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Motorola Moto G4 review: An unbeatable Android bargain

The G4 packs everything you need from an everyday phone into a water-resistant body. And it charges a rock-bottom price for the total package.

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Andrew Lanxon
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Andrew Lanxon

Lead Editor, CNET Advice, Europe; Lead Photographer, Europe

Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.

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Since we first reviewed the Moto G4 and G4 Plus, Motorola has kept busy, expanding the Moto line to include even less expensive variants of their flagship budget phone.

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8.1

Motorola Moto G4

The Good

The Moto G4's big, bold screen and junk-free software make it a pleasure to use throughout the day. Its ability to survive a dunking will appeal to the clumsy among us.

The Bad

Processor performance is great for everyday tasks, but gamers will want to shop elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

With its big, bold screen, water-resistant design and rock-bottom price, the Moto G4 is a dazzling deal.

Fall 2016 update

And if there was no Moto G4, the less expensive, stripped-down Moto G4 Play would be the deal of the century. For just $150 (or $100 for Amazon Prime members who submit to Amazon Prime ads, like this), £130 and AU$279, you get a budget phone that's surprisingly pleasant to use, for a rock-bottom price. But there is a Moto G4, and its larger screen, superior camera and faster processor cost just a bit more than the G4 Play ($50 or £39). For most people, the Moto G4 is well worth the additional cost.

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The G4 Play (left) and the larger G4.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Moto E3 isn't available yet, but we do know this: it's not expensive. At £99, it's about £70 cheaper than the G4 (US and Australian pricing and availability isn't yet known, but £99 converts to roughly $130 and AU$175). And it doesn't appear to have the fatal tradeoffs we often see in the budget end of the market. Specs include a 5-inch, 720p display; quad-core processor; 8-megapixel rear camera; and 5-megapixel front camera. Plus, it runs Android Marshmallow, comes equipped with a microSD card slot, and is water-resistant (like the G4).

Dedicated bargain hunters in the US may also consider the Blu R1 HD, which can be purchased (with preloaded Amazon apps and lock screen ads) for a mere $50. That noted, despite the emergence of its lower-priced siblings, for now, the Moto G4 and G4 Plus remain at the top of the pile in the budget phone category.

Editors' note: The original Moto G4 review, originally published July 6, follows.

The Moto G has always been among the top dogs when it comes to "cheap but good" phones and the new G4 -- and slightly fancier G4 Plus -- have kept up that tradition.

Competition in the budget arena has never been more fierce, but the newest fourth-generation Moto G continues to hold its own thanks to a host of hardware upgrades, including a larger and brighter 5.5-inch, full HD display and faster octa-core processor, without shedding last year's water-resistant construction and expandable storage (you can add up to 128GB by adding ultra cheap microSD cards).

And then there's that price. In the US, you'll pay $199 for the unlocked phone, which will work with all major US carriers. Amazon Prime members in the States can also buy the phone for $150 from Amazon, if you accept ads -- and they're easy to ignore. Our review of the Moto G4 Amazon Prime edition here.) In the UK, the standard 16GB Moto G4 starts at a similarly affordable £169.

Motorola -- which is now owned by Lenovo, by the way -- hasn't said how much the phones will go for in Australia, but the Moto G4's UK price converts to about AU$300.

So what's the catch? Not much, really. Spending a bit more for the aforementioned Moto G4 Plus gets you a fingerprint sensor (for easy unlocking), a slightly better camera and -- at the top end -- double the RAM and even more built-in storage. But neither phone has NFC or contactless payment options, so the Plus upgrades don't feel worth the extra money in our book.

Powerful, waterproof and affordable: The new Moto G4 and G4 Plus

See all photos

Moto G4 vs. G4 Plus: What's the difference?

The G4 Plus gets its name from its 16-megapixel camera (up from 13 on the regular G4) and a fingerprint scanner on the front. It also offers more RAM (4GB vs. 2GB) on its top-end 64GB configuration. Otherwise the phones are the same, from processor to screen.

Obviously, the Plus costs a bit more -- and configurations vary by region. Americans will pay $50 more for the 16GB Plus ($250), while those in the UK will pay an additional £30 (£199). An extra $100 or £95 gets you a 64GB G4 Plus, which -- as noted above -- also doubles the RAM. (The UK also gets a 32GB Plus that doesn't appear to be available in the US.)

That said, none of those upgrades are particularly compelling in my book. I kept confusing the Plus's fingerprint sensor for a home button (it's not), and its lack of NFC means there's no contactless payment option. The extra megapixels in the camera, meanwhile, didn't offer a big difference in everyday shots, unless you were zooming in. For those reasons, the cheaper G4 is the better option for nearly everyone.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Slender and water-resistant

The Moto G4 and the G4 Plus are almost identical. They both have 5.5-inch screens, which is half an inch larger than the previous model and a full inch larger than the original Moto G from 2013. Both displays have full HD (1,920x1,080-pixel) resolutions, which are bright, bold and well suited to your tweeting and snapchatting.

