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Solid value: Motorola’s third-gen G reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 11:15 am 08/09/2015

Motorola’s G has always been a pretty solid middle ground for anyone looking for a phone that offers value, so can Motorola perfect the G on its third version?

Features

Motorola’s third generation G is here, and with it, a fair amount of new tech as well as some design differences, so let’s get stuck into what the company has in store for Australia’s buyers who don’t want to spend more than $400 for a handset.

First off, they’ll find a plastic body with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor inside, a quad-core chip clocked at 1.4GHz and set out to work with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage, the latter of which can be upgraded with a microSD card slot.

Google’s Android 5.1 “Lollipop” runs natively on this phone out of the box, and the experience is said to be pure, with no overlays on top, as per what Motorola learned from Google those years ago.

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Cameras can be found here, and the upgrades look good on paper, with a 13 megapixel rear shooter with autofocus and flash, support Full HD 1080p video capture too, while the front-facing camera provides a 5 megapixel module for those selfie needs.

Connections are pretty standard, with 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 with support for Low Energy (LE), and GPS, though there is no support for Near-Field Communication (NFC) in this handset.

You’ll also find Category 4 4G LTE here, providing download speeds as fast as 150Mbps, network dependent, of course. And just to make things a little interesting, Motorola has support for two SIM cards in this handset, with the SIM card slots existing in the microSIM variant.

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All of this sits under a 5 inch 720p HD display, providing 1280×720 for the resolution, which in turn offers up roughly 294 pixels per inch of screen clarity. Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 sits on top of this display, and just to make the phone a little more rugged, Motorola equips the 2015 series G with an element of weather-proofing, certifying it for IPX7, which essentially means it can survive immersion for up to 30 minutes in one meter of freshwater.

As is the case with most smartphones, buttons and ports are few and far between, at least exposed ones, with a power button and volume rocker sitting on the right edge, with the ports existing only as a 3.5mm headset jack up top and a microUSB charge and data transfer port at the bottom.

Remaining buttons are all soft and virtual — on screen and digitally represented by Google Android for back, multitask, and home — while remaining ports for the Moto G (G3) can be found under the removable back, which will reveal two microSIM slots and a microSD expandable memory slot.

The battery in the Moto G 2015 edition handset is rated at 2470mAh and is not removable.

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Performance

These days, when you’re shopping for a phone, it is very easy to get tempted by the big expensive phones. After all, these represent the pinnacle of design and technology for that year, or at least for the few minutes you checked it out on the shelf of some store.

They’re often big, shiny, with sexy screens, great cameras, loud speakers, and high prices.

That last part can be a bit of a problem, however, and not everyone is interested in paying a high price for a phone, and when you factor in how quickly phones get replaced, you can understand why.

We are living in a nearly disposable device society, where we replace phones at a rate of a new one ever year or two, sometimes sooner depending on your cash flow or if an accident has occurred. Telcos have joined in on the action with “new phone feelings” to let you replace annually if a monthly fee is added, and some people just have to have the latest and greatest thing.

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As such, you can kind of expect that we’ll all soon have a lot of spare gadgets, that is if we’re not passing them down to others — parents, kids — or selling them on eBay.

So we’re buying phones, and we’re doing this a lot, but not everyone wants to sit in the upper echelon or the high price bracket for mobile spending, and why should they? These days, you can get a perfectly great little device for under $500, as smartphone makers work to capitalise on the mid-range market, an area that isn’t new but is gaining ground quickly due to the realisation that not everyone has dollars to throw at devices.

One of the oldest mobile companies in the world — Motorola — has been doing good business in the middle of the market, too, with its G series being the biggest product the company has ever had in smartphones. We’re not sure how it ranks in the grand scheme of things — is it enough to beat either the StarTAC or RAZR phones? (there are more people using phones these days, so it’s highly possible it is) — but Motorola has said that the G is a big deal for the company.

So in its third iteration, what is the company doing to make it stand out, to hold your hand and say “if it’s time for an upgrade or for your very first phone, you should pick me”?

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Pick up the 2015 Moto G and you’ll find a relatively comfortable device, with the five inch size giving a little extra height in comparison to devices like the iPhone 6, with more width and thickness, too.

Plastic is the name of the game here, hardly a surprise given where the G fits in the market, though at least it’s not a plastic that manages to feel grubby in your hands.

Indeed, Motorola has even made the back have texture so that the device is easy to grip and you always know which side you’re holding. If it feels slick and slippery, it’s the glas front, and if not with a ridged texture, guess what, you are holding the back.

