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Motorola Moto G (2015) review: Big-screened brilliance on a budget

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The Good The Motorola Moto G's big, bright screen makes movies more immersive, the pure Android Lollipop experience is easy to use and both the camera and the battery put in decent performances.

The Bad Processor power is underwhelming, even for a budget phone, which makes operation sluggish at times.

The Bottom Line The big screen, 4G LTE data speeds and low price make the Motorola Moto G a solid choice both for people who want to watch movies on the move and for smartphone newbies.

7.6 Overall
  • Battery 8
  • Features 8
  • Design 8
  • Camera 8
  • Performance 6

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.

Design and display

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.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Android OS and processor

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.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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.

Camera

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.

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