Hands on with the Moto G: A low-cost smartphone that’s well worth the price

Earlier today Motorola(s goog) introduced the Moto G, a global smartphone with an unsubsidized price of less than $200. I just had a chance to spend some time with it, and it’s clear that Motorola didn’t skimp on quality in order to make the phone more affordable.

From the first look, it’s clear Motorola took its design cues for the Moto G from its more-expensive Moto X. Physically, the phone looks like a Moto X, but a bit thicker and squatter. It’s an attractive device, and there’s nothing about it that brings to mind the word budget, which I constantly had to remind myself while I handled the phone.

Moto G display

The first thing you notice about the Moto G is its 4.5-inch display. It features the same 720p resolution as the 4.7-inch Moto X, which means that means the Moto G actually packs more pixels per inch into its screen than the Moto X does. And at 329ppi, the Moto G actually has a denser screen than even Apple’s(s aapl) iPhone 5s, which has 326ppi. It looks bright and sharp in person, and makes it hard to believe you’re holding a low-cost smartphone.

The only time the phone really showed its low-cost colors was in the back panel. I got a chance to the see the black model, which features a matte black back plate, which became very smudgy from fingerprints. And while the phone is protected by a water-repellant coating, the materials just don’t feel quite as luxe as the Moto X.

Moto G back

But like it did with the Moto X, Motorola is looking to introduce the idea of customizability and personalization here, so there are a number of different back panels and cases available for the phone, which you can see in the image below. And it looks like the lighter colors don’t attract fingerprints quite as much as the black does.

And just like the front, the back of the Moto G looks extremely similar to the Moto X. It both phones were placed faced down on a table you’d be hard pressed to tell which was which from a glance.

Moto G cases

I was also impressed by how fast the Moto G felt. The phone is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm(s qcom) Snapdragon 400 processor and 1 GB of RAM. Those aren’t exactly benchmark-busting specs, but navigating my way around the Moto G was silky smooth. Screen transitions were swift, apps opened quickly, and once again I forgot that I was handling a low-cost device.

Part of that can be credited to the nearly stock build of Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) installed on the phone. Motorola has made very minor modifications here. I noticed a couple of additional apps, like Motorola Assist and Motorola Migrate apps, but these are genuinely useful so they don’t feel like bloatware. Motorola has also taken some liberties with the camera app.

Moto G camera

When you open the camera there are nearly no onscreen controls. Instead, you can tap anywhere on the screen in order to take a picture; just like on the Moto X. This felt natural, though I didn’t get a chance to see any of the photos I took with the rear 5-megapixel sensor. You can swipe to the left to access camera settings, while a swipe to the right brings you to your photo gallery. There’s also a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera for good measure. And Motorola has added an FM radio, which works when you plug a pair of headphones into the phone.

In general, though, the Android 4.3 build is pretty close to what you’d get straight from Google, which is good news for the Moto G’s chances to receive Android updates in the future. As it stands, Motorola has already committed to updating the Moto G to the latest version of Android, 4.4 (KitKat), by January of next year.

Moto G Android 4.3

There are some compromises, of course. I would’ve loved to see the same touchless controls and active notifications here that Motorola built into the Moto X. But the two phones had to be different somehow; plus the hardware needed for those features would add to the price. And I was planning to run a speed test on the phone, since it doesn’t support LTE, but the model I saw was connected to Wi-Fi only. As far as cellular connectivity goes, the Moto G tops out at HSPA+ 21, which is a few steps behind LTE.

That said, for most of the time I spent with the Moto G, I just couldn’t stop thinking that it cost less than $200. That’s less than an iPod touch. It really feels like you’re getting a lot of phone for your money.

Moto G flip case

Given the lack of LTE support, I think the Moto G is pretty clearly geared more towards emerging markets than it is the United States. But for $179 for the 8GB, contract-free, SIM unlocked version (and just $20 more for 16GB), it is worth a look for anyone interested in a low-cost device. You’ll have to wait if you live in the U.S., though, as the phone isn’t expected to make it debut stateside until early next year.