Monday, November 16, 2015

First Impressions, Motorola Moto G (3rd Generation)

Never plug your phone into an untested charger that's not made by the OEM. I learned the hard way when I plugged my phone into a newly bought charger (my wife bought it in an effort to get rid of the rat's nest of wires on the charging desk --- needless to say it's the most expensive charger she's ever bought --- lesson: keep your rats nest and stick with well-reviewed chargers). Well, my Xperia Z1's motherboard got fried, and I had to shop for a new phone in a hurry.

I liked the Xperia Z1, so my initial thought was to just simply purchase an Xperia Z3. Alas, the price I got from Amazon did turn out to be too good to be true. Upon receiving the phone, I checked it against Sony's website and discovered that the "new" phone I was sold only had 2 months of warranty left. In other words, some reseller had bought the phone from Sony or T-mobile, and was reselling it to me as "new." The full price of the phone ($550) was more than I could stomach, so I went looking for other choices.

My criteria were:
  • Waterproof: having learned from the Xperia Z1 how useful a feature that was, I wasn't willing to give this up.
  • MicroSD card storage. Sorry, I'm not paying $100 to get an extra 16GB of storage. That's for Apple users. (I paid $25 for a 64GB MicroSD card)
  • 2GB of RAM, preferably 3.
  • 5" screen. More than that, and it's too awkward to hold one-handed.
  • Camera shutter button preferred.
  • Cheap. Let's face it, phone processor performance hasn't improved in years 
Not surprisingly, other than the Xperia Z series, there are only a few phones that offer the first feature:
The Samsung was too much to pay for, and I never liked the UI, so it came down to the Sony Aqua and the Moto G. I honestly did not expect the Moto G to be a contender, but since Lenovo acquired them from Google, Motorola has finally put microSD card storage even into its high end phones like the Moto X. Back when Google owned Motorola, it suffered from severe Apple envy and thought it could charge Apple-type prices for storage. The addition of waterproofing was a nice surprise. In fact, the higher-end phones in Motorola's line up all only have water-resistance, rather than being IP7 waterproof. I would have considered the shatter-proof Droid Turbo 2 if it had included water-proofing along with the 4 year anti-crack warranty. As it was, I figured I could get 3 Moto Gs for the price of one of those, and waterproofing trumps crack-proofing.

My experience with the Sony Z1 was that I was constantly getting applications killed. I'd play music and turn on navigation and music would die. I've also had the reverse happen. That made me wary of getting another Sony phone with just 2GB of RAM. (For whatever reason, this doesn't happen to my wife's Xperia Ultra Z, which at 6.5" in size is so big that it also has wonderful voice and data reception!)

Reviews consistently state that the Moto G has a better camera (surprising, since the Moto G's camera is a Sony sensor). The Sony M4 Aqua also has a faster processor, NFC, supports up to 128GB of microSD storage and is thinner. Both phones are 720p 5" displays, which is fine. What's interesting is that the Moto G did support my 64GB SD card, despite not being officially in the specs. I did have to reformat it with the phone, but after that it worked just great. It's unusual for companies to under promise and over-deliver, so I wonder what's going on there.

In practice, however, the Moto G actually appears faster than the M4 Aqua, even in the 1GB configuration! In the end, between the camera and improved performance, I went with the Moto G. Later research showed that the Snapdragon 615 used in the M4 Aqua has severe throttling issues due to overheating, so I unwittingly dodged a bullet.

Since I was buying in a hurry to replace a dead phone, I ordered the black version from Amazon rather than going through Moto Maker. It's also much easier to return something to Amazon than to Motorola, so that was a consideration.

The phone itself is fast, as fast as the Xperia Z1. Installing software, starting up software all felt faster than the Z1 (undoubtedly helped by not having to push as many pixels), while task switching was surprisingly quick with no latency experienced. The camera was about as fast as the Z1's, though obviously picture quality isn't anywhere close to the benchmark set by that camera. The twist to shoot gesture is a nice gimmick, and I thought it to be useless but to my surprise after a few days with the phone I could shoot with the camera while cycling! Video is surprisingly good:
By far the biggest issue with the phone is sluggish bluetooth pairing. In fact, for both my cars and the SBH52, I had to reboot the phone in order to do a pairing. Neither the Logitech X100 nor my vivoactive (which unfortunately needed a factory reset to unstick its pairing from the Z1) needed such a reboot. Once paired, the pairing sticks, so at least this is only a one time problem.

Sound quality is, not surprisingly, lacking compared to the Z1, but not so much so that I found it objectionable. Some have reported annoying cross-talk when plugging in headphones into the microphone jack. I was prepared to have to do without (most of my listening is via blue-tooth over the SBH52 anyway), but when I plugged in headphones it sounded just fine.

To my surprise, going from the Z1's 1080p screen down to the 720p screen didn't bother me at all. Of course, watching movies on the Z1 has always drained the battery so fast that I rarely did it, and in any case to save storage I'd always watched movies in 720p.

Motorola is well known for providing a near-stock Android experience with no additional UI tweaks. I didn't expect this to make a big difference to me, but it does and is a pleasant welcome after the Sony modifications to the OS. I also expect that this also contributed largely to the higher performance of the UI and software despite the supposedly slower processor.

After my experience with the Z1, which begged to be recharged nearly all the time, so much so that I put the phone into stamina mode full time, any change had to be better. The Moto G was disappointing at first, barely lasting  12 hours without a charge. But 2 charge cycles later the battery life improved dramatically, with me typically ending the day somewhere around 40-50% of battery life. On a heavy use day it'd drop to 15%. This is a huge improvement over the Xperia Z1, and makes use of say, the Garmin Livetrack feature much more feasible than before. With the Xperia Z1, even with stamina mode, I was unlikely to make it to the end of the day without a mid-day recharge. Lithium ion batteries will generally lose 20% of their capacity after 300 recharge cycles. If your battery is barely able to get you through the day, after a year, your battery will absolutely not get you through the day. And yes, this applies even if you're the type to keep it plugged in as often as possible. The relatively long battery life of the Moto G means that you can expect to get at least 2 years of use out of the phone before the non-replaceable battery starts to lose enough charge capacity to be annoying.

All in all, given the price of the phone and the features (waterproofing is huge for me), the performance of the phone is such that I will be happy to hang on to it for a good long time. I expect that if you manage to buy this phone during the inevitable black friday sales, you'll get it for a significant discount which will be an even better deal.


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