It seems like a very long time since I reviewed the original Moto G. In truth, it was only 3 and a half years ago, but a lot has changed since then. In the mobile industry, this is a very long time indeed.
Conceived during Google’s tenure over the Motorola brand, the first G became a sleeper hit. Sturdily designed, the device offered a seemingly unmatched price-to-performance ratio.
Since then, Moto has passed to Lenovo and the G has received a few facelifts. Last year’s G4 was perhaps the most controversial change. The once affordable & pocketable handset suddenly had a 5.5″ and fairly high price tag at launch.
In response, Lenovo have dialled back a bit with the Moto G5. At £170 the Moto G is no longer a true ‘budget’ or entry-level phone. It does though manage to return to the excellent cost/specification mix of earlier versions.
Moto G5 Video Review
Read on after the video for the full written review
Moto G5 Key Specifications
- Android 7.0 Nougat
- 1.4 GHz octa-core Qualcomm® Snapdragon 430 processor
- 5-inch Full HD (1080 x 1920) IPS display
- Removable 2,800 mAh battery
- Rear 13MP camera with Phase Detection AutoFocus
- Front-facing 5MP camera with wide angle lens
- Fingerprint reader with swipe navigation
For this review I have used the single SIM model with 2GB RAM & 16GB storage. A dual SIM model with 3GB RAM has also been manufactured, but is not yet available.
The standard G5 model goes back to a 5-inch screen. In a world of big screens, 5″ is the new sweet spot – you won’t find much smaller. The G5’s IPS panel stays at 1920×1080 Full HD too. Many other affordable phones drop the resolution to 720p.
The build and shape of the Moto G5 is reminiscent of the first 3 iterations as well. The chunky design doesn’t feel ugly or thick but is pleasantly weighty in hand. The G4 lost this; its slim construction and aluminium frame emulated ‘premium’ phones but was removed from the G’s existing personality.
I do miss the old ‘banana curve’ and rear dimple on G1-3. I feel that gave the G a bit of character and truly felt comfortable. The new Moto G5 is more utilitarian. Straight up and down, with only a hint of curvature across the back.
The back cover has a two-tone effect and is removable. It looks like the central piece of the cover would remove, but actually you have to peel the whole rear of the phone away.
This reveals the SIM/SD trays (doing away those annoying ejector pins) and, in a first for the G, a removable battery. This was a surprise as even recent entry level phones use sealed constructions. This one feature may pull in a certain subset of buyers.
Elsewhere – the camera is surrounded by a large black circle. This mimics the design language of Moto’s Z range. The volume rocker and power button have satisfying travel and click.
The fascia is a little busy. A fingerprint sensor sits on the chin where a bottom speaker used to be. This is a simple oval pad; it doesn’t click but can act as a navigation button. On the top bezel you’ll find the main speaker, selfie camera and moto logo.
Overall there’s nothing to dislike. The only detraction is the micro USB (micro-B) port, instead of the newer USB Type-C.
Out of the box you’ll find a pretty bare-bones Android 7.0 installed. At a glance you may think this is a stock install but it isn’t. The basic Android/Google launcher is running, although some Moto tweaks are in the settings.
These include a Moto privacy and data section for reporting user information back to Moto. These options can be toggled off for the privacy-conscious user.
There is also the option to sign up for a Lenovo ID. This gives you some options for synchronisation and backups with Lenovo’s cloud services. Again, this is opt-in. Those who like to take deeper control of their backups may find this useful. Others may not want their data sat on Lenovo’s servers. The choice is yours…
Moto Gestures & Notifications
For those not in the know:
- Karate Chop twice to turn the flashlight on
- Twist the phone around twice to load the camera
- Flip the phone over for Do Not Disturb mode
- Pick up to stop ringing
- Notifications fade in/out when the screen is off with an interactive button
The fingerprint sensor can also be used for one button navigation. Tapping the pad will then go home and swiping left/right across it will go back or to recent apps. Having this option enabled will remove the standard Android navigation bar. It takes a little getting used to but is smooth once you get the hang of it.
All of the above are accessed from the ‘Moto’ app, and are not available in the standard settings.
