Motorola Moto G (2015) review

Why spend more? With so much for $180, the Moto G will make you wonder

The new Moto G may not have cutting-edge specs, but it’s all the phone you need and – at just $180 -- an incredible deal.
The new Moto G may not have cutting-edge specs, but it’s all the phone you need and – at just $180 -- an incredible deal.
The new Moto G may not have cutting-edge specs, but it’s all the phone you need and – at just $180 -- an incredible deal.

Highs

  • Excellent value for the $180 price
  • Moto Maker customization options
  • Waterproof rating of IPX 7
  • Best camera on a budget phone

Lows

  • Not the fastest processor
  • Plastic back is a little creaky

Motorola set the gold standard for budget phones with the first Moto G — the new one raises the bar yet again. Other sub-$200 phones will turn green with envy over the 2015 Moto G’s fun customizable color options, waterproof build, and sharp, 13-megapixel camera. It’s a killer budget phone, and Motorola’s selling it for just $180 — $10 more than HTC’s sleek Desire 626S, which has slightly less-powerful specs.

The kick-ass camera and Moto Maker customization options are the cherries on top an already sweet deal, but is it worth buying if you’ve got an older Moto G or some other budget phone? We’ve used the new Moto G for a few weeks to let you know how it handles daily use.

Make it your own with Moto Maker

Most budget phones are as ugly as homemade sin – with the noted exception of HTC’s Desire 626, which was recently released. Motorola’s new Moto G is prettier than most, and Motorola offers some truly fabulous colorful back covers that will overjoy anyone bored to death of black. We saw a charming goldenrod yellow, hot pink, bright green, and a number of other excellent color options at the Motorola launch event. You can even customize the metal accent on the back of the phone with a bright pop of color.

It’s a brilliant idea to expand Moto Maker’s customization engine to the Moto G. Even though it’s Motorola’s cheapest smartphone, it’s also one of the company’s most popular devices ever – especially in emerging markets. Anyone who wants to buy their kid a cool looking phone or just wants to save money on their own device will be glad to have more than the basic black option.

The build is mostly solid, and despite lacking a metal frame, the Moto G feels sturdy. The slight curve to the back makes it comfortable to hold, though it is chunkier in the middle than HTC’s Desire 626. The only issue we had with the back cover is that it creaks if you press down next to the metal insert in the center on the back. The Moto G is a budget phone, so it can’t be perfect, but after holding the HTC Desire 626, which has a seamless plastic build that feels wildly premium for such a cheap phone, the little creak was disappointing.

This could simply be an issue with our early review unit, though. Customer reviews of the new Moto G’s build quality are overwhelmingly positive. Also, after we removed the back cover and put it back on, it seemed less creaky.

Solid specs for a sub-$200 phone

The Moto G’s durable, waterproof body sports a 5-inch touchscreen with a 720p resolution. Although it’s not 1080p, the Moto G’s screen is luminous and sharp. (If you want to pick a fight about pixels, you shouldn’t even look at phones that cost less than $400.) The 720p looks screen great on the Moto G, and only pixel purists will notice the absence of those extra dots. I had no problem watching Netflix and YouTube videos on the 720p screen while on the go. Of course, the lack of pixels is noticeable from time to time, especially when you’re zooming in on pictures. Regardless, for what you’re paying, the Moto G’s 720p screen is more than fine.

Motorola built a solid phone and didn’t compromise the spec sheet in any major way

Unlike some previous Moto G phones, this one is fully loaded with 4G LTE high-speed capabilities. It was excellent at streaming videos at 4G speeds, and I never noticed lag while checking email, sending messages on Slack, browsing the Web, or any of the normal tasks people use their phones for. Although the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor — a quad-core, 64-bit chip running at 1.4GHz — isn’t the fastest chip in the world, it gets the job done without a hitch. It’s also a lot faster than the Snapdragon 210 in the HTC Desire 626, which is still better than what you’d find in almost any budget phone.

Motorola will offer two versions of the Moto G, one a 2GB RAM and16GB storage combo, and another 1GB RAM and 8GB storage version. Regardless of which you choose, the MicroSD card slot will allow you to expand the memory significantly. The extra space will definitely come in handy for most users, as even 16GB runs out fast if you like to take pictures and download apps.

Just like the Moto X and all of Motorola’s phones, the Moto G runs pure Android 5.1.1 Lollipop as Google intended. Fans of stock Android will be pleased with the clean look. I personally love stock Android, and manufacturers that leave well enough alone. Motorola’s choice to stick with Google’s pure experience is part of what makes its phones so pleasant to use. They also get updated to the newest version of the OS almost as quickly as Google’s Nexus phones.

Motorola-Moto-G-2015_0671
Jessica Lee Star/Digital Trends
Jessica Lee Star/Digital Trends

Shockingly, the Moto G is really all the phone you need. As much as we like to brag about having the latest and greatest phones with the fastest processors and the sharpest screens, most people really only need a simple, powerful phone like the new Moto G. It makes you wonder if the whole flagship experience isn’t just good marketing. Of course, if you’re a gamer, you may need more power; and if you stream every show and movie on your phone, 720p won’t make you happy.

A flagship’s camera on a budget phone

The camera alone is likely motivation enough for many wallet-conscious shoppers to consider the Moto G. After all, the exact same 13-megapixel camera on the back of the Moto G can be found on the Nexus 6, which in case you’ve forgotten is a $600+ flagship made by both Motorola and Google. Although Motorola fields complaints with its cameras, the one in the Nexus 6 was decent, certainly more than good enough for a budget phone.

The Moto G’s camera suffers from the same problems that plagued the Nexus 6 after sunset.

