Moto G5 Plus initial review: The best value on the market

Phones are in an interesting place right now. While we have amazing, feature-rich flagships like the LG G6 and Samsung Galaxy S8 that push the boundaries of what we thought possible, not everyone wants to spend $600+ on a phone.

But, you don’t have to spend that kind of money to get a really good phone anymore. Motorola has an ad campaign right now that says there haven’t been any big innovations in phones for years now, but I think they’re wrong. Innovation has been going on and where you can see it more than anywhere is in the budget market.

That is where the Moto G5 Plus sits. As the name indicates, this is the fifth iteration of the Moto G lineup. The Moto G lineup started as a low-cost alternative to the Moto X lineup which stripped away some features but kept the core principals of what Motorola wanted to present to customers: Close to stock Android, decent build quality, and a curved back design.

Lenovo owns Motorola now, but the mission stays the same. The newest Moto G starts at $230 (our review device is the more expensive $300 version) and you get a really, really good phone for your money. This is strictly my opinion, but the Moto G5 Plus might be the best value in cell phones right now, taking the title from OnePlus 3T. While these are two different devices aimed at two different segments of customers, they both accomplish the same thing: Incredible phones with incredible value.

So far, I’ve spent one week with the Moto G5 Plus. Generally, I believe it takes at least two weeks to conduct a full review of a device. For that reason, we’ve marked this review as an initial review and will continue to update it with information as we see fit.

Body and Build Quality

When the newest Moto G was announced, one of the biggest criticisms I saw on social media was about the body. This year Lenovo/Motorola decided to go with a metal back, plastic sides, and a glass front. Those who thought that the Moto G would be “like every other phone on the market” had a valid fear. One of the things that set the Moto G of past apart was the plastic, rounded back that offered awesome grip and looked pretty good doing it.

Moto G4

And sure, there are a ton of phones out there that use metal for the back of its devices, but I don’t see an issue with that. We can have a ton of devices all made out of the same things while keeping their uniqueness. I truly think that the Moto G5 Plus is one of the most unique devices I’ve ever used for a couple reasons we’ll get to in a bit, but the metal back doesn’t detract at all, in fact, I love it. It feels wonderful in the hand and gives a sense of a premium device.

Above and below the metal on the back are small plastic bands that wrap around to the sides of the device. I can only assume this is a manufacturing answer to giving proper room for the antennas. We’ve seen antenna bands on devices, most notably the Apple iPhone, but there are none here. The plastic matches the design of the metal back and you can only tell where they meet to due a groove so small I can’t even get my fingernail into it.

Buttons that are clicky-enough sit on the right side of the device, while the top holds the combo microSD card/SIM card slot. Aside from that, the sides and top are bare. The bottom sees a micro USB port, headphone jack, and microphone. To say I was disappointed to see a micro USB charging port on a device, even a budget device, released in 2017 would be accurate. We’ve reached out to Motorola for comment on why exactly (waiting to hear back), but I assume it was a cost-cutting issue.

C’mon, Moto.

The front of the device holds a very capable 5.2″ 1080p display. The bezels are big, not only on the sides but the chin and forehead too. Luckily the chin makes use of that space with an extremely fast fingerprint sensor. The sensor is more like the Moto Z and OnePlus 3 rather than the iPhone where you actually have to press it to activate. Meaning that all you need to do is rest your finger on the sensor, and you’re in.

I’m a fan of this approach since its one less movable part to break. The earpiece doubles as a speaker, which is nice, but I do wish it was a bit louder. But hey, front-firing is always better than the speaker being placed on the bottom of the device, or God forbid, on the rear of the device, so kudos to Moto.

My take away from the device construction is that Motorola knocked it out of the park. The Moto G5 Plus feels like a device that costs at least another $100 dollars more than what it’s actually priced at.

It does feel a bit thick and wide to me, but I’m coming from that previously mentioned OnePlus 3T which excels at being thin and light. The phone is light enough (5.5 ounces) that it won’t fatigue your fingers or wrist, but there are other devices out there which are even lighter.

Software

Android keeps getting better and better, which means Motorola’s software keeps getting better and better too. That’s the advantage of using a near-stock build of Android. Another advantage is fast updates but after the disappointingly long wait for Nougat on the Moto Z lineup, I won’t recommend this device if quick updates are important to you.

Luckily, Motorola kept the ship steady with the Moto G5 Plus. We again see the near-stock build of Android with some really smart and convenient improvements.

