I’ve been an iOS user since day one — back when it was called “iPhone OS” — and haven’t had any reason to leave Apple’s camp. Each day, I use iOS devices and apps, and for the most part, they “just work.” You could offer me a cheap Android phone or tablet and I wouldn’t have much use for it.
Or so I thought. Just in time for the holidays, 9to5’s publisher Seth Weintraub sent me an unexpected gift: a $99 Motorola Moto G (2nd Gen), also available on Amazon. That price isn’t a typo — for under $100 (half the price of the recently released sixth-generation iPod touch), Motorola is selling a full-fledged smartphone with a larger, higher-resolution screen than the $199 iPod, and for that matter the old iPhone 5c I decided to replace it with. You’ve probably heard that Amazon is trying a similar tactic with its $49 7″ Fire Tablets, which so radically undercut the price of Apple’s iPads that you can buy five for the same price as an entry-level iPad mini 2… and still have change left over. Since these products were developed by well-established companies, they’re budget-priced, but not junk.
I wanted to see whether the Moto G would have any value in my life, and how it would stack up against lower-end iOS devices. What I found was exactly the reason Apple leads the cellular industry in profits yet continues to lag behind Android in market share: the Moto G offers a more than “good enough” alternative at a price that anyone can afford. From my perspective, the existence of a good $99 smartphone is precisely the reason the iPod family has all but disappeared, and why even iPad mini pricing is arguably unsustainable…
What You Get For $99 From Motorola
- An Actual Smartphone With Solid Specs. For $199, Apple sells a 16GB iPod touch with a 4″ screen, one speaker, a 1.2MP front camera, 8MP rear camera with f/2.4 aperture, and a dual-core A8 processor. For $99, the Moto G includes a 5″ screen, stereo speakers, a 2MP front camera, a 8MP rear camera with f/2.0 aperture, and a quad-core Snapdragon CPU. The iPod touch depends on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for all of its wireless functionality; Moto G also has GSM cellular hardware built-in, plus GPS, a non-trivial addition.
- A Wall Charger with Micro-USB tip. Apple bundles every iPod touch with a pair of EarPods headphones and a Lightning cable; Motorola bundles Moto G with a micro-USB-tipped wall charger, but neither headphones nor a standard micro-USB cable, both of which can be purchased very inexpensively.
Where Moto G Beats The iPod Touch (And Arguably The iPhone 5c)
- Price. In the consumer electronics world, certain price points are considered “magical” to spur sales — $299, $249, $199, $149, $99, and $49 are some of the best-established levels that bring in new customers. At $99, the Moto G is practically an impulse buy by CE standards, cheap enough to be nearly disposable. Apple won’t even sell you a not-particularly-great iPod nano for $99.
- Expandability. Motorola ships Moto G with a super-limited 8GB of storage capacity, but supports the addition of up to 32GB of removable microSD storage, for a total of 40GB at a time. Unlike Apple, which charges a $100 premium over the 16GB iPod touch for the 32GB model, you can get SanDisk 32GB microSD cards now for $10. I found an unused and forgotten 32GB microSD card sitting in a drawer — they’re that cheap.
- Screen. Moto G has a 5-inch, Retina-caliber display with 1280×720 resolution at 294ppi — an inch bigger than the iPod touch (or iPhone 5c), but with just enough extra pixels to hover right around Apple’s “Retina” level. The screen’s bright, colorful, and sharp; no iPod or budget iPhone user would have any room to complain about it. With most apps and games, it looks just like using a larger version of Apple’s iPod touch and iPhone 5c screens, sometimes with more real estate, sometimes with bigger objects.
- Accessory Compatibility. Moto G’s micro-USB port and Bluetooth 4 support make it compatible with thousands of audio, car, power, and other accessories — pretty much every USB or Bluetooth accessory the iPod touch works with, minus the need for Lightning cables. Since it supports 1.5-Amp charging, it also recharges very quickly, despite having roughly twice the battery capacity (2,070mAh) of the iPod touch (1,043mAh). (Apple caps iPods at 0.5-Amp charging and older iPhones at 1-Amp charging.)
- It Works As A Phone, Communication & GPS Device On The Road. So long as you self-supply a SIM card, Moto G can be used to make cellular phone calls and connect to the Internet using a cellular data plan. It can also be used for mapping, including the integrated Google Maps application, since Motorola actually includes A-GPS hardware inside; no iPod touch has that feature.
- It Doesn’t Feel Like It’s Going To Dent or Shatter The First Time You Drop It. I personally really like the iPod touch’s aluminum housing, which is highly similar to the latest iPads and iPhones, only smaller. But I would never even consider taking an iPod touch out of the house without putting a case on it. Moto G’s detachable plastic back doesn’t just feel more drop-safe than the iPod’s metal housing — it’s entirely replaceable with your choice of colorful rear shells ($15) or front and rear ($30) shells.
