Moto G5S and G5S Plus reviewed: best budget phones

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Moto G5S and G5S Plus reviewed: best budget phones

Motorola’s latest G series smartphones just got better.

For four generations, Motorola’s Moto G series had been the gold standard for budget smartphones – offering more value with every new release. But with the Moto G5 series released in the second quarter 2017, the Lenovo-owned phone maker did something highly unusual: it pulled back on some of the specifications.

Most noticeably, Motorola dropped the screen sizes from 5.5 inches for the both G4 and G4 Plus to 5.0in for the Moto G5 and 5.2in for the Moto G5 Plus.

No doubt that was keep prices down – but while the Moto G5 Plus and G5 were still very good value, Motorola has seen the need to release two new upgraded handsets: the 5.2in Moto G5S and 5.5in Moto G5S Plus.

They’re incremental rather than major upgrades, but Motorola is obviously banking on the larger screens, improved design and other enhancements to keep its lead in the budget smartphone market.

At the same time, the two new handsets are still very affordable. The $349 Moto G5S is pricier than the G5 due to those upgrades, but Motorola has dropped the price of the larger model, selling the Moto G5S Plus for $429.

If they’re too rich for you, the Moto G4 Play is still available for $188, although it’s getting pretty old now, has a smaller, lower-resolution screen and lacks features such as fingerprint reader, fast charging and NFC.

Software

The Moto G5S and G5S Plus run Motorola’s own take on Android, which isn’t much modified from the standard ROM: it’s based on Android 7.1.1 (Nougat), with an update to 8.0 (Oreo) planned in the next few months.

There are, however, a few distinctive Motorola features. Moto Display shows notification reminders on the standby display when you’re not using the phone, and you can use a variety of gestures to launch various features and apps.

You can also swipe across the fingerprint scanner rather than using Android’s soft buttons: a left swipe triggers the “back” action, while a right swipe launches the recent apps screen. It’s a nice touch if you don’t like the way the soft buttons dip out of sight when an app is running in full-screen mode.

Next: Moto G5S review

Moto G5S review

Motorola’s Moto G5 smartphone was a decent Android handset, but it suffered from an iffy camera, performance was no better than the older Moto G4 and battery life was actually slightly worse.

The phone maker has addressed some of these issues with the new Moto G5S, which has an upgraded design, a bigger battery and an improved camera. Look closely and you might notice that the screen size has been bumped up slightly too, from 5in to 5.2in. No doubt, it’s a step up from the old G5.

The Moto G5S doesn’t just look classier than its predecessor: it feels more like a premium phone with an all-metal unibody design in place of the G5’s aluminium rear panel. It’s sadly not dust or water resistant, but chamfered edges add to the upmarket impression, and the indented Motorola logo on the rear cleverly serves as a finger-hold that makes the phone easier to grip and use one-handed.

The fingerprint-reader remains at the front, below the screen, serving double duty as a Home button. We found it worked unerringly, reliably identifying me in the blink of an eye.

There’s a decent set of options for connectivity and expansion too. The standard 32GB of internal storage is enough for a decent-sized collection of apps and music, but if you want more there’s a spare slot in the nano-SIM tray that will take a microSD card of up to 256GB. Alternatively, you can insert a second SIM for convenient international calling, but since there’s only the one slot it’s an either/or situation.

At the bottom of the phone sits the familiar micro-USB socket for charging and data transfer, at the top there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack for those who still prefer wired headphones, but Bluetooth fans haven’t been forgotten: there’s built-in aptX support for high-quality wireless streaming, which isn’t something you can take for granted on a budget phone. It would have been nice to see the latest 802.11ac wireless spec too, but dual-band 802.11n should keep things speedy enough.

Display

As we’ve mentioned, the G5S has a very slightly bigger screen than the G5. It has the same Full HD resolution, however, so the pixel density is a touch lower. You don’t need to worry about blocky text, though, as it still works out to a perfectly crisp 423ppi.

It looks good, too. Its backlight hit a super-bright peak of 500cd/m² in our tests, with a rock-solid contrast ratio of 1,708:1, so it’s easy to read and browse even under all but the brightest sunlight. And with an 80.4% sRGB colour gamut coverage, the G5S’s IPS screen does a decent job of colour reproduction as well.

Our only quibble is that, as is common with low-cost phones, the colours aren’t perfectly accurate. We measured an average Delta E of 3.48, with a maximum of 8.47; in practice that means the most vibrant colours can look a little washed out. It’s a shame, but not a deal-breaker.

Performance and battery life

We’ve long appreciated Motorola’s restraint when it comes to customising Android, and the G5S runs something that looks pleasingly similar to a stock installation of Android 7.1 (Nougat). The manufacturer’s light touch also smooths the path for updates, with an upgrade to Android 8 (Oreo) promised in the coming months.

Sadly, while the OS may be up to speed, the same can’t be said for the internals. The Moto G5S uses the same 1.4GHz quad-core Snapdragon 430 processor as the Moto G5, a chip that’s now getting on for two years old, and partners it with a merely adequate 3GB of RAM.

