Friday, 15 July 2016

Moto G4 and G4 Plus review: Bigger and better

When it comes to getting the most smartphone for your dollar, the Moto G line has been your best choice for the past few years. We adored the previous model, which came in at a mere $180. Now with the Moto G4 and G4 Plus, Motorola is literally aiming to make its budget lineup bigger and better. They've got larger and sharper screens, improved cameras and, of course, speedier processors. With those upgrades come compromises, though. For one, they're more expensive:
The G4 starts at $200 and the G4 Plus at $250. Motorola also made some curious design decisions, which in many ways feel like a step back. Still, they both manage to carry the mantle of Smartphone Value King. Motorola's latest Moto G (4th generation) follows the industry trend of releasing two different versions of one phone: standard and plus. Only in this case the "Plus" has nothing to do with size; instead it's a slightly more expensive model with a superior camera, better memory options and a fingerprint sensor. If the Moto G4 is a standout mid-ranged phone, the Moto G4 Plus starts to blur the lines between mid-range and high-end. Read on for our review.We love how the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus feel in hand. We sing the praises of all-metal, all-premium unibody phones as much as anyone (for good reason ... they look phenomenal), but these two plastic phones are a pleasure to hold. It helps that they don't feel at all like cheap plastic: The back is an almost leathery-feeling material with fine cross-hatched detailing, while the side is a faux-metal plastic that, in hand, can almost pass for aluminum. Motorola had to take shortcuts somewhere to keep these prices down, and going with a plastic build – albeit one that's attractive, light and feels more comfortable in our hands than most premium phones – is probably the smartest place to start.There's nothing budget about the 5.5-inch 1080p displays on the G4 and G4 Plus. They're not quite as fancy as the quad HD displays we're seeing in some flagships, but they still pack in 401 pixels per inch, which is plenty sharp for typical usage. Colors were bright and bold, even in direct sunlight, and viewing angles were surprisingly great. I didn't notice much of a difference between my iPhone 6S while reading long articles from Pocket and the New York Times app. Videos also looked uniformly great.
The big downside is that they're less capable when it comes to mobile VR. It's no wonder they're not Google Daydream ready (though nothing is stopping you from plugging them into a Google Cardboard headset). On the sound front, Motorola made the curious decision of replacing the last Moto G's solid stereo speakers with a single one. It's plenty loud, but it doesn't sound nearly as good as before. Now that Bluetooth speakers are cheap and small, I'd recommend just snagging one as an accessory. One nice feature that I never thought I'd have to call out in 2016: both phones have headphone jacks! For the uninformed, you use them to connect a wide variety of audio devices, including headphones. Someone should tell Motorola that these audio ports, which have been universally supported for decades, would be a nice addition to their flagship Moto Z lineup. That's especially true for the Z Force, which is thick enough to fit a headphone jack. (Yes, the Moto Z comes with a dongle, but that comes with plenty of compromises. You won't be able to charge the phone when the dongle is plugged in, for example.)

Motorola delivered a nearly stock OS on the G4 and G4 Plus, specifically Android 6.0.1. Marshmallow. The phones are devoid of the junkware and sponsored apps you often find on budget devices. None of this is new for Motorola, it's been trying to deliver vanilla versions of Android since it was under Google. But it's nice to see the company stick with that philosophy under Lenovo. Motorola's unique gestures, which made their debut on the original Moto X, once again make an appearance. Twisting either phone twice, similar to turning a door handle, quickly loads up the camera from anywhere in the OS. Making a double-chopping motion turns their flashlights on and off. What's particularly nice is that both features work consistently even when the phones are in standby mode.