The camera also sports an improved lens, an IR filter, an f/2.0 aperture, and a dual-tone color-balancing flash. We snapped a few shots with it on a sunny day in New York, and came away with lovely pictures of the Empire State Building and the city streets. Indoor photographs are iffier, and low-light shots are just grainy and terrible. The Moto G’s camera suffers from the same problems that plagued the Nexus 6 after sunset. Those who demand a high-end photography experience on their smartphones won’t be satisfied with the limitations of this camera sensor.

It’s not the best, but you won’t be disappointed, having spent less than $200 for a decent camera and otherwise impressive budget phone.

Meanwhile, a 5-megapixel selfie camera sits on the front of the device — higher resolution than the one on last year’s iPhone, which again, costs more than $500. That’s the same resolution as the one on the new iPhone 6S, which will start at $650. Motorola invested in cameras on the Moto G, which makes perfect sense. People buy smartphones in part to take nice pictures. However, most budget phones offer terrible cameras with super low resolutions. Not so with the new Moto G.

As long as you’re taking pictures during a sunny or slightly cloudy day, you should be okay. The Moto G has undoubtedly one of the best cameras on a sub-$200 phone.

All-day battery life even with heavy use

Other than the camera and performance, the most important aspect of a smartphone is battery life: Can it get you though the day? Luckily, the answer in Motorola’s case is yes – that and more.

A 2,470mAh battery powers the new Moto G, and it lasts almost a day and a half, thanks in large part to that 720p screen. No matter how much you use this phone, it keeps on ticking the entire workday and on into the night. If you don’t use your phone too much, the Moto G could certainly last you two days. I typically charged it at the end of the day just so that it was ready to go the next day, though.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a good smartphone, you don’t need the latest and greatest, and you’ve got $200 burning a hole in your pocket – look no further than the Moto G. The customization options, high-res camera, and long-lasting battery take it to another level that most budget phones don’t come close to approaching.

Motorola built a solid phone and didn’t compromise the spec sheet in any major way. The Moto G may not have cutting-edge specs, but it’s all the phone your average user needs. In fact, if you told a power user that this is the new flagship phone from Motorola, they’d need a discerning eye to figure out you’re lying. The Moto G is impressive, and for less than $200, it’s an incredible deal.

Highs

  • Excellent value for the $180 price
  • Moto Maker customization options
  • Waterproof rating of IPX 7
  • Best camera on a budget phone

Lows

  • Not the fastest processor
  • Plastic back is a little creaky
Mobile

Apple applies for a patent on a wrap-around iPhone display

Previously, Apple was awarded a patent for a foldable phone, and the company has been rumored to be working on one. But it's not at all similar to other concepts. Here's everything we know about a folding iPhone.
Deals

Save up to $850 with the best smartphone deals for November 2018

Need a better phone but don't want to spend a fortune? It's never a bad time to score a new smartphone and save some cash. We rounded up the best smartphone deals available that can save you as much as $850.
Deals

The best iPhone deals for November 2018

Apple devices can get expensive, but if you just can't live without iOS, don't despair: We've curated an up-to-date list of all of the absolute best iPhone deals available for November 2018.
Computing

These laptop bags will keep your notebook secure wherever you go

Choosing the right laptop bag is no easy feat -- after all, no one likes to second-guess themselves. Here are some of the best laptop bags on the market, from backpacks to sleeves, so you can get it right the first time around.
Mobile

The 100 best Android apps turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

Choosing which apps to download is tricky, especially given how enormous and cluttered the Google Play Store has become. We rounded up 100 of the best Android apps and divided them neatly, with each suited for a different occasion.
Mobile

How does fast charging work? Here’s every single standard compared

Modern smartphones can charge in mere minutes instead of hours. How does fast charging work? Here's a guide to the most popular standards, including Qualcomm Quick Charge, Apple fast charging, OnePlus Dash Charge, and more.
Mobile

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 display could be bigger than the iPhone XS Max screen

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 was only released a few months ago, but Samsung is already working on a follow-up. Not much is known about the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 just yet, but we do have a few details.
Deals

The Best Black Friday Deals from Best Buy in 2018

We've been hard at work assembling all the best Black Friday deals Best Buy offers in 2018 and putting them in one place to save you time and money this holiday season. From laptops to TVs, game consoles to smart speakers and much more…
Mobile

Keep your phone organized with one of the best file managers for Android

Your smartphone has a limited amount of storage space and all sorts of files tend to accumulate if you let them. To keep things in order and find what you need, you should snag one of the best file managers for Android.
Mobile

Upcoming Honor View 20 may forgo the notch for new display technology

Nearly a year after Honor released the spectacular Honor View 10, the Chinese smartphone giant appears to be hard at work on its successor, the Honor View 20. Here's everything we know about the upcoming midrange powerhouse.
Deals

The best Walmart Black Friday deals in 2018

Walmart has historically been the undisputed king of Black Friday deals. The mega-store is known for offering deals on products in almost every category, from smart TVs to children’s toys. We're combing through every deal as it is…
Mobile

The Google Photos iOS app gets a bit better, now has depth control

Google updated the iOS version of the Google Photos app to now take advantage of the depth data that can be captured by the iPhone's camera in Portrait Mode. The new feature is already available in the Android app.
Mobile

T-Mobile-Sprint merger could close as early as first quarter of 2019, exec says

T-Mobile and Sprint are finally merging. After a few failed attempts, the two companies announced their merger at the start of 2018. Once it's complete, the new T-Mobile could be better positioned to take on the likes of Verizon and AT&T.
Smart Home

All the best Amazon Black Friday deals for 2018

Amazon may be an online-only retailer, but that doesn’t mean its Black Friday sales are anything to sniff at. In fact, due to its online status, Amazon has huge flexibility with the range of products and deals it can offer. Here's our…