Review: Moto G5 Plus smart phone

My very first mobile phone was a Motorola. That was 1996, and from today’s perspective, I find it hard to understand that younger me who was so reluctant to acquire a mobile phone. Twenty one years later, I still have the same phone number, but as I’m writing right now, instead of a chunky call-and-text-only device, it is being used with Motorola’s mid-priced Moto G5 Plus smart phone.

Features

Before getting to details, what do I mean by “mid-priced”? There are two versions of the Moto G5 Plus phone (four if you count the two colour options: “Fine Gold” and “Lunar Gray”). The standard model comes with only 16GB of storage, and sells for $399. The review unit was the 32GB model, which costs $50 more. I’d recommend stretching to that if possible.

Either way, you can add storage in the form of a microSD card of up to 128GB.

That $50 also bumps up the working RAM from 3GB to 4GB, so it should provide slightly better performance, particularly when you’ve got lots of apps going.

The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 octa-core running at up to 2GHz, with a 650MHz Adreno 506 graphics processor.

Moto G5 Plus

The screen is a good sized 5.2 inches and it offers full HD – 1080 by 1920 pixels – resolution. It’s covered by Gorilla Glass 3. The case is aluminium. There’s quite the camera bump. The thickness of the phone is specified as “7.7mm to 9.7mm”. That 2mm range is the bump. That section is a circle around 23mm in diameter and it also houses the flash. If you’re going to have a bump, this is a pleasing one.

Physical connectivity is via Micro-B USB and 3.5mm analogue. Wireless is dual band up to 802.11n (even though the processor supports 802.11ac). The 4G connectivity includes Category 6 LTE, which means a theoretical 300Mbps download speed. The Bluetooth comes with NFC (Near Field Communication) so there’s easy pairing with lots of devices, and the phone can be used to communication with things like smart travel cards.

There’s a 3000mAh battery and a fast charger (fifteen minutes of charging will give you a claimed six hours of use).

Moto G5 phone (Moto G5 Plus above)

An FM radio is built in. You need to plug in earphones to use it as it uses their cable as an antenna.

The front camera is a five megapixel f/2.2 one, while the rear is a surprisingly advanced f/1.7 12 megapixel model, with dual pixel auto focus. The “dual pixel” moniker indicates the use of many more pixels to manage phase detection, improving focusing speed. The camera can also do UltraHD video at up to 30 frames per second.

Performance

This is a dual SIM phone. A different arrangement is provided on this phone for SIMs and additional storage. Typically, phones which support two SIMs have a small tray with two inset areas for the SIMs. One of those is nestled within a larger inset which accommodates a microSD card. Which means, of course, you can have two SIMs, but no storage expansion, or you can have one SIM plus the extra storage.

Good on Motorola: this phone’s tray can accommodate two SIMs plus the microSD storage all at the same time. But I do have one complaint. Installing SIMs and storage is a fiddly business, and something that normal people typically do yearly at the most. So clear instructions are a good idea. The slim Moto G5 Plus guide shows the microSD card the wrong side up in the tray. It won’t physically go that way, but I for one found it confusing.

Auto HDR gave good detail on the face of the tree against the bright sky

After installing a SIM card and a microSD card, it was time to transfer over from my regular phone.

I shall, I think, forever remain puzzled about how the automatic transfer of usage from one phone to another works. Some use Google’s facilities. Some use their own apps. Some transfer nothing but one’s Google credentials. Some transfer just about everything, including the current position one occupies in a game.

I just followed the first time start up options offered by the Moto G5 Plus. It gave me a chance to tap my previous phone (that requires having NFC in one’s old phone). I was using a Samsung Galaxy S7. At first it didn’t work, putting the two phones back to back, but I kept doing it in different positions and after half a dozen goes there was the heartening buzz, and things started. After saying “Yes” a few times on the phones, the Samsung could be put aside as the Moto G5 Plus connected to my Google account and started downloading 108 apps.

