When Motorola announced the follow-up to its 2-year-old Moto G line, I have to admit I wasn’t as excited as others. While I understand the purpose, and importance of mid-tier phones, they’ve never really gotten me excited like flagships do. After getting a chance to use the 2015 Moto G, however, my expectations of what a smartphone from this segment is meant to be have been obliterated.

The third-generation Moto G has added a few great improvements from previous versions. It’s a lot nicer to look at, it’s more customizable, has LTE connectivity, a better camera, and pretty decent battery life. In my opinion, it not only redefines what a mid-tier device should be, but it also gives some flagships a run for their money with a pure stock Android experience.

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Hardware and Display

 

The new Moto G hasn’t changed much in terms of general design and look. Motorola’s traditional curved back has always felt nice in the hand, so it’s definitely good to see them stick with it for another year on this phone. Unlike the high-end Moto X, the G still relies on a plastic back, but it’s not entirely a bad thing either. It has a bit of a rubberized texture to it which improved overall grip and usability. The Moto G (2015) isn’t a huge device either which is one of the reasons I was actually able to use it one-handed with no issues. For many smartphones users, one-handed accessibility is key, and the new Moto G definitely delivers.

The front of the device also keeps the typical Moto-style intact. The 5-inch 720p display looks really good for a $200 device, though the fact that’s not an AMOLED screen does tend to make the Moto Display’s actions look really bright in low-light or darkness. It’s very bright and colors are rendered pretty faithfully throughout. All in all, the screen won’t be something to brag about, but it’s the nicest screen out there for a sub-$200 phone.

The Moto G also features a Snapdragon 410 processor internally and its performance was quite good over my time using it. There was definitely some lag at times – like when you unlock the device, or have too many apps open, but I suppose that’s understandable given the 1GB of RAM I was working with. Overall though, I didn’t feel that the limited specs stopped me from performing my normal activities on this device. Android Lollipop didn’t get in the way, and I found myself liking how it worked better than I did with last year’s Moto X. I’m looking forward to seeing how Android Marshmallow does in the future on this device as well.

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In terms of connectivity, the Moto G (2015) uses a microSIM card, so if you’re switching over from a device that has a nanoSIM, you’ll either need an adaptor or a new SIM altogether. The device comes unlocked out of the gate, so whether you plan on taking it overseas or just use it on one of the four major U.S. carriers, you’ll be okay.

The Moto G’s LTE reception wasn’t bad. Most of the time it got it with the occasional switch over to regular ol’ 4G. Call quality was clear on both ends, so as actual phone, the Moto G works admirably.

If you’re not content with the limited storage space the Moto G (8GB or 16GB) provides, you’ll be happy to know you can expand that through a microSD card. While you’re not able to save apps to it, the fact that all your pictures and files can be accessible through a memory card instead definitely takes the pressure off worrying about the internal storage running out.

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Customization through the Moto Maker

You can try out a few things with the Moto G’s look as long as you order it online through the Moto Maker. In stores, you’re more than likely to just find the base model – which is all black – and not really have a chance to pick anything else.

If you do end up using the Moto Maker, you’ll be able to pick from two colors for the front (black or white), 10 colors for the back (lime, golden yellow, black, white, raspberry, cherry, navy, turquoise, blue, and cabernet), and 10 colors for the phones accents (metallic lemon lime, metallic dark chrome, metallic light chrome, metallic red, metallic champagne, metallic violet, metallic orange, metallic blue, metallic black, and metallic pink). None of these colors will increase the overall price of the device, so you can really go crazy and pick your favorites without thinking about spending more. You can also engrave a 14-character message on the back of your device if you want. That’ll run you an extra $5 if you’re into that sort of thing. That back plate of the Moto G is removable and replaceable, so if you get tired of one color, you can swap it out for another whenever you want.

The Moto Maker also allows you to change up some internal hardware on your new device. The $179 Moto G comes with 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal storage and is usually the model that’s available for purchase. For $40 extra though, Motorola will double your RAM and storage capacity on your Moto G. Overall, it comes out to $219 for 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of memory. If the Moto Maker has that option available (it gets sold out fairly quickly), you should definitely jump on it.

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Software

Over the past few years, Motorola has tried to deliver the purest version of Android on its Moto lineup, and this trend continues with the new Moto G. Stock Android fans will love how the Moto G runs their favorite OS, and may even enjoy some extra stuff Motorola throws in there.

The biggest addition Motorola makes to stock Android is with its Moto apps and Moto Display technology. The Moto app helps out quite a bit if you want to use it. It lets you customize what your Moto Display shows you when the screen off, can read text messages out loud to you while you drive and even lets you set a time for when you want the screen to stay off at night while different alerts are still coming in.

Motorola’s software also works nicely with its hardware to allow some nifty gestures to launch a couple of apps. For example, if you “chop twice” the light from the flash turns on brightly to let you see in the dark. Another double chop and the flashlight turns off. Another cool gesture has you twist the phone twice to activate the camera app, again without needing to unlock the phone.

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Camera

Speaking of the camera, the new Moto G’s shooter won’t blow you away, but it does do a pretty good job of capturing images. For a $200 device, the fact that it comes with a 13-megapixel camera is pretty awesome. Motorola’s native camera app works well with the hardware too. It offers some cool options like Panorama mode, and a mode that controls exposure and focus.

If you’re buying a device purely for its camera, I wouldn’t recommend the Moto G, however. Even though it performs well in brightly light spaces, it suffers tremendously in low-light. The camera also doesn’t render colors are true as they should be. That could be a software issue, but unfortunately most pictures I took were severely under-saturated and had a grayish tone to them.

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Motorola does it again

Motorola has upped its game with the new Moto G. It has set a new bar for what mid-tier devices should be, and how much they should cost. The Moto G is far from perfect, but it delivers a great pure Android experience in a compact device.

The Moto G (2015) will more than likely get Android Marshmallow and possibly a few updates beyond that, so if you decide to pick one up, you can be sure it’ll be future-proof for at least a year or two. Aside from that, you’ll be wanting to pick up this phone if price is a big part of your next upgrade. The $179 Moto G is simply a steal, and it makes other similar devices appear too expensive when compared. For under $200, you won’t find a better smartphone than the Moto G.