When the first Moto G launched in 2013, it brought with it a shift in the mobile landscape. It wasn’t the first affordable phone with decent specs, but nothing before it felt quite as nice, in so many ways, for such little money.
Fast forward three years and Lenovo has just released the fourth generation of Moto G, the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus. Ranging in price from $199 to $299 with various configurations of memory and storage, can the Moto G still keep up? In a world where Google is selling Nexus devices on the low, brands like Blu are dominating Amazon and OnePlus is on its third generation device, does the Moto G still have a competitive position? Let’s dive in.
The Moto G4 and G4 plus are pretty similarly spec’d, but there are some key differences:
- 5.5-inch 1080p display
- Android 6.0.1
- Snapdragon 617 with Adreno 405
- 2GB (G4/G4 Plus) or 4 GB (G4 Plus upgrade) of RAM
- 16/32GB (G4) or 16/64GB (G4 Plus) or storage
- MicroSD expansion
- 3000mAh battery with Turbo Charge
- Water repellent coating
- 13MP (G4) or 16MP (G4 Plus) f2.0 rear-camera
- 5MP front-facing camera
- Bluetooth 4.2LE
- Headphone jack
These specs probably look pretty familiar for a low to mid-range phone released in 2016, so as you would expect, the only way a device is really going to stand out these days comes down to how it looks, feels and works in real life.
Design and Build Quality
Motorola has long embraced what is probably the friendliest design in Android handsets. Rounded, ergonomic corners; soft, grippy rubber back panel; minimal branding; and the small divot on the back make for a very comfortable in the hand feel.
After spending some quality time with phones like the Nexus 6P, HTC 10 or even the Moto X Pure Edition, you might think the Moto G4 feels a little plasticky, but the overall user experience is very nice. In fact, given the choice, there are a lot of situations where we might actually prefer the G4 over some of the sharper, more slippery and easily damaged competition.
One aspect of the G4 Plus that sets it apart is the fingerprint scanner on the front of the device. There’s a lot of good to say about it, and only a couple bad things.
The small square sits on the bottom edge of the device, our preferred location for a fingerprint scanner, and works very quickly and accurately. It’s especially nice when you can pick up the phone, rest your finger on the scanner, and it will simply unlock. No need to press the power button or wait for the screen to wake up. As far as performance goes, you really can’t ask for much more.
When it comes to the negatives of the fingerprint scanner, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the fact the it kind looks a little out of place. The entire phone, the camera and flash ring on the back, the earpiece and the footprint of the device are all very round. And then there’s this metal square on the front. It’s totally a personal preference, but we would’ve loved to see it fit in with the overall aesthetic of the Moto G4 a little better. The same could be said for the mismatching radiuses of the other cutouts on the device, but again, we’re nitpicking. Speaking of which, our only other issue with the fingerprint scanner is that it really looks and feels like a button, but it’s not. Valid complaint? Maybe, maybe not.
At the end of the day, the Moto G4 is a slim, solid slab of glass that, while possibly less inviting than previous generation Moto devices, gets out of the way when you need it to. It feels and looks like a Motorola phone, and if you ask us, that’s a good thing. There’s simply no denying the fact that it feels like a $199-$299 phone, though.
At 5.5 inches and with a 1080p resolution, the 401ppi LCD display on the G4 and G4 Plus is fantastic. There are sharper displays out there, but there are also lesser displays out there that cost more money.
Colors are accurate, bright and crisp. The choice not to go overboard on the pixel density keeps the device running smoothly (more on that later) and adds to battery performance (again, more on that later). We’re honestly at a loss to find anything bad about it.
This is entirely reviewer subjective, but next to the the Nexus 6P, iPhone SE and Moto X Pure Edition, only the display on the Moto X Pure looks noticeably better than the G4′s. And even then, it’s not a huge difference. You’ll almost undoubtedly disagree if you’re a big fan of AMOLED, but our reviewer today is not.
The software that Moto phones come with is possibly one of their biggest selling points. That’s because Motorola…err, Lenovo…stays out of it. And what they do add only improves the Android experience, unlike some other devices.
There are two custom apps, one for gesture control and one for connecting smart devices like the Moto 360. That’s it. For this reason alone we’d instantly pick the Moto G4 as our device of choice over many more expensive and better spec’d devices.
