Moto G6 review

For the price, it's hard to outshine the all-glass, big-screen Moto G6

We can forgive the Moto G6 of its little frustrations, because the overall package is such great value.
We can forgive the Moto G6 of its little frustrations, because the overall package is such great value.
We can forgive the Moto G6 of its little frustrations, because the overall package is such great value.

Highs

  • Fast-charging battery
  • Capable dual-lens camera
  • Competitive price
  • Good display
  • NFC for Google Pay

Lows

  • Short battery life
  • Software disappoints
  • Sluggish performance

Motorola is back. Really back, because its new generation of Moto G budget phones have the full Motorola brand name stamped on the front. None of that Moto only nonsense. It’s celebrating the 45th anniversary of being the creator of the phone used to make the first mobile call, and what better way than to launch three new desirable “G” phones (two in the U.S.). Meet the Motorola Moto G6, which we’ve been using for some time to find out if it’s our new best budget phone.

Glass is in

Forget metal. Glass is the premium material you want your phone made out of in 2018, at least, that’s what Motorola tells us, and it’s why the Moto G6 is made of the lovely, shiny, reflective, and breakable material. It’s Gorilla Glass 3, which should be slightly more durable, but a case may still be in order. The G6 body is warmer to the touch than you’d expect, but not as slippery as you may fear. It does attract dust and fingerprints, though.

Get it in the right light, and you’ll notice a neatly engineered “S” shape reflection in the rear panel, and we love the sunray-effect on the circular camera lens bump, making it resemble the face of a watch. However, the two camera lenses and flash unit inside also look like a little face, which is hard to un-see. It’s also a sizable camera bump, where the edges feel sharp. Weirdly, there’s a pronounced lip along the top and bottom of the rear panel, where the body and glass meet. We don’t think it’s poorly built, or an error in manufacturing, but it does feel out of place on such a well-engineered little phone.

The G6 body is warmer to the touch than you’d expect, but not as slippery as you may fear.

The curve of the body is reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S7, and therefore the Honor 9, all of which is a good thing as it’s supremely comfortable to hold. While glass is a premium material, and the phone is attractive, the G6 surprisingly doesn’t feel high-end. This is primarily due to its light weight, and the unusual texture means the glass doesn’t really feel like glass.

Is it going to smash into tiny pieces at the merest hint of a fall? Maybe, but Motorola does include a transparent silicone case, which was already fitted to our review phone in the box. It’ll protect the finish, and evens out the rear panel by blending into the camera bump. It’s a thoughtful inclusion, and will save you a few bucks, too.

Turn the phone over to see a slightly taller phone, with an 18:9 aspect ratio screen. The phone still has bezels, edges of the phone on the top and bottom of the screen, but they’re not as chunky as before. It’s not as bezel-less as the Galaxy S9, or Huawei P20. It’s more along the lines of the OnePlus 5T or the Honor View 10. A thin fingerprint sensor is fitted in the G6’s chin. It’s fast, but not lightning fast, especially when the screen is off. It’s easy to locate with your finger, which is key.

We’ve nitpicked on the design here. Why? The Moto G6 costs $250, but the phone feels like it should cost more than that, giving us higher expectations. You won’t nit-pick, and will instead marvel at how you paid so little for a phone this well designed. Sadly, it’s not very exciting to look at, a theme which continues elsewhere.

Sharp screen, and quirky software

The Moto G6 has a 5.7-inch, 18:9 aspect ratio LCD screen, with a 2,160 x 1,080 pixel resolution. It’s a beauty, with vivid colors and a pleasant tone. Photos taken with the camera look realistic and attractive when viewed on the screen, while games like Happy Hop burst out with vibrancy. We’d expect to see a display this good on a phone costing a lot more. It doesn’t get too bright though, and we often cranked the brightness to the max. This lower than expected brightness didn’t affect outdoor viewing greatly, and we didn’t have issues using Google Maps in the car, but the battery won’t be thanking you.

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The software is welcome on the one hand, and frustrating on the other. Motorola continues to do the right thing by presenting Android 8.0 Oreo in its standard form, with only a few software modifications. The March 2018 security update is currently installed on our review phone. Motorola told us that it’s dedicated to supporting the G6 with future software updates, and it’s not certain it will deliver Android 8.1, the phone will receive an update to Android P in the future. Good news.

