Moto G5 Plus Review: Great phone, fair price, minimal compromise

Moto G5 Plus Review
Moto G5 Plus Review

Offer Type: Standard Version – Without Offers & Ads|Size: 64 GB Storage + 4 GB RAM|Color: Lunar Gray|Verified Purchase

I’ve had this phone for two months now, with T-Mobile as my carrier, and have been very pleased, with just a few minor nits to pick.

It was a huge upgrade from the 1st-gen, 2014 Moto G LTE (XT1045) which had served me well for nearly three years, but whose limited memory (8GB flash and a mere 1GB RAM) had become frustrating to deal with, struggling to keep up with today’s heavier apps and web pages, no longer even able to follow links from an RSS reader without the reader app having to restart afterwards.

Hearing me complain about that phone, my husband nearly bought me a Samsung Galaxy S7, also looking at the Google Pixel, LG G5 or G6, Honor 8 and various OnePlus models, but I’m so glad he didn’t blow a lot of cash on one of those. This Moto G5+ is a better fit for my needs, and good value for money. I actually prefer it now over his pricey iPhone 7!

Switching my existing T-Mobile line required nothing more than moving the SIM – I was fortunate to already have a nano SIM in a nano-to-micro adapter. No need to contact anyone at T-mobile, manually set APNs, etc.

Some things I particularly appreciate:

– clean, near-stock Android 7.0 Nougat, like a Nexus or Pixel, without having to mess with third-party ROMs – no bloat, no Touchwiz, EMUI or other clunky skins. I did install Nova Launcher to stop Google Now from taking over my “swipe-left” home screen.

– excellent performance in common apps. I don’t play 3D action games, and so can’t address those. With 4GB, 8 cores, and internal flash memory that seems faster than average, there’s no lag even when rapidly switching between several large apps. Heavy multi-taskers should definitely spring for the 4GB model, and budget permitting, I’d recommend the same to anyone hoping to keep their G5+ for more than a couple of years, just for future-proofing. I didn’t want to get caught short again, especially thinking of an eventual upgrade to Android O.

– easy to obtain root access after unlocking bootloader (*NOT* true of the Amazon Ads version!). I need this for special network requirements (IPv6 tethering, firewall, VPN routing), but also like having full control over my phones, and being rooted allows working around a few G5+ foibles, like the missing notification LED and low speaker volume.

– microSD slot!! – far too many otherwise excellent phones (like Google’s Pixel) have been leaving this out. Even with 64GB, it’s nice to have options if space ever runs low. With the SD, I feel free to load up bulky media (music, podcasts, audiobooks, photos, movies or TV for long flights) and change those out as desired without worrying about excess wear on the internal flash, and with no dependency on a network connection or “Cloud” services. Android 7 (and 6) have an “adopted storage” mode to let the MicroSD become a part of main storage, but this is likely to slow the phone, even with a fast card, so I’d recommend keeping it separate.

– solid RF performance in weak signal areas, at least equal to my older G, and better than a friend’s HTC on the same carrier. This has always been a strong point for Motorola, and doesn’t seem to have slipped since the Lenovo takeover. 700 MHz (Band 12) works fine, making less of an improvement than I’d hoped in building penetration, but T-mobile only has deployed that frequency on a few towers so far in my area, so it should improve over time.

– great battery life, thanks mostly to the efficient Snapdragon 625 CPU. The screen being IPS rather than AMOLED, and 1920×1080 (plenty sharp to my eyes at 424dpi; compare iPhone 7’s 1334×750 326dpi!) rather than QHD, with its greater GPU demand probably helps also in conserving energy

– I didn’t expect to use the fingerprint reader, but found it surprisingly fast, accurate, and convenient. I wish the ones we use at work for door locks were so good! Having it easy to reach on the front (rather than back) is worth a slightly larger bottom bezel.

– good camera – not quite at the level of an iPhone or other flagships, but good enough for my modest use, and worlds better than the 1st-gen G. Photos taken in good lighting usually turn out well. Results in dim lighting can be iffy, possibly from lack of OIS. Moto’s camera app is fast and easy to use, with manual adjustment options for shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, etc. if desired.

– “Moto gestures” like the twist for camera, chop to enable flashlight, etc. even when locked, or inside another app are handy, and leaving these enabled seems to have little or no battery-life impact.

– Wifi supports 5 GHz as well as 2.4

– VoLTE (works well for me on T-Mobile, but apparently troublesome in some places, especially on Verizon; be ready to disable with Settings->More->Cellular->Enhanced 4G LTE = OFF in case of poor call quality) and Wifi Calling – this mysteriously stopped working one day for me, which turned out to be T-Mobile requiring a “911 Address” to be entered on their web site

– a real wired-headphone jack.