Even better, the handsets are water-resistant, so they won't shut down the first time you spill your drink on them. The back panel is removable, providing access to the microSD slot to expand the storage. You can't swap the battery out, but its 3,000 mAh capacity is sufficient for a full day of use, so you may not need to carry spares around.

On our looping video battery rundown test, it took 13 hours 20 minutes to drain the battery entirely, which is a respectable performance. By comparison, the LG G5 took 12 hours 30 minutes, while the OnePlus 3 took 14 hours 17 minutes.

As with the rest of the Moto family, you can select from a wide range of back panels and metallic accents using the online Moto Maker tool. This is also where you can choose the amount of storage (16 or 32GB for the G4; 16 (US), 32 (UK) or 64GB for the G4 Plus, with 4GB of RAM for that most capacious option).

Nippy software, free of junk

The G4s run a near stock version of Google's Android 6.1 Marshmallow software, making them easy for even Android novices to use right out of the box. (Motorola will eventually offer a Moto G4 Play version too, which will have totally stock Android.) Many budget phone makers -- I'm looking at you, Huawei -- load their phones up with so much junk from the start that they're tough to navigate and find the essential features. Not so here. The interface is uncluttered, and aside from a single Motorola personalisation app, there's no messy bloatware.

That lack of bloatware helps the phone feel nippy and responsive. There's no annoying lag when you swipe around the home screens, the camera opens quickly and loading apps is very swift.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Both models come with octa-core processors, which are more than sufficient for your everyday social networking. Gaming is adequate enough for a morning train or bus commute, but not robust enough for gamers. In our processor benchmarking tests, they don't come even close to the mighty Samsung Galaxy S7, but at this price -- basically a third of the Samsung -- we don't expect them to.

The fingerprint scanner on the front of the Plus is quick to set up and works very well, rarely failing to recognise my prints. My chief complaint, again, is that it does look like a physical home button, just like the ones you'd find on the Galaxy S7 or iPhone 6S. I regularly found myself pressing it to exit an app, which simply did nothing. I really wish Moto had built in the ability to make it function as a home button, as well as a scanner. And without full contactless payment support, it feels rather underutilized.

Camera

The standard Moto G4 comes with a 13-megapixel camera, which is a touch below the 16 megapixels of the G4 Plus. While there's a noticeable difference in resolution when you zoom in on details, if you only ever look at your snaps on your phone screen or on Instagram, you probably won't need the extra pixels. The G4's shots are mostly bright and well exposed, struggling only in scenes where there's a big difference between the bright sky and a shadowy ground.

The HDR mode (which stands for high dynamic range and is now typical on phone cameras) does a decent job evening the exposure, and the colours are generally vivid, with natural white balance.

Colour tones are natural, if perhaps slightly on the muted side, but overall, the images from the G4 look good. Aside from the resolution, pictures from the G4 Plus look pretty much the same. The Plus also boasts laser-assisted autofocus -- something you won't find on the standard G4 -- although in practice, I didn't really find much difference in the focusing times. In everyday use, both phones locked onto the subjects quickly and are well suited for summer snaps.

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

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

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

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There's a 5-megapixel camera on the front, with a wide-angle lens which means you don't need to stretch your arm out too far to squash your face into the picture. Shots look bright, and it has its own HDR function, which really helps balance out bright skies behind you.

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Motorola Moto G4 camera test, with HDR (click to see full size)

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Specs compared to other phones

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) 6x3x0.39 in6x3x0.39 in6.01x2.94x0.29 in5.6x2.8x0.3 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 153x77x9.8 mm153x77x9.8 mm152.7x75x7.35 mm142x71x7.9 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.47 oz (155 g)5.47 oz (155 g)5.57 oz (158 g)4.87 oz (138 g)
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 1080p HD1080p 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£329£140 (8GB version)
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$290Converts to AU$340Converts to AU$530AU$329

A brilliant bargain

With the Moto G4, Motorola has produced a phone that perfectly balances great all-round performance with superb value for money. The swift interface, decent camera and water-resistant design make it a brilliant everyday phone, regardless of whether you're on a budget or not.

The G4 Plus packs all the same core specs, but adds the fingerprint scanner and slightly upgraded camera. Neither of those, however, quite justify the extra money, in my opinion. Stick with the base G4, and be confident you got the best overall deal.

If you're after something a little more slick-looking, the OnePlus 3 is similarly well equipped and has a great camera. It's significantly more powerful too, although you won't notice that boost if you only use your phone for social networking and taking snaps of food. It has an attractive metal body too, but that makes it twice the price of the G4, and it lacks the Moto phone's water resistance.

If you want a splash-proof phone to tackle all your everyday needs -- and you want to keep a close eye on those pennies -- the Moto G4 is the phone for you.

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8.1

Motorola Moto G4

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7Camera 7Battery 8