Motorola Moto G 3 review: The Moto G is still king of the low-cost smartphones

Price when reviewed

Since this review first went up, a bunch of cheap smartphones have come through our doors, from the decent Wileyfox Swift to the unimpressive HTC Desire 530, and the Moto G is still the benchmark of what a cheap but cheerful smartphone looks like. Sure, if you can spend more, you’ll get more – the OnePlus X is a steal at £199, for example – but if money is tight, the Moto G is the obvious choice. The original review follows. 

Go on, admit it: you pay too much for your smartphone contract. What is it? £35 per month? Did you pay extra upfront? £5 per month for insurance? Just think about how much that’s going to cost you over the full course of your two-year contract. You could be paying more than £1,000 for the privilege of owning the latest, greatest smartphone.

Now think about how much the third-generation Motorola Moto G (2015) costs: it’s only £159 without a contract, it’s tough as old boots, and even with a decent contract added on top will cost you half as much as your fragile new flagship phone. And for many, this Moto G is all the smartphone you’ll ever need.

Motorola Moto G 3 review: The textured rear shell is available in a number of bright colours

The difference is in the design

Motorola has been blazing a trail in the no-nonsense smartphone space for some time now. The first Moto G was a revelation when it was released back in 2013, and updates since have been steady, building on the first, successful recipe.

In that respect, the third-generation Moto G (2015) changes very little. The fundamentals remain the same: it’s cheap, robust and well made; the price is right; and it delivers exactly what you need.

That’s not to say there haven’t been improvements. The design, for one, is much more enticing than before. Its swoopy, curvy frame carries hints of the Motorola Moto X and the Nexus 6. The rear shell is still removable, but it’s now textured for grip, while a contrasting strip encircles the camera lens, flash and indented Motorola logo.

Motorola Moto G 3 review: The 13-megapixel camera is accompanied by a two-tone LED flash unit

The standard, boxed Motorola Moto G (2015) comes in a variety of colours. There are two to choose from – either white with a silver frame, or black with a black frame – and the shell is available in lime green, black, navy blue, wine red, yellow, blue, turquoise, red or white.

Not colourful enough for you? Moto G is also now available for customisation via the Motorola Moto Maker service. Alas, you can’t specify a leather or wood finish as you can with the Motorola Moto X, but for an extra £20 (£179 in total), you can change the colour of the camera and logo surround, add an “engraving” to the rear of the phone, and even add a message to the phone’s startup screen.

A bigger change is that the phone’s accident-proofing has now been beefed up: a couple of rubber seals on the underside of the shell surrounding the SIM and microSD slots help the phone achieve an IPX7 rating, which means – to use an example supplied by Motorola – that you should be able to take the Moto G into the shower without it conking out.

Motorola Moto G 3 review: The top edge houses the 3.5mm headphone jack

Leaving aside what you get up to in the bathroom for a moment (who takes their phone into the shower anyway?), the specifics of the Moto G’s IPX7 rating are impressive. It means the phone can be immersed in up to a metre of water for up to 30 minutes, which is long enough to snap a picture of a hermit crab in a rock pool, or even shoot a 1080p video of it. Just make sure the back is clipped on firmly first.

Specifications and performance

If one thing has remained constant throughout the Moto G’s lifespan, it’s the processor. Since the first model was released in 2013, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 has been the SoC of choice, and it’s done sterling work.

The time has come for a change, however, and this time around Motorola has installed a more recent quad-core chip, the 1.4GHz Snapdragon 410. It comes with Adreno 306 graphics – the same hardware used in the Motorola Moto E that launched earlier this year.

As for RAM, the amount depends entirely on the level of storage you opt for. The 8GB Moto G gets 1GB while only the more expensive 16GB model (only available via Moto Maker at £209) gets the full 2GB.

Motorola Moto G 3 review: The phone's curvy frame brings the more expensive Moto X range to mind

I was sent the 2GB model for review, which is enough to keep Android 5.1 feeling responsive, no matter what you throw at it. Benchmark results prove this latest Moto G is a clear step forward. In SunSpider, it achieved an average time of 1,331ms, while in Geekbench 3 its single- and multi-core scores were 529 and 1,576. These scores represent an improvement of 32%, 54% and 36% respectively over the Moto G 2 with 4G.

For gaming, however, the gains are pretty much non-existent, with the Adreno 306 graphics chip producing results of 10fps in the GFXBench T-Rex HD test at native resolution and 4fps in the Manhattan test, where the Moto G 2 with 4G achieved 11fps and 4fps.

If your main priority is a phone that will play the latest games at ultra-smooth frame rates, then, this isn’t the handset for you. But it flies with everyday tasks, feeling much more responsive all round than its predecessor, and that’s ultimately what really matters.

Display, battery life and wireless

The display has always been a strength of the Moto G range, and while the resolution and dimensions haven’t been updated here – it’s still a 5in 720 x 1,280 IPS screen topped with scratch- and shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass 3, and image quality is beyond reproach.

Maximum brightness reaches 408cd/m2; the measured contrast ratio hits 1,134:1; and good colour performance means that everything looks bright and punchy when you need it to. And although that maximum brightness figure isn’t as eye-searingly bright as some rivals, the display’s polarising layer does a great job of minimising the sun’s glare.

Motorola Moto G 3 review: A pair of front-facing speakers make the Moto G 3 ideal for use as a speakerphone or in-car satnav

Battery life is good, but falls short of being outstanding. In general use, the Moto G’s 2,470mAh battery reliably lasted me a day with plenty of capacity to spare, and the benchmarks back this up. Streaming audio over 4G with the screen off depleted battery life at a rate of 4.5% per hour, and video playback ran it down at 7.4% per hour, numbers that can’t match the best in the business, but which are still pretty good.

As far as wireless connectivity is concerned, Motorola has at long last decided to equip its latest budget model with 4G as standard. There remains a black mark over its Wi-Fi connectivity, however. The Moto G still has no dual-band Wi-Fi – an almost criminal omission in 2015 – and the 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi connectivity isn’t particularly strong either; I found I frequently had to switch to 4G from the Wi-Fi connection in the kitchen at home because the phone kept dropping signal.

It’s also worth noting that, although it offers storage expansion via microSD, the Motorola Moto G 3 will only take microSD cards up to 32GB in size.

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