For the last three years, Moto's G series phones have stood out as affordable options that give you more for the money than almost anything else out there. And with the new Moto G4 Plus, Moto has successfully passed the torch while also raising its standards. For $250, you get a bright, 5.5-inch full-HD screen, a surprisingly sharp 16-megapixel rear camera and a built-in fingerprint reader —- a feature usually reserved for premium phones. While I wish G4 Plus' fingerprint sensor was more pleasing to the touch and that its design was a bit more upscale, these complaints are just minor detractions on a really strong budget phone.
Design needs a Moto makeover
I know the G4 Plus is a budget phone, but unless you customize it via Moto Maker, its design goes past bland and borders on downright ugly. The removable back is made of nondescript matte plastic, while the sides feature a gunmetal finish. But the real problem is the front, where the chrome accents around the top speaker don't match up with the duller outline of the fingerprint sensor below the screen. Furthermore, the fingerprint sensor's raised edges rub my thumb the wrong way; this feature is a real sore spot since the sensor doesn't double as a home button.
Thankfully, by using the customization tool on the Moto Maker site, you can help your handset stand out by designing a phone with a brightly colored back, flashy accent around the camera and even a custom greeting screen — all for free. The only customization option that actually costs money is the $5 engraving. However, in a time when even cheaper phones such as the $200 Huawei Honor 5X and the One Plus X offer more sophisticated metal-and-glass designs, a whole ton of brightly colored plastic just isn't enough.
Measuring 6.02 x 3.01 x 0.38 inches and weighing 5.46 ounces, the G4 Plus eclipses smaller budget phones such as the 5-inch OnePlus X (5.51 x 2.71 x 0.27 inches and 4.8 ounces), although it matches up quite similarly against the 5.5-inch Huawei Honor 5X (5.9 x 3.0 x 0.32 inches and 5.57 ounces).
Displayꞌs bright outlook
I've got to give props to Lenovo for not skimping on the G4 Plus's display. It's big, bright and colorful, and a welcome change compared with a lot of other budget phones that are saddled with dim, washed-out screens. It made watching the trailer for Moana a pleasure when it showed the rich turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean and the subtle warm glow of the firelight.
At 506 nits, the G4 Plus' brightness was nearly equal to the 530 nits we got from the Honor 5X. It easily topped the OnePlus X's 295 nits and the 444-nit smartphone average.
Covering 108 percent of the sRGB spectrum, the G4 Plus' color range is pretty decent, too, although it fell a bit behind the Honor 5X's range of 121 percent and well short of the OnePlus X's range of 186 percent.
Finally, with a Delta-E rating of 2.33, the G4 Plus demonstrated slightly better color accuracy than both the OnePlus X (2.95) and the Honor 5X (3.52). (Numbers closer to zero are better.)
Rear camera holds its own
Before it arrived, I had heard a lot of great things about the G4 Plus' 16-MP rear camera, which is a step up from vanilla G4's 13-Mp rear shooter. So to give it a real challenge, I compared photos taken by the G4 Plus with shots from a phone priced $150 higher, the OnePlus 3. And despite that rival phoneꞌs much higher price, the G4 Plus held its own with some fine pics.
A close-up of some flowers by the G4 was every bit as sharp and detailed as a photo shot by the OnePlus 3. The G4 Plus' photo popped with color from the purple-and-pink petals while still managing to capture the fine creases and veins on each flower.
Another shot overlooking the crowd in front of Shake Shack was arguably even better, as the G4 shot was well exposed and featured great detail in both the people in front and the trees in the background.
Where the G4 Plus' camera fell a bit short was with its HDR mode and some certain low-light situations.
In an HDR photo of the iconic Flatiron Building, the G4 Plus' photo looked a bit dark and significantly less sharp than the OnePlus 3's shot. It also lacked a lot of detail in the sky that the OnePlus 3 didn't miss.
In low light, I noticed that the G4 Plus will sometimes look blurry and a bit overexposed. When I took a picture of a late-night Pokémon Go gathering, the OnePlus 3's photo was markedly sharper and better exposed.
However, in a shot across the water looking at Lower Manhattan, the G4 Plus captured a mostly comparable shot with good detail in the tall skyscrapers. While the OnePlus 3's pic is little less noisy, the difference wasn't very pronounced.
In front, the G4 Plus' wide-angle 5-MP shooter snaps a pretty decent selfie, but doesn't do much to distinguish itself from its competition.
Solid budget performance
With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage, the G4 Plus delights with snappy performance and smooth UI navigation. However, I noticed some sluggishness when trying to toss some Poké Balls at Pidgeys while playing Pokémon Go.
On Geekbench 3, which measures overall performance, the G4 Plus scored 3,040, about the same as the regular G4, slightly higher than the Honor 5X's 2,990 and solidly ahead of the OnePlus X's score of 2,402. However, the smartphone average is a bit higher at 3,112.
The G4 Plusꞌ graphics performance was middling. With a score of 9,719 on 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, the G4 Plus beat out the Honor 5X's mark of 7,792, but was significantly behind the OnePlus X's score of 16,705.
A full day of battery life
While I was concerned that the G4 Plus' 5.5-inch screen would lead to lackluster battery life, my worries were largely unfounded.
The G4 Plus lasted for 9 hours and 16 minutes on the Tom's Guide Battery (continuous web surfing on T-Mobileꞌs 4G LTE network). That's on a par with Huawei's Honor 5X (9:22) and significantly better than both the smartphone average (8:35) and the OnePlus X (7:21).
OS and apps
I've always appreciated the stripped-down version of Android you get on Moto phones, which on the G4 Plus means the closest thing you can get to stock Android 6.0 without buying a Nexus. There's a little bit of bloat by way of apps like Pluto and Vudu, although I appreciate Moto's inclusion of a FM tuner app for people who still care about listening to the radio.
Networks – take your pick
With the G4 Plus, Moto continues its tradition of selling unlocked direct to you with compatibility for all major carriers. That includes both GSM networks (AT&T, T-Mobile) and CDMA carriers such as Verizon and Sprint.
G4 vs. the G4 Plus
When it comes to competitors, the G4 Plus' biggest rival is itself. That's because the vanilla G4 is priced even lower, starting at $199 versus the G4 Plus' $249. The standard G4 features the same Snapdragon 617 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and the same 5.5-inch full-HD display. The difference is in the G4 Plus' fingerprint reader and sharper 16-MP rear camera. The G4 Plus also offers a bit of extra memory and storage with a $300 model featuring 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.
With the G4 Plus, Moto has once again delivered a solid phone for not a lot of money. While the stock G4 Plus' design and uncomfortable fingerprint sensor put a slight damper on this new generation, those negatives are easily outweighed by Lenovo's Moto Maker customization tools and a screen, a sharp rear camera and long battery life that deliver a great return on your investment.
The one problem is that Huawei's Honor 5X is just as good G4 Plus while costing $50 less. So while I prefer the Honor 5X in a head-to-head challenge, the G4 Plus is still an inexpensive phone that's a cut above most handsets in its price range.