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With previous iterations boasting lower costs, how does this new budget flagship compare?

When it was launched last year, the 2nd generation Moto G did a commendable job of serving the mid-level Android phone segment. This time around, Motorola reprises this popular smartphone as it enters its 3rd generation, now with the mandatory 4G wireless, better cameras and a notched-up processor.

This new phone is built around the proven Snapdragon 410 mobile platform that brings 4G capability, quad-band GSM, a 13 megapixel main camera and 5 megapixel front camera. Out of the box this 5-inch phone feels very comfortable in the hand, especially with the textured back that proves to be grippy. The 720p IPS screen is vivid, with good viewing angles and graphics that are as sharp as 294 ppi can deliver.

Design and Display 
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The two previous iterations of the Moto G always towed the line between simplicity and design scarcity, with the more expensive Moto X benefiting from the more generous nature of a high-margin flagship. But in its third iteration, the Moto G is no longer a utility belt; it is, for all intents and purposes, the same phone as the Moto X Play in a smaller body. Subtle curves on the top and sides meet a removable textured back that can be, as with prior generations, colourfully adorned. My review unit had a lovely black back that I grew quite fond of.To keep costs down, the Moto G is still framed in plastic, though there is a strip of aluminum down the back to house, and accent, the 13MP camera sensor. For a $200 phone, it is remarkably well made, and the company even saw fit to add IPX7 water ingress protection this year, though you’ll have to ensure that the finicky rear cover is uniformly snapped into place. I almost learned that lesson the irreparably hard way.

Holding the Moto G is as comfortable as ever, though the phone is slowly, generation upon generation, sneaking into that too-big-to-use-with-one-hand realm that companies seem to find irresistible. It’s still compact, but I’ll admit to having a bias for slightly smaller-screened devices and wish that it maintained the 4.5-inch screen size of its first generation.

Curiously, too, the bezel around the display is actually larger in this version over the last one, likely a consequence of waterproofing.

Motorola has addressed some of that malady by rounding out the edges of the phone’s rear casing. Along with the graciously-textured back, the corners now slope to meet the phone’s bezel, resulting in easier entry into a pocket and more security in the hand. It’s a small but important thing that simultaneously boosts perceived and actual value.

The Moto series of phones have always vaunted the ‘pure’ Android version, implying no addition of third party tools and add-ons that can potentially bog down a phone. The installed Lollipop 5.1.1 proved to be butter smooth with everything from the UI to application launches being served up enthusiastically. This phones comes in two variants: 1GB of RAM with 8GB of internal storage, and 2GB of RAM with 16GB of internal storage. With a small price difference, it’s really a no brainer which of the two is more bang for the buck.

Up from the previous generation

Scoring over its predecessor, this phone also brings 4G support in its dual Micro SIMs. Par for the course is Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n (although the speedier, newer-generation ‘ac’ WiFi spec would have been much nicer.)

Perhaps the most welcome addition in this phone is the IPX7 protection rating: it is designed to be water resistant, submerged for up to 30 minutes at a depth of 1 meter. Which means it can easily survive a dousing in the rain or even an accidental free fall into a bucket of water. This particular lifesaving feature should hopefully start a trend among its peers.

Continuing from its predecessor, the new Moto G has several features built into the UI that makes the phone easier to use, among them gestures for quickly launching often-used apps. For example, holding the phone and twisting your wrist a couple of times fires up the camera so you don’t miss that photo op. Similarly, a double tap toggles the flashlight on and off. These inclusions aren’t groundbreaking, but it certainly brings an added dimension of convenience.

Camera

The camera was quick to respond, and the rotary dial that swipes in from the left edge lends quick access to changing photo quality, HDR/Landscape modes, flash settings, timer and the like. The focusing reticle in the viewfinder also has concentric dial that quickly lets you change dial the scene exposure, and dragging the entire reticle to another area causes the camera to refocus on the scene.

The camera doesn’t have any of those ‘beautification’ modes or photo effects, which is a downer if you’re into that sort of thing. But if you’re looking a pure camera smartphone  experience, this phone does a fair job–nothing too spectacular though. From close-up indoor shots to brightly lit outdoor scenes, the image quality from its 13MP primary camera was tonally balanced and sharp. A strange thing we noticed, though, was the final captured image being slightly darker compared to what is seen in the viewfinder.

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The 5MP front camera also turned out decent shots, albeit with the barrel distortion that is inherent to virtually all front shooters, which tends to make close up portraits jowlier than natural. But the wide angle does make for great group selfies.

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Another peeve we had was with the user interface adopting on-screen buttons instead of touch buttons on the phone frame itself: in most applications about 7.5 percent of the screen is forfeited as a result. The only time you can use the entire screen is when an app specifically runs in fullscreen mode, such as YouTube or an image viewer.

Battery Life & Connectivity

Battery life is one aspect of the new Moto G that I can wholeheartedly praise. Already a workhorse in its first and second generations, the new model increases capacity 20% from the previous version which, coupled with a more efficient processor and screen, gave me roughly 40% more battery life.

The second-generation Moto G already lasted me a whole day per charge, and this one easily trumps that. I’m not saying it’s impossible to kill this thing before 9pm on a busy day, but I had trouble getting it close to 20% by the time I fell asleep.

The battery isn’t removable, though, but that’s for a good reason: Motorola added IPx7 water ingress protection to this model, allowing it to be submerged in three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. That is, as long as the back cover is correctly installed.

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While the phone isn’t immediately usable while it’s drying off, that you can refer to, say, a map in the rain, or prevent a trip to the repair store when it’s dropped in the sink, is a very reassuring feature. Added to its already-robust plastic frame and replaceable back covers, this phone should last longer than its price would lead you to believe. Hell, buy two if you’re worried; the total cost would still be less than a single flagship from Samsung or LG.

Thankfully, the third-generation Moto G also comes equipped with 4G support, something its predecessors lacked. I used the Moto G on Vodafone’s incredible network and obtained fast, reliable service in both London and Birmingham city centres. Call quality, as expected from a Motorola device, was on the high end of clarity, though until more carriers and devices support voice over 4G calls it will continue to sound like they originated under water (which this phone could technically accomplish).

On paper, the the new Moto G features an unfortunate regression: the device only has a single forward-facing speaker. Much was made about last year’s dual-speaker setup, but in reality the drivers were underpowered, and set too narrowly apart, to affect a real stereo soundstage. Comparing the two devices side by side, this year’s model, despite its single mono speaker, is both louder and less prone to distortion. In other words, it’s an upgrade despite the regression.

Perhaps more troubling is that the Moto G still lacks NFC support, and can’t connect to 5Ghz WiFi networks, an increasingly common standard in a world of 2.4Ghz signal rot.

Our takeaway

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With the £100 to £200 smartphone price band being so immensely competitive, it’s interesting to see how this phone slots into the larger scheme of things: stacked up against competing devices like the similarly-sized Vodafone Smart Ultra 6 , it’s clear that this phone doesn’t trump on specifications (it is overshadowed on resolution, processing speed and battery capacity despite costing more than its ilk.) So if it’s a pure Android experience you are after, with waterproofing, in a comfortable 5-inch form factor, this phone does cut it. But if it’s more bells, whistles and silicon specifications you need, there are numerous other alternatives to consider.

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