Better and bolder design than before, just about maintains budget price point, microSD expansion, solid battery life (and fast-charge potential), might be mid-spec but can handle most apps
Bigger new design won’t be for all, G4 Plus partly undermines this standard model, mid-spec chipset and 2GB RAM slow to load some apps, no TurboPower charger in the box
Looking for a big yet affordable phone? That’s Motorola’s play with the fourth-gen Moto G – aptly titled the G4, finally putting to bed the confusingly same-name previous three generations – which dons a 5.5-inch screen and, therefore, an inevitably large body. It cuts a whole new jib, starting the G-series anew.
Affordable is the key word, too. With a starting price of £169 for the 16GB model the Moto G4 is only incrementally more expensive than its predecessors, while sitting below many competitors’ sub-£200 price points.
There’s an odd twist though: Motorola has also released the G4 Plus, which adds a fingerprint scanner, improved rear camera and includes the TurboPower fast-charger to the box – all for the sake of an extra £60. Which, in our minds, makes for a much more tempting purchase.
With Chinese giant Lenovo now at the helm, this is the new Motorola. Does this new management and vision give the Moto G4 a new lease of life or has it confused the winning mixture? We’ve been living with one for a week to see whether it feels as fresh and appealing as when the very first Moto G arrived on the scene.
Motorola Moto G (2016) review: Design
There’s no escaping it: the new Moto G is pretty big in the hand for a regular phone, pushing its dimensions (153 x 76.6mm) out in support of that 5.5-inch display. It’s the same 155g weight as the third-generation device, though, and, at 9.8mm, a little slimmer overall – which is all positive. It’s not exactly a slender phone though.
The overall design of the G4 is more sophisticated than the earlier Moto G models, of which the second- and third-generation models had these eye-sore silver “bars” around the speakers. The Moto G4 does away with such unsightliness, instead recessing the top speaker grille into the body away from the phone’s face; there’s a subtle silver edging but it looks clean and tidy.
Flip it over and the Moto G4 has a removable polycarbonate back with a super-fine subtle texture, plus recessed “M” symbol to the centre, which clips onto the rear of the phone. Marry that with the textured metal buttons on the sides, the subtle curved top with 3.5mm headphone jack, and the Moto G4 does a good job of fooling you that it’s not a totally budget handset.
But that’s not all: the Moto G now comes with a P2i protective coating, meaning its innards are water-repellent enough to stop damage if it comes in contact with water. Not just a splash either, it can survive a full-on dunking in the kitchen sink or, god forbid, down the toilet.
Use Moto Maker – Motorola’s customisation service – and it’s possible to jazz-up a more personalised device with coloured rear and edging. The front can only be black or white, though.
All in all, this is the best looking Moto G to date. But it’s also the biggest – and we’re not sure we’re totally sold on this new giant size. As a side note, and just to be clear, the G4 Plus model is the same size (it doesn’t follow Apple convention), it just has additional features and a higher price point.
Motorola Moto G4 review: Screen
The new Moto G sports a 5.5-inch display with a Full HD resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels, resulting in a pixel density of 401ppi). That’s perhaps a little on the low side when compared to flagship devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7 or HTC 10, but in daily use it’s apt for a display of this size. We’ve not found any issues with it, and don’t feel like our eyes are staring at giant square pixels; it’s on par with the resolution of the OnePlus 3, for example.
It’s not the very brightest or most dazzling display in terms of colour though. Sat next to our LG G5 and the Moto G4 can’t hammer out the same level of luminance, but it’s still got more than enough welly to survive both indoor and outdoor lighting conditions from all manner of viewing angles.
Moto G 2016 review: Performance
Beneath that screen, embedded within, is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, paired with 2GB RAM. As it’s very much a middling chipset we didn’t think it’d keep up with certain tasks, but have found the phone to perform just fine.
When playing Farm Heroes Saga, for example, all the animations are lovely and fluid with no stuttering to be seen. What is apparent, however, is the delay in getting into apps: that app takes a full 15-seconds to load, as one example, which feels very much mid-range.
When it comes to storage there’s 16GB as standard, with 32GB optional for an extra £30. As this upgrade doesn’t have any impact on the RAM – it’s 2GB RAM only; the G4 Plus offers 3GB and 4GB RAM options however (at inflated prices) – we suspect many will simply option to use the microSD card slot tucked away behind the removable rear instead.
Overall the Moto G4 handles perfectly fine for its position and price. And when some companies’ attempts at this market haven’t quite worked – case in point, the OnePlus X, which lacked the graphical prowess – Moto feels like it’s on the money. Sure, it might not handle the latest 3D games, or offer 4K video capture, in the way that flagship handsets do, but in daily tasks there’s little it won’t do.
