Review: Lenovo Moto G4

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Motorola launched the Moto G back in 2013. It was a smartphone that cost just $179 outright and unlocked. It single-handedly changed the smartphone industry. Since the Moto G launched in 2013, we've seen many other manufacturers attempting to compete with it. The Moto G has been Motorola's most successful smartphone lineup ever, selling even more than the RAZR back in the day. With Lenovo buying Motorola in 2014, and Motorola now being completely integrated into Lenovo, many aren't sure what to expect from "Moto" now. Does the Moto G lineup continue to provide exceptional value for the price you're paying? Is the software experience still vanilla Android? Will we see quick updates? Or does the Moto G4 fall flat? We'll attempt to answer all of those questions in our full review. So let's get started.

Specs

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The Moto G4 sports a 5.5-inch 1080p IPS LCD display here. That gives us a pixel density of 401 pixels per inch. This display is protected by Corning's Gorilla Glass 3. The Moto G4 is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 octa-core processor (even though it registers on CPU-Z as the Snapdragon 615). That's a quad-core 1.5GHz Cortex-A53 cluster with a quad-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A53 cluster. That's paired with the Adreno 405 GPU. This also comes with 2GB of RAM and the choice of either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. Lenovo has included a micro SD card slot here on the Moto G4. It supports up to 256GB, and does support adoptable storage.

When it comes to the camera, there is a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera that has a f/2.0 aperture. It also includes autofocus and dual-LED flash. The front-facing camera is a 5-megapixel sensor with a f/2.2 aperture and includes auto-HDR. Both cameras are capable of shooting 1080p at 30FPS.

Connectivity includes WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1. For location, we have A-GPS, GLONASS and BDS. Lenovo has also included a FM radio – which can be used with headphones plugged in. There's no NFC here, unfortunately. There's also an accelerometer and gyro sensor included. Lenovo offers the Moto G4 in black and white, with more back colors available through Moto Maker (more on that later). The Moto G4 is powered by a non-removable 3000mAh battery.

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Bands supported by the Moto G4 include:

GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900

CDMA 800, 1900

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HSDPA 850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100

LTE 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 25, 26, 41

In the Box

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Inside the box, there's not much here. For a phone that's $199, that's not a huge surprise. Lenovo includes the Moto G4, with the turbo wall charger, micro USB cable and your documentation. There are also instructions on the box on how to insert the SIM card. The Moto G4 does use a micro SIM card, but they do also include a micro to nano SIM adapter. Making it easy for you to use your nano SIM in the Moto G4. There's no case or screen protector included here. Something we have seen with some other cheap smartphones from the likes of BLU.

Hardware

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Over the years, the Moto G line has evolved in its build quality. The first Moto G was fairly bulky, and sported some pretty thick bezels. Now the Moto G4 has gotten pretty thin, while still sporting a decent size battery. The Moto G4 has what looks like an aluminum frame, but it is actually plastic. This helps keep the phone rather lightweight, even with a 3,000mAh battery inside. Lenovo has opted to use the earpiece as the speaker this time around. So you won't see a speaker grill anywhere else on the Moto G4. Gone is the waterproofing that debuted on last year's Moto G (2015). A bit unfortunate, especially seeing as waterproofing has become pretty popular lately. The Moto G4 can still take a splash, but it can't be submerged in water and still expect to work.

Button placement on the Moto G4 includes the volume rocker and power button being on the right side. The power button is a bit rigid, allowing you to be able to feel the difference between the power button and volume rocker. The buttons are also fairly clicky, and not mushy. The top of the device houses the 3.5mm headphone jack, with a micro USB port at the bottom of the device. The back has a 13-megapixel sensor with the dual-LED flash module and the famous Motorola dimple just below it. The rest of the back is fairly clean. With the FCC information being placed on the battery, underneath the back cover. Speaking of the removable back, you'll find the micro SD and micro SIM card slot back there as well.

