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Motorola Moto G4 Plus review: A minor step up, but not the best deal

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The Motorola Moto G4 Plus and Moto G4 are extremely similar Android phones that perform far better than you'd expect for the price. In fact, these fourth-generation entries in the Moto G line effectively redefine value in the smartphone realm, moving from merely "good enough" to "amazingly good for the money."

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Motorola Moto G4 Plus

The Good

In addition to retaining its sibling's water-resistant body and full HD screen, the Moto G4 Plus adds a fingerprint sensor, slightly better camera, and you can select more storage and memory.

The Bad

That fingerprint scanner confusingly looks like a home button, and the lack of NFC means you can't use the phone for contactless payments.

The Bottom Line

The Moto G4 Plus adds a fingerprint sensor and slightly better camera to the mix, but its cheaper sibling is still the better deal.

Both phones offer a bevy of solid features, including 5.5-inch full HD screens, capable octa-core processors and decent 3,000mAh batteries, including some notable niceties -- expandable storage and water-resistant bodies -- not found on current iPhone models that retail for three times as much.

The Moto G4 Plus edges ahead in the specs race with a fingerprint sensor and a better camera. Unfortunately, though, it doesn't include NFC compatibility for Android Pay purchases at real-world retailers.

For that reason, we're more inclined to stick with the base G4 model, which costs just $199 or £169 at its base configuration. But if you value scanning your finger to unlock and zooming in to photos for more detail, the Plus may well be worth the modest price increase -- an extra $50 or £30.

Read our full review of the Moto G4 for details on both phones, or continue here for a quick overview on the primary differences between the two models.

Editors' note (July 6, 2016): This review has been corrected to reflect that the G4 Plus does not offer NFC or Android Pay, and that we recommend the cheaper Moto G4 as the better overall buy.

Motorola Moto G4 Plus tops the G4 with a fingerprint scanner

See all photos

What's the price difference?

Motorola doesn't make it easy to give a direct comparison between the US and UK markets. That's because the phone is available in slightly different configurations at retailers (like Amazon) and the company's own Moto Maker site (where you can configure customised versions). But the bottom line is that both phones have amazingly low starting prices for what you're getting.

The base 16GB G4 is $199 or £169. Adding $30 or £30 gets you a 32GB version at Motorola's website. (For the equivalent price in Australian dollars, please see the spec chart at the end of this review.)

The base 16GB version of the G4 Plus starts at $249 or £199. For £30 more (£229), those in the UK can get a 32GB version (not currently available in the US). The Plus tops out at $299 or £264 for 64GB, which also doubles the on-board RAM to 4GB from 2.

The bottom line is that the Plus adds a couple of "nice to have" features, especially if you prefer to unlock the phone with your fingerprint or like to zoom in to your photos for greater detail. But the lack of NFC and full Android Pay features makes us inclined to stick with the baseline G4 model.

What's different between the G4 and G4 Plus?

It boils down to two main things. The G4 Plus has a larger, 16-megapixel (versus 13MP) camera and a fingerprint scanner that unlocks the phone. What the Plus also allows you to do is spec up the internal storage capacity up to 64GB, which also snags you double the RAM (4GB in total).

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

If the fingerprint scanner had worked with point of sale Android Pay, the G4 Plus would be an easy recommendation over its less expensive twin. But its lack of NFC means you won't be paying for cabs and Chicken McNuggets at the register.

One other problem with the fingerprint sensor is that it looks like a home button and I regularly found myself pressing it to leave an app -- which does nothing, as it purely functions as a scanner.

Do I need the G4 Plus's 16-megapixel camera?

More resolution means more pixels are crammed into the image, so fine details on shots taken with the Plus's 16-megapixel sensor look sharper. Take a look at the comparison image below to see what that really does to an image.

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Moto G4 Vs Moto G4 Plus camera resolution comparison (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

More pixels don't always make better-looking photos, though. Both phones can capture lovely scenes and are well equipped for your summer snaps. The resolution is only a benefit if you want to zoom in on details, or display them at full screen on a monitor. If you mostly look at your shots on the phone or on Instagram, the extra resolution matters less.

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Moto G4 Plus camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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Moto G4 Plus camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
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Moto G4 Plus camera test (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The G4 Plus' laser-assisted autofocus, in basic terms, uses invisible light to judge the distance between your phone and your subject. In theory, that will allow the autofocus to work faster, locking onto your subject with lightning-fast speeds.

