Going into Nougat and Motorola–rather unexpectedly
Remember my crappy Wiko Robby I wrote about? Well, I broke it–not before it somewhat started to fail itself and by itself, after only 8 months of usage!
First, its GPS died at some point. The recovery mode has some hardware tests, but the one for the GPS was cryptic; on a Russian forum they said the displayed output was “normal,” but it simply couldn’t see any satellite, no matter it knew them all: zero signal. I only discovered this by accident, as the enhanced mode uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (and the GSM towers) to locate the device, but the navigation apps refuse to work without a “real GSM.”
Then, my laptop stopped recognizing it, although it was still able to see a Lumia device. I determined that the USB connector in the phone was very hesitant to make contact on all its pins, and it seemed to be not because on some dust inside the connector, but rather on the motherboard.
So I decided to disassemble it and look into these issues. After all, I am dismantling electronic devices since when I was about 12, and I never managed to damage anything. Also, not very long ago I opened a Lumia 630 to fix a camera issue, so I thought this Robby should be a piece of cake; after all, its screws were even simple PH ones.
Well, I was wrong. I managed to break the tiny ribbon cable (a frail plastic with some copper contacts, actually) that went from the side buttons to the motherboard! It was bent at a right angle and placed too close to the edge–being actually accessible and exposed even prior to the disassembly. Quite a poor design IMHO.
OK, so my phone couldn’t even be turned on anymore, as the buttons weren’t operational. I might be able to find someone able to fix it not too expensively, but the USB connector and the GPS are still outstanding issues.
After a couple of days of switching back and forth between fury and dejection, I decided I need a new smartphone–something that always is a nightmare to search for, because of my requirements:
- dual-SIM, preferably not hybrid (the second SIM shouldn’t eat the microSD slot), and preferably micro-SIM, not nano-SIM
- a fairly recent Android version
- as low-budget as possible (under 200 € or at least under 300 €), because it’s a fucking phone, not a computer; and I’m not a gamer, nor a brainwashed fuckwit that drools over the latest Samsung Galaxy S987 or the newest iPhone 99 Plus
- obviously, not garbage such as 1 GB RAM and 8 GB of storage…
- the screen quality, including the brightness, is important (FHD is not required, 720p would be still OK)
- the battery life should be above average
- preferably not with a back speaker, which is one of the worst design decisions ever
- the device shouldn’t have a history of bad reviews and of known software or hardware failures or known issues
This time I added some new requirements:
- I don’t want 5.5″ anymore, it’s really unpractical for one-hand usage, and I even risk dropping it; I want back to 5″, which is still a size of a phone, not of a stadium! (I set my target to anywhere between 4.7″ and 5.2″)
- Marshmallow is painfully unusable with 1 GB of RAM; 2-3 GB are needed
- Marshmallow is painfully slow with CPUs such as MT6580M, MT6735, or Snapdragon 410; anything with an AnTuTu score between 23k and 30k sucks, a score of 44-45k is the minimum worth considering
- I hate, hate, hate the way the Chinese are screwing everything with their stupid launchers (MIUI, EmotionUI, MiFavor and other fuckups) that try to mimic iOS, and which usually come with several other alterations of Android (including system settings), and using Nova Launcher doesn’t solve all the issues, so I require a non-screwed Android experience!
All things considered, I almost had no choice! Out of desperation, I even considered single-SIM devices, being them nano-SIM at that. After having read detailed reviews, complains on various forums, and lots of videos for each and every tentatively considered device, I really went out of choices. No, Lenovo K6 is not good enough; nor are ZTE Blade V7 Lite or V7; as for Samsung J5 (2016) DUOS, it’s too slow. Many other devices had lots of faults and inconveniences (Xperia XA, LG K10 2017, Asus Zenfone 3 Max, etc. etc.); and the device should also be available in Germany.
When I almost thought that Huawei P8 Lite (2017) was my only choice–at least it comes with Android 7.0, should we ignore EmotionUI–I was stunned to discover that I did have a choice! Motorola Moto G5 16 GB dual-SIM has come to Germany, and it was available at MediaMarkt and Saturn for 199 €!