It didn’t bring in game scores, and of course I had to log into many of the apps on first use, but apart from the download time, that made switching phones very easy. As it happened, it didn’t actually bring in a number of apps, even though it later reported that it had loaded in all 108 of them. Part way through the process my landline Internet connection started going very strange, so that was probably the problem. Anyway, later, after a day or so of fiddling with the connection (things weren’t properly restored until a Telstra tech reconnected our line at the service pole – it had somehow been severed – I did a factory resect of the modem/router and reconfigured it from scratch).

Now, this might seem silly, but the touch screens on different phones feel slightly different to each other. This one felt beautifully smooth, slippery even. It was very much like the touch of a premium Samsung phone. I’m guessing that it uses a similar oleophobic treatment on the screen, because it was quite resistant to being marked by fingerprints.

 

Auto HDR was invoked again. The file name makes it clear that HDR was used.

Indeed, the overall feel of the phone was one of quality and solidity. The touch screen was absolutely reliable. The screen colour was bold and black levels were strong. Extreme viewing angles were find, subject onto the reflections on a very glossy glass.

In terms of sheer performance, Basemark OS II puts the phone at 39% of a Samsung Galaxy S7. The basic system (ie CPU and closely related components) is closer to 59%, but it is slowed by memory (29%) and graphics (23%).

In normal use this wasn’t obvious, but the phone was quite slow in Panorama mode, which involves the processor intensive task of matching and stitching together multiple images into one. (Although I do tend to put that one into the it’s-amazing-that-it-works-at-all basket!)

Games play would take a hit. The Basemark X gaming benchmark had it at 52% of the performance of a Samsung Galaxy S7. That said, that’d happily run any game at what would have been state of the art speeds in 2015.

Contrails over the Canberra Carillon

The phone runs Android Nougat 7.0 in a pretty much vanilla interpretation. Which is to say, there is almost no departure from the look of, say, a Google Pixel phone. Neither, though, is there much in the way of enhancement. In particular, there’s no Miracast support. If you want “cast” your phone’s screen or contents to a TV, you’ll need a Chromecast compatible one, or a Chromecast device. I gave it a whirl with a Chromecast Ultra, and it connected rapidly and surely with that. I couldn’t get it to see any Miracast receivers even using third part Miracast apps.

The Micro-B USB port supports On The Go connections, although not a widely as I would have liked. No problems with adding a mouse and keyboard, or connecting USB flash memory (I used a Lexar JumpDrive C20m with USB on one end and Micro-B USB on the other). However it would not deliver music via my portable DAC with normal apps (Google Music and Spotify). It would only do that with a specialised app, such as USB Audio Player Pro, which takes over the USB port at a deep level.

There are a bunch of action type controls for the phone. Two twists of the wrist will start up the camera (even if it’s off). Picking up the phone when it’s ringing will answer the call. Two “karate chop” motions switch on the flashlight function. Put the phone face down and it’s in “Do Not Disturb” mode. Pick up the phone and it briefly shows time and notifications. Nice stuff, all of that, and you can switch things off individually if you don’t like them.

Braced against a light pole to give a stead 1/15 second shot. ISO was boosted to 1600.

The layout and inclusion of quick access tools are editable. One thing which is almost routinely included on most Android phones is the ability to show battery percentage on the status bar. That was not available in an obvious way, but could be got by means of invoking the “System UI Tuner” (you hold down the Setup icon for a couple of seconds).

The camera. Ah, what a really good camera. It’s remarkable to find such a fine camera in a phone of this price. It didn’t focus quite as fast as the Samsung Galaxy S7, but in picture after picture, in circumstance after circumstance, it sometimes produced very slightly better pictures than the S7, sometimes very slightly worse. Given that the S7 was considered probably the best, last year, that’s extremely impressive.

On balance, I’d give it to the S7 in dark environments, thanks to there being a lot less noise in the picture. And probably the S7 in good light, because of the faster focusing. But that’s all there was in it.

And it has no ability to take them in RAW format, so you lose some flexibility.

The battery was bit of a laster, too, maintaining charge much better than my Samsung Galaxy S7.

Conclusion

Unless you need lots of processing power, or a certain ability to Miracast the screen, the Moto G5 Plus ought to suit just about everyone. It’s a real bargain.