Looking for a good, affordable smartphone? We review the much-awaited Motorola Moto G5 handsets to help you decide.
Lenovo has announced the Australian release of its latest budget smartphones – the Motorola Moto G5 and G5 Plus – which are available from Motorola’s online store and retailers including Harvey Norman, the Good Guys, Officeworks and JB Hi Fi.
For four generations, the Motorola Moto G series has been the gold standard for budget smartphones – offering more value with every new release. But with the Moto G5 series, Lenovo has done something highly unusual: it’s pulled back on some of the specifications.
Most noticeably, it’s dropped the screen size from 5.5 inches for the both G4 and G4 Plus to 5.0in for the Moto G5 and 5.2in for the G5 Plus.
At least we’re getting both models in Australia this time. The standard Moto G4 wasn’t officially sold here (apart from grey-market importers). We had to make do with the Moto G4 Plus and the cheaper 5in Moto G4 Play – and, in fact, both of these previous-generation phones are still available.
In addition, the Moto G5 Plus and G4 Plus both come in two different versions: with 16GB or 32GB of storage, with a bump up in RAM as well. That makes for a fairly complex range – so, for example, you can choose between a 32GB Moto G4 Plus or a 16GB Moto G5 Plus for the same price.
Lenovo’s strategy appears to have been to do what it takes to keep the prices down – and today’s Moto G phones are all very competitively priced, starting from just $249 for the Moto G4 Play to $449 for the 32GB Moto G5 Plus.
The latest Motorola Moto G range at a glance
|Moto G5 Plus||Moto G5||Moto G4 Plus||Moto G4 Play|
|Display||5.2in, 1920 x 1080 pixels||5.0in, 1920 x 1080 pixels||5.5in, 1920 x 1080 pixels||5.0in, 1280 x 720 pixels|
|Processor||2.0GHz octa-core Snapdragon 625||1.4GHz, octa-core Snapdragon 430||1.5GHz octa-core Snapdragon 617||1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 410|
|Cameras (rear/front)||12MP (with dual autofocus pixels) / 5MP||13MP / 5MP||16MP / 5MP||8MP / 5MP|
|OS||Android 7.0||Android 7.0||Android 6.0.1||Android 6.0.1|
There’s a lot to be said for that strategy in catering for users who prefer to buy their phones up-front for reduced monthly fees and greater flexibility to change mobile providers. But are the new Moto G5 phones actually good value? And how do they compare with the acclaimed previous-generation handsets – particularly the outstanding Moto G4 Plus?
We reviewed the two new models to find out.
Motorola Moto G5 Plus review
The Moto G series has been on a diet since last year’s 5.5in phablet-pushing outing. The Motorola Moto G5 Plus has lost relatively little in size, though, coming in at 5.2in to the Moto G5’s 5.0in. Put them side by side and they look pretty similar, with a little more curving on the top and bottom of the Plus model.
Both have had a makeover as well. Gone is the cheap and cheerful plastic, and in its place is a thin metal. The new style further blurs the already quite hazy lines between budget and flagship, even if the Moto G5 Plus has plastic caps at the top and the bottom of the device. It’s a good look, all the same. Micro USB charging is the order of the day, and both models sport a 3.5mm headphone jack, going against the trend in keeping the decades old, but extremely useful, port.
There are a couple of curious design differences between the Moto G5 and G5 Plus. The most obvious is that while you can remove the back and change the battery on the smaller Moto G5, that option isn’t available on the Moto G5 Plus. We can’t see any clear reason for that, but it has the small knock-on effect as to where you put your SIM card: the G5 Plus has a SIM tray accessible from the outside, rather than hidden away out of sight.
On top of this, the G5 Plus has NFC, while the G5 doesn’t. That means the G5 Plus can make contactless payments with Android Pay, while the cheaper G5 can’t.
Another difference is arguably even stranger. While the Moto G5 has the headphone jack on the top of the handset, the Moto G5 Plus keeps it on the bottom. It’s a matter of personal preference, ultimately, but it’s a weird discrepancy between the two models.
Other than that, the Moto G5 Plus looks every bit as good as the Moto G5. The difference is that with the Moto G5 Plus, it offers more value on the inside too.
To get the most out of these beautiful snaps, you’ll want to find another screen to enjoy them on. And unfortunately, while the Moto G5’s display isn’t terrible, it’s not going to win any awards any time soon.
