I’ve long been a big fan of the Moto G since the original version, and I’ve used an iteration or two since its initial debut. The latest smartphones to bear the G-series moniker are the Moto G4 and the Moto G4 Plus, and upon first glance, you might have trouble discerning which is which.
That’s because both smartphones look strikingly similar. In fact, the Moto G4 Plus is essentially a Moto G4 with a few notable enhancements. As such, I’ll make references to both devices throughout this post.
Starting at just $199.99 (or as low as $149.99 via Amazon Prime special offers), the Moto G4 family of smartphones are unlocked out of the box, and work with LTE on all US-carriers. Is the Lenovo-owned Motorola still on top of its game when it comes to offering great value to budget-minded customers?
Manfrotto 502 Video Head
The Moto G4 base model can be had for $199.99 and comes with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. For $30 more, you can upgrade to 32 GB of storage. The Moto G4 Plus starts at $249.99 and comes with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. For an additional $50 you can upgrade the Moto G4 Plus to 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage space. Best of all, every configuration comes unlocked out of the box. All phones in the Moto G family can be customized and ordered via Motorola’s website.
Update: For a limited time, you can score a Moto G4 Plus with a free $50 Amazon gift card. Keep in mind that this promo will expire soon.
As noted, both phones share almost all of the same components and build materials, but there are some differences between the two. I’ve noted features below that are exclusive to the Moto G4 Plus, and have also differentiated differences between the two by using a slash. Items on the left of the slash refer to the Moto G4 Plus.
Moto G4 Plus / Moto G4
- 1080p Full HD (1920 x 1080)
- 401 ppi
- 1.5 GHz Snapdragon 617 octa-core processor
- 550 MHz Adreno 405 GPU
- 2 GB or 4 GB / 2 GB
- Fingerprint reader (G4 Plus only)
- Ambient Light
- 16 MP / 13 MP
- Laser auto focus (G4 Plus Only)
- Phase detect auto focus (PDAF) (G4 Plus Only)
- 1080p video
- ƒ/2.0 aperture
- Color balancing dual LED flash
- 5 MP
- ƒ/2.2 aperture
- 1080p video
- 16 GB or 64 GB internal / 16 GB or 32 GB internal
- microSD up to 128 GB
- 3000 mAh non-removable battery
- TurboPower for up to 6 hours of power in 15 minutes of charging
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As you can see, the biggest difference between the two is that the Moto G4 Plus includes a fingerprint scanner, while the regular Moto G4 does not. In this day and age, I don’t think I’d want a phone without a fingerprint scanner, but for the sake of cost savings, I can understand why it was omitted.
There are other differences as well. The Moto G4 Plus features a camera sensor packing more megapixels, along with laser auto focus and phase detection auto focus. Both cameras feature an ƒ/2.0 aperture on the rear-facing shooter.
The final difference between these two smartphones is that the Moto G4 Plus has the option of being customized with 64 GB of on-board storage and 4 GB of RAM. The regular G4 maxes out at 32 GB of internal storage with 2 GB of RAM.
Everything else about these devices are exactly the same. Outside of the obvious fingerprint scanner and the laser auto focus module above its camera, the G4 Plus is indistinguishable from the G4.
With this in mind, most of this review will be from the perspective of a G4 Plus owner, but the majority of my sentiments can be shared for either device, they’re just that similar. There are some areas, such as the camera and fingerprint scanner, where things will need to diverge a bit, and I’ll be sure to do so accordingly.
In 2016, a Full HD (1080p) resolution might seem low for a 5.5″ display, but with 401 PPI, I find that it’s good enough. Remember that the iPhone 6s Plus still rocks a 1080p display, and unless you’re using your phone for VR applications, 1080p at under 6 inches should be fine.
The 5.5″ IPS LCD panel won’t offer users the inky black levels of AMOLED panels, but I found that neither phone suffered from backlight bleed like some of the other phones that I’ve tested this year.
Thanks to the IPS panel, viewing angles are particularly good on the G4, and color accuracy is good as well.
Although buyers can take advantage of Motorola’s “Moto Maker” program for customizing the phone’s removable back panel and accents, Motorola sent both phones with a standard black back panel. Not only does this make each phone hard to distinguish from one another, but the look is very understated and, to be honest, a little on the boring side.
