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This year's Moto G feels like another cheap champion

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It's a little hard not to look at the Moto G as one of the less interesting devices we saw today -- after all, it got unveiled in India while plenty of us were sleeping and it was quickly overshadowed by the unlocked beauty of the Moto X Style. Motorola clearly doesn't see it the same way. The Moto G has been the best-selling smartphone in the company's history, and it had to make sure that this year's model struck a crucial balance between price and performance. We just got our own unit to fiddle around with, and so far, Motorola has another cheap champion on its hands.

Gallery: Moto G (2015) hands-on | 17 Photos

As we know, this year's Moto G is powered by a 1.4GHz quad-core Snapdragon 410, but there's a crucial difference between the two major models available today. The baseline model — the one we just got — costs $180, but only has 8GB of storage and 1GB of RAM. In all likelihood, you're going to want the model starting at $220 since it has double the storage and RAM, not accounting for all your Moto Maker add-ons.

Sussing out performance in situations like this is always a crapshoot, but the combination of some decent silicon and an almost-completely stock version of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop means there's not much room for hiccups just yet. Not everything worked the way it should right out of the gate, though. I spent a good 10 seconds trying to figure out why the on-screen shift key wouldn't work when punching in a WiFi password, and despite setting the system language to English, the very first notification that popped up in my shade was something en Francais. Still haven't been able to figure that one out. That said, after installing some apps and taking Chrome for a spin, I didn't notice much in the way of glaring slowdown. The Snapdragon 410 certainly won't blow you away, but at first blush it's easily as solid — if not more so — than most of the other low-cost unlocked smartphones I've played with lately. Smarter features like Moto Assist work just as well as they always have too, which only helps Motorola stand out from the madding crowd.

So yes, the Moto G is finally starting to feel a little more premium -- thankfully looks are catching up too. There's still a sizable bezel running around the 5-inch, 720p screen, but the addition of a metallic accent around the 13-megapixel camera and flash adds a welcome dose of style to the thing. Oh, and there's a very good chance your Moto G will look better than ours since you'll be able to run it through the Moto Maker wringer, choosing your own colors for the accents and backplates. While I'm rambling on about the Moto G's back, it's been said that it has the same camera as the Nexus 6. Turns out that's not the full story. Yes, the Moto G uses the same 13-megapixel Sony sensor as its much bigger cousin and a similar f/2.0 aperture lens. The differences lie in the way the elements around it are constructed -- the lens is loaded up with IR-filtering coatings that help the camera handle ambient light more intelligently. I haven't spent too much time with the thing yet, but early results are pretty impressive -- it more accurately exposed a photo of me in a darkish room than a similarly priced Samsung phone.

It's obviously way too early to start passing judgment on this thing, but one thing seems clear from the get-go: Motorola still knows how to make a good, cheap phone. We'll update this story with more nuanced impressions as they develop, and stay tuned for our full review in the days to come.

UPDATE: I went out for lunch after the event and spilled a glass of water on my Moto G. Shrugged it off like a champ.

Moto G (2015) Hands-on

Edgar Alvarez contributed to this report.

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