(Pocket-lint) - Since 2014 the Moto G has been blowing the socks off the budget phone market. Back then it was the best budget handset by far. But boy do things move along quickly - and the Moto G5 Plus is a mirror of that in many respects.
In just three short years budget phones have muscled their way beyond the £130 barrier into the £250 mid-market space. OnePlus is now touching the flagship periphery with its £400 OnePlus 3T. Samsung, meanwhile, has strengthened its grip on the flagship market with the near-£800 Galaxy S8+. All of which goes to show how well priced the Moto G5 Plus is, at £249.
But it's not just about money. The G5 is also a remarkably good phone, all things considered - certainly as capable as many will ever need. It's also a phone that returns Moto to fine form: after a somewhat choppy transition when Lenovo took over the brand - which saw the previous-gen G4-series run off the tracks somewhat - the G5 Plus is once again in a strong position to take the crown as budget phone king.
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Lenovo Moto G5 Plus review: Design
- Metal body design
- Non-removable battery (Micro-USB charging)
- Fingerprint scanner (plus NFC)
- 32GB memory; microSD slot expansion
- 150.2 x 74 x 7.7mm; 155g
There are two fifth-generation Moto G models: the G5 and the G5 Plus. As the name of the latter suggests, the Plus brings increased screen size (and therefore overall body size), greater internal power, a slimmer body (with non-removable battery) and a fingerprint scanner with NFC (near field communication - use for mobile payments or simple Bluetooth pairing (not available in the US and some other territories)). It's the more costly device, at £249 rather than the G5's £159, but the Plus is the all-round more capable device.
With 2016's Moto G4 Plus we were left feeling confused. That model came with a fingerprint scanner but no NFC (so no mobile payments), its 5.5-inch screen made the device feel mammoth - despite, confusingly, being the exact same dimensions as the standard G4 model - and its square fingerprint scanner was just, well, horrible to use. The G5 Plus, thankfully, rights all of those wrongs, while wrapping together a new, more consistent and better-looking design.
Well, mostly better-looking. The Gold version of the G5 Plus, as reviewed here, has a rear that's almost two-tone where the frame meets the rear panel, appearing mis-matched. We would opt for the so-called Grey model instead. Oh, and the screen has a built-in protector over it that leaves a gap between fingerprint scanner and upper speaker which looks suspiciously like someone ticking the “shortcut” box during production.
But those are small details when it comes to an affordable phone. And, in general, we're really impressed with the G5 Plus. It's made of metal, so feels solid in the hand, plus it's done away with the silly-large scale of the earlier G4 models to feel spot-on in the hand. There aren't too many visible sensor pock marks like the top-end Moto Z model, either, which makes for a neater looking design - despite the Plus clearly taking on board the Z's design language, as apparent in that large, protruding circular camera section to the rear (the standard G5's camera is flush).
The Plus's rear isn't removable (despite looking like it is), so the battery is fixed within the device. That hasn't stopped Moto limiting expansion, however, with a tray up top for nano SIM and microSD card sitting pride of place (some territories offer dual SIM). So if that 32GB internal storage isn't enough for you then it's super easy to buy an affordable card to expand upon that.
What the G5 Plus doesn't include - and you'd be forgiven for thinking it might, given the circular camera design - is Moto Mods compatibility. These add-on extras, as championed by the Moto Z series, include a projector, additional battery and other accessory features - but their absence in a phone at this level doesn't feel misplaced in our view. After all, you're buying a G5 because you want something capable and affordable.
Lenovo Moto G5 Plus review: Display
- 5.2-inch IPS LCD panel
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution
When it comes to the display, we think the Plus has hit the sweet spot at 5.2-inches. The panel's Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution is ample for this size, not that it could be called flagship - but as that's as many pixels as most people have on their 50-inch tellies these days, it's plenty resolute.
As it's an IPS LCD panel it also means the viewing angles are decent, so there's none of that contrast fall-off you might have seen on cheaper devices - the kind that would leave you cocking your head from side to side.
