Motorola Moto G3 Review: Moto Does it Again


WhistleOut
02 September 2015

The Moto G3, AKA Moto G 3rd Generation, enters the market on the shoulders of giants. Its predecessors were incredible phones compared to their price tags, but this time the amount Motorola is asking has gone up. Has the bar of quality been raised along with the price? You bet your cotton socks it has.

Where once the Moto G was marked by a lack of build quality and a terrible camera, this time around Motorola has specifically addressed each of these issues, without letting the core user experience slip even the slightest degree.

Design

The Moto G3 still isn’t much of a looker. In Northern America and select other locations you can fix this by going through the Moto Maker program. This lets you design and match your own colour schemes for your Moto G3, although it’ll cost you a little more than an off-the-shelf model.

Even if you opt for the plain look, the G3 is still a well-built device. For starters it’s IPX7 water resistant – the same rating found on last year’s Samsung Galaxy S5. It can be submerged in up to half a metre of water for up to half an hour; you can’t go swimming with it, but it’ll shake off any accidental spills or trips in the toilet.

It does this without the use of those annoying flaps found on other water resistant phones. Those flaps are a huge weak spot; if they come loose you lose protection. If they break off (as anyone with kids can attest to), then that protection is gone for good. Furthermore, they can be seriously annoying when you’re trying to charge your phone in the dark.

The USB port is water-resistant without the need for a covering; the SIM and microSD ports are hidden under the removable rear panel. Of course, if that panel comes loose you’re in trouble, but that’s far less likely to happen than a little flap getting caught on something and flopping open.

Durability-wise the G3 feels pretty solid. This is not the kind of phone that triggers a moment of dread if you knock it off the couch and on to a hardwood floor. The rubberised back does a good job absorbing impact, and even when it lands on the side it’s with more of a dull thud than a sharp crack. All in all this is not a phone that feels delicate, although it’s not specifically designed to survive impacts so don’t go dropping it on purpose.

Finally, it has front-facing speakers. This is a common-sense decision that too many manufacturers slip up on. They're not the loudest in the world; they certainly cannot compare to the BoomSound technology that HTC is running with these days; but they're facing the right direction and are loud enough for general use.

Models

There are two different Moto G3 models. In most markets only one is available, so if you’re after the other one you’ll have to go shopping online (just make sure any overseas model will work in your region before buying anything).

  • The first version has 8GB of internal storage and runs on 1GB RAM. This is the cheapest model.
  • The other has 16GB internal storage and 2GB RAM. This is the version we had. It’s more expensive but still very affordable considering what you get.

Both variants have a microSD card so you can expand storage further if need be. Both are also identical in appearance and their other hardware; only storage capacity and RAM differ.

User experience

The Moto G3 comes packing some decent hardware for its price tag. A 5 inch 720p HD display, quad-core 1.4GHz CPU, Adreno 306 GPU, a 5MP front and a 13MP rear camera.

While a 720p display may not be as impressive as it once was, that still gives it 294 pixels per inch (ppi). Considering that an iPhone 6s – a phone roughly 3x the price – will give you only slightly more at 326ppi, this is nothing to turn your nose up at.

The screen is bright enough to be seen in direct sunlight and is protected with Gorilla Glass 3. It’s responsive and fast like a phone twice its price. Obviously if you compare it to a fully-fledged flagship it’ll come up short, but there’s nothing in this price range that we’ve used which compares.

Overall it’s a snappy, smooth device. The quad-core CPU eats up just about anything you can throw at it. Admittedly, it does have some trouble with the more intense games on the market, like Hearthstone or Azeroth, but it doesn’t heat up significantly or outright crash under the pressure.

We did have one minor, oddly-specific issue with the Facebook app; it kept crashing. Probably about 10 times in all during our two weeks with the G3. Shutting it down and reopening was no big deal and took mere seconds, but it’s an annoying flaw worth mentioning nonetheless. We did not have this problem with any other app.

The UI is vanilla Android. This is a great decision by Motorola; it’s one of the main reasons that costs can be kept so low (UI R&D is expensive). It also means that you’ll get Android updates when they’re released, rather than waiting months for your manufacturer and carrier to get around to allowing you to upgrade.

Camera

Obviously the Moto G3 can’t compete with something like a Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6 in terms of its camera quality, but it’s not meant to. The G3 is an affordable phone. Its competition are all those other phones you may never have heard of, but are perhaps familiar with their manufacturers like the Samsung Galaxy Core Prime or HTC Desire 510.

In this field of play, the Moto G3 reigns supreme, particularly on overcast days thanks to the auto-HDR. The camera offers decent photos outside during the day and passable ones indoors. This is not something that can be said of all affordable phones; certainly not about the Moto G’s predecessors.

One surprisingly-useful quirk is the shake-to-wake function. Rapidly twisting the Moto G3 back and forth along its Y-axis (portrait orientation) automatically launches the camera from standby mode. This sound gimmicky, but we actually ended up loving it. Once you get used to it, you’ve launched the camera by the time you’ve pulled it from your pocket and have it aimed at something. Thanks to the very specific nature of the shaking motion, it’s pretty hard to do this by accident.

Unfortunately, once you do launch it the user interface is clunky and often annoying. The problem stems from the implementation of a tap-to-shoot control. Tap anywhere on the screen and the phone will focus and take a photo.

Once you’ve become accustomed to the more-common method – tap the screen to focus and adjust brightness manually, then tap the button to capture the image – this is a frustrating setup. It leaves you at the mercy of the autofocus, so you end up waving your camera around awkwardly trying to get it to focus on the thing you want, rather than what happens to be centre-screen or closest.

Night shots aren’t great, but they were never going to be. Low-light photo capture is only just becoming borderline reliable in the absolutely top-tier handsets. Even then only a handful of them can do it with any reliability.

Despite the 5MP front-facing camera, the Moto G3 takes pretty lacklustre selfies. They're not terrible, but they're a far cry from what you might expect from a usual 5MP shooter.

Ultimately photos taken front-wise turn out about as well as most other mid-range selfie cams.

Battery life

Battery life is pretty good, albeit a little unpredictable. A couple of times the Moto G3 made it through two full days of photos and fairly intense use in areas with low connectivity (usually a big battery killer), as long as we threw it on flight mode during the night.

Other times, it made it a full day quite comfortably, but with only around 10-20% left by bed time. There was no real difference in use on these occasions. If anything, there was less demand on the battery.

At the very least the Moto G3 is no power slouch; it’ll make a full day without need for a top-up unless you decide to go on a gaming spree.

Just remember that this battery is non-removable. This was done to facilitate the water-resistance feature, which is a fine payoff in our opinion.

Verdict

For its price, the Motorola Moto G3 is an utterly, utterly fantastic device. We can’t think of anything that comes close to this level of bang-for-buck in today’s market.

Even phones double the price will have trouble competing with the smooth, calm fluidity with which the G3 handles just about everything, with that one odd exception of the Facebook app.

Like previous Moto G models, the camera is still the weakest link. However, this time around it’s thoroughly usable and probably better than average for a phone this affordable.

On top of all of this, it’s IPX7 water resistant with no annoying flaps! This is a seriously great feature; one that we’re sad hasn’t caught on in the mobile market has a whole. The rubberized back also adds a small level of impact protection, although it’s more for grip than anything.

If you’re after an affordable smartphone, you really cannot go past the Moto G3. Just make sure you know which model you’re buying; the 8GB or 16GB storage option. Our 16GB model was fine, but 8GB does not give you a lot of wiggle room. These days that’s pretty much your operating system and a handful of apps and photos, so you’ll need a microSD card to supplement your storage.


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