Moto G4 & Moto G4 Plus review: Far from mid-range bliss

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Up until three years ago, the mid-range segment of the mobile industry was an afterthought for most companies and consumers. Motorola, who was owned by Google at the time, changed everything when it introduced the Moto G in November 2013. The company released a phone with a low price that carried a ton of value. It proved to the world that, yes, mid-range devices could be worthy buys for a larger number of people.

Whereas Motorola was slowly enhancing the Moto G every year since 2013, Lenovo is going for broke in one shot. The Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus are unlike anything Motorola put out since its 2013 reboot.

Hit the break for our review of the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus.

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In 2015, Motorola launched the Moto G (2015) and watched it become one of the most popular devices of the year. I loved the phone so much that I named it the Best Android Phone of 2015 among a field of high-end, expensive devices. Really, I wasn’t alone. People flocked to that Moto G because of the $179 starting price, Moto Maker customization, and consistent above-average performance despite having a bargain bin-level processor. Who didn’t adore the Moto G (2015)? Probably those too high-and-mighty to ever consider a mid-range phone.

Lenovo raised the bar when developing the Moto G4 family. The phones are bigger and stronger than ever before, and they’re actually almost at the point where you can put them in the high-end segment. Very little about the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus stay true to the mid-range identity it comes from.

Things are very different in 2016. The 2016 flagship from Lenovo is a carrier exclusive, so millions of people around the world are blocked from buying the Moto Z or Moto Z Force until the hype dies down and a GSM-only model is released. Now there’s a big reliance on the Moto G4 family to sell and sell well.

Time to see what Lenovo did to the best series of mid-range phones in history.

Design

Nothing outside a couple of design elements will remind you of the Moto G (2015). The Moto G4 is its own phone.

Compared to its predecessor, the Moto G4 is bigger in every way. Lenovo made the newest model taller, wider, and heavier; however, that’s not to say it’s oversized or overweight. The body of the Moto G4 spreads things nicely throughout the body, meaning the weight isn’t concentrated on any particular area.

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What you may find odd, though, is the size of this phone after checking out other flagships on the market today. The measurements of the Moto G4 show that it’s even bigger than the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge in addition to the LG G5 and HTC 10. If anything, the Moto G4 is thinner than last year’s model. It’s unclear why Lenovo had to increase the entire size of the phone because there aren’t any drastically different components outside of the battery that necessitate a lot of space within the body.

Buying a phone on the cheap gets you cheaper materials. Why would Lenovo give you metal or glass for $199? Plastic and rubber, which was a favorite for Motorola, is still here on the Moto G4. There were no problems with that on the Mogo G (2015), but problems certainly arise now. The rubber back of the phone is way too slipper even when your hands are drier than the Sahara. Get your hands a little wet and the Moto G4 is going to slip out like a bar of soap.

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You’re probably wondering what changed in a year for the rubber back. Look closely at last year’s Moto G and you’ll see the back has, as I said in my review of that phone, “lines going across diagonally.” That’s not on the Moto G4’s back. Get up close and personal with this phone’s back and you’ll discover nothing but a flat, minimally-textured pattern. Whether dry or moist, your hands will slide across the Moto G4’s back with little resistance. We firmly recommend getting a case for this phone.

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Not helping the Moto G4 is its definitely-not-metal plastic frame that gives off a Galaxy Nexus vibe. It’s meant to give you a premium look and fell but ends up falling flat because of its slipperiness.

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This is a metal-like plastic, everyone. Don’t tell me it’s aluminum.

The people typically shopping for affordable phones might be turned off by Lenovo’s size alterations, and the slick nature from the materials used are only avoidable if you use the Moto G4 in a case. Honestly though, the Moto G4’s design seems like a big step back from the Moto G (2015) because last year’s model was compact but not unreasonably small, fitting so comfortably and securely in one hand or two.

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Both the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus carry the same appearance with the sole exterior difference being the fingerprint scanner on the front of the more powerful variant. The power button, volume rocker, micro-USB port, and auxiliary port are all in traditional spots for Moto devices.

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Despite being an affordable phone, the Moto G4 is supported by Lenovo’s customization suite. Moto Maker lets you build your own phone, choosing its colors and deciding which storage and memory components go inside.

The following is what’s possible for the Moto G4 in Moto Maker:

  • Model
    • Moto G4: 16GB / 2GB of RAM, 32GB / 2GB of RAM
    • Moto G4 Plus: 16GB / 2GB of RAM, 64GB / 4GB of RAM
  • Front
    • Dark Moon, Metallic Silver
  • Back
    • Cobalt Blue, Foam, Raspberry, Chalk White, Pitch Black, Deep Sea Blue, Dark Fig, Lava Red
  • Accent
    • Metallic Dark Gray, Metallic Silver, Metallic Pink, Metallic Ocean, Metallic Fine Gold
  • Engraving
  • Greeting

Most of the options are free, but there are a couple of them that raise the price of your Moto G4. If you buy the Moto G4 from anywhere else, remember that you’re not going to get these options. The retailer-sold models are already made and come in black or white.

