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Motorola Moto G (4G LTE) review: Best budget phone gets even better with 4G LTE, but a little pricier too

The Motorola Moto G is one of our favourite budget phones of all time and is fighting hard to keep that crown with the addition of 4G LTE and expandable storage.

Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon
Andrew Lanxon headshot

Andrew Lanxon

Lead Editor, CNET Advice, Europe; Lead Photographer, Europe

Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

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6 min read

Editors' note (September 5, 2014): Motorola has announced the sequel to this phone, the 2014 Motorola Moto G .

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8.0

Motorola Moto G (4G LTE)

The Good

The Motorola Moto G has one of the best screens you can get for the price, plenty of power for the everyday essentials, an easy to use, near-stock version of Android KitKat and the addition of 4G LTE and expandable storage are extremely welcome.

The Bad

The camera isn't up to anything more than the odd snap in good lighting, and the addition of 4G LTE means its once "unbelievable bargain" price is now only "good value".

The Bottom Line

Although the Motorola Moto G with 4G LTE is a bit pricier than its 3G-only sibling, it still has one of the best displays in the budget arena, its processor makes operation enjoyably smooth and its rounded, compact body is both comfortable and attractive. If you're after an affordable all-round entrance into the high speeds of 4G, you've come to the right place.

With the Moto G, Motorola threw a giant spanner in the works of the mobile world. Its lineup of mid-range specs were paired with an amazingly low price, making it the best value phone by a country mile. It made reviewing phones somewhat repetitive -- time after time I was forced to conclude, "This phone is fine, but the Moto G offers the same performance for much less money."

Its only downsides were a lack of expandable storage and no 4G LTE. In the UK, that wasn't much of a problem as 4G was still very new and still rather expensive. In the US, 4G was much more common, so its omission was more of an issue. Motorola has rectified both, adding 4G and a microSD card slot to this new revamped version of the Moto G.

It remains the same in every other respect, except price -- you still get the best screen at the price, a very capable quad-core processor, a 5-megapixel camera and the latest version of Android, 4.4.3 KitKat.

New Moto G shows off its 4G LTE and microSD slot (pictures)

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It's on sale now in the UK for free on contracts starting from £19 per month at retailers such as Phones 4U, or SIM-free for £149 with 8GB of built-in storage from Amazon. In the US, you can get the phone directly from Motorola's online store for $219 off-contract. In Australia, the Moto G is AU$299 -- just AU$50 more than the non-4G original.

That's a small increase on the 3G Moto G's price of £119 or $179 unlocked, with the older version continuing to be on sale alongside the new one. Motorola also has another new phone for you, though, and it's even cheaper: the $130/£90/AU$179 Moto E. You can read all about the Moto E here .

Design and display

Although it now packs a 4G LTE radio inside, the Moto G remains physically unchanged. I found the older Moto G's 4.5-inch body to be very comfortable to hold, thanks to its curved back, which fits snugly into your palm. The new model is exactly as comfortable. It's also not so big as to make you dislocate your thumb every time you try to type with one hand.

The plastic back panels are interchangeable and there are a host of different colours available, along with ruggedised cases and flip covers that protect the screen. The Moto G is also now in white, although the white model is not quite as widely available. I was keen on the new hue at the launch event -- it definitely brightens it up, particularly when it's paired with a light-coloured back, so I'm hoping it becomes easier to get hold of soon.

Underneath the swappable cover is the microSD card slot. The lack of expandable storage was a disappointment on the older Moto G, as it was only available with 8 or 16GB. While 16GB is probably adequate for most people, if you were shopping on a budget and only wanted to spring for the 8GB model, you'd quickly find yourself running out of space once you've downloaded your favourite apps and songs. The new model comes with only 8GB, but with the option to pop in 32GB microSD cards (available for around £10, or $15), storage shouldn't be an issue.

The 4.5-inch display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, giving a really good density of 326 pixels per inch. Couple that with its high brightness, vivid colours and decent viewing angles, and the Moto G has easily the best screen available on a budget phone.

