(Pocket-lint) - When the original Moto G was unveiled back in 2013 it blew other budget phones out of the water. Its 2014 follow-up threw its weight at a larger screen size and, bizarrely, ditched 4G connectivity in the process. That's where the Moto G 2015 comes in to try and remedy things: it's identical to last year's model, but now has 4G and a more capacious battery on board.
In the interim other budget 4G handsets have continued to arrive, including Motorola's own lower-spec and smaller-scale Moto E (also the 2015 variant), thus stirring up the budget phone pot and, if anything, making the Moto G 2015's position that much more questionable.
A 5-inch phone with 4G for £159 may sound hard to argue with, but should Motorola have done more with this year's model in the same way it has with the Moto E, or is the Moto G 2015 the big-screen budget option to beat?
We've come to review the Moto G 2015 off the back of spending over a week with the Samsung Galaxy S6 edge, the high-end flagship and one of finest examples of a phone pushing the boundaries.
By compare the Motorola (inevitably) feels a lot larger for a phone with a marginally smaller screen; it's a bulky handset that varies between 6mm and 11mm thick depending on which point of the curved rear is being measured. But given it's around a fifth the price of the Samsung, therein lies the Motorola's obvious appeal.
Our sentiments about the latest Moto G model are the same as before: for the price the design is good, albeit less impressive than the smaller-scale original was at launch. That's partly down to the context of the market, but also those two front-facing silver-colour speaker bars that, while not totally unsightly, just aren't aesthetically pleasing in our view.
To hold the phone's 155g mass has some heft to it, but that's somewhat alleviated by the curved, smooth back with its soft, warm-to-touch matte finish. This rear panel can be removed to expose the SIM and microSD card slots, but the battery is fixed within the design.
Unlike the latest Moto E, which offers colour accent edge options for a bit of design flair, the 4G Moto G is available in black only, with no additional flourishes or fun to be found here. However, a primary reason to buy the Moto G over its smaller Moto E sibling is the 5-inch screen on board, which is mounted into the 70.7mm x 141.5mm frame - making it just about usable in one hand, save for the upper ends of the screen.
Although the Moto G 2015 is fairly chunky, for the price its simplistic design ticks the necessary boxes. If you're after a large and affordable phone then we can see the appeal, although in today's market we think it should be slimmer and altogether neater to standout as a truly inspirational product.
The Moto G (2015) spreads a 1280 x 720 pixel resolution over its 5-inch display, so while it can't be considered the sharpest out there - what with 1920 x 1080 and 2560 x 1440 panels dominating the pricier flagship models of today - its 293ppi density does a good enough job, producing results identical to the 2014 model. It's higher-resolution than the Moto E too.
But numbers are one thing, seeing the display in the real world is the most important factor. You'll have to look fairly close-up to the screen to catch out individual pixels, and even so text couldn't be accused of being jaggy in appearance.
More importantly is how the screen handles various day-to-day conditions. Viewing angles are strong, colours vibrant and brightness more than ample to resist excessive reflections - and unlike some more budget options there's an adaptive brightness setting so the phone can adjust for ambient lighting conditions.
On the downside it's not got the most colour-popping display on the market, but in isolation it doesn't appear dull, even if there is a slight warm colour cast.
Performance peaks and troughs
Despite the 2015 Moto G adding 4G, which makes for faster download and browsing speeds, the hardware under the hood remains the same 1.2Ghz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 paired with 1GB RAM and Adreno 305 GPU.
We've had a mixed experience from that hardware loadout, with games such as Candy Crush Soda Saga often running smooth as silk, but occasionally exhibiting some frame-rate drops and the odd stutter in performance.
That comes as a bit of a surprise, as we didn't even experience such issues with the less powerful Moto E. Just to be sure, we've cleared active apps, restarted the device a number of times and checked for updates to ensure there's no distinct reason for this - but obviously minus a beefier specification, such performance can't be expected.
However, for switching between a variety of go-to apps we've had no real problems, with the Android (Lollipop, version 5.0.2) operating system handling things well. This raw Android experience means no fussy manufacturer re-skins, and there are some handy features built in.
