This is Motorola's most prestigious budget phone, but you can do better.
You’d be forgiven for not paying close attention to the release of the Moto G5S Plus; it snuck into the company’s lineup in early August alongside the Moto G5S.
The ‘S’ stands for “Special Edition” (Moto G5SE Plus was too much of a mouthful?), and they’re moderately improved versions of the existing Moto G5 line that debuted earlier in the year. Why would Motorola introduce slightly updated versions of existing phones less than six months after their release? Who knows?!
What I do know is that the Moto G5S Plus, which is available unlocked in the U.S. for $279, is one of the better budget phones you can buy, but the slightly better build quality, additional camera, and larger display don’t justify the additional cost over the existing Moto G5 Plus.
There’s a lot to like about the phone when you consider its $279 starting price: the metal build quality is unimpeachable, its 5.5-inch 1080p LCD display is vivid and relatively sharp, and its software is among the best in the business, replete with truly useful additions to Android that I actually rely on.
Moto G5S Plus specs
The improvements to build quality over the existing Moto G5 Plus — which, also mostly metal, is no slouch — are immediate. Dense and sizeable, the phone belies its budget status with clicky buttons, chamfered edges, and precise etching that wouldn’t be out of place on a device three to four times its asking price.
This phone looks like a slightly larger version of the same budget phone Motorola‘s been selling for nine months.
Immediately recognizable as a 2017 Motorola device, too, the phone looks pretty good, especially in the new Blush Gold hue that, in the right light, appears lusciously copper. I like it — a lot. There’s a fingerprint sensor below the screen, a rounded “Batwing” divot on the back, and a circular camera module with — and this is new — two sensors instead of one. We’ll get to that a bit later, but suffice it to say if you’ve seen a Motorola phone recently, this one will not be difficult to get used to.
That’s fine because the design is perfectly serviceable; count me among the people that will take a fast, reliable front fingerprint sensor over whatever shenanigans Samsung is up to these days. Here, that’s exactly what you get: you can choose to use the sensor as just that (as well as an on/off button by holding it down for a second), or as a navigation tool with Motorola‘s One Button Nav feature. I’m still not comfortable recommending it for daily use given the tiny amount of reclaimed screen real estate, but others I’ve spoken to swear by it, so give it a try.
Along for the ride is Motorola‘s industry-leading notification system, Moto Display. Thank goodness Lenovo, Motorola‘s not-so-new parent company, hasn’t messed with a good thing here, because there’s no better way to triage Android notifications than with Moto Display. No other ambient display, from Samsung to LG to Google itself, comes close.
The Moto G5S Plus has the same 1080p screen as its G5 Plus counterpart, but it’s ever-so-slightly less dense. And it’s still LCD, not OLED. That’s not a slight against the screen — it’s fine — but if you’re looking for next-gen resolution here, you’re out of luck.
Here’s what’s significantly better than the Moto G5 Plus, though: the bottom-firing speaker is much louder and clearer than the single front-facing speaker on the smaller phone; the base model comes with 3GB of RAM instead of 2GB; and the front-facing camera gets upped to 8MP with a wider ƒ/2.0 lens and a real LED flash compared to 5MP/ƒ2.2/display flash. That front-facing camera is legit.
The phone also works with all four U.S. carriers out of the box, which is a huge boon to carrier portability. (This review focuses on the U.S. model only.)
Moto G5S Plus What needs work
The same processor, screen resolution, battery size and charging port doesn't scream "special edition".
I having nothing inherently against iterative improvements, but there is very little “special” in the Moto G5 Plus Special Edition. Its larger display, as mentioned, doesn’t add anything to the experience, and the modicum of additional metal, while certainly appreciated from a density perspective, can’t alone justify the added cost over the G5 Plus.
Motorola also chose to keep the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor inside the phone, too, which is a fine chip, but since it debuted in the Moto Z Play last year, it has since been displaced by the Snapdragon 626 and, more recently, the 630 (where it finds a home in the excellent Moto X4). Similarly, the 3000mAh battery inside the phone hasn’t changed either, which means battery life hasn’t improved over the Moto G5 Plus. Again, fine, but it would have been nice to see the phone achieve better uptime than its predecessor, since that phone wasn’t particularly impressive in that area.
All of these decisions would be understandable were it not for the phone’s biggest change, the inclusion of a dual camera setup — two seemingly-identical 13MP camera sensors with ƒ/2.0 lenses. Having two sensors obviously allows for shots with artificial bokeh, but they lack the additional connective tissue to justify what is clearly a downgrade in traditional photography from the Moto G5 Plus.
That phone has a single 12MP sensor with 1.4-micron Dual Autofocus pixels and a wide ƒ/1.7 lens. It’s not the best camera — it struggles in low light — but it’s damn good for its price class. In fact, it’s probably unmatched under $300. Motorola sacrifices fidelity for a gimmick with the Moto G5S Plus; the 13MP primary sensor, which will be used far more often than both together, has smaller pixels, less reliable autofocus, and much less impressive low-light prowess. For all but a few situations, this is a worse camera experience than its cheaper counterpart.
