“Half a league,
Half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of death,
Rode the six hundred…”

Blame it on too much of poetry when I was in school, but the release of the Moto G (3rd generation) reminded me so much of Lord Tennyson’s poem about the legendary Light Brigade that rode into the valley to confront Russian guns at the battle of Balaclava in 1854. No, this is not a flight of poetic fancy. The similarities between the two situations are striking. Just as in 1854, this represents the attempt by a traditional great power (Motorola) to put an emerging power (new ‘budget smartphone’ players like Xiaomi, Asus, Lenovo, Meizu, et al) in its place, and doing so on the back of sheer reputation and experience rather than hardware (remember, the Russians had the cannon at Balaclava – the Light Brigade attacked them with lances and swords!).

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There is a hint of irony in the situation too. After all, it was slightly less than two years ago that the Moto G had in many ways redefined the budget smartphone by proving to the world that you could get a world class performance from a device that cost less than a third of a ‘flagship.’ The original Moto G made pure Android mainstream like perhaps no device did – not the Nexus, nor even the much-hyped Android One series. Its success, however, spawned many imitators and the result was that by the time the second Moto G (which was seen as a marginal upgrade to the original) came out in 2014, it was largely out-specced and to an extent outperformed by an increasingly dynamic competition, which included the likes of the Xiaomi Mi 3 and the Asus ZenFone 5. And the competition just intensified by the time the third generation of the Moto G hit the stores, which pretty much increased expectations from the device.

“Flashed all their sabres bare”: Looks good

So just how ‘new’ actually is the new Moto G? Well, it certainly is a much more significant upgrade than the second one in the series was. Yes, the display stays at 5.0-inches as does its 720p resolution one but the whole phone has a more classy feel to it than its rather more Spartan predecessor. None of the Moto G’s were designed to be super slim and at 11.6 mm, the new Moto G is not a contender for the cell catwalk, and well at 142 mm in length and 72.4 mm in width, it is both longer and wider than its predecessor. It is also at 155 grammes, just a touch heavier than the 149 gramme second generation Moto G.

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The front is standard Moto G – jet black and all about the 5.0-inch display, flanked by two grilles, and edges that curve gently. However, these are not both front-facing speakers as in the previous Moto G: one is a speaker, and one is an earpiece. The sides remain minimalistic – nothing on the left, the power/display button and volume rockers on the right, 3.5 mm audio jack on the top and a micro USB port on the base. It is when you flip the phone around that the difference between the new Moto G and its predecessors hits you, for the top of the back panel now gently curves downwards as in the Moto X. The back also has a matte texture which is a very welcome change from the smooth plastic of the past.

The camera and dual LED flash are also on a thin metallic strip which is rather unusually placed near the top centre of the back rather than on left edge (as in many camera units). On the base of this panel is a small spherical depression in which the famous ‘M’ of the Motorola is placed. And yes, the back panel can be removed, but fits very snugly, because the phone comes with an IPX-7 rating, which in simple English means it can easily withstand water splashes and even the odd drop into water (it can survive for up to thirty minutes in up to three feet of fresh water officially). Classy, we think. Very classy indeed. It might not be as compact as the original Moto G, but it is easily the best-looking Moto device we have seen in recent times, this side of the X, combining the solidity of its predecessors with some subtle design flair.

“Charging an army while all the world wondered”: Better specs too

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It might be a smart looker, but when it comes to hardware, the new Moto G is definitely a tad underwhelming. At a time when most companies are offering the Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 processor in devices at similar (and sometimes even lower) price points, Motorola has opted to go with the Snapdragon 410 chip, backed up by 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage (expandable). Yes, it is a definite step up from the second generation Moto G, which had a Snapdragon 400 processor, 1 GB RAM and 8 GB storage, but we cannot help but feel that it pales in front of some of the competition. Similarly, the decision to keep the display at 720p HD is a bit of a surprise when you consider that the likes of the Xiaomi Mi 4i, the Lenovo K3 Note and the YU Yureka Plus are offering full HD displays at the same or even lower price.

