But you don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars to get a great unlocked handset. Take Motorola’s third-generation Moto G, for example.
Starting at $180, the Moto G boasts a 5-inch screen, a 13-megapixel camera, and 4G LTE network connectivity for fast Internet speeds. What’s more, you can even customize the Moto G’s colors to look the way you want.
Here’s why Motorola’s Moto G is the best budget smartphone on the planet.
With a starting price of $180, you can’t expect the Moto G to sport the kind of high-design aluminum and glass construction found on the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6. But this is no hideous, low-rent handset; the Moto G is actually fairly attractive.
Sure, it’s made of plastic, but it’s not too bulky. And despite its 5-inch screen, I found the phone extremely comfortable to hold. I could even use it with one hand, a novel concept in the age of supersized smartphones.
The Moto G’s design is also extremely simple: just two buttons, one for power and a volume rocker on the right side. As with Motorola’s other handsets, you mostly control the Moto G via its onscreen Android buttons. (To be honest, I prefer physical buttons. Call me old-fashioned, but I just like the way they feel.)
This is Motorola’s third-generation Moto G, but it’s the first version that you can customize using Motorola’s Moto Maker service, which lets you choose your Moto G’s paint job. You can pick from 10 colors for the handset’s back panel and accent piece, as well as a black or white front panel.
Oh, and did I mention that the Moto G is water-resistant? Yep, with an IPX7 durability rating, the Moto G can spend up to 30 minutes in 3 feet of water without calling it quits.
Excellent 5-inch display
The Moto G’s 5-inch screen is the perfect size for reading articles and watching movies, yet the handset is still small enough to fit in your pocket. No, the G doesn’t have a super-high-resolution screen with 400 quintillion pixels per square inch, but it does have a 720p display that looks fantastic.
I watched the trailer for the upcoming Deadpool movie on the Moto G, and though some of the darker scenes were a bit difficult to make out, the overall image quality was great.
I did notice that visuals tended to wash out a bit when I looked at the phone at an angle. Overall, though, apps, websites, and photos looked crisp and colorful.
A high-quality camera
The Moto G comes with a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front camera, both of which are upgrades over the previous-generation Moto G’s cameras.
I took my Moto G around Times Square to test its image quality, snapping pictures of various Spider-Men and “artists,” and was genuinely impressed with how great the images looked. Even when I compared the photos with those taken with my Galaxy S6, which has one of the best cameras around, the Moto G’s shots still looked wonderful.
A shot of a red flower looked vibrant, while a picture of a basket of fruits looked warm and inviting. The Moto G’s camera isn’t perfect, though. For example, the Galaxy S6’s camera captured far more details of both the red flower and basket of fruit. What’s more, low-light shots looked pretty awful when I didn’t use the flash.
The camera’s software could also use some work. For example, the tap-to-focus feature is turned off by default, which means you have to enable it through the camera settings menu.
That’s easy enough for most people, but the Moto G will also appeal to folks who are buying their first smartphone. They might not know that they have to dig into the camera settings to turn tap-to-focus on.
Despite these complaints, the Moto G’s camera is a huge step up compared with the kinds of cameras budget smartphones used to come with. And for most people, that’s perfectly fine.
A truly smart phone
Motorola’s Moto G runs Google’s Android Lollipop operating system. But unlike other smartphone makers that customize Android with skins and different app icons, Motorola leaves Google’s OS largely untouched.
The exception? Motorola does add extra features to Android in the form of its Moto apps, which include Moto Assist, Moto Display, and Moto Actions.
Moto Assist can automatically set your phone to silent if you’re in a meeting, at work, or when you go to sleep. To automatically silence notifications at work, you simply have to make sure location tracking is turned on, enter your office’s address into the Moto Assist app, and tell it whether you want your phone to be completely silent or to vibrate.
Once you save the settings, your phone will adopt them as soon as it detects that you are near your office. I set up Moto Assist to silence my phone in my office, and it worked like a charm. Of course, if you want to be notified of a call from a specific person, you can set certain numbers as priority contacts.
Motorola also included its excellent Moto Display app with the Moto G, which provides detailed notifications for things like Twitter, email, and text messages even when the phone’s screen is off.
To check your notifications, you simply nudge the Moto G. If you’ve got a text waiting to be read, a white text message icon will appear on your phone’s screen. You can then tap and hold the icon to read your text message, email, and so on, and swipe up to unlock your phone to the appropriate app.
Finally, there’s Moto Actions. This app lets you do things like quick-launch the Moto G’s camera by twisting the phone in your hand. You can also turn on the phone’s flashlight by holding the Moto G horizontally and shaking it up and down.
It’s not a mind-blowing feature, and you might look silly doing it, but it’s certainly helpful.
Despite the fact that it’s a budget phone, the Moto G is a relatively powerful handset. No, it doesn’t have the latest and greatest processor on the planet, but I was able to play games like Fallout Shelter without a single hiccup.
The one problem with the Moto G’s performance is that if you get the base $180 version of the phone, you’ll only get 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. Now, if you’re just going to be sending texts, checking emails, and occasionally browsing the Web, that’s fine.
But if you’re going to be using multiple apps or streaming music and movies, like I do, you’ll want to upgrade to the more powerful $220 version, which comes with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. And if 16GB of space isn’t enough for all of your photos and videos, the Moto G comes with a microSD slot that accepts up to 32GB cards.
In terms of battery life, the Moto G is an animal. I regularly got more than a day’s worth of use out of a single charge. I can’t say the same for my Galaxy S6.
A budget phone you’ll actually love
The Motorola Moto G is an excellent smartphone with great looks and an even better price tag. Will it beat the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S6 in terms of performance, design, or camera quality? No, but that’s not the point of the Moto G.
The point of this phone is to be as inexpensive as possible, while still providing you with the same creature comforts you’d expect out of pricier mainstream handsets. And the Moto G more than succeeds at this task.
With the Big Four national carriers quickly abandoning subsidized two-year smartphone agreements in favor of month-to-month plans that require you to pay the entire cost of your phone, less expensive handsets are sure to begin looking more attractive to many consumers.
The Moto G is proof that those same consumers will still have smartphones that they’ll love.