In fact, even that depth gimmick is undermined by some abysmal performance in the camera app; switching to it causes the frame rate to drop precipitously, making it difficult to line up a good shot. And as we discovered with the Moto Z2 Force, which contains better camera hardware, Motorola‘s depth algorithms need a lot of work. The Note 8, this isn’t.
That isn’t to say the G5S Pluscan’t take great daylight photos — look at some of the ones I captured above for proof — but they’re not particularly impressive, with muddy details.
Lastly, Motorola decided to maintain the Micro-USB port, which has been eliminated from nearly every other phone being released today, budget to premium. In fact, Motorola‘s own $399 Moto X4 is all-in on USB-C, as is the excellent Moto Z Play lineup. The company missed an opportunity to move the needle with its Moto G lineup here.
Moto G5S Plus Buy the other one
I have no idea why the Moto G5S Plus exists. It’s a nice phone, and it sure looks and feels great — certainly better than any budget phone Motorola has made before. But it’s just not a true upgrade over the Moto G5 Plus.
I’m not telling you to go out and buy a Huawei or a ZTE; I’m telling you to buy another Motorola. Specifically, if you’re looking at the entry-level $279 Moto G5S Plus, which comes with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage, look instead at the upgraded Moto G5 Plus, which features 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. At $299, it’s around the same price and, in my opinion, better prepared to handle the onslaught of the real world.
If you do insist on buying the Moto G5S Plus, you do get a few advantages: a bigger screen, a better front-facing camera, a slightly newer version of Android, and the knowledge that you’re getting a special edition. If that’s enough for you, grab it from Motorola directly.
Which microSD card is best for the Moto G5 Plus? Well, it depends what you need…
The reality is this: if you are buying a budget phone, you’re kind of over the idea of paying a lot for accessories. No fancy, expensive case; no insanely high-performance microSD slot. You just want something that works.
Even though the $229 Moto G5 Plus has a pretty hefty 32GB of storage out of the box (and double that for an extra $70), if you’re in need of extra storage for movies, music, or even large games, a microSD card can come in real handy.
The Moto G5 Plus even supports Adoptable Storage, which means that you can make the inserted SD card a permanent part of your phone’s storage.
So which cards do we recommend? Take a look below!
SanDisk Ultra 128GB
Samsung EVO 128GB
SanDisk Ultra 200GB
SanDisk Extreme 64GB
SanDisk Ultra 128GB microSD
SanDisk is a well-known company when it comes to memory cards and storage products, and cards like this show you why. The SanDisk Ultra 128GB (around $44) is a Class 10 card that comes with a 10-year warranty, and has quick transfer speeds (up to 80MB/s), so it should check many of the boxes that you look for in a microSD card.
Samsung EVO 128GB microSD
Samsung’s EVO 128GB microSD card (about $49) isn’t the company’s top offering, but it comes with decent speeds and a price tag to match. With up to 48MB/s read and write (Class 10 or U1 classification), it can handle 1080p video without a problem. If you want a well-regarded card that doesn’t break the bank, this is the one to go with.
SanDisk Ultra 200GB microSD
If you’re looking to add a lot of extra storage at a relatively low cost, the SanDisk Ultra 200GB microSD card (around $74) is the way to go. This Class 10 card provides transfer speeds of up to 90MB/s and can record Full HD video. If you like to keep your digital library with you at all times, you’ll want one of these.
SanDisk Extreme 64GB
The Moto G5 Plus can shoot 4K video which takes up a lot of space on the phone’s storage. With SanDisk’s Extreme microSD card, which is rated U3 and supports maximum write speeds of up to 100MB/s, you can force the phone’s 12MP sensor to record directly to the external storage.
Though the SanDisk Extreme 64GB is a bit more expensive on a per-megabyte basis, at $35 it’s a relatively inexpensive way to shore up the storage on your new phone.
Earlier this summer Motorola announced an addition to their G series of devices, the Moto G5S Plus. The new device was described as a “special edition” of the Moto G5 Plus, but in reality is an upgrade to the former device. That should make it a smartphone worthy of consideration by mid-tier buyers as we rated the Moto G5 Plus highly, so the Moto G5S Plus should be a more compelling option.
The biggest upgrade that the Moto G5S Plus gets compared to the original phone is the addition of a dual-camera setup on the rear, the first G series Motorola phone to get a dual-camera. The Moto G5S Plus is also slightly larger with a 5.5-inch screen versus the 5.2-inch screen of the Moto G5 Plus. Some other smaller differences include an upgrade in RAM options to 3GB or 4GB compared with 2GB/4GB and the front-facing camera has been upgraded to 8MP from a 5MP unit. Otherwise, the Moto G5S Plus gets the same Snapdragon 625 processor, metal body, 3,000mAh battery, and choice of 32GB or 64GB of storage.