Compare the G5 Plus's screen to a flagship device's panel, however, and you'll clearly spot differences: there's a real lack of vibrancy, with the primary colours not having much pop; while top brightness doesn't cut through to the eye-searing levels - but it's bright enough, so that's not a giant bother.
Overall, then, the G5 Plus's screen is as good as you could expect at this price point. There's enough resolution to watch Blu-ray quality flicks close-up to your face and, in isolation, you won't be distraught that it doesn't look as thumpingly bright or vibrant as a device which costs twice the price.
Lenovo Moto G5 Plus review: Software and navigation
- Swipe and touch-based fingerprint navigation
- Android soft keys also available (as default)
- Android 7.0 operating system, Moto app
When first firing-up the Moto G5 Plus it makes a fair audible racket, showing off colourful marketing and even shouting out the classic “Hello Moto” line too. Fortunately it doesn't do this every time, otherwise you'd get the fear when needing to perform a restart in public.
From the off the G5 software looks really clean and tidy. It runs Google Android 7.0 as its operating system, which isn't too heavily adulterated. Apps are easy to locate in the tap-to-expand lower shade; folders can be easily created across the home screens and the circular app emblems and folders look great; notifications and settings are accessible via a swipe down.
What Moto does add only serves as an advantage: as the G5 Plus embodies that new pill-shaped fingerprint scanner - which looks oh so much better than the older square one - it has a special One-touch Nav trick up its sleeve. This mode takes the usual trio of Android soft keys off the screen - home, back and recent apps - and instead uses gesture to make commands. Swipe to the left of the key to go back; swipe right to open current apps screen; press to return to home screen (or to lock the screen); press-and-hold to activate Google Now launcher.
It's a rather nifty integration - which is only applied if you can successfully follow the instructions, found within the Moto app (it could be better located, given it's such a major feature it almost needs to be introduced in a more forthright manner when starting up the device) - that also provides haptic feedback with each press, giving the impression of pressing a real button, even though there's no physical depression of one. At first it might feel a little alien to use, but the fact is you can always revert back to default on-screen controls.
The Moto app also includes a variety of action-based gestures: double karate chop to activate the torch; twist for a quick camera capture; swipe across the screen to shrink the interface; pick up the device to stop it ringing; or flip the phone over to auto-activate Do Not Disturb. Each of these actions can be switched on or off independently, so you might only choose one that you find useful and leave the others off.
Lenovo Moto G5 Plus review: Performance and battery
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor; 3GB RAM
- 3,000mAh battery (non-removable)
- No Moto Mods compatibility
One thing that budget phones often can't manage so well are the more heavyweight apps. But, actually, the G5 Plus's octa-core chipset is powerful and balanced enough to handle multi-tasking and its fair share of more demanding apps.
Indeed, having just switched out of the Huawei P10 Plus, the G5 Plus actually runs animations in Candy Crush Saga more consistently and smoothly - without any hiccups in-between sections of the game. Sure, the Moto is far, far slower to load the game in the first instance, which is a standard trait of having less RAM (3GB for the UK model), but once those gears get turning the G5 Plus is a solid performer from what we've seen.
Even when running a multitude of tasks - on day two we had to work remotely, using a mixture of Bluetooth music streaming, Wi-Fi hotspot, on-the-train casual gaming, plus all the usual emails and WhatsApp messages - and found the battery lasted well. It was down to 40 per cent after 12-hours due to heavy demand, but a slower evening saw the device deliver another 4-hours of use, with us rolling into bed at the 25 per cent mark after 16-hours. That's more than ample for a single day's use.
When it comes to charging the G5 Plus shows one of its behind-the-times points: it hosts a Micro-USB slot, not a more up-to-date USB Type-C slot. There's a 15W TurboCharge power charger in the box, however, which does mean TurboCharge fast-charging is possible - it's just not as super-quick as some of the nippier flagship standards. Still, with some 6-hours of extra use from just 15-minutes spent at the plug, it's no bad thing.
