Motorola's hot new phone is impressive, but it's totally soulless

BARCELONA, Spain — Modern smartphones are unfathomably complex and impressive devices, but they have one major problem: They’re boring.

It’s all brushed aluminium and black mirrors, sweeping curves and endless gleaming glass. They’re like a miniature model of the City of London in your pocket. There’s no heart.

In this hostile chrome landscape, cheap smartphones often stand out — their plastic casing injecting some much-needed variety into the selection available. One of the best in my book was always the Moto G, a low-end handset from Motorola that boasted some pretty high-end specs and brightly coloured customisable casings. An all-round winning combination. (I currently use the Moto G3, and owned the first Moto G before that.)

Well, on Sunday, Motorola announced the latest in the line, the Moto G5 … and it’s all shiny and dull.

Moto g5MotorolaSnooze.

Don’t get me wrong: It seems like an excellent phone, with solid specs and an affordable price point. But when I had a brief hands-on with the device in Barcelona, my first impression was how monotonous it is. Coming in brushed gold or silver aluminium, it looks and feels like every other decent smartphone out there today. (In fairness, there’s also a shiny blue — sorry, “sapphire” — version, but it’s being sold exclusively by O2.)

In some ways, that’s a compliment. It’s starting at £169, but on first glance you’d guess it’s worth far more. But in chasing that premium build, it’s lost something important: Its soul.

Moto G AnnouncementMotorolaThe very first Moto G, with its interchangeable backplates.

Gone is the playful plastic and customisable backplates — replaced by an elegantly curved and chamfered golden prison.

It’s ironic because Motorola is aggressively positioning itself as the number one innovator in the smartphone business — touting its Moto Z with modular add-ons like bigger speakers, fancy cameras and gamepads. Its executives argued on-stage that the industry is stagnating, with only incremental improvements year-on-year. But for all the welcome innovations of the Moto Z, the Moto G5 falls into exactly that trap.

Motorola is by no means the only offender here — it’s a problem across the industry, from the Apple iPhone down.

But the sad thing is that desatured metal needn’t be synonymous with quality (nor vibrant plastic with cheapness). While the iPhone 5c was cheaper than its bigger siblings, but was still a premium handset — and it was, by my book, one of the best-looking phones ever made. The blue Google Pixel would be absolutely great if it weren’t for the white faceplate. A better, more colourful world is possible.

With an almost impressive lack of self-awareness, Motorola boasts in the trailer for the Moto G5 that “different looks better.” It got that right, at least.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.

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