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Motorola updated its popular budget Moto G smartphone in 2014 with a larger 5-inch display, an improved camera and expandable storage. Oddly, however, the company removed a critical feature that had been present in the preceding model: 4G LTE.
The 2015 version of the Moto G sees a welcome return of 4G LTE. This fourth generation is visually identical to last year's model, with the same 5-inch, 720p display and 1.2GHz quad-core processor slumbering beneath. It's updated to the latest version of Android 5.0 Lollipop and there's an 8-megapixel camera slapped on the back too.
The 4G-enabled version of the phone is currently only available in Europe, China and Brazil, and Motorola has yet to announce plans to bring it to the US or Australia. In the UK, the phone is available SIM-free directly from Motorola for £159, which converts to around $240 or AU$310.
You can still get the non-4G Moto G in the UK, which will set you back £150. That's only a £9 price difference, which is a tiny sum to pay to add 4G to your phone. If you've avoided 4G tariffs so far due to the cost, they're becoming cheaper all the time (Three in fact doesn't charge any extra for 4G) so it's certainly worth future-proofing yourself with a 4G phone now, rather than having an incompatible phone if you do wish to upgrade in six months time.
The addition of 4G LTE to the Moto G hasn't changed its design one jot, so if you're upgrading from the latest non-4G model, expect no design surprises. Its flat sides and rounded back are every bit as comfortable to hold and the rubberised back case provides a secure grip. As with previous generations, there are many backplate colours available to let you put your own stamp on the phone.
It's 141mm long, 70.7mm wide and 11mm thick making it a sizable phone, but no bigger than a lot of today's smartphones. If you're after a small phone to slide unnoticed into your jeans then look instead toward the 4.3-inch Motorola Moto E. No, it's not the slickest-looking phone around, but it's far from ugly and the silver ring around the camera lens, the curving back and the silvery Moto logo all go some way to helping it look a touch more inviting than the majority of budget smartphones.
The 5-inch display is unchanged, coming as it does with a 1,280x720-pixel resolution. Sure, it's not as sharp as high-end full-HD phones, but it's more than adequate for most tasks, and for the money, you can't really ask for a whole lot more. It's bright and the screen's colours are strong enough to do justice to Twitter, Facebook and the odd Netflix show.
Its sheer size does of course mean there's a lot more room to really show off your photos and videos, in a more immersive way than you'll be able to with the 4.3-inch Moto E. If you want to get a 4G phone to enjoy movies on the move then grabbing a phone of this size to do those movies justice is a wise idea.
The Moto G arrives with Android 5.0 Lollipop software on board -- that's the latest, shiniest version of Google's mobile operating system. It's great to see it on the phone as many budget phones skimp out by using older versions. It helps that Motorola hasn't applied any kind of manufacturer skin over the top of the software, meaning it hasn't had to spend any time -- or money -- in updating a skin for a new version.
Vanilla Android Lollipop is well suited to a budget phone. For starters, it's neat and easy to use, making it a good choice not only for those of you looking to take your first steps into Android, but even for those who've never used a smartphone before. As it doesn't have a confusing array of preloaded apps, widgets and customisation options, the Moto G's basic interface is great for beginners.
The other advantage to using plain Android is that it tends to be less demanding on a processor than interfaces that make use of various live widgets and swooping animated menus. That's important on a phone that only has a lower midrange 1.2GHz quad-core processor at its heart.
Even so, I didn't find navigating the Moto G's interface to be as swift as it could be. In my time with the phone, I did experience the odd slowdown, with it sometimes taking a couple of seconds to open menus. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, as for the most part it was fine, and for only basic tasks, you may not even notice the odd moment of sluggishness.
It didn't exact fly through our benchmark tests, scoring only 5,054 on the Quadrant test -- a significant step below the 8,800 scored by the non-4G Moto G. It's on par at least with the Moto E (5,256), but considering the Moto E's lower price, I'd have hoped to see a stronger performance.
Essential tasks like email, Web browsing and Instagramming are handled well however and it managed to play a few races on Riptide GP 2, although frame rates did drop slightly on occasion. For a spot of light gaming on your morning commute, the Moto G will do absolutely fine -- which is really all it's designed for.
The phone comes with 8GB of storage, of which around 5GB is available to use. Various budget phones have been caught arriving with only 4GB of storage, which leaves you with such a tiny amount of usable space that it quickly becomes an annoyance, so I'm pleased that Moto hasn't gone that route. It does have a microSD card slot as well, letting you expand the phone's storage with cards up to 32GB in size.
An 8-megapixel camera sits on the back of the Moto G. It's the same camera as in the non-4G version, which was itself a step up from the original Moto G's 5-megapixel camera. Confused yet? The cheaper Moto E has a 5-megapixel camera too.
I took it for a spin around a moderately sunny London and found the phone capable of capturing some decent shots.
On this first shot of St Paul's Cathedral, there's a decent amount of detail in the shot, and a fair balance between the bright sky and the darker river and buildings.
Turning on HDR mode has dramatically helped in lifting the shadows, resulting in a more even shot overall.
The same can be seen in this shot of a bright yellow building. In auto mode, there's a reasonable level of clarity and the colours are accurate, if not particularly strong. In exposing the shot for the bright sky, the camera has thrown the ground into darkness.
With HDR mode switched on, the dark areas below are made much more visible, although the image does look a little unnatural.
The Moto G doesn't provide the best low-light shooting ever, but I've certainly seen worse, particularly from low-end phones. Clarity isn't brilliant, particularly on the text on the box of tea in the top left of the photo above, but it's bright, the colours look reasonably accurate and there's not too much image noise either.
The camera is reasonably quick to start up -- around 3 seconds in my experience -- and makes it pretty simple to switch between shooting modes or to change settings. It has autofocus, although you can't tap on an area of the screen to focus. Simply tapping will take the photo, so to select focus, you need to drag the central focus point to a new area. It's hardly a deal-breaker, but it may lose you a few valuable seconds when trying to get the focus just right on a shot.
If photography skills are your main concern when shopping for a new phone then you should certainly consider spending more money on a high-end imaging beast like the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S6. In the budget arena, however, the Moto G's camera is certainly among the better shooters around and is more than adequate for quick holiday snaps.
Delivering the juice is a 2,390mAh battery which Motorola reckons is capable of keeping going "all day". That's a big claim for a phone, but the Moto G shouldn't struggle too much to achieve that, so long as you're fairly careful in how you use it. In our battery drain test, it took a little under 12 hours for the battery to go from full to empty, which is a strong effort.
It easily beat the Moto E's effort of around 7 hours, and even the non-4G Moto G (which has a marginally smaller cell) only achieved around 9. Even with moderate use, you shouldn't find it too difficult to get through your working day on a single charge.
If you really want to preserve the power, the first thing you should do is lower the screen brightness -- powering that big display is the main thing that'll drain the juice. Turning off Wi-Fi and GPS will help as well, and avoid doing anything demanding like gaming or video streaming. If you spend your whole morning commute playing games and spend most of your day sending texts then you'll probably want to give it a little top-up in the afternoon if you want power left to send some ill-advised tweets from the pub after work.
The Moto G's big, sharp screen, good battery life and easy-to-understand interface make it a great choice whether you're looking to take your first steps into the Android world or if you're after a solid all-rounder and you just don't want to spend a lot.
The measly £9 it costs to get the 4G rather than the 3G version is well worth paying. While some 4G contracts may be out of budget now, they're getting cheaper all the time, so it's worth future-proofing yourself for such a small extra outlay. If the bigger screen, better camera and battery life all sound enticing, you should certainly opt for the Moto G over the cheaper Moto E.