Moto G6 review: A worthy successor

I think the Moto G5 Plus was the best budget phone of 2017. It was among the first to truly offer a complete smartphone experience for such a low price. A Honda Civic of smartphones. I even included it in my Top Ten Android Phones of All Time article from April. For less than $200 (on Amazon), you got an unlocked device with an excellent display, solid performance, outstanding fingerprint scanner, great battery life (with fast charging), surprisingly decent cameras and compatibility with all US carriers. Now we have the Moto G6 for 2018 and it puts some modern touches on last year’s workhorse. Does it live up to the greatness of its predecessor? Well, yes and no. But there’s a big caveat as I’m not using the Moto G6 Plus. That model isn’t coming to the US. So let’s see how this model fares on its own as a daily driver.

The first thing you’ll notice that’s different with the Moto G6 (other than motorola replacing moto on the chin) is the taller screen aspect ratio. Last year’s G5 Plus had a standard 16:9 display, but the new G6 moves to a modern 18:9 display and it’s an appreciated change. It has a Samsung Galaxy S8 vibe, minus the curved screen and ultra-premium build quality, and the size is very hand-friendly with a 5.7-inch display. Like the Moto X4 or Samsung Galaxy S7, the rear glass is curved, making it more comfortable in the hand. There’s a sizable bottom chin, but nothing too offensive and a front-facing fingerprint scanner makes it worthwhile. That scanner is slimmer and wider than last year, but just as easy and reliable to use. The side and top bezels are fairly tight and the overall package is compact and attractive. The front-facing camera sits to the left of the earpiece, which also serves as the speaker, with an LED flash to the right.

The back of the phone is clean with just a dual-camera and LED flash contained within their signature hockey puck, and Motorola’s logo underneath. A small microphone port sits at the bottom left. The glass back curves at both edges, again like the Moto X4, and is an expected fingerprint magnet. It does, however, feel more premium than the price suggests. I would’ve preferred an aluminum back, both to reduce fingerprints and be one less thing to fracture if dropped, but it looks great nonetheless. And there’s no wireless charging under the glass, but I never expected that feature for the price.

The sides of the phone are plastic, same as last year, but this time they’re a glossy black. This is a good and bad thing. It stays warm to the touch on cold mornings and looks better, but it also feels a little slimy from the gloss and less premium than something like the aluminum Moto Z2 Play. It’s easy to live with and I wouldn’t call it a negative for such a well priced device.

Looking at the bottom, there’s an updated USB Type-C port with fast charging (upgraded from last year’s micro-USB) and the ever endangered headphone jack remains. I applaud Motorola’s (Lenovo’s) lack of courage on that one. I’m glad to see that some Android manufacturers aren’t driving down the “copy Apple’s every move” street. There’s no notch, either!

The top of the phone houses a SIM tray (with micro SD slot) on the right and a second microphone port on the left. The 32GB of internal storage can be expanded by up to 256GB more. This setup is adequate and Google’s always improving cloud storage helps make it a non-issue. However, a 64GB model is available in select markets.

The right side has a volume rocker at the top and textured power button below. They’re easy to find with your finger and the textured power button is welcomed, but they almost completely disappear into the glossy plastic side. I think having them a different color (maybe a red power button, for example) would’ve been more visually appealing and they’d be easier to spot.

Hardware

 Moto G6
Announced April 2018
Released April 2018
Display5.7-inch IPS LCD, 424 ppi (1080 x 2160), Corning Gorilla Glass 3
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 450
RAM3GB
Storage 32GB (microSD up to 256GB)
Rear CameraDual camera setup - 12MP (f/1.8) and 5MP (f/2.2), phase detection autofocus, dual-LED dual-tone flash
Front Camera8MP (f/2.2)
Battery3000mAh
ChargingUSB-C with fast charging
SoundSingle front-facing speaker (doubles as earpiece), 3.5mm headphone jack
SoftwareAndroid 8.0 Oreo
Connectivity Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
SensorsFront-facing fingerprint, ambient, accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass
Measurements 153.8 x 72.3 x 8.3mm
Weight167g
ColorsBlack, Indigo, Silver, Blush
Carrier compatibilityGSM and CDMA - compatible with all major US carriers

Performance

Last year’s Moto G5 Plus was rock solid in the performance department. It wasn’t a powerhouse like the Galaxy S8 or Pixel 2, but breezed through daily tasks like web browsing, opening/using apps, email, texts and so on. The new G6 is mostly good, but I’ve noticed some stutters and freezes here and there. Things that were, for the most part, nonexistent last year. Let’s be fair, though. Any market with the Moto X4 isn’t getting the Moto G6 Plus (and vice versa), which would’ve been a more apples to apples comparison. In the US, the standard G6 is the only upgrade to the G5 Plus. The G6 Plus has an upgraded Snapdragon 630 (the Moto G5 Plus had a Snapdragon 625). My standard G6 only has a Snapdragon 450 and the difference is apparent. Opening the camera, for example, can take a couple of seconds or more, which never really happened on the G5 Plus. Freezes and stutters are frequent enough to be remembered (but not a deal breaker). That being said, it’s still a solid overall performer. Android 8.0 Oreo is installed out of the box with a March 1 security patch. That’s good enough for now and the software offers a stock experience.

