Google/Motorola Moto G smartphone review: Gadget Watch

The low-cost smartphone is one of six big new technologies set to compete in 2014.

Unfortunately, low-cost smartphones so far have left a lot to be desired, as our recent review of the Mozilla Firefox OS-based ZTE Open demonstrated. Meanwhile, with the iPhone 5c, Apple has attempted to sell last year’s technology at a premium price point.

Both options were recently mocked by Google when it unveiled its new Moto G smartphone, manufactured by its hardware subsidiary, Motorola Mobility.

“Price-conscious consumers who don’t want to pay $US600 [outright] or more for high-end smartphones have been left with two bad options,” Google said in its announcement.

“The first is to buy cheap, new smartphones made with second-rate technology that don’t do justice to modern apps and experiences like navigation, video chat and games. The second is to buy ‘low cost’ versions of premium products that were released two or three years ago and are already obsolete.”

With Android 4.4 KitKat, Google announced it wants to tackle the low-end of the market by making its mobile operating system less memory intensive. With the Moto G, it promises quad-core performance for $US179 unlocked and outright.

Can Google deliver a solid phone at a low-cost price point?

Hardware and features

The main selling point of the Moto G is its price, coming in at just $US179 outright with 8GB of storage and $US199 for 16GB.

While initially shipping with stock Android 4.3 JellyBean, the company promises an upgrade to the most recent version of Android, 4.4 KitKat, during January.

The device is built around a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, clocked at 1.2 GHz, which is significantly faster than the single-core 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon in the ZTE Open.

It also features a 4.5-inch HD display, with a screen resolution of 1280 x 720 and 326 pixels-per-inch, again significantly better than the ZTE Open’s 3.5-inch 640×1136 display.

Another key selling point of the device is its interchangeable covers, with Google making 19 shells available.

What’s the consensus?

According to PC Advisor, the Moto G’s build quality and performance feels like it belongs on a device at a much higher price point:

Pebble-like is a good way of describing the Moto G’s design and build. It’s not particularly thin or light – 11.6mm and 143g – but feels nice in the hand with its rounded soft touch rear cover. The phone is well made, robust and feels like it should cost a lot more than it does.

There’s little going on with the design. Silver power and volume buttons sit on the side and the two ports, headphone and USB, sit at either end of the handset.

Motorola’s Moto G is the best budget smartphone around. At £135 it’s got great build quality, an excellent screen, decent cameras and Android 4.3 Jelly Bean soon to be upgrade to 4.4 KitKat. It’s only limited in the storage department and a lack of 4G support.

In its review, The Guardianpointed out two big shortcomings in the new smartphone: Its relatively small amount of storage space and its lack of 4G/LTE support:

In terms of storage, the Moto G only has 8 or 16GB, depending on the model, and lacks support for external expansion via microSD, although the Moto G does come with an extra 50GB of Google Drive cloud storage for two years. That means space is certainly at a premium on the Moto G, although 16GB is plenty of space for the majority of apps and services, without storing a large music library on the device.

One of the corners cut by Motorola is the lack of 4G, as the Moto G is missing LTE support. While that means that it can’t take advantage of the new, fast 4G networks currently being rolled out across the UK, not many budget phones are likely to be sold on comparatively expensive 4G mobile phone contracts.

Despite the shortcomings, CNet describes the Moto G as a very solid all-round smartphone.

It feels very well put together. There’s no creaking or flex in the chassis, the volume and power buttons on the edge all have a satisfying click and the glass front is made from toughened Gorilla glass. It definitely feels like it can take a few knocks and bumps, and you can always swap the back cover for a new one when it starts to look a little knackered – or if you just fancy a change of colour.

The Moto G is the best value phone around by miles. It has a great screen, plenty of power, a good battery, colourful, interchangeable cases and a good battery – all of which would normally demand a considerably higher price. Make no mistake: there is nothing else at this price that even comes close.

Who’s it for?

If you need 4G speed on your smartphone or use data-intensive apps like YouTube that benefit from faster download speeds, you’re probably better off paying the premium for a 4G device.

Likewise, if you frequently multitask between apps or intend to carry a big collection of MP3s, it’s probably worth paying a premium for a device that can better serve your needs.

However, if you’re looking for a solid Android smartphone at a competitive price point, and even a few bells and whistles, this is certainly one you need to look at.

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