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Moto G4 review

A year later, the Moto G4 still holds up well

Motorola Moto G4
Moto G4
MSRP $199.99
“The Moto G4 is the best phone you can buy for $200, but please pay $50 more for the Moto G5 Plus.”
  • Great value
  • Big, beautiful screen
  • No bloatware
  • Quality camera
  • Solid battery life
  • No NFC
  • No fingerprint sensor
  • No Turbo charger in box

It’s four years since the original Moto G arrived on the scene as the king of budget Android smartphones. It offered impressive specs for a low, low price, and went on to be Motorola’s best-selling smartphone ever. Behind the scenes, there have been plenty of changes since then, Google sold Motorola Mobility to Lenovo, but the Moto G line has continued to offer truly exceptional value for budget buyers.

The kind of phone you can get for $200 has changed a lot in the last few years. The competition is fiercest at the budget end of the market. There are a number of new players offering surprisingly cheap smartphones. Can the Moto brand continue to dominate under Lenovo? The Moto G4 is a clear statement that the Moto G series doesn’t intend to relinquish that budget crown any time soon.

The Moto G4 is a lot of phone for the money. With the release of the Moto G5 and G5 Plus, the Moto G4 has dropped from $200 to $180, but is it still worthy of consideration? Let’s find out.

Budget design goes large

The most instantly noticeable thing about the Moto G4 is its size. This phone boasts a 5.5-inch screen, putting it in phablet territory. Smartphones are getting bigger all the time, and Lenovo has jumped in with the trend deciding that the Moto G4 and its big brother, the Moto G4 Plus, should both go big — they’re exactly the same size.

To give you a reference point, the Moto G4 has the same footprint as the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. This is a big phone, so it can be awkward to deal with one-handed. It’s actually quite comfortable to hold, but if you don’t have big hands, it could be too large for you.

The original Moto G boasted specs that changed expectations of budget devices, but it was a chubby device that was never going to draw admiring glances. The Moto G4 retains the generic, rounded design and plastic construction, but there are significant improvements in the looks department. It’s not going to be mistaken for a flagship, but it’s not ugly, either.

The G4 is still quite thick, at 9.8mm, and the smooth, rounded, grey frame gives way to a darker, textured plastic back panel. There’s the dimpled M for the Moto logo on the back, but it’s mercifully free of any other branding. A subtle, silver, metallic highlight surrounds the speaker on the front and the camera on the back to add a touch of class.

It feels like a stock Android phone, which is a great thing.

There’s nothing at all on the left spine of the phone. The standard 3.5mm headphone port is up top and the Micro USB port for charging is at the bottom. On the right spine, there’s a textured power button with a volume rocker just below it.

Flip it over, and a small opening on the bottom left edge lets you insert a fingernail to pop the back off. You’ll find a MicroSD card slot and a Micro SIM slot on the left and the non-removable battery on the right.

Our review unit has a grey frame with a dark blue back, and it looks quite boring, but you can use Moto Maker to add a splash of color if you want to. You can get the frame in silver and choose from eight different colors for the back, including raspberry pink and lava red, which are much more exciting.

The big screen

The star of the show here is the 5.5-inch screen, which has a full HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. It’s sharp and bright, with a decent pixel density of 401 pixels per inch (ppi). To give a comparison point, the iPhone 6S has a ppi of 326. In other words, this $200 budget phone has a sharper screen than the $650+ iPhone – that’s amazing.

Budget phones used to have low-resolution, dim screens, but those days are over. You simply can’t get away with 720p screens on cheap phones anymore, and we’re glad Lenovo opted for a 1080p screen on the Moto G4.

Motorola Moto G4
Simon Hill/Digital Trends
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

The big display is ideal for watching movies, playing games, and web browsing. We didn’t encounter any problems with viewing angles and the adaptive brightness works well to ensure the screen is readable, even when you step outdoors.

Respectable specs and smooth performance

That big, beautiful display is backed up by a solid set of specs, too. We have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 chipset, which combines an octa-core processor — including a quad-core clocked at 1.5GHz and another clocked at 1.2GHz — with an Adreno 405 GPU. The 2GB of RAM hints at compromise, but in practice we found that navigation is smooth and almost lag-free.

If you’re coming from a more powerful phone, then it’s possible you’ll notice that most games and apps take a beat longer to load, but few Moto G4 buyers will be coming from a more powerful phone. We did also occasionally encounter a slight pause jumping in and out of apps in the recent apps list, but nothing serious.

This $200 budget phone has a sharper screen than the $650+ iPhone – that’s amazing.

The Moto G4 has no trouble running games. We played Pokémon GO, Marvel Future Fight, and Ghostbusters: Slime City. The latter two both caused the phone to heat up quite a bit, but dropped frames and other problems were minimal.

Running Geekbench 3, the Moto G4 achieved a multi-core score of 3,041. That’s significantly better than the more expensive, Oppo F1, which scored 2,621 in the same test. Something like the S7 Edge scored 5,370, but few people really need the raw power that the latest flagships offer. When we ran AnTuTu the Moto G4 scored a respectable 45,222.

It might not be ideal for the latest games with all the graphical bells and whistles, but it’s going to meet the needs of most people. The Moto G4 bests flagships from two years ago and that’s excellent for a budget phone.

There’s no doubt that the basic model’s 16GB of storage is a weak point, especially when you consider that Android takes up 5.18GB, but there is a MicroSD card slot offering up to an extra 256GB. We recommend you spend an extra $30 to get the 32GB version of the Moto G4.