Motorola doesn't seem to have fiddled with the display on the 4G model, which still looks every bit as crisp and bold as before, outperforming similar budget 4G phones such as the EE Kestrel (which is UK-only) and the Nokia Lumia 635 . Both those phones can be picked up for £100 (around $170, although US prices are yet to be confirmed), which is a decent chunk of cash.

Android KitKat software

The Moto G first launched last year with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean on board, but was updated to 4.4.2 KitKat in January. The 4G model comes with KitKat as standard, with new features such as the ability to display video and games at full screen without the navigation buttons taking up space. It also lets you search for local businesses directly from the contacts app.

Unlike most manufacturers, who like to put their own stamp on Android, Motorola has done very little to the interface. In fact, it's pretty much stock Android, so if you've ever used an Android device before, there'll be nothing new here for you to get your head around. The G does have a couple of additions, including Motorola Assist, which performs set tasks such as automatically silencing your phone when you have a meeting scheduled.

Thanks to the almost complete lack of any interface tweaks by Motorola, the Android experience is extremely easy to get to grips with, whether you're an Android veteran or completely new to the smartphone world.

Processor and battery performance

The 4G Moto G has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor as the previous version. It's a 1.2GHz quad-core affair, backed up by 1GB of RAM, and I found it to be more than powerful enough for most common tasks. Instagramming food and sending horrific selfies over WhatsApp were handled without any issue.

It turned its hand to demanding games like Asphalt 8 fairly well, although frame rates did drop at times -- more basic games like Cut The Rope are well within its capabilities.

General navigation is swift too, thanks in part to Motorola's software tweaks, which the company reckons make the phone extremely efficient with its power resources. Whatever it's done, it's worked -- apps and menus open quickly and the camera starts up and is ready to shoot in only a couple of seconds.

Inside is a 2,070mAh battery, which is the same size cell you'll find in the regular Moto G. That's a little concerning, as 4G LTE is a larger power drain than 3G. After looping an hour and a half of YouTube video streamed over 4G, the power had dropped from full to 74 percent remaining, which is fairly average. I've seen similar efforts from 3G-only phones, so the added 4G doesn't seem to have had a massive impact on battery life.

If you spend the day streaming TV shows over Netflix or playing online games like Shadowgun over 4G, you should expect to give the battery a boost in the afternoon if you want any power left to call a cab after the pub. If you're cautious with your use -- keep Wi-Fi and GPS off, avoid demanding tasks and keep the screen brightness down -- you should be able to get a full day of use out of it.

Camera

The back is home to a 5-megapixel camera, which again has remained unchanged from the original Moto G. Its results are generally unimpressive. My test shots were often underexposed, and the HDR mode gave some shots a high-contrast, unnatural look. The low resolution means that there's an overall lack of clarity and sharpness. Below are a selection of my tests.

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Motorola Moto G camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Motorola Moto G camera test with HDR Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Motorola Moto G camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Motorola Moto G camera test with HDR Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Motorola Moto G camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Motorola Moto G camera test with HDR Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Motorola Moto G camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Motorola Moto G camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Motorola Moto G camera test Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If you're out in the park with your friends, bathed in glorious sunshine, then the phone should be able to get some snaps good enough to make your office-bound Facebook friends jealous. Even so, this is not a phone to go for if photography is important to you. The camera interface is, at least, extremely simple to use. There are very few settings, so it's really a case of pointing it at your subject and tapping the screen. Settings like HDR are hidden out of the way when not in use.

Conclusion

With its decent specs and rock-bottom price, the Motorola Moto G was already a fantastic bargain, not only outpacing its low-end rivals, but offering much more than most mid-range mobiles. The addition of 4G LTE and expandable storage addresses our two original quibbles with the Moto G.

There's been a small price increase, meaning it doesn't have the same bargain bragging rights as its 3G-only sibling. With its excellent display, easy to use version of Android KitKat, expandable storage and comfortable design however, it's one of the best all-round budget phones you can get. It's certainly worth a look if you're after a 4G phone without a top-end price.

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8.0

Motorola Moto G (4G LTE)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6
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