Friday, 27 March 2020
Moto G8 Power
This is going to be one of those for-the-price reviews again, I'm afraid! I'll try not to say it too often, but please fill the phrase in for yourself as we proceed and consider what's on offer here. The big selling point is clearly the 'power' in that the unit has a 5,000mAh cell. There are a few phones creeping up into this post-4000mAh territory now, including one or two from Samsung. A couple of years ago, we'd have wow'd by that, but maybe not so much now. However, with Moto's clean approach to phone software perhaps their claim of 'up to 3 days' of life will have some validity. We'll find out here.
In the box, there's a clear TPU (becoming a standard for Moto these days), USB-A to USB-C cable, 3-pin UK Plug with USB-A port, a few papers and pokey-tool - and that's it! The TPU fits snuggly, as you'd expect - and offers perfectly good grip and coverage for most of us who don't go off-road or hang-gliding!
On the left of the phone we have the pokey-tool hole for ejecting the SIM Card Tray and inside, an option for two SIM Cards or one and a microSD. The tray looks sturdy enough and fits very firmly in place with what appears to be a rubber-seal to keep out the elements. On the right is the volume rocker above a knurled power button, both of which are plastic but look hardy enough. Up top is the 3.5mm audio-out socket and at the bottom, USB-C port and the first of a pair of stereo speakers, this one downwards-firing.
The plastic back houses the four cameras, very much like others in the G-range, top-right in landscape, with the bigger top camera on its own being the wide-angle and the other three on an island for normal shooting, macro and zoom. Alongside is the LED flash and about 75% of the way up, central, is the capacitive fingerprint scanner with the usual 'M' logo inside. The back has a very faint lined pattern, there's reassuringly no 'give' in it at any point as it curves very slightly round to meet the edging. Edging which feels very much like plastic, but is, apparently 6000-series aluminium.
The front glass is flat and there's no boast about Gorilla Glass or even Panda King, which Moto have recently been using on some models. So I guess it's a case of taking great care - or even applying some sort of screen protector so the glass doesn't get micro-scratched up. The panel is an IPS LCD "Max Vision Display" at 6.4" in the ratio 19:9. It's 1080p and returns a ppi of 399. It looks bright, colourful and sharp to these old eyes and it is brighter and whiter than the Pixel 3 (which I happen to have at hand). The OLED of the latter survives better, the more the screen is angled away - at which point the Moto's LCD becomes warmer and less bright. Face-on, however, I have no complaints, even out in sunlight. The screen's colour can be switched in settings between Natural, Boosted and Saturated but they don't seem to make a huge difference and the default is set to Saturated. There's a bit of a forehead bezel and a bit more of a chin, but for most of us we'd say that the screen goes out to the edges well enough to consider that it is using the whole front of the phone. I really don't think that a millimetre here and there makes any difference to usability. In fact, one could argue that small bezels are helpful under Android 10 for Gesture controls. The 'corners' are rounded nicely and there's a Selfie hole-punch top-left (portrait) Samsung-style, that really doesn't get in the way.
Big and Heavy
The phone is fairly weighty at all-but 200g, is fairly big in the hand and offers a "water repellent design". I'm guessing this means the usual nano-coating of components, ports and buttons - but nothing IP-rate-able. It's almost exactly the same size as the Motorola One Zoom except a little fatter for that extra 1000mAh of battery.
To the (almost) USP then and that 5000mAh battery. I've been testing it for about a week now and I'm delighted to report that after initial charging, I only had to do it once again! Firstly though my 10% Reading Test - in which I read/look/use indoors from fully charged (nothing clinical here but a mixture of reading books, looking at news, the odd phone call, the odd video linked to in news, screen on and both display and battery on Adaptive) and see how much time has passed when the battery gets to 10%. The current leader here is the 4000mAh battery of the Moto G8 Plus which clocked up 2 hours and 20 minutes but we have a new record-breaker now at a staggering 3 hours and 10 minutes! It just gets better.
Second, is my average-use-for-me scenario which, as I say, I have now done twice. The first time I was getting a return of 72 hours with 9 hours Screen-On-Time, so yes, 3 days without question, but the second test brought an even better return of just over 80 hours between charges and 15 hours SoT. A fabulous performance all round which will, of course, be less than this if people are caning it watching films, playing music all day, shooting video and the like. In support of my testing methods, the playing field is level across devices and for you, it'll be different of course. By all accounts, a PowerHouse and for some of us, a weekend away might not need thoughts of recharging. The supplied plug is capable of 18W rapid charging and as we'd expect, there's no Wireless Qi Charging on offer. My Qi Receiver plugs in nicely, however, and works a treat for healthy, slow overnight charging. Hopefully, every second or even third night!