- A Few Android OS Innovations. As much as I’m accustomed to using iOS, I’ve felt for years that Android has some very compelling user interface features that Apple hasn’t caught up with. Android’s Google Now, Live Wallpaper, Daydream (screensaver) options, and multi-user support are all features that would work well in iOS. I’ve seen the debates between Apple and Android fans, so I know that (some) iOS users will disagree… at least until iOS gets the same or better features. But Android’s implementations currently trump iOS’s Proactive, Dynamic Wallpaper, lack of screensavers, and single-user UI. And Android’s virtual Home and back buttons, another topic of debate for some iOS users, are looking more like the right solution for iOS with every passing iPhone and iOS release.
- It’s Plasticky. Just like the iPhone 5c, the Moto G is a plastic-bodied phone with a glass face and a handful of small metallic accents, so it doesn’t feel “premium.” On the other hand, Moto G’s front is made from resilient Gorilla Glass 3, and the soft touch back feels like it was made to be flexed thousands of times without issues. And unlike the iPhone 5c, which had a $549 retail price (off contract) on day one, Moto G started at under $200. So instead of being “unapologetic” about its use of plastic at a high price, it feels like a solid value at a low price.
- Limited Memory & Performance. Unless you’re willing to shell out those few extra bucks for more microSD memory, the Moto G’s going to get cramped as soon as you start putting videos and games on it. Similarly, if you’re expecting ultra-smooth frame rates from 3D games such as Mortal Kombat X, you’ll find that the latest iPod touch offers noticeably better performance; the Moto G is closer to the fifth-generation iPod touch in frame rates, and maybe not even that fast. The difference isn’t as pronounced with puzzle games or simpler 2D titles such as Pac-Man 256.
- No-Frills Packaging + Device Setup Process. If you’re accustomed to an even slightly fancy unboxing experience, don’t expect anything from Moto G. Motorola’s plain cardboard box with clunky compartments is still less impressive than the generic white boxes Apple uses for refurbs. Similarly, there’s no white glove hand-holding during the Android setup process; even as a lifelong computer user, I felt like Motorola did nothing to make it easy to even turn on and start using the device, and although it was trying to use hints and clues, Android didn’t fare much better.
- 3G GSM and Micro-SIM. In addition to lacking support for LTE — the Moto G supports basic 3G/2G GSM, only — the second-gen Moto G requires a Micro-SIM card — which I haven’t used in an iPhone for 4 years. Cellular carriers still stock and will gladly supply fresh Micro-SIM cards, so this isn’t a huge deal, but Moto G explicitly doesn’t support Nano-SIM-to-Micro-SIM adapters, so you mightn’t be able to swap SIMs between phones.
- Which Android Versions? My Moto G shipped with Android 5.0, and I was able to update it to Android 5.0.2. Motorola apparently plans to offer 5.1.1 and 6.0 updates for this model, but as of this moment, the 5.0.2 phone reports that it’s “up to date.” Which it’s not. That’s apparently just part of the Android experience.
- Confusing UI. If you hope to hand an Android phone off to a kid or not particularly tech-savvy partner who’s already familiar with iOS, expect to hear a lot of early complaints about the non-intuitive UI. “How do I unlock the screen?” “How do I exit this game?” “How do I update apps?” Everything requires a little bit of additional learning, and typically an extra tap, swipe, or two relative to the same thing on iOS.
- Tough Migration. The Migrate app installed on my Moto G initially included an option to migrate some data from an iPhone, but when I updated the app, the iPhone migration option disappeared — and a message appeared noting that Motorola was discontinuing the app. Android fans hate it, but Apple’s a lot better at making it easy to move to iOS.
I’m certainly not a convert, and I’m not planning to stop using my iOS devices any time soon, but I have to concede that $99 Android phones and $49 Fire Tablets have succeeded in getting my attention in a way that their predecessors have not. As an iOS user, I have no need for a similarly-priced device with less impressive features. But at these prices, it’s hard not to just consider grabbing a spare emergency phone to keep in the car, or an extra tablet just for book reading or video viewing in a guest bedroom.
Officially, Apple’s not worried about Android pricing — cheap phones and tablets are easy for executives to dismiss as drawer-warmers, and analysts to write off as comparatively unprofitable. But once Apple users get a chance to try these devices for themselves, they may wonder what their extra dollars are actually paying for. And if cheap Android devices deliver “good enough” performance for most tasks, who knows what they’ll buy next?
More From This Author
Check out more of my reviews, How-To guides and editorials for 9to5Mac here! I’ve published a lot of different topics of interest to Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, and Apple Watch users, as well as a great holiday gift guide for iPhone users, a detailed holiday gift guide for Mac users, and a separate holiday gift guide for Apple photographers.