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

The latest Moto G refresh scores on Android 4.4, palmable design, and above-average specs. All it lacks is LTE.

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Jessica Dolcourt
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Franchises, How-To, Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads CNET Franchises, How-To, and Performance. With over 15 years in journalism, her experience includes mobile phone and software reporting and reviews, and delivering advice on expansive topics ranging from personal finance to travel and home. Jessica got her start at Download.com and holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).

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6 min read

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.

Motorola Moto G 2014
6.4

Motorola Moto G

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.

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.

Motorola's newest Moto G shows off its colors (pictures)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Photos from the 2-megapixel front-facing camera were on the soft, fuzzy side. It's the kind of airbrushed aesthetic that Samsung, HTC, and LG achieve through filters, because who wants to see every blemish and crease in stunning photographic perfection? From a technical standpoint, the front-facer isn't great. From a practical viewpoint, soft-focus might be better anyway.

Snapping photos with the native app was easy enough. You slide a digit from the left edge right to get to the settings wheel. It's here where you turn on auto HDR and auto flash modes, for instance. Similarly, sliding from the right edge left pops open the gallery, a handy shortcut if the Google Now bubble hadn't opened half the time instead.

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While as vibrant as can be, the camera didn't choose a point of focus. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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The shadowy falls look a little hazy. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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This close-up looks pretty good, after refocusing. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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The Moto G's camera sucks some of the rich red life out of this mighty redwood tree. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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This indoor portrait turned out well enough to share. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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Exposure is nice and even in this shot. Josh Miller/CNET

Performance: Data, processor, battery power

You already know by now that the 2014 Moto G lacks LTE, but that doesn't mean speeds are dismal. When I tested the phone in and around San Francisco using AT&T's network, Web sites loaded fine, albeit a little slower than usual, and YouTube videos played. Pandora streamed without incident.

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The results from two diagnostic apps, Quadrant for CPU speeds (L) and Speedtest.net for data. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Speedtest.net scores showed speeds typical for HSPA+, usually in the single digits for Mbps down and much sower, 1Mbps or less, for uplink.

It's the same story with the 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor and a 450MHz Adreno 305 GPU. On paper, the clock speed and processor are in the midrange. In reality, everything worked well within the realm of normal. The camera's shot-to-shot times are one exception when you involve autofocus, so you may miss a few fast-action moments. To be fair, that's a risk you take with any camera.

Globally, the Moto G will sell with 8GB and 16GB variants, both storage options that you can inflate by 32GB more through an SD card. It has 1GB of RAM.

Battery life on the 2,070mAh battery typically lasted through the work day. During our battery drain test for continuous video playback, the phone lasted 8 hours and 53 minutes.

Motorola Moto G performance tests

Install CNET mobile app (5MB) 18.6 seconds
Load up CNET mobile app 5.6 seconds
CNET mobile site load 6 seconds
CNET desktop site load 14.6 seconds
Boot time to lock screen 27 seconds
Camera boot time 3 seconds
Camera, shot-to-shot time 1.2 seconds; 4 seconds with autofocus

Call quality

The Moto G's audio quality was pretty good when I tested it in San Francisco using an AT&T SIM card (Note: My unlocked review unit is not optimized for AT&T's network). Volume was a little soft for both speakerphone and the standard earpiece. Even in a quieter indoor space, I needed it ratcheted up to the top or just one volume level below. However, the line was crystal-clear with no crackles or buzzes, and voices from the other end of the line sounded natural. The same went for speakerphone, which was quieter still, and a tad muffled, but still incredibly clear.

Podcast

My test partner also remarked at how clean and natural I sounded through both the standard microphone and through speakerphone, a real feat. He sounded surprised that I was on a cell phone at all. In addition to hearing warm vocal tones, the call was completely without static, he said, and very crisp. Speakerphone flattened my voice, he said, making it sound a little flat and echoey, but the overall quality was high.

Since call quality varies by your carrier, exact location, and even the time of day, your audio experience of the Moto G could differ.

Buy it or skip it?

There are so many good things in Motorola's latest Moto G package that it pains me to recommend that some people skip it, holding out for a future LTE model instead. Of course, your data speed desires are entirely up to you. Weighing the other hardware specs, price, and handset design, though, this Moto G is a budget phone I can get behind, and one that elevates an already fine line of affordable Moto phones.

For a slightly more powerful Moto experience with LTE, a faster processor, and even more customization options (hello, leather!), check out the all-new Moto X .

Motorola Moto G 2014
6.4

Motorola Moto G

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6Camera 6Battery 6
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