Nexus 4, Moto G

How does last year’s Nexus shape up against this year’s entry-level champion?

Motorola’s latest entry-level handset, the Moto G, has been turning heads thanks to its relatively low price point and compelling specs and feature set. It’s a step below the Nexus 5 — the device it tied with in the “best value” category of our most recent Android phone roundup. But what of the Nexus 4, no longer available on Google Play, but relatively easy to track down from other online vendors.

If you’ve got a Nexus 4, is the Moto G a valid upgrade path? And if you’ve got around $200 to spend on a smartphone, which is worth your money? We’ll take a look at both devices in more detail after the break.

Nexus 4, Moto GNexus 4, Moto G

External hardware

They may look almost identical from the front, but that’s where the external similarities end

The Nexus 4 and Moto G may look almost identical from the front, but that’s where the external similarities end. The Moto G is very much a traditional plastic smartphone, whereas the Nexus 4 is all glass and rubber, making it the clear winner in this area. That’s not to say the Moto G feels bad, or is in any way poorly made — far from it. But plain old matte plastic — even if it’s customizable in various colors — can’t beat the look and feel of the Nexus’s glass back.

Both handsets are typically susceptible to cosmetic damage after a while — the Nexus 4’s glass back is notoriously prone to picking up scratches, while the silvery trim around the front will eventually lose some of its luster. (And of course if you drop it on its back, bad things will probably happen.) On the Moto G, it’s marks and smudges on the back cover you’ll be worrying about, particularly on the lighter-colored backs.

Winner: Nexus 4

Internal hardware

Nexus 4, Moto G

Despite its age, the Nexus 4’s quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro chip still packs a punch, and with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 320 GPU it provides more than enough hardware muscle to run the latest Android apps and games. The extra memory in particular helps the Nexus’s multitasking capabilities.

The Moto G on the other hand has a CPU built for power efficiency. It’s a quad-core Snapdragon 400 chip at 1.2GHz with four energy-sipping ARM Cortex A7 cores. Moto’s handset also uses a lower-powered Adreno 305 GPU and just 1GB of RAM, the latter being a result of the device’s lower price point.

Internal storage is a wash, with both devices coming in 8 and 16GB variants. But connectivity is another important win for the Nexus 4 — it supports pentaband 42Mbps DC-HSDPA, meaning you’ll get the fastest 3G coverage possible around the world. The Moto G, by comparison, only supports 21Mbps speeds, and you’ll be stuck with between three and four bands depending on which model you go for.

In most apps, anecdotal performance is closer than you’d expect given the theoretical gulf between the two chipsets. But overall the Nexus 4 is the clear winner, its technological prowess shining through in more demanding tasks. It also boasts wireless charging, an added convenience that’s lacking from the Moto G.

Winner: Nexus 4

Display and sound

Nexus 4, Moto G

The Moto G’s screen is arguably its most impressive feature

The Moto G’s screen is arguably its most impressive feature, so it’s not unsurprising to see it besting the Nexus 4, which never really excelled in this area. Motorola’s 4.5-inch 720p display is as bright, sharp and vivid as anything you’ll find outside of a high-end smartphone. By contrast, the Nexus 4’s panel has always seemed unnaturally cool, dark and washed-out, whether due to poor tuning or the use of lackluster hardware.

Both phones’ internal speakers are unremarkable, but the Moto G is the winner in the arena of sound quality. While there’s not much difference in volume, the G produces noticeably fuller, bassier, and generally better-sounding music than the Nexus 4.

Winner: Moto G

Software

AppsMotorola isn’t trying to maintain its own Android UI layer these days. Instead, it’s building only features and apps on top of Google’s OS. In the case of the Moto G however, much of the fancier stuff from the Moto X hasn’t made the cut. Active notifications, “OK Google Now” and the quick-launch camera gesture are nowhere to be found on Moto’s cheaper handset, meaning you get stock Android 4.3 and a bit of extra stuff, including Motorola Assist and Trusted Bluetooth. An update to Android 4.4 is promised by the end of January.

The Nexus 4 is already right up to date with the latest version of Android

But the Nexus 4 is already right up to date with the latest version of Android, and given that the Moto G offers a barebones Android experience anyway, we have to hand this win to the Nexus. What’s more, its status as a Nexus device should also see it positioned close to the front of the queue for future updates.

Winner: Nexus 4 (Feel free to change this if you absolutely must have Motorola Assist or Trusted Bluetooth)

Camera

Nexus 4, Moto G

If you’re buying either of these phones, it’s probably not for the camera. By modern standards, neither device excels at shooting photos or video, but the Nexus 4 pulls ahead in a few key areas. Aside from its higher megapixel count — 8MP versus 5MP — it’s faster to capture images, produces better-looking daylight shots and supports 1080p video. Both devices’ performance degrades rapidly in low light, however, with noise quickly creeping into most shots that aren’t perfectly lit.

On the other hand we’d be remiss in not mentioning the Moto G’s camera app, which is easier to use and offers better focus and exposure controls than stock Android’s offering.

Winner: Nexus 4

Battery life

Despite the similar battery capacities — 2070mAh for the Moto G, 2100mAh for the Nexus 4 — there’s a night-and-day difference in longevity between the two devices. We never had any trouble getting a full day — and then some, more often than not — out of the Moto G, but the Nexus 4 has never wowed us with its battery life.

Much of the difference in longevity is likely down to the CPUs being used in the phones. The Nexus 4’s Snapdragon S4 Pro is powerful, but power-hungry, while the Moto G’s Cortex A7 cores don’t perform as well in demanding apps, but are supremely efficient.

Winner: Moto G

Nexus 4, Moto G

The bottom line

A year on from release, the Nexus 4 remains a fine phone, though one clearly overshadowed by the current high-end contenders. Similarly, for a brand new entry-level to mid-range phone, the Moto G represents almost unbeatable value.

If you already have a Nexus 4, the Moto G is in no way an upgrade from your current device

In terms of OS updates, both devices should be pretty well-supported for the foreseeable future. As a Nexus device, the N4 should have at least another 12 months of life left in it (though the fate of the Galaxy Nexus may cast some doubt on that.) Meanwhile the new Motorola’s commitment to software updates is plain to see, and the company’s quick rollout of KitKat on the Moto X inspires confidence.

But the Nexus 4 is clearly the better phone overall, and if you already have one, the Moto G is in no way an upgrade from your current device. Save your $170, or put it towards something that’d be a genuine step up from the N4, like a Nexus 5.

The question of which one to buy right now is a bit trickier. You could probably find a second-hand Nexus 4 online for around than the cost of a Moto G, but then that’s a second-hand phone. A new Nexus 4 will likely set you back a good deal more, but that’s because you’re paying for more phone at an unsubsidized price.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you already own and how much you’re willing to spend. But it’s also important not to confuse the true cost of the Nexus 4 with the price Google was charging for it for most of its life — and particularly the fire-sale price of $199 we saw before its discontinuation. The Moto G is what a good sub-$200 phone looks like in late 2013. And without the artificially low Google Play Store price, the Nexus 4 now sits above that price point. Pay your money, take your choice.

Overall winner: Nexus 4

Read more: Nexus 4 review, Moto G review