsets is the almost-raw Android experience it offers. It's about as close to Google Nexus as you can get. No fussy manufacturer overlays or skins and only a couple of additional apps that Motorola has introduced (more on those later), which makes for a clean and clear interface that is a pleasure to use.
For those who love the Android operating system, you won't be disappointed. With the latest software on board, including the Google Now launcher too, everything just works as it should. No fuss and the guarantee of at least one software upgrade in the future is beneficial.
There are a couple of details lacking, though, such as the ability to adjust the brightness of the display without having to go into the setting itself. A small irk, but something you get on some competitor devices.
Another thing worth mentioning is the sound setting, which has a section called volumes. If you use your phone as an alarm, you will need to make sure that the alarm volume is the level you want it at as otherwise you won't hear it go off. In the volume section of the sound settings you can adjust the volume of music and video, ringtone and notifications and alarms so it's worth checking here before you miss a meeting.
Hardware & performance
Under the hood the Moto G 2014 model is virtually identical to last year's version in terms of chipset, with a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor supported by 1GB of RAM.
Against the original Moto G and the flagship Samsung Galaxy Note 3, we found the new Moto G was slightly faster loading Angry Birds Rio than its predecessor but a little slower than the more powerful (and expensive) Note 3. Triple the RAM in the Samsung probably helps too, which is something the Moto could have benefitted from. Saying that, we didn't find the 1GB in the Moto G to negatively affect its performance to a great extent.
It switched between everyday tasks without a problem, responded well to all our demands and the only time we experienced a slight sign of lag was when swiping to type on the keyboard. It struggled to keep up to begin with but this eventually seemed to sort itself out over a couple of days and we haven't had the problem since. There's even been an improvement over the original Moto G when it comes to switching between the rear and front cameras, aided by the software tweaks.
We had no issues with the device getting too hot when we were playing games or watching films, at most it got a little warm when we were playing music at full volume. For calls, the line was clear most of the time. We had the odd muffled conversation but we suspect this was more down to signal rather than the device itself.
When it comes to storage, there is 8GB of internal memory, providing a total of 5.51GB actual storage, but unlike the first Moto G, this is expandable via microSD. The card slot sits beneath the removable back, along with the two SIM card slots should you want to marry work and play in the one device.
The dual-SIM function comes in handy if you have two numbers but don't want to carry around two phones. We thought it would get confusing with both SIMs active but it was very simple to see which you were sending and receiving messages and calls to and from. No mistaken identity issues here, and an unusual feature for a UK phone that we could easily get used to having.
Motorola has improved the camera with the new Moto G, bringing an 8-megapixel rear snapper and a 2-megapixel front-facing one to the handset. That puts it in a similar boat to many other mid-range smartphones on the market.
We were impressed with the original Moto G's cameras for the price, as it produced some great images that were full of detail and brilliant colours when taken outdoors on a bright day. It wasn't as great in low-light conditions but it wasn't terrible either so to build from that performance puts the 2014 model in good stead.
The images are sharp, detailed and full of colour when the conditions are bright but this time around it performs reasonably well in low-light conditions too. Good conditions give you images with more accurate colours than previously, improved contrast and more detail, plus the new model is faster at actually taking the shot, which is great. When in low-light conditions, the Moto G 2014 model manages to still offer quite vibrant shots without losing tonal qualities too.
In terms of video capture there's 720p available to match the screen resolution, but also a 120fps slow-motion option (also at 720p), which is a nice feature. The footage we got wasn't the very best - the iPhone 6 rules the roost here - but it was still useable. Autofocus is always active when recording which is handy for keeping subjects in focus most of the time, although without manual control it might not always do what you want.
As with the original Moto G, the camera settings are accessed by swiping from the left to right and here you will find HDR (high dynamic range) including Auto HDR, flash, panorama and the video recording options. You will also be able to pull up the focus and exposure bracket, which you then drag around the screen to focus on what you want and, with a tap-and-hold, it will take multiple shots in a burst.
