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Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus Review

Although the ‘4’ designation isn’t official, Motorola’s recently released Moto G and Moto G Plus represent the fourth generation of the smartphone, long held to be one of the best mid-range smartphone deals on the market. And, that’s exactly what these two (mostly similar) phones are — terrific mid-range phones that represent a significant step down in quality and price from higher end Motos (see: the Moto Z and Moto Z Force). While some sacrifices are understandably made, both are really solid phones, but perhaps not as polished as usual. Some of those sacrifices in 2016 might send people elsewhere, although at this price, the Moto G family is still one of the best deals on the market.

Note: We reviewed both the Moto G4 and the Moto G4 Plus. The phones are very similar, and will both be discussed in this review. The two differ in amount of RAM available, camera quality, and the presence of a fingerprint scanner. Our G4 review unit had 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage, while the G4 Plus had 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage.

Build

Both the Moto G4 and G4 Plus are 5.5″ phones — the Plus designation is confusing, but it doesn’t refer to the size of the phone. In fact, save for one exception, both phones are identical in build, down to the 155-gram weight. The phones have metal frames with a removable plastic back — one of a few elements that can be customized using Motorola’s Moto Maker tool. The volume rocker and power button are on the right edge, while the 3.5 mm audio jack, left off of the Moto Z phones, is on top. The Micro USB charging port is on the bottom, while a single speaker can be found up top near the front-facing camera. The rear camera protrudes very slightly, if you’re not a fan of the camera bump.

The only difference here is that the G4 Plus has a fingerprint scanner at the bottom of the face, next to the microphone. Like on the Moto Z phones, this fingerprint scanner is awkward — its placement makes it look like a home button, but it isn’t. Chances are you’ll instinctively reach for it as a home button by mistake.

The phones are light and comfortable to hold. They’re not as thin as most premium phones at 9.8 mm, but we feel like that makes the phones a little more ergonomic, especially with the rubberized coating on the back. But, with the plastic backs and the use of the older Corning Gorilla Glass 3, they won’t be as durable as more expensive phones — using cases or caution is recommended. Previous Moto G owners should note that at 5.5″, these phones are much bigger than older Moto G models.

That plastic backplate is removable, but as usual with the Moto G, the battery is not removable. That’s kind of a shame because removable batteries are usually one of the few benefits of removable backs, but as we’ll see in performance, this is less of a concern in this generation. Removing the back does reveal the SIM card slot and a microSD card slot, so the news isn’t all bad. The microSD slot could not double as a second SIM slot in the review models we received.

There is one change unlikely to be popular with the Moto G faithful. Unlike the third generation Moto G, the Moto G4 and G4 Plus are no longer rated IPX7 for water resistance. Motorola says they have used a water-repellent coating on the front and back, but the phones will be more susceptible to water damage than last year’s models. It’s an unexpected step back.

Performance

Instead of just using a new SoC, Motorola moved up an entire performance tier in Qualcomm’s Snapdragon line. Whereas the third generation Moto G had a Snapdragon 410 SoC, the Moto G4 and G4 Plus run on a Snapdragon 617 SoC. The Moto G4 comes with 2 GB of RAM and 16 or 32 GB of storage, while the Moto G4 Plus can be configured with 2 GB/16 GB or 4 GB/64 GB. Both have the same 1920 x 1080 IPS displays and 3,000 mAh batteries, which is up from 2,470 mAh last year.

Test Moto G4 Moto G4 Plus
PC Mark for Android Work 4954 5156
AnTuTu 45847 46883
GFXBench GL 3.1 1080p Manhattan Offscreen 255.9 frames 259.4 frames
3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.1 382 385
PC Mark for Android Work Battery Life 7 hours, 13 minutes 6 hours, 41 minutes

As we’d expect, benchmark tests indicate both are about equal, with the G4 Plus getting a performance boost from the 4 GB of RAM. When multitasking or downloading apps or updates in the background, the G4 is much more sluggish than the G4 Plus, especially when trying to scroll. If there’s any one difference between the two phones that would make the extra cost of the G4 Plus worth it, it’d be this. Graphics performance is a far cry from the premium tier, as always with mid-range, but it’s in line with this price range, and blows away slightly cheaper phones like the HTC Desire 530.

Battery life for both was terrific, and in reality lasted us all day until it was time for bed. Both phones work with Motorola’s Turbo Charging technology (not Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0), which, as Motorola promises, provide about six hours of use with a 15 minute charge. The Turbo Charging wall adapter is included with both phones.

The 1920 x 1080 IPS displays look great. They stack up well to most 1440p displays, and colors are faithfully reproduced without looking washed out, dull, or oversaturated. While they don’t get as bright as the more expensive Moto Z phones, they performed well outdoors, with maximum brightness making them useful in direct sunlight. The forward-firing speaker is powerful and clear at moderate volumes, although there is some noticeable distortion and crackling at max volume.

Wi-Fi 802.11ac, LTE, Bluetooth 4.1, and GPS connectivity all worked well, with no unusual reception or connection stability issues cropping up. Unfortunately, there’s no NFC connectivity on either phone, which is a big loss now that Android Pay is becoming more widely used. In any case, call quality on both T-Mobile and Verizon networks was excellent, with both parties hearing each other clearly.

Camera

Aside from the differences in RAM and storage, camera quality is the big difference between these two phones. Both phones share a 5 MP front camera with an f/2.2 lens. The G4 has a 13 MP rear camera with an f/2.0 lens, autofocus, and dual-LED flash, with HDR and the ability to take 1080p video at 30 fps. The G4 plus kicks the sensor up to 16 MP while adding phase detect and laser autofocus. They both end up serviceable — the keen-eyed will notice some lack of clarity, but they’re perfectly good for casual shots that won’t be scrutinized much afterwards. There’s not much here to experiment with, either — there are very few manual settings to adjust, so go into the G4 knowing that it’s for quick, informal shots.

The G4 Plus camera is quite a bit better, as you can see from the sample photos below. The G4 Plus photos are brighter, with more accurate color reproduction and clarity. The top photos are from the G4, the bottom from the G4 Plus.

Software

Both phones run Android 6.0 Marshmallow out of the box. Unlike the Moto Z phones, which have been roped into the Droid line and are Verizon exclusives for now, the Moto G4 phones are available unlocked. So, not only do they have stock Android, they also don’t come with all the carrier bloatware. That helps both phones run smoothly, although we still have to note that the G4 lags noticeably when several apps are running. Having no bloatware is particularly important if you opt for the 16 GB Moto G4 (the cheapest option at $200) — Android 6.0 takes up a lot of space on its own, and extra bloatware, particularly from Verizon, would likely leave you with less than half of that initial storage.

No tapping or waving to wake these phones, unfortunately, but both the Moto G4 and the G4 Plus will wake up to show time and notifications when picked up, thanks to the accelerometer.

Read on for the verdict…

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