If you’re into smartphones it was difficult to ignore the Motorola Moto G in September 2014. The second iteration of Moto’s mid-range handset upgraded with a bigger screen and a better camera, and its £145 price was tempting compared to Samsung and Apple phones at four times the cost.
It was universally praised. One review said it was “another cracking budget phone” that’s “a joy to use”, and another said multi-tasking didn’t “bring the Moto G to its knees” thanks to “impressive performance”.
This affordable, well-received phone ticked the right boxes: enough power to use Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Reddit, and fresh from the factory – I’d cracked my Nexus 4’s screen badly enough to stop it working, so I need something fast. Gaming and other intensive tasks were deferred to my Nexus 7.
It’s six months later, and I’m pining for a new handset. I can’t wait to get rid of the Moto G.
It’s not fast. I didn’t expect it to break performance records, but issues appeared after a couple of weeks: Facebook took ten seconds to open, and Twitter wasn’t much quicker. Delays to the camera’s loading time ruined all spontaneity. I’d sit and wait for WhatsApp to open, and roll my eyes as I closed Reddit and opened it a minute later, only to find my comment thread or subreddit had disappeared – and that’s if the Reddit app hadn’t crashed, randomly.
None of these seem like big issues, but they feel like an eternity when you’re trying to get stuff done – especially when you’ve been assured about a phone’s solid performance.
Android had problems, too. I only use one homescreen because I’ve never been a fan of widgets, but I’d often be greeted by a blank background while my dozen icons lazily loaded. The app switcher didn’t work the vast majority of the time, either; I’d press the button, the screen would go dark, but the thumbnails wouldn’t load. I’d even have to wait for my app drawer icons to load, sighing as they blinked into view.
Because the whole device was so frequently slow and unpredictable, I’d often open the wrong app or click the wrong thing because the screen hadn’t caught up with my actions.
Web browsing wasn’t slick, either. Demanding web pages would crash the browser when they’re half-loaded, causing Chrome to restart and reload the page – something that happened with desktop and mobile pages. The app slowed down with too many tabs open.
Daily life with the Moto G became a chore. The Maps app crashes every time I try to use its sat-nav, even when I reverted back to the first iteration of the software. On nights out I ask friends to keep posing while the bloody camera loads, and sometimes other friends get their phones out, take the picture and put their phones away before I’m even ready. I have to play when I’m going to open Ingress because it takes about 45 seconds.
I’m not a fast person. I make Gabe Newell look like Usain Bolt. And, yet, I was faster than the Moto G.
The root of the issue
I assumed that the 1GB of memory was causing problems, so I found a couple of threads on r/MotoG – one rant about the phone’s frustrating lack of memory, and another where Motorola seems to recognise the issues. It was almost heartwarming to find that my experience was matched by others – background apps being killed, and even foreground software being closed, because of Motorola’s aggressive memory management.
I switched from the Dalvik to the ART runtime, which made little difference, and uninstalled unwanted software to prevent it from running in the background. I moved media to the SD card, deactivated animations and installed alternative launchers. February’s Lollipop upgrade improved responsiveness, but not enough. The app switcher works now, but overall it’s still broadly the same experience, where I have to factor delays into everything I do using a phone that’s become a constant irritation.
Benchmarks suggested that nothing was wrong with the phone. In Geekbench 3 my handset hit 1,138, and the reviews I mentioned earlier scored 1,140 and 1,142 in the same test.
Rooting the device was an option, but I never got round to that – after all, there’s only so much a custom ROM can do with 1GB of RAM.
I spent six months with the Moto G, and I’ve never had a more frustrating long-term experience with a smartphone. It’s not unusable, but it’s a constant let-down, and this experience means I won’t buy another affordable handset if I can help it, no matter how good the reviews.
I thought I was saving money, but here I am, six months later, placing a pre-order for the Galaxy S6. Samsung’s latest is more expensive, but if it lasts two or three years, works without delay and doesn’t make me want to fling the handset at the nearest wall? Well, that’s it’s own kind of bargain.