It sounds fancy on paper, but in everyday use I didn't notice much difference in the time it takes to lock onto a subject on the Plus versus the regular G4. Sure, it's nice to have, but it shouldn't be the main reason to upgrade to the Plus.

But the other specs are the same?

Yep. Both phones have bright, sharp 5.5-inch displays with full HD resolutions (1,920x1,080-pixels). They're the same physical size and have the same processors, 3,000mAh batteries and 5-megapixel front-facing cameras. They're both water-resistant (they can take a dunking), and have microSD expansion slots (up to 128GB) for cheap and easy storage upgrades.

I use a lot of social networks. Can it handle Snapchat?

Absolutely. Its octa-core processor is well-suited to everyday tasks like WhatsApp messaging, Tweeting and Snapchatting. Even photo editing in Snapseed handles just fine. There's not much you'll need to do on a daily basis that this phone won't be able to manage.

What about gaming?

Lightweight games like Two Dots or Crossy Road will play fine, so the casual mobile gamers wanting to kill time on the commute are adequately catered for. More hardcore gamers among you will want to consider a handset with a bit more grunt behind it.

Spec comparison chart

Motorola Moto G4Motorola Moto G4 PlusOnePlus 3Samsung Galaxy J3 (2016)
Display size, resolution 5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5-inch; 1,280x720 pixels
Pixel density 401ppi401ppi401ppi294ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6.0 x 3.0 x 0.39 in.6.0 x 3.0 x 0.39 in.6.01x2.94x0.29 in.5.6 x 2.8 x 0.3 in.
Dimensions (millimeters) 153 x 76.6 x 9.8 mm153 x 76.6 x 9.8 mm152.7x74.7x7.35 mm142 x 71 x 7.9 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.47 oz. (155g)5.47 oz. (155g)5.57 oz. (158g)4.87 oz. (138g)
Mobile software Android 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0.1 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 Marshmallow
Camera 13-megapixel16-megapixel16-megapixel5-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel5-megapixel8-megapixel2-megapixel
Video capture 1,080p HD1,080p HD4K720p
Processor 1.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6171.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6172.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 8201.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410
Storage 16/32GB16/32/64GB64GB16GB
RAM 2GB(up to) 4GB6GB2GB
Expandable storage Up to 128GBUp to 128GBNoneUp to 128GB
Battery 3,000mAh (removable)3,000mAh (removable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)2,600mAh (removable)
Fingerprint sensor NoneBelow screenHome buttonNone
Connector Micro-USBMicro-USBUSB-CMicro-USB
Special features Water-resistantWater-resistantNotifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash ChargingN/A
Price off-contract (USD) $199$249$399$110-$180 (varies by carrier)
Price (GBP) £169£199"£309 "£140 (8GB version)
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$335Converts to AU$395Converts to AU$541AU$329.00

It's waterproof, right?

Well, it's water resistant. That means it'll keep on trucking after you've spilled your beer on it and don't worry about forgetting it in your shorts if you jump in the pool (but then take it out). What you shouldn't do though is submerge it fully in water for long periods of time, so don't purposely take it swimming and don't plan to use it on a scuba-diving trip.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

So, should I buy it?

Whether you're on a budget or not, the Moto G4 Plus is a great phone. It's a solid all-rounder for texts, emails and Instagrams that will leave you plenty of cash in the bank to splash on sweets or cookies or whatever you kids are into these days.

The only problem is that the standard Moto G4 is even cheaper -- and you're only "losing" the fingerprint sensor and a bit of camera resolution you probably won't notice in everyday photos.

They're both great phones of course and as there's no difference in screen size, screen resolution, processor performance or design. But the standard G4 is the hands-down better deal.

What else could I consider?

If you're after more performance and a slicker design, then you should check out the OnePlus 3. It's loaded with top tech and has a slim, metal body, but at $399 (£309) it's a fair chunk more than the G4 Plus.

Samsung's Galaxy J3 is a cut-price handset with a big name attached. It's cheaper than the G4 Plus (£140, $180), and its battery puts in a good fight but you'll be making sacrifices in terms of processor and camera performance -- I wouldn't recommend it.

The Moto G4 and G4 Plus, by comparison, are fantastic values at their respective prices, with the standard G4 being the ultimate budget champ.

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Motorola Moto G4 Plus

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Camera 7Battery 8