That’s not to say that the Moto G4 Plus is a bad-looking phone, because it isn’t — it’s just a little muted in this visual configuration. Take advantage of the Moto Maker program to lend the device the little extra spice that it needs.
The phone features edge-to-edge glass that meets the metal band surrounding the perimeter of the handset. Metal is used sparingly, however, and everything else about the phone, sans the display and a few accents, is plastic. The back removable panel is plastic, as are most of the internals underneath the back panel.
On the front of the phone, near the top, you’ll find a speaker that doubles as an earpiece. To the right of the earpiece you’ll spot the 5 MP front-facing shooter, which is also capable of shooting videos at 1080p.
At the bottom of the device, you’ll spot a small microphone hole next to the fingerprint sensor (G4 Plus only). If you buy the standard Moto G4 without the fingerprint sensor, then the bottom of the device is blank outside of the microphone hole.
The rear of the handset is just as simple, with a metal accented area for the camera housing and dual LED flash, and another small microphone just to the upper-left of the camera. G4 Plus owners will also notice two small dots above the 16 MP shooter, which relate to the laser auto focus system that’s exclusive to the G4 Plus.
The rear cover features a simple Motorola logo in a slightly recessed area beneath the camera housing. Underneath the back cover, you’ll find an area for the nano SIM and the microSD card. The battery, like previous Moto G phones, is non-removable.
The top of the Moto G4 features a 3.5mm headphone jack, while the bottom of the device features a micro USB port for charging. It’s unfortunate that Motorola decided to go with micro USB instead of USB-C, but it is what it is.
Lastly, the right side of the handset features a textured power button and a volume rocker. The left side of the G4 is free of any buttons and is just one continuous smooth metal surface.
How does it feel?
With a 5.5″ display, the Moto G4 Plus trends on the larger side of the fence. It’s certainly much larger than the iPhone 6s, or Galaxy S7, but it compares nicely to larger phones like the iPhone 6s Plus, LG G5, and the HTC 10.
If you’re used to handling larger smartphones, then using the Moto G4 is easy, but if you’re coming from a previous generation Moto G, then you’ll have to get used to the extra size.
The fingerprint scanner on the pricier Moto G4 Plus features an embossed area around it for resting your finger. It works great, but I’m not overly fond of its texture.
The fingerprint scanner is capacitive and operates solely as a security mechanism for unlocking your phone and apps. This means that the scanner won’t work as a Home button, which means you’ll still need to use the software Home button. In my experience, this setup takes some getting used to; I can’t tell you how many times I tried to press the fingerprint scanner to go back to the Home screen.
Overall battery life on the Moto G4 Plus is as advertised, and will last all day with moderate mixed usage of the browser, audio and video playback. As with all smartphones, keeping the screen brightness at a reasonable level is one of the main keys to maximizing battery life.
The good news is that if you do need to recharge, you can do so quickly. Thank to Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 2.0 technology, dubbed “TurboPower” in Moto’s vernacular, I was able to charge the Moto G4 Plus from completely dead to 42% in 30 minutes.
One of the great things about Motorola phones is that the company refrains from inundating them with unnecessary bloatware. Sure, there are some customizations to be found on the G4, but such changes are minimal, and are usually beneficial for the user.
Examples of such beneficial changes can be seen with Motorola’s Action gestures for performing quick tasks. For instance, you can perform a double karate chop gesture to invoke the flashlight, or flip the phone over to silence notifications, or twist your wrist twice to open the camera. These are tweaks that longtime Motorola customers are now used to seeing, and they add value to the overall software package.
The Moto G4 interface — simple and clean
Motorola also provides a battery-friendly Lock screen notification system called Moto Display. Moto Display allows users to see and interact with notifications without displaying the normal Lock screen view. Dragging up on new notifications allows users to view a full notification preview, while dragging down performs a dismiss.
As noted, there are minimal Motorola additions to the stock Android experience, and that’s usually a good thing. Unlike Samsung phones with heavy-handed skinning and bloatware apps, you’re getting close to a stock Android 6.0 experience with the Moto G4 Plus.