Pricing for the Moto G5S Plus in the U.S. is $280 for the 3GB/32GB version and $350 for the 4GB/64GB version. However, now through September 28th, Motorola is offering a $50 discount making the prices $230 and $300. The phone will be available on September 29th.
Yesterday we published an article criticizing Motorola for not updating the Moto G4 line to Android Oreo, as numerous marketing materials had promised this update. Motorola seems to have had a change of heart, and will now be updating the Moto G4 Plus(yes, just the Plus) to 8.0 Oreo.
Here’s Motorola‘s official statement on the matter sent to Android Police:
” It’s been brought to our attention that there were some errors in our marketing materials around Android O upgrades for Moto G4 Plus. This was an oversight on our part and we apologize for this miscommunication. It’s our general practice for the Moto G family to get one major OS upgrade per device, but it’s important to us we keep our promises, so in addition to the N upgrade it has already received, we will be upgrading Moto G4 Plus to Android O. Because this is an unplanned upgrade, it will take some time to fit it into our upgrade schedule. Watch our software upgrade page for more information. “
It seems nice for Motorola to honor its promise, but there are a few things to take away from this. First of all, despite their hardware similarities, it sounds like only the Moto G4 Plus will be receiving the update, while the standard G4 (and G4 Play) will be left in the dust. As far as we can tell, this promise of Android O was only ever published on G4 Plus marketing materials, so Motorola isn’t technically doing anything wrong. But if you’re going to the trouble of updating the Plus model, why not the regular one too?
left: Old. right: New.
The statement mentions how the Moto G family usually only receives one major update, but that’s not really the standard in 2017 for a device of this caliber. The company needs to adapt to the tech world’s standards, not stick with the rules it set for itself just because the G is a “mid-range” device. This is even more true considering the upmarket push that the G4, G5, G5S, and their Plus models have been seeing. You can’t really treat a device with an octa-core 2.0GHz Snapdragon 625 and up to 4GB of RAM (the G5S Plus) the same as you did one with a quad-core 1.2GHz S400 and 1GB of RAM (the original Moto G). The Moto E has since filled that budget niche.
And lastly, Motorola will likely take its sweet time with this update, as it’s technically “unplanned” if you consider its claim that the promises made in its marketing materials were errors. Yes, it’s better than nothing and we don’t mean to seem completely ungrateful, but those who really care for the Oreo update will likely be more willing to flash the LineageOS Oreo ROM than wait months more for the official update.
So for Moto G4 Plus owners: keep an eye out for an Android 8.0 Oreo update, but it’ll likely take a while. And those of you with Moto G4s and G4 Plays will have to flash a ROM if you want some Oreo in your life.
The Moto X Play was a great device for those looking for something with a bit more battery life than your regular smartphone offering. However, the device isn’t as young as it once was and with apps getting more resource demanding, you could find the Moto X Play to be slowing down. Luckily there is a hidden feature that you can change that will instantly speed up your device.
This tip will help speed up your Moto X Play by reducing the impact of the aging processor and resource hungry apps, as well as the lower processing power in the device, by reducing unnecessary animations that will make it feel the device is quicker. The best bit is there’s nothing extra to install or tons of settings to change, just a simple case of changing a setting with developer options enabled.
The little hack revolves around the animations applied to transitioning between windows and turning the device on or off. By simply turning this off, it contributes to making the device seem extremely snappy and fast by reducing the delay applied to the animation.
First, you’ll need to enable the Developer Options hidden menu. To do this, go into Settings -> About Device and scroll down to “Build Number”. Now, tap on “Build Number” five times and you’ll see a notification saying that “Developer mode has been enabled”.
With that hidden menu now enabled, we can head on into it to begin fastening up our Moto X Play.
Head on in to Developer Options in Settings.
Scroll down to the Drawing section.
Of interest here is the Window Animation Scale, Transition Animation Scale, and Animator Duration Scale.
Click on them individually to change the scale.
You are able to turn the animations off completely, or set them to 0.5x (default is 1x) so the animations will be double speed for those who would like to retain them.
You’ll notice your Moto X Play feels substantially quicker without any hacks that affect your software, warranty, or device battery life.
Motorola has revealed the smartphones that will be receiving an update to the Android 8.0 Oreo operating system upgrade. The list covers 10 different devices in three of the many Motorola series of phones. One group of owners that will not be happy if they were looking forward to Android Oreo will be owners of the Moto G4 smartphones as they did not make the cut. Likewise, older versions of the Moto X series will not get an update either. In the case of the G4 series of devices, Motorola launched them with Android Marshmallow just last year and updated them to Android Nougat earlier this year.
