Introduction and design
Lenovo – the new owner of the Motorola brand – is aiming the Moto G4 Plus at the budget end of the Android market, but it’s a couple of rungs up the ladder from the entry-level Moto G4 Play.
Considering there’s a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 with 2GB of RAM, a 3,000mAh battery, a 16MP camera, and almost stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, the Moto G4 Plus looks a very impressive smartphone for £229 (around US$325, AU$440).
While Lenovo doesn’t seem to have messed with the Moto brand it has indulged in a confusing three-way split, giving us the Moto G4 Play, the Moto G4, and the Moto G4 Plus.
The Moto G4 Play is the runt of the litter, and pricing has yet to be announced, but the Moto G4 is selling for £169 (around US$240, AU$330) – and that makes the G4 Plus £60 more expensive, a not inconsiderable sum for a bargain hunter.
The thing is, the Plus part of the name probably doesn’t mean what you think it does. It has exactly the same 5.5-inch 1080p display as its cheaper sibling, and most of the internal specs, including the processor, are identical.
All that’s different is the enhanced 16MP camera with a pro mode and a combination of laser and phase detect autofocus, and the addition of a fingerprint sensor. Is that really enough to justify the price bump? Let’s take a closer look.
We’ve come a long way from the original, chubby Moto G, but the G4 Plus is still unmistakably related. It’s like the first-generation Moto G has been put in a press, shaving a few millimetres off its girth and stretching the screen by an inch.
This is an unashamedly plastic smartphone with a large, 5.5-inch display. There’s a tough, smoothly curved plastic frame around the glass front. The speaker at the top has a subtle metallic highlight around it and there’s a raised, small, square fingerprint sensor at the bottom.
The textured power button and the volume rocker are on the right spine. There’s a Micro USB port on the bottom edge and a standard 3.5mm audio jack up top.
Flip it over and you’ll find a lightly textured, removable plastic back, a lozenge-shaped camera lens and flash with the same metallic highlight as the speaker, and the dimpled Moto logo.
There’s a gap at the bottom, so you can prize the back off with a thumbnail. You’ll find a microSD card slot and a SIM card slot inside, but the battery isn’t removable. The G4 Plus takes a microSIM card, but there’s also a handy frame so you can slot a nanoSIM in there instead.
There’s nothing glaringly ugly about the design, but if you had to pick a single word to describe it, then “dull” would be in the running.
My review unit has the ‘Dark Moon’ frame, which you might more reasonably describe as grey, and the pitch black back with metallic highlights in silver.
If you order directly from the Motorola website, you can use Moto Maker to customize your G4 Plus and inject a little more colour. You can even get the back engraved for an extra fiver. However, this is never going to be the kind of eye-catching beauty that draws admiring glances when you slip it out of your pocket.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you pick up the G4 Plus is that it’s surprisingly big. At 155g it’s not too heavy, but it is a bit bulky. To give you an idea, the profile matches the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, which puts the G4 Plus firmly in phablet territory.
As screen sizes have grown, the distinction between phablets and smartphones has been eroded, but this is still going to be an uncomfortably large phone to handle for people with smaller hands.
I’m used to the Note 5, and I’m also over six feet tall with big hands, and yet I found the G4 Plus a little awkward to handle – it doesn’t help that it’s still quite thick at 9.8mm, and the curved sides are smooth and slippery.
At first glance the Moto G4 Plus and the Moto G4 are identical. The only external difference is the square fingerprint sensor at the bottom of the screen; since this is a major USP for the G4 Plus I’ll delve into it in detail in the next section.
Before we move on, I have to mention the 5.5-inch display. It has a Full HD resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. Many of the latest flagships exceed that, giving you incredible pixel per inch clarity, but 1080p is often enough.
The display on the G4 Plus is really crisp, colours look vibrant, and the only time you might bemoan the fact that it’s not Super AMOLED, like the Galaxy S7, is when you’re trying to view it on a bright day outdoors.
One final thing to note about the design of the G4 Plus is that it doesn’t boast the IP67 rating of its predecessor. It can deal with splashes and dust, but don’t take it for a dip.
Fast fingerprint sensor
One of the main attractions of the Moto G4 Plus over the Moto G4 is its fingerprint sensor. I found it to be fast and accurate, bringing the screen to life immediately every time I touched it.