Well, they label it Lenovo Moto G5 since the acquisition, but otherwise the Moto G devices seem to have preserved most of their identity–hopefully also the original quality (most of everything Lenovo makes has random quality issues).
Lunar Grey and Fine Gold were “Im Media Markt Stuttgart-City sofort abholbereit.” To my surprise, even the “golden” version looks swell! But I got the grey(ish) one–this is an official photo, nothing special:
So it’s a 5″ FHD device with 2 GB+16 GB, dual micro-SIM plus microSD, Snapdragon 430 (estimated AnTuTu exactly in the 44-45k range), removable 2800 mAh battery, 13MP+5MP cameras, and a frontal fingerprint sensor, with a very clean Android 7.0 and a very competitive price!
Obviously, most of the reviews are for Moto G5 Plus, not G5, mostly because G5 is not and won’t be available in the United States and India. Most of my sources of in-depth reviews have not covered Moto G5 as of yet (and the most detailed YouTube reviews of the “plain” G5 seem to be in Spanish); but I was sure G5 would be a great bang for the buck–and so far it looks like indeed it is!
Let’s summarily list some common complaints about G5 and G5 Plus:
- Only G5 Plus available in US and India (EDIT: Moto G5 has been released in India as an Amazon Exclusive only, and not coming through Lenovo’s official distribution channels, but via Green Mobiles, possibly the #1 online-only mobile phone business in India)
- No NFC in the US (but the devices available in DE or NL don’t have NFC either!)
- Compass sensor and 2160p video only in the US edition of G5 Plus!
- No notification LED!
- G5 only has 3 GB RAM in its 32 GB edition (2 GB for the 16 GB one)
- G5 (Snapdragon 430, about 44k in AnTuTu) slower than G5 Plus (Snapdragon 625, about 60k AnTuTu), and roughly at most on par with G4 (Snapdragon 617, about 45k in AnTuTu)
- G5 has “only” a 5″ screen (G5 Plus has a 5.2″ one)
- Relatively large bezels
- No USB-C connector
- The camera is mediocre in low-light conditions, even for G5 Plus (which features a better camera than G5)
- The output in the speaker is not as loud as it could have been
- The Blue Sapphire edition is still vaporware
There is also a so-called sound recording issue repeated ad nauseam by all kinds of stupid Indians (I cannot be polite or politically correct with copycat monkeys): the way Moto G5 and G5 Plus are recording the sound. All such reviews were for G5 Plus, but I assume it’s the same for G5–I wouldn’t bother to check. Watch the “issue” in this video between 3:30 and 4:30 (compared to Redmi Note 4); and in this video between 2:42 and 3:52 (same comparison, starting with the Redmi). In brief, there is no noise-cancelling feature when recording a video! While those Indians (EDIT: and many other people having the G5 Plus, see this, this, this, and this) are declaring it a major bug, I consider it a welcome feature, and here’s why.
The second mike is meant to be used for noise cancellation during phone calls made in noisy environments. Being on the back, it’s supposed to capture sound not coming from the user’s mouth. Furthermore, the phone app can use a band-pass filter to filter out frequencies not commonly part of the human voice during normal speak. Now, as both videos show, there are some caveats when using the same concept for audio-video recording. Redmi’s filter is exaggerated, or maybe the noise-cancelling algorithm is buggy, because I found the recorded voice rather muffled and unclear. In contrast, Moto is recording everything as-is, no filters and no noise cancelling whatsoever; when there’s no voice, it actually uses an automatic mike sensitivity level, and it increases that sensitivity so that the background chirping and other noises are recorded–Redmi simply records silence where there’s no actually silence out there! (What are you doing when somebody stops speaking: are you thinking “oh, it’s silence,” or are you pricking up your ears in order to hear other noises as well?) To me, the Moto is thus even suited for spy recordings thanks to this feature, while Redmi simply can’t automatically adjust its sensitivity.
Now, on the pros, not all of them mentioned elsewhere:
- While G5 Plus has a protruding back camera (the large back disk, not the camera lens itself), the G5 has the back camera at the same level with the back cover, which is a big plus to me!
- G5 has a removable back cover and a removable battery.
- The shape and the general design is rather pleasant, much more than other curvy designs from Alcatel, Samsung, etc. I don’t find it to have large bezels; on the contrary, I like it this way, as I can’t stand borderless screens–very difficult to handle.
