Moto G 2nd Gen review – now with Android 5.0 and 4G

It’s no secret that budget smartphones are often small, chunky devices with sub-par screens and under-powered specs. This all changed when the original Moto G launched at the end of 2013, as it revolutionised what we came to expect from a budget handset. However, it was still, by current standards, a compact phone with a small 4.5in display.

Now, the successor to Motorola’s best-ever-selling smartphone, the 2nd Gen Moto G (2nd Gen), has a large 5in display, giving you great value performance on a big screen. At the time, it was incredible that Motorola managed to keep the price down to £145, but now the 2nd Gen Moto G has some serious competition from the £125 Vodafone Smart Ultra 6, which has a faster chipset, a 5.5in Full HD display and a bigger, 13-megapixel camera.

Of course, you’ll need to switch to Vodafone in order to get hold of the Smart Ultra 6, but it does mean the 2nd Gen Moto G isn’t quite as good value as it once was. Even the latest model, the brand new 3rd Gen Moto G can’t really compete with it, but if you’re already happy on another network then the Moto G is still the next best alternative for those who want an excellent cheap smartphone.

While the 2nd Gen Moto G isn’t as good as the 3rd Gen model, it is around £20-40 cheaper, so it’s still worth considering until stock is eventually fazed out. You also won’t miss out on Android 5.0 Lollipop by choosing the 2nd Gen Moto G, as you can start using Google’s latest operating system once you’ve performed a simple system update. The 2nd Gen Moto G also launched without any 4G support, but Motorola has since fazed out this model in favour of a proper 4G version. Be careful when buying, though, as some of the 3G version may still be in stock.

The Moto G 2nd Gen is available in both 8GB and 16GB models, but both come with the ability to expand the storage up to 32GB via microSD card slot – a feature we’re pleased to see continued from the 4G version of the old Moto G. Unusually for the UK, it’s also available in both dual and single SIM varieties. In the dual SIM version you can use two SIM cards at the same time, which is great if you have a second SIM, usually for cheap calls overseas.

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The new Moto G still ships with Android 4.4.4, but you’ll be able to update to Android 5.0 Lollipop as soon as you take it out of the box 

Display

Motorola’s outstanding build quality returns for the Moto G 2nd Gen. Its curved back, which measures 6mm at its thinnest point and 11mm at its thickest, is extremely comfortable to hold, and its feather-light weight of 149g is just 6g heavier than the old Moto G – an impressive feat for a considerably larger handset. The screen is also surrounded by the Moto G’s new front-ported dual speakers, which deliver impressive-sounding audio for your films and music.

The 5in screen is beautiful. The resolution is still 1,280×720, so the new Moto G actually has a lower pixel density of 293 PPI (pixels-per-inch) compared to the old Moto G’s PPI of 326, but the screen still looks perfectly crisp and sharp.

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The screen isn’t quite as bright this time round, but our peak measurement of 350.7cd/m2 means the screen is still perfectly legible both in and outdoors. Colour accuracy is also a little lower than the old Moto G as well; we measured the new handset as covering 87.2 per cent of the sRGB colour gamut, compared to the old model’s 98.4 per cent. The trade-off is noticeably deeper black levels, which we measured at an impressive 0.36cd/m2.

Measured contrast was also excellent, at 960:1. This high contrast level helped the screen produce plenty of detail in our high-contrast test images, and the screen’s viewing angles were equally superb. When we placed the new Moto G to our side, we could still see the screen clearly with hardly any discolouration present onscreen.

Camera

Motorola has also improved the Moto G’s camera, which is great news as the camera was one of the old Moto G’s weakest areas. The phone now comes with an 8-megapixel rear sensor with an f2.0 aperture, and you also have the option to change the aspect ratio from 16:9 to 4:3. The old Moto G, by comparison, was locked to 16:9. The new Moto G has all the same photo modes available, too, including HDR and Panorama modes.

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^ Interchangeable shells and flip cases are also available for the new Moto G for either £10.99 or £22.49 from Motorola

Outdoors, our photos looked rich and much more natural than the old Moto G’s images, and there was much more detail on show. The brickwork in our test scene was crystal-clear and the sky didn’t suffer from any signs of overexposure. Objects further away were a little fuzzy compared to those in the foreground, but it’s still a huge step up from most other budget cameras from similarly priced phones.

We were pleased with the Moto G’s HDR mode, too. The effect was sometimes a little strong, but it helped bring a lot more definition to our shots and helped brighten what was otherwise a very gloomy afternoon. The accuracy of the colours wasn’t affected by HDR either, so images still looked great regardless of whether HDR was turned on or off.

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^ Colours still looked good even in overcast, cloudy weather

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^ HDR mode brightened our photo considerably, dispelling the non-HDR shot’s gloomy shadows

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^ The 8-megapixel camera provides a lot more detail than the old Moto G’s sensor

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^ To get an 8-megapixel camera with HDR on a sub-£150 phone is almost unheard of

Performance

Inside, the Moto G 2nd Gen is similar to the original handset. Both phones use a quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, so the phone’s performance has remained largely unchanged. The new Moto G scored 1,478ms in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, which is in line with the old Moto G’s score of 1,410ms. At launch this was a little disappointing but with the handset yet to be replaced a year on, it’s really starting to show its age, practically any modern budget phone can now surpass it in benchmarks, including the more recent Moto E 2nd Gen.

