Moto G5 review: The king is dead

£170
Price when reviewed

Latest news:  The Moto G5 smartphone hasn’t been available for long but already Motorola is releasing a shiny new version of it: the Motorola Moto G5S. Perhaps in recognition of the fact that the Moto G5 wasn’t all that great (read our review below for the full lowdown), the new model features a new look, a bigger 3,000mAh battery, a higher resolution 16-megapixel camera, a fractionally larger 5.2in display and – most surprising of all – a significantly higher price of £220.

The new handset will be available on Motorola’s website from the Motorola website and John Lewis stores from early August, alongside a new version of the Moto G5S Plus, which is slightly more expensive at £260. It’s not clear at this stage whether the new handset will be replacing the old one, but it’s a good bet it will, so if you’ve got your eye on the Moto G5 now

Motorola Moto G5 review: In full

We knew this day had to come eventually. For four generations, the Moto G series of smartphones has been the gold standard for budget smartphones: absolutely fabulous for the money. But with the Moto G5, that’s no longer a title the little handset can hold onto.

The Moto G5 may look more stylish than last year, but its beauty is merely skin-deep. The king is dead. Here’s why.

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Moto G5 review: Design

If there’s one area where the Moto G5 gets good, solid praise, it’s for the design. For the first time, Lenovo has jettisoned the day-glo colour plastic of previous Motos and joined the modern convention for high-end smartphones – which is to say, a partially metal case. It feels suitably weighty in the hand, if perhaps a little more slippery than you’d expect. It also probably makes it a magnet for house-key scarring over time, but at least it will look the part when you take it out of the box for the first time.

What’s also impressive is that this change hasn’t come at the cost of a removable battery. At a time when pretty much every manufacturer has said goodbye to letting consumers keep a spare or replace a tired old battery, that’s pretty impressive – and strangely something that isn’t matched by the Moto G5’s slightly larger sibling, the Moto G5 Plus.

Other than that, this is smartphone business as usual. There’s a fingerprint scanner on the front, a 3.5mm headphone jack and both front- and rear-facing cameras. The back is slightly curved, but not to the degree that it won’t stay still when placed on a desk. The bezel is reasonably chunky, but then this is a £175 phone (or $230 on Amazon UK), not a £550 one, so you shouldn’t expect miracles.

There are three more things worthy of note about the design. The first is that Lenovo has not made the jump to USB Type-C yet. There are reasons why that could be considered bad, but for me the practicality of being able to find a cable whenever I need one trumps them all. The second is that, although the Moto G5 supports fast charging, there’s no fast charger in the box, which is a pity. Finally, the Moto G5 is still giving NFC the cold shoulder. No Android Pay for you, Motoheads.

Moto G5 review: Screen

The first thing you’ll want to do on booting up the Moto G5 is change the default wallpaper. The weird coloured lines thing is ugly in itself, but the blurring it goes through when you swipe across screens almost made me lose my lunch.

But that’s down to taste rather than screen quality, so let’s get to brass tacks. The Moto G5 has gone on a bit of a diet since last year’s Moto G4, losing 0.5in from its screen size in the process. That makes the screen – which stays at a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution – a tiny bit sharper than its predecessor, giving it a pixel density of 441ppi rather than 401ppi. Unfortunately, in every other sense, it’s a step backwards.

Top brightness has dropped from 540cd/m2 to 471cd/m2, and the percentage of the sRGB gamut covered has also taken a hit, falling from 90% to 85.8%. To complete the hat trick, contrast is also lower.

To be clear, the difference isn’t huge on any of those metrics, but it’s still disappointing that we’re taking a step backwards from 2016. The least you’d expect is for the phone’s screen to tread water, rather than to actively get worse.

Moto G5 review: Performance

Unfortunately, it’s a similar story when you get to performance. On paper, the Moto G5 looks like it has comparable specifications to the previous model. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 instead of a Qualcomm 617, but both are octa-core chips. Last year’s model was a mix of 1.5GHz and 1.2GHz Cortex-A53s, while in this year’s version, all eight are 1.4GHz A53s. It still has 2GB of RAM, although there’s also a 3GB option available – in fact, this is the one we looked at for the benchmarks over the page.

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The result, as you can see below, is that the Moto G5 performs roughly as well as the Moto G4. In fact, the Moto G5 comes out a touch slower than last year’s version, although the differences involved are small enough that they fall into the margin of error.

More worryingly for the Moto G’s rapidly slipping “best budget smartphone” crown is that it offers weaker performance than both the Honor 6X and its own cousin, the Lenovo P2.

Surely there must be an upside to all these shortcomings, though: the smaller, darker screen and limited performance must give the phone incredible stamina, right? Nope. In fact, the Moto G5 loses out to last year’s model here, too, falling a full 1hr 48mins short of last year’s Moto G4.

The final time of 13hrs 39mins isn’t too bad in the greater scheme of things, especially when you can change the battery easily enough, but it is yet another step backwards for a handset that’s rapidly running out of redeeming points over last year’s version.

Moto G5 review: Camera

On paper, the Moto G5 should offer an improvement in camera quality over its predecessor. Although they share the main core specifications – both are 13-megapixel snappers with an f/2 aperture – the manufacturer has added phase-detect autofocus this year, which should speed up capture.

In practice, it’s a mixed bag. As is so often the case with smartphones – and especially budget phones – outdoor shots aren’t really a problem. In fact, they’re damned good on the Moto G5. Look at the picture below for an example of the crisp details and rich colours that the Moto G5 can pick up in ideal conditions:

Unfortunately, for indoor shots, things have taken yet another backwards step. Take a look at the still-life scene below to see just how poorly things come out: there’s plenty of noise, smearing and blur in the shot:

Adding flash helps a little, but it also adds a strange orangey-pink tinge to proceedings. Not great.

Moto G5 review: Verdict

Lenovo seems to have misunderstood what made the Moto G series great. We were never bothered by the cheap and cheerful design; what mattered was that the screen, performance, camera and battery always punched above their weight at the price. With the Moto G5, Lenovo has reversed that, and everything is weaker for it.

So, while the handset looks much slicker, all-round performance is less impressive. And while £170 isn’t a bad price, you’d be better off looking for a firm discount on last year’s model, or checking out some of the other handsets scrambling to pick up the Moto G’s fallen crown.

The Honor 6X is a good bet if you can go £55 higher; if you can’t, then the Lenovo P2 is a decent shout at £29 more. If Samsung reveals a refreshed model of the Galaxy J5, then that will also be worth keeping an eye out for, as it’s given the Moto G a run for its money in the past. The Moto G5 Plus (review coming soon) is also much, much better – although you’ll pay an extra £80 for the privilege.

I can only hope that Lenovo learns one important lesson for the Moto G6: beauty is only skin-deep; it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

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