- The fingerprint sensor is on the front, not on the back! Millions of retards are hating the front fingerprint sensor, but I hate the back one, as it can only be used if you keep the phone in your jeans pocket. If you keep the phone on your desk, unlocking it using a fingerprint requires two hands and several gestures. Also, as this sensor allows some gestures (I’ll explain below), and knowing that fingerprint gestures might become the norm for all smartphones, I can’t imagine anyone performing some such gestures on the back of the phone!
- Where is this phone’s speaker? Not on the back, not on the bottom edge… oh, no speaker?! It actually uses the earpiece for a speaker, the same way my first Android phone used to do! I’m happy to see this logical feature of LG Optimus Hub E510 (aka Univa) revived in Moto G5 is a huge positive surprise. Why using a different speaker at all, when there is one available?! Whoever needs a more powerful sound should use headphones or an external speaker (possibly a Bluetooth one).
- The fingerprint sensor is fabulous, and it comes with extra features.
- Android 7.0 is quite nice, and remarkably clean–it’s hard to find a neater Nougat firmware as of yet, and at this price level.
On xda-developers there is an attempt to put things into perspective: On Moto G5 Criticisms: Western Reviewers Should Note the Moto G5 is Not Made for Them. But even this is wrong: how much more could you get for 199 €? (Note to fellow Americans: our prices are VAT-inclusive, yours are not including the Retail Sales Tax; therefore, think of 199 € as of 167 € ex-VAT.) And why would you need more if you’re not a gamer and you specifically don’t need nor want a 5.5″-6.0″ phone with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage?
OK, I agree: take Lenovo’s ZUK Z2, which can be found on the right channels for 195 € and shipped from Europe, not from China! Same 5″, but Snapdragon 820, 4 GB RAM, 64 GB storage, and the same fingerprint sensor with gestures. Despite some positive reviews, the “pure” Lenovo devices have reliability issues, and major software flaws. This ZUK Z2 has a horrendous attempt at an OS called ZUI, much worse than the typical Chinese crap. Then, it won’t get updates in Europe, and the battery life is mediocre. (Sometimes it’s better not to get updates with a Lenovo phone, as witnessed by various Lenovo K6 owners that complained about a very low microphone sensitivity that was either triggered or fixed by the same system update, so that nobody understood whether it was a software or a hardware issue.)
So no, there isn’t any better value for the money option right now and right here. Even The Verge admitted–for G5 Plus though–that cheap phones can’t afford to suck anymore, and this is a value champion:
The lesson of Lenovo’s new Moto G5 Plus is simple: cheap smartphones have no business feeling cheap anymore. … The Moto G series has always been a good value, combining great Android software with decent-enough hardware. But this is the first iteration of the series to feel truly premium. If other companies like OnePlus, ZTE, and Huawei weren’t battling out this war to produce impressive, inexpensive phones, I’m not convinced Lenovo would’ve felt compelled to make the G5 what it is. It’s nowhere near perfect, with curious hardware omissions and a camera that doesn’t live up to its spec sheet. But I can’t think of an easier recommendation for someone who wants to spend between $200 and $300 on a phone that just works.
Oh, and did I mention Android 7.0? Even without updates, not even to 7.1, it’s fairly recent, right?
Getting to my own G5 experience: the box reads “XT 1676 ES_DE 2+16 G GR DS Moto G5 Lunar Gray 16 GB Type M2675,” so I assumed it’s targeting Spain and Germany (ES and DE), but the included leaflets were in German, French and Italian, as if Switzerland were targeted! MFG DATE 2017-03-10, and I bought it on 03-31.
Technical data, as printed:
- LTE B 1/3/5/7/8/19/20/28/38/40
- UMTS B1/2/5/8/19
- GSM 850/900/1800/1900
- SAR: Head 0.618 W/kg (measured for GSM 900, Wi-Fi and BT); Body 1.340 W/kg (measured for LTE Band 7, Wi-Fi and BT)
I assume these are the frequencies that lead to the highest SAR values (which are quite large numbers, but acceptable nonetheless). Note the presence of Band 20 that is missing in some Chinaware, and of the TDD-LTE Band 38 used by some carriers in Sweden, Poland and Romania (RCS&RDS Digi.Mobil).