A fingerprint sensor is one of those features that you can live without until you actually try it, and then it becomes essential. Being able to unlock your phone with a simple touch is incredibly convenient, and it enables you to stay secure without having to tap in a PIN or swipe your pattern.
Cumulatively, you save a lot of time, so it’s nice to see fingerprint sensors making their way onto cheaper phones.
That said, the implementation of the fingerprint sensor in the G4 Plus isn’t perfect. Sadly, there’s no support for NFC and that means no Android Pay – and if you want to be able to use your phone to make payments, that’s going to turn you off the G4 Plus.
Then there’s the fact that the sensor is a tiny square that looks like a button, but actually isn’t one. I lost count of the number of times I tapped it, expecting it to take me to the home screen, but then realized I had to take the additional step of tapping the on-screen home button. It’s a minor thing, but annoying.
Some people like the fact that the fingerprint sensor doesn’t require a press. With the iPhone 6S, for example, you have to press the home button (if the screen is off) before it can read your fingerprint.
The G4 Plus works like the Nexus 6P, in that you touch the sensor and the phone wakes immediately, but unlike the 6P, the sensor isn’t tucked away on the back. I found that I sparked a fingerprint read error quite often just picking up and carrying the G4 Plus, because it’s triggered if any part of your hand touches it.
A quality camera
The other key reason to consider dropping the extra cash to get the Moto G4 Plus over the Moto G4 is the camera improvements. The main shooter is rated at 16MP, compared to 13MP in the G4.
The G4 Plus camera also uses a combination of phase detection autofocus and laser focusing, and a pro mode that enables you to tweak everything from the ISO setting to white balance.
If you know what you’re doing, then the pro mode is going to be attractive. And even if you don’t use pro mode, the extra megapixels and the improvements in focusing result in sharper photos with better detail. The main camera in the G4 Plus is definitely better than the one in the G4, although it’s not a huge jump.
I’ll dip into the camera in more depth later. For now, suffice to say that this is the best camera I’ve seen in a budget Moto phone, and it’s a real strength where you normally find a weakness in budget Android devices.
A light touch on the latest Android
Parent firm Lenovo hasn’t weighed in with its heavy UI, preferring to stick with Motorola’s commitment to almost stock Android, with a light dusting of vaguely handy features on top.
You can use gestures to quickly trigger the camera or torch, or to silence your Moto G4 Plus. You also get notifications popping up on screen, which is important because the G4 Plus doesn’t have a traditional LED notification light at the top of the screen.
Another thing I really liked about the Moto G4 Plus is the complete lack of pointless bloatware. It’s refreshing to find that Google’s apps are the defaults – you don’t need another web browser when you have Chrome, and you don’t need another gallery app when you have Photos.
Specs and performance
You won’t be blown away by the specs inside the Moto G4 Plus, but they’re competitive for this price. The G4 Plus is packing an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 chipset, with four cores clocked at 1.5GHz and the other four at 1.2GHz, paired with a 550MHz Adreno 405 GPU.
Performance is fast, responsive and silky smooth for the most part, with the experience enhanced by the almost-stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow.
Digging into the RAM and storage, things get a little more complicated because Motorola is offering different configurations. My review model has 2GB of RAM and just 16GB of storage. With just 10GB free out of the box, that’s not enough, but thankfully the 16GB model doesn’t seem to be on sale from the UK Motorola website.
It looks like your options are 32GB of storage with 2GB of RAM for £229 (around US$325, AU$440), or 64GB of storage with 4GB of RAM for £264 (around US$350, AU$475). It’s worth remembering that the G4 Plus also has a microSD card slot, for expansion by up to another 128GB.
Judging by the occasional slow transition when switching in and out of games and apps, it might be worth springing for the extra RAM. The Moto G4 Plus also heats up a bit when gaming, recording video, or charging, but that’s to be expected.
Running benchmarks in Geekbench 3, the Moto G4 Plus scored a single-core score of 712 and a multi-core score of 3047. The multi-core score is the more important, and in the second run it managed 3058, which is pretty respectable.
It’s streets ahead of last year’s Moto G, which scored 1590, but it lags behind the Huawei Honor 7, which managed 3629. Interestingly, the G4 Plus also did better than the Nexus 5X, which averaged 2990 and costs slightly more.
