Since 2013, the Moto G has been a good name to head right to if you’re after a budget phone. If you have £150 to spend, it’s a good idea to put thoughts of glitzy Samsung and Apple phones out of your mind.
Things just got complicated, though. There are now three Moto Gs. Three. And that doesn’t even include the dozens of ways you can customise the things. We’re looking at the daddy of the bunch, the Moto G4 Plus.
This is the jazzy version of the Moto G4. More features, more megapixels, and a price that edges over £200. Is it worth it? For a whole bunch of you, yes.
Slimmed down for 2016
The Moto G4 Plus looks and feels much like the normal G4, though. A 5.5in screen gives it an all-new enlarged shadow. If you still want a smaller phone, you’ll have to look for the Moto G4 Play. It’s a bit like the 2015 Moto G, but not quite as good.
To make up for the larger size, the curvy style of the previous generations has been toned down. The Moto G4 is thinner and flatter, but still has the same curves on the metal-effect sides to make it seem like we’re still dealing with the same series. Lenovo may have bought Motorola since the Moto G3, but it’s doing its best to convince us all that it's business as usual here.
Can't touch this?
The fingerprint scanner is the new hardware feature that you’ll only get with the Moto G4 Plus. It’s a little square below the screen, looking almost like a little module that has just been plugged-in.
It seems to be recent hardware rather than the sort of sensor you’d have seen a couple of years ago. It’s fast, accurate, and can even deal with wet fingers pretty well. It is just a fingerprint scanner, though. It's not a button, meaning you still have to use the on-screen soft keys if you want to actually use the Home button.
It’s simultaneously one of the most useless Android finger scanner designs, while also being only a tiny bit less useful than the best. That is coming from someone who tends not to use any security on their phone, though. I like to live dangerously and hope friends only hijack my Twitter feed a few times a year. And remember that the G4 Plus doesn't come with NFC, so it won't support Android Pay either.
As the top dog of the Moto G clan, the Plus has 32GB storage as standard, which is a lot. Spend an extra £35 and you get 64GB and 4GB RAM instead of 2GB. Of course, at that point we’re talking about a not-so-budget £265 phone, putting it up against the OnePlus 2.
The Moto G isn’t just a budget range anymore.
It’s good, then, that the Moto G4 Plus’s screen doesn’t seem like the equivalent of a cheapo LCD TV you might pick up at Tesco. Instead, you get a 5.5in 1080p IPS LCD with natural-looking colour.
The Moto G4 Plus I’m using actually has a slightly different screen character to the standard G4 I have, with a less-warm, slightly red-skewed tone. However, it seems more likely down to different batches of panels used. I think the cheaper phone looks slightly better, if anything. As if often the case, there’s an element of pot luck as to which one you’ll end up with.
Contrast is good, viewing angles are solid and outdoors visibility is great for a mid-ranger. The Moto G4’s screen is also much better for games than the Moto G's. This is a brilliant screen for games and video. I’ve been digging back into the class-A-addictive Hill Climb Racing recently, and even this casual title looks bigger, better and bolder than it does on the Galaxy S7. Sometimes size matters.
Everything in its right place
The Moto G4 Plus has a Snapdragon 617 CPU, a lower-mid range phone brain. It doesn’t have the fastest GPU in the universe, but it's still fast enough to make something like Asphalt 8 run very well.
Of course, if you’re thinking about maxing-out the spec with the 4GB upgrade, the OnePlus 2 at the same price (actually a bit cheaper), is more powerful. Bear in mind that here’s no fundamental power upgrade when you buy a G4 Plus instead of a normal G4 either - they both have a Snapdragon 617.
There are no major complaints about day-to-day speed in either case, though. The Motorola Moto G4 Plus runs Android 6.0.1 and has the Moto Pure take on Android. This means it’s almost exactly like the pure-blood Android you’d get in a Nexus device.
The Moto changes are very minor, and pretty useful, and there’s just one extra app called Moto, which lets you turn custom gestures on and off, and fiddle with the Glance screen feature.