Some cost-cutting measures included a plain box, no headphones, and even the phone wasn’t protected in any way other than the front foil that lists its main features–nothing on the back, not even a film on the camera! Many cheaper brand place the phone in a transparent plastic bag–none here.
After having used a 5.5″ phone, this 5″ baby feels like a very delicate one! This is a subjective matter of reaccustoming to this size. But I like its shape. The official weight is of 145 g, but mine had 153 g without the SIM and microSD cards. Oh, and I had to cut the 2nd SIM from micro to nano, but fortunately it was recent enough to have the correct size, so I only had to cut some white plastic, without touching any metal. (Lucky me.)
The Nougat experience is an almost pure one. The Moto icon is the only app with an icon that has been added! Sure thing, from the general list of apps by Motorola Mobility LLC, Moto Display, the camera, the FM Radio, Motorola Update Services and Device Help are also preinstalled (that makes them 6), but the camera and the FM are required by the hardware anyway. Most other apps from that list are incompatible anyway, and the file manager is not recommended, it’s poor one.
The 16 GB storage is actually 10.14 GB (5.86 GB is taken by the OS), and somehow about 590 MB are already taken–despite having absolutely nothing that could be uninstalled or deleted! (Slightly later, I got updates for 14 of the preinstalled Google apps.) Shouldn’t those 590 MB count against the 5.86 GB taken by the OS, as long as the system apps were not yet updated?
Either way, the OS reports 46 apps, surely counting all the system apps, as the apps with icons are only 26–those visible in the above screen (Wallpapers and YouTube are hidden). The Nougat app drawer is now hidden behind a swap gesture, which save a space for an app. Cute.
And just for the record: 45459 in AnTuTu, with a Class 10 (UHS-I) card inserted.
Also, as the automatic screen brightness was broken by design in Android since Lollipop–for LG and Samsung only since Marshmallow–with the AUTO mode only adjusting the brightness with ±10-20% (the value is not specified) around the value manually fixed the user, I thought this device doesn’t have a brightness sensor, but I didn’t care. It turns out that in Nougat the Manual/Auto switch isn’t anymore at the left of the slider, but only as an “Adaptive brightness” switch in the system settings. Guess what: this time it works great, adjusting rather well to the ambient conditions!
Small things: the Vibrant mode was preselected, but I prefer the realistic colors; there is no way to make the screenshots go to the SD card: you can move them, but this doesn’t change anything for the future; in the camera app, the SD card can be selected though, and the photo size should be switched to the one that corresponds to the sensor’s physical 4:3 ratio (why is the 16:9 still the default in the camera app, thus keeping some sensor pixels unused?). Note that the internal filesystem is forcefully encrypted.
In the initial configuration, it’s recommended to disable the automatic syncing with Google Drive, as Google’s Photo app might lead to a high CPU usage. (EDIT: I’m syncing the photos using Tresorit, without any issues.)
As I said, there is no file manager, and this surprised me. I had to install NextApp’s File Explorer; as I also like to transfer files back and forth via FTP, and since Solid Explorer’s FTP Server plugin doesn’t seem to work on Android 6-7, I also installed WiFi FTP Server (which works like a charm once the SD card location is manually selected; a good idea is to “unoptimize” the app in battery’s settings). As a side note, Shawn Q’s Quick System Info no longer shows the per-process memory usage in Android 7.0; the device reported an average of 0.98 GB used out of the real 1.8 GB. Quite a lot for nothing, eh?
Another surprise was the absence of Google Keep, which I had to install manually. On what grounds was it excluded from the “standard” set of preinstalled Google apps?
Let’s now go the the extra features that are available for the fingerprint sensor. The official description is here, and many sites have written about it, e.g. here, here, or here. It looks like this concept is already present in many devices, from Lenovo P2 and Lenovo Zuk Z2 to Huawei P10/P10+.
I don’t need any of the shake-twist-or-chop-your-phone-to-trigger-an-action phone, except for “Flip for Do Not Disturb” and “press the on/off button twice to open the camera” (I forgot where to toggle this one)… and the fabulous one-button navigation! Here’s how I use the fingerprint sensor as a trackpad:
- short tap: Home
- swipe to left: Back
- swipe to right: multitasking view
- longer press: lock the screen
This way, the on-screen buttons (the navigation bar) is completely disabled, making more room for the actual content!
