Motorola returns to a familiar formula with the Moto E4, and makes it its cheapest 4G LTE smartphone yet.
The Moto E4 is the fourth-generation of Motorola's ultra low-cost smartphone. After having skipped the Moto E series last year, it's back and it appears - at least on paper - to be the companies best smartphone yet, that is under $150. But is it? The Moto E has a small 5-inch display, powered by a Snapdragon 425 processor and 2GB of RAM. In today's world, that's pretty low, even for a sub-$150 smartphone. But it might just be enough for the Moto E4 to provide a great experience to the user. So let's dive in and see the good and the bad of the Moto E4.
The Moto E4 actually comes in a few different variants, with three different processors. Outside of the US, it sports the MediaTek MT6737. While in the US the unlocked, Verizon and MetroPCS models get the Snapdragon 425 with the Sprint (and presumably Boost Mobile) model gets the Snapdragon 427. Otherwise the specs are the same on all of the variants. Which includes a 5-inch 720p display which nets a pixel density of 294 PPI. There is 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage available. There is a micro SD card slot available, and Motorola quotes that as supporting up to 128GB. Motorola does also support adoptable storage.
For cameras, there is a 8-megapixel sensor on the backside which has auto-focus and an LED flash (a single LED flash, not dual). The front has a 5-megapixel sensor, which is going to be good for selfies. There is no NFC included here, but there is a fingerprint sensor. Motorola does mention that the fingerprint sensor is optional in the US. There's also Bluetooth 4.1 Low Energy or LE on-board, as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack. For WiFi, we have support for 802.11 a/b/g/n, and it does have functionality for WiFi Hotspot. Finally, rounding out the specs, there is a 2800mAh battery that is removable, powering the Moto E4.
In the Box
The model that we were sent by Motorola is the Verizon variant, that will be sold on as a prepaid smartphone. So the boxing matches that. The Moto E4 box may differ a bit when it launches unlocked at other retailers in the very near future. But as for what's in the box here, you get the Moto E4, a wall charger and the battery. Since this smartphone does have a removable battery, the battery is not installed when it ships, for various reasons. It's a bit surprising that it does ship with a charger though, since there was a point where Motorola was not shipping a wall charger with the Moto G, which is a bit more expensive. This wall charger is a TurboPower wall charger, with output of up to 10W. However it's worth noting that only the Verizon model gets this 10W wall charger while others get a 5W wall charger.
The hardware and design is pretty similar to the Moto G5 Plus, which Motorola launched earlier this year. However, it's not metal, like the Moto G5 Plus was, instead it's plastic, but to be honest, it feels better in the hand than the Moto G5 Plus. The Moto E4 does still have a pretty large camera, but the bump is much smaller, in fact it's almost flush with the backside of the device. The back of the device is removable, which is why this is not a metal or glass back. But it also has some grip to it, which makes it feel good in the hand and makes it tougher to drop or have it slip out of your hand. The back is pretty clean, there's the Motorola logo beneath the camera, which is almost a dimple, but not quite. And below that is the Verizon logo. Obviously that won't be present on the unlocked model.
On the back, you'll notice that there is no speaker present, and that's because there is just one speaker, which is the earpiece. This is something that Motorola has been doing for over a year now, using the earpiece as a speaker, and in some of its higher-end smartphones, it uses it for stereo sound. But on the Moto G and Moto E series smartphones, it's the lone speaker. On the front, you'll also notice that there is a flash on the right-side of the earpiece with the camera on the left side. This should allow you to get better selfies out of the Moto E4, but we'll talk more on that later. Below the display, there is the fingerprint sensor, which is indeed surprising to see on a smartphone at this price point, but it works just as well as the Moto G5 Plus, so there's very little to complain about here.
The power button and volume rocker are found on the right side of the device, and the buttons are a bit mushy. They are also plastic, and not metal. But they aren't as clicky as some other buttons on other devices, like the Moto G5 Plus. Now this won't be an issue for most people. But one has to wonder whether this could mean broken power or volume buttons down the line, once a user presses those buttons a few hundred thousand times. Of course, only time will tell. If you were wondering where the SIM and micro SD card slots are, they are underneath the removable back. It's been a while since we've seen a phone that didn't need a SIM ejection tool to swap out the SIM or micro SD card, but here it is.