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The back of the Moto G4 is slightly curved, but not as curved as previous Moto devices. So it's not as comfortable in the hand as other smartphones are, under the Moto brand. It's a bit thinner too, but not as thin as the Moto Z. The back of the device has quite a bit of grip as well, making it a great device to use. During my time with the device, I haven't dropped the phone once, or felt like it would slip out of my hand. That's definitely a good thing, as the last thing you'd want is for your phone to fall out of your hand and shatter. Especially since Moto's Shattershield display is only available on the Moto Z Force and not the Moto G4 lineup.

The design of the Moto G4 isn't flashy by any means, and that's why Lenovo is able to sell it cheaper than most other smartphones. It's a pretty plain looking smartphone, while that may be an issue for some, it does still look fairly nice. And you could definitely find plenty of other "ugly" smartphones out there under $200, or just over $200.

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Display

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Finally, the display on the Moto G has been upgraded. The Moto G4 marked the graduation from 720p to a 1080p panel on this smartphone. The Moto G4, as stated already, sports an IPS display that's 5.5-inches – measured diagonally. This gives you 401 pixels per inch, and a pretty great looking display. This panel is very crisp and clear, the colors look great. Although not as great as an AMOLED display would look. Lenovo also includes a "Vibrant" mode here that enhances the color and saturation of the display. The other mode, named "Normal" displays the realistic color.

The brightness scale here on the Moto G4 is actually pretty impressive. It can go from being very dark, to being very bright. It's worked well for us in direct sunlight, being able to see the display without any issues. As well as in the dark, where it doesn't blind us. The digitizer is also really good. Those that don't know, the digitizer is built into the display and this is what registers your touches on the display. So if you have a bad digitizer, then you likely will need to press a button on the display multiple times before it actually does anything. This is often times an issue on cheaper smartphones, luckily that's not an issue here on the Moto G4.

Performance

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Inside, we have the octa-core Snapdragon 617 from Qualcomm, along with the Adreno 405 GPU. That is paired with 2GB of RAM in this model. On paper, the specs look pretty respectable, but there is a big question mark next to the amount of RAM inside the Moto G4. While many would say that 2GB of RAM is not enough in a smartphone these days, Marshmallow does a great job of using just 2GB of RAM without giving the user an unpleasant experience. We've been using the Moto G4 for about a week, and haven't noticed a single slowdown, nor have we needed to clear out all of our open apps. Typically, we'd have about 500MB of RAM free. Which is on the low side, but it hasn't affected performance.

Now when it comes to the processor, the Snapdragon 617 is the successor to the Snapdragon 615, which had a less than stellar reputation in a number of smartphones that it powered in 2015. The Snapdragon 615 was known for overheating and being very slow (sounds a lot like the Snapdragon 808 and Snapdragon 810, right?), and the Snapdragon 617 continues that trend, to an extent. The Snapdragon 617 does still get a bit warm, but it's not as slow as the Snapdragon 615. While it's not as fast as say, the Snapdragon 820, it's not painfully slow. Which is a good thing, for most people. While we would have loved a more powerful processor in the Moto G4, that would have also meant a higher price tag.

The Moto G4 does come with the choice of either 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. Lenovo has also included a micro SD card slot, which supports up to 256GB of storage. However, since this is running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, it does support Adoptable Storage. Something that most flagships have skimped on, including the LG G5, and Samsung Galaxy S7/Galaxy S7 Edge. Which means you can add all kinds of storage to the Moto G4. In fact, we popped in a 128GB micro SD card into our review unit here. And were able to get 160GB of storage. Not bad for a smartphone that comes in at just $229, eh?

Speaker & Sound

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As we mentioned already, the Moto G4 doesn't have a speaker grill. Instead, Lenovo decided to go ahead and double the earpiece as a speaker. This is something that HTC did with the HTC 10 earlier this year. But the main difference here is that, this is the only speaker on the Moto G4. There's no dual speakers here. Now, while there is just one speaker, that doesn't mean it's a bad one. The single front-facing speaker does perform quite well. And it's great that the speaker is firing towards you, instead of away from you (like a speaker on the back of the phone would be doing).

