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Moto G (2nd Generation / 2014) Review

Moto G next to its predecessor, the Nexus 4.

This past summer witnessed me switch my daily-carry phone a number of times. First there was the Lumia 630, sent to me on a trial basis from Conversations by Nokia. Then came the Lumia 521 I picked up to repair and sell, followed closely by the Lumia 635 I purchased for myself towards the end of the 630's trial period. When I stumbled across a cheap Nokia N8 that needed a little bit of love to be returned to an operational state, I grabbed that, too. All was good and merry before school resumed and I began to look lustfully at the plethora of apps available to my friends' non-Windows devices. I envied the features theirs sported and mine lacked (such as a front-facing camera or Instagram), so I jumped ship and picked up another Nexus 4. That had so many issues, though, that I soon found myself searching a replacement that, well, worked. It wasn't long until I settled on my next purchase: the budget-friendly Motorola Moto G. While home for the holidays I caught wind of a sale price on Amazon and decided to bite the bullet.

The Moto G has much cleaner lines than the Nexus 4.

When the Moto X was released, I couldn't help but feel underwhelmed. While its curvy backside and interchangeable back plates were lust-worthy, the front looked like something out of an intro-to-design textbook. Simple. Uninspired. Functional but cheap. Not exactly the type of thing one expects to see on a flagship device.

So when the Moto G 2014 was released as an update to the original Moto G handset, I couldn't help but feel that Motorola was perpetuating a bad design theme. It sported a chassis born right out of the Moto X's DNA. Pictures of the device clearly highlighted the tasteful back, however the front carried over the X's weirdly prominent speaker grills.

As it turns out, it's a good thing that Motorola carried over the speakers. They've grown on me immensely and I think that they're just a design aspect that is difficult to photograph. They lend the phone a certain sense of symmetry that is lacking in most other smartphones.

So what is to be said of the Moto G's design? In a word, it's understated. Pawing it in my hands I'm almost tempted to call it uninspired or even boring, but then a curve or a line on the body recaptures my attention and keeps me interested. The back is by far my favorite part; I just can't get over the iconic Motorola logo sitting in the subtle divot and the huge camera lens. It's a clean and purposeful look without a shred of cheapness about it.

The front can best be described as functional. Those speaker grills may not be the prettiest things in the world, but they do manage to visually balance the whole package, specifically when interacting with the phone while holding it in a landscape orientation. Ultimately, however, it is their functionality that far outweighs their polarizing aesthetics. Forward-firing speakers are a nice sight in a world of smartphones that tend to have their loudspeakers placed in areas that are easily muffled. No more missed notifications with the Moto G.

The 5" display, while not a super-high-resolution panel, is quite nice to look at. Sure, text may not be quite as crisp as that found on flagship devices, but will you actually notice this when using it? Nope. What you will notice is the small white LED indicator hidden between the earpiece and the front-facing camera. It's nice to have a visual indication of a message or notification when the phone is in silent mode or being used in an absurdly loud environment- the type of environment where no phone is powerful enough to make itself heard.

Other design aspects worth mentioning are what I refer to as the right-side-up micro USB connector and the centered headphone jack up top. There's also the included AC adapter that has a tactile indicator on the plug to make connections with the phone in the dark easy to do correctly even without looking. There's quite a bit of intuitiveness about the Moto G that is lacking on a lot of other phones.

The whole reason I settled on a Moto G was because my Nexus 4 was too buggy and I didn't want to splurge on an overpriced Nexus 6. A phone with a sub-$300 price tag and a near-stock Android experience were the only two requirements I set for myself in my search. Both of these were fulfilled by the Moto G, which also just recently received an update to Android Lollipop. (I purchased the Global GSM variant, which apparently received a delayed rollout compared to the US GSM version.) So the question is... what is performance like? The Moto G, retailing for twenty dollars short of $200, is undeniably a budget handset. So how does it stack up against the competition?

In short: it's more than capable. It may lack a gig (or two) of RAM compared to most flagship devices, and it runs everything on a two-year-old CPU, but it manages to do quite a lot with what it is given. A lot of that may be the product of it running nearly stock Android. Apps obviously open with a bit of delay if they haven't been used in a while, unlike other phones which have enough memory to keep them constantly running in the background. This is best illustrated when playing music with Pandora and attempting to browse the web. This activity sometimes results in Pandora being killed by the system in order to free some memory required by the browser.

But that's about as bad as things get. As someone who does very minimal gaming on his handset, I can't really vouch for that, but from what I have done I haven't been disappointed. Battery life, on the plus side of things, is great, easily outlasting a full day of medium usage. Even when my Nexus 4 was new, I had to be careful about using it too much for fear of the battery dying before the day was out. While the Lumia 630/635 still handily beats the socks off of the Moto G, the 'droid also isn't plagued with the bizarre random battery drain phenomenon that occasionally occurs on Windows Phone devices.

The camera on the Moto G is also surprisingly capable. It's no point-and-shoot killer, but it is definitely something I find myself relying on more and more often. (The same can't be said about the Nexus 4.)

In summary the hardware leaves no surprises to be found no matter which way you look at it. It's kind of like its aesthetics carry over to the hardware; it's understated. Uninhibiting. Useful. It's what should be considered par for the course.

I'm happy I bought the Moto G. From a purely anecdotal perspective it functions just as well as a Nexus 4, if not better. It may lack NFC and wireless charging, the former of which I actually used and the latter of which I rarely bothered with, but that doesn't mean it isn't a great phone despite the lack of both. For the price, it was a no-brainer decision to buy.

Were I to make some improvements, I'd hesitate to immediately suggest any. Wishful thinking dictates that I would request a physical camera shutter button and cram an LTE radio in there somehow- something that will probably be done in the near future. Longer battery life is always a welcome addition, and just a bit more RAM to handle my joint Pandora-listening and browsing sessions would be a real treat. But even as-is, I'm a happy owner of this Moto G. And it's one of the best phones I've used in a long time.