Let’s get the positive out of the way first. You’re looking at a 5.2in screen, which is 0.3in smaller than last year’s model with the same 1080p resolution. That means it’s ever so slightly sharper – but if you can tell the difference between 424ppi and 401ppi, then you likely have the kind of super-human eyes that could read this review from across a room.
The viewing angles are also decent, but sadly that’s where the positives end. The colours feel quite murky, and even with the display set to Vibrant, it never lives up to that description. These feelings were confirmed when we took our professional testing equipment to the screen. Not only did it reach a pretty low top brightness of just 401cd/m2 (last year’s model reached 486cd/m2), it also covered just 73.4% of the sRGB colour gamut – a big drop from last year’s 90.6%.
At 1,149:1, the contrast is pretty good, but any IPS screen is facing an uphill battle to match AMOLED’s perfect contrast.
Things are significantly better when you get to the raw performance. Powering the Moto G5 Plus is a 2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, backed by either 3GB of RAM and 16GB or (for an extra $50) 4GB and 32GB. Both versions support microSD cards of up to 128GB for additional storage.
That means it feels suitably nippy in day-to-day use, and that performance level is backed up when compared directly to its nearest rivals.
Benchmark performance scores
|Moto G5 Plus||3852||801||10|
|Samsung Galaxy A5||4054||767||14|
|Samsung Galaxy J5||1948||555||4|
Looking at these results, the Moto G5 Plus is clearly a standout performer for phones under $500. It even gets reasonably close to Samsung’s $649 Galaxy A5 with its octa-core Samsung Exynos 7880 processor. But then the G5 Plus costs $150 more than the standard G5.
The battery sealed away inside the Moto G5 Plus is a 3,000mAh affair, and it copes pretty well with the daily strains of smartphone usage. Our standard test for these things involves a looped 720p video on airplane mode, at a uniform screen brightness of 170cd/m2. In those conditions, the Moto G5 Plus lasted a respectable 13 hours 13 minutes.
That means it should last a full day under what most people would consider typical smartphone usage, but it’s well behind the Galaxy A5’s incredible 22 hours 5 minutes.
The G5 Plus’s camera is its secret weapon – you simply won’t find a camera anywhere near this good for the price.
If we were ranking smartphones by their cameras, the Google Pixel is the top dog, followed by the Samsung Galaxy S8. At less than half the price, the Moto G5 Plus has no right to be alongside such distinguished company, but it manages it. In fact, it has same camera module as the Galaxy S8’s, which if you don’t know is a 12-megapixel snapper with a bright f/1.7 aperture and phase-detect autofocus.
Now, a phone’s camera is more than just the hardware: it’s ultimately the software that performs the scene analysis and auto-exposure calculation, for example. Fortunately, the Moto G5 Plus holds up brilliantly.
In good lighting conditions, the Moto G5 Plus is almost a match for the best of the best. The colours aren’t quite as vibrant as the Pixel XL, and if you look really hard you might spot some smearing, but the pictures are still nothing short of excellent, especially given the price of entry.
Like the Galaxy S8, the Moto G5 Plus’s camera performs well in low light. The camera maintains good control over image noise, and hardly any detail is lost to over-compression. If you were to be hyper-critical, you could complain that low-light photos can be a little dark, with some greys merging to black, but overall this is among the best you can buy.
The Moto G5 Plus has some shortcomings – in particular, its lacklustre screen. But, overall, based on what we’ve seen, it’s the best smartphone on the Australian market for under $500. It’s a good performer, with decent battery life and features such as NFC and fingerprint reader.
The caveat here is that unless you buy from ‘grey-market’ importers, the Australian market lacks strong mid-range contenders available elsewhere, such as the Lenovo P2, Huawei Honor 6X and OnePlus 3T.
That said, the G5 Plus is very good value. And if you’re a keen photographer, nothing in this price bracket (or under $1,000 for that matter) comes close to the Moto G5 Plus. We really can’t overstate how great the camera on this phone is.
Motorola Moto G5 review
If there’s one area where the new Motorola Moto G5 gets plenty of praise, it’s for the design. For the first time, Lenovo has jettisoned the day-glo colour plastic of previous Moto phones and joined the modern convention for high-end smartphones – which is to say, a partially metal case.
It feels suitably weighty in the hand, if perhaps a little more slippery than you’d expect. It also probably makes it a magnet for house-key scarring over time, but at least it will look the part when you take it out of the box for the first time.
