The Best Android Phone Maker? It's Actually Motorola

Samsung's Galaxy S9+ is the best Android phone currently available, at least by our reckoning. And Google's Pixel 2 lineup probably offers the best experience for Android phones. But if you want to talk about the best Android device maker overall, it's hard to argue with what the Lenovo-owned Motorola brand has been doing these days.

Credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty

(Image credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty)

We see a lot of phones from a lot of brands at Tom's Guide, and we rarely see the top-to-bottom consistency found in Moto's phone lineup. Regardless of the kind of phone on your shopping list — from budget models to more full-featured devices — Moto has something to offer that merits your consideration.

With a Moto press event coming Thursday (Aug. 2) in Chicago, where the company is expected to introduce even more devices, it's worth examining just what Moto is doing right to make it a worthy competitor to other, flashier phone makers.

Moto Pays Attention to Budget Phones

Moto's greatest strength is the attention it lavishes on midrange and budget models. You expect some tradeoffs when you buy a lower-cost phone — a slower processor here, a more utilitarian design there — but some phone makers tend to view a lower price as an excuse to mail it in.

Take Samsung's Galaxy J7 Prime. As a phone, it's ... OK. But you won't find many flourishes like dual rear cameras, an 18:9 aspect ratio or peppy performance. When Tom's Guide reviewed the phone, the most exciting feature to us was the price tag. And that seems to be the way a lot of big-name phone makers approach their lower-cost models.

The Moto G6 stands out, however, by putting premium features onto a phone that's priced in the same ballpark as models like the J7 Prime. You want a phone with an extended display like the top flagships feature these days? The G6 has that 18:9 aspect ratio. You'll find dual cameras on the back of the phone, too, even if they don't quite deliver the performance you'll get from a more expensive handset. (You still can expect some compromises, after all.) And though Moto has a lower-end Snapdragon 450 processor, it still outperforms phones in its price range.

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If $250 is still too big an ask for you, Moto offers the E series of phones, and if you're willing to go through a carrier, you can grab a Moto E5 Play for less than $100. Expect some concessions here on the display and camera, but this is still a serviceable phone with a bargain-basement price that runs Android Oreo and includes a fingerprint sensor.

Moto Doesn't Mess with Android

Motorola employs a light hand when it comes to putting Android on its phones. My colleague Adam Ismail, who handles a lot of our smartphone reviews, has observed that you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between stock Android and Moto's implementation of it. The changes Moto does make tend to make the experience better, such as one-button navigation and gesture controls.

Moto could be more consistent in keeping its phones updated to the latest version of Android — though, really, you almost have to opt for a Pixel for that kind of regularity — but this is a phone maker that works with Android, not against it.

Google used to require you to use one of its internally developed smartphones if you wanted to subscribe to the sanely priced Project Fi wireless service. That changed last year when an Android One version of Moto's X4 phone became the first non-Google device to work with Project Fi. The Moto G6 has since joined the mix, too. Both of those phones offer you a cheaper way of enjoying Project Fi and its customer-friendly features, such as credit for data you don't use and the ability to use your plan overseas.

Moto Mods Offer Something New

Think smartphones are getting a little bland and indistinguishable? Moto's Z lineup enlivens things with a modular design that lets you augment your phone's powers with easy-to-add accessories. Not every Moto Mod is a winner, but portable power packs from Incipio and Moto and an attachable speaker from JBL bring something new to the table.

Best of all is how Motorola approaches its modular phones. For starters, the company has kept the same design over multiple generations of the Moto Z phone. That makes Moto Mods compatible with any phone in the lineup. And Moto doesn't stick with a one-price-fits-all approach to its Z lineup: This year's Moto Z3 Play lets you get in on the modular phone action for $450. That's a $200 discount from the top-of-the-line Moto Z2 Force.

That the Z2 Force came out last year hints at one of the weaknesses in Moto's otherwise stellar lineup: it really doesn't have a phone that can go toe-to-toe with top Android devices like the Galaxy S9, the LG G7 ThinQ or the OnePlus 6. Those phones have the latest Qualcomm processor, the Snapdragon 845. Get the Z2 Force, and you'll have to make do with last year's Snapdragon 835. Admittedly, that's not a tremendous sacrifice, but it does highlight that the upper end of Motorola's phone lineup could use a little freshening.

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And that's exactly what it could get on Thursday. Motorola has kept a lid on what to expect from its Aug. 2 event in Chicago, other than to promise a "whole new way to connect, stream, download, video chat and more." But that could mean an updated addition to the Moto Z line or possibly even a new phone — rumored to be the Motorola Power One— that continues Moto's embrace of Google's Android One program for delivering a pure Android experience.

We'll have to wait and see exactly what Motorola has in store and whether any phone that is unveiled Thursday delivers on what the device maker promises. Given Moto's recent track record of hitting the mark in different price ranges, though, you'd have to like the company's chances.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.