The Moto G5 isn't a bad phone, but it makes a few too many compromises in keeping costs down. Unless you're on a strict budget, you'll be better off spending $100 more and grabbing the Moto G5 Plus instead.
What we love
- Great battery
- Good value
- Clean version of Android
- Cheap, without looking cheap
What could be improved
- No scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass
- Some performance issues
- Tinny speaker
- Only 16GB of storage
What Is It?
The Moto G5 is one of the two new devices in Motorola's commercially and critically successful G series of budget-to-midrange smartphones. Thanks to bloat-free Android software, good hardware under the hood, and bang-for-buck price tags, the G series devices have often been our go to recommendation when someone's after a new smartphone without breaking the bank.
A new phone typically means better hardware, but this year's biggest change is a move away from plastic to a mostly metal design. The Moto G5 doesn't have the same kind of striking looks as this year's increasingly minimalist line-up of flagship devices, but it's premium enough to compete against the likes of OPPO and Huawei who are now selling aluminium smartphones for less than $300.
While its larger sibling, the 5.2-inch G5 Plus, comes in two variants, the 5-inch G5 is available in just one configuration: a 16GB model with 2GB of RAM for $299.
The Moto G5 might be cheap, but it doesn't look cheap. The mostly glass and metal phone isn't the most prestigious device on the market, but it's a testament to what $299 buys you these days. Despite a plastic frame, the Moto G5 has a nice reassuring heft, and it's pretty easy on the eyes.
Battery life is one of the Moto G5's greatest strengths; even with heavy usage, you'll still get a full day of charge. In most cases, I found I had a buffer of about 30 to 35% at the of the day.
The Moto G5's battery is also removable, if that's a feature that still tickles your fancy. This does however necessitate a moat of plastic around the aluminium back, so that you're able to snap off the back cover and access the battery.
Motorola's been shipping its smartphones with a mostly unfettered Android experience for quite some time, and the Moto G5 Plus is no exception. It looks and feels like stock Android, and even features the modern Pixel-style launcher where you swipe up to access your app drawer, rather than having a dedicated button.
That being said, Motorola's take on Android isn't without customisation, but this mostly comes in the form of gestures, such as the karate chop motion you can make to turn on the flagship, or the twist that will open up the camera.
While the Moto G5's camera is just average, it's quite good for price point. When shooting in well-lit environments, the main issue is a limited dynamic range, which will result in a loss of detail in brighter and darker areas quite quickly. Cloud will often become white blobs, for example. Photos can also look a little washed out. At night or in poorly-lit environments, noise is quite prevalent in images, and the camera is also fairly prone to motion blur. All in all, it's reliable for the most part, and does a decent job.
And at just $299, the Moto G5 is cheap as chips. Well, computer chips.
What's Not So Good?
The Moto G5 boasts quite a sharp display for a budget phone, running at 1080p where many other devices in its price bracket would have opted for the slightly lower resolution 720p. This is however counterbalanced by a middling maximum brightness and a slightly washed out colour palette. The display is still usable in bright sunlight, but it's can be a bit of a struggle.
While this is all fairly standard when you're looking at phones in the Moto G5's price range, there is one bigger compromise: the display isn't protected Gorilla Glass, which is damage resistant glass that's now commonly found on most smartphones, including the Moto G5 Plus. It's absence is actually quite noticeable: the Moto G5 is the first smartphone where I've managed to (accidentally) scratch the screen in my three or so years of reviewing handsets.
The Moto G5 runs well for the most part, but I did encounter a few performance hitches. Games like Hearthstone were prone to slowdown, and even day-to-day apps like Instagram weren't immune; there were more than a couple of times recent photos struggled to display when I tried to upload one.
16GB of internal storage isn't much either, especially when competitors like OPPO are selling similarly priced phones with 32GB. You can expand the Moto G5's base storage with a microSD card, and you might very well want to, because you'll only have access to about 10GB out of the box.
We don't really talk about call quality much these days, but the Moto G5's speaker / earpiece is more than a little tinny. This led to some clarity issues with a few phone calls, but was passable most of the time. That being said, other than phone calls, you won't really won't to use the speaker for any anything more than the occasional YouTube video.
Motorola deserves applause for using a mostly unmodified version of Android, but there's still room for improvement when it comes to security updates. Motorola previously committed to bundling up three months Google's security updates for quarterly releases, but at time of writing, my Moto G5 is still running January's patch. These monthly updates address vulnerabilities in Android; the April update, for example, addressed a critical vulnerability that would allow malicious actors to remotely execute code on your phone through the use of email, website, or MMS.
Interestingly, the Moto G5's fingerprint reader isn't a home button, which is a bit weird. Tapping it will unlock the phone or put it back to sleep, but it won't take you to the home screen. Instead, there's another layer of on-screen buttons above it.
If you'd prefer a physical home button, there's a setting that makes the fingerprint reader do just that, but it also removes your software buttons. Since the Moto G5 doesn't have any other capacitive buttons, you need to swipe across the fingerprint reader to bring up the multitasking menu or go back to your previous app. It's fine, it just doesn't feel natural.
Who's It For?
Is $300 the most you want to spend on a phone? If so, the Moto G5 is a solid choice. There's a few issues that might be potential deal breakers - especially the lack of scratch-resistance and occasional performance hitches - but it's an otherwise reliable device.
However, if your budget isn't fixed, consider spending between $100 and $150 more and get the Moto G5 Plus instead. The Moto G5 Plus addresses almost every compromise the Moto G5 makes, and is one of the best very best budget phones we've tested.
What Else Can I Buy?
Moto G5 Plus
If you can make your budget stretch, the $399 Moto G5 Plus is a much better buy, offering a nicer screen, faster processor, and more detailed camera.
OPPO's new $328 A57 isn’t strictly better or worse than the Moto G5, it just makes different trade-offs. The A57 gives lower resolution display, but more RAM and expandable storage. The Moto G5 does however run a clean version of Android Nougat, while the OPPO A57 runs a heavily customised take on Marshmallow.
Huawei GR5 2017
Huawei's GR5 2017 is another solid budget offering, priced at $399 outright. It used Huawei's heavily customised Android UI, but has a unique trick worth considering: a dual lens rear-facing camera. Touting 12MP and 2MP cameras on the back, the GR5 2017 uses the two in tandem for faster focus, dynamic depth of field, and wider-angle shots. Essentially, it's a stripped down version of the Leica branded system found in Huawei's latest flagships.