Lenovo hasn't included any options for sound here on the Moto G4. So that means there is no system-wide equalizer included. That may be a downside for some people, but the speaker does perform well. The lows are nice and bassy, while the mids and highs are still crystal clear. Now the speaker here doesn't compete with the HTC 10, but then again the HTC 10 does cost about 3-4 times as much as the Moto G4.

Moto Maker

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Moto Maker launched with the original Moto X back in 2013. It was a way for Motorola to help customers make their smartphone unique. Allowing customers to choose from different colored backs (and different materials, a bit further down the road), as well as engraving the phone and now the ability to choose your RAM and storage sizes. Moto Maker is here for the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus. It allows you to choose between a dark front or a white front with a silver frame. As far as back colors go there's Cobalt Blue, Foam, Raspberry, Chalk White, Pitch Black, Deep Sea Blue, Dark Fig and Lava Red. There are five colors available for the accents – which adds some color to the area around the camera. These include Metallic Dark Gray, Metallic Silver, Metallic Pink, Metallic Ocean and Metallic Fine Gold. So you can really order a Moto G4 and make it yours. Moto has changed up how SIM cards work with the Moto G4, when ordering through Moto Maker. You can choose to use your current SIM card, or get a new one for $5. Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint are all priced at $5.

Battery Life

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The Moto G line has had a history of having fantastic battery life. Even though they haven't typically had large batteries. The reason for this is the fact that the Moto G doesn't have as many features as flagships like the Moto X (or the Moto Z now), the Galaxy S7, HTC 10, LG G5 or any other flagship. Which means there's less background processes going on. This leads to better standby and better battery life when the device is being used. Having said that, we were able to continuously get 5 hours of on screen time on the Moto G4. And that was while playing Pokemon Go (which obviously uses a lot of battery, seeing as it's using GPS, 4G LTE and full brightness). You could likely get around 6-7 hours of on screen time, if you really nursed the Moto G4. And I have to say, that is pretty impressive. Much better than my daily driver, the LG G5, and likely better than the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge. All at a fraction of the price.

With a 3000mAh battery inside, the Moto G4 won't take too long to charge, but luckily it does have turbo charging. And the included charger is a turbo charger. Meaning that you can charge your Moto G4 nice and quick. We were able to go from around 11% to 100% in less than two hours. That's pretty darn fast, and makes it a great way to top off your phone if you are heading out for the evening.

Battery life is perhaps the best feature of the Moto G4. Seeing as most smartphones don't have great battery life, really. And to get great battery life like this from a smartphone that costs this little, is simply amazing.

Benchmarks

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As far as benchmarks go, we ran the usual set of benchmarks. This included AnTuTu, 3D Mark and Geekbench. You can see the results in the gallery down below.

Software

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When it comes to Motorola (who is now just "Moto") and software, we pretty much know what to expect. Although, with Lenovo having recently taken over Motorola, many were worried that we might lose the stock Android experience that Motorola has been using since around 2013 with the original Moto X and Moto G. Fortunately, it appears that Lenovo hasn't stuck their hands into the software of the Moto G4 (and what we've seen of the Moto Z and Moto Z Force so far). Leaving us with a mostly stock experience here on the Moto G4. This is great news on a few different levels. Most importantly, this means that the Moto G4 will still get updates fairly quickly. Although, while we are talking about updates, we would be doing a disservice if we failed to mention that the Moto G4 in our possession is sporting the May 1, 2016 security patch. That is now two months behind, still likely ahead of most flagships, but Lenovo has to do better here.

The launcher included here on the Moto G4 is the Google Now Launcher. So in terms of the launcher here, you'll get the same experience as what you get on the Nexus line up. This means that the Google Now page is on the left of the home screen, with the app drawer scrolling vertically and your top four most used apps at the top of the app drawer. It's pretty simple, but very effective.