The list of devices includes the following:
Moto G5S Plus
Moto G5 Plus
Moto Z2 Play
Moto Z2 Force
Moto Z / Z Droid
Moto Z Play / Z Play Droid
Moto Z Force Droid
Motorola says the update will start rolling out to devices starting this fall, but no more specific dates were provided. That could be bad news for owners of these devices as Motorola’s history with updates has been inconsistent in recent times despite their announcements.
Apple’s 2017 iPhones will inevitably influence the top end of the smartphone market. Here’s how it looks at the moment, with a number of key launches expected soon.
Smartphones are the focus of most people’s digital lives these days, and are likely to remain so until computing becomes truly ‘ambient’ — probably involving some seamless combination of wearables (particularly augmented reality [AR] goggles), IoT devices, cloud services and artificial intelligence (AI).
Following the launch of the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X, it’s a good time to take stock of the current state of the smartphone market by examining the vital statistics of leading vendors’ flagship handsets.
Apple‘s new iPhones, and Samsung‘s Galaxy S8/S8+ and Galaxy Note 8, show the general direction in which top-end smartphones are heading: powerful, attractive (and expensive) handsets whose user experiences increasingly leverage AI and AR, integrated with an ecosystem of add-on devices and services in various sectors including gaming, AR and VR, smart home, healthcare, shopping and office productivity.
Following last year’s well-publicised Galaxy Note 7 debacle and strong fourth-quarter performance from Apple, Samsung briefly ceded first place to its main rival in the Q4 2016 smartphone market. However, the Korean company swiftly returned to the number-one spot in 2017 (see chart). Apple‘s new iPhones face stiff competition from Samsung, Huawei and other top-five vendors, and from several manufacturers in the ‘Others’ category — including Google, HTC, LG, Motorola, Nokia, OnePlus and Sony — that also offer premium smartphones.
“Despite some key launches in the second quarter from some well-known players, all eyes will be on the ultra-high-end flagships set to arrive this fall,” said Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, when the Q2 2017 figures were released at the beginning of August. “With devices like the iPhone 8, Pixel 2, Note 8, and V30 in the pipeline, the competition will be fierce come September. We expect all the key players to promote their latest and greatest flagships with an assortment of deals, bundles, and trade-in offers across a variety of channels in most key markets,” he added.
Here’s how the flagship smartphone market looks following Apple‘s 2017 iPhone launch, presented as far as possible in graphical form. (Note: we’ll update this article as new handsets from Google, Huawei, LG and any other leading vendors are released.)
Screen size & Pixel density
Screen size — measured in inches across the diagonal — is a smartphone’s defining design characteristic, and the range on offer from leading vendors is now very wide. BlackBerry‘s 4.5-inch keyboard-equipped KEYone is the smallest, while Samsung‘s Galaxy Note 8 currently leads the field at 6.3 inches, with 16 out of the 25 handsets covered here falling between 5.5 and 6 inches. Display technologies are split between IPS LCD (Apple, BlackBerry, Huawei, HTC, LG [G6], Sony) and various species of OLED (Apple [iPhone X], Google, HP, Huawei [Mate 9 Pro], LG [V30], Motorola, OnePlus and Samsung).
Recent developments in smartphone displays include curved minimal-bezel screens with on-screen home buttons, 18:9 aspect ratio, Gorilla Glass 5 screen protection and — in the HTC U Ultra — a small secondary screen for notifications and other useful information (an idea recently dropped by LG when updating the V20 to the V30). Samsung‘s Note 8 is the only handset covered here that offers a stylus (the S-Pen). Apple‘s 2017 iPhones add True Tone technology (first seen in the 2016 9.7-inch iPad Pro) that automatically adjusts colour temperature and intensity to the ambient light, while the iPhone X made more space for the screen by removing the home button (and Touch ID) altogether.
The other key statistic here is pixel density, measured as pixels per inch (ppi), which factors in the display resolution. The graph below shows that Samsung (Galaxy S8) and LG (G6) lead the mainstream field with pixel densities of 567 and 564ppi respectively. The outlier is Sony‘s 5.5-inch Xperia XZ Premium, which offers a maximum 4K resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 for a massive 807ppi. This looks extremely impressive, but note that, for much of the time, the Xperia XZ Premium works at 1,080p resolution to save battery life, resulting in a much more mundane 403.5ppi.
Not everyone is comfortable with a large-screen handset, but if you want a leading-edge device, that’s increasingly what you’re being offered. If you’re happy with a large screen (>5.5in.) and also want high pixel density (>500ppi), you should be looking at Samsung‘s Galaxy Note 8 and Galaxy S8+, LG‘s V30 or, if you’re happy to run Windows 10 Mobile, the HP Elite x3. If your hands are on the small side, the 5.3-inch Nokia 8 offers a good combination of moderate screen size and high resolution (550ppi).
Screen-to-body ratio & Thickness
Another key smartphone design metric is the screen-to-body ratio, which measures how much of a handset’s fascia is occupied by screen compared to non-display elements like bezels, camera lenses and control buttons.
