Motorola has gone through some big changes in the last few years; from its waning days of independence (with crummy phones), to the Google acquisition (with much better phones), and finally to being manhandled by Lenovo (with weird phones). One of Motorola's most important products through all of this has been the Moto G. The original Moto G boosted interest in budget devices by showing everyone they don't have to be terrible. Now, here we are with the fifth iteration—the Moto G5 Plus, a phone that can be yours for the low, low price of $230.

The Moto G5 Plus looks and feels more premium than past devices in the series, but it also comes with a few limitations that keep it slotted in firmly below the Moto Z family. For the first time, there's a lot of metal in the chassis of a Moto G phone. However, the design definitely has some divisive elements. At the end of the day, I don't think you can spend a better $230 on a smartphone.

Specs

SoC Snapdragon 625
RAM 2GB/4GB
Storage 32GB/64GB
Display 5.2-inch 1080p LCD
Battery 3,000 mAh
Camera 12MP, 5MP
Software Android 7.0
Measurements 150 x 74 x 7.7-9.7mm
Price $229.99 - 2GB/32GB, $299.99 - 4GB/64GB

The Good

Design The addition of metal to the Moto G's chassis makes it more sturdy and gives it a premium feel.
Fingerprint sensor It's fast and accurate. Better than other budget devices.
Display The move to a more compact 5.2-inch LCD makes for a comfortable phone, and the display quality is great.
Battery life Above average. It easily makes it through the day.
Performance The G5 Plus is incredibly smooth for general smartphone tasks.
Unlocked The G5 Plus works on virtually any network, GSM or CDMA.

The Not So Good

Design again The giant camera module looks a bit dopey.
Camera It's lacking in low-light.
MicroUSB Isn't it time to stop using this connector?
NFC It doesn't have NFC, which is just kind of weird at this point.
Gaming The Snapdragon 625 is not going to be good for intense games.

Design and display

As soon as you pick up the Moto G5 Plus, you can tell something has fundamentally changed. It has a much more solid feel in the hand than past Moto G phones—not that the Moto G4 felt like it was going to crumble to dust, but the body was entirely plastic with a removable rear cover. The Moto G5 has an aluminum back panel that doesn't come off. The edges are still plastic, but the metal gives it a reassuring heft. The Moto G5 is also slightly narrower and thinner than the G4, making it more comfortable to hold. Motorola seems to have tightened up the design all around.

The back of the phone doesn't look great in pictures, mostly because of the large circular camera module. It's like the Moto Z phones, but on those devices it serves to stabilize the Moto Mods. Here, it's just a superficial design choice. I will say it looks nicer in person than it does in photos. It's annoying that the camera module sticks out from the back of the phone, though. Also on the back is a raised Motorola logo where there should be a dimple. I don't know why Moto refuses to do what we all want it to do. Bring the dimple back!

On the top edge is a SIM and microSD card slot, which is relocated from behind the removable back cover on the G4. On the right are the power button and volume rocker. Both seem tactile and reasonably solid. On the bottom is the headphone jack and... a microUSB port. Motorola says this phone still has the microUSB because it wants people to be able to use all the cables they have laying around. Okay, but I think it's time to rip the band-aid off. This phone really should have a Type-C port.

There's a fingerprint sensor on the front panel beneath the screen. It's larger and more prominent than the sensor on last year's phone. Performance is excellent. It would be great even for a much more expensive phone. Just a quick tap and the phone unlocks. You can also press and hold the sensor while the phone is awake to put it to sleep.

The Moto G5 Plus has a 5.2-inch 1080p LCD, slightly smaller than last year's phone. This is still an IPS LCD, not the AMOLED displays you get on Motorola's more expensive phones. It's still a very good display with accurate colors and superb viewing angles. 1080p is the right resolution for this size. Higher and you'd be wasting battery; less and there would be visible pixelation. Even the black levels are good for an LCD. The default colors can be a bit muted if you're used to an AMOLED screen, even with the "vibrant" display mode active.

Camera

Budget phones are getting very good at a lot of things, but the cameras still hold them back. You've got to spend a little more to get something that's reliable, but that's not to say the Moto G5 Plus' camera is bad. It's just... unsurprising. This is a 12MP sensor with an f/1.7 aperture. However, it drops the laser autofocus from last year's Plus variant.

In bright outdoor light, photos are crisp and (usually) accurately exposed. The photos look softer and more washed out compared to what you get from pricier phones, and it sometimes picks up too much glare. The camera still does well enough with medium indoor light. The white balance is alright, but capture times tick upward. This becomes a problem when you realize the G5 Plus doesn't have optical image stabilization. You have to hold the phone quite still, and it's a good idea to take a few shots to make sure you get at least one that isn't blurry. Noise also creeps into the photos, but it's better than most other phones in this price range.

The pictures taken in low light are a bit all over the map. Some of them come out looking better than I expected (though they are all rather dim), but others are blurry and noisy. There's a manual mode that can compensate for some of the problems if you want to fiddle around with it, but you're never going to get amazing photos with this camera in poor light.

Performance and battery

The Moto G5 Plus comes in two versions that vary in the amount of storage and RAM. The version I have to test has 4GB of RAM. All my observations are based on that, so note the 2GB base model might be slightly less capable. All versions have the Snapdragon 625 SoC, which I've found to be more than adequate. Here are some benchmarks.

