Moto G review: The best budget phone money can buy

The future of Motorola is about to enter a new era, but after carrying the Moto G for the last week or so, one thing became very clear: This phone might be inexpensive, but it certainly isn’t cheap.

And I say that after using the Boost Mobile(s s) version of the device, which, at $129.99, is one of the least pricey models you can find. Even at$179 for an unlocked version directly from Motorola(s goog), however, the Moto G is well worth the price of entry. It offers a great balance of build, features and software that you don’t often see at this price point. If you’re smartphone shopping on a budget, there’s no better bet.

Upon first look, you might mistake the Moto G for the much-more-expensive Moto X, Motorola’s flagship smartphone. Physically, the phone looks very much similar, though it’s a bit thicker and squatter. I reviewed the black model of the phone, though Motorola sells interchangeable snap-on back covers in eight different colors for $14.99 each. Whichever color you choose, the phone is covered in a soft-touch polycarbonate that’s comfortable to hold and grip. It sometimes became smudgy from fingerprints, but those would often wipe away after putting the phone in my pocket. It’s also protected by a water-repellant nano-coating. This means you can worry a little less about using the phone in the rain, but it doesn’t make it waterproof. No matter, the Moto G is an attractive device, and there’s nothing about it that brings to mind the word budget. The inexpensive price of the phone is something I often forgot about entirely while using it. The phone itself is very simple. There’s a headphone jack on top, a power port on the bottom, and power and volume buttons on the right. That’s it. Unfortunately, that means there’s no microSD card slot. The 8GB model I tested came with just 5GB available, so storage is definitely a concern here. The phone does come with 50GB of free storage space via Google Drive for two years, though, so that should help out. One of the best features about the Moto G is its 4.5-inch display. It features the same 720p resolution as the 4.7-inch Moto X, which means the Moto G actually packs more pixels per inch into its screen than the Moto X does. And at 329ppi, the Moto G actually has a denser screen than even Apple’s(s aapl) iPhone 5s, which has 326ppi. It looks bright and sharp in person, with rich color and great viewing angles. That makes the Moto G a particularly adept media player, whether you’re watching movies on Netflix(s nflx) or browsing through clips on YouTube. Fast performance for the price The Moto G also manages to pack a pretty decent punch in the power department. The phone is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm(s qcom) Snapdragon 400 processor and 1 GB of RAM. It didn’t set any of my usual benchmark tests on fire, but everything about the phone felt smooth. Screen transitions were swift, apps opened without delay, and Web browsing was fast. Even better is that the phone ships with a nearly stock version of Android. The phone comes out of the box running Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), but an update to Android 4.4.2 (KitKat) is rolling out now (though it hasn’t made it to my phone yet). KitKat is still pretty rare to find even among the high-end devices out there, so the fact that you’re getting it on a budget device is pretty incredible. By comparison, even the brand-new Boost Max ships with a severely dated Android 4.1. Motorola has made almost no modifications to the UI. You don’t get features like the touchless control and active display that are present on the Moto X, but you do get some nice additions like Motorola Assist and Motorola Migrate. Assist is home to some useful utilities, like the ability to mute your phone in a meeting. And Migrate makes it easy to transfer data to the Moto G from an old device. Camera and compromises When you open the camera you’ll notice that there’s no onscreen button to snap a photo. Instead, you can tap anywhere on the screen in order to take a picture, just like on the Moto X. Also like the Moto X, the Moto G takes decent — but not great — photos. The Moto G features a 5-megapixel camera sensor. It can be a bit slow to capture an image, and most of the pictures I took inside looked noisy. Image quality suffered in low-light, though using the flash made images look soft. Photos taken outdoors in good lighting, like the one below, look decent, if a bit waxy. Most of the shots you take will be fine for sharing on social media, just know that the Moto G isn’t a photographer’s dream come true. Camera aside, some other compromises had to be made, of course. I understand the lack of software-based features like touchless control. That would’ve required different hardware, which would’ve added significantly to the price of the device. What’s a bummer, though, is that the Moto G is 3G only. Unlocked GSM models of the phone top out at HSPA+ 21, which is a faster version of 3G, but still a few steps behind 4G LTE. Boost’s CDMA version, on the other hand, is even slower. Boost uses Sprint’s 3G network, which certainly isn’t winning any awards lately. I saw average speeds of around 1Mbps for both uploads and downloads in Manhattan and Brooklyn. That’s completely usable, but nowhere near LTE. Call quality sounded fine in both directions. Conclusion The Moto G is not without its faults, but for the price, you’ll be hard pressed to find any phone that’s this solid overall. For example, Boost also offers the ZTE Warp for the same exact price as the Moto X. The Warp is a two-year-old phone that features a low-res screen, an ancient single-core processor, and a practically fossilized version of Android. There’s simply no comparison. Even if you’re buying the phone for$179 unlocked from Google, you won’t find a better deal in that price range.

The Moto G isn’t meant to compete with the Moto X, the Galaxy S4, the iPhone 5s or any other high-priced, high-end smartphones. Instead, the Moto G is meant to provide users with a high-quality device they can afford without a contract. And while it may not be the best smartphone out there, it manages to achieve this goal admirably.