If low screen/body ratios are ‘old-fashioned’, then Apple’s 2016 iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were showing their age at 65.5 percent and 67.5 percent respectively — and their 8 and 8 Plus successors have done nothing to change that. Apart from BlackBerry‘s KEYone, only four other handsets have sub-70 percent ratios: Google Pixel, HTC U Ultra, Nokia 8 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium. The 4.5-inch KEYone is an outlier at 55.9 percent because, of course, it has a hardware keyboard, which decreases the screen-to-body ratio (and also increases the thickness compared to touchscreen-only handsets — see below).
At the other end of the scale, Samsung‘s Galaxy S8, S8+ and Note 8 handsets, with their curved Infinity Display screens and on-screen home buttons, lead the field with screen/body ratios of 83-84 percent. LG‘s V30 and Apple‘s new iPhone X are the only other flagship handsets with screen/body ratios over 80 percent.
Smartphone vendors often make much of the slimness of their handsets, and it’s clear from the chart below that Huawei is particularly keen on this design feature. Conversely, Samsung and Google (and BlackBerry) deliver notably thicker handsets:
Motorola‘s modular Moto Z2 Force, at 6.1mm with no Mods fitted, is the thinnest handset here. There are trade-offs though: the camera lens housing protrudes from the rear, and the device’s body is too thin to accommodate a 3.5mm headset jack. With the increasing use of glass on both the front and back of premium handsets (to accommodate wireless charging), most people immediately put their expensive and shiny new handset in a protective case, which renders the quest for extreme slimness somewhat pointless.
Volume & Weight
As you’d expect, there’s a clear relationship between a smartphone’s physical volume and its weight, although the variation around the trendline is interesting.
For example, the handsets that are thick for their screen/body ratio — notably the HTC-designed Google Pixel and Pixel XL, HTC U Ultra and U11 — are also relatively light for their volume, suggesting that there’s plenty of room for components inside the case. Another handset that’s below the weight/volume trendline is Samsung‘s Galaxy Note 8 — evidence, perhaps, of design changes following the Note 7 debacle (especially as the Note 8 also packs a smaller-capacity 3,300mAh battery than its ill-fated predecessor, which ran on a 3500mAh unit). Conversely, it’s noteworthy how Apple‘s iPhone 8 Plus is particularly heavy (at 202g) for its volume, that the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are slightly bulkier and heavier than their predecessors, and that the 5.8-inch iPhone X is considerably lighter and more compact than Samsung’s 6.3-inch Galaxy Note 8.
Dust and water resistance
Another key smartphone design factor is resistance to the ingress of foreign matter, as commonly indicated by a two-digit IP rating: the first number describes dust resistance on a 1-6 scale, while the second describes water resistance on a 1-8 scale. The highest rating among the flagship handsets covered here is IP68, where ‘6’ indicates that the device is ‘dust tight’ and ‘8’ signifies that it can withstand immersion in water (usually at least 30 minutes to depth of at least 1m).
An IP rating of 5 for dust means the device is merely ‘dust protected’, while 7 for water means it can withstand immersion in up to 1m for 30 minutes, 4 means it can resist ‘splashing water’ and 3 means it can handle ‘spraying water’, both of the latter for at least 10 minutes.
IP ratings are not available for the BlackBerry KEYone, Huawei (and Honor) handsets, HTC U Ultra, Motorola Moto Z2 Force (although it does claim a ‘water repellent nano-coating’) and OnePlus 5. However, two of the flagship smartphones — the LG V30 and HP Elite X3 — also boast a military-grade MIL-STD 810G ruggedness certification.
Somewhat surprisingly, Apple‘s 2017 iPhones did not bump up their IP ratings from IP67 to IP68, to match Samsung‘s Galaxy S8/8+/Note 8. Looking ahead, it will be surprising if Google‘s second-generation Pixel handsets don’t move beyond IP53.
Chipsets, CPU & GPU performance
A flagship smartphone should do its job — launching, running and switching between apps, and displaying on-screen content — quickly and smoothly, without any delays or glitches that would mar the user experience. It shouldn’t become uncomfortably hot in operation either — or, of course, burst into flames.
Chipsets from four main vendors power the handsets covered here:
Apple‘s 4-core A10 Fusion (iPhone 7/7 plus) and 6-core AI- and AR-optimised A11 Bionic(iPhone 8/8Plus/X)
Samsung‘s 8-core Exynos 8995 in the Galaxy S8/S8+/Note 8 (worldwide versions)
Qualcomm’s mid-range 8-core Snapdragon 625 (BlackBerry KEYone); 4-core 820 (HP Elite x3) and 821 (Google Pixel/XL, HTC U Ultra, LG G6); and top-end 8-core 835 (HTC U11, LG V30, Moto Z2 Force, OnePlus 5, Galaxy S8/S8+/Note 8 [US/China versions], Sony Xperia XZ Premium)
HiSilicon’s Kirin 960 in the Huawei and Honor handsets.
