Moto G5S Plus Review: Great Galaxy S8 Alternative for $500 Less

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Motorola has taken its budget darling, the G5 Plus, and tweaked it just enough to deliver an even better package. There are three key areas in which the G5S Plus outperforms the cheaper G5 Plus: screen size, design and the presence of an all-new dual 13-megapixel camera setup.

For those benefits, both configurations of the G5S Plus cost $50 more than equivalent versions of the G5 Plus, which cost $229 and $299. However, that doesn't tell the whole story, because at launch, Motorola has cut the cost of the G5S Plus by $50, meaning you can get the phone for what you'd pay for a G5 Plus. That pricing is for a limited time, though.

The result is a slight improvement on our favorite sub-$300 handset, though perhaps not enough of an upgrade to justify the higher price tag.

Configurations and Carrier Support

The G5S Plus starts at $279 for 32GB of storage and 3GB of RAM, and $349 for 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. Motorola calls this phone a special edition, and it's available unlocked and compatible with all four major U.S. carriers.

Moto G5S Plus vs. Moto G5 Plus: How They Compare

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ModelMoto G5S PlusMoto G5 Plus
Price $279-$349$229-$299
Screen Size (Resolution)5.5 inches (1920 x 1080)5.2 inches (1920 x 1080)
Size6.04 x 3 x 0.37 inches5.9 x 2.9 x 0.38 inches
Weight5.92 ounces5.46 ounces
CPUSnapdragon 625Snapdragon 625
Rear CameraDual 13 MP12 MP
Front Camera8 MP5 MP
Battery Life (Hrs:Mins)11:5011:43

Design: A truly premium finish

Motorola typically plays it safe in the design department, especially with its lower-priced phones, with a general shape and aesthetic that run through its entire range. The G5S Plus doesn't do anything to buck that trend, but there's still a lot to like here.

The differences in fit and finish versus the standard G5 Plus are actually quite striking when you sit both phones side by side. Whereas the earlier model employed a discreet mix of metal and plastic, the G5S Plus features a new unibody chassis with a slightly larger footprint that looks and feels much more premium.

Moto G5S Plus (left) and G5 Plus (right)

Moto G5S Plus (left) and G5 Plus (right)

The proof is in the details. The diamond-cut edges make for a nice contrast against the aluminum body. Slightly slimmer bezels, particularly at the bottom, make the G5S Plus feel like a modern smartphone, and the subtly curved 2.5D glass adds another layer of polish you typically don't find in devices in this price range.

If I have one gripe, it's that the oversized circular camera housing could use some trimming. It sticks out like a sore thumb, and breaks up the clean lines and smooth surface of the aluminum. I accidentally grazed it on several occasions while holding the phone, and each time, it felt awkward — like a fridge magnet randomly tacked onto the rear.

Display: The screen to beat

The Moto G5 Plus already featured one of our favorite displays in a budget phone, so how does the G5S Plus' screen compare? For the most part, well. Both Moto phones employ 1080p screens, but the discrepancy comes down to size. The G5S Plus' LCD is slightly larger, at 5.5 inches, compared with the G5 Plus' 5.2-inch panel.

Ratcheting up the size with the same number of pixels obviously causes a slight drop in sharpness, but the G5S Plus' display is so superb — particularly when it comes to color representation — that we didn't care. The trailer for Maze Runner: The Death Cure absolutely popped, with striking contrast and vibrant hues no matter the viewing angle.

Color accuracy proved to be the G5S Plus' greatest strength. In our testing, this phone's screen registered a Delta-E rating of 0.29. (Numbers closer to 0 are better.) That not only outperforms the G5 Plus' score of 0.94, but it's on a par with the Samsung Galaxy S8's 0.28. Few smartphones, at any price, come close.

Color range performance was also strong. Showing off 109 percent of the sRGB color gamut, the G5S Plus scored in the same ballpark as its closest competitors — the similarly priced ZTE Blade V8 Pro (112 percent) and Huawei Honor 6X (114 percent). It's a far cry from the color range you get from a phone with an OLED panel, but it's on par with other phones in the G5S Plus' price range.

