The Moto G5 Plus represents a bit of a turnaround in Motorola’s budget smartphone lineup.
Until 2017 the leading light in the range was the baby Moto G, scoring high year after year for value; this year, though, it has taken a step backwards and it’s time for the Moto G5 Plus to hog the limelight for a while.
In simple terms, the Moto G5 Plus is everything last year’s Moto G4 Plus wasn’t, and it’s a far more accomplished handset in general. It’s faster, it has a better camera and it looks nicer – taken together, these three things are easily enough to warrant the £80 premium over the Moto G5. The question is, with the Moto G5 not good enough to warrant a recommendation this time around, is the Moto G5 Plus just that bit too expensive?
Moto G5 Plus review: Price and competition
The price premium does mean the Moto G5 sits in a different sector to the Moto G5 but, at £250, that sector is largely empty right now. Most rival phone manufacturers have deserted the mid- to low-price tier, previously occupied by such stalwarts as the Nexus 5X and the OnePlus 2 and have moved to higher or lower ground.
So, although still a temptingly priced phone, the competition is similar to the Moto G5's. There’s the Honor 6X with its dual-lens camera at £225; the Lenovo P2 with its bonkers 5,100mAh battery at £200; the Wileyfox Swift 2X at £220; and the Huawei P9 Lite at £190. There isn’t much further up the ladder until you reach the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017) at around £320.
Moto G5 Plus review: Design and key features
When it comes to looks, Motorola has moved things on a step from the Moto G4 Plus’ plastic chassis and ugly, square fingerprint reader. The rear of this year’s model is clad in metal, with the Moto logo etched in relief in the centre and although the frame of the phone and its top and bottom caps are still built from plastic, it looks much more attractive.
It’s a smaller phone than last year’s model with a 5.2in, 1,080 x 1,920 IPS screen, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It certainly stands up among its chief rivals, and it’s a good deal more attractive than the Moto G5, although I’m not a big fan of the way the camera module protrudes slightly at the rear.
The Moto G5 Plus doesn’t have a removable battery like its cheaper sibling, but every other major feature is present and correct. There’s expandable storage (up to 128GB) and splash resistance; the glass topping the screen is Gorilla Glass 3; you get NFC for mobile payments at contactless payment terminals; and there’s a fingerprint reader situated at the front of the phone below the screen.
Moto G5 Plus review: Performance, value and battery life
Performance is actually pretty good. Inside is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. In benchmarks, this helps the Moto G5 Plus beat the G5 soundly and edge ahead of the Lenovo P2 and the Honor 6X. In some tests it even creeps up on the Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017), which is a good £80 more expensive.
However, don’t forget that most of the phones in the chart above are cheaper than the Moto G5 Plus, and if you view the figures through the lens of performance per pound, it’s actually on a level – even slightly behind.
When it comes to battery life, the Moto G5 Plus is again better than the Moto G5, but looking at the specifications it ought to be. In our video-playback test, where we set the screen to a brightness level of 170cd/m2 and switch the phone into flight mode, the Moto G5 Plus lasted a solid 13hrs 13mins.
Actually, this is a pretty good result for a phone in this price bracket and means it will last most people a day before needing to be recharged. If you want better battery life, though, you can get that for £50 less in the Lenovo P2, which achieves a frankly astonishing 28hrs 50mins in the same test.
Moto G5 Plus review: Display
The screen is nothing to write home about, either. It’s the same resolution as last year’s G4 Plus and 0.3in smaller, so it’s a touch sharper. If your eyes are good enough to see the difference, then you’re a better (and probably younger) man than I.
Its IPS and viewing angles are great, but that’s the limit of it. It doesn’t go very bright, reaching a mere 401cd/m2 at maximum brightness. The colours look a little murky, too, even with the display colours set to “vibrant”; they’re flat and dull, and lack the colour pop that the best smartphone displays are capable of delivering.
