Moto G5 Plus Review: Budget Done Right

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Could 2017 be the year of the budget phone? We’ve already seen the Huawei Honor 6X and the ZTE Blade V8 Pro pack high-end features into sub-$300 handsets. And now the Moto G5 Plus has arrived on the scene to show other budget phones how it’s done.

Available in two versions ranging from $229 to $299, the G5 Plus impresses with excellent performance, an extra-bright 5.2-inch screen and a built-in fingerprint sensor with support for highly useful gesture recognition. With Moto adding metal design touches to a G-series phone for the first time, the G5 Plus looks way slicker than earlier Moto models, too. And, unlike other budget unlocked phones, this one supports all the major U.S. carriers.

Updated May 21:

We've updated our review of the Moto G5 Plus based on our in-depth smartphone drop tests. See the results below.

Design: The first G with metal

While the rest of the phone industry continues to move toward bigger screens and smaller bezels, the G5 Plus holds the line with a 5.2-inch full-HD display and a fair bit of space above and below the screen. But as someone who still likes a front-mounted fingerprint sensor instead of one on the back, the G5 Plus maintains a balanced look, thanks to equally proportioned bezels on top and bottom.

Moto says this is the first G-series phone crafted with metal, and it shows. Shiny aluminum bands run around the front and back edges, while the metal backplate and its large circular camera module look like something you’d get from Moto's more premium Z-series phones. Just know that the G5 Plus isn't entirely made of out metal: the phone has plastic sides and small plastic inserts in back on top and bottom — hardly a deal-breaker.

Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide)

I have more of an issue with Moto's inclusion of a micro USB port instead of a more modern Type-C port. While 2016 may have been a transition year, USB-C is the future, and Moto has already put USB-C ports on both the Moto Z and Z Play. There's really no excuse for sticking with an aging micro USB port on the G5 Plus. I am happy to see that Moto did keep the headphone jack, something missing from those company's flagship Moto Z phones.

Another minor annoyance is the G5 Plus' lack of 802.11 ac Wi-Fi, which prevents the G5 Plus from reaching the same connection speeds as ZTE’s Blade V8 Pro when connected to the latest routers.

Regarding size, the G5 Plus (5.91 x 2.91 x 0.3 inches and 5.46 ounces)  is barely smaller than the Honor 6X (5.94 x 3 x 0.32 inches and 5.71 ounces) despite the latter's larger 5.5-inch display. There’s a more pronounced difference in size and weight with the ZTE Blade V8 Pro (6.14 x 3.03 x 0.36 and 6.53 ounces), making the G5 Plus a better pick for people looking for something more compact. 

Durability: Decent results

We tested the toughness of the Moto G5 Plus by dropping it on its face onto wood from a height of 4 feet and 6 feet; we then dropped it on its edge and face onto concrete from 4 feet; we also dropped it on its edge and face from 6 feet onto concrete.

This budget phone proved pretty resilient, surviving 4- and 6-foot drops onto wood, as well as a 4-foot face drop onto concrete with minimal damage. However, a 6-foot face drop onto concrete finally caused the screen to break to such a degree that we wouldn’t want to use it further. The G5 Plus earned a decent toughness score of 5.1 out of 10.

To see the results of other smartphones, as well as our complete scoring methodology, check out our smartphone drop tests.

Configurations, pricing and carrier support

The Moto G5 Plus is available unlocked in two versions: a $229 model with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, and a more robust model with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Both versions also come with microSD-card expansion up to 128GB. However, those with Amazon Prime can buy either model at a discount, which lowers the price of the 2GB/32GB model to $185, and the 4GB/64GB model to $240. The one caveat to this is that the Amazon Prime exclusive version will contain"personalized ads and offers" on the lock screen. 

The G5 Plus comes unlocked, and you should still be able to take it to any carrier (including Verizon and Sprint) without issue. The Honor 6X and the Blade V8 Pro just work on the GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile.

Display and Audio: Stellar brightness

While the G5 Plus' 5.2-inch full-HD screen isn't quite as large as its 5.5-inch competitors, it's just as colorful and way brighter than anything else in this price range. This gives the G5 Plus exemplary outdoor visibility, and when you're inside watching movies, it makes whites and colors pop just a little more than screens on competing phones.

Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide)

Using our handy light meter, we found that the G5 hit a peak brightness of 591 nits. That's almost 36 percent brighter than the smartphone average (433 nits) and the ZTE Blade V8 Pro (430 nits), and nearly 35 percent brighter than the Honor 6X (444 nits).

As for color, the G5 Plus covered 106 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That's in the same ballpark as its competitors, though Honor 6X and Blade V8 Pro had slightly more expansive ranges, at 114 and 112 percent, respectively.

On color accuracy, the G5 Plus reasserted its dominance with a Delta-E rating of 0.94, significantly better than the Honor 6X's 3.28 and the Blade V8 Pro's 2.6. (Numbers closer to 0 are better).

As for audio, when you want to unplug your headphones, Moto eschews the typical bottom-mounted speaker for an earpiece that also doubles as a front-facing speaker. For a budget phone, the G5 Plus actually sounds pretty decent: When I listened to Chic's "I'll Be There," I liked hearing the rich vocals, although I was looking for a little more depth to the highs.

Performance: The best of the (budget) bunch

Equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage on our test model — Moto also sells a less-expensive version with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage — the G5 Plus boasts some of the best performance we've seen from a sub-$300 phone. Even with upward of 10 apps running the background, I never had issues with lag or stuttering while flipping between home screens.

