Motorola has, for the last couple of years, dominated the mid to low range segment of the smartphone market. Starting with the Original Moto G back in 2013 (a device which i bought and still to this day own) Motorola showed consumers that you didn’t need to pay a whack tonne for a device to get a great screen, decent performance and respectable battery life. But we’re 3 years down the line and on our 4th iteration of the G, does Motorola still rule the roost? Read on to find out how the Moto G4 Plus pans out.
Disclaimer: Motorola Provided us (Dom) with the Moto G4 Plus to Review, it was used for 10 days as our primary device, on software build MPJ24.139-23.4. There were no System OTA’s in this time and the device was used exclusively on the Three UK network in the southeast of the UK.
-5.5” 1080p IPS display
-Snapdragon 617 @ 1.5Ghz
-Adreno 405 GPU
-16mp Laser Assisted Autofocus camera on the rear
-5mp front facing camera.
If you want to see more in-depth specs, head over to the GSMArena page for the Moto G4 Plus.
The G4, and the variant I have here, the Moto G4 Plus, are big. 5.5” screens are near impossible to make small unless you go Sharp Aquos Crystal style, and even harder when you decide to do the asinine (in this writer’s humble opinion) thing and put the fingerprint scanner beneath the screen.
Being the 4th iteration of the ever popular Moto G series, I’d have hoped Moto would stay true to the roots of being the basic essentials of the smartphone experience without breaking the bank. Sadly that’s not true anymore, the G4 and especially the Moto G4 Plus that I’m reviewing have features that are not needed and just inflate the price of a device that was once a no thought recommendation.
Starting at the front, up top, we have an earpiece that doubles as a disappointing speaker (more on that later), the ambient light and proximity sensors, as well as the 5MP front facing selfie camera which has AutoHDR and face detection but sadly no autofocus.
Next is the focal point of the phone, the 5.5” 1080p IPS LCD screen, it’s just okay, it doesn’t have a visible touch matrix which is great, and the touch response is great, the viewing angles are again okay. As much as I think it’s unnecessary, 1080p is table stakes for a midrange phone now, and in that sense the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus deliver, they’re perfectly serviceable screens, they don’t wow and they don’t disgust, they are exactly what you’d expect for a £230/£170 device (Though I can’t find this exact device, the 16GB Dual-SIM SKU UK Price) My one gripe with the screen, aside from the fact that I find 1080p wasteful on a device like this, is that the bezels are too big, side bezels could definitely be smaller, bottom bezel could possibly be made smaller, and the top bezel most certainly could be made smaller, having a 5.5” screen is bad enough, and adding a fingerprint scanner beneath the screen is another thing that doesn’t help you, so the Moto G4 Plus always felt big, no matter how I held it or what pocket I put it in.
Beneath that screen is the fingerprint scanner and the Microphone, I’ll speak about the microphone first as it’s the quicker thing to speak about, as with the screen, the microphone is just okay, it’s not a HAAC (High Amplitude Audio Capture) Microphone, it’s a standard microphone that sounds okay on phone calls and video capture for snapchat, I wish It was a great mic, and that there was some more differentiation of this review, but as with most things on the Moto G4 Plus, the Mic is just okay.
Next up is the Fingerprint scanner, an FPC1035 unit from Fingerprint cards, the FPC1035 in the Moto G4 Plus is a decidedly, you guessed it, okay sensor, it’s not particularly fast, about on par with a first gen TouchID sensor, It has 360 degree recognition, which is great, but the problem with the Moto G4 Plus’ scanner, or at least the software is that it isn’t big enough to take enough of an impression or Motorola don’t do a comprehensive enough enrolment process, most likely the second, but the 1035 is quite a small sensor. When you hit the sensor with the part of the finger that you registered, take a sec and you’ll be in, it’s fast enough, it’s accurate enough and it works about 85% of the time, but if you happen to place the part of your finger you didn’t enrol, because the enrolment procedure is so fast, it doesn’t really get a chance to get the edges or tip of the finger (or thumb) and I quite often got rejected because I tried to use the last part of my finger. It’s not a bad sensor, but it could definitely use a bit more fine-tuning for accuracy and I think the enrollment procedure could stand with being more comprehensive (not helped by the fact I just took a large chunk out of my right thumb).
