Motorola Moto G42 review: budget smartphone with OLED screen and good battery life

Motorola has been plushing up on upper mid-range smartphones and even flagship models lately, but that doesn’t mean it’s forgotten about entry- and mid-range models, where most phones are sold. The Moto G42 is one of those devices considered “cheap”, but it hides more surprises than you’d expect from a smartphone in its category.

Moto G42 offers a similar design to other models in the Motorola range

Motorola has created a true visual identity for its phones, no matter which category they belong to. Thus, the Moto G42 doesn’t jump far from the design of other Moto G phones, the differences being in size and materials used. Being a sub-£1,000 phone, I wasn’t expecting premium materials, but Motorola has managed to create a phone that is both aesthetically and tactilely pleasing.

Motorola Moto G42 back handheld

Plastic is ubiquitous, with the only different element being the glass panel covering the screen. The edges, buttons and back cover are made of plastic, which also ensures the phone’s light weight. Unlike glass and metal phones, it’s not cold to the touch. The back cover is decorated in ocean-inspired colours, with a predominant navy blue and shades of green in the light reflections. Although the texture of the lid is matte, the lid still collects some fingerprints.

I did find it interesting, however, that the Moto G42 comes with elements that phones considered premium, including Motorola’s, no longer have. That’s primarily the fingerprint sensor in the Power button, which is very well positioned and a more convenient solution than the in-display sensor, as well as a headphone jack at the top in addition to the USB-C port at the bottom.

Motorola Moto G42 charger

And included in the package are both a silicone case, which comes already applied from the factory, and a 20W charger.

OLED screen aims above the budget range

In the sub-£1,000 price zone, phones generally have poor quality screens. Most are HD resolution LCDs, but Motorola is trying to offer something better. The Moto G42 comes with a 6.4″ diagonal OLED screen with Full HD resolution, something that until recently was considered a mid-range screen, even towards the premium area. Of course, we can’t expect high frequency in this price, but we can’t complain about 60 Hz either. Incidentally, the iPhone 14, a phone that’s available for €1,000, also uses a screen in the Full HD zone at 60 Hz.

Motorola Moto G42 screen bottom

Of course, the panel used on the Moto G42 doesn’t offer rendering for HDR content, nor does it appear to be professionally calibrated for 100% natural colors, but it’s not designed for these use cases either. For movies, social media photos and video games, it will suffice, while the brightness is beyond what I expected from such a cheap phone. If you appreciate the strong colors, absolute blacks and infinite contrast provided by an OLED panel, this model will not disappoint.

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Moto G42’s performance is within expectations for the hardware on offer

I noticed that Motorola tried to create a truly balanced phone within the price range. If on the design and screen side, everything was on track, I expected at least performance to suffer. With a Snapdragon 680 on board, you can’t expect everything to turn on instantly or for games to run at high settings on this phone. There’s a sense that certain things should move more fluidly, or load faster, but that’s only noticeable if you’re coming from a higher performing phone. The Moto G42 performs within the limits of its market segment, and that gives it an unexpected advantage: it doesn’t overheat.

Even in performance tests, the Moto G42 remained cool to the touch, suggesting that the mid-range performance it delivers is sustained throughout use. This means we’re also dealing with low power consumption, which will please those who want a phone with long battery life.

Benchmarks

  • AnTuTu – 242.658
  • GeekBench – Single-Core: 377 / Multi-Core: 1,560
  • 3DMark Wild Life – 451
  • 3DMark Wild Life Stress Test – Best Loop: 450 / Lowest Loop: 449 / Stability: 99.8%
  • PCMark – 5.869

Autonomy is a strength of this model

During testing, we noticed that one of the major advantages of this phone is the battery life. With a 5,000 mAh battery and hardware that doesn’t “stress” it too much, the Motorola Moto G42 can be used on a single charge for two days or even longer with average use. Motorola has proven in the past that it can make energy-efficient mid-range phones, and the Moto G42 continues the tradition. I fondly remember the Moto G7 Power from a few years ago, which ran easily for three days on a fully charged battery.