If you’ve followed the Pixel at all, you’ll know that the device shipped with fingerprint scanner gestures that allowed it to lower the notification window with a quick swipe down of the scanner. We’ve seen other devices like the Honor 8 have the ability to open apps through single or long pressed of its fingerprint scanner. The Moto G5 Plus might have my favorite new feature of all of them.

Welcome to one-button navigation. It might not be a revolutionary idea. It might exist on other devices (although I don’t know any) but it’s the one thing I’m going to miss when I send this phone back to Motorola. A swipe to the right equals a press of the back button, tapping the fingerprint scanner is the same as a press of the home button, and a swipe to the left opens the multitasking window. It’s freaking brilliant and I love it. I want it on every phone from here until they come out with something better. The learning curve was minimal and it just makes sense.

The famous Motorola round widget on your home screen has only gotten better. It now gives smart updates, such as how long until it rains or how long it will rain for (you know you’re in for it when it says “rain for the next 91 minutes”). Not to bury the lede here but the launcher that comes default on the device has the same swipe up gesture to open the applications window as the Pixel Launcher. I normally mess around with the default launcher on a phone before throwing Nova on it, but this has a lot of things I like and I think if I kept the phone, I would actually keep the default launcher.

Under the hood, the Moto G5 Plus is running Android 7.0 with the January security update. It runs pretty much flawlessly. The Snapdragon 625 processor feels more like a flagship processor in the G5 Plus due to the complete lack of unnecessary processes running the background like you’ll find on heavier skins. I never have stutters (it’s only been a week so this is something we’ll keep an eye on) and app load times, while a hair slower, are comparable to the Snapdragon 821 on my OnePlus 3T.

Returning this year are all of the smart gestures you’ve come to expect from Motorola like chopping twice to turn on the flashlight or twisting the device to turn on the camera. We also see the return of the best lockscreen in the game. You still get previews of your notifications with the ability to open or dismiss them right from the lockscreen. Unfortunately, the panel in the Moto G5 Plus is an IPS LCD so you don’t get the same power-saving advantages you would if it was an AMOLED display, but the name of the game is convenience and Motorola continues to deliver there.

Android Nougat has been out for over six months now, but many still haven’t seen the software in action. Fragmentation is still an issue. Marshmallow is only on 31% devices while Nougat is on almost 3% of devices and that still kind of blows me away. In 2017 the easiest way to get a software upgrade is just to buy a new device every year and that is really sad. Luckily, Motorola is making it cheap on you to do so, but OEMs must do better going forward.

If you’re unfamiliar with Nougat, there are a lot of nice quality of life improvements like bundled notifications, quick reply in the notification window and native multi-window. Add this in with the under the hood API changes, power saving efforts, and other things I am not smart enough to understand, and you have a really excellent OS to install on your device. Motorola’s strategy for a long time now has been not to screw with Android, just make it better. Luckily it has continued that way of thinking because the software on the Moto G5 Plus is excellent.

Performance

Even though I touched on performance a bit in the software section, I want to go a little bit more in-depth here. Just to give you an idea of what we’re working with, here are the important specs of the Moto G5 Plus

  • Display: 5.3″ 1920 x 1080 IPS LCD
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, Octa-core 2.0GHz
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB (expandable)
  • Battery: 3000mAh
  • Rear Camera: 12MP, f/1.7, dual LED flash
  • Front Camera: 5MP, f/2.2
  • Operating System: Android 7.0 Nougat, January Security Update

As we mentioned before, we’re working with the more expensive of the two Moto G5 Plus versions. The cheaper $230 version has 32GB of storage (expandable) and 2GB of RAM, while our unit has 64GB of storage (expandable) and 4GB of RAM. While I haven’t tested the two devices side-by-side, I would recommend spending the extra $70 to get more RAM and storage. If you plan to keep the device long-term, future-proof your purchase by spending a little bit more.

Zero lag. You don’t often find it on devices these days, in fact, I think the only device I’ve ever seen it on was the Pixel XL, but you will here. At least, in the week I’ve been reviewing the device, I’ve seen none.

Where I generally get frustrated the most is scrolling through Reddit. Whether it be touch latency or just the OS causing slowdowns, most phones have a problem scrolling through lists. Taking an extra second while loading an app or pulling information I can forgive, but in 2017 I should be able to move my finger across the screen and have the phone respond directly to that. The Moto G5 Plus has so far been perfect in that regard.