Here’s how these platforms shape up in terms of processor and graphics performance, as measured by the Primate Labs’ multi-core Geekbench 4 (Gb4) and Futuremark’s 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited (ISU) benchmarks respectively:
The top-performing chipset — on these measures at any rate — is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, with Gb4 and ISU scores of up to 6500 and 40000 respectively. Note that the Exynos 8995 versions of the Samsung S8 and S8+ deliver better CPU results but weaker GPU performance (benchmarks are currently only available for the Exynos 8995 version of the Galaxy Note 8).
Apple‘s A10 Fusion-powered iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were strong performers, with scores of around 5400 (Gb4) and 37000 (ISU), and the new A11 Bionic-powered iPhones are sure to see a significant speed bump when benchmarks appear (here’s a leaked report). At the 2017 launch, Apple claimed that the A11 Bionic’s two performance CPU cores are 25 percent faster than the A10, while its four high-efficiency cores are 70 percent faster. Apple‘s 2nd-generation performance controller is reportedly 70 percent faster for multithreaded workloads, while the A11’s GPU is 30 percent faster and delivers A10-level performance at half the power, according to Apple.
Also prominent are the Kirin 960-powered handsets from Huawei and Honor, which cluster around the 6000 (Gb4)/27000 (ISU) mark. Again, we expect to see a performance boost when the AI-optimised Kirin 970 chipset becomes available in the Huawei Mate 10 and Mate 10 Pro in October.
The remaining Snapdragon 821-powered smartphones on this chart — notably Google‘s Pixel and Pixel XL — are well behind the 2017 curve, and will certainly be updated with the 835 chipset in due course. Very much in last place in this company is BlackBerry‘s KEYone, which is powered by Qualcomm’s mid-range 8-core Snapdragon 625 SoC.
RAM & Storage
When it comes to memory, the clear leader of the pack is the OnePlus 5, which is currently unique in offering 8GB or 6GB of RAM. Next come seven flagship handsets with a maximum of 6GB, all of which bar the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 also have a 4GB variant. The most common RAM complement is 4GB, which is the only choice with 11 handsets and the maximum for BlackBerry‘s KEYone (which also comes with 3GB).
Apple has always fitted less RAM in its iPhones than the Android competition, and that hasn’t changed with its 2017 handsets: the iPhone X and 8 Plus have 3GB (like the iPhone 7 Plus), while the iPhone 8 has 2GB (like the iPhone 7).
As far as internal storage is concerned, Apple‘s 2017 iPhones stand out with their maximum complement of 256GB — a feature that betrays the company’s disdain for external storage expansion via a MicroSD card slot. Samsung‘s Galaxy Note 8 also offers a maximum of 256GB (in some territories), but has a MicroSD card slot too, making it the top choice for the data-hungry.
Google‘s Pixel handsets and the OnePlus 5 also lack MicroSD expansion and, like the previous-generation iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, provide up to 128GB rather than 256GB of internal storage.
The most common maximum internal storage complement is 128GB, which is offered by 13 of the 25 handsets covered here.
Cameras have become a key battleground for smartphone makers, and several approaches are currently on view among the flagship population. Although it wasn’t the first to do so, Apple kick-started a trend last year by offering dual rear cameras on the iPhone 7 Plus: a primary 12-megapixel (MP) camera with an f/1.8 wide-angle lens and optical image stabilisation (OIS), and a secondary camera with an f/2.8 telephoto lens with 2x optical zoom but no OIS.
As well as adding telephoto capability, Apple‘s dual-camera system allowed depth information to be calculated, enabling features like bokeh — sharp foreground and blurred background — to be supported on portrait shots that were previously the province of expensive digital SLR cameras with high-end optics.
Apple‘s 2017 dual-camera phones, the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, remain at 12MP but the sensors are bigger, faster and deliver better low-light performance, according to Apple. The iPhone 8 Plus has the same basic lens specs as the 7 Plus (f/1.8 wa + OIS, f/2.8 tele), while the iPhone X has an f/2.4 aperture on the telephoto lens and implements OIS on both cameras. Apple also takes advantage of A11 Bionic chip’s machine-learning optimisation and custom ISP to deliver a (beta) Portrait Mode feature called Portrait Lighting: here, depth sensing and facial mapping are combined to deliver real-time analysis of the light on a subject’s face and provide alternative lighting schemes — either pre- or post-capture.
For dual-camera handsets, the top bar is the wide angle or colour camera, while the bottom bar is the telephoto or black-and-white camera.
Huawei‘s Leica-branded camera system pairs 12MP RGB and 20MP monochrome sensors with 27mm f/2.2 lenses (f/1.8 in the P10 Plus), supporting OIS on the primary colour camera. As well as enabling true monochrome shooting and adding detail to blended RGB/mono shots, the 20MP secondary camera supplies depth information for bokeh-style images. The Honor 8 Pro has a similar (non-Leica-branded) system, but the secondary mono camera is 12MP rather than 20MP and there’s no support for OIS.