Few smartphones, at any price, come close to this screen's color accuracy.

In terms of brightness, the picture isn't quite so rosy for the G5S Plus. While Motorola's earlier G5 Plus delivered a very impressive 591 nits, its latest phone came in at just 400 nits. That's slightly below the 433-nit average for smartphones, as well as the scores from the ZTE Blade V8 Pro (430) and the Honor 6X (444 nits). It's a disappointing step back for an otherwise class-leading display.

Performance: Still blazing fast on a budget

The G5S Plus is powered by Qualcomm's midrange Snapdragon 625 processor. That's the same chipset featured in the regular G5 Plus, and unsurprisingly, performance is equally snappy in the new model. No matter how many Chrome tabs we opened, or how much scrolling or app switching we did, it didn't slow down.

We tested the Moto G5S Plus configuration with 64GB of storage and 4GB of RAM. Those are flagship numbers for a budget handset, though you won't find them in the less-expensive variant of the G5S Plus, which features half the storage and a gigabyte less of RAM. The memory deficit in the less-expensive version means it likely won't handle multitasking quite as well as the model we tested.

Measuring overall system performance with Geekbench 4, our G5S Plus delivered a score of 4,126 — better than the G5 Plus' 3,746. That phone was already among the fastest in the sub-$300 segment, so seeing the G5S Plus edge it out was a nice surprise.

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Graphics performance was pretty much more of the same. This handset produced a 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited score of 13,805. That situates the G5S Plus between the G5 Plus and the ZTE Blade V8 Pro, which scored 13,862 and 11,897, respectively.

Both versions of the G5S Plus include a microSD slot to add an extra 128GB of storage. Sadly, U.S. devices miss out on NFC for Android Pay. Budget handsets typically lack NFC, but the G5S doesn't feel as low-end as its price suggests, and considering customers elsewhere in the world get it, the NFC omission is difficult to overlook.

Similarly frustrating is the lack of 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity, which prevents the G5S Plus from reaching the highest data speeds over home and office wireless networks. This was a shortcoming of the original G5 Plus that really should have been fixed with the special edition, yet was left unaddressed.

Camera: One step forward, two lenses back

For years, dual cameras were a luxury fit only for the most expensive, cutting-edge handsets. With the G5S Plus, Motorola has brought the tech to one of its more modest devices for the very first time. Unfortunately, after spending some time with the phone's dual rear cameras, we're not so sure it was worth the trouble.

You'll have to wait up to 6 seconds for the phone to process and save some images with bokeh enabled.

The G5S Plus carries two 13-MP sensors on the back, as well as an 8-MP one for selfies — all of which feature an f/2.0 aperture. As on the Moto Z2 Force, one of the rear cameras shoots in monochrome, and is designed to capture only light and detail without color. Yet unlike with the Z2 Force, you can't use that lens exclusively for black-and-white photography, which is a bit of a letdown.

Still, that second lens allows the G5S Plus to pull off depth tricks, like bokeh, which adds an artistic blur to the background of your photos. When used in normal mode, however, the results are surprisingly underwhelming.

Comparing the same skyline shot between the G5S Plus and another budget 13-MP dual-camera offering, ZTE's Blade V8 Pro, we see Motorola's auto white balance has opted for a greener tint. There's less contrast overall, which helps retain some fidelity that's lacking in the ZTE's darker exposure. But if you zoom in dead center, you can't actually discern the bricks on the buildings as easily with the G5S Plus. Everything kind of gets muddied together, with no sharpness.

In low light, however, the G5S Plus' more balanced contrast helped it achieve a more detailed shot in comparison to the one from the Blade V8 Pro. The Motorola picked up intricacies in the texture of my hand and the wall that the ZTE missed.

The Motorola phone wins some more points with its superior depth effect mode, which lets you adjust the focus and strength of the blur before and after shooting. It's a feature that feels magical the first time you use it, and compared to the Blade V8 Pro, the result looks more like what you'd find on a genuine full-size camera and less like a simulation achieved through software.

