Motorola Moto G review: Third time's a charm, but wants for LTE

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The Good The 5-inch Motorola Moto G once again turns in its signature hand-friendly design and hardware specs that impress for the price.

The Bad In LTE markets, the Moto G's absence of the fast data standard is a drag.

The Bottom Line Motorola's new Moto G exemplifies the budget Android phone, but if you prefer your data LTE-flavored, it's best to wait for that model.

6.4 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Camera 6
  • Battery 6

Motorola didn't waste any time introducing its third "Moto G" phone, which confusingly updates the original Moto G from 2013 while also building off this summer's Motorola Moto G 4G LTE . So what's the difference? The newly-relaunched Moto G is blessed with better hardware specs than both, like a more advanced 8-megapixel camera. However, data speeds top out at HSPA+, so the Moto 4G LTE is still the faster phone for data.

We get it. Not every market in the world supports LTE speeds, so making a phone that skips the faster network makes the phone more affordable for everyone -- and competing at low prices is Motorola's goal with this line. Hopefully we'll see a redux of the LTE version soon for those who do rely daily on LTE connections.

Regardless, you'll find a graciously designed phone with the telltale Motorola dimple set into its curved backplate, an upgraded 8-megapixel camera, and a peppy 1.2GHz quad-core chipset. A microSD slot also plumps up the phone's storage capacity, giving 2014's Moto G hopefuls more room for photos, videos and games.

At $180 in the US, £150 in the UK, and AU$269 in Australia, this Moto G comes out as a budget Android front-runner in non-LTE regions.

Editor's note: Review ratings updated May 4, 2015 to add sub-ratings for battery life and camera quality.

Design and build

Motorola makes likable phones, and this new G is equally a winner in terms of in-hand feel. Rounded corners on the sides match the arched back, which curves into your palm as you hold it. Flat sides welcome your grip without being sharp. Motorola's customary dimple below the camera module makes a nice home for the index finger (though I kept inadvertently grabbing the phone by the camera lens...d'oh!).

Fifteen possible backplate covers give themselves to your personal expression; I tested the Moto G in teal.

The new Motorola Moto G upgrades the original. Josh Miller/CNET

At 5.6 inches tall, 2.8 inches wide, and 0.43-inch at its thickest point (141.5 x 70.7 x 11mm), this larger Moto G is big without being gargantuan, and fits right into the spectrum of today's phones. At 5.3 ounces (149 grams), it's substantial in the hand, pocket, and purse, though not the heaviest we've carried around. (Bonus: the Moto G is also splash-resistant.)

The 5-inch 1,280x720p HD screen is appropriate for the phone's price, and images are bright, colorful, and detailed enough for daily use. Still, increasing the screen size on previous models while keeping the resolution steady means a drop in pixel density, from 329ppi to 294ppi. Held side by side with other phones, it does lack a little oomph, though it's fine on its own.

That curved backing helps it nestle into your hand. Josh Miller/CNET

Dual speakers on the phone's front give the G an audio boost, especially when you're using the phone to stream music and videos. The right spine houses the power/lock button and volume rocker, the top houses the headset jack, and your Micro-USB charging port is on the bottom. Peel away the back cover to access the microSD card and SIM card slots.

OS and apps

Android 4.4 KitKat runs cleanly and simply in its "purest" form on the Moto G, which will put it at the front of the line when it comes time to upgrade to the Android L OS.

Motorola does slip a few apps of its own into the experience, including a safety alert, automated assistant (say to turn your phone to silent in the nighttime hours), a device manager, and a program to help transfer over items from a previous phone to this new one.

It's possible that global carriers will include their stable of preloaded apps, but this unlocked review unit is refreshingly uncluttered.

Cameras and video

Wave goodbye and good riddance to the 5-megapixel camera of the first G and LTE versions. 2014's effort upscales to an 8-megapixel shooter that turns out some decent shots and video. You can also drop down to 6 megapixels for a widescreen format.

We previously complained of blurry images, and while that's not exactly the case here, the Moto G's camera does have a few idiosyncrasies. For instance, autofocus isn't supposed to be continuous, but it didn't always kick in, especially when I changed focus points, say from the landscape to a close-up. At other times, the camera missed that cue entirely.

Naturally, the Moto G's larger, 5-inch screen makes the whole phone bigger, too. Josh Miller/CNET

There's also no touch focus. Tapping the screen takes the picture, but you won't be able to drag a focal frame around or refocus by tapping another area of the viewfinder.

Image quality wasn't half bad and is certainly acceptable for casual use like uploading to social networks. Most of the time, colors were never as rich as real-world tones, even with ample ambient light. There were some pleasing exceptions, say with a bright-green redwood sapling, even as the camera skipped the rich auburn hues of a grown tree's shaggy trunk.

Video quality was good at 720p HD capture resolution. All my samples played back cleanly and smoothly. The microphone seemed especially sensitive, picking up ambient audio from feet away.