Moto G Gives Cheap Phones a Google Injection

The $179 price tag is aimed at prepaid and emerging markets

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Remember the tech world’s obsession with a dirt-cheap, no-contract iPhone? It still hasn’t happened, but Motorola might have the next best thing with its $179 Moto G.

Mind you, that’s $179 without a contract. Most new phones cost at least three times as much, but you get them cheaper by signing a two-year agreement with your wireless carrier. With the Moto G, Motorola isn’t going after the subsidized-phone market. It’s offering a cheap, but hopefully still decent, phone for prepaid carriers and emerging markets where subsidies are less common.

As you’d expect, the hardware will fall short of Motorola’s flagship Moto X in a few key areas. You can’t bark voice commands from across the room, twist the phone to quickly bring up the camera or see notifications just by picking the phone up. That’s all because Motorola’s X8 motion- and voice-sensing processor didn’t make it into the Moto G.

Motorola took some other tech specs down a notch as well. Instead of the 10-megapixel rear camera and 2-megapixel front camera on the Moto X, the Moto G drops to 5 megapixels and 1.2 megapixels, respectively. The Moto G has half the RAM, at 1 GB, and half the built-in storage at 8 GB (though you can get 16 GB of storage for just $20 more).

But it’s not all bad. The Moto G comes with a quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor, and the 4.5-inch display has a resolution of 720p — same as the Moto X. It ships with Android 4.3, but Motorola is promising an update to the brand-new Android 4.4 KitKat at the beginning of next year.

Motorola’s also trying to maintain some level of customization with the Moto G by offering removable backplates in a variety of colors. The Moto X allows users to customize many more aspects of the phone, from the color of the volume rocker to the greeting that appears when the phone powers on.

Motorola is hardly the first phonemaker to build a cheap phone by clipping away some features. But you won’t see any other cheap phones that are as committed to clearing away bloatware and focusing on Google services. One of the Moto X’s biggest strengths is how clean the experience is, to the point that it reminded me of an iPhone. A lot of thought went into making the out-of-box experience simple and inviting with the Moto X, and hopefully the same will be true for the Moto G.

The Moto G is launching in Brazil and parts of Europe this week, followed by Latin America, Europe, Canada and parts of Asia over the next few weeks.

In the U.S., Motorola will sell the phone early next year directly through its website, SIM unlocked with no wireless contracts. That makes it a good fit for a carrier like T-Mobile, which charges less for monthly service when you bring your own phone. Other wireless carriers will sell the Moto G as well, but so far only Verizon has said it’ll carry the phone as a prepaid option.