Motorola Moto G4 review: A better buy than the Moto G5, but should you wait for the G6?

£169
Price when reviewed

Motorola Moto G4 review: Display

In terms of its speed and battery life, the Moto G4 is a budget tour de force, and it continues that trend with the display, which is, quite simply, magnificent. It has a 5.5in IPS screen with a Full HD resolution (that’s 1,920 x 1,080), and it’s sharp as anyone really needs at this size.

You can’t see any pixels unless you squint really hard (or get out the magnifying glass), and unless you plan on using your phone for VR, you’ll never notice the difference between its sharpness and that of a higher-resolution phone such as the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

Best of all, though, Motorola has clearly spent some time in the lab tweaking, polishing and perfecting how it performs.

Indeed, for a smartphone that costs a good deal less than £140 on Amazon UK (or $199 on Amazon US), the Moto G4’s screen is astonishingly good. Maximum brightness reaches all the way up to 540cd/m2, which is better than the best phones in this price bracket by an enormous margin, and it’s almost twice as bright as its predecessor, which was no slouch itself.

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In terms of maximum brightness in smartphones below £200, the only handset we’ve reviewed that gets close is the Honor 5X, and even then it’s a significant 70cd/m2 behind.

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The contrast ratio is highly impressive, too, and although the sRGB coverage isn’t quite as good as on phones with AMOLED displays (the Galaxy J5 and OnePlus X, for instance, cover 100%), it’s good enough that colours still look vibrant and easy on the eye.

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In the case of the Moto G4, the average Delta E is a mere 1.3. What does this mean? Essentially that, for most colours in the sRGB colour gamut, most people would struggle to tell the difference between the intended colour (shown on the left half of the table above) and the one shown on the screen (shown in the right half).

To make problem areas easy to spot, the table above has a small bar to the right of each colour indicating how far away it is from what it should be, and each bar is colour coded: green and yellow are acceptable, red is not.

You can see that the only problematic area in terms of colour accuracy, in fact, is pale green, which the Moto G4 shows as slightly more saturated than it should do; even then, the problem isn’t huge. Photos, graphics and video content all appear pretty much as the creator intended – as long as that content was created with the help of equally colour-accurate hardware – and to my eyes, there’s no significant weakness here.

What may have more impact on usability than that slight weakness with recreating subtle green tones, is that it dims to only 22cd/m2 (measured at minimum brightness on a white screen). This may not sound like much, but it’s still bright enough to shine like a beacon in a darkened room compared with the best phones I’ve seen. The Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, for instance, dips below 2cd/m2. So, if you’re one of those people (you know who you are!) in the habit of checking your phone in the cinema, be aware that the Moto G4 will earn you the ire of your fellow movie-goers. Otherwise, it’s an absolute cracker.

Buy the Motorola Moto G4 now from Amazon

Motorola Moto G4 review: Cameras

Happily, the camera is also great. You get a 13-megapixel rear camera with an f/2 aperture and a dual-LED flash for low-light indoor shots. There’s no laser or phase-detect autofocus here (for that you have to move up to the pricier Moto G4 Plus), nor optical image stabilisation, but there’s no problem with image quality.

Photographs shot on the Moto G4 are packed with detail and well exposed. Noise is kept under control in all but the darkest of scenes, and the HDR mode works well to equalise extremes of shadow and highlight (as long as you hold the phone steady).

I especially like how easy it is to drag the focus and exposure point around the screen and adjust the exposure compensation to suit. The only problem I had was that autofocus was somewhat slow to lock onto a subject, and occasionally a little jumpy and erratic.

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And don’t kid yourself that you’re getting Nexus 5X or 6P levels of quality here. The Moto G4’s photographs lack the fine detail and low-light performance of those phones.

For the money, however, what the Motorola Moto G4’s rear camera is capable of is nothing short of stunning, and it’s significantly better than the Moto G (3rd gen), capturing far cleaner, sharper and less noisy images.

The front camera is accomplished as well. With a resolution of 5 megapixels, it captures colourful and crisp selfies. There are no gimmicks here, such as the skin-smoothing, eye-enlarging craziness of Honor’s phones, but the wide-angle lens does mean that you don’t have to stretch out your arm to get in a decent chunk of background, or a group of friends.

Motorola Moto G4 review: Software

Of course, what usually puts the Moto G head and shoulder above its rivals is the quality of its Android skin, and the refreshing lack of any irritating or unnecessary eye-candy. Fortunately, nothing has changed on this front. The Moto G4 runs on a base of Android 6 Marshmallow, and it looks largely as Google originally intended it to look.