Android 7 (Nougat)
Nougat’s been out for a while, but it’s appearance on cheaper phones will be some people’s first experience of it. There aren’t many new features; this is refinement not revolution.
The bottom of the home screen has changed. You can now dock 5 apps here, one taking the place of the app drawer. Accessing that is now done by a swipe up from the bottom of the screen. We move ever closer to fully gesture-based interaction with the UI. Snapchat will be pleased…
Other Android 7 improvements are subtle. Better battery life through an update to Doze. Support for switching languages on the keyboard quickly. Oh and the native Daydream VR. These are all fairly niche though.
If you tap the recent apps button, the usual vertical list of active apps is displayed. A prompt at the top of the screen explains how to access split screen. You have to drag a window to this area and it will lock in place, taking up half the screen. The other half still shows the vertical app list for you to choose a second window.
And off you go. It does work, although at this screen size you are left feeling very cramped. I personally can’t see it improving productivity for many outside of tablet size screens.
One use I did find was playing a YouTube video (which still won’t play in the background) alongside browsing. Being made to read articles on half a 5-inch screen wasn’t pleasant though.
The Android navigation buttons change in split screen too. The recent apps square becomes an ‘equals’ (=) sign, denoting two apps. If you go back to Home, which is always full screen, opening a new app will return you to split screen, replacing the second (right or bottom) app. The only time this doesn’t work is for apps which don’t support split screen such as the camera.
Getting out of split screen is a simple swipe up or to the left.
It’s oft-repeated but a camera really can make or break a phone. Next to the screen, the camera is likely the most expensive individual component. Yet so much about camera quality rests on more than just sticking a good lens in there.
Image processing and software trickery can utterly change the final result. This is one of the reasons cheaper handsets often have poor cameras. Those manufacturers generally don’t have the resources to develop a decent imaging app. Simply leaving the Google Camera app supplied with stock Android (as many do) can result in barely passable results without additional testing.
The Moto G has always walked a tightrope here. The Moto Camera is basic, certainly not of the same level as a top tier iPhone, Galaxy or LG. You do still get manual options. For instance switching to Pro mode provides white balance, ISO etc.
If there is one marked improvement over the last generation Moto G, it would be PDAF. An acronym for Phase Detection AutoFocus, this has been all the rage in more expensive devices for a year or so.
PDAF is the foil to Contrast Detection AutoFocus, which is cheaper and easier to implement. Without doing a science bit, the simpler CDAF is generally considered much slower for stills and landscapes. It’s also arguably not as refined. PDAF often focuses faster and more accurately on moving subjects too, but not always if the background changes rapidly alongside.
PDAF does still require a decent natural contrast in the subjects to focus well. As a result, low light images on the Moto G5 still aren’t amazing. You may also find some difficulty getting the contrast right between very light and dark areas in the same image. Overexposure in the sky can also be an issue.
These situations are all better than they ever have been on a G of course, but far from the best in mobile. The most expensive devices still have improved lenses and larger pixels to increase captured light for these situations.
Still, this is the best camera to grace a Moto G, and by extension, one of the better cameras you’ll find on a phone of this price.
Putting the G4 to one side a little, good phone that it is, the G range has mostly succeeded through simplicity. The design, interface and capabilities have always been welcoming and easy to understand. There are then more advanced capabilities just a few touches away for users that know about them.
The specification too, whilst never groundbreaking, always ensures the phones perform well. This is something many other cheaper phones, even today, forget when pushing the cost down.
Moto G phones work across many demographics: teenager liable to break things, money-conscious student (who may also break things), senior looking at a first smartphone etc.
I’m happy to say the Moto G5 is more of the same. Once again we have a basic smartphone with up to date hardware & software, that is pleasant and simple to use.
There is undoubtedly more competition in this tier of phones than ever before. For those not wanting to drudge through pages of comparisons and specifications though, the Moto G5 is a solid choice. As all Moto G phones have been.
It’s the Ford Fiesta of phones. It’s a Samsung TV or a Hotpoint washing machine. Getting the job done well without costing too much or shouting too loud about it.