Since 2013 the Moto G series has been a top choice for budget buyers. Until last year most of its phones picked up perfect scores. But the Moto G5 spoilt the record with no major progress, bar a new look.
The Moto G5S Plus adds a dual rear camera but the biggest change is in the design once again. With a unibody aluminium shell, this is the closest yet a Moto G phone has come to feeling like a phone that might cost £500 or more.
If you’re willing to spend more you will get a more convincing high-end experience from a OnePlus 5 or Honor 9. However, the Moto G5S Plus restores the series’ credibility as a top choice for the budget-conscious.
Motorola Moto G5S Plus review: What you need to know
The Moto G5S Plus is a large, fairly affordable phone with a 5.5in screen that’s one of the best options in its class thanks to its combination of high-quality build, tasteful design and good value.
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Long-standing fans of the Moto series will find the Moto G5S Plus familiar. It’s a high-end reboot of the Moto G4 Plus, a minor classic among budget smartphones. That was the last time the series had a true large-screen phone. We’ve missed it, as some of you will have, too. Its direct predecessor – the Moto G5 Plus – had a 5.2in screen; not the sort of dimensions you normally see combined with a “Plus-size” tag.
Motorola Moto G5S Plus review: Price and competition
The Moto G5S Plus costs £259. It sits at the very bottom of the mid-range or among the highest-end entry-level phones.
As for rivals, you can take your pick, because this area has become confused as rising prices of top-end phones have pushed us to consider £400 to £500 devices “mid-range”.
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The fiercest competition at a similar price comes from the Honor 6X. It has comparable specs aside from a slightly higher-end camera sensor but also has less tasteful software and hardware design.
You need to spend considerably more to find a phone that will outright beat the Moto G5S Plus. The OnePlus 5 and Honor 9 are the most compelling alternatives.
The Honor 9 is £120 more but has a higher-end processor and a camera that copes better at night. It also has an eye-catching shiny finish. However, the screen is smaller at 5.15in. You get the value of the Moto G5S Plus, but not the size.
For the large-screen, high-end experience, consider the OnePlus 5. It has a 5.5in OLED screen, a zoom camera and a flagship-class processor. It’s nearly double the price, though, at £450.
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Motorola Moto G5S Plus review: Design
From a distance, the Moto G5S Plus looks similar to the Moto G5 Plus. The style and build are quite different, though. The older Moto G5 Plus was sold as an aluminium unibody phone, but substantial parts of its frame are plastic. This G5S Plus has an all-aluminium frame that looks and feels a lot more like those of phones costing much more.
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Its only plastic parts are the little lines towards the top of the rear that give the Moto G5S Plus’s antennas space to transmit. Wireless antennas do not function well through metal.
The Moto G5S Plus feels great in the hand, its slightly curved back minimising the very slight extra bulk of the 8mm thickness. This is the first time the Moto G series has the build standards of a truly high-end phone.
However, the camera housing does jut out a little from the back, making it a little susceptible to scrapes. And after using the phone for a few weeks, the aluminium finish was already starting to pick up light scratches and scuffs.
I have the gold version of the Moto G5S Plus and most scratches don’t show up too obviously but they’re apparent when you look close, so I’d recommend a case to provide some protection. That said, this is a phone I’d be much happier to use and abuse over something such as a Samsung Galaxy Note 8.
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The Moto G5S Plus is one of the few new phones that continues to use a micro-USB port rather than a USB Type-C. However, when it still offers fast charging via Motorola’s TurboPower “standard”, that’s not too much of a problem, aside from the fact that USB-Type C is more convenient and robust.
USB Type-C phones let you bung in the charge cable either way around. And when paired with a USB 3.0 or higher spec, USB Type-C allows for faster data transfer. The Moto G5S Plus lacks these, but as so many of us stream 99% of our content these days, fast data transfer rates are of niche appeal.
And there’s little missing when it comes to core features. Unlike most earlier Moto G phones, the Moto G5S Plus has NFC, useful for contactless payments via Android Pay. There’s also a fingerprint scanner below the display, one that looks and feels leagues better than that of the Moto G4 Plus. This isn’t the fastest fingerprint scanner around, and we did have to reset it after a couple of weeks’ use as the performance became a little erratic. However, it’s still a useful feature to have.
The Moto G5S Plus also has 32GB storage rather than the entry-level standard of 16GB, which you can add to with a microSD card. And although there’s no waterproofing per se, the G5S Plus is splashproof.
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This isn’t a phone that has zero border screen, but it’s still less wide and thick than an iPhone 8 Plus and doesn’t feel drastically lower-class. It’s a more appealing design than the Moto G5 Plus.
Motorola Moto G5S Plus review: Software
As ever, another key benefit of the Moto G series is its use of a very plain take on Android. It runs Android 7.1.1, with an 8.0 update planned.
It doesn’t have the same blank white sheet of app menu as the Google Pixel UI, with an app menu background that has the same image as your homescreen. However, the feel of the vertical scrolling app drawer is similar and there aren’t the drastic visual changes you see in phones from Samsung, LG and Sony.
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Extra interface features remain largely unchanged since the last generation of Moto phones. Moto Display phases notification reminders in and out of the standby display when the phone is not in use and there are shortcut touch gestures, used for launching various features and apps.
