The Moto E4 is fine. It's not particularly good looking or powerful, nor is it filled with features. When you think a generic smartphone, this is kind of what you think of.
And yet, for $129, I would probably recommend it, warts and all, over any other phone. At $70 on Verizon's prepaid service, it's an absolute steal. Here's why.
It's got decent specs for the price
The Moto E4 is good enough for most tasks, thanks to its quad-core Snapdragon 425 processor, Adreno 308 GPU, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. It's also got an 8MP autofocus rear camera on the back and a 5MP front camera, both of which are better than I thought they'd be on a phone this inexpensive.
The screen is forgettable, but everything else is pretty great.
There's a fingerprint sensor on the front, which works about as well as any from Motorola, as well as a Micro-USB charging port on the bottom. A removable 2800mAh battery sits behind the plastic back cover, with nano-SIM and microSD slots hidden behind the battery compartment. On top of the phone, a headphone jack. All pretty simple.
The 5-inch 1280x720 pixel LCD display is probably the phone's weakest point. It's not just the resolution — I can easily deal with "mere HD" on a 5-inch screen — but the washed-out colors and gap between the glass and the panel itself make the phone feel a bit dated. More 2015 than 2017. That said, touch response is excellent, and after a few minutes with the phone I completely forgot about any misgivings I had towards the screen. It just works.
The design is really nice
I am a fan of Motorola's new design language that debuted last year with the Moto Z line and continues with the Moto G5 series and, now, the Moto E4. The bezels are a big bigger than what you'd expect on the company's more expensive phones, but not much, and the back cover is made of a textured, soft touch plastic that I actually prefer over the cold and distracting metal/plastic hybrid of the Moto G5.
The phone is supremely comfortable to hold, thanks to its slight 150 gram weight, and narrow enough to use with one hand, which I found myself doing quite a bit over the course of my week with the device.
The camera is impressive
The camera on this phone rarely disappoints, which is an amazing achievement.
When it comes to cost cutting in phones, the screen and camera — two expensive components — are often the first to get compromised. As a result, I was expecting to equivocate photos taken on the Moto E4 to that of a potato sack, but was pleasantly surprised when viewing them on my laptop screen.
Sure, detail is lacking, since there are more than a third fewer pixels in the 8MP sensor than on, say, the Moto G5, but the quality in good lighting is actually quite impressive. Even in poor lighting, the phone manages to eke some decent shots, and should suffice for everything from kids birthdays to midnight walks in the park.
While there is a Pro mode on the Moto E4, Motorola's best camera feature, the acclaimed "double-twist-to-open" gesture, is nowhere to be found on this phone, likely due to the lack of advanced sensors necessary to make such a thing possible. This is the reality of a $130 phone — the gesture is present on the Moto G5 — but it's still a bit disappointing.
Battery life isn't great
The Snapdragon 425 inside the Moto E4 may not be old per se, but it's built on an aging 28nm manufacturing process that isn't very efficient. And while the 2800mAh battery cell has plenty of juice, I found myself looking at a dying phone before 8pm most days.
Thankfully, the cell itself is replaceable — it uses the same one as the Moto G5, for what it's worth — which means that it shouldn't be too hard finding and keeping charged a spare for those emergencies. The phone uses the legacy Micro-USB connector, too, which ensures compatibility with existing chargers and battery packs from older Motorola phones, something the company says was top-of-mind when choosing to maintain the charging method.
The software is outstanding
This is probably the best software you can find on a $70 phone.
I have two Moto E4 units, a $130 unlocked model that will be sold directly from Motorola, and a $70 prepaid version from Verizon. The former came with no bloatware to speak of and worked out of the box with any SIM card I threw in it.
The Verizon one had a bunch of pre-installed apps and wouldn't work on any other SIM card, a compromise one signs up for when buying a highly-subsidized phone from Big Red. That said, all of Verizon's apps, from its Messenger+ text client to NFL Mobile, can be disabled, and the phone can be made to easily resemble its unlocked counterpart.
Motorola's software, which is based on Android 7.1, continues to be among the best in the business. From the excellent and indispensable Moto Display, which works the same here as it does on the much more expensive Moto Z2 Play, to the limited selection of Moto Actions due to a lack of sensors, the Moto E4 works extremely well with almost app on the Play Store.
You have to be cognizant of the limited amount of RAM and storage — 2GB of RAM means only a few apps can be kept in memory, and 9GB of usable storage out of the box screams for a 32 to 64GB microSD card — but in my week with the phone I rarely encountered anything that resembled slowdown. Instead, you just have to be aware that things aren't going to operate with butter smoothness as they would on, say, a Moto Z2 Play.
A note about the Moto G5
The Moto G5 isn't available in the U.S., likely because there isn't enough room in the U.S. market for it, the Moto E4 Plus, which is coming later this summer for $179, and the Moto G5 Plus, which is available now for $229.
But the Moto G5 is remarkably similar in many ways to the Moto E4, with only a slightly nicer build (hints of metal in the back cover), an ever-so-slightly more powerful Snapdragon 430 SoC (octa-core compared to the Moto E4's quad-core S425) and an admittedly much nicer 1080p display.
Here in Canada, both the Moto E4 and Moto G5 are sold at various carriers for between $200 and $250, which is odd, since the Moto G5 is clearly the better phone of the two, but U.S. users don't have to make such a confusing decision. You can find the international version of the Moto G5 on Amazon for $220, but you're much better off spending the extra money on the Moto G5 Plus, which has a U.S. warranty (and a lot more power) for a few dollars more.
Perfect for the prepaid market
While using the Moto E4, I was constantly aware of its price, and how most people — through a Verizon store — will be interacting with it for the first time. Yes, Motorola has a robust unlocked market in the U.S., and the phone is excellent value at $129.99 (it works on all major U.S. carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon), but the real gem here is its $69.99 price on Verizon prepaid, which is outstanding value. Paired with a $40 plan, which comes with 3GB of data per month, I can see the Moto E4 becoming a first phone with a lot of high school students and recent graduates.
The phone is available now on Verizon prepaid and will be coming unlocked to online retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, Motorola.com and Newegg on June 30. It's also going to be available at Boost, Sprint, Republic Wireless and Ting in July.
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