You might be disappointed to learn that the processor is exactly the same as the one in the G4, but you don’t have the same configuration options on the cheaper phone. The entry-level 16GB model has 2GB of RAM and there’s no option to increase the RAM in the 32GB variant.
Overall the G4 Plus is a good performer, although if performance is the most important factor to you then you might want to look at the OnePlus 2, which has a more powerful processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage for £249 (US$299, around AU$400).
The Moto G4 Plus has a 3,000mAh battery. That sounds big, but it has to power a 5.5-inch display. Even although you can prize the back cover off the phone, the battery inside isn’t removable.
In my time with the G4 Plus it has never failed to make it through the day, even with heavy use, although it was a close-run thing on a couple of occasions. On days where I’ve been playing a lot of games to put the phone through its paces and I’ve had the brightness cranked up, the battery has noticeably suffered.
By contrast, at the end of a quiet day with some messaging, one call, and a spot of web browsing, there was more than half remaining. For the average user, the Moto G4 Plus will certainly make it through the day with battery to spare.
When I ran the 90-minute TechRadar HD movie battery test, with the screen at full brightness and Wi-Fi connected, the Moto G4 Plus shed 17% of its battery, dropping from 100% to 83%.
To put this in context that’s not as good as the Galaxy S7, which shed just 13% in the same test, but it’s much better than other budget hopefuls like the Nexus 5X, which lost 23%, or the OnePlus 2, which lost 27%.
Budget phones aren’t generally known for their battery life, so the Moto G4 Plus is a respectable performer in this respect.
The G4 Plus also comes with a Turbo Charger, which can deliver six hours of power in just 15 minutes. Much like other fast chargers it’s very fast initially, and slows down as the battery approaches full.
Putting the G4 Plus on charge when it was around the 20% mark I found that the Turbo Charger regularly delivered an extra 30% battery life, pushing it beyond 50%, in 20 minutes, and the phone was near fully charged within an hour.
The 16MP main camera in the Moto G4 Plus is a definite highlight, and the camera app couldn’t be easier to use.
The default interface is very simple. There’s the option to turn HDR and the flash on or off (both are set to automatic by default). There’s also a timer option, and a toggle for switching to the front-facing 5MP camera.
The automatic settings generally deliver good results. Tap the screen and give the camera a moment to adjust before you snap, and you’ll rarely be disappointed.
I had no issues in good lighting, as you’ll see in the sample shots; whether it’s a close-up or a landscape, the G4 Plus camera produces decent results. It seems to capture vibrant colours fairly accurately, maybe with a slightly cold blue tinge in tone. Most photos also boast an impressive level of detail.
The G4 Plus has both phase detection autofocus and laser autofocus. Phase detection is designed to work in well-lit conditions, while laser autofocus helps you capture great detail in low light.
Motorola says the G4 Plus has a f/2 aperture, big pixels and a dual LED flash for “low light brilliance”. I’m not really seeing loads of evidence of that.
There is a small brightness setting on the focus circle if you tap the screen, which enables you to adjust the brightness level, but noise quickly creeps in when the setting is dark, and you lose detail rapidly when you crank the brightness up.
The low light performance isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t feel special either.
On a dour day, HDR significantly boosts the brightness compared to a standard shot, but it inevitably takes a moment to process each photo.
If you delve into the settings you’ll find the usual panorama, video and slow motion video options, but there’s also a professional mode. This opens up a world of curved sliders, enabling you to tweak the camera settings before you capture a shot; playing with these, you begin to get a better understanding of the camera’s capabilities.
The camera app does fire up fairly quickly most of the time, and there’s a double twist gesture that you can employ as a shortcut, which is handy. It’s also quick to focus in good light.
Although I really like the G4 Plus camera, there are some disappointments lurking here. You’ll need to carefully and slowly frame your shot, pick your focus, and ideally take the photo in HDR for the best results, and that’s not always possible.
There’s also no OIS (optical image stabilization) in the G4 Plus. That’s not really a surprise at this price, but it makes a difference to the quality of the shots you can capture off the cuff as you scramble to snap a spontaneous moment.
The video recording is also limited to 1080p at 30 frames per second. That shouldn’t bother too many people right now, but 4K is gradually becoming the new standard.