All up, it is comfortable and there’s a slight curve in the back design that makes it feel like it conforms ever so slightly to the palm of your hand, allowing you to cradle it easily.

Start using the Moto G third gen and you’ll find a star in the making, with Motorola appearing to fine tune that Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 to hum along nicely, working well with the 2GB RAM Australians are lucky to receive.

Why are we lucky?

Well, overseas, there are actually two variants, with one sitting pretty with 8GB storage and 1GB RAM, and the other sitting prettier with 16GB storage and 2GB RAM.

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Perhaps with a view to expecting someone to complain about how the first one just doesn’t sound good enough for a mid-range phone — does that sound like us? — Motorola has picked only one to be released locally, and fortunately, it’s the good one, offering more storage and more RAM.

As such, this combination of parts, as well as Motorola’s expert understanding of Android — because it was owned by Google for a bit there, wasn’t it? — helps to make the third generation Motorola G just purr, with little to no lag as you jump across apps, load new ones, and generally use the phone.

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Motorola’s insistence that Android stays the way Google envisioned it is also along for the ride, and as a result, this is the cleanest experience you can have on an Android phone short of buying one with the “Nexus” name stamped on it which have been made by Google as flagship phones for the Android operating system.

That means there’s no extra interpretation from Motorola as to how Android should perform, none of the quirks overlays like TouchWiz provide, and no chance that this will get confused with an iOS device like you might get with either Huawei’s EmotionUI or Oppo’s ColorOS.

This is Android and only Android, and you get the several widgetised home screens, the app menu, and a Google Now virtual assistant that looks through your day and tries to help you along with neato cards every step of the way

Yes, this is the Google Android we like most, and it’s delightful on a mid-range device like the Moto G.

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We’ve already touched on the performance, and it hums nicely despite it not being a top end phone, so you’ll find most apps will have no problem on this device, though if you run something a little more graphically heavy, say a game or something big, there may be a bit of lag, as is to be expected from a device where benchmarks don’t exactly reign supreme.

Furthermore, the addition of a microSD card slot is a nice inclusion, though it’s something the G series of devices has become known for.

Because, you know, upgrading phone memory is nice, even as some companies move away from it.

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The display isn’t bad either, with 720p HD staring back at you on a screen size of 5 inches, making it a fairly meaty phone for the $369 price point where this one sits.

Despite the decent offering, you may notice the odd bit of pixelation here and there, part and parcel with the fact that you’re viewing roughly 294 pixels per inch, approximately 30 lower than the original recommendation for Apple’s “Retina” grade panels.

It needs to be said that it’s not a huge amount lower that it’ll cause problems at all, and for the price, this isn’t a bad screen either, with decent viewing angles while the sides wash out slightly. Rather, it’s that you might see a little pixelation on numbers and letters every so often, though only slightly.

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Over in the battery life department, the 2015 Motorola G is an absolute star, besting every flagship from 2015 thus far without a problem and scoring two days of battery life.

That’s not “two days provided you charge a little at lunch” or “two days but you should get home quick because in the evening the battery life will turn to dust”.

No, this is “two days” full stop, with two days worth of listening to music, making and taking phone calls, sending messages, reading emails, browsing the web, watching the occasional YouTube cat video, and using the camera.

That is very impressive, as is the inclusion of a Category 4 modem inside.

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Mobile data download speeds are, as such, fairly high, and while the price tag on the phone might appear low, the performance of it on a network is certainly anything but.

Tests of the 2015 Moto G in Sydney on Telstra’s 4GX network yields speeds ranging from 40Mbps all the way up to 100Mbps, making that Category 4 limit of 150Mbps well within reach.

While it may not have the edge like some of the Category 6 (300Mbps) and Category 9 (450Mbps) devices out there, if you have a problem with these speeds, you’re investing in the wrong section of the market, as the Moto G is doing bloody well, offering super fast speeds while you’re out and about.

At home, the WiFi isn’t the best it can be, though it should be fine for most people. For us, randomly, the WiFi would work and then drop out, despite being switched on. Indeed, we would see the exclamation mark of doom that you occasionally see on WiFi symbols, denoting that something just isn’t getting through.

That’s on top of this phone only supporting 2.4GHz 802.11n networks, which isn’t a total shock given the mid-range status, though our occasional WiFi dilemma may end up causing the odd headache for some people.

Hopefully you won’t have such problems, because while our 802.11ac network struggled at home, the 802.11n network at work appeared to be fine.

If all else fails, turn the WiFi on and off, as that appears to fix it, at least for a few minutes.