Next up is those stereo speakers and how they perform. The true stereo (not faux) output is very similar (if not exactly the same) as the Moto G8 Plus which I reviewed recently. I wouldn't be surprised if the same components were used as the output is just as excellent. It's decently loud in the same way and with the speakers 'tuned by Dolby' with true system-wide Dolby Equalisation available, the quality, richness, depth and separation can be fine-tuned by the user too. Unusually, all the Dolby options are made available to the speakers and not some reserved just for headphones use. Tested with stereo YouTube videos, there's a real 3D effect as the usual fleet of spacecraft fly overhead and speedboats zoom past from behind the listener. With the phone 18" away from the face the effect remains noticeable and the right way up when the phone is turned over (which can't be said for many so-called stereo setups).
So Moto Audio...tuned by Dolby gives some basic cover-alls (for those who don't want to dig) of Smart audio (it works out the best for you), Music, Film and Game (each of which can be drilled into for individual tweaking) - then the Custom, which has even more, with a Manual Equaliser setup to adjust frequencies across the range. Alongside that, there's more pre-sets of Brilliant Treble, Bass Boost and Vocal Boost. There's always a payoff with top volume as the user starts to play around with theses settings, but whatever you do with the output it's hard to describe it as anything less than a room-filling sound. There's an FM Radio which records - and doesn't even need anything plugged into the 3.5mm audio-out socket to fire it up. Great stuff. Bluetooth 5 is present and connected very nicely to gear I have here, though unfortunately I don't have any top-notch BT headphones or speakers to hand to push it very much.
There are no awards waiting for output via headphones here but the sound is good enough by far for The 95%. It's perfectly loud for my ears even in a noisy environment, deep and bass'y enough, but for the 5% who want their heads blown off (or who can tell the difference) a more powerful DAC dongle can be used. For most people, the inclusion of a 3.5mm audio-out socket will be a very welcome addition. Everything about the sound output is very impressive at this price-point. There, I said it!
The chipset is a SnapDragon 665, so the same as the Xiaomi Mi A3 and Redmi Note 8T for example. Here, of course, there's next to no bloatware - only the few additions which Moto add to enhance the Android experience, which I'll come to, so the 665 is left in peace a lot of the time to get on with serving the user what they ask for (and not attending to 1001 back-end processes which slow down some). This is no powerhouse of course and only coupled with 4GB RAM there is evidence of slight lapses when switching between apps and opening up new ones and processing data when in high demand. There is a setting available for Adaptive Performance now which optimises RAM efficiency and learns the user's behaviour if engaged. Opening up the camera is a bit slow, for example, and running demanding games, but in the real world, the 95% really won't be bothered - it's only us, putting it up against the latest crop of flagships, who are concerned. Mr Average will not even notice for 95% of the time.
I've been saying for some time now that 128GB of storage should be considered the bare minimum for people's phones now, but again, it's a for-the-price thing here. The 64GB on offer here will, no doubt, be perfectly good enough for most folk - and for those who need more, there's a microSD Card slot. This is playing perfectly with my 512GB microSD Card and my 2TB SSD too via USB-C, on-the-fly. Yes, OK, it takes a while to initiate the SSD, getting it all read, but once there it works beautifully playing films and any other media I throw at it. Just like the G8 Plus there's no HDMI-Out, but I'd have been shocked if there was!
The Big Omission
The thing that I am shocked about, however, is that there's no NFC! I really am astounded that Moto would release a phone in The West with no means to use Google Pay. They must realise that almost everyone now is expecting to head for Tesco and pay for their grub with their phone. To grab that coffee on the way to work. To pay for your bus fare or Metro. What were they thinking, I wonder. Was this a phone they were expecting to just release in The East then turned-tail at the last minute and decided on a World release after all? I think that very sadly for Motorola, this, for many, many people will be a deal-breaker. There are many cheaper phones which have it. Even Moto's phones. It's just that I can't see who might want to buy it without. People under the age of banking and credit? Maybe it will be a second phone for people. A glove-box backup. A wild and odd decision which sadly can't be fixed in software when they realise.
We've got used to Motorola connectivity aerials working very well and this is no exception. The cellular locks and holds onto calls and 4G data very well, as I said earlier the Bluetooth works fine, seems strong and maintains a good grip over distance in my limited available testing, the GPS works quickly and reliably in Maps and the only fly in the ointment for nit-pickers is that 5GHz WiFi support is missing so users have to make do with 2.4GHz. Can't say it matters much to me, but I do know one person at least who wants the whole home network to be on 5 with any 2.4 on the system dragging the network to a slower place. So for some, to be aware.
