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Motorola Moto G5S review: Is this the best budget smartphone yet?

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After the disappointing Moto G5 launch earlier in the year, Motorola has gone back to the drawing board. Its latest ‘budget’ handset, the Moto G5S, seeks to learn from the mistakes of its predecessor, with a larger battery, an upgraded camera and a newly refined design.

There’s one problem: the G5S’s asking price is £45 dearer than its smaller G5 sibling and £70 more than the trusty Moto G4. So, is the new G5S really worth paying the premium for?

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Motorola Moto G5S review: What you need to know

While the Moto G5 wasn’t a bad phone, it wasn’t as good an all-rounder as the G4. The G5S looks to nudge the G-series phones back in the right direction by addressing the concerns I had with the original G5. It has a 3,000mAh battery, a 16-megapixel camera (up from 13-megapixels), an all-metal design, and a slightly larger 5.2in screen as opposed to the G5’s 5in display.

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Motorola Moto G5S review: Price and competition

The Moto G5S costs around £220. That’s £45 more than the Moto G5 at £175 and £70 more than the Moto G4 at £150. These feature a lower resolution camera, a similar processor and are 5.5in and 5in phones respectively, both with Full HD displays.

Looking at its competitors, you can find the Vodafone Smart V8 for £165, the Nokia 3 from £130, the Honor 6A from around £145 and the incredible Lenovo P2 for £160 through Gearbest. These phones offer similar specifications to the G5S.

READ NEXT: Moto G5 review

Motorola Moto G5S review: Design and build quality

The G5S marks a big step up from its predecessor. Where the G5 merely had an aluminium rear panel, the G5S’s unibody design is cast entirely from aluminium. This makes the 5.2in phone look and feel a lot more upmarket – the little details, such as its chamfered edges, are a rare sight on a budget phone.

Look beneath the IPS screen (which I’ll talk about in the next section), and Motorola has again opted for a front-mounted fingerprint reader. As you’d expect, this doubles up as the home button, too. In my time with the phone, I found it unerringly responsive – it just works.

Turn the phone over and you’ll first notice the G5S’ protruding camera, but you may miss one of the more subtle design touches: Motorola’s indented logo provides a subtle finger-hold that makes the phone easier to grip and use with one hand.

The G5S is well-appointed for connectivity and expansion. If, however, you’re looking to expand the G5S’ 32GB of internal storage, you’ll have to decide which is more important to you: a 256GB microSD card, or a second SIM. As a dual nano-SIM smartphone, you can run a pair of SIMs concurrently, but the second SIM will occupy the microSD slot.

USB Type-C fans are going to be disappointed, but there’s a micro-USB port at the bottom and, thankfully, a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top. Dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.1 make the grade, too, and aptX support guarantees high-quality audio streaming over Bluetooth, which is a nice bonus on a £220 phone.

If there are any downsides to be found, they’re relatively minor ones. It’s a shame that, despite the non-removable 3,000mAh battery, the G5S isn’t dust or water resistant.

READ NEXT: Moto G4 2016 review: One of the best budget smartphones of 2017

Motorola Moto G5S review: Display

The G5S has a 5.2in Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS display. This gives it a slightly lower pixel density than the Moto G5 which stretched the same resolution over a very slightly smaller 5in display, but the difference really isn’t noticeable.

The G5S’s backlight is particularly potent, with it hitting a peak of 500cd/m² in our tests. That’s great news: crank the display to maximum brightness, and you’ll be able to read what’s onscreen under the brightest sunlight.

Image quality is pretty good across the board, too. With a contrast ratio of 1,708:1 and an 80.4% sRGB colour gamut coverage, the G5S is able to produce a relatively wide array of colours, while retaining the darkest shadows and brightest whites.

It isn’t colour accurate, though, with an average Delta E of 3.48 and a maximum of 8.47 indicating that colours are a little off their intended target. This isn’t all too uncommon on budget phones – the Vodafone Smart V8 achieved Delta E results of 2.89 and 7.89 respectively – and it’s likely due to the display’s inability to reproduce the most vibrant colours.

