After buying a Motorola Milestone (the bastardised GSM version of the Motorola Droid) for my girlfriend and having it quickly abandoned for software updates and being locked down, signed kernels required and many other bouts of obnoxiousness in merely trying to keep it running a remotely current version of Android I vowed never to buy a Motorola phone again. I'd owned and been happy with, at the time, several Motorola feature phones but the Milestone was just too annoying and demonstrated a company direction of not being self-update/hacker friendly. Pain in my ass. The bastardisation called MotoBlur in the intervening time solidified this decision.
Roll forward 4 years and Motorola have been bought by Google, MotoBlur has been downsized and they release a pair of phones, the Moto X and Moto G. The Moto X has been getting press because it's a premium phone that's made in the US and the case is very customisable. Not much use to me because it's only (so far) sold in the US and doesn't do the right frequency ranges for LTE in Europe even if I wanted to grey market import one.
The Moto G, however, is interesting because it's cheap. Really cheap for the hardware. It's also a close to stock version of Android which appeals to me. Aforementioned girlfriend is still using a Nexus S that isn't getting updates any more (though it has none of the other disadvantages of the Milestone) and the size of the Moto G isn't that much bigger than a Nexus S. In practice it's thinner and taller but only a tiny bit wider which is important for people with small hands while still having a really good sized screen.
In my hand the Moto G feels nicely solid. Doesn't feel cheap, except maybe for the volume and power buttons on one side which rattle a little. The back is removable and replaceable with a bunch of different coloured versions, the closest you get to the customisation of the Moto X, and backs with included flip cover. I haven't tried a flip cover myself but the reviews of them I've seen are not great, the standard style backs seem sturdy and reasonable.
Removing the back is fiddly, looks like they put an extra bit of paper into the box just to explain how to remove it (not too bad if you have fingernails and you know to start at the bottom). Oddly for having removable/replaceable back covers the battery is not removable, there's also no microsd slot so storage is what you get to start with. The 16Gb model ships with over 12Gb free space (the rest being taken up by the operating system) which is passable (says the guy who partly bought an N5 to get the 32Gb of storage with plain Android). The OS is currently 4.3 but Motorola say there is a "Guaranteed update" to 4.4 coming in January.http://motorola-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/the-download-moto-g-gets-android-442.html
Compared to most phone boxes of old the box is... tiny. Just larger than the phone and deep enough for the phone, some bits of paper and a microusb cable... and that's all it ships with. No headset, no charger. A good thing, to my mind, and keeps costs down.
On the software front it really is quite clean Android. Not 100%, however. The differences I've noticed in a brief play are:
* Telco name appears in the top left of the notification bar, a'la iOS, though the signal strength and wifi icons are on the usual Android right hand side. The "H" next to cell signal for HSPA appears to be larger than on an N4, N5 or N7, which would made sense with the narrower screen.
* Extra apps, "Assist" which claims to do various automation for you like mute your phone in meetings. I haven't tried it, I use Tasker. "Motorola Migrate" which claims to move "text messages, call history, SIM contacts, media, volume & screen brightness" over from your old phone. You install the app from the Play Store onto your old phone and it looks like it uses adhoc wifi to migrate data. M used this to transfer those things over from her old phone without any assistance from me so for the limited dataset it transfers it does work fine. "Moto Care" to get help get support and "FM Radio".
* ASOP Android keyboard rather than core Android Keyboard. This seems a little odd but it's not much different in practice and you can install the core Android Keyboard from the Play Store (which now lets you switch to Blue again in the advanced settings).
* The Camera app is a little simpler than the equivalent on Nexus devices. Does HDR and panoramas but no sign of photospheres. Configuration is easier.
* A few settings changes. More APNs by default (it has giffgaff's APN installed which the N4 and N5 didn't). A few extra ringtones/notification sounds, as expected (but the default ringtone is just... odd). In "Battery" it has an extra on/off for "Battery saver" without any explanation on the phone or on paper as to what it does (nor can I find information about it online in a brief scan). System updates brings up a popup saying the device is up to date rather than the Nexus screen with a check now button. Developer options, etc, appear as normal.
* "Protect your phone", which seems to be the Motorola version of Android Device Manager. The general Android version works too.
Performance is fast enough to run the somewhat CPU taxing game I tested, feels responsive and quite quick though I expect it won't cope as well with a bunch of background tasks since it only has 1Gb of RAM.
Bootloader is unlockable via the same method other manufacturers have used, get a code from the bootloader which you enter at Motorola's website and it returns a code to pass back to the bootloader. When unlocked it shows an annoying warning message as a logo before the boot animation kicks in but this can be replaced with fastboot. This model is not SIM locked (generic UK retail version) but some UK telcos are apparently selling SIM locked versions. SIM unlock codes are selling online for about 2 pounds so the cheap Tesco mobile SIM locked models have been selling well.
Overall it seems like really good value for money and a very usable device. Good range of 3G frequencies for HSPA+ (though it doesn't do the fastest HSPA speeds) and no LTE keep both the price down and battery life up.