Minor Motorola tweaks have been sprinkled here and there, like the always outstanding Moto Display and Moto Actions (chop twice for flashlight, etc.), and they genuinely add value. Given the visual changes Google made with the Pixel launcher, I consider this to also be stock Android. Same dish, just slightly different flavor.

As with most phones in this category, light gaming is great, but resource intensive ones can slow it down. Touch response can be a little slow as well on big action titles as the processor struggles to keep up. I was able to play the moderately intensive Moto Rider GO: Highway Traffic without issue.

The 18:9, 5.7-inch 1080p IPS LCD is a real standout. It’s very sharp with nice, punchy colors and subtle rounded corners (similar to the bottom corners of the Essential Phone). They’re much less pronounced than on the Galaxy S9 or LG V30. Viewing angles are solid and at 424 ppi, you won’t see individual pixels. It’s a great display at any price and I’m more than satisfied (last year’s G5 Plus was also great). Motorola allows for a little manual tweaking of the screen as well, including a color temperature slider.

The screen performed surprisingly well outdoors as it’s not the brightest display around. Under direct sunlight, things weren’t exactly ideal, but the display was still usable. I wouldn’t compare it to a Galaxy S9 or HTC U11, but for under $250, I’m not complaining.

There’s only a single speaker onboard, not that I expected stereo speakers (although the Alcatel Idol 5S has stereo speakers at a slightly higher price). The speaker doubles as the earpiece, however, so it’s front-facing and loud. I’d take that over a bottom firing speaker any day and it’s actually better than recent flagships like the Galaxy S8 or Essential Phone. A 3.5mm headphone jack is also included, so you can easily plug in your favorite ear cans. Sound via that port is also better than expected, with decent base and clarity. Only discriminating audiophiles will complain.

I’ve been using the Moto G6 with Verizon and calls have been clear and reliable, and the speakerphone is loud enough in most situations. I easily had a conversation on speaker while driving with a window partially down. The phone was hands-free on a dashboard mount (stay safe everyone). LTE speeds have also been solid and the hotspot option was fast and reliable. It saved me more than once when Time Warner’s Wi-Fi was less than cooperative.

Battery

The 3,000mAh battery was enough to get me through a full day and night of moderate to heavy use. It rarely fell below 20% by the end of the night, but if I really pushed things, I could kill it before nightfall. Using GPS for any length of time was a sure way to do that. As with the G5 Plus, there’s fast charging via a 15W TurboPower charger included in the box, but this year’s model upgraded to USB Type-C, adding another modern touch. It’s not the fastest of fast chargers, however, taking a hair under two hours to charge from 0-100%. Motorola offers a fairly standard battery section in settings that includes a battery saver option, and it shows overall usage details and individual app usage.

Software

As mentioned earlier, I consider this phone to run stock Android 8.0 Oreo. Google’s Pixel 2 phones have tweaks here and there, so one is no more “pure” than the other. If absolute stock Android is what you’re after, the Essential Phone is the one you want. The G6 diverges from the Pixels, however, when it comes to timely updates. Android 8.1 Oreo has been out for weeks and many new phones are launching with it, but I’m glad to at least see Oreo on the G6. The security patch is now three months old, which isn’t ancient, but no phone should fall this far behind (especially from a seasoned manufacturer). Time will tell how well they keep security updated. Bloatware is minimal on the unlocked device, but there’s both carrier and Amazon Prime versions, so expect an abundance of bloatware on those.

The biggest differentiator in Motorola’s lineup is their exclusive Moto app, which offers a handful of useful features that spice up vanilla Android.

  • Moto Key allows you to log into apps and websites, and unlock Windows devices with your fingerprint instead of a password. I find its usefulness limited as most apps and websites either store my password or fingerprint automatically, or Google does it for me. It’s a neat feature nonetheless and I’m sure many people will find it useful.
  • Moto Actions allow you to perform tasks with movements and gestures. For example, if you quickly twist your wrist twice, the camera will launch. Chop twice to turn on the flashlight and so on. You can also flip the phone to silence notifications, hold three fingers on the screen to take a screenshot, etc. One button nav is probably the most interesting as it removes the Android buttons from the bottom of the screen, replacing them with gestures on the fingerprint scanner. It works better than last year and is easy to get used to, but I still prefer my traditional buttons.
  • Moto Display is arguably the most useful of Motorola’s additions and provides notifications on the lock screen as they come in, or you can either tap on the screen or move the phone to activate it. Introduced with the original Moto X, it’s still an outstanding feature that’s now been copied by numerous other manufacturers. Attentive Display will keep the screen on as long as you’re looking at it and Night Display reduces blue light from the screen at night, which should help you sleep after putting the phone away.
  • Moto Voice (BETA) is basically Motorola’s version of Samsung’s Bixby. And it’s in beta. It works fairly well, but I recommend sticking with Google Assistant for now, which works better than all others.