Loading times and graphical performance have been just fine. This isn’t the powerhouse that the Snapdragon 835 will be, you’ll do fine in games. I don’t play a ton, my daughter does. While watching her I noticed no slowdowns, no real dropped frames or lagging. Is she playing the most graphics intensive games? No, but generally people who are picking up this device (aside from maybe young teens) won’t be either.

The Snapdragon 625 chip in the Moto G5 Plus isn’t sexy. Sexy is the latest and greatest. The Snapdragon 835 is debuting this year and its what everyone wants. People are dissing the LG G6 because it “only” has a Snapdragon 821. The 821 came out in the second half of last year and powers phones like the OnePlus 3T and Pixel (XL). It’s a fantastic chip that will power through everything out there.

But, the Snapdragon 625? It’s awesome. Sure, it’s probably equivalent to the processing power of flagships of a year or two ago, but it has all the power efficiency gains of the last couple of years too. And this thing is a beast when it comes to battery life. Six hours of on screen time comes easy. Two days of regular use comes easy. I’ve had this phone for seven days and I’ve charged it three times. It isn’t the battery life champ that the Moto Z Play is, but it’s damn good and in the upper echelon of devices. And when you’re getting low, the included Turbo Charger delivers on its promise of giving you an extra few hours of usage after just 15 minutes of charging.

So far the performance section sounds like a love letter to Motorola, but not all that glitters is gold. One of the biggest omissions in the Moto G5 Plus is NFC. I get that this is a budget device but the lack of NFC when Google, Samsung, and LG are all pushing contactless payments is really, really silly.

Camera

Every piece of literature ever produced (slight exaggeration) about the Moto G5 Plus has placed emphasis on the camera. Motorola wants you to feel comfortable buying its $300 device even though budget phones get a bad rap for having subpar main cameras.

Well…I wish I could say I was more impressed. The spec sheets lists a 12MP camera with a f/1.7 aperture on the rear with a 5MP shooter on the front at f/2.2. There’s no optical image stabilization to be found and that hurts the Moto G5 Plus in low-light situations. A lot.

Daylight pictures are fine. In fact, with HDR mode, not only do pictures look good, but they’re taken fast and reliably. You’re not going to see Pixel or iPhone-like quality, but these will still be perfect for social media or pinning to your home screen as your background.

Where the Moto G5 Plus falls flat is in darker situations. You’ll see a lot of the same issues that plague other budget devices: grain, overly dark areas with no contrast, and soft corners. Low-light photography seems to be an issue that continues to plague all but the most expensive of devices.

Sure, you can use pro-mode to pull more detail out of your shots at night, but most people aren’t going to go through all of that. They want to pull a camera out of their pocket, twist their wrist and shoot.

Here are a few samples from our time with the G5 Plus, but keep an eye on our Instagram account for more over the next few weeks.

Conclusion

The Moto G5 Plus has had an unassuming release. You probably haven’t seen much advertising outside maybe an Amazon ad or two. There hasn’t been a ton of buzz about the phone due to it being released between the LG G6 and the Samsung Galaxy S8 along with its budget price tag. But, that should change.

If you’re looking to spend $300 or less on a phone, this should be your only choice. There are no better phones on the market at this price point than the Moto G5 Plus. And it’s not even close. If you want to increase your budget, go get a OnePlus 3T for the more premium materials, USB type-C, NFC, and Dash Charging, but I think the Moto G5 Plus offers the best value on the market right now.

I would like to see Motorola focus on low-light photography more in the future. I think (I don’t know, but I think) the issue with low-light photography has more to do with software than hardware. If I’m right, I hope Google and Motorola can team up to make improvements to all of Android. Raise the bar everywhere, not just with Motorola devices. NFC is a silly omission, but one most people can live without and the bezels are enormous for 2017 expectations.

But, the phone is just damn good. I haven’t wanted to put it down since I picked it up and the one-button navigation has changed the way that I think about using my phone. Seriously, someone please enable this for the OnePlus 3T. I need it in my life and once you use it, you won’t want to go back either.

You have a few options if you want to pick of the Moto G5 Plus. Amazon has teamed up with Motorola once again to offer the device at a reduced price, but you’ll have to deal with ads on your lockscreen and occasionally in your notification window. If you don’t care about such things, it’s an easy way to save $60.

All of the devices release on 3/31 but you can hit the links above to pre-order now, if you so choose.