Moto G (2014) Review

Overview

When the original Moto G launched, it was lauded for providing stock Android at superb speeds for just S$318 and became Motorola’s best-ever selling device. However, it had some shortcomings such as the lack of a micro-SD card slot and did not have the best of battery lives. Read on to find out what we thought about the refreshed version one year on.

 Pros:

  • 5.0 inch IPS display
  • Stock Android
  • Extremely cheap
  • Front-facing speakers
  • Dual SIM

Cons:

  • Only a 720p resolution display
  • Poor quality, 8 MP resolution camera
  • Maximum video resolution is 720p – far behind the times
  • White colour collects dirt easily
  • 1 GB RAM is not enough for a lag-free experience
  • No 4G/LTE
  • Small battery capacity

Introduction

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If you read the list of Cons I have listed above, you’d argue that nearly all of those are not truly valid issues – after all, the device does retail for S$298, which is a third of the prices of current-gen flagships. I, however, have an issue with that. Xiaomi’s Mi3, a late-2013 flagship, has far better specs than the Moto G (2014) and it retails for just S$329. And let’s face it – while Motorola Mobility has an American background, it is currently owned by Lenovo so arguments regarding build quality and device life are still up in the air.

With all that out of the way, let’s get down to the review.

  Motorola Moto G (2014)
Display 5 inch, 720p (1280 x 720 pixels) IPS LCD
Camera 8 MP, 1/3 inch sensor
Video Recording 720p
Processor 1.2 GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400
GPU Adreno 305
RAM 1 GB
Storage 8 GB, micro-SD expandable
Battery 2070 mAh, non-removable battery
Other Dual-SIM, FM Radio, 50 GB Google Drive free storage

On paper, it definitely has very weak specifications. A 720p display to the Mi3’s Full HD one, a ridiculously small video resolution, and a low-power Snapdragon 400 System on Chip (SoC) with just 1 GB of RAM compared to the full-blown then-flagship powering Snapdragon 800 SoC.

It does have some improvements over the original Moto G – the dual SIM card slot and a micro-SD card slot for starters. Its display is larger and the camera isn’t a 5 MP module any more. So let’s find out how the 2014 package fares, shall we?

Unboxing, Design and Build Quality

Opening up the box, which is pretty compact itself, we see the standard equipment available: the Moto G (2014), the earphones, charger and micro-USB to USB cable as well as a few manuals.

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Taking a look at the device itself, the first thing that jumps out at you are the twin front-facing speakers at the top and bottom. Part of the reason why the bezels are so big, it is undeniable they are a little unsightly. Right below the top speaker you see the ambient light sensor, and to the right is the notification LED.

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The back of the Moto G (2014) is pretty nondescript, save for the camera lens, an LED flash and the Motorola dimple.

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While you can remove the rear cover of the Moto G (2014), all you can do is slide in two micro-SIM cards and a micro-SD card. Unfortunately, the battery is quite off limits.

While the whole phone has a polycarbonate body, it feels sturdy in the hand, and the presence of a matte finish gives it a touch of class compared to Samsung’s rendition on their devices. There is a minor annoyance with the white variant, though. It collects dirt smears and scratches far too easily, and come off with far too much effort.

It also isn’t a head-turner, but for the fact that it isn’t designed to do so, doesn’t look bad at all, and costs less than S$300, I didn’t mind trading my Xperia Z1 for the Moto G (2014) if going solely by looks.

Handling

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The Moto G (2014) feels extremely snug in the hand, and not too large for the fact that its display diagonal is 5 inches. The curved back makes it easy to fit into your hand, and the dimple is a fantastic place to rest your index finger when using it one-handed, something else that is very easy to do with this device.

Display

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It is a little disappointing that Motorola has opted to continue with a 720p display, considering that the pixel density drop-off (294 ppi) is quite severe at a diagonal of 5 inches. However, that would mean a stronger SoC that can manage the increased pixel load, and that in turn would drive up the price.

It is still an IPS panel, and thanks to that it has brilliant colours and viewing angles, although an AMOLED panel such as in the Moto X would have not only been better for sunlight legibility, but also would have saved battery life.

Display test 50% brightness 100% brightness
Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio Black, cd/m2 White, cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Moto G (2014) 0.36 309 991 0.55 570 979
Sony Xperia C 0.18 151 842 0.66 639 962
Oppo R819 0.56 607 1078 0.62 754 1210
Samsung I9082 Galaxy Grand 0.37 382 1040 0.62 586 948
Huawei Ascend P6 0.14 136 986 0.62 670 1080
Oppo Find 7a 0.33 280 842 0.68 580 852
HTC Butterfly S 0.15 165 1117 0.43 451 1044
Apple iPhone 5 0.13 200 1490 0.48 640 1320

The stats are pretty good for the Moto G (2014), as it a decent white level and contrast, however the black luminance is a little on the high side at full brightness.

