You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a great business phone. The new Motorola Moto G – the follow-up to the original Moto G, which launched last fall – offers a 5-inch display big enough to work on, fast performance and good battery life. It also delivers a clean, virtually bloatware-free Android experience, plus some handy software features from Motorola. And you get all that for under $200, with no need to sign a pricey two-year contract. Sure, the device lacks some of the best features of its more premium big brother, the Moto X, such as 4G LTE support and always-listening voice commands. But the 2014 Moto G might still be the budget business phone to beat.
The new Moto G's upsized screen is its biggest improvement for business users. Its 5-inch display gives you a whole lot more room to work on than the original Moto G's compact 4.5-inch screen. Basic work tasks like viewing documents and spreadsheets are extremely comfortable, and so are everyday tasks such as browsing the Web and managing an email inbox. The 1280 x 720-pixel display isn't just big; it's also extremely bright and sharp for a budget phone, producing crisp text and vivid colors.
The 5-inch display strikes a decent balance between portability and productivity. I had no trouble reaching the far left side of the screen with my thumb while tapping out email replies with one hand, though reaching the top of the device to swipe down the notification tray forced me to tilt the phone awkwardly in my palm. The Moto G is more manageable than the new Moto X, which sports a 5.2-inch screen, but users with small hands – and anyone who prefers a more compact smartphone – should try before they buy.
Size aside, Motorola didn't change much about the new Moto G's design – and that's a good thing. The phone sports the same soft-touch plastic body that made its predecessor easy to grip, as well as the same gently curved back that helps it fit right in your palm. The only big design changes are the long, narrow microphone and speaker bars at the top and bottom of the device. The improved front speaker is now used for speakerphone output, and that's a perk for business users who take frequent conference calls; it's much louder than the external speaker on the original Moto G, which was inconveniently located on the back of the device, forcing users to flip the phone over during speakerphone conversations.
At 0.43 inches (10.9 mm) thick, the Moto G is a bit thicker than premium 5-inch smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 (0.32 inches or 8.1 mm). It's also a bit heftier, tipping the scales at 5.25 ounces, compared with 5.11 ounces for the Galaxy S5. A little extra bulk is typical for a budget-priced smartphone. Regardless, the Moto G feels solid and well-made overall.
The Moto G packs a 12-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor with 1GB of RAM, which delivers pretty zippy performance overall. I occasionally noticed a bit of a delay when launching or switching between apps, as well as some delays when snapping successive photographs. In performance tests, the Moto G delivered far better scores than Motorola's lowest-end smartphone, the Moto E, but it lagged behind the smartphone average.
Like many budget handsets, the Moto G lacks LTE capabilities, so you'll have to settle for slower Internet speeds than you get on more premium smartphones. When browsing the Web, I noticed an average delay of 4-6 seconds for loading new Web pages. But overall, the phone delivered decent performance over AT&T's HSPA+ network.
Most Android smartphone makers ship their devices with customized versions of Android, which usually include tweaked layouts, graphics and menus, as well as tons of useless apps you can't get rid of. The Moto G can provide some relief, since it runs on a stock version of Android with practically no bloatware. That means the Moto G delivers a cleaner, simpler interface than the average Android phone. And since it runs stock Android, users can expect faster updates when Google releases a budget phone of the mobile operating system. Even the most popular Android phones often suffer from long delays between software updates; it can sometimes take months for companies to work Google's changes into their custom version of Android.
But the Moto G still comes packed with a few extra software goodies for business users. For starters, there's Moto Assist, an app that lets you set rules to determine how you interact with your smartphone under specific conditions. For example, you can set the Moto G to disable all alerts whenever you have a meeting scheduled, to help you avoid interruptions; your phone will automatically check your Google Calendar for appointments. You can whitelist specific contacts, such as employees or family members, so that they can always get through with a text or phone call. Moto Assist can also silence your phone during nighttime hours to help you get a good night's sleep. It can even read new text messages aloud when it detects that you're driving, to help you stay safe and productive on the road.
Meanwhile, Moto Alert is a handy app that can help people find you. You can send someone a text with your current location, or use the "follow me," which regularly pings another user's smartphone with location updates to help them follow you. Those capabilities could come in handy when you're meeting a client for lunch, for example.
One of the best features of Motorola's flagship smartphone, the Moto X, is the always-listening voice command; you can launch that phone's voice command prompt just by speaking a customizable phrase, even when the screen is off. The Moto G doesn't have always-listening capabilities, but it does have the next best thing: the voice command prompt can be activated with a voice phrase any time you're on the phone's home screen. Just say "OK, Google," then state your command. The Moto G doesn't let you customize the launch phrase, unfortunately, but using the feature is still easier than tapping the tiny microphone located in the Google search bar. I enjoyed using voice commands to save notes, perform Web searches and even send quick emails.
Battery life is crucial for business users who depend on their mobile devices to last through the end of the workday. The Moto G delivers decent battery life, racking up a respectable 6 hours and 30 minutes on our battery life test, which involves continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. It easily outlasted the Moto E (5 hours) and was about on par with the ZTE Grand S Pro, another affordable 5-inch smartphone.
But the Moto G's biggest draw is its low price. The phone isn't available to buy at a subsidized price with a two-year contract through a major carrier. It's only available to buy off-contract for an up-front cost of $180. That might seem like a lot to pay for a smartphone, especially one that's supposed to be budget-priced; after all, the more premium Moto X costs just $99 when you agree to a two-year contract. So what's the deal?
Actually, you can save a lot of money in the long run by buying an off-contract smartphone. Instead of being locked into a pricey two-year payment plan through Verizon or AT&T, you can opt for a more affordable monthly plan through a smaller carrier. That's one of the reasons that a flagship phone like the Samsung Galaxy S5 costs a whopping $600 without a contract. In other words, budget-minded buyers who can stomach the initial cost of a contract-free smartphone like the Moto G can ultimately save a lot of money.
The Moto G isn't the biggest, fastest or most feature-packed smartphone, but it does offer great bang for your buck. You get a sharp 5-inch display that provides plenty of real estate for to work on, plus a zippy processor and good battery life. You also get a clean Android interface and the assurance of quick updates in the future – something not many Android devices can provide. But it's not for everyone. The lack of LTE support is a major drawback. And Moto G users accustomed to a smaller smartphone might find the new model a bit bulky. Still, budget-minded business users will have a tough time finding a cheap smartphone better than this.