Moto G5S and G5S Plus reviewed: best budget phones

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Moto G5S and G5S Plus reviewed: best budget phones
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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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