Perhaps the most significant update in the hardware department has been in terms of cameras – the Moto G officially enters the selfie league with a 5.0-megapixel shooter in front, and more significantly, comes with a 13.0-megapixel camera at the black with a dual LED flash. We were told at the launch that this is the same camera that is on the Nexus 6. The battery has also been bumped up to 2470 mAh from the 2070 mAh on the second generation of the device. Connectivity options include dual SIM connectivity, 4G, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. And of course, this being a Motorola device, it runs Android with minimal tampering. You get Android 5.1.1 out of the box, with a few Moto apps like Migrate, Assist, Actions and Display.

It is a decent spec sheet, but to be brutally honest, we have seen quite a few that are better. Much better.

“Boldly they rode and well”: A good performer

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Of course, spec sheets, as the Moto executives were at pains to point out at the launch of the Moto G, are not all that matter in a device. There is that quality called “experience” which transcends all else. It is here that the new Moto G attempts to really shine, and to be fair, succeeds to an extent. We have loved the smooth, clutter-free UI of Moto devices and the Moto G follows this proud tradition. When it comes to tasks like browsing the Web, social networking, e-mail and even playing casual games like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Temple Run, the Moto G delivers a performance that is amazingly lag-free.

Added to the pure Android interface are Motorola’s deft little touches. There is Moto Display which wakes up the display and shows notifications when they arrive, without your having to unlock the phone or even touch it. There are Actions which let you customise how the phone will behave in different circumstances – while you are sleeping, in meetings, etc. And then there is the camera – no, we were not massive fans of the Nexus 6’s snapper but it is certainly streets ahead of anything we have seen in the Moto G series in the past – it delivered decent detail and colors if daylight, and while it is no low light star, it certainly buries the “Moto G cameras are mediocre” myth. That said, we are not sure if the ‘twist your wrist to start the camera’ gesture is actually useful, given how blazingly fast the camera works normally. Call quality is superb in best Motorola tradition and yes, the water resistance is a massive bonus – not just because of the Indian monsoons but also the humid summers.

“Stormed at with shot and shell”: But not quite the best in its league

Viewed in splendid isolation, the Moto G is a very good performer indeed. Unfortunately, like human beings, no phones are islands. The competition exists. And it is here that the Moto G starts to fade. Yes, the display is a good one but it is not in the league of the full HD ones on the Xiaomi Mi 4i, the K3 note or the Yureka Plus, in terms of brightness and clarity (it actually has a slightly yellowish tint to it). And while the camera is the best we have seen on a Moto G, it gets totally outflanked by the 13.0-megapixel shooters on the Mi 4i, the Lumia 640 XL and the Honor 4X.

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Mind you, the Moto G holds its own – more than holds its own actually – when it cames to most basic smartphone tasks. However, push it a bit further into high-definition gaming (FIFA 15, Asphalt 8) and heavy multi-tasking and the lags start to sneak in. The 2470 mAh battery will see you through a day of use if you are careful, but again, you can get much more bang from the larger batteries on other devices in the price segment (the Lenovo K3 Note easily sees through a day of heavy use with its 3000 mAh battery, for instance).

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Conclusion: Just half a league onward…

The charge of the light brigade is remembered by many as a glorious moment of courage, thanks to Tennyson’s poetry, but most military strategists regard it as an overrated maneuver which ultimately ended in defeat. Some even call it a ghastly blunder. While it would be unfair to call the new Moto G that, one cannot but feel that like the Light Brigade, it has been sent in to take out the opposition without really being given the tools to do so. Yes, it is a decent performer and when it comes to most basic tasks, it can hold its own against most of the competition at its price point, but move to more advanced tasks and it becomes obvious that the new Moto G is a middleweight that has been thrown into the heavyweight division. It battles bravely, but does not really have the fire power to knock out the opposition ranged against it. At Rs 12,999 ($220) for the 2GB RAM/ 16 GB storage edition, it goes up against the Xiaomi Mi 4i (Rs 12,999), the YU Yureka Plus (Rs 8,999), the Lenovo K3 Note (Rs 9,999) and the Lumia 640 XL (Rs 12,500), all of which can claim to better it in more ways than one.

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A very good phone? Undoubtedly. But a great one? We are not so sure. It will be remembered by many, but we are not sure too many would recommend it, in the face of some much better specced (and lower priced) competition.

A bit like the Charge of the Light Brigade really…


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Editorial Mentor

Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.