The best budget smartphone ever made – Moto G4 2016 review

£169

There’s the Samsung Galaxy J5 and the Vodafone Smart Prime 7, but that’s about it as far as worthy competitors go at this kind of price. How do you beat the Moto G? Many budget smartphones have tried and failed over the years to claim the Moto’s throne, with only a few even coming close.

This year, though, Motorola’s made sure that even the second-best budget smartphones don’t come anywhere close to its brand-new Moto G4, as its specs are simply beyond belief for something that costs just £169 SIM-free.

It’s so good, in fact, that it effectively eliminates nearly every mid-range smartphone of the last six months – including Motorola’s own Moto X Play – as the G4’s octa-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor and 2GB of RAM offers exactly the same amount of for almost half the price.

It also utterly wipes the floor with its budget rivals, providing a substantial upgrade even for current 3rd Gen Moto G owners.

Performance

The difference in speed is palpable, as apps not only open much quicker, but the whole Android operating system feels incredibly slick.

Give or take, it has roughly the same performance as the HTC One A9, which costs £420 SIM-free and £32-per-month on contract, and the Samsung Galaxy A3 2016, which costs £250 or £15.50-per-month, which is incredible for such a cheap smartphone.

It’s beautiful to use on a day-to-day basis and it’s even a pretty capable gaming machine, too.

While it can’t match the faster frame rates I’ve seen from phones like the Nexus 5X (around £300 admittedly), I still managed to play a decent game of Hearthstone on the Moto G4 without too much stutter.

Simpler 2D games like Threes! also worked like a dream, so it should be more than capable of keeping you entertained when you need to while away a few minutes on public transport.

Web browsing has also been significant improved since the 3rd Gen Moto G, as images, videos and adverts were quick to load, and scrolling was pretty seamless once pages had loaded fully.

The Guardian’s media-rich homepage could still be a bit jerky in places, particularly when scrolling up and down at speed, but on the whole it provided a much more pleasant experience than its 3rd Gen predecessor.

Battery life

All this power doesn’t come at the cost of battery life, either, as the Moto G4’s large 3,000mAh battery lasted an impressive 13h 39m in our continuous video playback test with the screen set to our usual brightness.

That’s fantastic for a budget smartphone and a full two hours more than the 3rd Gen Moto G and 30 minutes longer than the Moto X Play.

Even better, the Moto G4 supports Motorola’s TurboPower quick charging technology, which Motorola claims will give you six hours of power in just 15 minutes.

The only downside is that it doesn’t come with a TurboPower charger in the box, so you’ll have to buy one separately for around £25 (from Motorola ) to take advantage of it.

Design & Moto Maker options

So far, so good, but the one thing that might put people off the Moto G4 is that it’s much bigger than its predecessors and bigger than any other budget handset out there.

Motorola has taken the odd decision to move from a 5in display to a 5.5in display, taking the Moto G4 into phablet territory.

Measuring 153x77x7.9mm, compared to 142x72x11.6mm for the Moto G 3rd Gen, this might be a step too far for those already hankering for the more compact designs of a few years ago.

It’s really quite a handful as a result, and the move to a flatter back isn’t quite as comfy as the 3rd Gen model’s curved, albeit fatter dimensions.

As a result, you might want to get it in your hand before you buy, but having moved from a 4.7in phone to a 5.5in phone myself over the last year, it really doesn’t take long to get used to.

I’m not a big fan of the Moto G4’s general design, as its subtle crosshatch pattern on the rear isn’t nearly as elegant or stylish as the grooved, textured panel on the 3rd Gen Moto G.

It’s also lost the 3rd Gen’s waterproofing protection, but its water repellent coating should still provide adequate protection from splashes or a light rain shower.

Those who like to customise their handset using Motorola’s Moto Maker service might also be a little disappointed, I feel, as the options this year are decidedly less fun than its predecessors.

It doesn’t cost any more to change the colour of the back panel, but the shades on offer are rather more muted than the bright yellows and searing lime of yesteryear.

The choice of metallic accents around the camera are also rather uninspiring, but considering it’s free, you might as well personalise it as much as you can.

The only thing you do have to pay extra for on Moto Maker is if you want to upgrade the Moto G4’s storage to 32GB. This costs an extra £30, but when the G4 comes with a microSD slot that takes cards up to 128GB anyway, this seems like a bit of a waste of money.

Display

It’s a shame the display isn’t a bit smaller, but at least Motorola’s provided a 1,920×1,080 resolution, giving it a lovely sharp pixel density of 401ppi.

It makes you wonder where budget smartphones can go next, really, as even some flagships are still only using Full HD resolutions and for good reason as the law of diminishing returns kicks in hard above this pixel density.

Quality hasn’t been sacrificed for quantity, either, with both colour and contrast most impressive indeed. It’s also considerably brighter than its predecessor, making it much easier to see outdoors in direct sunshine.

These are brilliant results for a budget smartphone, and its punchy colours look great, regardless of whether you’re browsing the web or looking at photos in your gallery.

Camera

Speaking of which, the G4’s rear 13-megapixel camera is arguably the best budget smartphone camera I’ve tested.

Despite sharing the same resolution as the 3rd Gen Moto G , the difference in quality was plain to see, as the Moto G4 captured far more detail and everything looked that much sharper.

Outdoors, for instance, colours looked accurate and its exposure was expertly judged. It blurred the occasional bit of brickwork, but overall it produced truly excellent photos.

It looks like Motorola’s toned down its HDR mode this year as well, as rather than make images look overly artificial, it simply makes them look richer and more vibrant, so you’ll probably want to leave it on to get the best exposures.

Outdoors, the Moto G4 produced stunning images with very high levels of detail

Switch on HDR mode and colours become even richer to really help them pop out of the screen

Motorola’s also simplified the camera app’s UI this year, as it now has a dedicated onscreen shutter button and easy shortcuts to toggle the flash, HDR and timer on and off.

Tap the screen to focus and you can easily adjust the lens aperture to using the onscreen slider as well, which works brilliantly and shows you your results in real-time.

The Moto G4 also has a Pro camera mode that lets you adjust the white balance, ISO, focus, exposure and shutter speed

The camera was an excellent performer indoors as well, as noise was kept to a minimum even in low-light conditions and detail levels were still pleasingly high.

Some of the objects in our still life arrangement were a touch grainy in places, but switching on its excellent LED flash quickly sorts this out.

Even in low light, the Moto G4’s camera coped extremely well, capturing plenty of detail while keeping colours bright and vibrant

Conclusion

Even if you’re not sure about the size of the Moto G4, there’s simply nothing else that even comes close to matching its value for money.

Once again, Motorola’s rewritten the rulebook for budget smartphones, and if you’d told me a year ago that Motorola’s next Moto G would effectively replace its own Moto X Play, I’d have thought you were mad.

That a £169 smartphone can achieve so much for so little is absolutely astounding, and it firmly throws down the gauntlet to all other budget smartphone manufacturers.

With many still struggling to catch up to the 3rd Gen Moto G, it will be a long time coming before they match the Moto G4. It’s a Best Buy.

Buy the Moto G4 now from Motorola

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