If you’re still a champion of stock, pure or vanilla Android, the Moto G4 will instantly be a strong contender if this is the price point you’re looking at.
There are two ways to look at the performance of a device. You can run it through benchmarks, test it running apps and games compared to other devices, and put every aspect of it under a microscope, or you can just use the damn thing. As you might have guessed, we’re taking the latter route.
Performance on both the Moto G4 and G4 Plus were, as you might imagine, very similar. I know on paper it seems like the G4 Plus should perform better, but in real use scenarios that’s really not the case. And it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect for a a phone in this price range.
Zipping around the phone is just that, zippy. Placing calls (which sounded alright), sending text messages, downloading apps and checking social media caused little more than a stutter on rare occasion. Lighter games played fine with no issues, while games like Angry Birds 2 definitely showed the phone’s power, or lack thereof, when too many objects were moving at once. It was still playable, but certainly not ideal.
The camera app caused some of the worst performance, where at certain times the viewfinder would stutter behind real world movements. Switching from the viewfinder to photos wasn’t exactly pleasant, either.
In some of these cases, the G4 Plus may perform slightly better than the G4, but honestly, it’s practically negligible. If you were hoping to see a huge performance boost thanks to a doubling of RAM, it’s really not there. There is a difference, and if you can afford the jump by all means do it, but don’t feel like it will totally compromise the experience if you don’t.
Let’s just go ahead and get this over with: The camera quality on the G4 and G4 Plus isn’t bad. Yes, the phones have different cameras. No, that does not make a world of difference.
Since the release of the original Moto X, Motorola has struggled to get a good camera together. The Moto X Pure from last year was the closest thing yet. Thankfully, Lenovo carries on the work from last year and puts serviceable cameras in the Moto G4 and G4 Plus.
Can it keep up with flagship devices? Not exactly, but it’s surprisingly close. And besides, did you really expect it to? Under less than ideal conditions, photos are less than ideal. That’s really pretty normal for any smartphone, though. While devices like the Nexus 6P, Galaxy S7 and iPhone 6s have made huge strides in camera performance, Lenovo still deserves recognition for its efforts. For a phone in this price range, you can do much worse.
The photo-taking experience is probably the worst aspect of the camera, but chances are it won’t hinder you from using it, especially with that neat twist gesture.
It is worth pointing out that one feature of the Plus that is noticeably better is the auto-focus. The Plus has laser autofocus, and it works very well. It makes it easier to get shots off quickly and is a valid reason to consider the Plus over the plain G4. It’s also worth pointing out that in many of our test shots, we actually prefer the Moto G4′s camera over the G4 Plus. Sometimes colors just looked better.
With a 3000mAh battery, you’d expect the G4 and G4 Plus to have decent battery life. You’ll be happy to know they do.
With normal app usage, web browsing, social media and a little video watching and game playing, the G4 can make it through a day. You’ll need to charge it before going to bed or hitting the bar (or whatever it is people do these days), but thankfully Turbo Charging has your back. As with other Moto devices, it works very well.
Both phones use micro USB as opposed to USB-C, and to be honest, that doesn’t bother us. USB-C is awesome and it’s becoming mainstream, but micro USB is still much more popular. Imagine you lose your charger on a trip or forget to pack it. You won’t have a problem finding a micro USB cord at almost any gas station or general store. Good luck finding a USB-C cable.
Just in case you were wondering, Lenovo does include a Turbo Charging block with both devices.
If you’re trying to spend between $199 and $299 on a smartphone right now, you’re probably facing a tougher situation than at any other price bracket. If you can live without NFC, which means you can live without Android Pay, then the Moto G4 or G4 Plus should tick all the right boxes.
If you’re stuck trying to decide between the two, the only major differences come in autofocus speed, some slight performance increases and storage capacity. If you can live without those, pick the cheaper G4 over the Plus.
If you can live with ads on your lockscreen, there is a very interesting promotion available at Amazon. If you let Amazon show you special promotions on your lockscreen, they will sell you a Moto G4 for $149, $49 off its regular price. At $149, the Moto G4 is an absolute steal, and the best phone you can get for that price.
Head on over to Motorola’s website to snag your Moto G4.