Motorola Moto G: Unboxing and Early Impressions

This year was supposed to be the year I finally participated in NaNoWirMo, National Novel Writing Month, after a few years of planning to do it and forgetting to or not having the time to. This year I had the opportunity, but no idea what to write about, at all. Instead I’ve decided to finally get this blog going (again), writing a tech piece for every day of the month to upload. Lots of pieces are in the works so I’ll hopefully be able to fill it to the brim with content by the time December rolls around. However having bought a new smartphone which has generated a fair amount of conversation, I thought I’d strike while the iron is hot and get my first impressions and review out as soon as possible. Maybe I’ll even get some hits! So yeah, more stuff to come, for real this time. Promise.

The Motorola Moto G has caused one hell of a stir since its announcement this Wednesday, probably more so than any other device in its price range. Taking cues from its new owner Google’s Nexus line, the Moto G has well and truly distinguished itself from the other occupants of this class of low end handset by bringing an abnormally well stocked spec sheet and build quality to the table. Frustrated with my current smartphone (The HTC One Mini, more on this in the full review), I was very pleased to see that it was coming to the UK at an absurd £135 price point, meaning I could sell my Mini, buy a Moto G and have a couple of notes sitting in my pocket to spare, and have it in my hand just a couple of days after it was revealed. Well, it’s in my hand now, and here’s what I think of it.

Of course before it reached my hand it had to be taken out of a box, so lets start with that. I was initially planning to make the unboxing of this phone my first attempt at a tech video (if you don’t count my cringe-worthy efforts for PC World), but quickly realised that such a video would last all of 45 seconds, because the Moto G’s packaging and accessories are a barebones affair. Inside the small, simple cardboard box reside the phone itself, a micro USB charging cable, and some setup/warranty information. That’s it, there’s no headphones, wall plug or other accessories in sight. This isn’t hugely surprising, when a phone is built and spec’d more in line with much more expensive products there are inevitably going to be corners cut elsewhere. Personally this does not bother me whatsoever, like most techies I have USB power bricks coming out of my ears from past purchases and after owning enough expensive audio gear to have people question my sanity in the past, using bundled earbuds has become more akin to a form of punishment than anything else. However it’s worth taking note of if you don’t own something with a USB socket you can charge the phone from or were planning to listen to music straight out of the box, you will need to pick these up separately. These extras can of course be picked up for dirt cheap on Amazon or other stores, so it’s not a major issue. If you do want a pair of cheap in-ear headphones that punch well above their weight to pair with this similarly price-defying smartphone take a look at the Monoprice 8320s, my review of them can be found here.

Now onto the main attraction. The Motorola Moto G is an Android smartphone packing a quad core Snapdragon 400 CPU, 1GB of RAM and either 8GB or 16GB of non-expandable storage (I picked up the 8GB model), and a 4.5″ 720p LCD display. A more in depth rundown of the specs will be featured in a full review, but a glance at the top-line details immediately alludes to a much more capable phone than its £135 price tag would suggest. Picking up the phone for the first time it’s obvious that the tendency to overachieve extends into the build quality of the device too, a simple black slab with a solidity and heft that immediately inspires confidence. It’s a plain enough device missing the aesthetic appeal found in handsets from the likes of Apple, HTC and Nokia, but it’s not an ugly device by any stretch and it sure as hell doesn’t look or feel cheap- give me a Moto G over the plasticky monstrosities of the Samsung Galaxy line any day.

The device sits nicely in the hand with its curved back mitigating the relative thickness of the phone and making it comfortable to hold, with no creak or flex to be found anywhere on the phone even with a removable back. There’s no extra space to speak of behind the back cover, aside from the micro SIM slot there’s no replaceable battery or memory expansion, allowing the cover to fit the contours of the phone’s internals snugly. These replaceable back panels are Motorola’s attempt to inject some customisation elements into their low end handset reminiscent of their “flagship” Moto X (the less said about the woeful Droid handsets the better) which offers extensive personalisation options in the States through their Maker store. When these backs come to market users will be able to inject some colour into the otherwise sombre black affair of the Moto G, with some retailers shipping the phone with additional white backs already. I was hoping to get one with mine, but it appears to be an online exclusive for Phones4U. Ah well, I suppose I can live with it.

The face of the phone is reminiscent of Google’s more recent Nexus offerings, unmarked with no physical buttons punctuated by the front facing camera and speaker grille residing at the top of the phone along with a notification LED and the usual batch of sensors which are virtually impossible to see. Moving around to the sides of the phone, you find a 3.5mm headphone jack on top, the lock/power button on the right hand side with the volume rocker slightly below it, and the micro USB port on the bottom, leaving the left hand side empty. Finally around the back of the phone you find the 5MP camera, with the phone’s sole speaker sat to one side and an LED flash sat below.

The first task when it came to using the phone was getting the SIM card in, which proves more of a challenge than I’m used to. The snap-on back of the phone is held very securely and needs to be peeled off from the micro USB port. For someone with very short fingernails like me, this took a bit more effort that I’d like. Odds are I won’t be taking the back cover off again for the foreseeable future, however, so if a bit of work is what’s needed in exchange for a cover than does not wiggle or flex at all, it’s a price I’m willing to pay. Once the sim card was in I went through the usual Android setup process, and five minutes later I was up and running.

I must admit a smile forced its way through when I finished the setup and was presented with the homescreen- this is pure, unadulterated Android. Two months with a HTC One Mini was more than enough of a reminder of why I’d previously sworn off all non-Nexus handsets, thinking that if I’m going to be locked into a rigid skinned UI I may as well have bought an iPhone which is much more of a pleasure to use than any of the Android skins used by manufacturers like Samsung, LG and HTC (There’s always custom ROMs of course, but that’s another matter). Knowing I was back to the freedom of stock Android has got me excited to use a phone again, I’m very much looking forward to coming up with some new themes for it. First things first though, I synced up my email and social media accounts, made a few system changes I always tweak whenever I get a new Android phone, and began just messing around with the phone, swiping through homescreens and apps and performing other day-to-day tasks to see how the phone responded.

In short, it responded very well. I’m yet to experience any stuttering or lag while swiping through pages or moving from app to app. Motorola and Google have done a great job of ensuring the CPU in the Moto G performs solidly, whether this is because of optimising the hardware or refinement and innovations to Android like last year’s Project Butter remains to be seen, but regardless it’s already apparent that this is a phone that’s going to have no trouble flying through the UI and performing the day to day workhorse tasks people want out of their phone. The display itself looks great, the 720p resolution on this “smaller” handset size bringing a sharpness and pixel density any high end phone would be able to offer. Colours and accuracy obviously won’t match up to the AMOLED technology found in modern flagships, but then this phone costs anything from a third to a quarter of the price, and it puts the washed out displays of similarly priced (and a lot of much more expensive) phones to shame. The speaker quality is alright, nothing to write home about but aside from the Boomsound speakers in the HTC One family, are any smartphone speakers? I haven’t had a chance to try the headphone-out audio quality or the camera yet, check back for the full review early next week for thoughts on that and everything else.

Even with the early fanfare surrounding this phone I was apprehensive to drop the money on a phone which has yet to be fully reviewed by anyone. But I’ve been pining for a small, stock Android phone since the HTC First launched in America and this looked to be my salvation. Plus it was an excuse to get rid of my damn Mini. Now that I have the phone and am using it myself, I have a good feeling that my fears were misplaced. A full review will be coming in the next few days.

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