On the left side of the phone you have absolutely nothing, which is customary for Motorola devices, doing a 180 and looking on the right hand side we see the Volume rocker underneath the ribbed power button. Both of these buttons have far more wiggle than i’d like them too, but they don’t rattle when shaken, which is a plus at least. The ribbing on the power button is welcome, despite the volume rocker being obviously longer than the power button, having a texture difference is really nice to have. On the top we have nothing but the 3.5mm audio jack, which unlike the Moto Z, Motorola left on the G. Lastly on the bottom we have the MicroUSB port in the correct orientation (Thin part up top) and a notch to put your fingernail in to pull the rear cover off.
The Rear Cover has changed once again, the Moto G4 Plus has a 16mp camera on the rear, with a DUAL LED flash module beneath it and the laser assisted autofocus above it, the camera module this year is a lot smaller than the “landing strip” of last year, opting to place the Moto Dimple this year in it’s rightful place (Which is also totally where the fingerprint scanner should have been) up on the left to the much smaller landing strip we have the secondary noise cancelling microphone. The Back cover is removable, on my unit removing it gains you access to the 2 MicroSIM Slots (Both with included NanoSIM to MicroSIM adaptors) and a MicroSD Slot. Would I have preferred NanoSIM slots? Sure, am I upset? Not really, seeing as Moto provided 2 adapters one for each slot, good job Moto.
Software hasn’t really been an issue for Motorola since 2013 and the death of MOTOBlur (Remember MOTOBlur?) they’ve since gone for a stock build of Android with the Google-y goodness, and then added a few little extras on top, such as Moto Display, Moto Voice and Moto Actions.
The software on the Moto G4 Plus and the Standard G4 is Android 6.0.1, my unit has the May 1st security patch. In the time I’ve had this device, I have had no system OTAs changing the security patch level or anything else. This is quite sad, as there is not a lot of extra modifications here, so there is very little reason to be nearly 4 months late on the security patches which come out monthly.
Otherwise, it’s a pretty stock version, almost no bloat is installed, depending on your definition of bloat is. There is also surprisingly few duplicative apps, instead of the Motorola Gallery and Google Photos, you just get the (Arguably superior) Google Photos. Same with the SMS app, instead of the barely tinkered with AOSP SMS app that Moto shipped for years prior (seriously, It looked like the SMS app from Ice Cream Sandwich) you get Google’s Messenger app instead, Moto (and Lenovo) have decided that If Google makes a better app than them, or ever a similar one the Google one is the better choice, as it’s one less thing that they would have to maintain.
Something that Moto Did keep around this year was the Moto App, which houses Moto Actions and Moto Display (Moto Voice still absent). The App allows you to toggle on or off these features and in the case of Moto Dispaly, lets you customise the feature to an extent.Moto Display i still far and away the best type of “ambient screen”
Something that is disappointing, aside from the incredibly out of date security patches is optimisation, or seemingly the lack of it. The G line of smartphones from Motorola, for the longest time did so much with seemingly little. When the Original G came out in 2013 Motorola showed that a 720p Display, 1GB of RAM and a quad-core Cortex A7 processor could give you an experience that was not only acceptable, but enjoyable, and with the Moto G4 Plus and G4 it just isn’t there anymore, but this is something I’ll elaborate more on in the performance section.
I should probably get this out of the way, the Camera on the Moto G4 Plus is a different sensor than the normal G4, it’s a 16mp Laser assisted sensor, compared to the 13mp non assisted sensor of the standard G4. I can’t find out who makes the camera on the G4 Plus but it is a safe bet that It is a Sony unit. But my thoughts on the G4 Plus’ camera can be summed up in a sentence, along with the rest of my thoughts on the G4 Plus. “It’s alright, but nothing phenomenal”.
Let’s start with the good, it takes shots fast once it’s opened. That’s sadly about it. The App takes an age to load, more often than not making me miss the moment, even with the laser autofocus, the G4 Plus more often than not missed the focus point, making me tap to focus, again, adding time to the shot that I want to get done asap. If you have time to compose the shot, the Moto G4 Plus is actually quite a capable camera, It gets decent colour representation down and has a wide enough angle that I’m not always wondering whether or not I’m going to get everything in the shot, so software is really holding it back, sadly.
