Update: The Moto G5S won't be the newest model in the range for long, as the Moto G6 is about to drop. We'll have all the news on that soon, but ahead of the launch we've updated this review with the latest pricing information.
Many smartphone manufacturers set out to replicate the winning Moto G formula, and that includes Motorola itself. Following on from the Moto G5 Plus and the Moto G5S Plus comes a third Moto G5 spinoff: the Moto G5S.
This latest effort doesn’t take the leading budget smartphone line off in any radical new directions, but it does refine it for those willing to spend a little extra.
With a launch price of £219, AU$349 (around $290, but it's not available in the US), the Moto G5S would be around £50 dearer than the original model launched at. Both phones have since dropped in price, with you now able to get the G5S from around £180/AU$320, but the difference remains similar.
Fortunately, Motorola has form when it comes to giving you more for more - the Moto G5S Plus being the best model in the series to date.
While the Moto G5S doesn’t offer quite the same level of clear differentiation as the larger Moto G5S Plus, it remains a fine affordable phone in its own right.
Flattering not to deceive
- A largely premium experience at a budget price
With the Moto G5S - the ‘S’ stands for Special Edition - Motorola wants to create a premium smartphone experience for considerably less money than you might ordinarily expect to pay.
So, you get an all-metal design, a speedy fingerprint sensor, super-fast charging, a generous 32GB of internal storage, and a strong camera set-up.
Besides this you get Motorola’s endlessly appealing, super-light take on the Android OS, and also NFC for Android Pay payments (which the Moto G5 lacked).
Of course, this ostensibly generous approach is no longer particularly fresh or surprising. There are plenty of manufacturers doing the same kind of thing - the Nokia 6 being one notable recent example.
But most examples fall short on some area of execution. We’ve become increasingly aware of the telltale signs to look out for that a phone isn’t, in fact, the top level smartphone experience it appears to be.
While there are several such examples with the Moto G5S, they all appear to be thoughtfully taken compromises, and none of them are serious enough to rule out a purchase. Yep, this is another budget phone win for Motorola.
- All-metal build a big step up from G5
- Fast and accurate fingerprint scanner
Like the Moto G5S Plus immediately before it, the Moto G5S considerably steps up the production values from the Moto G5. Where that phone merely pretended to be a premium metal handset, with a plastic body sat under a metal rear plate, the G5S is the real deal.
It’s an all in one unibody metal design from top to toe. You’ve got a single slab of glass covering the entire front of the phone and a glass camera cover, then it’s hard cool aluminium all the way.
This means that Motorola has had to include visible antenna lines to the top and bottom of the rear section, but we grew accustomed to such a workaround some years ago, back when such things were the sole preserve of flagship phones.
As with the G5S Plus, the best thing we can say for the Moto G5S design is that we moved to it directly from a phone worth double the money (in this case the OnePlus 5) and it didn’t feel like a huge drop in standard.
Part of the reason is that there’s a satisfying heft to the phone. 150 x 73.5 x 8.2mm is pretty average as far as dimensions go, but 157g is a good 12g heavier than the Moto G5. It’s still not excessive, but you know you’re holding it.
Motorola continues to place its fingerprint sensor on the front, underneath the display. Opinion varies wildly on this, but the Moto G5S sensor is easy to access at all times. More importantly, the sensor itself is fast and accurate.
This sensor essentially acts as a secondary, capacitive sleep switch, so aside from unlocking the phone it can be held to power the screen down. This can take some time to get used to, particularly if you’re used to using such a control to go home.
That won’t work here - you have a virtual home button just above for such a thing. At least, it won’t by default. It’s possible to change things so that the fingerprint sensor acts as a home button - alongside other functions, which we’ll discuss a little later.
Along the bottom of the phone you have a micro USB port, which is one of the first signs of compromise here. Most Android mid-rangers and above are switching to the reversible USB Type-C standard.
It’s a bit of a downer, but on the plus side you’ve probably got plenty of spare micro USB cables clogging up your drawers.
- Display is bright and crisp, but not perfect
- 1080p resolution is fine at the size
The Moto G5S display isn’t a huge step up from the Moto G5’s by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the only boosted spec relates to its size - 5.2-inches versus 5-inches. Hardly a massive increase, but it’s a welcome one.
Otherwise, the G5S still employs IPS LCD technology, making for great viewing angles, generally accurate colors and decent brightness even outdoors. What it doesn’t have is the kind of eye-searing color contrast or deep blacks of an AMOLED panel.
It’s a 1080p display, which is just fine at this size and budget. The Nokia 8 recently went with a QHD resolution in its 5.3-inch display, and it hardly seemed worth the extra pixels.
423 pixels per inch (ppi) is just peachy in a display hovering around the 5-inch mark. Text is sharp, photos are clear, videos pop, and you can browse web content comfortably.
You can switch between a more realistic Standard color setting and a more vivid and saturated Vibrant alternative should you wish, which is always welcome - though the difference is hardly night and day.
One telltale sign of the Moto G5S display’s budget nature is an unsightly black border that runs around the display - and that’s before you get to those chunky bezels.