Moto G5S Plus hands-on review: Special first look

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Introduction

The Moto G5S Plus is Motorola’s latest budget smartphone in the Moto G lineup. Released only four months after the launch of the Moto G5 Plus, the G5S Plus should come as no surprise to anyone who saw the Motorola roadmap that was leaked back in May.

Moto G5s Plus review

The Moto G5S Plus, or the Moto G5 Plus Special Edition, is largely the same phone that was launched back in April. What differentiates the Special Edition from the standard model is mostly the presence of a dual camera system on the back, which is in vogue these days since the launch of the iPhone 7 Plus last year. The Moto G5S Plus tries to piggyback this trend and is for those who want a dual camera system but without spending the big bucks.

Moto G5S Plus Key Features

  • 5.5-inch, 1920×1080 IPS LCD, Gorilla Glass 3
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 625, 8x 2.0GHz Cortex-A53, Adreno 506
  • 3/4GB RAM, 32/64GB storage with microSD support
  • 13 megapixel f2.0 rear camera with PDAF and depth sensor, 4K video recording
  • 8 megapixel f2.0 front camera with LED flash
  • 4G LTE, Bluetooth 4.2, Wi-Fi 802.11n, NFC, GPS/GLONASS, microUSB, headphone jack
  • 3000mAh battery with fast charging
  • Fingerprint sensor, water repellant nano coating, FM radio

Main shortcomings

  • No change in hardware over standard model
  • No change in battery size over standard model
  • The dual camera can’t capture native B&W photos and the quality of the depth effect is not great
  • No USB-C port

As you can see, the list of changes apart from the camera on the back is limited to a larger display and an improved front facing camera that now gets its own flash. Motorola has also updated the design, and now instead of being made out of plastic with a metal back panel, the phone is now built into a unibody aluminum shell that covers the entire back of the phone.

Moto G5S Plus press images - Moto G5s Plus reviewMoto G5S Plus press images - Moto G5s Plus review
Moto G5S Plus official images

Unfortunately, all the important stuff remains the same. The phone still has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor with basically the same memory and storage options. It also has the same 3000mAh non-removable battery. Software, of course, is also the same and it will be a while before we see Android Oreo on this one.

With that said, let’s take a quick look at what the Moto G5S Plus is like.

Design

The Moto G5S Plus looks nearly identical to the Moto G5 Plus, especially from the front. You have to pay closer attention to the design to find out the few changes.

The glass on the front now has gentle curves around the edges as it bends into real metal chamfers, courtesy of the aluminum unibody. There is now an LED flash on the front, which might be the easiest way to tell the two phones apart from the front.

Front panel - f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/3s - Moto G5s Plus review
Front panel

On the right are the power button and the volume buttons. All are well placed, made out of metal and work well.

On the left is the SIM tray. The SIM tray is also made out of metal and feels well built. Unfortunately, while this is a dual SIM device, you will have to choose between having a second SIM or a microSD, which is unnecessarily restrictive.

Right side - f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/3s - Moto G5s Plus reviewLeft side - f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/3s - Moto G5s Plus review
Right side • Left side

On the top of the phone is a headphone jack. On the bottom are the loudspeaker, microUSB connector, and a microphone. The loudspeaker has been moved to the bottom on the G5S Plus unlike the G5 Plus, which had the loudspeaker in the earpiece. Unfortunately, the G5S Plus does not use the earpiece as a second speaker and still has only one loudspeaker. The presence of a microUSB connector instead of USB-C is also disappointing.

Top side - f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/3s - Moto G5s Plus reviewBottom side - f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/3s - Moto G5s Plus review
Top side • Bottom side

On the back, you will find the dual camera system within the familiar circular camera bump. Because the phone now has a full metal back, there are now antenna bands running around the top and bottom, which are somewhat distracting, especially at the bottom where it gets a bit busy.

Back - f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/3s - Moto G5s Plus review
Back

Overall, the G5S Plus looks very similar to the G5 Plus. However, we appreciated how good the new phone felt in hand. The unibody construction provides it with excellent build quality and sturdiness that gives a feeling of holding a much more expensive device.

Display

The Moto G5S Plus has a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD. Motorola has steadily been improving the quality of its displays over the past few years, and the G5S Plus is one of its best yet.

Display settings - Moto G5s Plus reviewDisplay settings - Moto G5s Plus review
Display settings

Image quality out of the box is very good, and if you want more accurate colors, that can be selected from the Settings as well. The display also gets very bright and has good viewing angles. Overall, a very impressive panel that leaves very little to complain about.

Software

The Moto G5S Plus runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat. The software experience here is similar to what we saw back with the G5 Plus, save for a new launcher and icon pack, first seen on the Z2 Play.