Other than that, we have a familiar, stock experience. If you’ve used a Moto X4 or G5 varient, you’ll be right at home.

Camera

There’s a dual-camera system on the back, which is a surprise for a sub-$300 phone, but it’s not exactly what you think. Similar to the old HTC M8, the second 5 MP (f/2.2) camera just supports the main 12 MP (f/1.8) one, basically allowing for a portrait mode (blurring of the background). It would’ve been great to have a wide-angle or monochrome second camera, but it’s still nice having this extra feature on such a well priced device.

The main camera is an excellent performer, consistently pushing out photos that can go toe to toe with upper mid-range (and even some flagship) devices. Similar to the Alcatel Idol 5 that I reviewed last year, the camera is a big surprise for a budget offering. Outdoor shots were sharp with punchy colors and decent (not the best) dynamic range. Only flagships like the Galaxy S9 or LG V30 have it handily beat.

Indoor shots were equally impressive. Exposure was solid, noise was minimal and the shutter clicked fairly quickly. There was occasionally a little lag, but nothing serious.

Things remained solid when the indoor lights went down. Noise levels were still acceptable and everything remained sharp, but shutter lag became an issue. It often took a full second or more to actually take the picture, and during that pause, it was important to hold very still to avoid blurring the shot. If you’re trying to shoot a moving target (like a toddler or pet), chances are you’ll miss the moment. Get it right, however, and the results are impressive. It even shows all of the hair that my dog sheds on the couch in a low light environment. Sigh…

Night shots were also solid. Shutter lag remained, but the camera consistently took sharp photos with relatively low noise. Exposure could be a little off, resulting in pictures that were darker than desired, but overall this affordable camera rose to the occasion when the sun went down.

There are some fun options within the camera, such as portrait mode, which works much better than on the Moto X4. It’s still behind recent flagships like the Pixel 2, iPhone X and Huawei Mate 10 Pro, but then let’s compare prices. Spot color is my favorite and allows you to pick a subject and keep it in color, while the rest of the scene becomes black and white. It worked very well and there’s a slider that allows you to tweak the scene before shooting. In the photo below, I had to use that slider to remove some residual green in the grass.

There are a few other novelties, like panorama and face filters (think Snapchat), but after some initial fun, panorama and spot color are the only two that I can see myself consistently coming back to.

The camera can shoot 1080p video at 30fps (sorry, no 4k) and includes slow motion, timelapse and face filters. Arguably the coolest thing is the option to record directly to YouTube Live with a simple click. For such a well priced phone, the camera software doesn’t disappoint. And we haven’t even gotten to the front-facing camera, which has its own LED flash. Like the rear camera, it can shoot 1080p video at 30fps and stills have beauty mode and face filter options, among a few others. It tops out at 8MP (f/2.2) and is a very capable selfie shooter.

Closing

The Moto G5 Plus was one of the most impressive phones I used last year from a price to performance standpoint. The Moto G6 mostly succeeds as a 2018 successor, but the Snapdragon 450 holds it back. Sluggish performance and temporary freezes were just too frequent, and mostly absent from last year’s G5. As mentioned before, however, that’s not entirely fair as a Moto G6 Plus exists. The problem for North America is that only the Moto G6 variant is available, so for us, that’s all we have as an upgrade. Fair or not, that’s the model that has to pull the weight in this comparison.

Frustrating performance issues aside, the G6 is an excellent daily driver. The screen is outstanding (for any price) and I appreciate the taller 18:9 aspect ratio. The cameras are a solid upgrade and the rear dual-camera system adds to the experience. Other small things like a switch to USB Type-C and a modified fingerprint scanner (with improved gesture controls) bring much needed modern touches to its predecessor. European models also have NFC, but for some unknown reason it was axed for North America.

Overall, I like the Moto G6 as much as last year’s G5 Plus. The modern touches, like an 18:9 screen, USB-Type C, dual-camera system and slicker design mostly make up for the occasional performance hiccups. If only Motorola threw in a Snapdragon 630 instead and didn’t ax NFC, we’d really have something special.

You can buy a Moto G6 unlocked for only $234.99 at Amazon (Prime addition) and $249.99 at Best Buy. If you activate it on Verizon with a new line, Best Buy lowers the price to just $199.99. Motorola offers it directly from their site for $249.99 as well.


About the Author: Erik Slaven

He was born and raised in Virginia, but escaped to Southern CA. Started out as a BlackBerry addict until he bought HTC’s Droid Eris and never looked back. He's owned dozens of Android devices and can rarely settle on a daily driver for more than a few months. He's currently using a Galaxy S8 and BlackBerry KEYone. He rides motorcycles for fun and would live on the beach if it was legal. Marketing and freelance pr help keep the lights on.