This is a very cool extra feature that displays stuff on the screen when you’re not using the phone. Pick the Moto G4 Plus up and the accelerometer will tell the phone it’s being played with, making it display the time. I’ve used this feature pretty much constantly since getting the phone, and I love it.
It’ll also fade notifications in and out for a while after they’re received, reminding you when that important bit of spam email comes in. I’m less keen on this one, but mostly because the last thing I need is something to make me spend even more time on my phone.
All this software features in each of the Moto G models. The one other big difference in the Moto G4 Plus though, is its camera.
The all-seeing eye
Pick the cheaper G4 and you get the same Sony IMX214 13-megapixel camera as the 2015 Moto G. With this one you get the bump-up to the 16MP Omnivision OV16860. You don’t see Omnivision cameras in too many big-brand phones, but it has some pretty eye-opening specs.
It’s a massive 1/2.4in sensor, with phase detection and an laser AF assist. It has everything but optical image stabilisation.
You can see why the Moto G4 Plus doesn’t have one of the Sony sensors the series normally prefers. After a few quick snaps I was almost ready to say it isn’t a big upgrade. Both phones have great cameras, but in trickier conditions the more expensive phone is clearly a lot better.
There’s a lot more fine detail in all conditions, actually. The tiny text the Moto G4 might turn into a blur is clear in the G4 Plus. In fairly poor lighting the Plus also produces much cleaner shots at the same ISO sensitivity, although on a few occasions with indoors light I did find situations where the Plus’s images were a bit more grainy. It’s only because the noise reduction kicks up a gear at a later stage, though.
For real photo fans, the G4 Plus is better. For example, while both phones have nice colour, the Plus’s are at times a bit more realistic where the Moto G4’s camera often has a brighter, more saturated style. The cheaper phone favours a slightly higher-contrast, punchier look, and the G4 Plus tends to underexpose when in doubt, which can leave you with some glum-looking shots. There are reasons to like the G4 camera over the Plus, but the G4 Plus gets the technical win.
One demo that really shows off the benefits of the bigger sensor is a close-up nature shot. The Moto G4 Plus has better bokeh even though the phones both have an f/2 lens. Bokeh is the character of the ‘blurry background’ effect that can add a dramatic look to your photos.
There’s a new camera app for this year too. Motorola used to have an idiosyncratic camera app that, while fancy-looking, was a bit of a faff in the heat of the moment. The new one is much simpler, putting the most important controls (HDR, flash, shutter) right at your fingertips. There’s also a manual mode, slo-mo video and panorama. You don’t get 4K video, though.
Selfie lover? The Moto G4 Plus has a 5MP front camera. It’s a bit noisy, but captures a similar amount of detail to the Samsung Galaxy S7.
The finishing touches
Nothing has been neglected in the G4 Plus. Even the speaker has been given an upgrade. As before, the phone has a single front-loaded speaker. It sits above the screen, is pretty loud, and has more lower-frequency clout than earlier generations.
I’m not in love with the position of the thing, though. While out of the way, the sound output is super-positional when you hold the phone in front of your face. It’s still an upgrade, mind.
The battery has been bumped-up since last year too, but it needed to be thanks to the much bigger screen. A 3000mAh battery powers the phone, and you get a super-quick Turbo charger that’ll refill most of the cell within a half-hour.
Stamina is fine, but only very light users are going to get two days’ use between charges. It lasts for 12 hours of video, which is perfectly good, but not notable.
If you’re going to use this phone to dig deep into mobile gaming and streaming video every day, you might want to pack an external battery. However, the only big-screen phone that comes to mind that really pummels the G4 Plus’s stamina is the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. And that’s just not a fair comparison, is it?
Moto G4 Plus Verdict
The Moto G series is not what it used to be. It’s proved so successful that it now covers the mid-range phone buyer as well as the bargain hunter.
Thankfully, this year’s upgrades mean it doesn’t seem out of place in this next league. Fast charging, a better screen and a pretty good camera make this mid-ranger easy to recommend.
Upgrading to the Plus model is not essential, though. The £169 vanilla version still earns the most penny-pinching cred.