There has never been a better time to be in the market for a budget phone.

Lenovo is aggressively targeting the Indian market, a fact evidenced by the amount of phones launched by the Chinese manufacturer this year. The vendor is focusing on two product lineups — the Moto series, and the Vibe series. Then there's ZUK, which started off as an in-house project, and is now slowly gaining traction.

With the Moto G4 Plus, Lenovo ushered in key changes on the hardware front, while retaining the stock Android software experience. Meanwhile, the Lenovo Z1 is aimed at enthusiast users, offering the highly customizable Cyanogen OS out of the box.

Want to know which phone comes out on top? Let's find out.

1. Hardware

Lenovo ZUK Z1 versus Moto G4 Plus

The Lenovo Z1 comes with a metal frame, while the Moto G4 Plus — like years past — offers a plastic finish. Motorola's unique design philosophy has been replaced by Lenovo's utilitarian design, which results in the Moto G4 Plus looking rather drab. A key change with the Moto G4 Plus is its size, with the phone now accommodating a 5.5-inch Full HD screen. It is still comfortable to use one-handed, but it does not have the same in-hand feel as earlier generations of the phone.

The phone comes with a removable back cover, which holds an embedded 3000mAh battery, a significant upgrade from what we've seen in years past. The storage has also received a boost to 32GB, and RAM has been increased to 3GB. Removing the rear cover gives you access to the dual SIM card slots, as well as a dedicated microSD card slot. A glaring omission from last year's model is the IPX7 water resistance.

The Z1 doesn't offer an interesting design either, but the metal frame backed by a metallic finish at the back gives it a premium feel. The phone also offers a 5.5-inch Full HD display, but is taller and wider than the Moto G4 Plus. One-handed use is cumbersome due to the added width. The extra width is forgiven considering the enormous 4100mAh housed within the Z1, with the phone offering the best battery life in this segment. There's no microSD slot on offer, but the generous 64GB of internal storage should be more than enough. The 3GB of RAM also ensures that lags and stutters are down to a minimum.

The Full HD display on the Z1 isn't as bright as the one on the Moto G4 Plus, but both screens manage to offer decent black levels and contrast. The Z1 also has a LiveDisplay mode that changes the color temperature of the screen at night to warmer hues.

Category Lenovo ZUK Z1 Moto G4 Plus
Operating System Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
CyanogenMod 12.1
Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Display 5.5-inch Full HD IPS LCD display
401ppi pixel density
5.5-inch Full HD IPS LCD display
401ppi pixel density
SoC Quad-core 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974AC)
Adreno 330 GPU
Octa-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon 617 (MSM8952)
Adreno 405 GPU
Storage 64GB
No microSD slot
microSD slot up to 200GB
Rear Camera 13MP with f/2.2 lens
16MP with PDAF, auto-HDR
Front Camera 8MP with 1080p video 5MP
Connectivity LTE (Bands 3 and 40), Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 4.1 LTE (Bands 3, 5, and 40), Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1,
Charging USB-C
Quick Charge 2.0
microUSB 2.0
Motorola TurboPower (25W)
Battery 4100mAh 3000mAh
Dimensions 155.7 x 77.3 x 8.9mm 153 x 76.6 x 9.8mm
Weight 175g 155g

As for the performance, the Moto G4 Plus is plenty capable thanks to the Snapdragon 617 SoC, but you do notice the occasional lag, particularly when using the phone for gaming. No such issues on the Lenovo Z1, as the highly-optimized Snapdragon 801 is a cut above what's usually found in the budget segment. That said, there will be compatibility issues for the 32-bit CPU going forward.

Both phones feature fingerprint sensors, but the implementation is markedly different. The sensor on the Moto G4 Plus is used solely for authentication, and you'll have to resort to on-screen buttons for navigation. On the other hand, the Z1's fingerprint sensor functions as a traditional home button, and is flanked by two capacitive navigation buttons. The buttons are unmarked, but the default configuration is similar to Samsung's layout, and sees the recent apps button on the left and the back key on the right. You can also switch to on-screen buttons by heading into the phone's settings.

Lenovo ZUK Z1 versus Moto G4 Plus

The sensor on the Z1 is also not without its drawbacks. On a handset like the Galaxy S7, you can unlock the phone by placing your finger on the sensor even when the screen is off, but on the Z1, you have to press the sensor to wake the screen before proceeding with authentication. It is an unnecessary step that makes unlocking your phone more tedious. As for authentication, both fingerprint sensors do their job capably, but they're not the best implementations we've seen.

Two very different design languages, with the metal Z1 coming out on top.

The Z1 and Moto G4 Plus offer 3.5mm audio jacks at the front, and charging ports at the bottom. For the Moto G4 Plus, that's the traditional microUSB 2.0, while the Z1 offers the newer USB-C port. The G4 Plus has a microphone next to the fingerprint sensor, which looks ungainly. The Z1's microphone is located at the bottom, next to the speaker. The sound quality from the single speaker is strictly average, with audio coming out muffled more often than not. It is louder than the speaker on the Moto G4 Plus — which is located at the front — but the latter wins out when it comes to audio quality.

Build quality is also an issue on the Moto G4 Plus, as the power button has already started becoming mushy and less tactile in just over ten days' of usage. That isn't the case on the Z1, with both the power and volume buttons offering a decent amount of travel and feedback. Neither handset is going to win any design awards, but the Z1 edges out the G4 Plus in terms of overall look and feel. The Z1 feels more upmarket as well thanks to its metal frame and chamfered sides.

2. Software

Lenovo ZUK Z1 versus Moto G4 Plus

There's not much to differentiate between the Z1 and the Moto G4 Plus on the software front, as you get a minimalist user interface with several custom features on both phones. On the Z1, that means Cyanogen OS 12.1, which includes themes, Truecaller integration, custom audio presets, and much more.

