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In 2013, Motorola launched the first-generation Moto G, and with very respectable hardware and a price tag of just $180 off-contract, it was easily the best budget smartphone of the year. In 2014, it was a similar story: Motorola launched the second-gen Moto G, it still cost $180, it still featured great hardware for the price, and it was still the best budget smartphone of the year.
Motorola is hoping for a hat trick this year with the release of the third-generation Moto G. This new model isn't a huge upgrade on last year's Moto G, with Motorola sticking to incremental updates to some aspects of the hardware. However, considering the Moto G is still being sold at the same $180 price point as its predecessors, any hardware upgrades are much appreciated.
One of the biggest updates to the Moto G in this year's variant address a significant issue with last year's model. The new Moto G finally comes with 4G LTE connectivity as standard, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410's integrated LTE modem. We're also seeing decent upgrades to the front and rear cameras, plus an updated water resistant design.
Stock Android fans will also be glad to know that the third-gen Moto G comes with essentially vanilla Android 5.1 on-board. This means no ugly skins, virtually no bloatware, and a visual style that's consistent throughout the OS. Motorola also tends to be fairly quick when it comes to OS updates, so we can expect the Moto G 2015 to be updated to Android 6.0 'Marshmallow' shortly after its launch later this year.
The design of the Moto G 2015 should be pretty familiar to anyone with a second-generation Moto G from last year. The general shape of the handset, including the curved back panel and rounded rectangular profile, is essentially unchanged. The new Moto G is very slightly taller and around half a millimetre thicker, but it's pretty hard to notice these differences when you hold both devices in your hands.
On the front of the new Moto G you'll find the 5.0-inch display flanked by two speakers to the top and bottom. At first glance this indicates the Moto G has stereo front facing speakers, but this isn't the case. Instead, the bottom speaker is used for media such as music and videos, while the top speaker is reserved for phone calls. This is actually a downgrade on the 2014 model that did include true stereo front-facing speakers, which is disappointing to see.
The 2015 Moto G doesn't feel huge for a five inch handset, though Motorola didn't go to a significant effort to reduce the bezel around the display. Compared to a flagship like the Galaxy S6, the Moto G has a noticeably wider bezel on either side, and there's quite a bit of unused space above the display. The size of the bezels definitely don't affect the usability of the new Moto G, although it is a reminder that the device is designed for the entry-level market.
The most significant changes to the design of the Moto G are found on the back. The soft touch plastic used for the removable back panel has been replaced with hard, textured plastic, which definitely gives it a different look and feel. I'm not convinced that the corrugated design is an improvement in texture, but I do think it gives the handset a more sleek and stylish look.
The main point of interest on the rear of the Moto G is an attractive camera assembly surrounded by matte grey plastic, which breaks up the otherwise monotonous use of black in this model. You can get the Moto G in a range of other colors for both the back panel and the camera assembly through the Moto Maker, allowing you to further customize the look of the device.
The edges of the Moto G are made from a cheapish, smooth, metallic plastic (depending on the model you get), which feels acceptable in the hands for an entry-level handset. The right-hand side features both the power button and volume rocker in an accessible location, while the micro-USB charging port is along the bottom, and the 3.5mm audio jack on top.
The Moto G's rear cover can be removed, albeit with some difficulty, to reveal the two micro-SIM card slots (if you have a dual-SIM model) alongside the microSD card slot. To the disappointment of some, the Moto G doesn't feature a removable battery despite the removable cover.
You'll want to re-install the Moto G's rear cover pretty securely, otherwise the handset will not be water resistant. If you do secure the rear cover, the Moto G is IPX7 rated, meaning it's protected against immersion in up to 1m of fresh water for up to 30 minutes. Motorola says they've protected the phone in this way to prevent splashes and accidental drops in water from ruining it, which adds to the toughness of the device.
Water resistant smartphones are also significantly less annoying than before, thanks to new technology that allows both the audio jack and USB port to be uncovered during immersion. This means no fiddly flaps protecting either of these ports, and although I don't find myself wanting to use the Moto G underwater or in the shower all that often, it's nice to know the phone won't be ruined if I accidentally drop it in the toilet or sink.
The display on the front of the Moto G is protected by smooth Gorilla Glass 3, as you'd expect from pretty much every smartphone released over the past few years. The display itself is a 5.0-inch IPS LCD with a resolution of 1280 x 720, resulting in a pixel density of 294 PPI. Although this display's specifications are identical to the display used in the 2014 Moto G, the third-generation model's panel is actually somewhat different.
I'll start with what I like about the display. In a $180 smartphone, a 720p display is still standard, so you're not getting a last-generation piece of hardware. The resolution is good enough to display images and text reasonably sharply, and peak brightness is higher than last year's model, which makes the display easier to see outdoors. Viewing angles are good but not great from this IPS-class display.
The main issue I have with the 2015 Moto G's display is that it's simply not as good as its predecessor. Motorola has calibrated this display pretty poorly, resulting in an overall color tone that's far too blue. This leads to general undersaturation of colors, and can give the display a washed out look in comparison to last year's Moto G. Considering both phones retailed for the same price, this regression in display quality is pretty disappointing.
It is possible that Motorola could adjust the calibration of the display through a firmware update, especially if the issues lie in software rather than in the make-up of the display itself. I wouldn't hold my breath for such an update though.