LG uses two 13MP sensors on the G6, one coupled with an f/1.8 autofocus lens with OIS and the other with an f/2.4 wide-angle lens lacking both OIS and autofocus. The LG V30 takes a similar approach, but uses a 16MP primary sensor with an f/1.6 lens (with AF and OIS) and a 13MP secondary sensor with an f/1.9 lens (no AF or OIS).
Both Motorola and Nokia take the Huawei approach, with colour and monochrome cameras: the Nokia 8’s Zeiss-branded system supports OIS on the colour camera, but the Moto Z2 Force does not offer OIS on either.
OnePlus and Samsung (Galaxy Note 8) go for the wide-angle/telephoto dual camera design, OnePlus with 16MP (wa) and 20MP (tele) cameras and electronic image stabilisation (EIS) rather than OIS, and Samsung with two 12MP cameras, both with OIS. Samsung also introduces a couple of neat dual-camera features: Live Focus lets you adjust the bokeh effect pre- and post-capture, while Dual Capture simultaneously captures photos from both the wide-angle and telephoto cameras.
Single rear cameras are an increasing rarity among the flagship population, but are headed (in resolution terms) by Sony and HP, with 19MP and 16MP units in the Xperia XZ Premium and Elite x3 respectively.
The fashion for ‘selfies’ and authentication via face recognition means that front-facing cameras, once something of an afterthought with a nod to video calls, have seen significant recent evolution.
Samsung, for example, offers both face recognition and iris scanning on its Galaxy S8, S8+ and Note 8 handsets, as well as a capable 8MP camera, while the Nokia 8’s Dual Capture feature lets you take pictures with the front and rear camera simultaneously (a.k.a. ‘Bothies’). Even more recently Apple more than matched Samsung’s functionality with the front-facing TrueDepth camera system and Face ID on the new iPhone X:
Apple’s True Depth camera system occupies a notch at the top of the iPhone X’s OLED screen.
To analyse your physiognomy, the flood illuminator detects your face, the infrared camera takes an IR image, and the dot projector places than 30,000 IR dots on your face. These data are fed into a neural network (in the A11 Bionic chip) to create a mathematical model of your face, which is then checked against the stored model on the handset — all in real time. The True Depth camera also enables Portrait Mode selfies with Portrait Lighting, and animated emoji called ‘Animoji’.
Here are the front camera megapixel counts for the 25 handsets under consideration, 12 of which are 8MP units:
Video capture is becoming an increasingly important smartphone camera feature — witness the fact that all bar one of the handsets covered here can record 4k (2160p) video with at least a frame rate of 30fps. The exception is BlackBerry‘s KEYone, which doesn’t support 4k video capture at any frame rate. Apple‘s new iPhones just upped the ante by supporting 4k video at 60fps, which will doubtless kick off another round of feature catch-up.
Slow-motion video is another popular feature, and Sony‘s Xperia XZ Premium leads the field here, supporting HD (720p) video capture at a startling ‘super-slo-mo’ 960fps. The current ‘standard’ for slo-mo video is 720p at 240fps, although Apple has again pushed the boundary by supporting full HD (1080p) video at 240fps in the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X.
As resolutions and frame rates rise, image stabilisation — either optical or electronic — will become ever more important. It’s noticeably absent from Motorola‘s Moto Z2 Force, for example.
As flagship smartphones pack in faster processors, more memory, larger and higher-resolution screens, and ever more functions, so the toll on the handset’s battery increases. There are multiple trade-offs here: no smartphone user wants to have to recharge during a typical day’s usage, but manufacturers cannot simply fit ever higher-capacity batteries into designs that need to be as lightweight and elegant as possible in order to keep buyers interested. Get it wrong and a vendor can have a Galaxy Note 7-style debacle on its hands.
The state of the art in smartphone batteries is currently around 4,000mAh, while 14 of the 22 handsets charted here have battery capacities between 3,000 and 4,000mAh. Apple has not divulged the battery specs for the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X, and we’re awaiting the teardown analyses that will supply them.
A bigger battery obviously means longer battery life, as the chart below clearly shows. But given that design and safety constraints preclude the shoehorning of big batteries into tight-fitting cases, manufacturers also need to make it as convenient as possible for users — especially ‘power’ users who subject their devices to heavy workloads — to recharge their handsets.
Following LG‘s decision to drop the removable battery when updating the V20 to the V30, this feature is now absent from all of the top-end smartphones covered here. Fast charging is supported on all but the now-outdated iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, while wireless charging is available on Apple‘s new iPhones (8, 8 Plus and X), HP‘s Elite x3, the LG G6 and V30, and Samsung‘s Galaxy S8, S8+ and Note 8.