With the Moto G4 Plus, you get stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with the latest security patch, and proprietary Motorola features such as Moto Display, which lets you quickly preview incoming notifications directly from the lock screen. Otherwise, the phone offers a stock Android user experience, with Google Photos available as the default gallery app and the Google Now launcher coming as standard. Moto Actions are a series of motion-based gestures for various actions like opening the camera, turning on the flashlight, and silencing notifications.

Customizability is a key feature with Cyanogen OS, and you have the option of adding themes, changing the layout of the app drawer and the home screens, and generally tweak the look of the user interface. There are a wealth of options to configure, from the way the notification light behaves while charing to changing button layouts and choosing gestures. There's also the ability to play around with custom ROMs, with lenovo covering the warranty even in case you brick the phone while flashing a ROM.

The Moto G4 Plus has stock Android, but if you like customization, you'll love the Z1.

Motorola is known for rolling out quick updates to its entire roster of phones, and that situation hasn't changed under Lenovo's stewardship. That's true for platform as well as monthly updates, with the Moto G4 Plus offering the May security patch out of the box.

As for the Lenovo Z1, updates are handled by Cyanogen, which in this case is not ideal. The phone still runs CyanogenMod 12 — based on Android 5.1.1 Lollipop — out of the box, but there's a CM13 stable build available for flashing should you wish to do so. Flashing the CM13 ROM brings Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, which includes all of the Google features such as Doze, Now on Tap, app permissions, and more, as well as several modifications by Cyanogen.

If you want a phone that is updated on a timely basis, the Moto G4 Plus is the outright winner. However, software customizability is a key feature on the Z1. If you're not a fan of CyanogenMod, you're free to choose from a variety of custom ROMs. Furthermore, Lenovo will cover the warranty of the phone should you brick it whilst flashing a ROM, so if you like tinkering and installing new ROMs, the Z1 is a better bet. You can unlock the bootloader of the Moto G4 Plus, but the warranty will be void should you do so.

3. Camera quality

Lenovo ZUK Z1 versus Moto G4 Plus

The camera on the Moto G4 Plus has received a significant upgrade from its predecessor, with the phone now packing a 16MP camera sensor with an f/2.0 lens and PDAF. The camera app has also picked up an overhaul, and now lets you touch to focus. You can also easily adjust the exposure with an on-screen slider. The camera also offers a manual mode, as well as auto HDR, and the ability to shoot slow-motion videos.

The Z1 comes with a 13MP camera (IMX214) and OIS, and features Cyanogen's own camera app. It sports a minimalist interface that sees toggles for HDR, flash, gridlines, timer, and switching between the front and rear camera. Although the interface itself is barebones, there are a wealth of options to choose from.

Lenovo Z1 camera sampleMoto G4 Plus camera sample

Lenovo Z1 at the left, Moto G4 Plus on the right.

Lenovo Z1 camera sampleMoto G4 Plus camera sample

Lenovo Z1 camera sampleMoto G4 Plus camera sample

Lenovo Z1 camera sampleMoto G4 Plus camera sample

Lenovo Z1 camera sample Moto G4 Plus camera sample

The Moto G4 Plus wins out overall, with the camera offering true-to-life colors and better detail. The camera on the Z1 offers punchier colors, but they're generally oversaturated. The Z1 manages decent shots, but only in well-lit conditions. Under artificial lighting or low-light conditions, the Moto G4 Plus pulls ahead. Neither phone handles artificial lighting conditions particularly great, but the camera on the Z1 fails to deliver consistently.

The Z1 has a front 8MP camera, but the 5MP shooter on the Moto G4 Plus is markedly better for taking selfies. The camera package on the Moto G4 Plus is one of the best you'll find in this segment.

4. Battery life

Lenovo ZUK Z1 versus Moto G4 Plus

The Moto G4 Plus has seen a significant increase in battery capacity to 3000mAh, and it makes a noticeable difference. The phone now lasts a day with ease, and you can eke out a day and a half from a full charge. The phone supports fast charging, and a 25W TurboPower charger is included in the box. It takes around an hour and a half to fully charge the phone, but if you're in need of a quick top up, the TurboPower charger delivers over six hours' worth of usage in just over 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, the Lenovo Z1 shatters the standard set by the Moto G4 Plus with its 4100mAh battery. You can easily expect the battery to last a day and a half, and there were times when I did not have to plug the phone in for two days at a time. If you're looking for a phone with remarkable battery life in this segment, there really isn't anything better.

5. The bottom line

Lenovo ZUK Z1 versus Moto G4 Plus

There's a lot to like about the Lenovo Z1 and the Moto G4 Plus — both phones offer compelling features and raise the bar for budget phones in general.

If you're in the market for a phone with incredible battery life, the Z1 is the better bet. However, you'd be losing out on the camera prowess of the Moto G4 Plus. The camera on the Z1 just doesn't cut it, particularity when there are so many decent options available.

The Z1 leads when in terms of real world performance, but the Moto G4 Plus will be the first to receive new software updates. The fact that the Z1 still runs Cyanogen OS 12.1 will be a dealbreaker for most. While you can flash a stable CM 13 ROM, if you're looking for a hassle-free experience, the Moto G4 Plus is a better choice. Furthermore, the Z1 is limited to flash sales, so you have to go through additional hoops to get your hands on one.

In the end, it comes down to your priorities. For my money, I'd end up going for the Moto G4 Plus. It has been the workhorse in this segment for nearly three years, and the current model is the most robust showing yet. The phone is slightly costlier than the Lenovo Z1 at ₹14,999 for the model with 3GB of RAM and 32GB storage, but it is money well spent.

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