Moto G 2015 (3rd Gen) vs. 2013 (1st Gen)

Since mid-2014 I’ve owned a mobile phone: a Motorola Moto G 2013 (1st Generation model). When shopping for a phone (since the last time I owned a mobile was in 2002 or thereabouts), the requirements were pretty simple: low-cost (I cannot justify spending US$600), worked with T-Mobile (i.e. used GSM), and was something I could buy immediately (vs. buying it through the carrier + paying monthly charges). My friend Liz recommended the Moto G.

In May 2014 I purchased the 16GB GSM model from Amazon for US$199.95, and I’ve been mostly happy with it (my biggest complaint has been the selfie camera brightness bug introduced in KitKat 4.4.3, which still exists even as of Lollipop 5.1). I was also a Motorola beta tester of Lollipop (I had a lot of UI-related complaints, some of which got rectified, others didn’t).

However, odds are the Moto G 2013 won’t get Marshmallow 6.0 (another example of Google and vendors focused excessively on their cash cow of forcing people to buy new phones just to get software updates), and I had begun to encounter several applications which really didn’t perform very well. And that selfie camera bug really pissed me off (yup, I’m OCD about bugs).

I began looking for a replacement phone with the same requirements as before, and of course was introduced to the Moto G 2015 (3rd Generation model). The 8GB model was US$179.99, while the 16GB model was US$219.99. The 2015 model included a microSD slot (the 2013 model doesn’t have one), and after doing some research I found that with Marshmallow you’d be able to use your microSD card for system space/storage; it didn’t make much sense to me to spend US$40 to get 8GB of space when I could spend US$14 and get a high-end 32GB microSD card. After reading several reviews of the 2015 model, I ended up purchasing the 8GB version from Amazon. The first one I received actually had dead pixels and a touch screen that seemed non-responsive about 20% of the time (more on that in a moment), so I got a replacement (which had no dead pixels).

Below are the reasons why I’ve chosen to return the 2015 model and stick with my 2013. This is literally the only “review” of this sort — specifically giving a negative opinion rather than a positive — that I could find, so apparently I’m in the minority.

1) The 2015 screen is physically larger (5.0 inches vs. 4.5) but sports the same 720×1280 resolution as the 2013 model; the end result is is a lower DPI (294 dpi vs. 326). I assumed this wouldn’t be a big deal — boy was I wrong. Two problems with this:

  • You can almost begin to see the equivalent of scanlines on the 2015 model (I like to describe it as “extremely subtle crosshatching”, but this description is vague), especially at specific viewing angles,
  • The aspect ratio of everything (most noticeably text and icons) is completely skewed. Text looks vertically stretched, while on the 2013 model the text had an appropriate aspect ratio for what font was used. The best way to describe it is that the font was the same but it visually looked like a “condensed” version.

2) Screen brightness was massively different (specifically, worse). Whites looked more like yellows or browns (hard to explain). I found that the only way to get things to look even remotely similar to the 2013 model (where I use adaptive brightness and set the AB level to about 60%) was to *disable* adaptive brightness and set the brightness level to maximum — which hurt my eyes tremendously. I felt major eye strain after 5-6 seconds of use; after several hours of repeated use attempts I’d had enough.

3) Colours were massively different as well, especially blues. I had the same wallpaper set on both phones; on the 2013, the image was predominantly blue and looked very soothing, while on the 2015 the top half of the image showed greens and yellows. Likewise, on the 2013 model, grey tends to look grey, while on the 2015 model it looks more brown than grey. Supposedly the 2015 model depicts colour more accurately, but I’m really not so sure…

Both Issue #2 and #3 can be explained by Motorola switching to an AMOLED display in the 2014 and 2015 models (the 2013 model uses IPS). Regarding my eye strain, AMOLED tends to be less sharp (more blurry). You can read about AMOLED vs. IPS differences (or here as well) and decide for yourself. But the only way to truly understand the differences is to have both technology types sitting side-by-side.

Likewise, others have complained that even on the Moto X 2015 — Motorola’s current flagship model — that under low brightness settings certain colours look purple when they should be red. Likewise, there’s apparently “colour ghosting” of some kind that goes on too. These inaccuracies are part of the AMOLED technology, which to me sounds inferior. (I understand with mobiles you’re trying to find ways to conserve power, but a device of this sort really needs to have high DPI and be extremely sharp — the display is everything!)