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Camera quality is next, and on paper, the Motorola G for 2015 has no problem giving some of the stars of this year a run for their money, throwing in a 13 megapixel camera on the back with a 5 megapixel camera up front.

As a heads up, neither of these are particularly world class or market leading, so don’t expect a camera to rival a Galaxy S6 or iPhone in these models, as it just won’t happen. What you do get, however, is enough guts to let you get a decent shot online.

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First we need to talk interface, because controlling the Motorola G is remarkably easy, with Motorola’s touch to fire the shot setup employed again. That’s all you really need to do here, with no camera button on the interface and a system that mostly focuses when you change aim.

There are some speed variations in the auto-focus, but mostly it’s relatively quick, though you may find the odd time where it doesn’t necessarily provide the sharpest focus around.

Motorola has also made the interface a little more in depth, ideal for those who might want to exert a little more control than let the phone decide how you should take photos. To get this, you merely need to swipe in from the left side where you’ll be given a control ring of options such as flash control, video modes, and HDR. Once these have been selected, it’s back to the touch-to-fire design, because that’s the main way Motorola’s camera works.

You can also get the camera to load up simply by shaking your wrist twice, which will interpret this gesture as a shortcut to switch the camera on, handy for some, no doubt.

Image from the Motorola G rear camera (HDR)

Image from the Motorola G rear camera (HDR)

Images out of the camera are certainly acceptable, and the 13 megapixel rear camera and 5 megapixel front module definitely provide the numbers to make most people smile, though these aren’t the best cameras around.

Aside for the aforementioned odd auto-focus speed quibble, you may find at night and in low-light, the images are a touch soft, with little detail up close, as well as a fair amount of obvious noise.

Image from the Motorola G rear camera

Image from the Motorola G rear camera

Fortunately daylight is much better, with bright and colourful results that are relatively clear, ideal for any of the social networks you might be ready to upload the photos to.

There is one neat trick worth mentioning on the G, and it’s something only a handful of phones support: water resistance.

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You can, if you want to, drop the 2015 Moto G in a tank of water, and even take photos underwater using that 13 megapixel camera by touching the volume button.

That also means the phone will survive if you inadvertently drop a beer or a glass of wine on the phone, though it may look and smell a little worse for wear until you rinse it off under the tap.

Officially, Motorola rates the third generation G at IPX7 which roughly translates into “survivable of up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes”, a feature you’ll get to use if you’ve pressed the back completely on so that no liquid can get into the electronics.

Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go, and Motorola even checks with you in software to make sure you’re aware.

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Does this mean you can take it into the pool or the ocean?

Kind of, but because the IP ratings companies test against are rated for freshwater and don’t take into account erosion from other elements such as chlorine or salt (seawater), if you do happen to take it swimming, make sure to wash it off under the tap when you’re done, as you wouldn’t want any of these extra elements breaking the ruggedised ports.

Even with this notice ahead of time, this little addition, makes the G even more worth the price of admission, simply because few phones get water resistance, and even Motorola’s other models including the more expensive X flagships (both of them) miss out.

We don’t know why, either; surely it would make sense to make the more pricey phones sport this technology, as that’s what competitors have done in the past, but Motorola seems content with offering it only on the mid-range G.

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Conclusion

We started this review asking a pretty basic question about the Motorola G — does the third Moto G perfect the series? — and really, that question came down to one basic concept: is the third time the charm, so to speak.

But the Moto G has never really needed to worry about that question because it has always been pretty good, evident from Motorola’s recent observation that this range is the company’s most successful smartphone.

So the question we really need to answer is has Motorola made the G even better, and has it become the midrange model to beat, and the one to watch?

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The answer to that is a clear resounding yes, because as good as the midrange models we’ve seen have been this year, the G represents solid value, even sporting a feature we wish more flagships offered.

Seriously, why don’t more top tier phones arrive with water resistance? And why does it not appear on Motorola’s own flagships? How does that work that the model for less money gets a feature the others don’t?

We’re a little confused, but you shouldn’t be. Rather, if you’re already confused by the amount of choices out there in the smartphone world under the $400 mark, Motorola’s G can help you make your mind up in a flash. Recommended.

Price (RRP)

$369

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Feels great in the hand; Pretty good system performance; Excellent two day battery; High speeds possible from the Cat4 modem inside; Two SIM card slots; Upgradeable storage; Sports more water resistance than most flagship phones offer;

Product Cons

Screen is a little pixel-y; WiFi is occasionally glitchy; Camera could be a little better;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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