As we all know by now, the features that Motorola includes in their devices are part of the "Moto" app, which is available on the Google Play Store. What this means is that Moto or Lenovo, will be able to update the app and these features through the Google Play Store, instead of needing to push out an entire OTA for everyone to install. This makes the user experience of upgrading much simpler, as well as making it easier for Lenovo's software team to push out updates. Now within the Moto app there just a couple of options here. Obviously there's more on the Moto Z and Moto Z Force since those are the flagship smartphones under the Moto umbrella. Here there is Moto Actions and Moto Display. If you've used a Moto device in the past few years, then you already know what these two features are.

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Moto Actions is a cluster of gestures that can be used on your Moto G4. This includes the chop twice gesture to turn on the flash light, you can flip the phone over for do not disturb, pick up the Moto G4 to stop the ringing on an incoming call, and of course the double twist to open the camera is also here. Inside the Moto app, it shows you how these gestures work and also allows you to turn off each one individually. Moto Display allows you to see your notifications on the lock screen. Although things have changed a little bit here. Unlike the previous two Moto X smartphones and this year's Moto Z and Moto Z Force, there are no IR blasters in the corner. Meaning that you can't just wave your hand over the display to see what notifications you have. Instead, the Moto G only shows Moto Display when you pick up the phone off of the table, or take it out of your pocket. This also reduces the battery drain from Moto Display. Now within the Moto app, you are able to choose which apps show their notifications on Moto Display, as well as choosing the details it shows, when the screen stays dark and whether you want it to vibrate when you touch it.

This isn't pre-installed on the Moto G4, but it is available, and that's Moto Connect. This app is available for any Android smartphone actually. If you own another Moto device like the Keylink, Moto 360, Moto Pulse, Moto Surround or the Power Pack Micro, then this is an app you'll want to install. It allows you to control these devices, as well as locate them and so much more. It's also worth noting here that the Moto G4 is eligible for free full resolution photo backup through Google Photos for two-years. Allowing you to backup your full-resolution images without having to use your Google Drive space. A great perk for the Moto G4 and their owners.

The software experience here on the Moto G4 is nice and fluid. Even with a slightly slower processor, and just 2GB of RAM, stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow appears to run very well on this device. While there were times that the phone got hot (mostly while playing Pokemon Go, for obvious reasons) the interface never really stuttered or lagged at all.

Camera

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Like the Moto app which we talked about in the software section, the Camera app for Moto devices is also available in the Play Store. Allowing developers at Lenovo to quickly push out updates to the entire line of Moto devices. The Moto Camera has undergone quite a bit of changes since it debuted on the Moto X in 2013 (and landed on the Google Play Store later that year). But there is one thing that has stayed the same here with the camera app, and that is simplicity. When you open the camera app, you won't see much there, other than the viewfinder. On the left side (if you are holding the phone in landscape mode) you'll find the timer, flash and HDR settings. Which are simple toggles, and a great place for them, as they are settings that are likely used often on a per-picture basis. On the right side, there is the camera mode, shutter button and button to switch cameras. Moto has five camera modes available here. There's the simple camera mode which everything is done in auto, then there's the video, panorama, slow motion and a manual mode. Yes, there is a manual mode on a smartphone that costs under $300. Surprising, isn't it?

Swipe in from the left side, you'll find more settings. These include things like toggling the shutter sound, deciding where to store photos (remember there is a micro SD card slot available on the Moto G4), as well as toggling Quick Capture & Save Location. Now if we move into the Photo section, there is also an option for the photo size, and shutter type. For reference, all of the photos we took with the Moto G4 during the review period, were done in 4:3 ratio, which uses all 13 megapixels in the rear-facing camera. Video settings allows you to choose between Full HD 1080p at 30FPS, 720p at 30FPS and 480p at 30FPS. If you switch over to the slow-motion option, you can then shoot in 540p at 120FPS. Not the best resolution for slow motion, but it is an option. Swiping in from the right side will show you the pictures you've recently taken. Lenovo doesn't have its own gallery app available, so these appear in the Google Photos app, which is obviously pre-installed here.

