Moto E4 Review: Decent Budget Phone Has One Huge Flaw

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The Moto E4 is a cheap smartphone with a decent 5-inch display that runs the latest Android software, complete with Google Assistant and an attractive textured design. It’s a tempting enough package to make anyone on a budget to take notice. So what’s the catch?

Available through Verizon for $69 and $99 unlocked through Amazon Prime ($129 without Prime), this phone seems ideal for teens, international travel or iOS users looking for a (cheap) first taste of Android. However, you’ll have to live with an unimpressive battery and it can run a bit hot under pressure.

Design and Specs 

The 5-inch Moto E4 has a 720p display, quad-core Snapdragon 425 processor with 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and a not-too-shabby 8-megapixel rear camera and 5-megapixel front camera. You’ll find a fingerprint sensor on the front of the phone, a feature rarely included in this price range.

In another nice reward for bargain hunters, the Moto E4 ships with Android 7.1.1 Nougat, the latest version of the operating system. That means you can query Google Assistant to handle all of your pressing needs and take advantage of useful functions like split-screen apps and bundled notifications. Of course, Android O is just around the corner, so who knows how long the Moto E4 will remain up-to-date. Still, many budget devices make do with the ancient Marshmallow.

There’s some bad news: The device has just 16GB of storage, and less than half of it usable, thanks to the OS and preinstalled apps. A microSD slot lets you expand that storage up to 128GB, so the 16GB base is more of a technicality.

I tested the Verizon model of the Moto E4, and, yes, it does come with some Verizon bloatware. (Shocking, I know.) But those few apps, such as My Verizon and VZ Navigator, are nothing too intrusive. The Moto E4 offers a fairly standard Android experience.

What’s Good About the Moto E4 

Having an up-to-date phone is reassuring from a security standpoint, as is the Moto E4’s superfast fingerprint sensor, which I activated immediately. The sensor supports gesture controls for one-handed use, a feature I’d expect from a pricier device.

It’s also refreshing for a budget phone to have the latest and greatest features from Google. Google Assistant is a standout, and responds quickly to questions about the weather, nearby restaurants and movie times. (Though when I asked about the movie The Big Sick, Google Assistant kept showing me results for “the big stick.”)

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Little things like split-screen apps and faster app-switching made the Moto E4 feel like a current device instead of a sad, cheap hunk of plastic you’re trying to squeeze the last bit of use out of.

The E4 is indeed made of plastic, but the slightly textured removable back doesn’t feel cheap. Motorola bucked the current trend in Android hardware by wisely putting the fingerprint sensor on the bottom front bezel, which makes it easy to unlock the phone without having to pick it up. Larger phones have dominated the market for quite some time now, but Motorola chose to go with a 5-inch display for the 5.7 x 2.8 x 0.37-inch Moto E4. That makes the phone easier for us small-handed folks to use.

The E4’s 8-MP camera won’t win you any photography awards, but it gets the job done. One exception is bright sunlight, where the rear camera struggles. Photos I shot in midday looked blown out, without the crispness of detail you’d get from other camera phones.

The E4 accurately captured the blue sky around the Flatiron Building, but the colors of buildings and trees are muted and the clouds look almost pixelated. The fountain in Madison Square Park isn’t quite as muddy, thanks to the green of the trees, but the colors aren’t as bright and the details in the photo aren’t as crisp as they could be.

Sunlight isn’t as big of a problem for the 5-MP front camera, which takes some decent selfies. The details of my face, sunglasses and lipstick are crisp and clear. You will have to experiment a little bit to capture the background behind you. In some lighting, the background will be completely blown out, but I managed to capture the skyline in a few front-facing shots. Both front and rear cameras fared better indoors, where the lighting is less harsh.

The 5-inch 720p LCD screen isn’t full HD, but I didn’t really notice when I streamed videos from YouTube, because the color clarity and accuracy is really, really good. The Moto E4 displays 125 percent of the sRGB color gamut — excellent for an LCD screen — and displayed colors accurately, with a Delta-E score of 0.26. (Numbers closer to zero are best.) I watched the new Jumanji trailer on YouTube and the color looked exactly the same on the Moto E4 as it did on an iPhone 7 Plus.

With an average brightness of 503 nits, videos and games are bright and clear on the E4’s display. While not as bright as the similarly priced ZTE Max XL (560 nits), it’s much better than the 364 nits we measured on the Blu R1 Plus, another budget option. And it’s well ahead of the 433-nit average for smartphones.

What’s Bad About the E4

Where a $100-or-so phone would naturally fall short is processing power, and the Moto E4 doesn’t buck that exception. The E4 scored 1,711 on the Geekbench 4 test of overall system performance. That’s in line with other budget phones — slightly higher than the Blu R1 Plus(1,583) but lower than the ZTE Max XL(1,865).

Modern Combat 5 turned the Moto E4 into a phone-shaped Hot Pocket.

Shell out an extra $100 and you can get the Moto G5 Plus, which at 3,746 doubles the E4’s score. Then again, with 2GB of RAM and Qualcomm’s low-end mobile processor, you wouldn’t expect a powerhouse in the Moto E4.

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And that’s apparent when you try to play a graphically demanding game on this phone. Modern Combat 5 was a poor experience — the frame rate lagged and the graphics stuttered. After a few minutes of gameplay, the phone became uncomfortably warm, as the popular shooter turned the E4 into a phone-shaped Hot Pocket. The side-scroller Badland fared much better with no lag or glitches, so if lightweight games are more your speed, the Moto E4 isn’t bad. 

Battery life is also not the E4’s strong suit. The 2,800mAh removable battery lasted just 6 hours and 42 minutes when we put it through the Tom’s Guide Battery Test (continuous web-surfing over Verizon 4G LTE). The G5 Plus, Blu R1 Plus and ZTE Max XL all last significantly longer — so does the average smartphone at 9 hours and 37 minutes. If battery life is important to you, the Moto E4 isn’t the best option.

Bottom Line

If you have more money to play with, the $230 Moto G5 Plus has a better camera and longer battery life with a more impressive display. (And Amazon Prime members can get that phone for less than $200 if they don’t mind ads popping up on their lockscreen.) Still, with its bright display, updated Android and decent enough-camera, the Moto E4 is a solid device that’s better than any sub-$100 phone has a right to be.


Price: $69.99 on Verizon, $129.99 unlocked
Display: 5-inch 1280x720 LCD
OS: Android 7.1
CPU: Snapdragon 425
Storage: 16GB
Cameras (Rear/Front): 8-MP / 5-MP
Size and Weight: 5.69 x 2.83 x 0.366 inches, 5.29 ounces
Battery Life: 6:42

Credit: Tom's Guide

Caitlin is a Senior editor for Gizmodo. She has also worked on Tom's Guide, Macworld, PCWorld and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. When she's not testing out the latest devices, you can find her running around the streets of Los Angeles, putting in morning miles or searching for the best tacos.