Motorola's included camera app is fast, but not always intuitive to use. The interface is super-minimal, and you have to swipe left and right to get to your photo gallery or adjust camera settings. You can add auto HDR or manually adjust exposure and white balance, and record videos in either 1080p or slow-mo at 720p.
Megapixels don't necessarily result in better photos however, so we were keen to try it out in several hands. Besides myself, CNET editor Andrew Hoyle did a detailed examination of the cameras in London, and New York labs tech Joseph Kaminski even jumped in.
The Moto G's pictures turned out pretty well overall, especially those outdoor shots. Exposure and natural colors were strong, and there was plenty of detail when viewed on the full screen.
This thistle-y picture taken outdoors is a good example of what the Moto G's camera can do. The sharp leaves are crisp, and the little ladybird (ladybug) is clearly visible. The 13-megapixel resolution even gives some room to crop without losing a lot of detail.
Unfortunately, the phone's autofocus isn't easy to use. It's set to tap-to-focus by default (tapping on the screen simply takes a picture), so you'll need to manually turn that on in the camera settings. While the default setting makes it very quick to shoot, it means focus on close-up subjects suffers and you'll shoot multiple out of focus pictures like this until it properly locks on. That gets annoying.
Outdoor shots in everyday light usually turned out really well, though, with crisp, colorful results. But in indoor and lower-light situations, things didn't turn out quite so nicely.
Low-light pictures are also decent, though there are a few issues. Motorola has clearly slowed the shutter speed down to let the camera take in more light in low-light mode, which turns normal hand-shaking into a blurry image. Lower-light images without flash turn out bright but colors are muted, and there's quite a lot of image noise, too.
The Moto G's camera is capable of taking some really great shots, and it's certainly among the best cameras you can find at the budget end of the phone spectrum. Where it shines, as on all smartphone cameras, is in outdoor scenes with ample natural lighting. Even with the flash on, the Moto G's low-light skills aren't up to snuff, so this isn't a camera phone to be excited about if you love taking shots of your food in dimly lit restaurants.
Thankfully, that front-facing camera upgrade was worth the effort. Like the main camera, this selfie camera took pretty good shots outside, but struggled more with indoor self-portraits. It seemed to mute skin tones inside, and other times made skin textures a little grainy. We collectively snapped some decent self-portraits where everything came out looking sharp and detailed when zoomed in, even individual whiskers. The wide-angle images weren't quite as wide as expected.
While the Moto G's camera has taken a big leap over the previous Moto G's and is great for the phone's low price, remember that it's just not as good as cameras on premium flagship smartphones.
- 1.4 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor
- 1GB or 2GB of RAM
- 8GB or 16GB onboard storage
- MicroSD card slot expansion up to 32GB
- 2,470mAh nonremovable battery
The Moto G works well for most everyday needs, as long as you don't push it do a lot at once. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor, despite being labeled "quad-core," isn't that fast. Benchmarks put this solidly in the mediocre part of the smartphone spectrum. But for everyday use, Android 5.1.1 feels nice and zippy and optimized to this phone. But running multiple apps or playing some games shows the slowdown. Even my favorite casual game, Hearthstone (which does use some moderate graphic effects) slowed down a bit at times.
Video streaming looked great, however, and the camera app loaded pretty quickly. I tested the 16GB version with 2GB of RAM, versus the 8GB model with 1GB RAM. For the extra 8GB of onboard storage and boosted RAM, I'd definitely pay the extra surcharge.
By the way, there's no NFC on the Moto G. Not everyone needs NFC, but it's becoming increasingly useful because of Google's upcoming Android Pay contactless payments service. Just a thing to keep in mind.
On the 2GB of RAM step-up version, the Moto G had a Geekbench 3 average of 528 (single) and 1,609 (multi) over three runs. On 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, it had a score of 4,473. That's well below what premium smartphones with better processors get, but in the budget landscape it's not uncommon.
Call quality and data speed
- 4G LTE-ready
- Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (2.4 GHz)
In my experience, Motorola phones always seem to sound good for phone calls. I made a few test calls, and everything was nice and clear, except for one concerning issue with the Moto G microphone suddenly not working, apart from making speakerphone calls. The problem resolved itself, but I'm keeping an eye out to see if it happens again.
I tested call and data speeds in Manhattan, New York City. Results vary based on network strength in your location, and it's sometimes hard to get a good signal in midtown New York. In my Manhattan office (always a dicey place for network connectivity), my AT&T-enabled Moto G had download speeds of 10.01 Mbps, and upload speeds of 0.41 Mbps. I've used LTE phones such as the iPhone 6 that managed faster speeds for both downloads and uploads.
The Moto G gets surprisingly good battery life for its 5-inch screen; our battery run test using looping video ran for around 12 and a half hours, and a full charge lasted me well over a day-and-a-half of casual to moderate use. There's a non-replaceable 2,470mAh battery on board, a bit more than the 2,390mAh that the last Moto G packed. There's no turbo charging, however; with the included charger, it took nearly four hours to fully power up from zero.
Affordable, unlocked phones are starting to multiply, and Motorola has long led the charge. Microsoft, Alcatel, OnePlus, ZTE, Asus and even Samsung are migrating previous years' top-billed parts into next years' midrange and starter phones, and are pushing prices down, too.
Right now, getting an unlocked LTE smartphone with a clean version of the latest Android software for less than the third-generation Moto G's price is pretty rare. With its LTE boost, better camera and water resistance, the Moto G trumps the Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime and similar phones in the territory.
Compared to the similarly priced, "low-end premium" Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3 ($250, around £270, roughly AU$520), this Moto G lacks the hardware oomph on almost every category except the camera, but I still think it's fast enough for most of what you'd need, and there's something about the way its design comes together than draws me to it more than any other phone in its class.
CNET's Andrew Hoyle and Joseph Kaminski contributed to this review.