Moto UI - Moto G5s Plus reviewMoto UI - Moto G5s Plus reviewMoto UI - Moto G5s Plus reviewMoto UI - Moto G5s Plus review
Moto UI

If you have used any of the recent Motorola phones, you will already be aware of what to expect with the G5S Plus. The design is pretty much identical to stock Android.

Motorola’s customizations are limited to additional apps and services, and most of it is useful and worth having. This includes features like Moto Actions, which is a series of gestures that range from shaking the phone to turn on the flashlight or twisting it to turn on the camera, and even using the fingerprint sensor as a gesture pad to navigate the phone instead of using on-screen controls.

Moto Display lights up the display to show the clock and pending notification whenever you pick up the phone or there is a new notification.

Moto Display - Moto G5s Plus reviewMoto Actions - Moto G5s Plus reviewMoto Actions - Moto G5s Plus review
Moto Display • Moto Actions

Not all the additions are useful or necessary. Over the years Motorola has slowly been increasing the apps that come bundled in with the device. We have to deal with the usual assortment of Google Docs apps (Docs, Sheets, Slides) that come pre-installed and cannot be removed.

Our unit also came with LinkedIn and Outlook pre-installed and again, could not be removed. We wish Motorola would cut back on some of these as they are all available for free on the Play Store and there is absolutely no value in forcing these on the users who could just as well get them themselves.

Overall, though, the software experience on the G5S Plus remains up to Motorola’s usually high standards. The phone is also expected to get the Android Oreo update before the end of the year.

Performance

Running essentially the same hardware as the Moto G5 Plus, the G5S Plus doesn’t feel any different. The performance, in general, is good, and we were happy with the way the phone performed out of the box and with a handful of apps installed. How it will perform over time remains to be seen, but the 4GB of RAM ensured we didn’t have any issues with multitasking or web browsing.

Still, we would have liked the Special Edition model to have a slight bump in performance. AR performance is still lacking, and this can be seen while using face filters in Snapchat or Instagram, which struggle with the added complexity of rendering real time 3D objects over the camera image.

Gaming performance is also average. Again, we would have loved to see some improvement here, especially for the heavy 3D games but the phone does run most other games fine.

Camera

The camera department is where all the differences lie between the G5S Plus and the older G5 Plus. Unfortunately, due to bad weather and limited time, there is only so much we can discuss here at this time.

The hardware differences between the G5S Plus and G5 Plus go beyond merely having a second camera. The primary cameras on both phones are completely different. While the G5 Plus has a 12-megapixel f1.7 camera with dual pixel autofocus, the G5S Plus has a 13-megapixel f2.0 camera. From what we can tell, this is the same camera used on the G5, which means it is slightly worse than the camera used on the G5 Plus.

Supplementing the main camera is a second 13-megapixel camera. The second camera has the same sensor and optics but does not have a color filter and can only “see” in black and white. Because of the lack of color filter, the second sensor can capture more light and more detail. The software then allegedly combines the data from both sensors and creates one image that, in theory, has more detail and less noise than just using a single sensor.

Unlike some other phones with a monochrome secondary sensor, the G5S Plus doesn’t let you capture images in monochrome using only the second sensor. What you can do is use it as a depth sensor to capture images with background blur.

Camera UI - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera UI - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera UI - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera UI - Moto G5s Plus review
Camera UI

The camera app on the G5S Plus is mostly identical to that on the G5 Plus. The only addition is an option to capture images using the depth feature. The app simulates a rough blurring effect behind the subject. The effect looks quite bad in the viewfinder, but fortunately, this is just a preview. The final blur effect is much better. Once captured, you can use some editing tools to adjust the intensity of the background blur, discolor the background and even replace the background with another image.

Camera sample - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/134s - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera sample - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/347s - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera sample - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/300s - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera sample - f/2.0, ISO 290, 1/33s - Moto G5s Plus review
Camera samples

Regarding image quality, from what little we saw, we found the images to be good quality. Even in the heavily overcast weather, the images came out looking decent with good amount of detail and low noise. The dynamic range isn’t great, which fortunately can be fixed by the excellent HDR mode.

HDR Off - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/134s - Moto G5s Plus reviewHDR On - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/142s - Moto G5s Plus review
HDR Off • HDR On

As for the depth effect, we had mixed results, and the camera struggled to apply the effect well on most objects. The results were still usable, but it’s not something we would recommend using much until they improve it further.

Depth effect - f/2.0, ISO 390, 1/33s - Moto G5s Plus review
Depth effect

One unfortunate problem with the camera is that it’s slow. This could be due to both sensors working together and the hardware just not capable enough to process all that information fast enough, but the camera just generally feels slow while taking a regular picture. Turn on HDR and Night mode and things drag on even further.