Motorola Moto G42 bottom

The downside would be that the battery charges at only 18W, even though the phone comes with a 20W charger. Thus, you can wait up to two hours for a full battery charge.

The software experience on the Moto G42 doesn’t differ from that on more expensive models

Software-wise, the Moto G42 presents itself in a similar fashion to other Motorola phones of late. We’re dealing with a “clean” Android, close to Google’s, with small customizations of the American brand in places. Even though it’s a cheap phone, it comes equipped with Android 12 from the factory and will most likely get at least a major system update, to Android 13. It’s unclear if Motorola will offer two years of updates on such cheap Moto G models.

Motorola Moto G42 front

The only thing missing from the Moto G42 is Ready For, Motorola’s desktop interface for its phones. Presumably this decision was made because of the processor.

Motorola uses quality fingerprint sensors and offers stereo sound even on cheap models

I previously mentioned the fingerprint sensor positioned in the Power button. This is one of the quality ones that unlocks the phone very quickly and recognizes your finger without giving too many misses. I’ve had negative experiences with such sensors over the years, but the Moto G42 didn’t give me any trouble in this department.

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Motorola Moto G42 buttons

For an inexpensive phone, I was pleasantly surprised that it has a stereo audio system. What’s more, Motorola’s partnership with Dolby is extended to budget models, and it’s also equipped with Dolby Atmos playback for speakers and headphones. The sound quality is clearly “average”, but the volume is strong, and it sounds better than sound from a single mono speaker anyway.

The Moto G42 has three cameras, and they’re all “active”

Phones in recent years have become more like internet cameras, and this means that phone buyers in general are very interested in the photo and video capture capabilities of these devices. Of course, performance is up to your budget, and the Moto G42 offers a decent camera well within its price range.

Motorola Moto G42 camera

The phone is equipped with three cameras on the back, all with clearly defined functions. We have a 50-megapixel main camera, an 8-megapixel ultrawide camera and an extra 2-megapixel macro sensor. Shooting is limited to 1080p at 30 frames per second, presumably because of the image processor built into the chipset, not because the sensors aren’t capable of more.

Photo quality is decent during daylight hours, mainly due to the extra processing features. The main camera gets HDR processing, which balances the light captured in frames for detail in both shadows and bright areas. However, there are shots where the sky comes out a bit “burnt out”. It seems that Motorola’s algorithms emphasize detail in the center of the image and don’t necessarily take into account if the sky gets too white in processing because of this. Pictures taken on the ultra wide camera are also decent, but you can see that the performance is more limited compared to the main camera. Shaded areas have less detail, probably also due to the low resolution, and bright areas are “washed out” in several cases.

Daytime photo

The macro camera is present and can be accessed from the standard photo menu, and the quality is as expected for a camera with limited resolution. Plenty of light, preferably natural light, is needed to capture good detail in macro shots.

In low light, Motorola made the right decision and only allowed the main camera to capture in Night Vision mode. On the one hand, capture is fairly fast, and processing is still pretty much the same, taking 2-3 seconds after taking the image to see the final result in the gallery. On the other hand, it’s clear that we’re talking about a budget phone, and its night mode processing capabilities are good, but not flagship-level.

Night Photo

In this mode, the camera captures fairly good detail and color, but image noise is pervasive. A more powerful processor could have reduced this effect. Even so, at the resolutions at which photos are posted on social media, especially in the “story” area, the noise won’t be as noticeable.

Conclusions

Having spent about a week with the Moto G42 I think this can be a very appealing model for those who have limited budgets and want to get “as much phone” for their money. Probably the biggest difference is the OLED screen, but the battery life is also a strength of this model. Other advantages of the Motorola model would be software with minimal customizations, decent camera and the fact that it offers stereo speakers in this price range. The phone can already be found at prices under 1,000 lei, and during the sales period, the price could go even lower, which will certainly make it even more attractive.

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