That said, it’s still fine in practice. Loading up The Guardian’s desktop home page poses no problem for the Moto G, and you can scroll up and down the page with no stutter or hesitation whatsoever. The screen’s resolution of 1,280×720 is also clear enough to read headlines, but you will have to zoom in to read smaller pieces of text. Again, the touchscreen is very responsive and panning round is smooth and judder-free.

Graphics performance is also similar to the original model, but again, this is no bad thing. In Epic Citadel, the Moto G’s Adreno 305 GPU scores an admirable 34.4fps on Ultra High quality settings, and in 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test, it scores 4,679, which roughly translates to 21.2fps.

This should be more than enough to play most games in the Google Play Store, but the phone may struggle with the most demanding apps. This is still very impressive for a sub-£150 handset, though, as it beats the £360 HTC One Mini 2and is on par with HTC’s excellent budget phablet, the £280 Desire 816. We’ve updated our graphics benchmarks since our original review, switching to the highly-demanding GFX Bench Manhattan test. This is far too tough for this (or any) budget handset to run smoothly, limping along at just 4.3fps.

Battery life

Battery life is excellent. In our continuous video playback test, the new Moto G’s 2,070mAh battery lasted 9 hours and 39 minutes with the screen set the half brightness. This beats the original Moto G by about 30 minutes, so we were pleased to see the larger screen didn’t take its toll on the phone’s battery life. we updated the handset with Android 5.0 but this didn’t make any measurable difference in our battery test, squeezing just an additional four minutes from the battery pack – which is well within statistical variation in our experience.

Its battery life doesn’t quite match the 4G Moto G, which lasted another hour under the same conditions, but this is still an excellent result for a phone of this price and the new Moto G should be able to keep you going all day before you need to recharge it.

Android 5.0 Lollipop

Both the 3G and 4G versions of the new Moto G still ships with Android 4.4, but you can now download a free upgrade to Google’s latest operating system, Android 5.0 Lollipop. You can read about all the latest features in our full in-depthAndroid 5.0 review, but we’ll cover the basics here to give you an idea about what to expect.

As the Moto G already uses a stock version of Android, the home screens have changed very little in Android 5.0. Google’s new Material Design scheme is now present throughout, refreshing various app icons with a cleaner, flatter design, but by and large the home screens look very similar to how they did before.

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^ With Android Lollipop, you’ll now see notifications appear on the lock screen, which you can instantly dismiss or jump straight into with a simple double tap

The more drastic changes are located in the phone’s settings and notification menu. This is now combined into a single drop down menu, but you can swipe down again to access various setting shortcuts including brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Aeroplane mode, torch, location and cast screen settings.

It’s slightly irritating that you can’t enable auto brightness here, as this is tucked away in the main settings menu, but at least you no longer have to dive into several different menu screens to access the phone’s connectivity features. Notifications will also appear on the lock screen, which you can either dismiss with a swipe or double tap to launch them instantly once you’ve unlocked it.

Android 5.0 also brings several performance enhancements, as the operating system runs and compiles code differently. Its PCMark scores (which tests web browsing, video playback, document writing and photo editing) nearly all showed signs of improvement. With Android 4.4, the Moto G scored 2,850 overall, but Lollipop increased this to 3,152.

Admittedly, web browsing only improved by 100 points and its video playback score actually decreased, but its document writing test shot up nearly 1,000 points and photo editing jumped up by nearly 400, so composing documents and emails and messing about with your photos shouldn’t take quite as long as before.

Apps

The Moto G 2nd Gen also comes with several Motorola apps that make using the phone much more user-friendly. Motorola Migrate helps you move all your files, contacts, call history, messages from your old phone to your new handset, while Motorola Assist can affect your phone’s behaviour at different times of the day. For example, it can automatically put your phone into silent at night, but still ring if one of your specified VIP contacts calls or if anyone calls twice within five minutes. It will also read text messages aloud if you’re in the car or at home, let you know who’s calling, or play music over Bluetooth when you start driving. It will access your calendar as well and switch to silent mode when you’re in a meeting, and it will even send an auto-reply text message to any calls you miss, letting the caller know that you’re busy.

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^ Moto Assist (left) and Moto Alert (right) are both great apps that help make the Moto G that much more user-friendly

There’s also Moto Alert, which is particularly handy if you’re a parent buying the new Moto G for a child. There are three ways the app can alert others. The first is Emergency, which can send a text alert to certain contacts during an emergency, sound an alarm automatically or auto-dial your chosen emergency contact number. It works surprisingly well, and worked happily with both landline and mobile numbers. Moto Alert can also keep track of when you leave and arrive at places you visit regularly, such as school or work, and automatically alert your chosen contacts when you do so.

The second feature is Follow Me, which sends your current location to select contacts at specified intervals so that concerned family members know where you are. It’s also handy for helping your friends track you in busy, crowded areas. Meet Me, meanwhile, can send a text to your contacts telling them where to meet you.

Conclusion

The Moto G 2nd Gen is still a great bargain. It’s a £140 phone that gives a surprising number of £200-plus mid-range handsets a real run for their money, and in most cases actually beats them hands down in terms of overall value. TheVodafone Smart Ultra 6 has since stolen in and robbed it of its best budget smartphone crown, but if you don’t want to spend the extra £20-40 on a new 3rd Gen Moto G, then the 2nd Gen model is still a good choice. If none of those suit your needs, then check out our best smartphone buying guide.

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