Review: The new Moto G/G Plus phones add size, features and cost

Motorola's latest Android smartphones are still less expensive than flagship devices, but are no longer in the 'budget' category.

I've never been quick to switch from a technology that worked for me. Until last January, when I somewhat nervously upgraded to the large-sized Nexus 6P, I was quite satisfied to stick with my aging, 4.7-in. Moto X (yes, the original version).

So I can very well see why somebody would want to go for the more modestly equipped (and priced) Moto G phones. And they are definitely worth considering. As expected, the latest two models -- the Moto G and the Moto G Plus -- add speed and features to the previous iterations. What wasn't as expected is that the 2016 versions of the Moto G phones sport larger 5.5-in. displays -- in fact, displays that are the same size as the manufacturer's new flagship Moto Z phones.

Both Moto G devices are 6.0 x 3.0 x 0.28 in. and weigh about 5.5 oz. Both offer a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, a 1080 Full HD display, a 3000mAh battery and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. The Moto G has a 13-megapixel back-facing camera while the G Plus sports a 16-megapixel camera and somewhat better software; the G Plus also offers a fingerprint sensor.

The Moto G, which is available in eight different colors via the company's MotoMaker site, starts at $200 (Amazon price) for 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage; you can also get it with 32GB of storage for an additional $30. The Moto G Plus starts at $250 (Amazon price) for 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage; for another $100, you can get it with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. (I reviewed the higher-end version of the G Plus.)

Both devices come with a 5.5-in. 1080p Full HD display. While the screen doesn't have the deep blacks provided by an AMOLED display, the colors are brighter and richer than I originally expected -- quite impressive, in fact -- and I didn't notice any hesitations during action scenes.

A lot has been made recently of the metal backing of higher-end phones. I appreciate the more luxurious feel it can supply -- but metal is also more slippery, to the point that when I acquired my Nexus 6P, one of the first things I did was to get a plastic case so that I would feel more secure in carrying it. As a result, I rather like the soft feel of the Moto G's plastic backing; in addition, the back removes easily so that you can install a SIM and an SD-card (but you can't replace the battery).

The power button and volume rocker are on the right side of the phone; I like the rough feel of the former, which makes it easier to identify. The audio-out port is on top, while the micro-USB power port is on the bottom. The Plus also has a fingerprint sensor on the front below the display, a useful addition.

To complement the 16-megapixel camera, the G Plus also comes with Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF) to help keep things in focus. Both phones have Motorola's nicely designed camera software, which lets you easily adjust things like lighting as you take the photo -- I found the camera did well in low-light situations.

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The 3000mAh battery is rated by Motorola to last for a full day of normal usage, and certainly I never found myself running short at the end of the day.

Minimal interference with Android

One thing that I always liked about the Moto line of phones is that there is a minimal amount of extra software laid over the Android OS. These new phones are no different: The only significant addition is the usual Moto app, which lets you use action-initiated features such as using a chopping motion to turn the flashlight on (a very cool new feature); placing the phone face down for silence; having it switch to vibrate when you pick it up while ringing; and giving it a couple of twists with your wrist when you want to use the camera. The app also manages the "live display," which shows info even when the screen is dark.

Otherwise, unlike its high-end Moto Z cousins, which are being currently sold by Verizon and thus have all the additional software that carriers so enjoy adding in, the Moto G phones have relatively clean versions of Android 6.0.1.

Bottom line

With their comfortable feel, excellent displays, good cameras and day-long battery life, the Moto G phones are fine choices if you want to spend less for your next Android smartphone. Considering its better camera and fingerprint sensor, I'd strongly consider spending the extra $50 for the Moto G Plus, although that does push it from "cheap" to "reasonably priced."

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