As focus and exposure come as a package, with no way to separate them, it can mean some images are slightly overexposed but the Auto HDR mode does help to create a balanced shot, even if it takes longer to get the shot in the first place.
Swiping from the right will take you directly to the Gallery as it did with last year's model so it's nice and quick to view your photos. However, we still can't get on with the swiping feature for the 4x digital zoom. As we did with the original, we still find ourselves trying to pinch to zoom in closer, which won't get you very far.
Overall we thought the Moto G 2014's camera performed well considering the affordable price of the device and it certainly offers an improvement on the original Moto G, which we didn't have massive complaints about either. You won't get DSLR quality images, but you wouldn't expect to either. The push forward from last generation to this is a definite positive.
The only thing Motorola has added to the Android experience is four apps comprising Connect, Assist, Alert and Migrate. You might recognise the Assist and Migrate options from the original model, while the Connect and Alert apps are new but updating the earlier 2013 Moto G to Android 4.4.4 will allow you to download Alert too.
The Connect app has been introduced to help you connect to other Motorola devices such as the recently announced Moto 360 smartwatch, while Alert helps you send an alert to your chosen contacts in case of an emergency, as well as send your location status to a chosen contact or let them know every time you return home for example. Simple names for simple apps that don't overcomplicate things.
Assist works in the same way it did on the original Moto G, allowing you to avoid interruptions when in meetings or sleeping but the new model now offers Home and Driving modes too. The latter reads text messages aloud or tells you who is calling when you are behind the wheel, as well as giving you the option of playing music via Bluetooth or the headphone jack. Home mode enables you to choose certain actions so you don't have to have your phone in your hand. They are simple but effective functions that come in handy.
The Migrate app also works in the same way as it did previously, making it much easier when switching between devices. Many manufacturers offer their own tools to do this and this is Motorola's answer to make light work of transferring text messages, call history, SIM contacts, media and settings such as volume and screen brightness.
We found ourselves using a couple of the Moto-specific apps quite a lot. The sleeping section on the Assist app was very useful as it meant we didn't get woken by constant emails but our important contacts could still get through, while the driving feature was great for keeping in touch without breaking the law on the road.
The 2070mAh battery capacity of the new Moto G remains the same as the original and, despite the larger screen, we managed to get around the same life from it too. On a typical day where we had emails pushing through, WhatsApp running constantly and Twitter and Facebook open, along with the usual browsing, snapping a few shots and watching an episode or two of Suits on Netflix, we got between 12-14 hours life.
Of course, if you use the camera regularly throughout the day, watch Netflix constantly or set the display to the brightest it can be then you are going to lose power a lot faster, as you would with any other smartphone. However, there is a battery saver option too, which automatically kicks in when you are red-lining - or you can manually put it in this mode too, restricting background data so you can get a little more juice. As with the original model, you can get a rundown of the services that are eating your battery too so you can shut a few of them down or use them less if you need it to last longer.
The price was the key to the original Moto G's success and we suspect it will be a similar story for the 2014 model too. For £150 you get a lot for your money, including a decent display, very good battery life, ample performance and an improved camera, as well as microSD storage expansion and a raw Android operating system experience with some useful extras.
However, with its new 5-inch screen the larger Moto G brings a new design that - and this is partly thanks to the metal bar speaker grilles on the front - we just don't like as much as the original. The larger form factor feels bulkier and heavier (even though the figures suggest it's reasonably insignificant) that make for a different experience.
The absence of 4G may also seem an oddity - especially when the interim Moto G model offered such connectivity, so we wouldn't be surprised if yet another 5-inch Moto G appears with 4G in the near future - but when price is king that's not such a surprise.
We might not like the 2014 Moto G quite as much as the original model from last year, but we still never felt like we were compromising on quality or experience. The choice of accessories and interchangeable backs means you can make this device into your own without it costing you an arm and a leg. And at £150 the Motorola Moto G 2014 is a steal.