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

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.

While as vibrant as can be, the camera didn't choose a point of focus. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
The shadowy falls look a little hazy. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
This close-up looks pretty good, after refocusing. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
The Moto G's camera sucks some of the rich red life out of this mighty redwood tree. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
This indoor portrait turned out well enough to share. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
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.

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

Motorola Moto G (2014) audio sample

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 .

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