Motorola announces the $179 Moto G, a lot of smartphone for not a lot of money

Dan Seifert

Following the expansion of its Moto Maker service and a price drop for the Moto X earlier this week, Motorola today announced the Moto G, a new low-cost entry-level smartphone for global markets. The Moto G doesn't skimp on features, but Motorola is selling it for a rock-bottom price: $179 unlocked and without contract. The company says that its partners plan to offer it for even less.

Despite its bargain basement price tag, the Moto G has a 4.5-inch, 720p LCD TFT display, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, 1GB of RAM, 8 or 16GB of storage, a 5-megapixel rear camera and 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, and a 2,070mAh battery. Aesthetically, the Moto G looks almost identical to the Moto X, with a very similar shape and feel. The biggest differences are the front-facing camera and rear speaker, which are on the left of the Moto G while they are on the right of the Moto X.

Motorola isn't offering a Moto Maker customization service for the Moto G, but the back plate is removable, letting customers swap it for different colors and styles. Motorola is selling blue, teal, red, yellow, purple, white, and black covers, as well as rugged versions and flip-style portfolio covers for the Moto G (the company says there are 19 options in total). Unfortunately, the removable cover is purely for cosmetic purposes: the battery is non-removeable and there isn't a microSD card slot on the G.

The Moto G is launching with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, though Motorola says that Android 4.4 will be available for it in a matter of weeks. Like the Moto X, the Moto G's software is very close to a "stock" Android experience, with very little in the way of modification by Motorola. Sadly, the Moto G doesn't have the Moto X's cool software tricks, such as Active Notifications, Quick Capture, and Touchless Control, since those require the special processor only found in the X.

It's striking how similar to the Moto X the Moto G looks and feels

We've spent a little bit of time with an early version of the Moto G, and it's striking just how similar it is to the Moto X when you handle it. Without comparing the two directly, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between them. Motorola tells us that this was intentional: the Moto X look is the company's design language and it isn't concerned with the Moto G distracting customers from its flagship. The build quality and construction of the G are quite impressive, and certainly better than any other phone in this price range.

Likewise, the display is impressive — it has good viewing angles, accurate color, and tight pixel density. In many respects, it's better than the AMOLED display used on the Moto X. The phone is snappy and responsive with Android 4.3, and while it won't give a Samsung Galaxy S4 or LG G2 a run for their money, it will likely be fast enough for the average user. The G doesn't have support for LTE, but for the markets that Motorola is targeting, that's likely to not be much of an issue.

Motorola built a surprisingly solid smartphone that belies its bargain price

Motorola is launching the Moto G in Brazil and parts of Europe today, with availability expected in the coming weeks for the rest of Latin America, Europe, and Canada. The phone will be sold direct from Motorola as well as other carriers in the US in early January, with the 8GB model going for $179 and the 16GB version for $199.

But the specs and features aren't really the main story with the Moto G. It will likely be overlooked and forgotten about in developed markets anyways. Rather, the G is Motorola's first real global play under Google's ownership and it is going up directly against the Nokia Asha's and Firefox OS phones of the world. It's clear that Motorola looking to capture a lot of the first-time smartphone buyers with this device. The company tells us that it does make a profit on the Moto G (it wouldn't elaborate how much) despite its aggressive price point.

The Moto G is going up against the Nokia Ashas and Firefox phones of the world

Though it is priced slightly higher than the average Asha or Firefox phone (most can be had for under $100), the Moto G's performance is so much better and the Android ecosystem so much stronger than Asha or Firefox that it makes quite a compelling option to first time smartphone buyers. The Firefox devices we've seen thus far have had middling performance and empty app stores, and it's hard to even call Nokia's Asha line smartphones at all. The G has the performance and the backing of a legitimate and developed smartphone platform, along with all of Google's support and apps. Motorola could easily upend the entry-level smartphone market with this device, provided it can get it out there.

With Google's pocketbook, that shouldn't be that hard to do.