As a result, it’s no faster than the Moto G5 or even the older G4 for that matter. That said, the G5S runs pretty smoothly and it’s certainly a cut above entry-level phones like the Nokia 3.

It’s a similar story with gaming. In the GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 benchmark the G5S merely kept pace with low-cost handsets that have been knocking around for months and years.

  Geekbench 4 multi-core score Geekbench 4 single-core score GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 (fps) Video rundown battery life test (hrs:mins)
Moto G5S Plus 4265 843 10 14hrs 51mins
Moto G5S 2303 632 7 12hrs 12mins
Moto G5 2378 578 7 11hrs 51mins
Moto G4 2453 632 7 13hrs 39mins
Nokia 3 1559 563 5 10hrs 40mins

And if you were hoping that battery life at least would receive a boost, prepare to be disappointed. The G5S’s battery is bigger than the original Moto G5’s, but we’re only talking about an uplift from 2,800mAh to 3,000mAh. In our tests that translated to just an extra 21 minutes of use, for a total of 12 hours 12 minutes in our video rundown benchmark. It’s a far cry from better performers, such as Motorola’s own Moto Z2 Play, which kept going for 19 hours 33 minutes in the same test.

Camera

While raw performance might be lacking, there’s good news for the snap-happy: the camera on the G5S is a big improvement on what went before. On paper, not much might seem to have changed: the pixel count is up from the G5’s 13 megapixels to 16 megapixels, but the phase-detect autofocus and f/2.0 aperture are unchanged.

The results, however, speak for themselves. In favourable lighting conditions, the G5S does a magnificent job of producing well balanced, vibrant exposures. In the shot below (taken with HDR disabled) there’s a good degree of solid definition in the brickwork in the foreground, yet the sky and highlights aren’t oversaturated or blown out either.

Turning HDR (see below) on adds even more zing to the photo: the trees and buildings spring to life, while crisp details emerge from the murky lowlights. It’s seriously impressive: we’re not sure we’ve seen better daylight camera performance from any smartphone in this price bracket.

Predictably, the sensor doesn’t do quite so well in low light. With the flash disabled, colours look more subdued and you don’t have to look too closely to spot smeary noise.

Enable the flash and the noise vanishes, but now there’s a distinct yellow tint. It’s not too offensive but, having seen what the camera can do in natural light, we had hoped it would be able to make more of its own built-in lighting.

The front-facing camera, meanwhile, gets an aperture upgrade, from f/2.2 on the G5 to f/2.0 on the G5S, so your selfies should look slightly cleaner than before.

The sticking point here is resolution: the five-megapixel sensor inevitably means you’ll capture less sharp detail than you would with something like the eight-megapixel selfie camera on the Vodafone Smart V8.

Conclusion

Motorola deserves credit for responding to criticism of the G5, and with the Moto G5S it’s certainly got some things right. The new design is beautiful, the screen is bright and punchy and the camera has gone from a mediocre snapper to a best-in-class contender.

The catch is that Motorola has upped the price of the Moto G5S to $349 – $50 dearer than the original G5. However, it’s still quite affordable and offers plenty of phone for the price, including features such as fingerprint reader and NFC for contactless payments via Android Pay.

The G5S is a likeable, good-value phone, although if you can stretch your budget a little, the Moto G5S Plus is even better.

Moto G5S Plus review

The Moto G5S Plus, you won’t be surprised to learn, is a larger version of the Moto G5S. It’s not actually that much bigger, mind you. The screen measures 5.5in across the diagonal, rather than the 5.2in of the regular Moto G5S and at $429 it’s not much more expensive, either. That places it in an odd niche: it’s far cheaper than flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 but not quite down there with the sub-$300 phones.

However, there’s basically nothing else out there that matches the Moto G5S Plus formula at a similar price.

The Moto G5S Plus introduces a new unibody casing which, as with the regular G5S, lends it a sense of class that belies its price. Where the old Moto G5 Plus was made from a combination of metal and plastic, the G5S Plus is all aluminium and it looks and feels a lot more expensive.

To be strictly accurate, there are some plastic lines at the back covering the antennae, but they don’t cheapen the overall impression. Factor in a slightly curved back that downplays the phone’s 8mm thickness and it’s the most stylish and robust Moto G phone yet.

One caveat, though: while the phone feels perfectly solid, after a few weeks of carting it around in a pocket there it had quite a few light scratches and scuffs to the finish. The camera housing protrudes a little way from the back too, which makes it easy to knock. If you want to keep the Moto G5S Plus looking pristine this is one phone that might benefit from a case.

For connectivity, the Moto G5S Plus sticks with an old-school micro-USB port, rather than the more modern USB Type-C connector. You can still fast-charge it using the supplied charger though or any USB port that supports Motorola’s TurboPower “standard”. Data transfer isn’t as fast as USB Type-C, but that’s no biggie; these days, it’s much more common to stream and download files than to transfer them via cable.

As with the Moto G5S, there’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top, and a front-facing fingerprint scanner beneath the display. This didn’t feel as fast as we’d hoped, and performance became a little erratic after a few weeks of use, requiring us to retrain it, but it’s still nice to have.