What’s also impressive is that this change hasn’t come at the cost of a removable battery. At a time when pretty much every manufacturer has said goodbye to letting consumers keep a spare or replace a tired old battery, that’s pretty impressive – and strangely something that isn’t matched by the Moto G5’s slightly larger sibling, the Moto G5 Plus.
Other than that, this is smartphone business as usual. There’s a fingerprint scanner on the front, a 3.5mm headphone jack and both front- and rear-facing cameras. The back is slightly curved, but not to the degree that it won’t stay still when placed on a desk. The bezel is reasonably chunky, but then this is a $300 phone, not a $1,000 one, so you shouldn’t expect miracles.
There are three more things worthy of note about the design. The first is that Lenovo has not made the jump to USB Type-C yet. There are reasons why that could be considered bad, but one upside is that Micro USB cables are readily available – even around your house, most likely. The second is that, although the Moto G5 supports fast charging, there’s no fast charger in the box, which is a pity. Finally, unlike the Moto G5 Plus, the Moto G5 still doesn’t have NFC, which means no Android Pay.
The first thing you’ll want to do on booting up the Moto G5 is change the default wallpaper. The weird coloured lines thing isn’t pretty in itself, but the blurring it goes through when you swipe across screens makes it worse.
But that’s down to taste rather than screen quality, so let’s get to brass tacks. The Moto G5 has gone on a bit of a diet since last year’s Moto G4, losing 0.5in from its screen size in the process. That makes the screen – which stays at a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution – a tiny bit sharper than its predecessor, giving it a pixel density of 441ppi rather than 401ppi. Unfortunately, in every other sense, it's a step backwards.
Top brightness has dropped from 540cd/m2 to 471cd/m2, and the percentage of the sRGB colour gamut covered has also taken a hit, falling from 90% to 85.8%. To complete the hat trick, contrast is also lower.
To be clear, the difference isn’t huge on any of those metrics, but it’s still disappointing that we’re taking a step backwards from 2016. The least you’d expect is for the phone’s screen to tread water, rather than to actively get worse.
Unfortunately, it’s a similar story when you get to performance. On paper, the Moto G5 looks like it has comparable specifications to the previous model. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 instead of a Snapdragon 617, but both are octa-core chips. Last year’s model was a mix of 1.5GHz and 1.2GHz Cortex-A53s, while in this year’s version, all eight are 1.4GHz A53s. It still has 2GB of RAM, although there’s also a 3GB option available – in fact, this is the one we tested in our benchmarks.
The result, as you can see from our performance scores on the previous page, is that the Moto G5 is no faster than the G4. In fact, the Moto G5 comes out a touch slower than last year’s version, although the differences involved are small enough that they fall into the margin of error.
Surely there must be an upside to these shortcomings, though: the smaller, darker screen and limited performance must give the phone incredible stamina, right? Nope. In fact, the Moto G5 loses out to last year’s model here, too, falling a full 1 hours 48 minutes short of last year’s Moto G4.
The final time of 13 hours 39 minutes is quite reasonable in the greater scheme of things, especially when you can change the battery easily enough, but it is yet another step backwards for this year’s handset.
On paper, the Moto G5 should offer an improvement in camera quality over its predecessor. Although they share the main core specifications – both are 13-megapixel snappers with an f/2 aperture – the manufacturer has added phase-detect autofocus this year, which should speed up capture.
In practice, it’s a mixed bag. As is so often the case with smartphones – and especially budget phones – outdoor shots aren’t really a problem. In fact, they’re damned good on the Moto G5. Look at the picture below for an example of the crisp details and rich colours that the Moto G5 can pick up in ideal conditions:
Unfortunately, for indoor shots, things have taken yet another backwards step. Take a look at the still-life scene below to see just how poorly things come out: there’s plenty of noise, smearing and blur in the shot:
Adding flash helps a little, but it also adds a strange orangey-pink tinge to proceedings.
So, overall, the Moto G5 doesn’t fare all that well when compared to the standard G4. But then maybe the Moto G5’s true predecessor is the G4 Play. It has a higher-resolution screen and camera and faster processor than the G4 Play, yet it costs only $50 more.
It’s also significantly faster than the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy J3, although the latter has a better-quality AMOLED screen and sells for under $250.
Still, at $299, the Moto G5 offers a lot of phone for the money. It also looks much slicker than the previous generation Moto Gs. It’s just a shame Lenovo didn’t put as much effort into improving the things that really matter: the screen, performance, camera and battery life.