A few things I don’t like, and consider regressions from the original Moto G:

– lack of a notification LED for texts or missed calls, as earlier Moto G’s and even very cheap Moto E’s of the 1st and 2nd generations had. I guess the “Moto Display” feature, which dimly lights the screen to show alerts when the phone is picked up or moved was meant as a replacement, and this might work for someone who ALWAYS keeps the phone in a pocket or purse, but it’s not an adequate substitute for those of us who often leave it on a desk, nightstand etc. and appreciate being able to just glance at the phone to see if there are messages.

With root access, this can be partially restored by re-purposing a small white “Charging” LED hidden inside the G5+’s earpiece. I’ve done so, and it’s certainly better than nothing, but being dimmer than the older G’s LED, and recessed inside makes this harder to see, easily missed when the phone’s lying flat more than a short distance away. I had to start propping up the G5+ on a stand at my desk.

– the speaker’s volume doesn’t go high enough for a noisy area, probably due to one driver serving double duty as both an earpiece and loudspeaker. This can be improved with root access (edit /system/etc/mixer_paths.xml, replace all instances of 84 with 92, then reboot; it may be possible to go higher, at the cost of more distortion at high level, but 92 was loud enough for me). Also, though it’s nice and clear when playing general audio, such as a podcast, the speaker sometimes cuts in & out when on a voice call in speakerphone mode – but notably, this does NOT happen with a VoIP call (Zoiper), so I suspect a software issue, perhaps with the Dialer app, and hope to see this fixed in a future OTA update.

– speaking of updates, Motorola used to be very prompt with those, but they seem to come slower now that Lenovo has taken over. As of mid-June, US models are still at the January 1, 2017 Android security patch level (Build NPN25.137-35), although G5 Pluses in other regions, like India and Brazil have received a recent update bringing them to the March patch level. Maybe we will get that soon. [July update: earlier this month the software was brought up to the May 2017 security patch level, via OTA update NPNS25.137-35-5]

– no longer being able to take the back off the phone, as every previous Moto G allowed, is bad news for repairability, thinking especially of the need for eventual battery replacement. Even though older phones’ batteries were not officially user-replaceable, with a few tools and a bit of care it wasn’t especially hard to do. On this G5+, the only way in is through the front, by pulling off the fragile screen, after first loosening its adhesive seal with a heat gun! Watch a teardown video on Youtube for the harrowing details. Hoping to never have to do this for the life of the phone, I’ve avoided fast-charging it except when traveling, or otherwise actually needing a fast charge, and set it to accept USB power but not charge when left plugged into a computer for long periods, for tethering or development purposes (unless the battery’s low, in which case it stops at 70%). You do need root to control that.

– Screen brightness, at maximum seems slightly less than the original Moto G. It’s plenty bright indoors, but can be a little harder than the older phone to read under direct sun. Also, “Adaptive brightness” mode must be turned OFF in order to reach maximum brightness – it would be nice if the automatic setting had access to the full range, or provided max/min sliders.

– As a person with small hands, coming from a 4.5″ Moto G1 and my husband’s 4.7″ iPhone, I wish the G5+ was just slightly smaller, with perhaps a 5″ screen. I appreciate that its dimensions were slightly reduced from last year’s G4 Plus, and the larger display is nice at times, but one-handed operation can be a challenge. I know others probably disagree, and might prefer a 5.5″

– This is obviously subjective as well, but the new styling isn’t to my taste. I loved the previous G models’ understated “black monolith” design, pure dark glass front and rubbery plastic back, next to which this one, especially the plastic faux-chrome around the edges looks a bit cheap, like it’s trying to be something it’s not, and is prone to showing scratches. More practically, the smooth plastic rim gives less of a secure hold – I never worried about dropping the old G, but did with the G5 Plus.

Fortunately, this is easily remedied with a simple, thin case like this TUDIA one, which also helps protect the protruding camera “bump” and lets the phone sit flat on its back. If only there was something to be done about that tacky “moto” logo on the front. though it’s less prominent than photos suggest.

– The original Moto G was supposedly waterproof (to some degree), but G5 Plus is only splash-resistant

– reversal of the power button & volume rocker, compared to their placement on all previous Moto G’s and E’s was inconsiderate to loyal Motorola users who are upgrading. I’ve finally gotten used to the new layout, but still carry an older Moto E as a backup phone on another carrier, which doesn’t help.