One app installed by Motorola is the Moto app, which includes several customizations unique to the G6 range. We like Moto Actions, a variety of gesture controls that do speed up commonly-used features. Turn the phone over to mute a call, swipe to shrink the screen down for easy one-hand use, and a double “chop” to turn the flashlight on or off.

We love the sunray-effect on the circular camera lens bump.

One Button navigation turns the fingerprint sensor into a multi-function alternative to the Android Back, Menu, and Home buttons. This makes the most of the long 18:9 screen, and some may find it faster to use than the buttons. It’s not enabled by default, which is also good, and doesn’t force anyone to learn something new unless they want to. We tried it for a while, but eventually returned to the regular Android buttons. They aren’t broken, so they don’t need fixing.

We do have some issues with the software. An annoyance is the seemingly forced use of Outlook for email during setup. Despite trying not to use the pre-installed app, it was impossible to complete the setup process without it. Additionally, we didn’t like Moto Key, an alternative to Google’s Autofill password system, which doesn’t offer any major benefit on mobile over Google’s system, and requires a Lenovo ID and sharing of login and passwords. It does integrate with Windows PCs, which may benefit some people, but that also needs an additional piece of software installed. A lot of bother for not a lot of point.

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Then there’s Moto Voice, a voice assistant that’s in beta and disabled by default. It operates in a very similar way to Google Assistant, which is also available, and can perform actions including composing messages, turning on or off Bluetooth, and returning web search results. It does have a voice unlock feature. Say, “Hello Moto,” and from a black screen your phone springs into life; but it’s difficult to say when we’d actually use this.

Sluggish performance

This is a mid-range phone, so don’t expect it to challenge the best flagship phones. Inside is a Snapdragon 450 processor with 3GB of RAM.

We ran some benchmarks to find out where it stands:

  • AnTuTu: 70,827
  • Geekbench 4: Single-core 748; multi-core 3,859
  • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 441

This puts the G6 beyond the outgoing Moto G5S, and just ahead of the Honor 7X; but slightly behind the HTC U11 Life. Remember, benchmarks are fine for comparison’s sake, but aren’t representative of a device’s overall ability.

In the real world, the Moto G6 has acceptable performance. This is not a multitasking powerhouse though, and we did experience some frustration when leaping from app to app, particularly data-heavy Google Maps to Google Photos, for example, which is slow to start up. Google Photos is the G6’s default gallery app, and it can get very slow. Due to its reliance on data, it became unresponsive when signal was low, and it was impossible to view the camera’s photo album.

We wanted more battery performance out of the Moto G6.

Playing simple games didn’t present a problem. Playing more complex, higher-performance titles like Reckless Racing 3 was fine on the default setting; increase the frame rate up and you’ll run into problems. Mid-range phones have improved dramatically recently, especially with Honor releasing some very good and very cheap devices. Putting the $200 Honor 7X alongside the Moto G6 does make the latter feel a little sluggish, in a way that standard Android really shouldn’t.

We’ll put this down to software optimization, due to the benchmark results being superior to the Honor 7X. We know it’s not a $900 phone, but the slightly sluggish performance didn’t inspire us to use the phone for tasks that required speed. If you’re a power user, this isn’t the phone for you.

Capable camera with gimmicks

There are two camera lenses on the back of the G6 — a 12-megapixel lens with an f/1.8 aperture, and a 5-megapixel secondary lens. Motorola has added various features in an effort to make using the two lenses more fun. The first is Spot Colour, where all other colors except the one selected turns to black and white. It’s moderately effective, but requires the right scene to really pop. The problem is if the scene is too busy with colors, is plagued by reflection, or in very bright sunlight, it gets confused and doesn’t separate them effectively.

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There’s a Portrait mode too, which is considerably better than the one we tried on the Moto X4, which suffered terribly with slow speed. This is version two of the software introduced on the X4, and it’s much faster. Shutter lag is greatly reduced, but it is still there if you’re too fast into the camera app from startup. There is some slowdown when swapping between modes as well. The camera app itself is decent, with a single swipe bringing in the menus, so it’s easy to use.

Take photos everyday with the Moto G6, and it’ll perform well.

Take photos everyday with the Moto G6, and it’ll perform well. It captured blue skies attractively, and colors are vibrant and accurate. The extra modes are fun, but we probably wouldn’t end up using them on a regular basis, mainly due to the advertised function not being quite as good as the hype. A good example of this would be Face Filters, which adds Snapchat-style looks to your selfies. They’re effective enough, but quite often they don’t look very good. If that’s your experience on the first try, you may not return.

