As I write this, I am surrounded by phones. I could justify it by saying that I’m a software developer, or a science fiction author, or some of them are from work, but the reality is that I have a phone fetish. I switch between iOS and Android devices on a regular basis purely for the novelty of it, and as part of an ongoing experiment to see if and how the most recent mobile innovations fit into my life. With several phones charged up, configured, and ready to use at any given time, I find it endlessly fascinating to see which one I’m compelled to reach for every day, and which end up neglected or sold.
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself happily reaching for what is, objectively, the worst smartphone I own: the 2015 Moto G. There are several really good reviews of the Moto G out there already, so I’m not going to get into too many details; rather, I want to focus on a feature that, until now, has often been overlooked in the world of smartphones: value.
Smartphones are expensive. Since I switch phones so often, and generally have two or three active at one time (AT&T, Verizon, and now Project Fi), I don’t do subsidies or contracts which means it’s not unusual for me to spend as much as $700 on a new device. Since I almost always sell old devices to help fund new purchases, I have to keep them as pristine as possible which means protecting them with a case or sleeve, and generally worrying about things like jogging, wet hands in the kitchen, using them at the beach or pool, taking pictures on a hike when my hands might be grimy, listening to podcasts while doing yard work, handing them over to my kids, etc. In other words, the cost of high-end smartphones frequently limits their utility.
The 2015 Moto G changes all that for two primary reasons:
- The price. The 8GB/1GB version is $180, and the 16GB/2GB version is $220. (Remember, we’re talking unlocked and unsubsidized.)
- It’s “good enough.” While it’s true the Moto G doesn’t do everything, the reality is that it does everything you need it to (and even a little more).
Since the price of the Moto G speaks for itself, I want to focus on a few of the things Motorola got right with the new 2015 G, and why it doesn’t need to claim a litany of premium features and specifications to be an excellent phone.
- The size. As someone who seldom wears anything but jeans, and who usually doesn’t carry a bag or a backpack, I want a phone that can comfortably fit in my front pocket (unlike so many of the premium 6″ phones out there). It should at least be able to fit in my car’s cup holder (unlike the iPhone 6 Plus or Nexus 6). In my opinion, 5″ phones are the right balance between display size and portability.
- The performance. My biggest fear with the Moto G was that it would be janky, and that it would render web pages with much more lag than my Nexus 6 or iPhone 6 / 6 Plus. Not the case. I can’t remember a single instance where it has performed noticeably worse than any of my higher-end phones. (Note: I don’t do a lot of gaming on phones; my guess is that I’d see some performance degradation there.)
- The battery life. The battery life on the Moto G is at least comparable to any other phone I own, and much better than some. It can easily go two “normal use” days between charges, or can survive a full day of heavy use (navigation, podcasts, etc.).
- The build. While the Moto G isn’t made from “premium materials,” it’s quite solid. The buttons are firmer than any other phone I’ve used other than iPhones (the industry standard for button quality), and although it’s mostly plastic, it isn’t creaky.
- Water-resistance. It’s not waterproof, as many are fond of claiming, and its tolerances are limited, but I love that I don’t have to worry about picking the Moto G up with wet hands, or that I can take it jogging or on a bike ride in the rain. I’ve seen reviewers refer to the IPX7 rating as a gimmick, but I vehemently disagree. For those with even a semi-active lifestyle (or kids, for that matter), a water-resistant phone provides a great deal of peace of mind.
- Expandable memory. For $13, I added 32GB of storage. Given the ridiculous premium one usually pays for additional storage in a device, being able to do it yourself for a few bucks represents a tremendous value.
- The software. Another thing that really surprised me about the Moto G is that I actually like the changes Motorola made to Android. I’m usually a huge advocate of “pure Android” — and in the context of a device like the Samsung Galaxy, I still am — but the changes that Motorola made to Android are extremely subtle, and are useful enough that Google should unabashedly steal them. In fact, when I pick up my Nexus 6, I sometimes find myself waiting for Moto Display to appear.
Of course, the Moto G isn’t perfect. If you need the best camera on a phone, or you really like using Apple or Android Pay, or you need the sharpest screen with the best colors, then the Moto G isn’t for you. But you might be surprised by how quickly those things fade into the background after just a day or two of use. It’s not that you forget that the Moto G isn’t the best phone you can buy; rather, the value the phone represents — and the peace of mind it gives you when you drop it, or when it gets wet, or when you think you might have lost it — is, for some of us, a killer feature in and of itself.
Update (9/14/2015): After using the Moto G for a few weeks now, I have two additional things to report:
- It does not support Android’s native multi-user capabilities — possibly because of limited storage space, or possibly because not all of Motorola’s software modifications are compatible. In my opinion, it’s a little misleading for Motorola to say they support Lollipop (Android 5.x) without supporting key features like this.
- I’ve had some trouble with the calendar and Exchange support. Specifically, events are frequently duplicated two or even three times. Oddly, my Nexus 6 doesn’t have the same problem. I deleted my Exchange account and re-added it, and so far, the issue hasn’t come back, but it’s probably just a matter of time. If if does, I’ll switch to Microsoft’s Outlook app for calendaring (at the expensive of an OS-level universal calendar).