4) The capacitive touchscreen on the 2015 repeatedly acted quirky for me. Reminder: I had this same experience across two separate Moto G 2015 phones. The two things I’d continually experience were the following:

  • Sometimes when scrolling downward with my finger (i.e. touching the bottom of the screen and sliding my finger up), the scrolling would go upwards — i.e. backwards — suddenly for no apparent reason, but just for a brief moment (often for half a page of content or so),
  • Sometimes taps or touches would not be registered at all. There were several cases where repeatedly touching the same spot over and over wasn’t registered until maybe the 5th or 6th press. This could be a software problem (kernel/system tied up doing something else), but there’s no way for me to determine if it’s hardware vs. software,
  • Sometimes when holding/dragging the accuracy of my finger placement was lost — for example, on several occasions I had the phone, while touching/dragging on the bottom third of the screen, suddenly decide to act as if I had tapped the Home icon.

I can’t articulate here the frustration of this problem; it’s equivalent to using a computer mouse and having the mouse either not register clicks or have the direction you’re moving something become completely opposite but just for a moment.

5) Software differences, especially in the main Android UI. Absolutely no review sites covered this, which is shocking — it’s like nobody bothered to actually use the phone. There were several differences in the UIs of the 2015 model, despite running Lollipop just like the 2013 model:

  • Tapping the Home icon no longer took you to the centre screen, but instead the far left screen. Comparatively, on the 2013 model, if you had 3 screens of apps/icons, pressing Home would take you to the centre screen. Likewise, there is no way to set what screen the Home button takes you to (third-party launchers and some from vendors let you do this),
  • Applications which are installed put their icons on the 2nd screen from the far left, which is baffling; you’d expect them to go onto the far left screen given the above detail (and maybe the 2nd screen if there isn’t any room for them on the 1st), but nope!
  • The “Search” bar across the top of the screen is now tacky circus-like colours atop a white background, rather than white text on a transparent/grey background. This is the “Google Now” application, just for the record. Not surprisingly, this destroys the “sleek” or “professional” look of everything on your main screens,
  • The “Apps” drawer has gone from being sleek, multi-purpose, and horizonally-paged to a white background that’s vertically-scrolled. For a brief while it was white but horizonally-paged, but Google changed that in an update pushed out September 2015. Supposedly this is what Marshmallow looks like, and if that’s the case, that’s really disappointing,
  • There is no longer a “Pulse notification light” toggle under Settings → Sound and Notification. It’s completely gone. Where is it? Will my text messages (not using the Hangout app, but the original Messaging app) result in pulse light (there’s no individual app setting for this!)?

Many of these are problems/quirks in the “Google” application — yes, the application that’s simply called “Google”. This is the “launcher” (UI interface for launching applications) on the 2015 model. On the 2013 model — again, also running Lollipop — the application is called “Google Launcher”. Apparently there are also some tie-ins to the “Google Now” application, which is for a separate purpose yet as stated has some sort of intermixed role in the whole thing (and who decided on these names anyway? Awful! This naming ordeal has many Android users utterly confused).

It became very apparent to me that Google was pushing out updates on newer-model phones only, which explains why I saw some of the behavioural changes (ex. apps screen moving from horizontally-paged to vertically-scrolled) only appeared on the 2015 model. In other words, just because your phone runs Lollipop does not mean everyone else is going to have the same UI or experience — this blows my mind. You can find tons of evidence of this on the Android Central forums, where user X has a problem that user Y says can be solved through a means/option/feature/ability that isn’t on user X’s phone. It varies not only per carrier (some have their own launchers) or where you bought the phone, but also what revision of phone you have. Utterly ridiculous.

So, much like me sticking with Windows XP until earlier this year, I’m choosing to continue using older technology and older software just because it works better for me.

My advice to anyone considering upgrading from the Moto G 2013 to the Moto G 2015: get the 2015 and use it side-by-side. Spend a minimum 30 minutes with it. You’ll be really amazed at how many differences there are, despite both models using Lollipop. In my opinion, Motorola took a step back in some of their hardware changes, and on the software side Google seems to just be “screwing around” in their UI (similar to what Microsoft has been doing since Vista, but especially in Windows 8 and 10).

Yes, there are definite improvements with the 2015 model (the camera upgrades being most notable), but for me the cons easily outweigh the pros.