Moto G5s Plus Review: The Verdict
The Moto G5S Plus is one of the best budget smartphones around right now, and is an admirable successor to the G5 Plus. The screen is a little bigger, the camera is a little better, and it's still great value. If you're after a bang for buck smartphone, the Moto G5S Plus deserves your utmost consideration.
What we love
- Lovely, high quality display
- Excellent value
- Great performance for its price
What could be improved
- No water-resistance
- Average lowlight camera performance
- Slow security updates
What's the Moto G5S Plus?
The phone industry moves fast, hey? The Moto G5S Plus is technically a mid-year refresh of the Moto G5 Plus, a phone that only came out around six months ago. More importantly, the Moto G5 Plus was a phone we really liked, to the point where we called it "the best budget smartphone you can buy right now" in our initial review.
A midyear refresh of a smartphone might seem like overkill, but it makes sense given how competitive the "affordable premium space" has become. On top of fighting new foes like OPPO and Huawei, Motorola is once again going head to head with old rival Nokia. Anything you can do to stay fresh helps.
The Moto G5S Plus isn't hugely different to the Moto G5 Plus. The screen is a little bigger, the camera is a little better, and it's a little more expensive. But given that that the Moto G5S Plus is replacing the Moto G5 Plus entirely (in Australia at the least), is it still worth your money?
Key specifications for the Moto G5S Plus include a 5.5-inch 1080p display, a Snapdragon 625 processor, either 3GB or 4GB of RAM, 32GB of expandable storage, a 13MP rear-facing dual camera setup, and a 3,000mAh battery.
What's good about the Moto G5S Plus?
One of the biggest changes Motorola made with the Moto G5S Plus is the move from a 5.2-inch display to 5.5-inches (pardon the pun). While the Moto G5S Plus isn't quite as sleek and slender as pricier 5.5-inch phones (such as the OnePlus 5 and OPPO R11), it's still a smaller overall package than the iPhone 8 Plus.
One handed usage is a touch more awkward than on the original Moto G5 Plus, but we're sure than many will love the larger screen. If you're someone who prefers a smaller display, the Moto G5S has taken up the Moto G5 Plus' 5.2-inch form-factor.
The display itself is top notch; it's 1080p, is bright enough to work well in direct sunlight, and is vivid without being overly saturated. It honestly comes close to matching displays in far pricier phones, such as the iPhone 8 and the Galaxy Note 8.
We don't really think of aluminium as "premium" anymore - partly thanks to the wide availability at almost every price point, and partly thanks to manufacturers making an exodus to glass at the high-end - but the Moto G5S Plus has a good feel to it. A less-than-seamless join between the screen and body gives away the more affordable asking price, and while it can be a touch sharp from some angles, it doesn't impact day-to-day usage.
The Moto G5S Plus is a reliable performer, exhibiting almost no slowdown in my time with the phone. In fact, I found it tended to be more responsive than the pricier Moto X4. It's not quite as fast as a top of the line flagship, but nothing ever felt sluggish, whether it was juggling apps or playing games like Super Mario Run and Hearthstone.
It's worth noting that the there's two versions of the Moto G5S Plus, a 3GB model and a 4GB model. I haven't used the 3GB of RAM version, but my average RAM utilisation has been around 2GB, so I can't see this difference making too much of a difference in terms of day to day usage. Both models do however share the same 32GB of storage, so the $30 upsell might not be worth it anyway.
The Moto G5S Plus' battery is roughly on par with the Moto G5 Plus, despite the larger screen size and same capacity cell. We found you'll typically finish a day with somewhere between 30 and 40% of charge left, which is a pretty comfortable buffer.
What's not so good about the Moto G5S Plus?
Camera quality is typically the main compromise you make with a cheaper smartphone, and this is still the case with the Moto G5S Plus. You'll get nice photos if you're shooting outdoors throughout the day or in a reasonably well-lit environment. If you're shooting at night, you'll have a much harder time getting a sharp image thanks to a slower shutter speed. The Moto G5S Plus is prone to motion blur as soon as you start losing light, but it is a bit more reliable than its predecessor.
The other big new camera feature is a secondary rear-facing lens. This is predominantly used to simulate DSLR-like shallow depth of field, blurring the background behind your subject. The results are passable when you're shooting people, but nothing to write home about when it comes to pretty much anything else; the effect is just too inconsistent to look good. The depth effect is more convincing when it comes to portraits, but errant blurring on facial extremities (especially ears and hair) gives away that it's just software.
Motorola has been known for shipping devices with a mostly unmodified version of Android free from bloatware, but it's seemingly moving away from this with its latest devices. As with the Moto X4, the Moto G5S Plus has Outlook and LinkedIn preinstalled, and even attempts to shoehorn Outlook into the setup process. Both apps can be disabled but neither can be deleted.
Preloaded apps aren’t a deal breaker - most Android manufacturers preinstall third party software on their smartphones, and most are far more egregious - but it's still a shame to see the Moto G5S Plus ship with even a hint of bloat, given the company's long standing "clean Android" stance.
While Motorola deserves applause for using a mostly unmodified version of Android, 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 G5S Plus is still stuck on June's patch, meaning it's about five months out of date.
As has been the case with every Motorola smartphone from the past year or so, the Moto G5S Plus' fingerprint reader isn't a home button. 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. While you get used to this, it hasn't stopped being weird.
You can set up the fingerprint reader to work as a physical home button, but it also removes the software buttons. Since the Moto G5S Plus doesn't have any other capacitive buttons, you'll need to swipe across the fingerprint reader to bring up multitasking menu or jump back to your previous app. This is fine, it just doesn't feel like a natural gesture.
There's also no water-resistance or NFC.
Moto G5s Plus camera samples
Who's the Moto G5S Plus for?
Like the Moto G5 Plus before it, the Moto G5S Plus admirably feels the role of "budget smartphone that doesn't feel like a budget smartphone". It's got a great display, solid battery life, a mostly clean Android implementation, and enough grunt under the hood. The only real compromise you make is when it comes to lowlight photography. If you want a capable smartphone without breaking the bank, the Moto G5S Plus is easy to recommend.
What else can I buy?
The Moto G5S is the Moto G5S Plus' smaller sibling. Retailing for $349, it's a little cheaper, has a slightly slower processor, and a 5.2-inch display rather than 5.5-inch. If you want to save a bit of money or just want a smaller phone, the Moto G5S could be a top choice.
Huawei Nova 2i
At $499, Huawei's Nova 2i is a little pricier than the Moto G5S Plus, but it's one of the cheapest ways to get the newfangled breed of 18:9 extra-tall displays that everyone is raving about. Futuristic screen aside, the Nova 2i is solidly built device that performs well. As with the Moto G5S Plus, lowlight photography is a shortcoming, but the Nova 2i is a great phone for the money otherwise.
The iPhone SE is the cheapest way to buy a new iPhone, and it now starts at $549. That's a little pricier than the Moto G5S Plus - and it's a much smaller phone - but if you'd prefer an Apple flavoured device at a more affordable price point, the iPhone SE is the way to go.