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Motorola Moto G5S review: Performance

As ever, Motorola hasn’t tinkered extensively with stock Android: turn on the G5S, and you’re faced with a barely-touched installation of Nougat 7.1.1. Better still, Android Oreo 8.0 is slated to come to the phone sometime this winter.

If, however, you were hoping that Motorola might have addressed the criticisms of the G5’s performance, then you’re going to be disappointed. The Moto G5S retains the same 1.4GHz quad-core Snapdragon 430 processor and 3GB of RAM as its predecessor.

^ Motorola Moto G5S review: Geekbench 4

This results in a near-identical performance to its siblings. By comparison, the Lenovo P2 outguns the Moto G family. And as you might expect, the same can be said for its gaming performance: in GFXBench Manhattan 3.0, the G5S merely keeps pace with its siblings and is narrowly beaten by the Vodafone Smart V8 and Lenovo P2.

^ Motorola Moto G5S review: GFXBench Manhattan 3.0

With a 3,000mAh battery replacing the G5’s 2,800mAh, I was hoping for a better result in the Expert Reviews video benchmark. My hopes were dashed, however: the G5S lasts 12hrs 12mins, which marks only a small improvement over the G5’s 11hrs 51mins. Both still trail the incredibly long-lasting Lenovo P2 which kept going for 28hrs 50mins in the same test.

^ Motorola Moto G5S review: Battery life

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Motorola Moto G5S review: Camera

The G5’s rear camera was a slight improvement over the G4, principally because it added phase-detect autofocus for speedy captures. The G5S takes it one step further and ups the pixel count from 13-megapixels to 16-megapixels with an aperture of f/2.0.

Suffice to say, the results are seriously impressive. Comparing it to the capable snapper in the Vodafone Smart V8, the G5S is dramatically better – in fact, I’d go as far as to say it has the best camera on a budget smartphone.

The G5S’ camera picks up plenty of light, ekes out plenty of detail and captures natural-looking colours. In the shot below, taken with HDR disabled, the building at the foreground has visible brickwork, the glass building at the back left-hand side is correctly portrayed and the sky isn’t oversaturated or blown out.

^ Without HDR enabled

With HDR enabled, images are simply stunning, and look far superior to those captured on the Vodafone Smart V8. In the photo below, the trees come to life, the railing at the very front of the image is crisp and detailed, and the buildings throughout the shot are more accurately represented.

^ With HDR enabled

In low-light, the G5S’s sensor isn’t able to pick up as much detail, with image noise visible throughout the shot. Colours are slightly washed out, too, images begin to lack a certain punch and vibrancy.

^ Indoor shot: image noise is visible around the pens with smearing around the teddy bear

With flash enabled, shadows and image noise are both completely eliminated, but the image has a strong yellow tint.

^ Indoor shot with flash: no image noise, a lot more detail, but a yellow tint throughout the image

The G5S’ selfie camera isn’t bad at all, and the larger aperture, down from f/2.2 on the G5 to f/2.0 on the G5S, means that the sensor can now capture more light. The big problem here, however, is pixel count: sticking with a 5-megapixel sensor sees it struggle when compared to the Vodafone Smart V8’s 8-megapixel front-facing camera.

^ Selfie with the G5S

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Motorola Moto G5S review: Verdict

Despite its flaws, the G5S deserves a lot of praise. Motorola has taken much of the negative criticism it received for the G5 and made its smartphone a true budget contender. Its fingerprint reader is fast; the design is beautiful; the near-stock Android experience is a breath of fresh air, and the camera is simply incredible at this price. If you’re looking for the best-looking budget smartphone, with the best camera, then this is it.

However, there are few key areas that prevent me from wholeheartedly endorsing the G5S. The killer blow for me is that performance still hasn’t moved on from 2016’s G4. Given the fairly substantial price premium, that’s a real sticking point.

The competition is tough, too. Personally, I’d pick the £160 Lenovo P2 over the G5S, as it offers better performance and incredible battery life for quite a bit less cash. Alternatively, the Vodafone Smart V8 is another excellent all-round choice, which only finds itself outclassed in the camera department. Ultimately, the G5S is a great phone, but until it drops well below £200, I wouldn’t buy one.

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