The Moto G6 still reigns supreme as the best bargain smartphone for $250 or less.
Incredibly affordable. Headphone jack! One-handed gestures are fun, useful. Included MicroSD slot for added storage. Works unlocked with all U.S. wireless carriers and Google Fi.
Slow camera is the phone’s Achilles’ heel. Splashproof, but not waterproof. Puny 32GB storage. Glass design is fragile, prone to fingerprints.
IN MY TIME writing about tech, I’ve spent untold hours using expensive smartphones. You know, the really nice ones that can sometimes cost upwards of a grand these days. For your money, you’ll get metal and glass components that feel and look great, eye-popping cameras, brilliant screens…the works.
But, after spending a weekend in Nashville with the $250 Motorola Moto G6, I began to wonder why anyone would pay more than that for a phone. That’s not to say that I haven’t felt the effects of Motorola’s penny pinching—I have. But are those momentary bouts of frustration balanced out by the low, low price? That’s a good question and, well, it depends.
A Blast of Glass
I don’t remember an edict coming out that all phones must come covered in fragile glass, but since the iPhone and Samsung Galaxyphones began coating themselves in the latest Gorilla Glass, every phone maker has followed them into the shimmer of Shatter City. And so the Moto G6 has a similar polished metal frame and glass back (curved up on the sides) that’s currently en vogue.
The G6 is comfortable to hold and doesn’t slip out of your hand (or slide off the table) too badly, but all the negative qualities of glass are here. Motorola is using Gorilla Glass 3, which is a few years older than version 5 that you’ll find on high-end phones, which means it’s not as durable if it takes a tumble. It does a decent job repelling fingerprints, but if you’re like me, you’ll notice them anyway. Bottom line, you’ll want to invest in a good case for this phone.
On the front is another 2018 design trend. Motorola (owned by Lenovo) kept the G6’s dimensions about the same, but stretched the screen real estate vertically to make it taller—cramming the fingerprint sensor below and crowding the selfie camera and sensors up top. There’s no unneeded notch cutout on the screen, but the net result is more screen space. The 5.7-inch LCD is HD (2,160 x 1,080 pixels), which is more than adequate, and hardly distinguishable from premium, expensive phone screens.
There are a few other perks, too. Moto has added USB-C quick charging, which complements the 3,000mAh battery that’ll probably last you a little more than a day per charge, depending on your use. It also packs in a 3.5mm headphone jack and a MicroSD slot for more file storage (MicroSD cards have gotten quite affordable). The MicroSD slot lets Moto get away with equipping it with only 32 GB of storage, which isn’t much these days. The G6 even has some protection against water, touting a “nano-coating” that’s supposed to keep the phone dry. It’s not up to the IP67 standard of pricier devices, but it’s better than nothing.
Rounding out the internals are 3 GB of RAM and a Qualcomm Snapdragon 450 processor, which delivers consistent enough performance for most apps, but isn’t the best choice for intensive 3D gaming. It’s a few years behind the performance of top-notch 2018 phones in our benchmark tests.
Plan Your Shots
My Moto G6 hasn’t had any major slow spells. Like the Moto X4, it’s always a tick slower than the most expensive phones on the market. Not a tick tock—just a tick, and its consistency makes the difference. Unless you’re taking photos.
The 12-megapixel rear camera on the G6 has an f/1.8 aperture, and even included a second 5-megapixel rear camera for “Portrait mode” and a few other features that blur the background and mess with depth-of-field effects. Like a lot of Android phones, none of these extra features work particularly well, but the main camera and 8-megapixel selfie cam do take decent photos in auto mode—just be sure to stand still and give the camera a little extra time.
Nashville, I learned, is known as the “Athens of the South” and is so proud of that Greek connection that it has a complete replica of the Parthenon, which looks amazing on a sunny day. Below are some shots I took around town.
The camera app was a full second behind my shutter button presses, at times. The lag meant I missed shots of many crazy people doing weird things on the streets of Nashville (seriously—this place is nuts!). It was particularly hard to nail a good, sharp shot in a moving car, and as the sun went down and the Honky Tonk bars lit up, I did wish I had a slightly better camera that could capture the lights or streets without blowing out one or the other. I did manage to take some beautiful outdoor photos during the day. My indoor shots were far more hit or miss, especially in more dimly lit bars and concert halls.
These problems aren’t, by any means, unique to the Moto G6. Many affordable phones have slower cameras that just can’t handle tricky lighting conditions very well, but the shutter lag is something Motorola needs to work on.
Some (not all) fancier phones would have delivered crisper photos, faster and more reliably. But they wouldn’t have been leagues better. At the end of the trip, I still have a camera roll full of fantastic memories.
Gotta Love These Gestures
Despite such a cheap price, Motorola has packed Google’s new Android Oreo (8.0) operating system into the G6. My unit was still running the March 2018 monthly security patch in June and hadn’t gotten the 8.1 update. Hopefully Motorola will keep up with updates as the year proceeds.
The G6 interface mostly looks like Google’s standard Android OS, but the Moto Actions app is still present. It has a bunch of gestures and other small, harmless little add-ons that you can enable if you like. I love Moto’s one-handed gestures for turning on the flashlight (move the phone up and down like you’re using an axe) and camera (twist the phone a few times). The one-handed, screenless Android navigation is fun, too. It lets you swipe left on the fingerprint sensor for Back and swipe right on it for the Recent Apps menu. It saves a hair of screen space by hiding the on-screen button bar so why not give it a try?
Fly Like a G6
The Moto G6 camera leaves much to be desired, and it’s not the speediest phone around, but it does behave consistently, which is important. For $250 this is, as most Moto Gs are, an excellent, affordable phone—in fact, probably the best Android phone you can buy in its price bracket. The Moto G6 won’t survive a swim, but it can handle an accidental dunk, and it has a headphone jack, which is more than I can say about many Android phones that cost hundreds more. Plus, it’s compatible with your current carrier or, if you want to make the leap to Google Fi, it can do that too.
Seriously, this phone is right in the sweet spot. It’s hard for me to recommend a cheaper, weaker device than this in good conscience. If you want to splurge on a killer deal, the OnePlus 6 is a $530 option that’s as powerful as anything on the market.
The Moto G6 isn’t flashy because it’s kind of above all that nonsense. It’s for the smart, frugal tech buyer that values their experience as much as their dollars.