That prowess was reflected in the G5 Plus' numbers on Geekbench 4, a benchmark that measures overall system performance. The G5 Plus scored 3,746, versus 3,018 for the ZTE Blade V8 Pro (which also has a Snapdragon 625), and 3,366 for the Kirin 655-powered Honor 6X. The smartphone average lies somewhere in between, at 3,299.

On the Jetstream 1.1 JavaScript test, the G5 Plus was again among the best, with a score of 30.3. The Blade V8 Pro performed ever-so-slightly better with a score of 30.74, while the Honor 6X lagged a bit,  at 27.01.

Finally, when it came to graphics performance, the G5 Plus stayed strong with a score of 13,862, slightly better than the Blade V8 Pro's 13,736 and a little more than 15 percent better than the Honor 6X (11,897).

Cameras: Who needs dual cameras?

While the G5 Plus doesn't come with dual-rear cameras, like the Blade V8 Pro or Honor 6X, its front 5-megapixel camera and rear 12-MP cam are still pretty sharp shooters.

Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide)

Moto has even added dual-pixel autofocus tech, which means every pixel can track focus while simultaneously capturing photo info.

I also like Moto's inclusion of a Pro mode that lets you change specific camera settings, such as shutter speed, white balance and ISO, in addition to having slow-motion and panorama modes.

When comparing a daytime shot looking out toward Manhattan with HDR set to auto, I'd have to give the G5 Plus the edge over the Blade V8 Pro.

Credit: Samuel Rutherford/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Samuel Rutherford/Tom's Guide)

The Moto did a better job of properly exposing the dark-red buildings in the midground and capturing the light falling across the scene. And if you zoom in a little bit, the G5 Plus pic looks a bit sharper, too.

Credit: Samuel Rutherford/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Samuel Rutherford/Tom's Guide)

Indoors, it's a bit closer, because while the Blade V8 Pro's pic has better white balance, the G5 Plus' photo has noticeably better focus.

Credit: Samuel Rutherford/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Samuel Rutherford/Tom's Guide)

At night in auto mode, you can see two very different approaches to low-light photography. The G5 Plus' pic features a significantly brighter exposure, which makes it much easier to make out details on the buildings in the background and the shrubs on the left. Meanwhile, the Blade V8 Pro opts for a much darker look that hides certain things so that it doesn’t blow out all the various light sources.

Credit: Samuel Rutherford/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Samuel Rutherford/Tom's Guide)

As for selfies, the G5 Plus front camera leaves very little to complain about. Pictures looked sharp and well-exposed, although I did notice that in side-by-side comparison shots against the Blade V8 Pro, the G5 Plus' photo didn't have quite as much detail or color on my face; the G5’s photo did show off more sharpness in my hair.

Battery Life: Simply superb

With a time of 11 hours and 43 minutes on the Tom's Guide Battery Test (continuous surfing over AT&T 4G LTE), the Moto G5 Plus is the latest addition to our list of the longest-lasting phones.

For comparison’s sake, that's more than 2 hours longer than the 9:10 smartphone average and an hour and a half longer than the Honor 6X's mark of 9:56. However, the ZTE Blade V8 did top the G5 Plus by about half an hour, with 12:08.

When you're low on juice, the G5 Plus also has TurboPower recharging that can add up to 6 hours of battery life in 15 minutes, although it’s most effective when the phone is really low on energy.

Software and OS: Gesture controls are a fantastic addition to Android 7.0

Unlike its two main budget rivals, the Moto G5 Plus comes with Android 7.0 instead of the older Android Marshmallow. And with Moto's traditional light touch when it comes to sprucing up its phones, there's zero bloat and the OS is as close to stock as can be. It gets better: this fall, Motorola will bring Android Oreo to the Moto G5 Plus via a software update.

But that  doesn't mean Moto hasn't made any enhancements. In fact, the Moto app is one of the simplest and most effective improvements you can get on a phone. It lets you enable gesture control, so you can twist the phone twice to open the camera, make a chopping motion to turn on the flashlight, or place the phone facedown on a table to automatically activate the Do Not Disturb mode.

But the best part is that by enabling the Moto app's one-button navigation option, you can turn the fingerprint sensor into a mini touchpad. Now, you can tap to go home, swipe left to go back, swipe right to open up recent apps, and tap and hold to lock the device. Doing this will even remove the traditional on-screen navigation buttons and help reclaim your precious screen real estate.

Bottom Line

Overall, the Moto G5 is a great unlocked phone for shoppers on a budget.

Credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Jeremy Lips/Tom's Guide)

That's because it has the best performance and brightest screen among its closest competitors, along with a fingerprint sensor with awesome gesture controls. Plus, you have the freedom to bring your phone to any carrier you want, and a new upscale design with metal finishes. However,  the Moto G5 Plus doesn't have dual rear cams or as large a screen as its two closest rivals, the ZTE Blade V8 Pro and the Honor 6X.

For many people, it may come down to which carrier they prefer. And since the Blade V8 Pro and the Honor 6X won't work on Verizon or Sprint, that makes the G5 Plus an easy pick. But on top of that, if you are an Amazon Prime member, the G5 Plus' discounted price of $185 for the 2GB/32GB model or $240 for the 4GB/64GB version makes this phone a steal, especially the model with more RAM and extra storage (even with Amazon's special deals). Regardless of your carrier or your Amazon Prime status, though, the G5 Plus is definitely one of the best budget phones you can get right now.

Sam is a Senior Writer at Engadget and previously worked at Gizmodo as a Senior Reporter. Before that, he worked at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer and Senior Product Review Analyst, overseeing benchmarks and testing for countless product reviews. He was also an archery instructor and a penguin trainer too (really).