Motorola Moto G (2014) review: bigger, better, and just as affordable
Last year, I called the Moto G “a surprising pleasure to use.” When I revisited it for our After The Buzz series, I said it was stil the best bang for your buck. Anyone who has owned or used the original Moto G will likely corroborate those sentiments. It’s a damn good phone for the money – no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Motorola took us all by surprise last year, not just because the Moto G was dirt cheap, but also because it was a fantastic smartphone for anyone just looking for the bare essentials – maybe even those looking for a little more. The result was one of the most successful Motorola products in a very long time. I personally had a handful of friends who went nuts over the Moto G, simply because it was a phone that would sufficiently suit all their needs without emptying their checking accounts.
In early September with new hardware on the horizon, we were looking to Motorola to see how it would could make the successor to the widely adored Moto G even better.
Unlike the Moto X, the upgrades to this year’s Moto G were far more modest. The Moto X went from being Motorola’s restrained flagship to being a high-end smartphone that’s far more competitive among its counterparts. The Moto G, on the other hand, is little more than a scaled-up version of the same phone.
Are the upgrades too slight for it to still be such a great deal? Or is it perfect just the way it is? We’ve spent several weeks off and on with the new Moto G. See how it fares below.
Software · Camera · Performance · Pros/Cons
Moto G 2014 Review Videos
Specs & Hardware
The thing that always struck us as underwhelming with the original Moto G was its design. Understandably, it was visibly less refined than the Moto X. Its design – especially the rear speaker grille – didn’t show the same precision. Its edges were more rounded, its seams less tight. That was partially due to the rear cover being removable and customizable with several aftermarket options. The Moto X, however, had to be customized before purchase.
We’d say its a similar story this year, except both sides of the equation have improved quite a bit. The Moto X’s design and build are more precise than last year, as are the Moto G’s. In fact, we’d say the 2014 Moto G looks and feels a lot more like a slightly larger original Moto X than the old Moto G. But that extremely low price point still means some compromises had to be made somewhere.
Almost all the sacrifices were made in specifications. The original Moto G, for the price, had a pretty impressive spec sheet. One year later with virtually all the same specs, this Moto G is less slightly impressive. Slightly.
Inside, it still sports the same Snapdragon 400 SoC (a 1.2GHz quad-core Cortex A7 CPU and Adreno 305 GPU), 1GB of RAM, 8 or 16GB of fixed storage, and a 2,070mAh battery. To that end, Motorola added two important features: microSD card support and Wi-Fi 802.11ac. Fortunately, Motorola also improved the cameras … a lot. The front camera has been bumped from 1.3 to 2 megapixels while the rear got the larger upgrade, from 5 to 8 megapixels.
Finally, the biggest difference is the display, though we’d hesitate to call it an improvement. At 4.5 inches, the 720p resolution on original Moto G was more palpable. At 5 inches diagonally, 720p is somewhat questionable – that is, until you consider that this is just a $180 smartphone. Five inches at 720p gives you an acceptable density of 294 pixels per inch. Colors are still pretty vibrant, though saturation and brightness both take a hit, compared to last year. Contrast is also down some and viewing angles aren’t particularly impressive. At certain angles, the display almost washes out completely, making the display difficult – if not impossible – to view.
For the price, though, this is the best display you could hope for, and if you find yourself complaining about the fuzzy edges on text and icons or the viewing angles, you’re missing the point entirely. You don’t buy one of the most affordable smartphones on the market to complain about the display.
The 5-inch display also makes this version of the Moto G much larger than last year’s. It’s also taller and wider than last year’s Moto X. It measures in at 141.5mm tall, 70.7mm wide, and 11mm thick. It’s also 149g, which gives the phone a certain heft we’re not adverse to. It feels quite solid and well-built.
This new Moto G also comes with dual front-firing speakers – just know they’re definitely no BoomSound speakers. They’re not all that loud and they’re pretty darn tinny. The upshot is that they’re very difficult to cover up – on purpose or by accident – meaning they will add some needed punch your gaming and multimedia experience.
For the price, the entire hardware package is stunning. Like we said last year, the Moto G feels more like a $300 or $400 smartphone. Also like last year, Motorola had to cut some corners to keep the price down. But this year, it seems fewer corners were cut and buyers only stand to benefit from the new changes.
The only reservation we have about this hardware is the size. In a world where 5-inch smartphones are the norm, this phone isn’t out of place. But if you’ve been trying to avoid going larger with your phone, you may need to look around for this phone’s smaller predecessor.
The new Moto G ships with Android 4.4.4, what was the latest version of Android until last week. Motorola has already confirmed Android 5.0 (Lollipop) will be coming to the Moto G in the near future.
Improvements in this software version over last year’s are pretty slight, but shouldn’t be overlooked.
For starters, the inbuilt launcher on the Moto G looks more like the Google Now Launcher in that the icons are larger, it has the newer home screen edit menu, and the application background is translucent. It, however, doesn’t come with Google Now integration to the left of the home screen – you’ll still need to drag upwards from the soft Home button to access Google Now.
Other improvements come to Motorola’s suite of apps and services. Namely, Motorola Assist was updated with some very helpful features. For instance, the Driving mode was previously just reserved for the Moto X. Now your Moto G can speak text messages and incoming caller’s names to you when you’re driving or at home. The Sleeping and Meeting modes remain unchanged.
Other than that, this is as close to stock Android as you can get. Aside from Motorola’s handful of applications, there is no preloaded bloat – a major plus on a phone that comes with just 8GB of fixed storage. Its light and frothy nature also helps keep everything moving along smoothly.
This is an area where other manufacturers go wrong with budget smartphones. Often, OEMs try to make budgets phones too much like their more expensive, more capable counterparts, which negatively affects the user experience. Such is not the case on the Moto G. The software comes with the bare essentials and has practically no added fluff.