In general loading times can be a little long, though, as we pointed out with previous Moto G devices, but whatever we're thrown at the phone it's not once run hot by any measure - which is one benefit of a non-metal construction.
When it comes to storage of your personal files there's 8GB of internal memory only (closer to 6GB available due to the Android and default apps install), so you'll more than likely want to bag a microSD card to expand upon this.
For those who love the Android operating system in its untouched, you won't be disappointed with the Moto G. With the latest Android Lollipop software on board, including the Google Now launcher too, everything works without fuss.
From the get-go we were able to pair with our previous phone using the Motorola Migrate app and copy over all the essential apps and content to the Moto G. A bunch of updating was still required after, but the premise is great.
Once setup we're particularly keen on various features, such as how notifications can be controlled with granular detail. For example: calls, messages and events & reminders can be singled out as priority notifications - which will only cause interruptions (sound, vibrate or illumination) as you choose - while media, alarm and ringing volumes are given their individual controls. It's even possible to filter sensitive notifications from displaying on the home screen, or not showing at all if you prefer.
Even small irks of old, such as the inability to adjust the brightness of the display without having to go into the setting itself, have been fixed via the latest Android update - now a drag down from the top of the screen will load the settings panel, brightness adjustment slider included.
Motorola has some of its own apps (in addition to Migrate, as mentioned above), but not intrusive heavyweight ones - and you can get rid of them if not wanted.
Motorola Assist is there to avoid interruptions when in meetings or sleeping, plus there are 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; the former enables certain actions so you don't have to have your phone in your hand.
There's also the Connect app to connect with other Motorola devices such as the Moto 360 smartwatch, and the Alert app which is designed to send an emergency message to a chosen contact, reveal your location, sound an alarm or even call emergency services.
The front and rear cameras found in the Moto G 2015 are a familiar experience, with the same outlay and feature set as in the 2014 model.
The 8-megapixel offering on the rear handles well for this price point, with touch-based shooting and even click-and-drag exposure and focus possible.
As with most smartphone cameras, however, there are limitations to low-light performance. Daylight shots have worked well for close-ups of foliage, while an indoor flower snap shows some slight image noise in the deeper colours behind. It's all perfectly shareable nonetheless.
In addition to toggling on and off various options - from Panorama to self timer, and HDR (high dynamic range, which does a reasonable job for those more testing light-and-dark shots), but there are no "pro" or true manual options here - selfie fans can revert to the front camera instead, where a fixed-focus only is available.
One other change the 4G edition of the Moto G receives is a more capacious battery, rated 2,390mAh rather than the 2,070mAh one found in the 3G model.
Paired with the latest Android operating system and we've found that to deliver a solid performance. A typical day of emails, WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter and plenty more achieves a full day's battery (from 8am-11pm in our use with some juice left before bedtime) using a mixture of Wi-Fi, GPS and wireless connectivity (sometimes 4G, depending on where we were in London).
Want to push things that bit longer? Switch off adaptive brightness, dim the screen, and keep settings like GPS, Bluetooth (still no NFC to be found in this model though) and Wi-Fi switched off when not needed. There is also a battery saver option, which automatically kicks in when you are red-lining - or you can manually put it in this mode too, restricting background data for increased longevity.
Motorola truly impressed us with the original Moto G, a budget smartphone that, at launch, was untouchable. But its larger-scale and slightly more expensive follow-up was a little less impressive due to a bulkier design and lack of 4G.
Which is where, in part, the Moto G 2015 comes in to rectify things. Although it's still large and isn't the cheapest route to buying a 4G handset, it's an altogether affordable offering that delivers on its speedy connectivity promise. Add the latest Android Lollipop operating system, a few added software bonuses from Motorola, solid battery life and it's a solid all-round performer.
However, there are quirks such as no wall charger being included in the box (only the USB charging cable is), those odd speaker bar designs on the front, and the presence of the smaller-scale and smaller-price Moto E which, for the sake of a more manageable size and a cut in display resolution (and processor capability, although we couldn't tell in real-world use), might be the savvier pick of the pair.
Deep down we were hoping for a slimmer and sexier new Moto G design for 2015. But if the design and scale is of no consequence as it is then the 4G-boosted model makes good on its predecessor's lacking and, all in all, is an accomplished budget smartphone.
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