Unfortunately, the Google search bar cannot be removed from the primary home screen. I always found it useless, as it totally wastes a row, while not being able to let you input the text in-place: it actually opens Google’s app for that. Besides, the left screen already is Google Now.
Since we’re at the above screens, let’s note that the only widget added by Motorola is the 2×2 disc showing the hour, date, and AccuWeather-provided current conditions. I’ll never understand why all the OEMs are using AccuWeather, as it’s maybe the worst weather provider there is. You can see it above reporting that the rain will keep going on for 66 minutes. The problem? There was no rain! At the same time, Google Now’s weather card uses TWC (weather.com), which is much more accurate.
UPDATE: I switched to using Weather & Radar Pro Ad-Free / WetterOnline Pro, whose round 2×2 (2×3 on some devices) widget can be resized to show more than the default 2 days and their maximum temperatures. Resizing it to the height of 2 rows and making it 3 or more columns in width (I keep it full width) gives a nice result:
To check one more item, here’s the GPS while indoors:
Pretty decent, I’d say. Now for the camera: it’s obviously mediocre, and I didn’t try to properly evaluate its capabilities. I’ll only add two casual photos; click for the full, unedited size:
The crappy plastic quartz watches photographed are ugly, but they’re featuring the “silent second” thing: the seconds hand is silent and it moves in an almost continuous sweep, more like a mechanical watch. Why aren’t more wristwatches featuring such a movement? (Bulova Accutron II does use a 4-step per second movement, and it’s quartz too.)
How about the battery life? I’m afraid I didn’t and I couldn’t have performed a rigorous and methodical testing–you’ll have to wait for GSMArena or NotebookCheck for that. What I noticed is this.
The battery came precharged at 50%, so I started using it right away. As it approached 43%, I connected the included charger: 5.2V/2A, model SSW-2919EU, made by Salom Electric (Xiamen) Co., Ltd. Some time later, as it had 75%, the screen was reading “1 hr 26 mins until full”–and this was strange IMHO: only 0.29%/minute! I then connected a different charger, and a 1A one at that.
I failed to write down the hours, but when it reached 86% it claimed to still need 28 minutes–that gives 0.5%/minute, and this is actually good on the end part of the charging, when the battery can’t suck big currents. At 96%, it didn’t provide any estimation, but it marked the 22 minutes since the switch of chargers: 0.45%/minute.
All in all, I don’t know whether there’s anything wrong with the charger. I cannot measure the charging current–maybe I need a cheap Chinese “Doctor Charger” (they’re terribly cheap, see this one sent from Malaysia or this one sent from China). They’re not terribly accurate–see this teardown, and this one for a different device–but they can be quite useful nonetheless. There is this Russian who discovered that long and/or thin USB cables can cause slower charging, and that the only reliable way to evaluate adapter/cable charging performance is using a USB tester.
UPDATE: Ampere (an app I don’t particularly like because it shows aberrant readings on devices without proper support; nothing can beat a real ammeter) shows 1.67 A for the original 2 A charger and 0.88 A for a standard 1 A charger (also, max. 400 mA for a no-name power bank that claims to deliver 2 A!):
For now, what can I add is that with 24 extra apps installed, this is how it fared so far after the 1st charging:
A few apps were using services that automatically start after the boot, but they were probably “dozed” by Nougat, as their impact was negligible. Good job! (And the Wi-Fi is always on even with the screen locked.)
What next? Some protective shell, probably this one by IVSO (EDIT: I’ve received the shell by IVSO, it fits perfectly! And I’ve discovered 5 colors in the UK), or maybe a TPU silicon shell (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Then, would a Mumbi display film (here or here) help? (9H tempered glass, aka “Panzerfolie” in Germany, would be better, I know, but what “brand” should I trust? They’re all crappy Chinese no-names… And very few really have oleophobic coating.)
My only doubt, as I am otherwise thrilled by this reasonably priced guy: is Moto G still of good quality and reliability even under Lenovo’s ownership?
Time will give the answer, I guess.