Sure enough, when we measured the display with our X-Rite colorimeter, it reported that the screen was only able to reproduce 73.4% of the sRGB colour gamut. And while the contrast ratio is fine at 1,149:1, it’s again not able to match the perfect contrast of AMOLED displays such as the one on the Lenovo P2. That isn’t very bright, but it’s a good deal more pleasant on the eye.
Moto G5 Plus review: It’s all about the camera
Something that most budget and mid-tier smartphones have in common is that their cameras tend to be pretty sub-optimal. The Moto G4 has been the class leader in this sector since it launched a year ago, and the rear camera on the Moto G5 Plus is even better.
That’s principally because it uses the same camera module as the in the Samsung Galaxy S7, a smartphone whose camera is still ranked as the second best among flagship phones by the imaging experts at DxOMark. In fact, the only smartphone camera that’s better than the S7’s is the one in the Google Pixel and Pixel XL.
In hardware terms this means you get a 12-megapixel sensor, a bright f/1.7 aperture and phase-detect autofocus, which is great a phone at this price.
Capturing high-quality photographs is not all about the hardware, although that does help. Scene analysis, auto-exposure calculation and the way a manufacturer chooses to implement chipset features go a long way to deciding whether the end result looks great or terrible.
In this respect, I was quite taken aback with just how good the Moto G5 Plus’ camera is. In daylight, compared directly with the benchmark for all smartphone cameras – the Google Pixel XL – the Moto G5 Plus’ photographs look highly respectable. The colours aren’t quite as vibrant, and if you squint you can see that fine details are a little smeary, but by and large the camera captures scenes with impressive sharpness.
In low light, it performed equally well. Again, the G5 Plus’ photographs can look a little dark, with darker greys and colours merging into black, but overall there’s good control over image noise and very little detail lost to over-compression and noise reduction. This is where the camera’s f/1.7 aperture comes into play, ensuring that the sensor captures as much light as possible. And more light, as we all know, generally leads to better image quality.
Moto G5 Plus review: Android 7 Nougat-y goodness
The software a phone runs is extremely important, but something budget-phone buyers often overlook. Here, you get stock Android 7 with a few trademark Moto embellishments. It’s not weighed down with preloaded guff, and the extras you do get are mostly sensibly thought out – especially the gesture shortcuts.
Most are enabled by default (you can disable them in the Moto app if you want) and allow you, among other things, to launch the camera app with a quick double twist of the wrist, toggle the torch on and off with a double chop motion, and swipe up from the bottom of the screen to shrink it for easier one-handed operation.
A new addition to the Moto app in 2017 is the ability to use the rectangular fingerprint reader on the front of the phone as a navigation key. It’s not enabled by default, but once you flip the switch, the onscreen nav keys disappear and are replaced by gestures you perform on the fingerprint reader: swipe left to activate the back, swipe right for recent apps, and tap the reader to go to the homescreen.
Does this work or is it merely a gimmick? That’s a hard question to answer without living with the phone for long enough for the swiping actions to become embedded in my muscle memory. However, my initial impressions are that using the fingerprint reader in this way is awkward, certainly for the back and recent apps shortcuts.
I’d disable it without a second thought, but there is a negative side to it. Without fingerprint reader navigation enabled, tapping the reader with your thumb doesn’t take you to the home screen – it switches off the phone, and this is something I’ve done by accident more than once.
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Moto G5 Plus review: Verdict
The Moto G5 Plus is a sound handset, but it isn’t the budget smartphone all-rounder we were all waiting and hoping for from Lenovo-Motorola this year. It looks quite nice, it’s reasonably responsive without blowing you away and the camera is superb.
If you’re a keen photographer, there’s nothing else that comes close to it at the price, but if you’re after something more practical, there are better handsets out there. Our current favourite is the Lenovo P2. Yes, you sacrifice camera quality, but it’s mostly fine in good light, it has a nicer AMOLED screen, and it has stupendously good battery life.