Hardware

 Moto G4Moto G4 Plus
AnnouncedMay 17, 2016May 17, 2016
ReleaseSummer 2016Summer 2016
Display5.5-inch Full HD (1920x1080) AMOLED with Corning Gorilla Glass 35.5-inch Full HD (1920x1080) AMOLED with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 617Qualcomm Snapdragon 617
RAM2GB2GB / 3GB / 4GB
Storage16GB / 32GB with microSD card slot16GB / 32GB / 64GB with microSD card slot
Rear Camera13MP with autofocus, dual-LED flash16MP with phase detection, laser autofocus, dual-LED flash
Front Camera5MP5MP
Battery3000mAh (non-removable)3000mAh (non-removable)
Chargingmicro-USB with Moto TurboCharge technologymicro-USB with Moto TurboCharge technology
SoundFront-facing speakerFront-facing speaker
SoftwareAndroid 6.0.1 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0.1 Marshmallow
ConnectivityBluetooth 4.1, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/acBluetooth 4.1, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
SensorsAmbient, accelerometer, gyro, fingerprintAmbient, accelerometer, gyro, fingerprint
Measurements153 x 76.6 x 9.8mm153 x 76.6 x 9.8mm
Weight155g155g
ColorsCustomized through Moto MakerCustomized through Moto Maker

Performance

The Moto G4’s display is 5.5 inches, a big size for a mid-range phone even in 2016. It’s also in Full HD resolution so that you shouldn’t see individual pixels. Although your eyes can’t quite pick up on them, the display just doesn’t seem so sharp. Nothing, to be completely honest, is particularly sharp and everything is pretty dull around the edges. What’s worse is that colors don’t really pop because it’s an LCD panel. I’ll admit that I prefer AMOLED displays to LCD displays, but I’ve used phones with the latter and they’ve turned out admirably.

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The Moto X Pure Edition actually has an LCD display that was arguably the closest to an AMOLED display ever. Sure, this isn’t a $400 phone like the Moto X Pure Edition. But Lenovo could do better in this area. The Idol 3 from Alcatel that was released in 2015 has a comparable price to the Moto G4 and a much better display.

While the display is a disappointment for multiple reasons, the processor picks up a little bit of the slack. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 617 is ready for what you throw its way except for one underlying annoyance I’ll get to soon.

Day-to-day activities are easy for the Moto G4 as there’s not a low-end processor inside, though chances are you notice the phone doesn’t fly through anything. To get snappy performance, you’ll need a processor from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800 series. The Snapdragon 617 sits happily in the middle of the pack.

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There’s this weird thing happening with both my Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus in which animations aren’t fluid and leave behind artifacts as they move. You’ll see it everywhere. You can’t get by it. Why? Because it’s in your face at all times. Shipping what is likely to be your go-to phone for a large number of people with this type of problem is baffling. The processor could to blame for this, but it’s inexcusable no matter what/who you blame. My guess is that it’s a combination between the display being too large and the processor being too weak.

Mediocrity is where we’re at with performance, and that’s downright sad because last year’s Moto G was so solid in every regard. Motorola did serious optimization for that phone to ensure people got a smooth, consistent experience every time they picked up their Moto G (2015).

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Unlike other devices that have front-facing stereo speakers, the Moto G4 has just one speaker. But don’t be let that bring you down. The sole front-facing speaker on this phone is loud. It shoots sound off with great strength, so much so that your finger will seriously vibrate if you cover it. The sound isn’t particularly rich like what we’re used to from HTC’s BoomSound-ready devices, but the Moto G4 isn’t supposed to be close to that level. For a $199 phone, the Moto G4’s speaker gets an above average grade.

Battery

Since the phone is more power-hungry than its predecessor, Lenovo raised the battery capacity from 2470mAh to 3000mAh. But you’re definitely not getting identical battery life. The Moto G4 falls way short of the Moto G (2015) in longevity on a single charge. I could never get the phone from morning to bedtime, meaning Lenovo’s claim a 24-hour battery life is iffy based on your usage. It’s kind of odd that I couldn’t get better use out of the phone because during the day I sent messages, browsed Twitter and Reddit, and occasionally used Snapchat.

At least there’s Moto TurboCharge technology to give your phone six hours of power in fifteen minutes of charging. The catch, because one almost always exists, is that a compatible charger isn’t included with the Moto G4. You’ll have to purchases that yourself for $35.

Software

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Thankfully, Lenovo didn’t eliminate one of the best things about a Moto device: the clean software. The Moto G4 ships with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow in a largely untouched form. The look and feel is identical to what you’d get from Google’s Nexus phones. No software overlay is blocking you from using Android in its natural form. A few Moto-specific features are included in the form of usable apps.

These are the apps pre-installed on the Moto G4:

  • Google Calculator
  • Google Calendar
  • Moto Camera
  • Chrome
  • Google Clock
  • Contacts
  • Downloads
  • Google Drive
  • FM Radio
  • Gmail
  • Google
  • Hangouts
  • Help
  • Google Maps
  • Google Messenger
  • Moto
  • Phone
  • Google Photos
  • Google Play Movies & TV
  • Google Play Music
  • Google Play
  • Settings
  • YouTube

Everything you get out of the box is from Google or Lenovo. A third-party didn’t slip Lenovo any money to get their products pre-installed. Fresh and clean it is.