Sunlight legibility is fine, and the brightness of the display goes high enough that most text is visible even under the hot afternoon sun.

User Interface and Software

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The Moto G (2014) comes with stock Android 4.4.4 KitKat (upgradeable to 5.0 Lollipop), and dear Lord is it amazing to use. Stock Android is practically the Turkey of the Android world, with no bloatware installed on the device as compared to OEM offerings, such as Samsung’s TouchWiz skin. Out of the 8 GB available, a sizeable 5.6 GB is on offer for usage, compared to the bloat stuffed into TouchWiz.

The lockscreen is identical to the Nexus 5 and 6, and widgets are full-screen, resizable tiles. Launching the camera can also be done from the homescreen by swiping  to your left.

The launcher is also the stock Google Now Launcher (previously known as the Google Experience Launcher), and features a permanent Google Now screen as the left-most panel. It can be turned off, though, like BlinkFeed on HTC smartphones and Smart Bulletin on LG’s newer devices. At the bottom is the dock, where you can change the location of the app drawer and add 4 more icons and/folders alongside it.

Swiping down from the top you get the notification center and quick toggles, the latter which function by single-tapping for quick toggling, while a long-press takes to the individual settings menu.  You get access to key device settings such as brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, location, mobile networks and Battery.

 

The app drawer is standard, but now it does not comprise the widgets, which must be placed by long-pressing on the homescreen. This is a much better way to handle them, rather than how many OEMs do it by lumping everything together.

There is one shortcoming I felt with the stock interface, and that was the implementation of folders. What happens is that all the app icons are displayed as if they were stacked on top of each other, obscuring all but the one at the top. I much prefer how OEMs do it, such as Sony or even Samsung for that matter.

Task Switcher

Last but not least, the Recent Apps list has remained virtually unchanged. Still, it would be nice if Google finally adds a kill all option like all OEMs do.

All in all, the stock Android interface is rapid even on a budget device such as the Moto G (2014), and is extremely polished as it should be. There are a few shortcomings, but nothing that would be a dealbreaker.

Audio

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Motorola has gone with a stereoscopic front-facing speaker setup, which offers a great sound experience with clear differentiation between the left and right channels. They are placed on the front of the device, though the sound tends to get muffled if the phone is placed face down.

Another gripe I had was that the Moto G (2014) definitely has a lower maximum volume compared to the original Moto G, which I found especially odd.

Nevertheless, the sound experience of the device is acceptable and better than even a few pricier smartphones.

Battery Life

The battery capacity of the Moto G (2014) isn’t much to write home about, at 2070 mAh, which is the same as the 2013 version. What’s more, the screen has actually gotten bigger, which means a larger power draw. Not expecting too much, we used the device in the following situations:

  • 1 hour LTE web browsing
  • 1 hour WiFi web browsing
  • 1 hour WiFi YouTube video streaming (720p)
  • 30 minutes gaming (Asphalt 8)
  • 2 hour 720p movie
  • Standby idling under Battery Saver mode

Battery Life

It didn’t perform too shabbily, managing to last an hour longer than LG’s flagship G3, albeit with 12 minutes less screen-on time. It is certainly a respectable performance, but we’d hope that the next iteration features a removable battery for a longer usage duration.

Performance and Benchmarks

The Moto G (2014) is decently powerful, having a quad-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon 400 SoC paired to 1 GB of RAM. However, competitors such as Xiaomi’s Redmi 1s have the 1.4 GHz variant of the S400, while a S$30 price premium over the Moto G will get you the Xiaomi Mi3 and its 2.3 GHz S800.

Nevertheless, let’s look at how it fared in the synthetic benchmarks.

AnTuTu

In AnTuTu, a comprehensive benchmark tool that test everything from RAM speed to gaming performance, the Moto G (2014) performs quite decently, with its figures putting it within spitting distance of HTC’s old flagship, the One (M7).

BrowserMark 2.1

In BrowserMark 2.1, which tests the web browsing capabilities, the Moto G (2014) again had a decently strong showing, finishing a close third behind the Sony Xperia C and HTC One (M7).

Vellamo

Finally, in Vellamo, a combination of JavaScript and SunSpider web browsing abilities, the Moto G (2014) comes in second, edging out its predecessor by a small margin.