The build of the Moto E4 makes it one of the best looking smartphones in this price range. Now that's not a high bar, but the Moto E4 looks great. Despite having that large area for the camera, I think it looks better than the Moto G5 Plus. The black color of this Moto E4 that we have looks really nice and stealthy. It's hard to find any faults with the outside of the Moto E4.
There's a 720p display here on the Moto E4, which is pretty much expected for a smartphone in this price range, and with a 5-inch panel that leaves users with about 294 pixels-per-inch, which is quite low, but surprisingly the display is still pretty crisp and sharp. Arguably not as sharp as the Moto G5 Plus' display, but it's not bad either. There are many different 720p displays out there, but the one that Motorola has used on the Moto E4 is definitely one of the better ones. It is an IPS LCD display, so the blacks aren't as black as what you'd get out of an AMOLED display, but otherwise, there's very little to complain about here.
The display can appear to be a bit on the warm side, but this is something that most users likely won't even notice. You do have the option to adjust the temperature, but it's pretty limited. The only option you have here is to go from Standard to Vibrant for the display. And the Vibrant mode definitely looks better. The Moto E4 does get plenty bright, although it is not as bright as we'd like to see it outdoors in direct sunlight. It is bright enough to be used outdoors and see, but it could be a bit brighter. On the opposite side of the scale, it does get pretty dim. Now some may expect it to get a bit darker, especially those that use their phones in the dark, but it's pretty good. And the Adaptive Brightness feature on the Moto E4 is also quite good. It doesn't shoot the brightness up when you don't need it, which is nice, and that saves some battery too.
Like some other manufacturers, Motorola has used several processors on the Moto E4 for some reason. In the US, we are getting the Snapdragon 425 on the Verizon and MetroPCS models, while the Sprint model gets the Snapdragon 427 and then the rest of the world gets the MediaTek MT6737. The difference between the Snapdragon models and the MediaTek chipset is likely due to LTE. But the reason for using both the Snapdragon 425 and 427 in the US is a bit interesting, and unknown at this time.
The Snapdragon chipset in our model here has performed pretty well. It's the Snapdragon 425 since this is the Verizon variant, and like other Snapdragon 400 processors, this one has no complaints at all, when it comes to performance. The Snapdragon 425 definitely doesn't run as well as the Snapdragon 835, but it isn't supposed too. It likely is a bit more battery efficient, but there's a lot of variables there and a bit like comparing apples to oranges.
Those that want to do some light gaming on their phone will be happy with the Snapdragon 425. It's a pretty decent chipset, but it's not outstanding, when it comes to graphics. This is thanks to the Adreno 308 GPU. It'll render the graphics pretty well, unless it's an intensive game like Dead Trigger. There is also 2GB of RAM inside the Moto E4, which is borderline acceptable in 2017. The only reason why 2GB of RAM is okay in the Moto E4 is because there isn't a lot of bloat here (in fact there are only a couple of Verizon apps pre-installed on this Verizon model) and the fact that it is mostly stock Android. Meaning that there are less things running in the background using up the available RAM.
In the end, the Moto E4 will perform most daily tasks without any issues. The only time you may run into issues is if you have been using the camera a lot, or have a lot of apps in memory. Otherwise, it should be pretty smooth, at least that was our experience during the review period.
Motorola has, surprisingly, included a fingerprint sensor on the Moto E4. The fingerprint sensor is found on the front, just below the display, and like the Moto G5 Plus, it can also function as home, back and recents. The fingerprint sensor does work as expected, it's quick and accurate at recognizing your finger and unlocks instantly. Now there are none of the typical fingerprint gestures here, just the new ones that Motorola debuted on the Moto G5 Plus. So you can swipe right to left to go back or left to right to go to recents, and touch the button to go home. Unlike on the Moto G5 Plus, you do not have the option to swap these out.
