Before getting on with our full review of the 2014 Moto G, let me share a moment with you that sums up this phone the best from my perspective. It was perhaps the most awkward silence during my hours-long tour of the Motorola complex in Chicago earlier this month. During the portion of the afternoon when I and a handful of other reporters spoke with members of the team behind the latest iteration of the mid-range, inexpensive Moto G, someone asked why there was no 4G LTE radio included.
"We aren't making an announcement about that at this time," one of the leads for marketing the Moto G responded.
That was over two weeks ago, and there's still no word on a second generation Moto G with LTE, which is a shame because it's the one flaw that's tough to forgive in a phone that delivers lots of value for just $180 (or £150 and AU$269 in Australia). A GSM LTE version of the first-generation Moto G was released in June for $219, and even with the improvements in the new Moto G, it's hard not to recommend grabbing the available LTE version or waiting for the 2nd generation to get 4G.
I've always felt that once you go 4G, going back down to 3G is almost too painful to bear, but there are certainly plenty of potential Moto G customers out there who don't prioritize fast data speeds nearly as much, or may not even have access to a 4G signal. Indeed, the Moto G is Motorola's best-selling smartphone ever, thanks to adoption in huge emerging countries like India and Brazil. Still, 4G coverage is beginning to come online in places like Sao Paulo and Kolkata, both among the world's twenty largest cities, so the appeal of an HSPA+ 3G-only smartphone will inevitably decline, perhaps sooner than later. Now that we have my chief complaint out of the way, let's continue on and look at what else the new Moto G has to offer.
MVP: Most Valuable Phone
As I've already pointed out, the Moto G is Motorola's biggest seller ever and it's easy to say why. It brings with it almost the same experience you get in Motorola's flagship Moto X, but for a low price tag that provides unmatched value as far as I've seen. Sure, the specs are a step down from the Moto X, but it's available for 60 percent of the cost of an unlocked Moto X (2014) and the specs are definitely not a 60 percent step down from the Moto X.
The 2nd generation Moto G actually maintains most of the original guts from its first generation, including 1GB RAM, a Snapdragon 400 1.2 GHz quad-core CPU and Adreno 305 GPU. Clearly, Motorola decided not to fix something that wasn't broken. However, some of the latest, more resource-demanding apps and games may tax the Moto G, creating more lag and hang time than you could have expected to experience with the same specs in 2013. That's just the way the technology game is played.
It's not all the same this time around, though. Like most other 2014 phones, the Moto G is larger than its predecessor, growing from a 4.5-inch 720p display to a 5-inch 720p screen. This IPS display performs surprising well, delivering quite vivid color, but photos and videos lack a bit of the contrast of higher pixel-density displays and there is a tendency for warm hues to wash out. That said, most users will probably find little to complain about.
That extra real estate helped allow Motorola to do away with the single rear speaker on the original Moto G and replace it with two nice, front-facing stereo speakers like those seen on the budget Moto E. While this is a nice change that provides a decent level of volume, the sound quality can only be described as average. Turn it up all the way and expect to swim (or at least wade) in some sonic distortion.
A big addition in the second generation is an SD card slot that can support up to 32 GB of added storage. The slot can be found under the removable plastic back that can be replaced with an array of different colored backs and even a flip cover to provide that extra bit of Moto customization.
The camera has been upgraded from 5 megapixels to 8, and the front-facer has also received a bump from 1.3 to 2 megapixels. Also new is the ability to activate the camera shutter with the physical volume buttons.
Here's an example of the Moto G's rear shooter in action (note that our images get downscaled for the web):
All this hardware makes for a phone that's thicker and heavier than the original Moto G as well as both generations of the Moto X, but it's a small sacrifice to make. The above specs rival other mid-range versions of big name phones like the HTC One Remix or the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, but again, the huge difference with the Moto G is that it costs about 60 percent less.
I've generally found the battery life on the Moto G to be a little better than both the original Moto X and the 2014 Moto X. It easily makes it through the day with moderate to heavy usage, and when used a little more sparingly, you can get pretty far into a second day of use without recharging. I've got to assume that the lack of the Moto X's extra sensors, always listening touchless control (now called Moto Voice) and active display that constantly pulses on and off make the Moto G less resource hungry and give the battery more longevity, despite being relatively small at just 2070 mAh.
An FM Radio and optional dual sim and DTV (only in Brazil) models also make the Moto G hardware a little more appealing in markets where such things are a nice bonus.
A soft touch to software
There's not a whole lot to say about the software experience on the Moto G, because it is basically stock Android 4.4.4 with just a few Motorola additions like Assist, Alert and Migrate. The new G also gets Motorola's "Trusted Devices" feature that allows the lock screen to be bypassed when connected to known Bluetooth accessories.
Add that to Google's voice search and the text-to-voice feature included in Moto Assist, and the Moto G still packs some of the best software goodies that helped make the Moto X a critical favorite.
Gizmag's review unit is only 8 GB, and nearly half of that was full before downloading a single app, so the addition of the SD card slot is a big deal here.
Need a smartphone without a contract and want to spend less than $200 on it? Buy this Moto G if LTE is not on your radar. If you're looking for that extra data speed boost, get the first generation Moto G LTE model. It's just that simple.
Motorola is a hugely underrated device maker in a world where Apple and Samsung grab the lion's share of attention. But that could soon change with the company's sale to China's Lenovo and its building momentum towards becoming a major player worldwide.
Product page: Motorola.