This is our full Moto G6 review. We have used the phone as our daily driver for more than 10 days on the Sprint network in the United States. Our version had 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.
If you’ve been left feeling squeezed for cash from the top end of the smartphone market these days, you’re far from alone. When the average price of an average OnePlus phone creeps above $600 when you considered buying one at $300, it can seem like all the great options have floated out of reach. And yet, at the same time, we’ve seen Nokia pick up the slack in the sub-$300 space while BLU remains a strong budget brand in the United States and Honor stands as a bright alternative to everything else.
And then there’s Motorola. It has officially maintained two budget phone lines: the Moto E and the Moto G. The original Moto G, which came out late in 2013, started out at around the top end of the $100 range with a Snapdragon 400 processor, 1GB of RAM, Android Jelly Bean and an entire lack of NFC and LTE. It has become an amazing artifact of its time, but was truly a revolution in how a quality workhorse smartphone should cost, leading it to become the best-selling phone Motorola has ever built.
In 2014, Lenovo took ownership of Motorola from Google and we’ve seen iteration after iteration pull through and expectations for basic acceptable mobile computing have crept up and up. The G has experimented with industrial flavors du jour with palm-shaped polycarbonate giving way to metal on metal. Nowadays, it’s all glass, all the time. But the old adage proves true again here: the more some things change, the more they stay the same.
Let’s dive in on our Moto G6 review.
In all honesty, the overall industrial design reminds us of the Galaxy S7 — a sloping 3D Glass treatment in the back that meets with the frontal pane of glass, all of it Gorilla Glass, met in the middle by a polycarbonate chassis. All together, its massiveness feels just about right for its weight. Now, I personally don’t like having to be mindful of any slightly graded surface I put my phone on, so the whole glass sandwich concept was never for me — but it’s especially a shame to see the Moto G6 follow in the footsteps of many others to act as if it were twice its price like the cool kids. We’re sad that the device doesn’t follow up with full-blown IP-rated waterproofing, though. Rain and splashes are just about all this thing can take, which may be enough until a poorly timed drop sends you and your phone overboard.
Below the 5.7-inch full HD Max Vision display is the Motorola wordmark all spelled out and a fingerprint sensor which we have come to adore being in the front, but we’ll get to that later. Above the panel is an 8-megapixel selfie camera. About face, we see a bumpy puck for the dual cameras with the primary sensor being 12 megapixels and the additional sensor being 5 megapixels, though it’s mostly to assist in picking up details to delineate the foreground, background and the subject. On the bottom is a 3.5mm headphone jack — hallelujah, another phone bucking the trend of abandonment — and a USB-C port, the top end features the SIM and microSD tray and the volume and textured power buttons are laid stage right.
What we neglected to mention is the mono front-facing speaker enhanced with Dolby Audio. The richness and the loudness potential of the sound it puts out betrays its meager appearance, it’s just terrific. Combine that with a fairly decent LCD — apart from its typical disadvantages to the more vibrant and power-efficient OLED, it’s a good panel for color reproduction — and movies or serials or even just podcasts or music played in a room sounds really darn swell. Sunlit readability is passable, but is not ideal, of course, but that’s where we get into more general use.
Before we do that, we’ll want to note that this is the first Moto G device since the third-generation to feature a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400-series processor, though not without reason: the Snapdragon 450 is the first in the series to move to a small fabrication die of 14nm instead of 28nm. That brings it on par with current 600-series releases, but it doesn’t mean it will play intense games with aplomb — I tried Marvel’s Future Fight for a couple of minutes and it was slideshow city — but when combined with 3GB of RAM, I was able to muscle through YouTube with picture-in-picture mode and scroll down websites on Chrome easy peasy.
That said, just as with the first Moto G, there’s no NFC here. With mobile payments gaining plenty of steam in 2018, it’s no excuse to see a 2013 exclusion last this long.
As is modern tradition, Motorola doesn’t do too much on top of Android 8.1 Oreo. Much like the Pixel 2, you can swipe up from the home screen to get to the app drawer. It bakes in a Moto suite of shortcuts and optimizations.
Let’s start off with Moto Key, a password replacement service for app and web accounts that takes the stroke of the fingerprint sensor instead. You are required to sign up with Lenovo ID, though Lenovo vows that no fingerprint or credentials are stored with the company. The app should automatically detect when you enter a password to gain access to an app, but in the case of the Citizens Bank app I use that does not already have biometric protection, Moto Key did nothing for me. It also did nothing for my Sprint online account. This feature needs more baking if it wants to be included in anything. At this point, we question why it’s here.