In real world usage, the Moto G (2014) runs almost buttery-smooth, with the light stock Android interface proving to be nearly no hassle at all for the SoC. What disappointed me was that the device repeatedly stuttered if I opened more than 3 applications, which is a worrying sign of how badly RAM is managed on Android, as compared to the much smoother iOS. RAM really is not expensive anymore, with 3 GB (and even 4 GB) becoming the norm, while 2 GB is filtering down to mid/low range.

All in all though, the Moto G (2014) performs quite well for its price, and you really will not have much complaints.

Camera Interface

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The camera interface is not entirely stock, though it is a little like Google’s own camera application. However, there are many tweaks that make using the device less than desirable.

No OIS makes for blurry night images, and I had to repeat HDR shots 4 times before the blur was less noticeable. Next, the touch to capture is really stupid, I would have preferred to have a dedicated shutter button, and touch to lock focus. Finally, trying to pinch to zoom (volume buttons don’t work) fails and camera adjusts focus point instead.

As such, using the camera is quite a chore, although you can easily download third party apps for it. However, that doesn’t mean that Motorola can rest on its laurels – much work is needed still.

Camera Performance

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Motorola has only given an 8 MP camera to the Moto G (2014), 5 MP less than the more expensive Moto X (2014). It is a 3 MP jump from the original Moto G, however, but we weren’t impressed by the camera in this one either.

Still Image Quality:

Day Samples:

Night Samples:

In both the day and the night, the Moto G (2014) offers absolutely no fine detail, both due to lack of having a high enough resolution, and also due to extremely aggressive noise reduction.

In the day, there is also extremely odd colour banding that I’ve never seen reflected before, though the HDR features fixes some of it. Colour and white balance is mostly fine in the day, and photos are decent enough if you refrain from zooming in. On the other hand, the camera tends to err on the side of underexposure quite a bit, which gets frustrating after a while.

At night, the noise levels are off the charts, and lens flare and the blown highlights are just terrible. For a S$298 smartphone this might be enough for you, but you have to note that you’re not going to get any good images out of this phone.

Video Quality:

In what is an extremely curious move, Motorola has omitted 1080p recording from the Moto G (2014) even though competitors such as the Sony Xperia C and Xiaomi Redmi 1s have it present.  As was with the still images, the videos disappoint as well.

Day:

Night:

Again, there is just zero fine detail. The videos of the Moto G (2014) are even worse than the still photographs produced. In the day, it is still tolerable to watch a video taken on this device, but so help me if I was forced to watch a night video. The quality drops so badly at night that it is frankly intolerable to watch a video.

The camera is a massive Achilles heel for the Moto G, and in a generation where Instagram is all the rage, a poor camera does not bode well for Motorola.

Conclusion

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In short, the Moto G (2014) is a great improvement over its predecessor and a terrific phone for its price of S$298. Its main draw is probably the offer of stock Android on a budget, as well as the dual-SIM functionality which is most useful for frequent travelers and/or employees requiring to maintain an office number as well.

The micro-SD card slot addition is greatly welcome, especially with 8 GB of storage (with just 5.6 GB available for use). The front-facing speakers are a really nice touch, if quieter than the Moto G (2013).

The Xiaomi Redmi
The Xiaomi Redmi

It is not without its drawbacks, though. The main issue I have is with what many would consider its prime advantage – the price. For S$329 I can get myself a far more powerful Xiaomi Mi3, or if my budget is only half of that, I can go for the Xiaomi Redmi 1s, which has nearly identical specs as the Moto G (2014).

It also doesn’t have a good battery life, and almost certainly requires you to carry around a charger or power pack if using it moderately or heavily.

And the biggest issue is that the camera is absolutely terrible. For this price, Motorola has no right to ship the Moto G (2014) with such an atrocious camera who might as well not even try to capture fine details. The ridiculous video resolution cap at 720p is also unexplainable, and this is the paramount problem that needs to be fixed in the 2015 variant.

The bottom line is, though, what Motorola has done with their Moto G (2014) on a whole is fantastic, and I hope that Lenovo’s ownership keeps their Mobility division going strong and producing more great smartphones such as this one.

One thought on “Moto G (2014) Review

  1. Amazing and detailed piece Shikhar Gupta! I just got the Moto G 2014 for myself, as a (minor) upgrade from the Galaxy S3 LTE (i9305) and it made me wonder about the reasons we buy flagships anymore. for SGD 275, it’s an amazing phone. Also, I have it in black, which means no visible ugly proximity/light sensor at the top!

    Just got the official Android 5.0 Lollipop update this week and it’s buttery smooth!

    – RJC Y5 Student!

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