The SD625 is a capable chip, and the Moto G5 Plus uses it to good effect. Moto's phones tend to be very well optimized for the hardware, and this one is no exception. There's really no lag to be found on this device. Apps open in a snap and the 4GB of RAM ensures they stay operational in the background well. This might be different on the 2GB version, though. Gaming won't be particularly good on this phone. Simple titles are fine, but the 3D capabilities of the 625 are lacking.

We're looking at a 3,000mAh battery in the Moto G5 Plus. That's a fairly standard size for phones, even much more powerful ones. The modest hardware in the G5 ensures you'll have more breathing room than you'd get with a faster phone. As usual, I should point out that battery life varies dramatically from one person to the next. My usage might not be anything like yours. I used the Moto G5 Plus for browsing the web, Twitter, email, and a little light gaming. The phone made it through the day like that reliably, usually with about a third of a charge left.

When it's really pushed, the G5 Plus ekes out around six hours of screen time in a day. That's above average. If you go easier on it, the phone will probably get around 4 hours of active usage over 24-36 hours. It's not in the same league as the Moto Z Play, but this phone's battery life is more than sufficient. When it does run dry, the G5 Plus supports Moto's "TurboPower" via the microUSB port. This is still just a version of Quick Charge, and the included plug maxes out at 12v.

Have I mentioned I'm annoyed this phone still has microUSB? Yeah? Good, because I am.

Software

There hasn't been much to complain about in recent years when it comes to Motorola's software, but there hasn't been as much to praise lately either. Stock Android has usurped some of Motorola's custom features, and the post-Lenovo Moto doesn't seem as able to innovate on software. There's very little that's new in this generation of the Moto G, but it does ship with Android 7.0 Nougat. Thus, it includes split-screen apps, Assistant, and all the other standard goodies.

The home screen is unusual, but I think it's something we're going to see more often. Motorola used to ship phones with the Google Now Launcher, which is going away. Instead, the Moto G5 Plus runs something that looks a lot like the Pixel Launcher. It's not, though. It's technically Launcher3 with Pixel theming. There's a pull-up app drawer and the porthole folders, but they use a dark theme. There's also the Google feed panel on the left. The only obvious departure from the Pixel Launcher is the full search bar at the top of the main home screen. The home screen is snappy and looks nice, but I do have some concern that it won't see any updates outside of device OTAs like GNL did.

The G5 Plus has both Moto Display and Moto Action features. Moto Display is, of course, the on-screen notification alert that appears as new items come in and when you pick up the phone. It's been tweaked slightly this year with the addition of a large battery/clock widget at the top of the screen. Moto Display is still a great way to check your notification content. You get basic info when Moto Display pops up, and a single tap lets you view notification details. I also like that only part of the screen is "active," so you can pick up the phone without worrying about waking the device completely.

Moto Actions includes the flashlight chop, camera twist, and the other, less popular gestures. There's a new feature here: One-button nav. Activate this and your on-screen navigation buttons go away. The home, back, and overview actions are handled by the fingerprint sensor only. Tap for home, swipe left for back, and swipe right for overview. This seems crazy at first, but I've found myself kind of liking it. The gesture recognition is reliable and fast.

The above control scheme would make split-screen mode impossible to activate (no way to long-press the overview button), but there's a new way to enable it. When you have the multitasking UI up, there's a section at the top of the screen where you can drag a card to activate split-screen. This is shown all the time, not just when One-button mode is on. I don't love this as it shrinks the space available for cards, but I understand the necessity.

There's not much to complain about with regard to the G5 Plus' software—my concerns, as you can tell, are mostly nitpicks. I just wish Motorola still had the drive to innovate that it had a few years ago. None of the added features this time around are as interesting as Moto Display or Moto Voice were back in the Moto X days. Maybe as Moto settles in at Lenovo, we'll see more adventurous software.

Conclusion

You make some sacrifices when you buy a budget phone, but the Moto G5 Plus requires the fewest. It has capable hardware that allows for smooth operation, a good display, an accurate fingerprint sensor, clean software, solid build quality, and above average battery life. The camera is fine, but this is still one of the things that betrays the Moto G5 Plus as a budget phone. It's also not the most attractive phone I've ever seen, but it sort of grows on you.

The asking price of $230 for the G5 Plus is a little higher than last year's G4, but less than the G4 Plus. The standard G5 will be a somewhat limited release, so we may not see it at all in the US. The G5 Plus as designed for the US market is unlocked with support for both CDMA and GSM carriers. That's something Motorola doesn't even do for its high end phones anymore due to the Verizon partnership.

The version of the G5 Plus I've tested is the higher end one. That's priced at $299.99. I'm hesitant to give that SKU a firm recommendation because it is a big price jump over the base model. There's a microSD slot, so the storage difference shouldn't be a deciding factor. It comes down to the RAM. Is the bump to 4GB of RAM worth the added $70? I suspect the base model will be fine with 2GB of RAM, but not as adept at multitasking. Neither version has NFC, which is dumb. There's no reason budget phones can't have this.

Budget phones have to compete with more expensive devices now more than ever. Payment plans have made phones like the Pixel financially justifiable for more consumers, so a budget phone needs to shine. Moto is one of the few OEMs that has consistently hit the mark. For a bit over $200, you can have a very capable phone that works anywhere. I can't think of another phone in this price range you should get instead of the G5 Plus. It's available for pre-order now and goes on sale for real this Friday, March 31st.