Lenovo Moto G5 Plus review: Camera
- 23-megapixel rear sensor, f/1.7 lens
- Dual AF pixels (for on-sensor phase-detection autofocus)
- No optical stabilisation present
- 5-megapixel front-facing camera
The last major part of the G5 Plus' specification is its camera, which is rather impressive considering the price point of this phone. The sensor is the same as used in many top-tier Samsung Galaxy phones, so quality is well beyond where the G-series used to sit. It's not of Samsung-grade quality, however, given the way the Moto processes shots.
In use the software experience translates quite well, but, again, it's not the most fluid camera that we've ever used. The interface is simple: tap the screen to focus, drag around the sun symbol to adjust exposure compensation, then hit the virtual shutter to take a shot. But it has glitches: close-up focus rarely to never works, instead opting for the higher-contrast background (even when tapping focus away from this); plus once focus is set and you wish to adjust it, the camera will then re-centre the focus, which is irritating.
What's interesting is that the best of the G5 Plus' camera is hidden away. This lil beaut offers Dual AF pixels, meaning on-sensor phase-detection is possible for quicker focus - but you wouldn't really know it unless you have the camera set to its Professional mode (screengrab above), which delivers real-time focus point adjustment, with distinct AF-areas showing up on the screen. Pro mode also unlocks adjustable on-screen wheels/sliders to control the White Balance, Metering, Timer, ISO Sensitivity and Exposure Compensation options - so everything, bar shutter speed, is available here.
With a few nips and tucks we think Moto could combine the more pro-spec features into the easy-to-use point-and-shoot default for a more advanced experience from the off; something to make the camera feel that bit more special.
In terms of quality the G5 Plus fulfills its purporse and shows that you don't need to spend several hundred pounds for a camera. And as this one will always live in your pocket, well, you know what they say: the best camera is the one you have on you.
Our only comment, really, is the way Moto processes shots is a little harsh. It over-sharpens, which gives an edging to details - such as the windows in a city scape - and as the light drops so the mottled, image noise within shots increases. This is all fairly typical of a phone camera, but a lighter touch to processing and the G5 Plus would be a step better. As it stands, it's pretty decent, rather than outstanding.
Lastly there's that the protruding rear element, which seems to be for design purposes only: there's no optical image stabilisation here, which is a shame, so while the sensor on board the Moto might be more advanced than it once was - and the same goes for that fast f/1.7 lens - the overall results are a shade behind the best-of-best.
That's the crux of the Moto G5 Plus: you won't find a better phone for £250.
It perhaps can't be called truly budget any more, given the price is a long way off from the days of the first-gen device, but then you get a lot more for your money: metal build, some tempting specs and overall performance and software that delivers as much, if not more, than most will ever need.
The downsides are relatively small: we wouldn't buy the gold finish, given the way it looks two-colour; that camera protrusion feels unnecessary without optical image stabilisation, irrelevant of design language, plus close-up focus is poor; and the screen isn't the most ultra-vibrant or bright going (when compared to a flagship, anyway, but you won't notice in isolation).
The sum total of all that makes for an affordable phone that addresses the issues with the earlier G4 Plus model, setting itself up for a best-in-class proposition. The G5 is better sized, better designed, better looking, and with NFC (in the UK model) along with that nifty gesture-control fingerprint scanner it's simply all-round better than anything else you'll find for the money.
The alternatives to consider...
Samsung Galaxy A5
Price-wise, the Galaxy A5 is a bit of a reach as it's over £100 more, but we think it's well-established design and great user experience make it one of the top-drawer mid-range phones out there.
Read the full article: Samsung Galaxy A5 review
Vodafone Smart Platinum 7
It's a carrier-locked phone, but the Smart Platinum 7 offers great value for money if you're a Voda customer. It's fast, has great build, stunning looks and great audio chops. That marks it right up there as one of the best phones you can buy around the £300 mark.
Read the full article: Smart Platinum 7 review
Lenovo Moto G5
The smaller, cheaper cousin to the Plus doesn't have quite the same scale or power, but if it's budget that you really want then, for a metal-bilt phone, its £159 price tag makes it as good as they come.
Read the full article: Moto G5 preview