The front-facing selfie camera is acceptable, but we had trouble getting the automatic beauty mode to work, as it often refused to recognize a face for more than a second. It can also be used manually, which also didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

It feels as though Motorola should take a step back with adding all these gimmicky features, and should prioritize software optimization and speed first.

Battery and other features

It’s a 3,000mAh battery inside the Moto G6, which Motorola said will last a day. This estimation is accurate, provided your definition of a day is about 12 hours. For us, the Moto G6 lasted from early in the morning until after the work day ended. On a day using GPS and taking photos, the battery did deplete quickly; and only just lasted until we were home.

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The TurboPower fast-charging system with the USB Type-C port is very welcome, especially at this price, and gives six hours use from 15 minutes of charging. We wanted more out of the battery on the Moto G6, which is often a major consideration at this price.

NFC is onboard for Google Pay, giving it a point over the Honor 7X, plus there’s Dolby Audio enhancements for music playback, but there’s only so much a single speaker can do.

Price, availability, and warranty

In the U.S. the 3GB RAM and 32GB storage version of the Moto G6 costs $250, and in the U.K. it’s 220 British pounds. In the U.K., through an offer with Amazon, you can buy a 4GB RAM and 64GB storage version of the Moto G6 for 240 British pounds, which is good value considering the amount of extra storage. The Moto G6 does have space for a MicroSD card in its hybrid SIM tray.

The phone is available now and sold online and through carriers in the U.S. and in the U.K. In the U.S., Verizon is offering the phone online and in stores for $10 a month, paid over two years. The warranty period in the U.S. is 12 months, but 24 months in the U.K., but it doesn’t cover normal wear-and-tear, including the battery. Motorola will either repair, replace, or refund you in the event of a claim, depending on the situation.

Other Moto G6 models

There are three Motorola Moto G6 phones. The G6 we reviewed here is the middle of the three, and it’ll be joined in the U.S. by the cheaper, $200 Moto G6 Play. It has a lower specifications, and doesn’t have Gorilla Glass. In the U.K. and other parts of the world, Motorola will also sell the Moto G6 Plus, which is a step above the Moto G6 with a slightly larger screen and a faster Snapdragon 630 processor.

Our Take

The Moto G6 defines what a good value smartphone should be like by including all the features and design flourishes you want, without an off-putting price tag. Software isn’t its strong point, and the battery isn’t large enough; but it’s great for casual and first-time smartphone owners.

What are the alternatives?

When the original Moto G was released, it faced almost no meaningful competition. The Moto G6 doesn’t enjoy such uniqueness, and if you’ve got less than $300 to spend on a phone, there are multiple choices.

Honor presents a stiff challenge with the Honor 7X and the Honor 9 Lite; both are excellent phones with strong features–and a very low price. The Honor 7X is $200, and the Honor 9 Lite $250.

The new Nokia 6.1 is a $270 phone with Android One, recently launched in the U.S., and is joined by the Nokia 6 internationally. We recently reviewed it and found it to be the best phone under $300. Sony’s Xperia XA2 is $350, but has a better camera on the back, and you’ll also pay around that much for the HTC U11 Life and an iPhone SE. If you’re willing to wait a little longer and save up a little more money, we recommend taking a look at the Honor View 10 and the upcoming OnePlus 6.

How long will it last?

The Moto G6 isn’t any more durable than other glass-bodied phones, so make sure you use a case if you’re prone to dropping phones. It doesn’t have an IP-rating for water resistance — although Motorola says it has a water resistant coating — so if it takes a bath, it’ll probably break. Motorola has promised to supply software updates, and our model runs Android 8.0 Oreo with the March 2018 security patch.

It’s a mid-range phone, and we’d expect that in a year or two’s time, you may want to upgrade to something faster. It won’t stop working, of course, and provided you have realistic expectations of its ability, will serve you for much longer if you’re not interested in joining the continuous smartphone upgrade cycle.

Should you buy one?

Yes. It’s very difficult to hold the Moto G6’s downsides against it. The software could do with some improvement; but it’s perfectly usable provided you don’t expect too much, and the camera is still good, even if the special features aren’t quite as much fun as Motorola makes them out to be. The battery doesn’t last long enough, but with fast charge this isn’t quite a concern. Ultimately, the Moto G6 costs $250, and for that it’s excellent value.

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