Speaker & Sound
The speaker on the Moto E4 is in the earpiece like with Motorola's recent smartphones. It offers a decent experience. You won't be amazed at the audio that comes out of it, but you will be satisfied. Unlike other smartphones in this price range, the Moto E4 speaker does not sound tinny, and it is not quiet either. It produces plenty of sound, and since it is in the earpiece, it makes it more difficult to muffle the sound when playing games and such. Motorola did keep the headphone jack, which is up at the top of the Moto E4. The sound from the 3.5mm headphone jack is just as you'd expect, and the quality all depends on the headphones you plug in.
Network & Phone Calls
This Moto E4 works on Verizon as well as GSM carriers, and unfortunately the SIM card we received with our review unit was not working, so we had to pop in a T-Mobile SIM card to get things going. So our experiences, in terms of network speeds and phone calls, are all on the T-Mobile network and not Verizon's. But the experience is likely the same.
HD Voice and VoLTE are available here but within the Advanced Calling menu, which means that only works on Verizon's network and not others. It's unclear whether this is the case with the unlocked model that will be coming. Otherwise, phone calls on the Moto E4 sounded just as you'd expect, crystal clear and we had no dropped calls, which is a good thing. When it comes to network speeds, they were similar to other devices on the same network in the same location. That includes both on 4G LTE and WiFi.
For those that might be wondering, these are the bands that are supported by the Moto E4 (it does support all four US carriers):
GSM band 2, 3, 5, 8
CDMA BC 0, 1, 10
WCDMA band 1, 2, 4, 5, 8
FDD LTE band 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 25, 26, 66
TDD LTE band 38, 41
We ran AnTuTu and 3D Mark on the Moto E4. As expected, the scores are somewhat low, and that's due to the hardware on this device. For AnTuTu, it scored a 36,046, which put it at the bottom of the rankings. Keep in mind that the majority of phones in this ranking are all flagships like the Galaxy Note 5, Xiaomi Mi 6, etc. Over on 3D Mark, it picked up a score of just 53, which is pretty low but also expected given the Adreno 308 GPU inside.
As has been the case with previous Moto E and Moto G smartphones, battery life on the Moto E4 is pretty impressive. During the review period, we were seeing numbers very close to that of the Moto G5 Plus, which is around 4-6 hours of on screen time (depending on the day and the usage), which is pretty good. Especially since it was unplugged for over 24 hours on each cycle. That's right on par with the flagships coming out today that have far more features, and many more things running in the background. The 2800mAh battery sure does work well in this Moto E4, and it is also removable.
Now as for charging, you do get a 10W charger in the box, which outputs at 2A. That's pretty slow, considering most phones these days have Quick Charge 2 or later included. But it's not all bad. With there being a smaller battery here, it's still pretty quick to charge, and we never had to charge it during the day, only at night. So the charging time wasn't a big deal for us.
The battery life is impressive here, and that's not surprising. Motorola has always had pretty decent battery life in its smartphones, largely because it doesn't pack its smartphones to the gils with features and software that users may or may not use. Which does save battery life, and does allow Motorola to use smaller power packs inside its smartphones.
The Moto E4 runs the latest version of Android, which is Android 7.1.1 Nougat and a pretty recent security patch. It's running the May 1st, 2017 security patch as of this writing. Which surprisingly enough, is more up-to-date than the Moto G5 Plus which about twice as much money. It's great to see the Moto E4 running the latest version of Android, that's something that you don't always see when it comes to cheaper smartphones, but it is something that Motorola is well-known for.
On the software side, Motorola tones down their own features a bit more on the Moto E4. As far as extras go, you have Moto Actions and Moto Display, and they aren't even fully baked. For Moto Actions, you get the one button nav option as well as the swipe to shrink (which you likely don't need on the Moto E4 since it is already a pretty small smartphone). So there's no double twist for the camera and other options available here. In fact, going back to the one button navigation option, there isn't even an option to switch the swiping gestures for back and recents, like you can do on the Moto G5 Plus. When it comes to Moto Display, everything is the same here as the Moto G5 Plus, although one difference we did notice was the fact that the ring showing the battery life was in blue versus green on the Moto G5 Plus. Again not a huge deal, and something many people wouldn't notice, but still interesting.