You can snag decent selfies with the front-facing 5MP camera. This has a wider f/2.2 aperture, and also supports auto-HDR. The results, even in low light, are pretty respectable, so the G4 Plus is a good choice for selfie addicts.
I’m probably being unfair mentioning things like OIS, to be honest. When you compare the G4 Plus to the latest crop of flagships you have to consider that those phones are around the twice the price, if not more. The G4 Plus actually stands up really well.
The fact is that this is easily the best camera I’ve come across on a budget Android phone.
The extra features and higher resolution elevate it above the Moto G4’s 13MP camera. You’d really have to do a side by side comparison to determine just how stark the difference is, but I suspect the camera alone makes the G4 Plus worth the extra cash.
Music, movies and gaming
With its 5.5-inch display the Moto G4 Plus is a good phone for watching movies or gaming, but it’s definitely let down by its speaker. It’s loud enough, but distortion soon rears its ugly head when you turn the volume up, and it sounds obnoxiously harsh and tinny.
As mentioned, the G4 Plus is being offered in the UK with either 32GB or 64GB of internal storage. Pop the back off and you can add a microSD card up to 128GB in size.
If you use Google’s Photos app you can back up as many photos as you want to the cloud for free, and you get an extra 15GB of cloud storage with the included Google Drive.
The only music app installed here is Google’s Play Music, which is geared towards subscribers, but you can load your own MP3s onto the G4 Plus and play them with Play Music.
This has a good widget in the notification shade for basic controls and skipping tracks, so you can start your music and then get on with other things. Music controls also appear on the lock screen.
As I’ve said, there are no problems with volume on the speaker, but if you do turn it up the sound quality really suffers. Headphones are the way to go when listening to music, then, but you’ll have to provide your own, as none are included in the box – that’s par for the course at the budget end of the market.
There’s an FM radio app on the G4 Plus as well – you’ll need headphones connected to act as an antenna.
Movies and TV
The 5.5-inch 1080p screen is a decent size for watching movies, but you’ll want to be in a dark room to avoid reflection problems. I settled down to enjoy Watchmen after installing Netflix, and it played without a hitch in full HD. Colours look good, and there’s even a colour mode in the settings that enables you to turn the vibrancy up.
The only real problems were the reflective screen and the brightness; even with the brightness turned way up in a poorly lit room it was sometimes difficult to see the action during dark scenes.
The Moto 4G Plus is fairly light for a phone of this size at 155g, but it’s awkward to hold, so it’s not going to be comfortable to hold it while you watch an entire movie. You’ll want to prop it up somewhere – although that could be tricky because the frame is rather slippery.
Google’s Play Movies is preinstalled, and offers access to a decent library of rentals or digital purchases. If you load movie files onto the G4 Plus yourself you can then play them through the Google Photos app, where they’ll be listed in the Movies folder.
I played a lot of Fallout Shelter on the G4 Plus, and it was noticeably slower to load than it is on the Note 5. It also dropped an occasional frame, or stuttered when I panned around quickly, but nothing that really impacted my enjoyment.
It was a similar story playing Asphalt 8 with the visuals at maximum quality. There was definitely an occasional dropped frame, but it ran pretty smoothly and there were no major incidents. The G4 Plus did get quite warm though, and 10 minutes of play was enough to drain 7% of the battery.
If you’re a serious gamer and want to play a lot of first-person shooters or graphically-intense racing games the G4 Plus might not be the best choice, but for a budget phone it performs just fine. Casual gamers will have no issues.
Motorola Moto G4
The biggest competition for the G4 Plus also comes from Lenovo, in the shape of its cheaper sibling, the Moto G4. It’s virtually identical in terms of design and specs, with the same 5.5-inch 1080p display, the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, and the same software, but the basic G4 model costs less.
So what does that extra cash get you? Well, for a start there’s an extra 16GB of internal storage. In fact, since there’s only around 10GB free out of the box with a 16GB phone I wouldn’t really recommend buying one; however, you can get a 32GB version of the G4, which narrows the gap between it and the G4 Plus.
Paying an extra for a slightly better camera and a fingerprint sensor sounds reasonable to me. The G4 Plus camera is truly excellent for a budget phone, and if photography is an important factor for you then it’s going to be worth spending a little more. The fingerprint sensor might seem superfluous if you’ve not used one before, but it’s a real convenience boost.