The viewfinder software on the Moto G is very basic. It’s the same Motorola viewfinder you’ll find on the old Moto G and both Moto Xs. It comes with a minimal design with a gesture-based interface and tap-to-shoot shutter. If you want to control focus and exposure, you’ll need to enable it in the settings. HDR is set to auto by default, and the camera shoots in 16:9 at 6 megapixels out of the box. In the slide-out menu, you can adjust HDR and switch to 8 megapixels in 4:3.
Motorola’s viewfinder software has been praised for its simplicity, but it is also very limited in functionality. If all you’re looking to do is snap the occasional photo, you shouldn’t run into any issues with this software, though we recommend turning on the focus and exposure control in the settings.
The quality of the images taken with the Moto G definitely aren’t the best we’ve come across. Like last year, the camera is very quick to overexpose, and many of the images come out with a very cool hue. We also experienced some trouble with a soft focus or entirely out of focus pictures.
That said, we were able to capture some pretty impressive photos with the Moto G. Most pictures didn’t have quite as much detail as we would have liked, but the colors and defocusing were great. The Moto G’s camera wouldn’t beat out, say, the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus camera, but when you consider the price of this phone, its image sensing abilities are surprisingly great.
The same could be said for video. Colors suffer and white balance errs on the cool side. With no way to override focus (and thusly exposure) during capture, you’re left to how the software prioritizes focus and exposure levels. In our testing, this led to overexposure, out-of-focus video, and other problems. However, when the video capture was working as expected, we had few complaints about the actual quality.
In short, we’ve seen far more expensive smartphones with worse imaging quality, both in stills or video.
You wouldn’t expect performance to be one of the top things to talk about in a budget smartphone … and for good reason. The Moto G ships with a year-old chipset and just 1GB of RAM. That certainly limits what it’s capable of, and synthetic benchmarks lend credence to that assumption.
However, in the real world, the Moto G purrs along just fine. You will notice stutters from time to time, particularly when switching from one heavy task to another. The Moto G wasn’t built for excessive use or serious work on the go. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of handling a heavy workload. It just might take some time to catch up every now and then.
With just 1GB of RAM, the Moto G is forced to aggressively close applications, which slows down the ability to switch tasks quickly. Every time we switched out of Chrome to any other app, Chrome would have to reload the page when we switched back, regardless of how long we were out of the app – several minutes or just a few seconds. But scrolling, pinch-zooming, opening and closing apps, and most standard tasks were typically very smooth. And even gaming and multimedia playback were great. We noticed some frame rate drops in more graphically intensive games, but in basic platformers and casual games, the Moto G has no trouble keeping up.
And this is exactly why we don’t put too much faith in benchmarks.
This Moto G came with an AT&T SIM in it, but we’ve also popped a T-Mobile SIM in it for good measure. Network performance is average. We had no complaints with call quality. Callers were loud and clear and we received no complaints about the voice quality from the other end of the call. We did receive some complaints about background noise, though.
Without LTE support, data speeds suffered some. We were limited to HSPA+ on AT&T and T-Mobile in the Winston-Salem area of North Carolina. Peak speeds reached around 8Mbps down and 2Mbps up, but average speeds were closer to around half that for the downlink and 1.5Mbps for the uplink. We’ve definitely seen worse speeds, but LTE is something you will to have to get used to for most sub-$200 smartphones.
Having not increased the battery size with the larger display, we were curious how the Moto G would hold up in battery tests. We’re happy to report its stamina is similar to that of the original Moto G’s. That, of course, is nothing terribly spectacular. We averaged around a day of light to moderate usage with the original Moto G. If anything, the battery performance of this Moto G is just slightly worse, to which we attribute the larger display. Syncing three Gmail accounts, several social accounts, watching light YouTube videos, playing some casual games, and benchmarking resulted in around 15 hours of use and around three hours of screen-on time. On days of heavy usage, you may find yourself needing to charge around dinnertime to last into the night hours.
Again, this isn’t the best or worst stamina we’ve seen. By all accounts, this phone is average in most areas of performance.
+ Solid phone for an irresistible price
+ Average camera experience
+ Solid design and construction
+ Easily customizable hardware via swappable backplates
– Data speeds are limited to HSPA+
– No NFC support
– Limited inbuilt storage options
– RAM limitations affect performance
Pricing and Availability
The Moto G is currently available for purchase through Motorola directly and through third-party retailers, and it comes in both US GSM and Global GSM variations, the only differences being band support. It also comes in two color options, either white or black, and with two storage capacity options: 8 or 16GB.
For further customization, both shells and flip covers can be purchased separately through Motorola for $14.95 and $29.99, respectively.
US GSM Model:
GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
UMTS/HSPA+ (850, 1700 (AWS), 1900 MHz)
Global GSM Model:
GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
UMTS/HSPA+ (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz)
In the end, the question is, did Motorola go too light on the improvements to this year’s Moto G? Not at all. It’s just as much of a no-brainer as it ever was, even if Motorola only made a few changes to the hardware. We can think of at least two reasons we’re completely okay with that. One, Motorola got it right the first time by offering a whole lot of value for a very small price – just a fraction of what other, comparable smartphones were. And two, when you’re only asking $179 for a smartphone packed with some rather compelling specifications, there isn’t a lot of room for improvement.
For those who feel this new Moto G may be too large, the original Moto G – if you can find one – is still an awesome buy. However, if you’re looking for a device like the original Moto G that’s geared a little more towards gaming or multimedia consumption, this new Moto G is exactly what you were looking for.
If you’re on a tight budget or you simply don’t need an over the top smartphone, the 2014 Moto G is well worth your money, and we have no problem recommending it.