Camera Quality

When we look at cameras on smartphones in this price range, they are typically what we call "potato cameras". Because the quality isn't that great, a lot of times pictures come out blurry, the shutter is slow, and some items in the picture are blown out. However, the Moto G4 definitely shows up all of the smartphones in its class. That's a bad thing for its competitors. We were pretty impressed with the pictures that we got out of the Moto G4. In conditions where it had pretty decent lighting, the pictures came out quite nice. Of course, as is the case with any smartphone camera, the minute you zoom into the picture, it starts to break down. The Moto G4 camera doesn't appear to break down until you are all the way zoomed in though. Definitely a plus for Lenovo here. Now with panorama shots, the quality does drop a bit. However, the pictures do still come out good enough to post on social media. Perhaps not good enough to print, frame and hang up in your home of office.

With video, the Moto G4 still performs quite well. It doesn't shoot in 4K, which may not be a surprise to many people, but it does shoot in 1080p at 30FPS. And overall, it shoots pretty well. It does have auto-focus, so as you are moving the camera around, it does focus in on the subject that is in view. When you switch over to slow-motion, the resolution does take a pretty significant hit. Again, that's to be expected, since it does drop to 540p, while regular video recording is at 1080p.

We took loads of pictures and video with the Moto G4. All of which you can see in full resolution by clicking on the Flickr button below.

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The Good

Battery Life: For a smartphone of this price, the battery life is pretty phenomenal.

Cost: For what you get out of the Moto G4, a starting price of $199 (or $229 for double the storage) is definitely not bad at all.

Camera: While not everyone will agree that the camera is good, it is a good camera. And extra points to Lenovo for including a manual mode here.

Build Quality: A bit puzzling that this is a good, since it is plastic. But the build quality is still top notch, and the Moto G4 can definitely take a hit if needed.

Software Experience: The software experience here on the Moto G4 is probably the best of any smartphone under $300. And it should get updates quickly, if Motorola's history is anything to go by.

The Bad

Snapdragon 617: While it is a nice upgrade from the Snapdragon 410 that was in last year's Moto G, the Snapdragon 617 still could use some work. Especially when it comes to overheating.

Micro USB: This may not have been a big surprise to many people, but with the Moto Z and Moto Z Force having USB Type-C, it would have been nice to see all of Moto's offerings for 2016 to come with a USB Type-C port, rather than micro USB on the lower-end models like the Moto G4 family.

Screen size: Many that were fans of the Moto G lineup, were hoping for a smaller display. Something around 5-inch or 5.2-inches. Moto gave us a 5.5-inch panel here, which doesn't actually feel all that large. But we can still see the argument for a smaller display.

Water Resistance: Moto decided to take this away, after having it in the Moto G (2015) last year. A bit of an odd decision, but hopefully it'll be back in the Moto G5 next year.

Wrap Up

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The Moto G has been Motorola's most successful lineup, ever. And that's due to the value you get for such little cash. It has done well in emerging markets like India and Brazil and the new Moto G4 (as well as the Moto G4 Plus) will likely continue that. The main things that set the Moto G line apart from other smartphones is the battery life, as well as how rugged it can be. While it is unfortunate that Moto got rid of water resistance on the Moto G4 (it does still have the nano coating, so it can take a splash or two, just don't immerse it in water), it can still take a drop or two. Not that we are encouraging you to do that with your smartphone.

Should I Buy the Moto G4?

Yes and no. While I loved the experience of using the Moto G4, I think most people should pick up the Moto G4 Plus, as it is a bit more future-proof than the Moto G4. Seeing as it sports more RAM and a fingerprint scanner. However, if you are short on money, and only have about $230 to spend on a smartphone, then you really can't go wrong with the Moto G4. And as an added bonus, it works on every carrier in the US, even MVNO's, which is a pretty big deal. We wouldn't recommend getting the 16GB model – even though there is adoptable storage available – and would recommend everyone spend the extra $30 for double the storage to 32GB. Overall, the Moto G4 is a fantastic smartphone, and it may even replace some flagships as a daily driver.

Buy the Moto G4