Motorola Moto G Google Play Edition review: Pure Android KitKat at an unbeatable price

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CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars Good
  • Overall: 6.7
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 6.0
  • Performance: 6.0

Average User Rating

4 stars 1 user review
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Moto G Google Play Edition runs pristine Android 4.4 KitKat right out of the box and for a rock bottom price. It's compact, has a premium build quality, and powerful speakers.

The Bad The Moto G's processor is slow, it has no LTE, and storage is limited to 16GB. The dim screen lacks contrast and vivid colors, and its camera takes blurry photos and lacks an HDR mode.

The Bottom Line If you yearn for pure Android KitKat on the cheap, the Moto G Google Play Edition is worth the price, but power users should look elsewhere.

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Up until now, the most affordable way to get your mitts on an unlocked Android smartphone was the Motorola Moto G. For true 'droid diehards though, the device's software, which is only slightly tweaked by Motorola, may not be quite pristine enough. Enter the new Moto G Google Play Edition (GPE). Priced at the same incredibly low price as the first Moto G, $179 (8GB) and $199 (16GB), this model offers completely unadulterated Android 4.4 KitKat at bargain basement rates.

Of course the Moto G GPE also proves the old maxim that there's no such thing as a free lunch. Even with its advanced operating system, the phone suffers from the same hardware shortcomings as its progenitor, namely a pokey processor, lackluster screen, and an underperforming camera. Many will also ask, why bother with a Google Play Edition of this handset as well since the original Moto G is just as capable? I counter this question with the fact that though other unlocked Android gadgets such as the Nexus 5 ($399 for 32GB) and Moto X ($449 for 32GB) boast better components, you'll pay twice as much for those bragging rights. That's why the Moto G Google Play Edition is the clear choice for Android fans on a tight budget.

Editors' Note: For this review, I focused on how the Motorola Moto G Google Play Edition differs from the carrier-branded versions of the handset. For my complete assessment of the Moto G's design, features, and performance, please see the full review.

Design
Physically speaking, the Moto G Google Play Edition is identical to the original Moto G. Trust me though, that's a good thing, since for an unlocked phone with such a rock-bottom price, the Moto G to feels almost as good in the hand as its more expensive sibling, the Moto X. You'll find many of the handsome design elements I love in Motorola's current flagship model.

These include a compact chassis that's easy to manipulate one-handed, along with a curved back intelligently designed to fit comfortably in your palm. Measuring 5.1 inches tall by 2.6 inches wide by 0.5 of an inch at its thickest point, the Moto G shares an almost identical footprint to the Moto X (which only differs in thickness, at 0.4 inch). That makes both gadgets svelte enough to slip into tight pockets and tote around with ease.

Motorola Moto G
The compact Moto G is easy to grip. Sarah Tew/CNET

And while the Moto G isn't sculpted out of luxurious materials such as aluminum or polished steel, its plastic body is reassuringly solid and radiates quality craftsmanship. Even so, I definitely prefer the soft-touch back surface of Moto X to the G's matte finish as it does a better job of repelling fingerprints and grease. That's why I strongly suggest buying one of the Moto G's shell backings for an extra $14.99, which feature a soft-touch texture and come in a choice of six snazzy colors.

Moto G
The stock Moto G uses a basic black back plate. Sarah Tew/CNET

There are other small physical differences between the phones, such as the Moto G's slightly heftier weight (5 ounces), and thicker profile. Besides that, thanks to an identical button layout, the Moto G could easily be mistaken for the Moto X. A tiny power key and trim volume bar sit on the right side, while a 3.5mm headphone jack occupies the top edge.

Around back is the G's main 5-megapixel camera and LED flash. The phone even has a little circular dimple (matching the Moto X) placed just below the camera lens -- right where your index finger naturally falls. Here, too, is the Moto G's speaker, which I can confirm gets pretty darn loud without distorting.

Moto G
The back has a dimple to place an index finger. Sarah Tew/CNET

Unlike the Moto X's sealed chassis, the Moto G has a removable back plate. Don't get your hopes up, though, because underneath the phone's back cover isn't an SD Card slot, but merely an embedded 2,070mAh battery (2,200mAh on the X), and spring-loaded micro-SIM receptacle.

Screen
To meet the Moto G's low sticker price Motorola had to make some sacrifices and a major one was the handset's display. At 4.5 inches across, the G's screen is certainly big, especially considering the phone's small footprint. Its 720p resolution (1,280x720 pixels) is also acceptably crisp. Sadly, however, the Moto G's display is neither bright, nor high contrast.

Moto G
Sadly the Moto G's 4.5-inch screen isn't that bright. Sarah Tew/CNET

In fact, when viewed side-by-side against the Moto X (with both devices set at maximum brightness), the G's LCD panel literally pales in comparison. Not only is the Moto X significantly brighter, its OLED screen technology produces very wide viewing angles with deep blacks and vibrant (if oversaturated) colors.

Core components
Motorola dialed back the Moto G's processing power as well. Under the phone's hood is a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor paired with Adreno 305 graphics and 1GB of RAM. It's less muscular than Motorola's X8 processing platform tucked inside the Moto X, which consists of a 1.7GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro (dual-core Krait) backed up by 2GB of RAM and quad-core Adreno 320 graphics.

The Moto G's standard 8GB allotment of internal storage (16GB on premium versions) is less impressive compared with the Moto X's base 16GB and 32GB options. The handset's CPU is a far cry from true powerhouse devices such as the Nexus 5 and Galaxy Note 3, both powered by 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 chips, Qualcomm's finest slice of mobile silicon to date.

Moto G
The Moto G's battery is embedded. Sarah Tew/CNET

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Where to Buy

Motorola Moto G Google Play Edition

Part Number: Moto G Google Play Edition Released: Jan 14, 2014

MSRP: $199.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications

  • Release date Jan 14, 2014