Still, let's get back to it and assume people will live without NFC! Android 10 out of the box. That's great. I highly approve of the new flurry of phones up and running with it as others wallow in Pie awaiting updates - and even new phones being released, outdated. Well done to Moto here. All the lovely 10 additions are present including system-wide Gesture controls and Dark Theme everywhere. It really gives the user the feeling that they're bang up to date with what's going on. Sadly, we're back to the lag-behind with Google Security and this unit is now 4 months behind on December 2019. This is another of Motorola's non-AndroidOne programme phones so it will, no doubt, once settled, enter the general 3-month update cycle. New phones from Moto which are not AndroidOne do tend to take a while to get that first kick.
The one that always saddens me most if missing is Moto Approach. They have proved that Approach is possible with LCD screens via the G7/8 Plus models, but like the AndroidOne phones (such as One Vision and One Action) they have chosen to not make it available. Why on earth? However, all is not lost. Instead of waving a hand over the screen to wake up Peek, a tap on the screen will do it here. From thereon in it's the same as any other Peek with Notification icon being swipe-able for quick-peek or opening up for full viewing. It's just that proximity sensor action for Peek which they seem to have saved pennies on. Much of the rest of the suite is present (chop-chop for Torch, 3-finger screenshot, twist-twist for camera and so on) with some additions like Gametime settings to keep interruptions at bay and brightness high, a 'What's new in Android 10' section leading the migrating user through the changes and double-press Power for Google Assistant. But it's really otherwise a clean version of Android with stock-like Home Pages and Google Assistant access and Cards to the left as we've come to expect. Wherever Google Services and Apps are supplied, Moto uses them. No doubling up of anything, no bloat, no deals with FaceBook, LinkedIn or Amazon. Clean as a whistle. You get as close to Vanilla as is possible. Well done Moto.
The fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone is a tad small for my liking but it works perfectly and can be set to swipe-down for the Notification Shade. The setup is straight-forward, quick and opening up the phone it's first time, every time. At least it's not an under-glass mess-up like many others and the user, even though they might have to pick the phone up, knows where they are without hopeful successive stabs at the screen. There's no Face Unlock option but there is Attentive in settings which means that if you have it set up and you're looking at the screen, the screen will stay on and not time out/off.
The G8 Power is equipped with what should look like a great array of camera options. A 16MP f/1.7 main camera, a 2MP f/2.2 macro lens with 2cm focus distance, an 8MP f/2.2 wide-angle snapper and lastly, an 8MP f/2.2 telephoto with 2x optical zoom. There's a 16MP f2 Selfie round the front in support which offers a quad-pixel binning setup to grab 4MP shots, unless you specifically set it to 16MP to make use of the full sensor, unimpaired. There's no OIS to be seen anywhere, but regardless, this camera setup produces fine, fun shots in good light and for those not pixel-peeping. At this price, it can be given a pass on that level, I think!
The App is laid out in a similar way to others in the range with a tap-button to move between wide, normal and zoom, a grid icon to launch all the modes including that so-called Macro, Spot Colour, Cutout, Portrait and so on. Some more useful than others but nothing much new from what we've seen before. Auto-everything with AI, Smile Capture which fires when everyone is smiling, Manual mode (with control over everything except focus, bizarrely), RAW option, Portrait mode (which works surprisingly well), Google Lens is built-in, all sorts of video options including electronic stabilisation and so on and so on. Tons of stuff to play with but the best fun for me has been the Macro Mode where photos can be taken pretty close-up. Yes, of limited use for most people, but great fun. And that's what photography on this phone is, I think. Probably out-performed by an awful lot of other phones out there, but I'm guessing that people buying/using this phone at this price won't care about that stuff - they'll happy-snap for memories and social media 'til their heart's content!
The phone is £219 in the UK on launch (in Smoke Black or Capri Blue) which will no doubt mean it will end up being £189 or less in time. If the user can live without NFC/Google Pay then it's actually a bit of a bargain. With eyes fixed on the giant battery performance, super stereo speakers, system-wide Dolby, fun camera and a near-Vanilla Android experience bang up to date with version 10, the user could do an awful lot worse. It's a popularly big phone so might suit people with less than perfect eyesight and the Moto additions make the whole package a tidy one for the money. Yes, there's stuff missing and maybe some would veer towards the Moto G8 Plus to plug those gaps, but for others who don't care and love the mega-powerful cell, it'll be a good choice.
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