One feature that the Moto G4 lacks, which is fast becoming ubiquitous, is a fingerprint sensor, but you do have the option to splash out an extra $50 and get the G4 Plus, which does have one.

The Moto G4 has all the connectivity you’ll need with Bluetooth 4.1, and support for recent standards in Wi-Fi and GPS. The one omission here is NFC, which means you can’t enjoy Android Pay on this phone.

Light Moto tweaks on almost stock Android

The Moto G4 runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow out of the box with a very light touch. It feels like a stock Android phone, which is a great thing. There are no superfluous apps here. You’ve got all the Google basics, with a merciful lack of bloatware.

You’ll find a Moto app in the app drawer, which allows you to use various shortcut actions, such as flipping the phone to activate do not disturb mode, or a double karate chop to turn the flashlight on. You can also choose to have notifications fade in and out while the screen is off to keep you updated. These are genuinely useful options that we recommend using.

The Moto G4 is available unlocked and works with all the major carriers. The software on Moto phones was updated quickly under Google’s watch and we’re glad to see that Lenovo has also committed to updating with new versions of Android in a timely fashion. An update to Android 7.0 Nougat is now available for the G4 and G4 Plus bringing new multitasking features, more efficient notification controls, and improved data saver and battery features.

Plenty of stamina

There’s a 3,000mAh battery in the Moto G4, which gives it plenty of power to get through an average day with change. The display is big, but adaptive brightness and the 1080p resolution help to keep the power drain under control.

An average day with some web browsing, messaging, a couple of calls, and a spot of gaming left the Moto G4 with more than 20 percent in the tank. However, playing Marvel Future Fight, the battery went down 5 percent in ten minutes, which is pretty terrible. Mobile gamers beware!

Although the Moto G4 does support fast charging, you don’t get a fast charger in the box with it. Use the charger supplied, and you’ll wait near to three hours for a full charge. We used a fast charging USB hub and the Moto G4 was fully charged in around an hour.

Cracking camera for a budget phone

Budget phones are often saddled with poor quality cameras, but the Moto G4 doesn’t disappoint. The camera is fairly quick to load and take a shot, though HDR is inevitably slower to process and requires a steady hand.

The Moto G4 has a 13-megapixel main camera with an f/2.0 aperture. The front-facing camera is rated at 5-megapixels and has an f/2.2 aperture. Both offer HDR, which is set to automatic by default.

When you first fire the camera up, you’ll be prompted to choose whether you want to tap to take a shot or use the shutter button. We recommend using the shutter button so you can tap to choose the subject to focus on. You’ll also get a small circular brightness control that you can quickly drag to adjust the brightness, which is particularly handy for indoor shots.

We found it was easier to take shots with the volume rocker, and it’s a very useful option because you really need to hold the Moto G4 steady when you’re taking an HDR shot. You can also quickly launch the camera with a double twist of your wrist with one of Moto’s handy gesture shortcuts.

The resulting pictures are good for a budget phone. There’s lots of detail, if you take your time, but there’s no optical image stabilization here, so movement results in blurring. You need to be patient and methodical to get the best results, especially with HDR, but patience pays dividends. HDR lifts the brightness and sharpens every detail, whether it’s a landscape or a close-up.

In good conditions, the automatic settings capture great photos. When the light is mixed, you’ll see bright areas look overexposed and dark areas look underexposed. The Moto G4 camera also doesn’t deal particularly well with low-light environments and the dual LED flash inevitably gives everything a yellow wash.

There is a professional mode, which gives you access to white balance, ISO settings, and a lot more. A manual mode like this is rare for a budget phone, so it’s a welcome option. You’ll also find a standard panorama option in the camera menu.

If you’re into photography it’s worth paying the extra $50 for the Moto G4 Plus.

You can capture decent selfies with the front-facing camera and it also has a handy timer function. The video quality isn’t great, but you can record in 1080p at 30 frames per second. You can also capture slow motion videos, and there’s a wee editing tool when you play them back that enables you to adjust the speed for different segments.

It’s worth noting that the Moto G4 Plus has a superior 16-megapixel camera with support for phase detection and laser autofocus. If you’re into photography it’s worth paying the extra $50. You will feel the benefit of the improvements. But overall, the Moto G4 has an excellent camera for the money.

Warranty information

The Moto G4 has a standard one-year warranty, so devices with any substantial defects in material or workmanship will be replaced for free. It doesn’t cover accidental damage or wear and tear. The Moto G4 is water resistant, but not waterproof, so there’s no cover for water damage either.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes. You can get a 64GB Moto G4 Plus for $270 now. We feel that the improved camera and fingerprint sensor, offered by the G4 Plus, are worth the extra money, but the newer Moto G5 Plus at $230 is an even better bet. If you’re looking for something cheaper, there’s the new Moto E4 that offers decent performance for $130.

How long will it last?

Lenovo focused in on all the right things with the Moto G4. The big display is a pleasure to use, the camera is solid, the battery lasts beyond a day, and performance is smooth. This is an aging phone and Lenovo isn’t selling it anymore, but you can get it from Amazon for $180. It should last you a year or two comfortably, but beyond that the limited performance might start to show. It has been updated to Android Nougat, but it’s unclear if it will get the upcoming Android O update.

Should you buy it?

Yes, if your budget is fixed under $200. There are plenty of other options worth considering in the same price range, and we suggest reading our guide to the best cheap smartphones for more details on the competition. The Moto G line continues to push the boundaries of what we should expect in a budget Android smartphone. What’s really pleasing about the Moto G4 is that there are no major flaws.

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