Moto G5 Plus underscores why the iPhone 8 needs AR

The iPhone is standing still, while budget Android smartphones such as the Moto G5 Plus are catching up

Moto G5 Plus underscores why the iPhone 8 needs AR
Motorola

Hands-on testing of Motorola's Moto G5 Plus drives home the point that Apple’s next-generation iPhone better have augmented reality (AR) to retain loyal customers willing to pay three times the cost of the G5 Plus.

The next iPhone has to do something significantly different to maintain its premium brand position. AR and perhaps virtual reality (VR) are the only two features on the horizon that will meaningfully differentiate the iPhone 8 from the Moto G5 Plus.

Moto G5 Plus features

Sometimes smartphone reviews read like an oenophile waxing on about the subtleties of a fine wine. This review will not because the Moto G5 Plus designers deliver on four characteristics consumers want.

1. Excellent camera

The Moto G5 Plus is the first budget phone to have a high-quality camera that competes with flagship phones like the iPhone 7. The underpinning to every good smartphone camera is a top-quality sensor. The 12 megapixels sensor with 1.4μm-sized pixels exceeds the specifications of the iPhone 7’s at 12 megapixels with 1.22μm pixels. The f1.7 aperture is slightly larger than the iPhone’s f1.8 aperture, capturing even more, light.

After a point, more pixels do not improve photo results. However, larger pixels that trap more light do make a difference. Pleasing photo results occur in two stages. First, aiming, focusing and capturing the reflected light on the image sensor. Second, processing the captured light with algorithms that improve the quality of the final image.

I took four sets of photos under different conditions, comparing the Moto G5 Plus’ camera to the iPhone 7’s camera, that can be viewed at full resolution on a Google photo’s page. The photo quality of all the photos is very comparable. All the photos were taken with autofocus and automatic HDR detection with a 4:3 aspect ratio at full resolution at 4032 x 3024 pixels. These two photos demonstrate that in sunlight, the cameras are equals.

iphone 7 v moto g5 plus photos Steven Max Patterson

The original photos from which these were cropped and enlarged can be viewed with the Google Photos link. The photos represent equivalent sharpness, accurate edge detection, good range of tones and pleasant color rendering.

The original photos from which the following examples were cropped and enlarged demonstrate similar quality in lower indoor lighting. But when enlarged, the detail in the striped chair is better in the iPhone 7 photo.

iphone 7 v moto g5 plus photos 2 Steven Max Patterson

The reason for this is the Moto G5 Plus has a dual-LED flash and the iPhone 7 has a quad-LED flash. This slight loss of detail occurs with subjects at further distances away because of the greater distance that a quad-LED can illuminate. A dual-LED flash illuminates 1.4 times further than a single LED and a quad-LED about 2 times. Where the depth of field between the camera and subject is greater, the iPhone 7 will produce better detail. As the subject comes closer the difference will not matter.

The Moto G4 Plus, the predecessor to the G5 Plus, scored an 84 on the DxOMark scale, equivalent to the iPhone 6s. The Moto G5 Plus should score well—at or near on the DxOMark scale as the iPhone 7.

2. Performance

The pressure is on Apple because low-cost, high-quality Android phones like the Moto G5 Plus run the usual app suite, Gmail, Maps, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, etc. with imperceptively different performance than the iPhone 7. The G5 Plus performed well on this workload.

Most mobile app developers design for good performance on a wide range of phone performance capabilities and age. Poor-performing apps get removed with a flick of a finger. The chart below drives this point home.

The load times of 10 popular apps on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s with its faster A9 SoC were compared. The differences in the load times are charted and compared to the 330ms visual reaction time for the average person, the interval of time between presentation of stimulus and appearance of appropriate voluntary response of a subject. The difference in load times does not matter in most cases because a user cannot respond.

iphone app load time Steven Max Patterson

The only load time that is significantly longer is the Angry Birds game. Games have similar performance characteristics as AR and VR because all put heavy demand on the GPU to render graphics.

Neither the Moto G5 Plus nor the iPhone 7 are AR- or VR-ready. If the iPhone 8 has only an incrementally improved camera without AR capabilities, it will be a challenge to justify its faster performance as a reason to upgrade at Apple’s premium price.

3. Design

The Moto G5 Plus and the iPhone 7 both share a common design language first introduced with the HTC One M7. Both are smooth and sleek with a metallic exterior that feels good in the hand. The Moto G5 Plus is slightly smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus and slightly larger than the iPhone 7. Both have a slight camera bump to house the optics.

The iPhone 7’s unibody metal frame gives it a more solid, heavier feel, but it is a tradeoff against the Moto G5 Plus’ sides made from a resin material that acts like an impact resistant bumper. If the G5 Plus is as rugged as its predecessor, it will survive most drops, even though it is not guaranteed to be shatterproof like the Moto Z-Droid Force.

4. Hardware

I intentionally left what used to be the most important feature of smartphones for last because absent a really significant departure in the typical smartphone workload, such as high-end gaming, AR or VR, hardware like the Moto G5's is more than a match for what it is expected to do.

Notable hardware features:

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor with a 2.0 GHz octa-core CPU, 650 MHz Adreno 506 GPU
  • 5.2-inch, IPS LCD screen, with a full HD, 1080p, 424 ppi, Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 3000 mAh, battery combined with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 will charge 6 hours of power in 15 minutes
  • MicroSD storage up to 128GB in addition to 32-64 GB of onboard storage
  • 4K Ultra HD video, 30 fps
  • Nearly pure Android 7.0 Nougat

The bottom line

Motorola designers compromised to meet the $229 price point, but not a lot. You have to look really carefully for them because under normal use, the compromises are not apparent. The systems design matches the smartphone workload and consumer expectations. And the Moto G5 Plus has a great camera, which is unexpected at this price point.

The Moto G5 Plus has a standard USB port instead of USB C port, it is not designed to be submerged in water like the iPhone 7, it does not have an all-metal unibody, and photos shot in low light, where the subject is further in the back of the depth of field, will have a little less detail. Those are small compromises for a phone costing a third of the iPhone 7’s price.

Returning Moto customers will be pleased that it has active-display notification, wrist twist to turn on the camera with one hand, and flip face down to put the phone in do not disturb mode and other traditional Moto features that add convenience, but do not add bloat, to Android.

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