Motorola isn't hawking the Moto G as some kind of cheaper Moto X variant, but it could have; the phones bear more than a passing resemblance to each other. Not that this is a bad thing: The X is a smart, clean handset. Phones aren't really described as "mobile" anymore, but the term truly does apply here. The Moto G is a genuinely one-handed device -- a refreshing change from 5-inch-plus devices we've been reviewing as of late. Its curved back rests nicely in the palm, and both the grippy matte cases and dimpled flip covers make for a comfortable design that's well suited to extended use.
There are no physical or soft keys on the front face of the device. The standard Android home, back and multitask buttons will appear onscreen when needed, but otherwise the bezel below the 4.5-inch display is bare. The bezel above the screen, meanwhile, is home to a sunken, metal speaker grille, the front-facing camera and a small white notification light. As the Moto G's dimensions are similar to the X -- it's 0.6mm longer and wider, and 1.2mm thicker at its fattest point -- the slightly smaller screen means there's more blank space below the display. Still, this is more an observation than a slight -- the internal components have to go somewhere, after all.
Around the outside, there's a blank left edge, and a power button and volume rocker on the right. Meanwhile, the primary mic and micro-USB port can be found on the bottom, with the secondary mic and headphone jack up top. The keys on the right edge protrude more than we're used to, but they do produce a nice, satisfying click. All detail on the rear cover sits toward the top edge. In descending order, you'll find the camera lens with the loudspeaker grille to its left above an LED flash, which, in turn, is above a small indentation framing the Motorola logo. That's where your thumb rests when prying the back panel off, if you follow Motorola's instructions (and you should). Nothing exciting awaits you under there: just a slot for your micro-SIM.
While the Moto G doesn't offer the same level of personalization as the X does with Moto Maker, you can still choose from a range of shell colors that will hopefully expand over time. The same palette is available in flip covers, but the sheet of Gorilla Glass 3 covering the screen means they're a decoration rather than a necessity. Any loose set of keys looking to damage your G will have an easier time with the back panel, and our rubberized yellow unit took a minor dent or two, though they were barely noticeable.
As we alluded to, the cases aren't easy to remove, even when you do follow Motorola's step-by-step instructions. It's a testament to the overall build quality, which wasn't compromised for the sake of the price. Aside from the volume rocker on our model testing positive for wobble, the 143-gram (5-ounce) Moto G feels better put-together than a number of more expensive phones built from similar materials. So far, no trade-offs of note for the money.
Screen resolution often takes a hit in the name of cost savings, but not so on the Moto G. A respectable 720p resolution is spread lovingly across the 4.5-inch LCD display, working out to a screen density of 329 pixels per inch. Numbers aren't everything, though. What's the point of all those pixels if they're dull and off-tone? Fortunately, we don't have any such gripes with the Moto G's screen. Colors are intense; whites are white; and blacks are, well, actually black -- we had to double-check the spec sheet to make sure we hadn't misread AMOLED for LCD.
Motorola insists on calling it an "edge-to-edge display," which doesn't really make sense.
The auto-brightness setting is an accurate judge of how much power the display needs, and there's enough juice available to keep it working in direct sunlight. Viewing angles, too, are more than satisfactory, and the Gorilla Glass shield does a good job repelling fingerprint grease, even after long, sweaty sessions of Tiny Death Star. If you're partial to meandering through YouTube archives, or catching up with your favorite show on the train, you could do a lot worse than the Moto G. Motorola insists on calling it an "edge-to-edge display," which doesn't really make sense as the bezel width on either side is pretty standard, and thicker than some. The company last applied the phrase to its 2012 RAZRs, so let's just assume the marketing folks were running out of ideas, and move on.
There's not a great deal to say about the Moto G's software, and that's a good thing. For once, we don't have to discuss the merits and drawbacks of TouchWiz, or explain why the new version of Sense is better than the last. The Moto G runs what's basically a stock build of Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, barring Motorola's boot animation and camera app. Also, an update to KitKat is only a few months away, at most. If you've never used a stock Android handset, it's not flashy (which often bodes well for performance), but it's also clean and functional. Furthermore, the G is preloaded with all of Google's services. If you use them, it'll save you time during the initial setup, and means you won't have annoying duplicate apps like browsers or music players.
Unlike the Moto X, the G doesn't have any fancy specialized processor cores that the former's Active Display and Touchless Control features utilize. Our unlocked unit was thankfully bloatware-free, with only Motorola's Migrate and Assist software accompanying the stock apps. Migrate allows you to copy pretty much all data from another Android handset with the app installed to your new G. Assist will "learn" certain things about your routine and automatically change numerous settings as a result. For example, if you've a meeting plugged into your calendar, it'll engage a boardroom-friendly profile; similarly, it'll switch to silent mode when you're catching some Z's. Both sound useful enough, but if you're anything like me, you'll probably ignore them.
You knew we were eventually going to come across something that reminds us of the handset's price, right? Well, here it is: there's no double-digit monsterpixel sensor here, nor any trademarked imaging technology. Nope, the G's main shooter is a modest 5 megapixels. The good news is: What the main camera lacks in resolution, it makes up for in versatility. It'll take some really nice shots in fairly unforgiving conditions. You probably know what we have to say about the 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, as you've heard it all before: It's just fine for the odd, well-lit selfie or Skype call.
As we mentioned, the G comes loaded with Motorola's own camera app, and it's incredibly simple. The menu panel, easily accessed with an inward swipe from the left bezel, is sparse. It contains HDR, flash, focus control, geotag and sound recording (in video) toggles, as well as switches for the aspect ratio, and panoramic or slow-mo video recording modes. Not having the power to tinker with ISO, white balance et al is quite refreshing, as you can happily snap away without that inkling you might get better results with appropriate investment in the settings panel. And, better yet, you can actually trust the Moto G's automated settings to deliver.
The images the G spits out might not have the clarity of 10-megapixel pictures from the Moto X, but they're certainly comparable in quality. HDR mode has a notable impact, and we found ourselves using this setting quite often. It gives that extra "pop" to colors HDR should, turning some otherwise mundane landscapes into dramatic scenes. The auto light metering and exposure can be a tad off the mark occasionally, but we found it easy to compensate by turning the focus control on or off, depending on the circumstances.