Moto G real-world review: The best budget phone money can buy

The Moto G provides an excellent overall experience at a low off-contract price -- but it's still a budget phone. So is it worth owning?

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Under the hood

The Moto G runs on a quad-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor along with 1GB of RAM. When you consider that it's a budget-level phone, its performance is impressive: The device never feels sluggish and is able to keep up with most common day-to-day tasks without any stutters or slowdowns.

Relative to the full smartphone spectrum, though, the Moto G's performance isn't perfect. There's occasional subtle jerkiness in animations, for instance, and elements sometimes don't stay in active memory when they're out of the foreground. That means if you load a Web page in Chrome or a document in Google Drive and then switch to another app, the page or document often takes a moment to refresh when you return to it.

Overall, the Moto G isn't quite as snappy as most high-end smartphones, but it's mainly noticeable only when you're pushing the device with heavy multitasking or resource-intensive processes. This is an instance where "less good" doesn't necessarily mean "bad" -- the Moto G isn't meant to be a high-end phone, after all, and within its class, it performs astonishingly well.

The Moto G also excels in the realm of battery life: The phone packs a 2,070mAh battery that's listed for "up to 24 hours" of mixed usage. In real-world terms, the phone more than holds its own and has consistently been able to get me from morning to night with no problem. Even with moderately heavy usage -- three to four hours of screen-on time consisting of a mix of scattered video streaming, Web browsing, social media use and phone calls -- I've managed to make it through a full 12 hours with around 30% of the battery still remaining.

The G is rather limited in local storage: The phone ships with either 8GB or 16GB of internal space, depending on which model you buy. About 4GB of that is taken up by the operating system, which leaves you with around 4GB or 12GB of usable space. There is no micro-SD card slot for external storage expansion, but the phone does include 50GB of free cloud-based Google Drive storage for two years.

Another limitation of the Moto G is its network connectivity: The phone doesn't support LTE, meaning you can connect only to 3G or HSPA+ data networks. Depending on your area, this may or may not be an issue: I've been testing the phone with an AT&T SIM and have been getting data download speeds ranging from 6Mbps, which is reasonable, to 1Mbps, which is downright painful.

Moto G
The Moto G's imaging performance is best described as passable but not exceptional.

HSPA+-level speeds can sometimes be zippier: With T-Mobile-connected HSPA+ phones, I regularly hit download speeds anywhere from 12Mbps to 18Mbps in my area -- speeds that rival and in many cases beat what U.S. LTE networks deliver. It is worth noting that the Moto G works only with 21Mbps-level HSPA+ networks, though, and isn't able to connect to the higher-speed 42Mbps-level HSPA+ network T-Mobile offers in some parts of the country.

On the Wi-Fi front, the Moto G supports 802.11b/g/n but not the faster 802.11ac standard. It also lacks support for near-field communication (NFC) and wireless charging.

Cameras

The Moto G's imaging performance is best described as passable but not exceptional: Photos captured with the phone's 5-megapixel rear-facing camera tend to have a noticeable amount of detail loss and a good bit of noise in the background. The phone also struggles in low-light environments.

That said, the Moto G's auto-HDR mode goes a long way in making its images look presentable. This isn't going to be a phone you buy explicitly for its camera, but for a budget-level phone, it's not half-bad; if you tend to take photos primarily for online sharing, you'll be able to get fine-enough-looking images with a little practice (and perhaps the occasional after-capture enhancement, which the Moto G makes easy to do).

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