Motorola Moto G4 review: Battery life
The Moto G sports a 3,000mAh battery, which is a fairly generous capacity for a phone running a relatively low-spec chipset. That’s good news, though, as it means decent battery performance that will easily get you through the course of a day.
Motorola claims a full 24-hours of use, but being the kind of mid-to-heavy users that we are, we found that optimistic. Still, having 30 per cent battery left in the tank before bedtime is no bad shout at all – and better than some more heavyweight flagship devices these days. Sometimes less power and lower resolution can be a benefit.
The G4 also benefits from TurboPower fast-charging. Well, sort of. Problem is you don’t get the required plug in the G4’s box, that’s reserved for the G4 Plus instead. And seeing as the TurboPower Chargers 15 costs £25 from Motorola’s official site, it seems to make a good argument for considering the G4 Plus instead.
Motorola Moto G (2016) review: Software
For those who like Android the Moto G is a safe place. It launches on Android 6.0 Marshmallow and it is mostly free from bloatware and app additions that you simply don’t need.
It even offers System Tuner UI – a press-and-hold of the settings cog symbol from the swipe-down menu will active this – for more granular control of what displays in the top bar.
There are some Moto additions, such as gesture controls, which are ultimately similar to previous Moto G, E and X handsets. However, as Android has got more sophisticated over time, Moto has filtered that amount it offers to avoid duplication and keep the user experience neat and tidy.
The gesture controls will let you do things like flip the phone to silence it, or make a chopping action with the phone in hand to turn the torch on. There’s a display option to give you ambient notifications, which is a long-time Moto favourite, and dark screen time settings to avoid disturbances at night.
And that’s about it: it’s Moto Pure and simple. This is good news to keep things fuss-free.
Moto G4 review: Cameras
Turn to the camera and the G4’s photo-taking experience is a lot like the third-generation Moto G. It has a 13-megapixel snapper on the rear with f/2.0 aperture, alongside a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. If you’re seeking yet more then the G4 Plus comes with a 16-megapixel rear camera (also f/2.0), plus additional laser autofocus.
So the Moto G4 might not offer the best camera experience in the range, but it’s still pretty good. The app is fast to load this time around, and in its default auto mode offers one-touch HDR (high dynamic range – used to balance shadows and highlights), flash and self-timer options to the left.
Focusing is a case of tapping onto the screen, where a surrounding exposure meter can be adjusted to compensate as required. It’s not particularly good at close-up focusing, though, and when it mis-focuses the focus point defaults back to the centre for its second try – which is annoying.
Beyond auto you can amp things up and take full control by using the Pro camera mode, found in among the video/pano/time-lapse settings to the top right of the screen. Using Pro mode means full control over white balance, ISO sensitivity, manual focus, exposure compensation and – unusually for a smartphone – shutter speed (this will be electronically controlled, however, but means you can opt for 1/8000th sec to freeze faster moving subjects, or manually set the camera to 1/2-second longer exposure for night shots, assuming the phone is stationary and supported).
The layout of individual sliders for all the manual controls makes them easy to use, even if they are a little busy in terms of dominating the screen when all displayed. But we suspect most will simply use auto mode and toggle HDR on and off depending on whether a scene requires shadow and highlight balancing.
In terms of results, it’s much the same as the third-gen Moto G: shots in good light are fine, while low-light causes some issues with image noise, but at least there’s plenty of control at your fingertips as needed. The autofocus isn’t going to see off the flagship devices and, more than likely, is undermined by the G4 Plus, but there’s still plenty of positives to be had nonetheless.
The Moto G4 is the Moto G anew; it’s bigger and bolder than before, which is a brave new step for the mid-range budget phone. For all its good, however, it’s really difficult to ignore the G4 Plus, which squeezes a lot more into the same design (fingerprint scanner, better camera, TurboPower charger; plus greater on-device storage and RAM expansion options).
However, if you’re looking for budget then Motorola continues to rule, its £170 price point hard to ignore for a phone that will handle most things you care to throw at it. Sure, it’s a bit slow to load apps, but the octo-core processor and graphics on board can handle most games without stuttering, while the middling power and so-so screen resolution/brightness mean effective battery life throughout the day.
With mid-range phones now knocking on the door of flagships – just look at the £309 OnePlus 3 and £305 Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 – the Moto G in 2016 looks to be the king of budget handsets. A goal which it largely achieves, too, even if its inflated size and (compared to the Moto G’s original premise) inflated price won’t be a draw for all prospective customers.
Even in its upscaled new form, the Moto G continues to wear the budget phone crown.