I don’t care about these, but others might:

– micro-USB rather than USB-C — I have a pile of other devices still using micro-USB, and it’s nice having to carry just one cable type

– lack of NFC – I’ve no interest in Android Pay, which is a pain on a rooted phone anyway due to CTS/SafetyNet checks. NFC Tags might be nice, but similar things can often be done with Bluetooth (or Wifi) pairing-triggered profiles using the excellent Tasker app ($4 on Google Play).

– US version (XT1687) accepts only one SIM card, NOT two. Beware that the included instruction paper implies otherwise, and also shows an incorrect placement for the SIM and MicroSD card! To avoid possibly getting a card stuck inside, go by the markings on the actual SIM-tray instead.

Note that G5+ models sold in Asia, Europe, and Latin America (XT1684, XT1685) do have NFC, and often Dual-SIM also (XT1685 only), but lack the US XT1687’s compass, and usually come with less RAM & flash. International models leave out CDMA also – so, if you really care about NFC or Dual-SIM and want to consider importing an XT1685, it should work on AT&T and T-mobile, but not Verizon or Sprint.

REGARDING ROOT ACCESS: I chose the unsubsidized “Standard” version without Amazon ads, partly because root access is near the top of my requirements in a phone. Be aware that the “Prime Exclusive” version with ads reportedly CANNOT have its bootloader unlocked! Presumably this is to stop the user from removing Amazon’s ad-serving app, but it means you’ll never be able to get full control over the device you just bought.

I don’t know if paying the ad-removal fee back to Amazon will also release it for unlocking, but suspect not — the unlock procedure requires going to a Motorola site and entering a unique hex string that’s programmed into each phone at the factory (possibly derived from the IMEI, ADB serial number, etc.), then getting another unique hex string in return – Moto keeps track of which phones are unlock-eligible and which aren’t, and would have to update their records after the fact based on whether Amazon’s subsidy has been repaid, which probably doesn’t happen. Please correct me if anyone knows otherwise.

If you have the version without ads, rooting is relatively easy, though it may void the 1-year limited warranty, so take a few days first to thoroughly check for defects. Beware that swiping right within TWRP Recovery to let it make its usual changes to /system may soft-brick the phone – this happened to me on my first attempt (it would cycle endlessly between Lenovo and Motorola logos on reboot, never reaching a lockscreen), but re-flashing stock firmware via fastboot fixed it. After that, I booted into TWRP again without flashing it (loading TWRP temporarily into RAM from the attached computer), then used it ONLY to install the Magisk ZIP.

I disabled Magisk’s “Hide” mode because I don’t need it (nothing I run uses SafetyNet), and it seemed to cause a slight slowdown and additional battery drain.

* For control of the charging (ad hoc notification) LED, the magic command is ‘su -c “echo 1 >/sys/class/leds/charging/brightness” ‘ to make this LED blink quickly; echo 0 to turn it off; echo 2 for a slow flashing, 3 for solid-on. Despite the name, you can’t actually control brightness, only the blink rate. I made a simple Tasker script to flash it on new texts or missed calls, and extinguish when the screen transitions off -> on (not counting motion-activated Moto Display wake-ups): pastebin(dot)com(slash)SsUCa3fe

Suggestions for Moto / Lenovo to consider in future software updates:

– please improve the One-Button Nav feature with more customization options. I’d love being able to double-tap the fingerprint sensor to bring up my recent-apps menu, or to quickly switch to the previous app, as when double-tapping the on-screen soft Apps key when One-button Nav is disabled. Android Nougat added that quick-alternation feature, but it’s much less handy when having to do a “swipe, swipe” gesture, as now.

Quick app-switching is the main reason I usually keep One-Button Nav turned off and use traditional software keys.

Also, consider giving the option for both One-Button Nav *and* the soft keys to be enabled at once. This would be useful quickly getting out of full-screen apps that make the soft-keys disappear.

– allow the earpiece Charging LED to optionally serve as Notification LED (off by default), without having to root the phone

In future phones (G6?), please consider improving the LED to be nice and bright/exposed as old early G’s, and also making the battery removable, like on the non-Plus Moto G5 sold in other countries, or at least reasonably serviceable as on previous Moto phones with their removable back covers, even if this adds an extra gram or two of mass, or a mm of thickness. Having to weaken adhesive with a heat gun, pry the screen loose without breaking its delicate cables, and essentially disassemble the entire phone just to replace its battery is a big step backwards. It’s sad to think how many of these otherwise excellent phones might eventually wind up in landfills, just because their batteries have worn out.

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