The Moto G5S Plus’s fingerprint scanner can also be used to take over the functions of the soft keys. A left swipe is used for the back action and a right swipe launches the recent apps screen. After a couple of weeks, I lapsed back into the familiarity of on-screen soft keys but these gestures do work fairly well.
Motorola Moto G5S Plus review: Performance and Battery life
The Moto G5S Plus uses the Snapdragon 625 CPU. This is a low- to mid-range processor with eight Cortex-A53 cores, the kind used in some higher-end phones as day-to-day efficiency cores.
It’s also the same CPU used by the Moto G5 Plus, so there’s no obvious increase in real-world performance. However, there is a slight change in benchmark scores.
In Geekbench 4 the Moto G5S Plus scored 4,265 points. This is a 10% improvement over the Moto G5 Plus despite using the same processor, beating the older Moto Z Play (which again uses the Snapdragon 625) by a similar margin.
The Snapdragon 625’s GPU is a fairly ordinary Adreno 506, which isn’t hugely powerful. However, it does have enough grunt to run high-end Android games without major frame rate dips at 1080p, the Moto G5S Plus’ native resolution.
Comparing side-by-side with a phone with faster storage, faster RAM and a faster processor, apps take slightly longer to load on the Moto G5S Plus but, for now, there’s no great performance tax attached to the reasonable price.
The phone has a 3,000mAh battery. It lasted 14hrs 51mins in our video rundown battery benchmark, significantly longer than the 13hrs 13 minutes of the Moto G5 Plus, but still way off the 20hrs 40mins the OnePlus 5 achieved.
In general use, I found the Moto G5S Plus easily lasts a full day, with enough left in the tank at the start of day two to mean you don’t need to be too mindful of your charging schedule. It’s nothing like the Lenovo P2 or Moto Z Play’s true two-day stamina, but then almost no other phones match that sort of performance.
The phone also supports Moto TurboPower charging. This focuses on getting a good chunk of charge in the first 15 minutes and gets most of the way to a full charge within an hour.
Motorola Moto G5S Plus review: Display
The Moto G5S Plus has a 5.5in 1080p IPS LCD screen, similar to that of the Moto G4 Plus. It’s a great size for watching videos or playing games and the resolution is sharp enough for most uses. Even the 4K Sony Xperia XZ Premium with its 4K screen and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 render at 1080p much of the time.
As with previous Moto phones, the Moto G5S Plus doesn’t have an ultra-wide colour gamut panel like Samsung Galaxy phones. However, it gives the impression of being well-matched to the sRGB standard, if not the more excitable colour profiles the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Sony Xperia XZ default to. It covers 85.5% of sRGB, which is enough to appear vivid and punchy to the naked eye and its 1,477:1 contrast ratio just pips the iPhone 8 Plus.
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This is a satisfying screen look at. More colour punch isn’t always better and I rather like the mostly natural look of the Moto G5S Plus. There are two display modes to choose from as well: a normal one and a vibrant mode that pushes the abilities of the panel a bit more. However, as this is a mid-tier IPS LCD rather than a high-end AMOLED panel, there’s not actually a huge difference between the two.
Motorola Moto G5S Plus review: Camera
The Moto G5S Plus is the first Moto G phone to have dual rear cameras. One of the great strengths of this series has been its avoidance of most gimmicks, so either Lenovo has changed direction or dual-cameras have now become the norm for mid-range phones.
In top-end flagship phones, dual cameras are used for low-loss zooming or wide-angle capture. However, the Moto G5S Plus simply lets you take photos using the synthetic shallow depth of field effect that became common in phones around four years ago.
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And despite using fairly good-quality 13-megapixel Sony IMX258 sensors on the back, the Moto G5S Plus’s take on depth of field isn’t all that good either. It’ll get confused when shooting complicated objects and capture is a little slow.
If you keep things simple, though, and photograph portraits of people against a fairly distant background, the results can be dramatic.
Daytime photo quality is very good, too, as we’ve come to expect from this series. Dynamic range is good for a lower-cost phone, largely down to some post-shoot optimisation and both detail and colour are solid.
Night and low light photos won’t impress, though. The detail and sharpness of your shots rapidly declines as the ISO sensitivity increases and, since the Moto G5S Plus doesn’t have optical image stabilisation (OIS) it doesn’t/can’t slow down the shutter to combat this.
There’s also more shutter lag to the G5S Plus camera than in the last generation. Taking photos doesn't feel instantaneous, which could be down to the camera software not being quite up to speed with the new two-eyed hardware. Hopefully, Motorola will improve this with future software updates.
At the front, the Moto G5S Plus has an 8-megapixel selfie camera with flash. It, too, suffers from slight shutter lag but image quality is fair and there’s an LED flash for selfies in dingy rooms. Unlike some front LED flashes, it’s a pretty powerful unit that has a real effect on lighting. Watch those angles, though, as it can create some unflattering shadows.
Motorola Moto G5S Plus review: Verdict
The Moto G5S Plus comes across as the phone the Moto G5 Plus could, or perhaps should, have been. It gets rid of the plastic parts of the build and brings back a large screen, making it better for Netflix and gaming, and any awkwardness of its predecessor’s redesign has been addressed.
The camera is a little laggy and, aside from some improvement in benchmark results, the hardware hasn’t been substantially improved aside from the addition of a second rear camera. However, the Moto G5S Plus is a great choice for those who want a phone that looks and feels like a mid-range phone but doesn’t cost the same amount of money.