High-end smartphones are never going to be cheap, but Apple‘s newly launched iPhone X has broken new ground — the combination of Apple‘s historically high margins and a significant amount of new technology have seen to that. The entry-level 64GB iPhone X configuration costs $999, and if you must have the top-end 256GB model, be prepared to part with a princely $1,149 (and the same figure in UK pounds).
That’s a record for a mainstream flagship handset, although you can spend even sillier money on specialist secure/luxury devices like Sirin Labs’ Solarin if you really want to (although, as it turned out, few did).
Here are the list prices in US dollars for most of the premium handsets covered in this feature:
Notes: the LG V30 prices are converted from Korean won; the Nokia 8 price is converted from euros. The following handsets are not officially available in the US: Honor 8 Pro, Huawei Mate 9 Pro, Huawei P10 and P10 Plus. Where available, prices for entry-level and top-end configurations are shown.
Recent launches from Samsung and Apple have highlighted the increasing importance of artificial intelligence and augmented reality in high-end smartphones, with the underlying chipsets and developer resources evolving appropriately. At least for now, the smartphone will remain the portable hub for your digital life, and the flow of new devices will continue apace.
We aim to keep this roundup updated as new products, specification details and benchmarks appear. The next big launches expected are Google‘s second-generation Pixel handsets, Huawei‘s Mate 10 and 10 Pro, and LG‘s G7. Check back for updated information on these and other devices.
At IFA 2017, Motorola unveiled the Moto X4 handset – the latest addition to its middle-range portfolio. Motorola already has a few mid-rangers on the market including the Moto G5, G5 Plus and G5S, G5S Plus models.
In what follows we’ll compare the newly launched Moto X4 with the Moto G5 Plus, a product that is already available for purchase in the US. So let’s see what the main differences between the two models are:
Design and Display
The new Moto X4 comes with an anodized aluminum frame with IP68 protection against dust and water. The body is made of 3D contoured glass, unlike that of the Moto G5 Plus which comes with a backplate made of aluminum, while its core frame is made out of plastic.
In both cases, below the display sits a physical home button which also acts as a fingerprint scanner. But the scanner can be used for more than the obvious. You can also swipe left on your fingerprint scanner to go back or swipe right to open recent apps or tap to go to home screen.
Form factor-wise the two smartphones are the same, as both come boasting a 5.2-inch fullHD IPS LCD display with 424ppi.
Power and Performance
Being a newer device, the Moto X4 takes advantage of a Snapdragon 630 processor – which is an octa-core affair made up of eight 2.2GHz Cortex-A53 cores. It also includes 3GB/4GB of RAM and 32GB/64GB of storage (with microSD support for up to 2TB).
In contrast, the Moto G5 Plus takes advantage of an older Snapdragon 625 (octa-core SoC clocked at 2.2GHz) with either 2GB/4GB of RAM and 32GB/64GB of storage (microSD available).
Unlike the Moto G5 Plus, the Moto X4 follows this year’s trend and includes a dual-camera onboard. Working in concert with Motorola’s advanced camera software, the two 12-megapixel with f/2.0 and 8-megapixel with f/2.2 sensors are expected to be able to deliver professional portraits and blurred backgrounds (bokeh).
The phone takes advantage of additional features like Dual Autofocus Pixel technology which brings the faster focus in lower light conditions.
When it comes to selfies, the Moto X4 carries a 16-megapixel one with f/2.0, 1080p and LED flash.
Moving on to the Moto G5 Plus, its main camera consists of a singular 12-megapixel sensor with f/1.7, autofocus and dual-LED flash. The self-portrait shooter is far less impressive as it’s only a 5-megapixel one with f/2.2.
Motorola has included a few new features which it hopes will boost the appeal of the new Moto X4. For example, there’s Amazon Alexa support built-in.
On top of that, Motorola has added something called “Landmark Detection” which allows users to point the camera at items to find more about them. There’s also a new Face Filters for selfies.
The US company also worked with French start-up Tempow to improve the Bluetooth experience with the new phone. As a result of the partnership, Moto X4 owners will be able to pair up to four audio devices to the phone including speakers, headphones and more.
Software-wise, the older Moto G5 Plus ships out with Android 7.0 Nougat, while the new Moto X4 has the newer Android 7.1.1 Nougat version. Both look pretty stock, as it’s tradition with Motorola.
Both models rely on a non-removable 3,000 mAh battery. This is what we found in our Moto G5 Plus review and we expect results to be similar in the case of the Moto X4.
“Six hours of on screen time comes easy. Two days of regular use comes easy. I’ve had this phone for seven days and I’ve charged it three times.”
The Moto X4 will retail for around $480 which is not exactly super cheap. The Moto G5 Plus on the other hand is a true budget affair and you can pick it up starting at $229 for the 2GB of RAM+32GB storage version.
But if you want a dual-camera, Alexa and the option of pairing up to four audio devices to your phone, you might want to save up and buy the Moto X4. It will become available in the States later this autumn.