The Moto Display Lock screen notifications
Despite the lack of bloatware and unnecessary skinning, I did run into more than a few occasions of stutter, slow animations, and overall choppy performance. This occurred while using the Moto G4 Plus, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the same issues occurred when using the regular Moto G4.
In some rarer cases, the phone just freaked out as if its screen was being tapped when it wasn’t. In most cases, however, the performance of the G4 was perfectly fine, even with multiple apps in memory. That leads me to believe that a software update might cure some of the performance issues that I encountered.
The 4 GB of RAM featured on the highest end Moto G4 Plus allows apps to stay in memory for a longer period of time. I tested out loading a dozen Chrome tabs on both the devices, and found that the Plus model could, unsurprisingly, accommodate more browser tabs without necessitating a refresh. This same principle not only applies to browser tabs, but it applies to apps as well. You’ll be able to keep more apps in memory with the 4 GB-toting G4 Plus, which helps speed up usage.
Not having NFC on the low-end Moto G4 makes sense, as it lacks a fingerprint sensor to take advantage of Android Pay. Lacking NFC on the fingerprint sensor-equipped Plus model is a little harder to justify.
I understand the whole idea of cutting costs, but NFC is such an integral part of the Android experience at this point and time. It’s bizarre to see the popular feature omitted on a device with a fingerprint scanner in 2016. Don’t expect to be able to use Android Pay, instantly pair to Bluetooth devices, quickly migrate data from older devices, etc. The lack of NFC is a real bummer for the Moto G4 Plus.
Sound is definitely not on the high priority list when it comes to Motorola’s latest entry into the G-series line. The smartphone features a single front-firing speaker that shares space with the headset’s ear piece. Sound is thin and uninspiring, and prone to distortion at higher volume levels. You’ll definitely want to use headphones if you plan on listening to music.
Everything about the two cameras are exactly the same outside of megapixel count (16 vs 13) and focus abilities. The higher-end Moto G4 Plus includes both phase detection and laser auto focus, while the Moto G4 relies on traditional contrast-based focusing.
It should thus come as no surprise the G4 Plus is a bit snappier when it comes to locking on to a subject. Neither phone is as fast as the Galaxy S7 in my testing, but the G4 Plus was noticeably quicker with focusing than the regular G4.
Moto G4 (left) versus Moto G4 Plus
Image quality is without a doubt better on the Moto G4 Plus, especially in low light conditions. Not only is Motorola packing in more pixels, but the pixels are also larger at 1.3 μm. Larger pixels allows the sensor to take in more light, which let it keep the ISO sensitivity down in low light conditions. High ISO adds more noise to photos, which is why the photos taken with the Moto G4 appear noisier than the G4 Plus.
Moto G4 (left) versus Moto G4 Plus – notice the high ISO
Couple the better sensor with the enhanced focusing abilities, and you have a compelling upgrade if you’re into taking pictures. Neither device supports 4K video, but that’s not entirely surprising at this price point.
Moto G4 front-facing 5 MP camera still
The front-facing camera on both phones is pretty good, and shoots 1080p video
Moto G4 Plus 1080p video
At $299.99 for the top-end Moto G4 Plus model with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage, both smartphones are budget friendly options. However, a lot of the decision-making will have to do with personal preference.
For example, it would be hard for me to use a smartphone that lacks a fingerprint sensor, but some of you may not feel that way. If not, then the $199 Moto G4 is an extremely capable option at a great price. If you need the fingerprint sensor, then you can upgrade to the G4 Plus for an additional $50.
In my opinion the biggest missing feature when it comes to the Moto G4 is the lack of NFC. That’s a head-scratcher for sure, especially on the Plus model since it’s equipped with a fingerprint scanner. It means that you simply can’t use technologies like Android Pay, and the phone lacks all of the other benefits offered by NFC. For some, that may be an outright deal breaker.
Neither the Moto G4 or the Moto G4 Plus is perfect, but budgets require compromises. Although these latest models are nowhere near as groundbreaking as the original Moto G, Motorola continues to build on the foundation set by the line’s predecessors. Since all Moto G4 phones comes unlocked, you aren’t obligated to any monthly charges, which makes this a perfect second smartphone, a test device, a first foray into the world of Android, a phone for children, etc. It’s very similar to Seth’s sentiments regarding last year’s G-series phone.