Moto Actions brings you closer to apps through gestures. The favorite go-tos are the double-chop for a flashlight and the double wrist-twist for the camera, though the latter move has generated hit-and-miss behavior for me. Probably not a good idea would be the “flip to engage Do Not Disturb” mode as I have admittedly scratched up the edges of the display glass by doing it so often.
But the killer feature for me was one-button navigation that removed the software navigation controls and left me swiping to one side of the fingerprint sensor to go back and swiping to the other side for multitasking. A tap of the sensor brings me home and a long-press locks the device. The command detection wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough where I would happily accept a few mistakes here and there. The Android P preview’s gesture controls have nothing on this method — more of this please.
Moto Display has a few functions that let you reduce glaring blue light exposure at night, keep the screen on while your retinas are paying attention to it and, most importantly, pass on notifications while the phone is asleep and the screen is still black. You can even reply to messages received right from the screen, too. However, the point on that feature on an LCD seems moot when the whole display has to use power to deliver said notifications. It’s handy, but we’d bet we could save a few minutes of power by turning the feature off.
Moto Voice isn’t what it used to be. Instead of essentially being a shell feature that let users access Google search or Google Assistant through a custom key phrase, the app now just tries to mimick Google Assistant with on-device and web search and other functions that just dilute the experience. It’s a beta program right now, but it has far to go.
One thing we can appreciate is the suggestions panel that helps us delete unnecessary files, sorting them by different classifications.
If you’re able to manufacture the moments you want to capture, patience is your friend. I have better things to do than to spend more than 5 seconds on basic composition, waiting for the right moment and then pressing the shutter button. And with full-auto mode on, I like what I see only about half the time.
The metering job is pretty good about seven times out of 10, though low light remains a daunting challenge with dynamic range — you can manually adjust metering very easily. HDR also often does a disservice by bleeding and oversaturating reds for sun on skin, greens for forestry and blue for sky-dominant shots. You can click on each image to see a larger view. Note the filename suffixes ending in “HDR” for pictures taken with high dynamic range settings and “LL” for low-light auto settings.
If you prefer words over pictures, let’s say that you won’t be able to stray too far from bright conditions for nice images in general, especially when it comes to selfies. The Moto G6 also has integrated Google Lens for object and text detection, which is something we’re pretty grateful to have.
The auxiliary focus sensor gets a few fun tricks such as the typical software-induced bokeh, color isolation and more. If you finagle around with the wrapping tolerance settings, you could work out a beautiful product. We think it’s worth a shot.
Video tops out at 1080p60. The autofocus gets twichy if there are too many elements on the viewfinder it has to work with. And if you’re looking to capture decent audio with your video, forget it — anything coming into the microphones sounds as if it had passed through water-clogged eardrum.
Between hours of podcast and music streaming and the occasional spurts on YouTube through LTE, it’s been the scant minutes of scanning Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that have taken the most power. Still, this is all a heavy diet, so being able last 8 or 9 hours here with a 3,000mAh battery is admirable and should convert to a day-long experience for most people.
Motorola notifies you when to “conserve” battery and to prepare for a charge well before the phone hits that 15 percent threshold before real power-saving measures take hold — one of those measures seems to be stopping podcasts from buffering, but that’s another story for another time.
Charging the device on its advertised 15W rate makes the term “TurboPower” a little misguided. While it would definitely be faster to charge the device while it’s off, the reality is that many of us in the world use our devices right up against the wall. Still, even when left to sleep, it takes near two hours to get from 1 percent to 100.
Network speeds were great in bustling parts of New York like Manhattan and less so further away as we headed into Nassau County, Long Island. Around the Metro Boston area, it was the same theme: urban spots were better covered than sparsely-populated suburbia.
The Moto G6 is a consumer’s smartphone. It’s not a power user’s phone. It’s not a content creator’s phone. It’s for people who like good, loud music and pretty decent visuals. You probably won’t be able to get a new device above $250 and below premium territory that gets this 100 percent. It aims to be a full-service phone that behaves like a flagship, but ends up just being mediocre at the cherries on top it wants to grab. And for the most part, we think it’s fine. When it comes to pushing the simpler amenities like good sound and good sight and a decent battery to boot, it might as well fit the bill for all the basics of a smartphone in 2018.
And given that this will be the only Moto G6 variant we’ll be getting in the United States, we’ll take what we can get.