If you don’t have the money, the Moto G4 is still a great budget phone – but if you can scrape together the extra money I think the Moto G4 Plus is worth it.
Google Nexus 5X
Google’s Nexus 5X has been around for a while now, but it’s another option you might consider if you’re looking to get a decent phone without spending too much.
The 5X offers the pure joys of silky smooth, unadulterated Android, although the Moto G4 Plus comes pretty close; the difference is that you’ll get instant updates as they roll out on the Nexus 5X, but you’ll probably have to wait a while for them to reach the G4 Plus.
In terms of specs the Nexus 5X should be more powerful, but in practice it’s an inconsistent phone. The display is slightly smaller and sharper on the Nexus 5X, but there’s nothing much else to choose between it and the G4 Plus; you might prefer LG’s design, and the fingerprint sensor on the back of the Nexus 5X, but the G4 Plus matches its camera, and has better battery life.
The Nexus 5X has a USB-C port for even faster charging than the Turbo Charger offers with the Moto G4 Plus, but there’s not much in it. If money is tight, the final nail in the coffin of the Nexus 5X is its starting price of £299, especially since that’s for the 16GB version. You get more for your money with the Moto G4 Plus.
Assuming you can’t stretch your budget to snag the newly released OnePlus 3 at £309, US$399 (which you absolutely should if you can), you might consider looking at the OnePlus 2, which starts at £249 (US$299).
If you want to get maximum performance and storage for your cash, the OnePlus 2 beats the Moto G4 Plus into submission with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. It’s a fast and powerful phone, and it also matches the G4 Plus with a 5.5-inch 1080p display and a fingerprint sensor.
The OnePlus 2 has a slightly bigger battery, although it performed worse than the Moto G4 Plus in our test. As for the camera, the G4 Plus wins the megapixel count with 16 over 13, but the OnePlus 2 camera has OIS, and supports 4K video recording.
The Oxygen OS running on top of Android on the OnePlus 2 is a fairly light skin with some innovative features, and it still feels quite close to stock Android. The phone shipped with Android 5.1 Lollipop, but it was recently updated to a fresh version based on Android Marshmallow.
In my opinion, the software on the Moto G4 Plus is better and less buggy, but it’s close.
The smartphone market moves fast, and what the Moto G4 Plus offers today for £229 (around US$325, AU$440) would have been positively astounding at this price point just a couple of years ago.
The 5.5-inch 1080p screen is great, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 with 2GB of RAM is enough for most tasks, the 3,000mAh battery lasts well, the 16MP camera is fantastic, and it runs almost-stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow.
The main camera is a real high point for the G4 Plus, and is capable of capturing some impressive shots if you take your time. It falls down a little when you’re trying to capture spontaneous moments, but you will not find a better camera in a phone at this price.
A few handy features on top of Android Marshmallow don’t detract from the stock Android feel and the silky performance of this phone, and the complete lack of bloatware is refreshing.
The display is big at 5.5 inches, with a decent Full HD resolution. It handles anything you throw at it, displaying good colours at a decent level of brightness. For reading, watching movies, or gaming, the Moto G4 display is a pleasure to use.
You can’t get away from the plastic body and the dull design, even with Moto Maker’s customization options. It’s a definite improvement over previous releases in the series, but it’s still chunky plastic compared to the rest of the field.
The fingerprint sensor works well, but the lack of NFC limits its abilities, and it’s ‘home button’ placement, despite it not actually being a home button, is slightly annoying.
If I had to pick a single weak link it would probably be the speaker. Motorola obviously had to compromise somewhere to keep the price down, and it looks like it was here. At higher volumes the sound quality is really poor.
Lenovo has seamlessly continued Motorola’s good work, refining this popular budget range and elevating expectations about what you can reasonably expect in a relatively cheap Android phone.
The gap between the Moto G4 Plus and the latest batch of Android flagships is not as wide as I expected. It’s a pleasurable device to use, and it represents good value for money.
If you’ve been looking for something with a big screen and a good camera, and you can stretch beyond the bottom tier, the Moto G4 Plus is definitely a good buy. Bargain hunters, however, might have trouble looking past the cheaper, but very similar Moto G4.