Moving on to the Moto G4 Plus’ front facing camera and I’m a bit 50/50 on this one, A lot of the time it’s fast to open, fast to snap, and gets images that are mostly in focus (despite being fixed focus) but the colours and depth of the shots are missing, It’ll do your Snapchat selfies fine, and if you’re Instagramming them with Filters or Prisma-ing them, it’ll be great, but otherwise they’re just, you guessed it, okay.
Moving on to video recording and this is another note for the Moto G4 Plus that’s just okay, but this problem I believe lies in the SoC choice. The Snapdragon 617, is essentially an overclocked Snapdragon 615, and one of the (many) problems with the 615 was an ISP (Image Signal Processor) that was just subpar for the class of devices they were meant to be going into, This is still true on the 617, for example, there is no 4k (2160p) video recording, which isn’t too much of an issue, to be honest, but there is no High Frame Rate 1080p recording either, it’s locked at 1080p30, or if you want to do slow motion video recording, we get 120fps video, which is awesome, except that it’s a 540p, which, for reference is lower quality than the phone that this is replacing.
How does it all look, though? Well here you go, below is a 1080p30 video sample, as well as a 540p120 slo-mo video sample, so you can decide for yourselves.
The 3000mAh battery in the Moto G4 Plus continues the trend of the G4 Plus experience, It’s decent, but not mind-blowing. The Moto G4 Plus lasts me an entire day, only once going below 15% after a 14 hour day with nearly 4 hours of screen on time. Screen on time is no longer the benchmark it once was, with people carrying Smartwatches, having notifications mirrored to their computers as well as active/ambient display modes meaning you have to turn your phone’s screen on less, but nevertheless about 4 hours is what I managed to do on the G4 Plus.
There is another thing I’m not too fond of putting too much faith into, but I do them anyway are battery benchmarks. Just like performance benchmarks, battery benchmarks very rarely ever tell the entire story, but they do serve to give you a small insight into what the experience is. The Moto G4 Plus, on the Geekbench Battery Benchmark scored 7 hours and 25 minutes when I didn’t let the screen dim, and 8 hours and 22 minutes when I did, pretty solid all around.
This is the part I’ve not been looking to writing because it’s the harshest part of the review. Look back to my Idol 3 5.5” review, or My Wileyfox Storm Review, or my Moto X Play review, or pretty much any reviewers review of a phone with a Snapdragon 615 and check the performance section, they all read the same. The Snapdragon 617 is in the simplest of terms, an overclocked Snapdragon 615, which means it performs very similarly to an overclocked Snapdragon 615. But merely overclocking an SoC won’t alleviate its problems (many) when they’re this ingrained, the GPU on the Snapdragon 617 is unsuitable for 1080p displays, a problem which the reference Snapdragon 615/616 and 617 platforms don’t help, by pretty much insisting on 1080p displays. As stated previously in the camera section, the ISP or image signal processor of the Snapdragon 615/616/617 is also pretty subpar for the class of devices they’re trying to put it into. Other issues are things like the Manufacturing node the 615/616/617 are made on doesn’t help things either, it’s an ancient 28nm node that has seen better days, so the accumulation of all these things puts a pretty big damper on things, but if you don’t believe me, read Vlad Savov’ Review of it over at the Verge, Or Alex Cranz’ over at Gizmodo, they both say the same thing with regards to performance.
This is where it hurts as well, as an owner of all previous Moto G’s (albeit only keeping the first and 3rd generations) It feels like Moto has turned it’s back on what made the G so important, The Original Moto G was focused on bringing the core aspects of a great mobile experience, and distilling it down to the lower price, so whilst everything else was WVGA or maybe qHD, Moto went with a 720p panel, and not a crap one either an IPS panel, whilst other devices would skimp on cameras, Moto made sure it could do Slo-mo (albeit at 60fps) and that it had a front facing camera worth a damn. It also had performance to spare, an innovative F2FS storage system making the most out of the low-end eMMC they put inside all for an impressive price of about £150.
