Back in 2013, the Moto G was a game-changer. As phones were getting bigger and more expensive, the Moto G offered an uncompromising experience at an impulse buy price. And even though it didn’t come equipped with the latest specs, it quickly went on to become Motorola’s most successful phone ever—even surpassing the hallowed Razr, which basically defined the flip phone era.
Now, Motorola is on the fourth version, and the Moto G is just as good as it was a few years ago. But is it the best cheap phone on the market? That’s debatable considering there are so many great options in the sub-$400 range. At $199, the Moto G absolutely deserves your consideration, offering a great screen, good battery, and great software. Unfortunately, it falls short in a few key areas.
I’m reviewing the Moto G4. If you want a review on the Moto G4 Plus, check out Jon’s review in the video above. The two are pretty similar; same display, same design, almost identical specs. However, the G4 Plus sports a fingerprint sensor and a 16-megapixel camera, which is bumped up from the G4’s 13-megapixel shooter.
The first thing you need to know about the Moto G4 is that it largely sticks to the formula perfected by its predecessors. That means (mostly) vanilla Android, a decent design, and a few convenient software flourishes that, truthfully, could use some new ideas. It’s also much larger than the model originally released in 2013, which is an unfortunate side effect of the market’s obsession with going big.
Although the Moto G’s design is decent, fine even, I wouldn’t exactly describe it as great; more like uninteresting. At 153mm tall and 76.6mm wide, it’s about the size of every other smartphone on the market, which is to say if you were hoping for a tiny but powerful phone, you’ll have to look elsewhere. The good news is that Moto Maker is back, so you can easily make the phone your own.
That larger frame makes room for a 5.5-inch 1080p display, Snapdragon 617 processor, 2GB of RAM, 13-megapixel camera, and a 3000mAh battery. It also comes with either 16GB of 32GB of storage, with support for up to 128GB microSD card expansion; I tested out the 32GB model, for what it’s worth. Powering the whole thing is Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, with only the slightest of software tweaks from Motorola. This is essentially a Nexus device without the Nexus name.
As you can see, the Moto G4 isn’t the most powerful device on the market, but at $199, it provides a nice balance without making too many major compromises. I mean, yeah, I did notice that the Snapdragon 617 chip and 2GB of RAM did struggle when really kicking the device in the tush. But it wasn’t so bad where it interrupted my flow. I could play games, watch YouTube videos, take pictures, and the device held up just fine.
Also holding up just fine was the battery, which hummed along through a few days of usage without so much as a peep. Hammer it with graphics-intensive games and tasks, however, and the Moto G will deplete quicker. Should that happen, the device comes equipped with support for TurboPower charging, providing 6 hours of battery in just 15 minutes.
Back again this year are Motorola’s software tweaks, including the excellent Moto Display, which provides users with a quick preview of notifications and updates without having to unlock the display. It was a great feature when the original Moto X was released, and it’s just as good today. However, it’s starting to feel a little stale; I’d love to see Motorola evolve the idea. Moto Actions has also returned although I never touch those features.
Otherwise, the Marshmallow experience is as if you were using a Nexus device. The camera software is a little different, but besides that you’re getting Android just as Google intended. The Google Now screen is even just a quick swipe to the right, just as it is on the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X.
Unfortunately, the area I found the Moto G most lacking was the camera. It’s not particularly fast and the quality of the images aren’t all that great; details are soft, color accuracy is off, and low-light performance leaves a lot to be desired. It’s completely fine for sharing to social media and the like but it is by no means one of the better mobile phone cameras we’ve tested.
A smartphone is supposed to make your life better, to provide you with a vessel to communicate with friends and family and stay connected to the world wide web. But in lieu of communication, phones are also for gaming, for pictures, for virtual reality, and for traipsing around town looking for imaginary monsters.
At $199 (up to $299 for the G4 Plus with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage), the Moto G4 offers a straight forward experience at a good value. But so do so many other devices on the market—Zenfone 2, Honor 5X, Nexus 5X, iPhone SE, and OnePlus 3—making it clear that Motorola needs to step its game up.