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Moto G Pure review: Poisoned by mediocrity

Moto G Pure review: Poisoned by mediocrity

Moto G Pure review: Poisoned by mediocrity

Americans seem to have a soft spot in their hearts for the Motorola brand — with the demise of LG’s mobile business, it’s essentially #3 in the U.S. smartphone market. Most of those purchases come from the successful Moto G series which usually sit around the $200 level. But does that history favor the newest and most basic G phone? It could have. It probably should have. The surprising answer, however, is “no.”

The Moto G Pure features several upgrades over the Moto E (2020), the $150 phone Motorola offered last year, including more memory and a USB-C port for about the same price. But when you look at the G Pure on its own merits, you will find that the lack of power forces you to focus on one thing at a time. With effective multitasking out the window, I’m not convinced you should even buy this phone for your grandparents.

A $160 phone doesn’t get as good a treatment in the U.S. as it does in China and India, but this one’s got a battery that lasts more than a day, its cameras do a half-decent job, and it looks like a modern Android device. Too bad it is so painfully underpowered.

Specifications

  • Storage: 32GB + microSD up to 512GB
  • CPU: MediaTek Helio G25
  • Memory: 3GB
  • Operating System: Android 11
  • Battery: 4,000mAh w/ 10W charging
  • Ports: 3.5mm audio, USB 2.0 (Type-C), fingerprint
  • Display (Size, Resolution): 6.5″ 1600 x 720 (20:9) LCD
  • Camera (Front): 5MP f/2.4
  • Cameras (Rear): 13MP f/2.2 + 2MP f/2.4 depth
  • Price: $160 MSRP
  • Connectivity: 4G, Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5, FM, no NFC
  • Dimensions: 167 x 75.6 x 8.8mm / 188g
  • Colors: Deep Indigo
Pros

  • Fairly vanilla Android with Moto’s classic UX features still make great partners
  • Nice to see Wi-Fi ac AND FM radio available here
  • Camera output comes out to a net positive (barely)
  • It’s just plain cheap
Cons

  • Not enough horsepower means it’s a unitasker’s phone
  • No NFC? No mobile payments in 2021 and beyond
  • Software updates aren’t the most pressing issue, but their frequency is still disappointing
  • 4,000mAh is a little small for a two-day battery claim and it’s only going to degrade from here

Buy This Product

Design, hardware, what’s in the box

No real surprises in terms of industrial design for this phone. The back shell is made of plastic with curvy ridges covering most of the surface to make it feel more tactile and less cheap. The only real frill is the IP52 rating — good for protection against dust and light water spray. Most of Motorola’s portfolio has been marketed as “water-resistant” to some extent, but it’s good to see a certification in there. The company’s longtime “batwing” logo is emblazoned in the only place that makes sense: the rear-facing fingerprint sensor. The camera hump is pushed off to the top-left corner.

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The main attraction on the front is a 6.5″ 720p display at 20:9 aspect ratio. Sharpness leaves something to be desired, but more important factors include the color (good) and brightness (struggles in sunlight) — I give the panel a fair-to-good assessment overall. The bezels surrounding it, though, remind me of just how massive the phone is. The selfie camera is housed in a raindrop-style notch, stage center.

The SIM and microSD card tray is on the left edge while the volume and power buttons are on the right. You’ll find a mic hole and the headphone jack on top. The USB-C port, a speaker grille, and another mic hole reside on the bottom.

In the box is a SIM pin tool and a 10W adapter with a USB-A to USB-C cable.

Software, performance, battery

Motorola continues to do a great job of getting out of the way of Android’s look and feel while also providing useful extras. Dispatching notifications on the ambient Peek Display is great and the chop gesture to turn on the flashlight is super-handy. The only real peeve I have aesthetics-wise is that the home screen only allows for four apps in a row, no less, no more, and that’s even after I’ve fiddled with the DPI setting.

If you buy the phone unlocked, you won’t have to deal with the Verizon bloatware I have. This phone comes with apps like News Break and Verizon’s Message+ SMS client, none of which have any business being pre-loaded. The real downer about software is the update guarantee: the company promises just one OS upgrade and “regular” security patches, whatever that may mean. Expect it to be slow going on both fronts.

Running my day-to-day life with the MediaTek Helio G25 chipset — which features eight low-power Cortex-A53 CPU cores— and 3GB of RAM has not been pleasant, but that wasn’t a surprise to me. I knew that having YouTube picture-in-picture, a split-pane with Chrome, or playing some 3D game was going to make the Moto G Pure stutter. I was more disappointed with the occasional stumbles when I was more mindful of unitasking. Individual social apps like Facebook and Twitter were generally fine, but Chrome gave me a lot of trouble. My worst experience was ordering food from GrubHub where the display lagged behind so much I was tapping dialog boxes I didn’t mean to. And with aggressive memory management, switching from one app to another becomes such a pain as you’re always waiting an extra second for something to render or update. Those seconds pile up quickly.

Internet reception and speeds were up to par on my home Wi-Fi and good on Verizon’s cell grid. Bluetooth 5 is also a winner. I’ll always give a brownie point for an FM radio (it’s free real estate spectrum), but excluding NFC heading into 2022 is just stupid, stupid, stupid.

As for the battery, Motorola says you can get two days out of the Pure. I usually end my first somewhere between 40% and 50%, so I’ll say that “more than 24 hours” is appropriate. At 4,000mAh, the cell has the same capacity as some power-intensive flagships and lags behind the 5,000mAh plants of its $200 peers, the Moto G Play and the Moto G Power. And keep in mind that its ability to last only goes down with use. The bump in the max charging rate from 5W to 10W, while modest, is certainly appreciated.

Cameras

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As with the Moto E (2020), there’s a 13MP camera supported by a 2MP depth sensor which does an okay job enabling a couple of party tricks like a spot color shooting mode and portrait-style background blurring. Sadly, the main unit’s dynamic range is just mediocre, so you’ll need HDR turned on all the time. It’s a well-executed handicap, though, with good results between golden hours and passable ones in low light. Responsiveness is on-and-off, but if you’re able to cope with long exposures, it will do well enough for the price. The 5MP selfie camera could be better, to say the least. Use it for video calls, but filter the crap out of your selfies.

Image Gallery (18 Images)

Don’t take videos on either camera unless you have to. Despite both being capable of 1080p footage, everything’s oversharpened and motion blur is prevalent.

Should you buy it?

Probably not. I don’t expect a phone that costs $200 or less in the U.S. to get the latest software updates, have outstanding cameras, or juggle two apps with aplomb. Maybe it takes a little extra effort to keep a heavy app alive, I get it. But even with these really low bars, I’m unsure I can recommend the Moto G Pure if it periodically chokes on even a simple task. If I’m getting my grandma a smartphone in spite of how little she knows about modern technology, I still would want it to be fast enough to handle, say, a pharmacy order or a video call. Flaws like touch input lag only generate confusion, not efficiency.

I could see this being an option for people who just want a big phone that doesn’t cost much or to have it around as an emergency backup. But other than that, the Moto G Pure shouldn’t figure into your buying decisions.

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Buy it if…

  • You want a big, cheap phone and you don’t care if it’s a little slow
  • Taking photos isn’t a big part of your day

Don’t buy it if…

  • You rely on your phone for multitasking or vaguely heavy loads
  • You want your phone to last at least a few years

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