There’s also NFC and a decent 32GB of built-in storage, which you can expand with a microSD card. The handset isn’t waterproof, but it’s advertised as splashproof – so you don’t need to worry too much about taking a call in the rain.

Performance and Battery life

The Moto G5S Plus is built on the Snapdragon 625 processor. This isn’t a particularly powerful chip and, as it happens, it’s the same one used by the Moto G5 Plus, so we weren’t expecting to see any difference in benchmark scores.

In fact, Motorola has evidently managed to wring a little extra power out of the chipset, as the G5S Plus scored 4,265 points in Geekbench, some 10% ahead of the Moto G5 Plus. That’s not enough of a boost to make a really noticeable difference in everyday use but it’s a nice little bonus.

The Snapdragon 625 is also fast enough to run most games smoothly at the G5S Plus’ native Full HD resolution.

  Geekbench 4 multi-core score Geekbench 4 single-core score GFXBench Manhattan 3.0 (fps) Video rundown battery life test (hrs:mins)
Moto G5S Plus 4265 843 10 14hrs 51mins
Moto G5 Plus 3852 801 10 13hrs 13mins
Moto G5S 2303 632 7 12hrs 12mins
Moto Z2 Play 4620 911 10 19hrs 33mins

We had no problem getting through a full 24 hours between charges with the Moto G5S Plus. That means you can top up the 3,000mAh battery at whatever time of day suits you, and thanks to Motorola’s TurboPower charging technology, you can get most of the way to a full charge within an hour.

And in our video benchmark the Moto G5S Plus lasted a respectable 14 hours 51 minutes. This isn’t outstanding, but it is a perfectly good score that’s around 1.5 hours longer the Moto G5 Plus and 2.5 hours more than the G5S.

Display

The Moto G5S Plus’ 5.5in IPS screen has a resolution of 1080p, which gives it a pixel density of 400dpi. It isn’t the sharpest screen out there but it certainly doesn’t look blocky, and it’s a good size for watching videos or playing games.

When it comes to colour reproduction, the Moto G5S Plus doesn’t have the ultra-wide colour range of some high-end screens but it looks good. It covers 85.5% of the sRGB gamut, which is enough to appear vivid and punchy to the naked eye and has an impressive 1,477:1 contrast ratio, a touch higher than the iPhone 8 Plus, which also helps.

If you want a bit more zing you can also switch the panel into “vibrant mode”, which ramps up the colours for a slightly brighter appearance. The difference isn’t huge, though: you won’t be mistaking this for a high-end AMOLED panel.

Camera

One interesting feature of the Moto G5S Plus is the new 13-megapixel rear camera – which is the first Moto G phone to have dual sensors. Don’t get too excited, though: these aren’t used for the sort of high-quality zoom or wide-angle images found on flagship phones. Their only role is to soften the background, to create the familiar shallow depth of field effect.

This works fairly well. We found the camera got confused when shooting complicated scenes, but if you keep things simple – such as shooting portraits with a good bit of distance between your subject and their background – you can get some good results.

The camera also copes very nicely with regular daytime scenes. There’s more dynamic range than you’d expect from a lower-cost phone, with plenty of detail and nice solid colours.

Things go downhill a bit as the light fails, however. There’s no optical image stabilisation, so extended exposure times are off the table, and the f/2.0 aperture isn’t wide enough to compensate. If you’re shooting at night or in a gloomy room you’ll quickly start to lose detail as images succumb to noise and smeariness.

Disappointingly, shooting also feels less responsive than it did with the G5 Plus: there’s a definite shutter lag that wasn’t there before. The front-facing 8-megapixel selfie camera is afflicted too; here’s hoping that that can be improved with a software update.

Conclusion

The Moto G5S Plus is the most desirable Moto G handset we’ve seen in a long time. It’s certainly an improvement on the original G5 Plus: the larger screen is better, and the unibody casing makes it feel much more like a premium smartphone.

Of course, performance and display quality aren’t up there with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S8 or the iPhone, but they’re good enough that we’d be happy to own this phone.

Indeed, the Moto G5S Plus’ only real weakness is its slightly uneven and laggy camera. If you can live with that, it’s a very tempting step up from the cheap, plasticky handsets that occupy the bottom end of the Android market.

Motorola Moto G5S and G5S Plus
4 5
Verdict
Motorola’s Moto G5S and Moto G5S Plus both offer plenty of value, with bigger screens, much improved design and better cameras than their predecessors. The 5.2in Moto G is more affordable at $349, but the $429 is arguably even better value, with 5.5in screen and significantly better performance and battery life.
Overall
Specs
$349 AUD for the Moto G5S and $429 for the G5S Plus
Moto G5S: 5.2in, 1920 x 1080-pixel display; 1.4GHz, octa-core Snapdragon 430 processor; 16MP f/2.0 rear camera, 5MP front camera, 157g. Moto G5S Plus: 5.5in, 1920 x 1080-pixel display; 2.0GHz octa-core Snapdragon 625 processor; dual-sensor 13MP f/2.0 rear camera; 168g. Both: 32GB + microSD storage; 3GB RAM; 5MP front camera; Android 7.1.
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Copyright © Alphr, Dennis Publishing
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