Yesterday I attended the launch of a new budget phone. Usually such a product turns out to be a disappointment, but you’re expected to believe the manufacturer proudly claiming it as being ideal for a new user, someone on a tight budget, or someone that ‘doesn’t want all the bells and whistles’ of a more expensive device.
Of course, we all know that nobody would really want a device like that. We know that (and try our hardest to warn people in our reviews). The manufacturer obviously knows that. The retailer even knows that. Very soon, the unsuspecting customer runs the risk of knowing it when it’s too late.
While it might have the effect that it leads someone to trade up to something better, it’s just as likely that people will be put off by a very poor experience. And that appears to be what has been happening for some time, as the market gets flooded with cheap and nasty Android smartphones and tablets (such as the Argos MyTablet that I recently had the misfortune to review).
But with the Moto G, I saw a device that people will actually want. A device that is already having comments on social networks, forums and technology websites about it being the perfect phone for a brother or sister, partner, aunt, dad, niece, grandparent…
In reality, it’s for everyone. Anyone can use a Moto G and not feel let down or disappointed, or wondering why the hell they’ve got this ridiculous thing in their hand instead of a Galaxy S4, Xperia Z1 or iPhone 5s.
Inside the surprisingly well-built case is a pretty well specified bit of hardware, which makes the recently announced Galaxy Nexus 5 suddenly seem rather pricey.
Of course, the Moto G isn’t in the same league as the Nexus 5 – but it’s not as far behind as you might think.
Yes, it only has Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 400 CPU, but it’s quad-core and performed well when benchmarked with AnTuTu (see below). In fact, exceptionally well for a phone retailing at £135. There will be many people still not having completed their 18 or 24-month contract on a phone that performs worse than this.
Yes, it only has a 5-megapixel camera – but one that still gets perfectly acceptable results for the person who wants to share those pictures of a great night out, and share via social media. It also has HD video recording and a bright LED flash.
And yes, it does lack 4G, dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, and have no memory expansion, but let me address those later, after pointing out that the Moto G has a 4.5-inch 720×1280 pixel display, which is bright and pin-sharp. That’s not normal for a budget phone.
It also has changeable covers, including a flip cover that unlocks the phone automatically (not the first, but still clever and worth mentioning). The speaker is loud and the battery is showing the potential to really last the full day that Motorola promised, and possibly beyond.
Motorola has also added some cool apps to make migrating data quick and easy from any other Android device, an assistant that will silence the phone automatically if you’re in a meeting or asleep (hopefully not both at the same time), and the ability to turn off the phone lock if you’re paired with your Bluetooth car kit and therefore deemed to be in possession of your phone.
So, having covered off the good points, it’s time to address the negatives and explain why they’re probably not really such big negatives at all…
Firstly, 4G. While EE took advantage of its head start, 4G coverage is still not as widespread as 3G (with Three still to launch its 4G network at all). In any case, not everyone desires mobile data speeds that outperforms their home broadband service.
With support for HSPA+, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy speeds in excess of 10 megabits if you’re on the right network and tariff (for example Three’s One Plan at just £15 a month on SIM-only, with unlimited data, 2,000 minutes of calls and 5,000 texts – plus free roaming in any country with another Three network).
Chances are, even well in to 2014, there will be many people buying a new mobile phone that won’t pay the extra for 4G, even though they might have got a 4G-enabled phone. That is unless every operator follows Three and makes 4G a no extra cost deal.
Dual-band Wi-Fi, as well as 802.11ac support, can be added to the ‘nice to have’ list, but certainly isn’t essential given the fact that most people will still be connecting to a router that doesn’t have 5GHz support, let alone the next-gen Wi-Fi standard. Most public hotspots and business routers are likely the same, and will be for some time.
Then we come to NFC. I use NFC to share files between my own Android devices, occasionally. I’ve also used it to pair accessories, which is great – but that’s even more infrequently. For the exciting things like making mobile payments or replacing your season ticket to travel, we’ve still got a long way to go. It’s fair to say this is a missing feature that most people will not care about at all, even if you could argue that they should.
So that leaves the lack of memory expansion. For me, with the 8GB model for review, I will confess that a little over 5.5GB of storage will be a problem for me, when I’m downloading games that come with 1 or 2GB of game data.
But that certainly isn’t going to be everyone, and the majority of games and apps aren’t anywhere near as big. The 16GB model (slightly more than) doubles the available storage, and is hardly a massive extra cost at £159. It starts to make you realise just how much some manufacturers profit from the larger capacity models (cough cough, Apple).
Google is also offering 65GB of Google Drive cloud storage for two years, so you can still have access to all of your media on the move, even if you will need to be online to access it. That might be a problem for some, but most people now have the means to get online easily – from unlimited data plans on mobile contracts or prepay, to using free Wi-Fi hotspots anywhere in the world.
Nokia has had great success with the low-cost Lumia 520, and that had to overcome the perception that Windows Phone is not in the same league as Android. Here, Motorola not only uses Android, but offers the pure Android experience (with the promise of regular updates) that consumers are now starting to favour over devices with bloated third-party user interfaces and heavy customisation.
Who would have ever imagined that Motorola, a company with such an awful reputation for supporting devices after release (once having a policy of issuing just one update for any new model, and anything beyond that was a bonus) would now be standing proud and talking of an update to the latest OS within weeks? Who can remember when it took almost a year for an update? Anyone who had a Motorola Atrix or Razr will probably still remember only too well.
For those who might dismiss the Moto G as lacking key features, it’s important to consider that in the next six months, Motorola could launch another low-cost model that will support things like 4G, NFC, a Full-HD display, bigger battery or dual-band Wi-Fi. And it will still sell for a fraction of the price of whatever new devices have arrived from Samsung, HTC, Sony and Apple.
And anyone that paid £135 for their phone won’t be upset. They’ll just buy the new phone and be more than happy. Chances are the old phone will then get passed on to someone else, who will continue to enjoy it for many more months to come. As long as Motorola keeps supporting the Moto G, it will remain useful and usable for a lot longer than some.
The Moto G is more than just the specs, however. It’s a representation of how the industry is changing and what we’ll possibly expect to be paying in the future. There will always be the recession-proof people who will gladly pay a premium for anything, but a lot of people will – or certainly should – begin to question why they should have to commit to lengthy contracts at £50 a month, and still with an up-front cost, to get something powerful.
Motorola, Google, Nokia, Amazon and even the likes of Tesco are all proving you can now get not just a good experience, but a great, experience for less money than you might have ever imagined.
While there will always be a market for premium devices, I have to wonder which manufacturer will be next to come to the realisation that producing a cheap smartphone, or tablet, with poor specs will no longer be tolerated.
Update: Some more screens to show the impressive performance – in terms of CPU/GPU power and battery life.
The fancy boot-up animation (akin to that of the US-only Moto X)
Yes, there’s even a notification LED hidden away behind the dark plastic frontage!
Update 2: Motorola goes all seasonal with a replacement boot-up animation!
I nearly missed it, as I’m sure many others still have. Why? Well, unless you’re very unlucky to have the battery run out, or you decide to shut it down to swap the SIM, why would you ever need to restart the phone?
So it was only by chance that I got to see this. I wonder if Motorola will be planning to change the boot-up animation for other events, or indeed if any other handsets (besides the Moto X which has this too) will do this sort of thing in the future?
Update 3: KitKat coming early!
Rejoice.. well almost. Seems it’s only the US sold versions getting Android 4.4.2 earlier than planned – but at least it should mean everyone else not having to wait until the last day of January as originally feared (going by tradition).