The worst offender by fast is the depth effect, which takes a solid six seconds to capture and process the image once you hit the shutter. Motorola needs to bring down this time further if it intends on anyone using this feature seriously.

Final thoughts

In our admittedly limited time with the G5S Plus, we found it to be a really small increment over the already G5 Plus. However, this isn’t a bad thing considering we do like the standard G5 Plus a lot.

The biggest talking point of the G5S Plus is the dual camera system on the back. While we think the image quality of regular still photos is good, the depth effect left a lot to be desired, both regarding actual quality of the images and the time it required to process them.

Moto G5s Plus review

That aside, we greatly appreciate the improvement in design and build quality over the standard model. The display is also slightly larger, which makes us appreciate it even more.

We would have liked to see more improvements, such as in the processor and battery department. However, considering the small price increment over the G5 Plus, that would be too much to ask for.

In the end, the G5S Plus improves upon an already good smartphone, making it one of our top picks for a phone in this price range. We look forward to spending more time with the device for our full review.

Dual camera

The camera department is where all the differences lie between the G5S Plus and the older G5 Plus. Unfortunately, due to bad weather and limited time, there is only so much we can discuss here at this time.

The hardware differences between the G5S Plus and G5 Plus go beyond merely having a second camera. The primary cameras on both phones are completely different. While the G5 Plus has a 12-megapixel f1.7 camera with dual pixel autofocus, the G5S Plus has a 13-megapixel f2.0 camera. From what we can tell, this is the same camera used on the G5, which means it is slightly worse than the camera used on the G5 Plus.

Supplementing the main camera is a second 13-megapixel camera. The second camera has the same sensor and optics but does not have a color filter and can only “see” in black and white. Because of the lack of color filter, the second sensor can capture more light and more detail. The software then allegedly combines the data from both sensors and creates one image that, in theory, has more detail and less noise than just using a single sensor.

Unlike some other phones with a monochrome secondary sensor, the G5S Plus doesn’t let you capture images in monochrome using only the second sensor. What you can do is use it as a depth sensor to capture images with background blur.

Camera UI - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera UI - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera UI - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera UI - Moto G5s Plus review
Camera UI

The camera app on the G5S Plus is mostly identical to that on the G5 Plus. The only addition is an option to capture images using the depth feature. The app simulates a rough blurring effect behind the subject. The effect looks quite bad in the viewfinder, but fortunately, this is just a preview. The final blur effect is much better. Once captured, you can use some editing tools to adjust the intensity of the background blur, discolor the background and even replace the background with another image.

Camera samples - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/134s - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera samples - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/347s - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera samples - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/300s - Moto G5s Plus reviewCamera samples - f/2.0, ISO 290, 1/33s - Moto G5s Plus review
Camera samples

Regarding image quality, from what little we saw, we found the images to be good quality. Even in the heavily overcast weather, the images came out looking decent with good amount of detail and low noise. The dynamic range isn’t great, which fortunately can be fixed by the excellent HDR mode.

HDR Off - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/134s - Moto G5s Plus reviewHDR On - f/2.0, ISO 100, 1/142s - Moto G5s Plus review
HDR Off • HDR On

As for the depth effect, we had mixed results, and the camera struggled to apply the effect well on most objects. The results were still usable, but it’s not something we would recommend using much until they improve it further.

Depth effect - f/2.0, ISO 390, 1/33s - Moto G5s Plus review
Depth effect

One unfortunate problem with the camera is that it’s slow. This could be due to both sensors working together and the hardware just not capable enough to process all that information fast enough, but the camera just generally feels slow while taking a regular picture. Turn on HDR and Night mode and things drag on even further. The worst offender by fast is the depth effect, which takes a solid six seconds to capture and process the image once you hit the shutter. Motorola needs to bring down this time further if it intends on anyone using this feature seriously.

Final thoughts

In our admittedly limited time with the G5S Plus, we found it to be a really small increment over the already G5 Plus. However, this isn’t a bad thing considering we do like the standard G5 Plus a lot.

The biggest talking point of the G5S Plus is the dual camera system on the back. While we think the image quality of regular still photos is good, the depth effect left a lot to be desired, both regarding actual quality of the images and the time it required to process them.

Moto G5s Plus review

That aside, we greatly appreciate the improvement in design and build quality over the standard model. The display is also slightly larger, which makes us appreciate it even more.

We would have liked to see more improvements, such as in the processor and battery department. However, considering the small price increment over the G5 Plus, that would be too much to ask for.

In the end, the G5S Plus improves upon an already good smartphone, making it one of our top picks for a phone in this price range. We look forward to spending more time with the device for our full review.

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