Motorola's Moto G4 Plus and the G4 are successors to the Motorola Moto G, a phone that won our Editors' Choice award last year for the best affordable smartphone. The unlocked phone market has changed considerably since then, leading to a flood of ultra-affordable devices that offer solid performance and the latest software. The G4 Plus ($249.99, 16GB ROM, 2GB RAM, $299, 64GB ROM, 4GB RAM) is nestled in an awkward spot when you compare it with its rivals. It has significantly better hardware than lower-end phones, but it's priced close enough to the top-tier OnePlus 3 and ZTE Axon 7 that most consumers are likely to opt for one of those phones to get the best bang for their buck.
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Design, Features, and Display
The G4 Plus isn't particularly eye-catching, especially if you don't get it from MotoMaker, which allows you to customize the color and accents. Built of black polycarbonate and gray metal, its dull look is balanced by a sturdy-feeling build. The front is a pane of glass, the sides are made of slick metal, and the back cover is stiff plastic. It doesn't look as premium as the all-metal Huawei Honor 5X, but it doesn't exactly feel cheap either.
With dimensions of 6.02 by 3.02 by 0.39 inches (HWD) and a weight of 5.47 ounces, the G4 Plus doesn't stand out as the most svelte phone you'll find. The OnePlus 3 (6.01 by 2.94 by 0.29 inches, 5.57 ounces) is a bit thinner, and the Blu Life One X (5.89 by 2.90 by 0.34 inches, 4.97 ounces) is half an ounce lighter. That said, I can comfortably use it with a single hand, which is a good thing for a 5.5-inch phone.
Some aspects of the Plus' design which are a bit unusual. The square fingerprint scanner works reasonably well, though it isn't as fast as the scanner on the OnePlus 3. The main issue is that its placement on the bottom lip of the phone is awkward because the scanner doesn't double as the Home button. Placing your thumb on the sensor will wake your phone up from sleep and unlock the lock screen, but when you're swiping through screens or in an app, pressing it won't return you to home. After unlocking your phone, you'll have to move your thumb up and use the on-screen buttons. It takes getting used to.
Aside from that, you'll find a power button and volume rocker on the right side, a micro USB charging port on the bottom, and a 3.5mm audio jack up top. Lifting off the back panel offers to access to the SIM card and microSD card slots. The latter worked fine with our 200GB SanDisk card in testing.
The 5.5-inch 1,920-by-1,080 IPS display is particularly impressive. The resolution works out to 401 pixels per inch, which is the same density you'll find on the Apple iPhone 6s Plus and the Huawei Honor 5X. Color reproduction is highly accurate, comparing favorably to the 6s Plus, and viewing angles are good. Text and game graphics appear crisp. Direct sunlight visibility is good when the screen is set to maximum brightness. I don't recommend using the auto-brightness setting, as it tends to make the display too dim.
Network Performance and Connectivity
The phone supports an extensive array of bands, including CDMA, which is rare for an unlocked Android phone. The Plus comes packed with CDMA (850, 1900MHz), GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz), UMTS (850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz), and LTE bands (1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/25/26/41). This means you can use the Plus on all major carriers. I was able to make voice calls and use data on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. However, I primarily tested network performance on T-Mobile since it tends to be the carrier with the best speeds in our midtown Manhattan test area. The G4 Plus fared well, managing a 20Mbps download speed outdoors, and a respectable 7Mbps indoors.
Voice calls on the G4 Plus are of good quality. Transmissions are clear and free from garbling or robotic tones. Noise cancellation is strong, and transmissions came through without a hint of background noise. The earpiece is loud but tinny, and you can easily carry on a conversation in a noisy environment.
The G4 Plus supports dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, but you won't find NFC, so there's no support for Android Pay. At this price, it feels like the feature should be included.
Processor, Battery, and Camera
Powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 617 processor, a solid midrange chipset, the phone scored 47,210 on the AnTuTu benchmark, which tests overall system performance. The G4 shares nearly identical hardware and scored a similar 46,260. The MediaTek MT6753-powered Blu Life One X doesn't score as high (37,974), but still manages to hold its own in general usage. Naturally, the OnePlus 3 with its Snapdragon 820 processor is blazing fast by comparison, scoring 141,429.
With 4GB of RAM, the Plus manages to avoid major slowdowns, but it does exhibit a small degree of latency when transitioning between apps. You won't run out of memory, but if you have a lot of apps open you'll start to notice some stuttering, even if you haven't come close to the RAM usage limit. Intensive games like GTA San Andreas and Pokemon Go showed sluggish controls and noticeable lag when driving around on the map in my tests. The issue is more pronounced on the G4, which only packs 2GB of RAM. The Blu Life One X also has its slowdowns, but it's half the price of the G4 Plus, which makes it tougher to complain about.
See How We Test Cell Phones
Battery life is solid despite the bright 1080p display. The phone clocked 6 hours and 1 minute in our rundown test, in which we stream full-screen video over LTE at maximum screen brightness. It's a much stronger runtime than the Life One X (4 hours, 4 minutes), but neither device can hold a candle to the OnePlus 3, which manages an impressive 9 hours and 48 minutes. You should have no trouble getting a full day of use. The battery isn't removable, but the Plus supports Motorola's proprietary Turbo charging when using the included adapter, yielding 6 hours of regular use from 15 minutes of charge.
The 16-megapixel rear-facing camera sounds good on paper, but it doesn't perform much better than the 13-megapixel sensor on the G4, or the Honor 5X. Pictures are clear with good color and minimal noise. Color reproduction is accurate, though the green of plants and other foliage appeared darker than usual in my tests. The camera's laser autofocus is quick and does focus noticeably faster than the G4's camera, which lacks the feature. The 5-megapixel front camera managed to take good, color-accurate pictures in most test shots. The phone records 1080p video at clear and stable 30fps. The camera app is sluggish, though, and is often slow to switch to video or the front sensor. Low-light shots are grainy, which is to typical for phones in this price range. Overall, the camera is good, but not exceptional. You'll get much better performance from the camera on the OnePlus 3.
Software and Conclusions
The phone runs stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. There are no real UI changes to speak of aside from the addition of Motorola ID in the settings menu, which links you to your Motorola account. Even better, there's no bloatware, not even stock apps. The only pre-installed app you'll find aside from Google apps is the Moto app which helps you set up gestures and display notifications. Twist your wrist to launch the camera, chop to turn on the flashlight, and turn the phone over to stop notifications. However, there's no double tap to wake, nor are there additional voice commands aside from the default "OK Google" integration.
I received the 64GB model of the G4 Plus, which has an ample 52.19GB of storage is available out of the box. It's more than enough room for all your apps, pictures, video, and games. If you get the smaller, 16GB version you may want to invest in a microSD card.
For $300, the Moto G4 Plus is a capable midrange phone, and a good option if you're concerned about cross-carrier compatibility since it supports both CDMA and GSM along with numerous LTE bands. But its sibling the G4 costs $80 less by losing the fingerprint sensor and 2GB of RAM. It offers the same degree of carrier compatibility and almost identical performance, making it the better pick among the two. If you're not likely to be switching carriers, the OnePlus 3 provides a better value. For $100 more you get higher performance, a better camera, a nicer build, and a much longer battery life. If your budget is limited, the Blu Life One X will give you solid performance for half the price.