Now we are back three years later it’s ballooned to 5.5”, far bigger than it’s predecessor and much bigger than I personally would have liked. The Display is okay, but most companies are doing 1080p now, and some might even be doing QHD if you can find one on sale, so they aren’t ahead on resolution, and they aren’t ahead of quality of the display either, it’s once again just okay. I’ve said my grievances on the Snapdragon 61X series of chips (seriously, they should have used the 625), to reference Vlad Savov once again, the G4 Plus is a heartbreaking betrayal of Moto’s most important phone.
There isn’t really all that many things that I could put in Miscellaneous, but the fingerprint scanner and the speaker are the two that I can. The Speaker is what I’ll speak about first as it’s the easiest and quickest. The speaker kinda sucks. For some strange reason, Motorola has decided to merge the earpiece and the speaker into a single unit, as an earpiece, it is kinda quiet and a bit tinny, and as a speaker, it’s kinda quiet and very tinny. I would have taken a bottom firing speaker over this.
Next, is the Fingerprint scanner, as I referenced earlier, the scanner is made by Fingerprint cards, or as you might know them, the people that make fingerprint scanners for everyone except Samsung and Apple. The G4 Plus gets the FPC1035, whilst the standard G4 doesn’t get one at all. The FPC1035 has a neat trick that we saw on higher end phones which is that it can read 360 degrees, which is awesome, but my real issue with the G4 Plus’ scanner is that it seems either too small, or the setup process wasn’t harsh enough, so I quite often gotmistouchess when trying to unlock because its was a few mm off from the pattern I had registered. It’s also not all that fast, sure it works, and it works well, but it’s about as fast as TouchID on an iPhone 5s. The real boon that the G4 Plus has is that it uses the Marshmallow Fingerprint API, so any app that is designed ot use the Marshmallow fingerprint API works on the G4 Plus, so apps like Telegram and Focus do, but so do apps like “App Locker” allowing you to lock apps behind a fingerprint, just like Oppo did on the F1 Plus, a feature I was really upset isn’t baked into stock Android.
Radios and Connectivity
This is an area where Motorola tends to do quite well, especially with their heritage in radios, and the G4 Plus doesn’t do terribly here, but again it isn’t outstanding like some of it’s predecessors were. Dual-band Wifi at 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz WiFi is here, as well as LTE Cat7 on it’s X8 Modem.
Speeds wise, it’s comparable to pretty much everything else, it’s just a shame I don’t have a decent LTE connection where I live, but on 3G and DC-HSDPA my carrier got me speeds of up to about 15mbps and 5mbps, meaning that unless I wanted to watch 1080p video on the go without a single piece of buffering, I was mostly fine.
Calls on the G4 Plus sounded better than I expected, but I have a feeling that was down to the microphone array rather than anything else, as I said the earpiece was quiet and tinny meaning that what I was hearing wasn’t great, but callers said I sounded nice to them, so lucky for some I guess.
The Original Moto G was an easy recommendation, you couldn’t get anything close to that experience unless you were willing to pay a lot more than what Motorola at the time was charging you, even on the second gen, where they bumped the screen size up, and gave it dual speakers, it was still hard to find anything even remotely as good for the price, last year was where things got interesting, but still it was relatively easy to recommend the G as the overall experience you got was great.
This year though, It’s harder, and it gets especially hard when pricing up the G4 Plus. The standard G4 is £170, but the G4 Plus starts at £230 and goes up to £265 for the base model 64gb with no modifications, this is where it gets very hard to recommend the G4 Plus. The camera isn’t that much of an upgrade over the standard G4, and you have to decide how important a Fingerprint reader is to you, and whether you think a fingerprint reader, as well as 64gb of Storage is worth £100 over the base Moto G4 for you, for me, It’s likely a no. The fingerprint isn’t the fastest, or the most accurate, nor is it in my favourite place, the camera is decent but not mind blowing, and I’m one of those weirdos who can live with 16gb of storage because I store nearly everything in the cloud.
But for the first time in 3 years, the Moto G is not an Insta-buy, and that makes me sad.
Moto G4 Plus£229
- Nearly stock version of Android
- Decent battery life
- Included TurboPower 15 charger
- Moto Display still the best.
- Fingerprint scanner is a nice addition
- No NFC (No Android Pay)
- Performance is often sub-par
- Nothing wowing
- Very large
- Underwhelming speaker