That means it’s clean, clearly laid out and sharply tailored. The pull-down notification menu looks and behaves exactly as it should, and has all the same toggles and switches as you’d expect to see on a Nexus handset. Google Now on Tap is in place, as is the new more granular permissions system, and everything else that makes Android 6 so good.

Naturally, there are some of Motorola’s own features here, too, but they’re mostly highly useful and unobtrusive. The Moto G4’s gestures are my favourites. These allow you to access some basic functions by waving or waggling the phone around in a specific way while it’s on standby.

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Want to quickly switch on the torch? Simply do a double karate chop with the phone in your hand (you don’t actually need to hit anything) and it will switch on. Another double-chop and it turns off again.

Need to get into the camera app quickly? Simply twist the phone in your hand twice in quick succession. If you haven’t used a Motorola phone before, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get used to doing this – and you’ll really miss it if you ever move to a different brand.

The Moto G4’s Active Display is just as handy. The phone senses whenever you pick it up, and displays the time and the date, plus recent notifications, so you may not have to turn on the phone at all. And if you do need to read more, simply touch the notification displayed on the screen, drag it up and the Moto G4 will unlock itself straight to the app in question. It’s all sensible and very, very useful. Don’t ever stop doing it, Motorola.

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Sadly, Motorola’s record for Android updates has suffered under Lenovo’s ownership. When the first Moto G was launched, Motorola had a decent record of issuing updates nearly as quickly as Google issued them for Nexus devices, but that’s no longer the case.

Also, interestingly, although it comes with Marshmallow the Moto G4 doesn’t ship with full disk encryption enabled by default. That’s odd, because it was always supposed to be one of the big new features of Marshmallow when it was first released. You can enable it yourself by delving into the settings, though.

The question on everyone’s lips right now, however, is when will the Moto G4 get Android N, especially given that Google has now officially released the software? The answer is it’s not likely to arrive before Google’s annual smartphone refresh, and that means probably not until mid October at the very earliest.

I’ll be updating this review with more information whenever I get it, but for now, you can keep tabs on when this momentous event is likely to take place by bookmarking our When will I get Android 7.0 Nougat on my phone? page and checking in periodically.

As I’ve highlighted above, though, Lenovo’s record in updating its existing Moto phones hasn’t so far been as good as in recent years, when the firm was owned by Google. That’s a shame as the the new OS brings with it a host of new features, including inline replies for message notifications and the ability to split-screen applications. Read our full review to read about these changes in more detail, and to find out about what else is new in Android Nougat.

Motorola Moto G4 review: Verdict

As an all-round package, it’s hard to find fault with the Motorola Moto G4. It may be a touch more expensive than last year’s Moto G, but since it’s better in most ways – with superior battery life, a better camera, a brighter, bigger screen and a sleeker, more grown-up design – you won’t find me complaining.

There may be some who complain that the Moto G is now too big, and yes, for those with smaller hands and pockets it may be a stretch too far. But let’s not get too hung up about what the Moto G4 isn’t and celebrate what it is: it’s one hell of a smartphone, and delivers more bang per buck than any smartphone to date. If you’re looking to spend less than £200 on your next handset, there’s simply no better choice than the Motorola Moto G4.

Motorola Moto G4 specifications

Motorola Moto G4 Plus specifications

ProcessorOcta-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 617Octa-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 617
RAM2GB2GB/4GB
Screen size5.5in5.5in
Screen resolution1,920x1,0801,920x1,080
Screen typeIPSIPS
Front camera5 megapixels5 megapixels
Rear camera13 megapixels16 megapixels
FlashLEDLED
GPSYesYes
CompassYesYes
Storage (free)16GB (10.8GB) / 32GB32GB / 64GB
Memory card slot (supplied)microSDmicroSD
Wi-Fi802.11ac802.11ac
BluetoothBluetooth 4.2 LTEBluetooth 4.2 LTE
NFCNoNo
Fingerprint sensorNoYes
Wireless data3G, 4G3G, 4G
Size153x77x7.9mm153x77x7.9mm
Weight155g155g
Operating systemAndroid 6.0.1Android 6.0.1
Battery size3,000mAh3,000mAh
WarrantyOne year RTBOne year RTB
Price SIM-free (inc VAT)£169£229 (32GB); £264 (64GB)

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