The rest of the UI is as you'd expect from Motorola. It's stock Android 7.1.1 Nougat. The launcher is pretty close to the Pixel launcher as well. Swipe from left to right and you'll get Google Now. Swipe up for the app drawer as well. Although instead of the background of the app drawer being white, it's transparent. Which actually looks a bit better, I think. Another minor change we noticed from other Motorola devices is the fact that you are now able to put the battery percentage in the status bar. This is something that Motorola has never let happen on its smartphones, including its most recent smartphone the Moto G5 Plus. That's definitely nice to have, seeing as virtually every other smartphone out there has this already.
There's little to complain about on the software front here. It's running a very light version of Android, which is already light anyways. And even with just 2GB of RAM, the Moto E4 absolutely flies and gives us no issues in terms of lagging or being slow. Of course, Android was made to run on devices with as little as 512MB of RAM so this is definitely no surprise.
The cameras here on the Moto E4 aren't going to steal the show, and that's definitely no surprise. When you purchase a smartphone that is under $150, you don't expect it to replace your DSLR, and possibly not even your point and shoot, and that's the perspective we've taken while entering this part of the review. The camera isn't going to be as good as what you'd find on the Galaxy S8, because its' about an eighth of the price. The Moto E4 sports a 8-megapixel camera around back with auto-focus and an LED flash. As you probably noticed, it is missing a whole lot of tech there. Like Phase Detection Autofocus, Laser Autofocus, dual LED flash and more. And that is all part of what makes this smartphone that much cheaper.
Despite not having Phase Detection or Laser Autofocus, the Moto E4 is still somewhat quick at focusing. Of course, this is all dependent on the lighting conditions. In a room with decent lighting, the Moto E4 will focus pretty quickly, but in a darker room it does take a bit longer, and that's always the case with smartphones. But having PDAF and Laser Autofocus definitely helps to make that faster. Now when it comes to the actual images, they are decent. They are not great, or amazing, but often times they are good or passable. You can see a number of images we took during the review process in the gallery below.
There's nothing new with the camera UI on the Moto E4, and that's not a surprise either. As the saying goes "if it's not broke, don't fix it", and Motorola's camera UI has been heralded as one of the best out there. It's simple to use, you can swipe in from the left for settings and swipe in from the right to go to the recently taken photos in Google Photos. That's right, there is no Motorola Gallery app here, which is nice as that was a redundant app with Google Photos already being pre-installed. You are limited to four modes on the camera here, which is basically just the basics. There's auto, video, panorama and manual. With Manual you'll be able to adjust just about everything you can think of. This includes the focus point, the white balance, ISO, exposure and so much more.
Display quality not as sharp as it could be
Small amount of RAM, which isn't very future-proof.
The Moto E4 is not a smartphone that will rival the "big dogs" of the Android world, like the Galaxy S8 or LG G6, and it's not supposed too. The Moto E4 is meant to be a smartphone that can be a good option for those that don't want to (or have the money to) spend a ton on a new smartphone. The Moto E4 has a lot of bright spots and if you compare it against other smartphones in its price range, then it actually looks like an incredible value for the price, which it really is.
Should I Buy the Moto E4?
If you're not a power user (i.e. you aren't gaming on your phone a lot, or using it for RAM intensive tasks) then definitely. The Moto E4 is a great smartphone for those that use their smartphone for checking their email, checking out Twitter, sending text messages, basically the smartphone basics. And there's nothing wrong with that. There are plenty of people out there that do just that, and they don't need all the hardware and specs that something like the Moto Z Force Droid offers, and that's where the Moto E4 comes in. However, if you are looking to buy a phone and keep it for a few years, the Moto G5 Plus (or Moto G5 if you are outside of the US) might be a better choice, since it offers more RAM and a higher-end processor.