Shooting in this mode, though, you encounter a critical issue: The images simply take too long to capture on the Moto G5 Plus. You'll have to wait up to 6 seconds for the phone to process and save some images with bokeh enabled. And when it's complete, you're still left with an image that lacks clarity where you want it.

The regular G5 Plus may only have a single camera, but it sports a superior f/1.7 aperture and speedier dual-pixel autofocus. When the novelty of the dual cameras wears off and the frustration sets in, we know which we'd rather have.

Up front, the G5S Plus utilizes an 8-MP sensor, improving on the 5-MP sensor in the G5 Plus. A front-facing flash sits alongside the wide-angle lens, and the overall results from this camera are bright and balanced. However, they exhibit a slight lack of clarity compared to the images from the Blade V8 Pro, which is most evident in my hair and the pattern of my shirt.

Battery life: Lasts and lasts

This phone will last you all day.. The G5S Plus' 3,000-mAh battery topped out at 11 hours and 50 minutes on the Tom's Guide Battery Test, which consists of continuous web surfing over T-Mobile LTE. That's more than 2 hours past the 9:40 smartphone average. The just-released iPhone 8 Plus, a device that costs more than three times as much, even comes up short by about a half-hour.

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If you're wondering how it stacks up on a more level playing field, the G5S Plus delivered nearly 10 more minutes of use than the G5 Plus, which has the same size battery. The aforementioned Blade V8 Pro defeated both, at 12:08.

Like most Motorola phones, the G5S Plus comes packaged with a TurboPower fast charger. In this instance, the adapter provides 6 hours of juice in 15 minutes when connected to the wall.

Software: Meaningful, useful improvements to Android

Android phone makers don't always understand the value of restraint when it comes to software, but fortunately, Motorola does. The G5S Plus launches with Android 7.1.1 Nougat, and aside from a slightly modified launcher and a helpful suite of optional gestures housed in the Moto app, this is stock Android in all its elegant, simple glory.

With Moto Actions, you can eliminate the on-screen navigation bar for an even roomier display, and use the G5S Plus' front-mounted fingerprint sensor as a full replacement. There's a shortcut to access the phone's flashlight with a chopping motion, and another that immediately opens the camera app when you twist the phone.

In addition to gestures, the Moto app includes Moto Display, an interface that discreetly and briefly presents notifications when the phone is locked. There's more to be found in the Moto app, and we strongly recommend trying out everything it has to offer.

MORE: Android Tips to Unlock Your Phone's Full Potential

To sweeten the experience, Motorola has also announced it will bring Android 8.0 Oreo to the entire G5 range in the coming months. However, owners shouldn't expect an update to Android P in 2018, as the company typically holds its budget products to just one year of software support.

Bottom Line

In nearly every respect, Motorola's latest phone equals or improves on the already compelling G5 Plus. And yet, the answer to the question "Should you buy one?" still cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.

If you're looking to take the plunge while Motorola is selling the G5S Plus for the same price as the standard model, you should go for it. You'll appreciate the more meticulous design and more pleasant user experience compared to rivals like the $200 Honor 6X and $230 Blade V8 Pro.

Once Motorola retires that promotion, it'll be a harder call to make. At $279 for the base 32GB/3GB model, the G5S Plus can't justify a purchase on the merits of its dual cameras alone. A slight edge in performance isn't going to account for that price difference, either. And if you're considering going the Amazon Prime route to nab an ad-supported G5 Plus for $185, the gulf in pricing is even wider.

As great as the G5S Plus is, the first G5 Plus was already among the best bargains in the business. Although the special edition is mostly better, it's not as good a value — meaning the original remains the best bargain option for Android users.

Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide

Adam Ismail is a staff writer at Jalopnik and previously worked on Tom's Guide covering smartphones, car tech and gaming. His love for all things mobile began with the original Motorola Droid; since then he’s owned a variety of Android and iOS-powered handsets, refusing to stay loyal to one platform. His work has also appeared on Digital Trends and GTPlanet. When he’s not fiddling with the latest devices, he’s at an indie pop show, recording a podcast or playing Sega Dreamcast.