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Lenovo’s own touches should be considered enhancements and not unnecessary bloatware. The best part is that you’ll find the features controlled by one app — the Moto app. Moto Actions and Moto Display are the Moto G4’s standout features, just like on last year’s model.

When you launch the Moto app, you’ll be greeted with two options, which are for getting into the settings of Moto Actions and Moto Display. It’s that light of an app.

Moto Actions is for doing special gestures with your phone as shortcuts for various activities. You can chop twice to turn the flashlight on/off, flip to silence all notifications, pick up to stop an incoming call’s sound, and twist to access the camera. They’re so simple as there aren’t any buttons to press. Just use your hands the Moto G4 follows instructions.

Earlier in the year, Samsung and LG came forward with always-on displays that were meant to be useful. Well they’re not. Samsung’s is as basic as possible, not showing any notifications from non-Samsung apps and services. LG’s, on the other hand, is a little better because of the ability to show all notification icons; however, they’re small and you can’t interact with them. Motorola created Moto Display before the competition and it still stands as the best always-on display technology in the world.

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Moto Display turns on the Moto G4’s screen when you pick the phone up, and you can see the date and time as well as any notifications immediately. When the screen is off and a notification is received, the screen will also naturally turn on. Wherever you get a notification from, Moto Display allows them to be subject to action. You can dismiss them or launch the corresponding app with a quick swipe. Samsung might be changing what its always-on display can do starting with the Galaxy Note 7, but it’s hard seeing anyone knock Lenovo’s implementation anytime soon.

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Although the phone has a stock-like version of Android, don’t expect software updates to arrive in a timely manner. Lenovo refuses to commit to the schedule Motorola followed for its hardware. Both the Moto G4 and Moto Z families are not going to receive monthly security patches because of the time and effort necessary. Getting Android 7.0 Nougat on the Moto G4 should be considered a lock, but Lenovo is unlikely to have its software update rolling out in 2016 or within weeks of its public release by Google.

Worried about the Moto G4 not being compatible with your carrier’s network? Stop that! The phone works on any network in the United States including Verizon and Sprint, who are traditionally left out from unlocked phones. T-Mobile customers even gain an advantage as they’re are be able to use the Moto G4 on band 12 and with VoLTE support. Other carrier-specific features are a no-go.

Camera

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A big deal at launch for the Moto G4 was the camera. The camera on the Moto G4 is 13MP and the camera on the Moto G4 Plus is 16MP while adding laser autofocus, and the difference between the two is massive. You’ll see what I mean in the results.

Camera Samples (Moto G4)

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Camera Samples (Moto G4 Plus)

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Blowing up pictures from both phones on my Microsoft Surface Book told the whole story. While the Moto G4 Plus is able to manage multiple situations and pull off impressive and truly remarkable results, the Moto G4’s camera is awful. The margin of victory for the Moto G4 Plus is drastic; therefore, please don’t buy the base model if being able to take good pictures with your phone matters.

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The Camera app built by Lenovo itself is improved from the stripped down version Motorola shipped for years. Now you get many more controls that are easy to find and adjust, though a really good app to control the camera doesn’t make up for the poor image quality of the Moto G4.

Closing

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Lenovo could’ve done better here, and I think there’s little debate about that. The Moto G4 is too big with too little power. These two phones are drastically different from the Moto G (2015), a phone that signified what you could get for $179. That was a compact, snappy phone. The Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus have higher price tags that do little to provide reasoning.

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Because the Moto Z and Moto Z Force are Verizon exclusives for the foreseeable future, the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus are better recommendations if you’re wanting to buy from Lenovo’s Moto brand. These phones carry low price tags and ship with clean software, and you can take them to just about any carrier for seamless use. But the price is truly good for the Moto G4 alone. The Moto G4 Plus starts at $249, but there isn’t enough value to justify spending that much when you have better options for a slightly higher price. So stick with the base model of the Moto G4 if you want your money to go the furthest but without a halfway decent camera.

Buy it now: Motorola, Best Buy, Amazon


About the Author: Justin Herrick

Born and raised in New Jersey, Justin is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University where he studied marketing with a focus on digital marketing. He's very talkative and enjoys discussing anything from technology and sports to video games and television. As for Justin's current device rotation, he carries around the Google Pixel and Nexus 9. In the rare case that his phone or tablet is not in his hand, he is either flicking through cards on his Moto 360 (2015) or typing away on the Microsoft Surface Book. Justin is patiently waiting for the day that Google replicates the Galaxy Nexus with modern day specifications.


  • Enni

    Please go to sleep. Every review about this phone has been amazing except the verge and you. Says a lot about your blog

  • Nitin Bansal

    Moto G4 Plus has similar specs to G4 but the design upgradation & high Pixel rear camera is great addition.