[dropcap]M[/dropcap]otorola has been on a track of continuous improvement; while some other manufacturers seem to keep churning out the same old thing, Motorola seems to be on a good thing at the moment, and the Moto E4 is a great example of this. The original Moto E series phones were nothing flash, but for the price, they offered good value. Fast forward to 2017, and the Moto E4 offers even more value for a price that’s virtually impossible to argue with.
Yes, for $249 you’re not getting the latest flagship killer, but you are getting a great phone with fairly reasonable inclusions for a price that makes this phone appealing to the budget conscious, for your kids, or for anyone that just needs “a phone” that can be replaced easily if you happen to lose it or destroy it.
Don’t be fooled, though. It might have a budget price, but there’s some premium inclusions, such as dual SIM 4G and a front-mounted fingerprint scanner. So, let’s take a little walk around the Moto E4.
Well, a phone of course. $249 worth of phone.
The Moto E is powered by a MediaTek MT6737 Quad-core 1.3 GHz processor, paired with 2GB of RAM and 16GB onboard storage (which you can expand with MicroSD). This means its reasonably quick to power up and to use, switching apps is fast and responsive, and you can even get into a bit of gaming.
The other things to remember are a relatively giant battery (which will easily see the Moto E4 last a couple of days), a decent camera front and rear, the latest version of Android and a very pocketable size. Probably the only thing you may miss is NFC, so there’ll be no Android Pay on this phone.
Are there any other things missing? Well, yes. Unlike most phones released this year, Moto E4 still comes with microUSB instead of USB C; it doesn’t really matter, per se, but if you’ve already switched to a lot of USB C cables in your place, you’ll need to hang onto a few micro USBs as well. There’s also performance; while the Moto E4 handles most tasks easily, heavy multitasking, or more intensive games, will bring it to a grinding halt. This is not a gaming powerhouse, but it will run Angry Birds or other fairly simple games to keep you amused.
What’s it good at?
The short answer is most things. Despite its plastic construction, it looks like it could be brushed metal sides, and it feels solid too. It also hides some fairly rare features these days, including a removable back and replaceable battery, so yes, if you buy some spares, you can live away from power for quite a while. Removing the back cover is a bit scary though, in that it’s quite hefty and it does almost feel like you’re tearing the phone asunder to get into the battery compartment.
Besides this, it has the usual assortment of features – 3.5mm headphone jack, power button and volume rocker on the right, charging port on the bottom. There’s nothing remarkable here, but the fingerprint scanner on the front is a standout feature. It’s as responsive as most other fingerprint scanners I’ve used, but definitely not as fast as Huawei’s which would have to be the fastest around. It’s a bit less accurate, too, but it still wipes the floor with Samsung’s Galaxy S8 fingerprint reader which is bordering on useless.
The display is a 5-inch LCD, and while it isn’t at the highest resolution (just 1280×720) the colours are accurate, and while the display is certainly workable in bright light, it just isn’t as bright as you might prefer to make it comfortable. For everywhere else, though, it’s perfectly serviceable.
Performance is capable, but nothing remarkable. For modest tasks like browsing the web, listening to some music, or even some casual gaming, the Moto E4 will meet your requirements. More intense gaming – anything 3D, for example – or lots of background tasks, or flipping between multiple apps, and you’ll start to see a drop in performance.
This modest performance, though, paired with a relatively large battery means that the Moto E4 can last the day, and easily so. More than 5 hours screen on time is easily achievable, and if your usage isn’t quite so demanding, that two day usage is an option here too.
Motorola knows Android software, and keeps it pretty simple. For starters, it’s the latest version of Android (7.1.1 Nougat) though the security updates are still in May 2017. For a budget phone to launch with software that some of last year’s more expensive phones don’t yet have is pretty good, and while Motorola has a reasonable track record for keeping software up to date, it’s unclear whether Android O will be on the radar here.
The interface is clean and simple, resembling the Pixel interface with a few Moto changes. The launcher is simple, with a swipe to the right to bring up the Google Feed, and a swipe-up app drawer. Google Assistant is built in, too, meaning this phone certainly punches above its weight. Even thecamera interface is nice and clean.
Moto’s additions are limited to Moto Actions and Moto Display. Actions allows you to set up and use simple gestures to control features of your phone, but on the Moto E4, those two gestures won’t be too helpful – one button nav (using the fingerprint sensor to navigate) and swipe to shrink screen (which on a 5-inch display doesn’t make a lot of sense).
Moto Display is a bit more useful, showing you notifications without waking up the whole phone, and offering a nightlight feature, but on a LCD display, it’s not quite as useful as it would be on an AMOLED. Still, it’s handy and adds value to a budget price.
What’s it less good at?
The camera is good, but it isn’t great. Mobile cameras are a pain point even at $1,000, and so at $249, you’re going to find a few areas where camera performance just isn’t wonderful. Granted, the Moto E4 is better than some other cameras at the same price, but … it’s just objectively not brilliant.
Capture times are quick, but shutter lag on HDR can be a bit tedious. In reasonable lighting, the camera performs adequately, though focus can be a little slow, and it only gets worse if the lighting isn’t great. With an aperture of f/2.2, the ISO has to ramp up quickly in lower light, and this leads to a much noisier photo. In brighter outdoor light, we start to see lens flare quite prominently, and the Moto E4’s focus tends to wander a bit, it’s just not as sharp as you might like it to be.
It’ll take some happy snaps, but for good photos, use something else. The front facing camera is equally serviceable … though it’s just okay, there’s nothing remarkable about it. To give you a bit of a comparison between a budget camera and a top shelf camera, here’s the Moto E4 on the left, and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 on the right.
I know, it’s not really a fair comparison, but considering the vast difference in price, the difference in photo quality isn’t as stark as you’d expect. While the Moto E4 struggled to auto-focus on the foreground (instead opting for a bit behind it), it captured a reasonable photo (or would’ve done, had it focused correctly). The lighting and colour reproduction is pretty accurate, though it’s more of a cold image compared to the Galaxy S8, which had a warmer photo, better foreground focus and a nice diffuse background. That bright light makes focus a little difficult, and these photos were both taken in full automatic mode — no intervention added. For a comparison, here’s the same photo taken on a decent Sony digital camera:
On the software point, while it’s pretty close to stock Android and works well in that regard, it could be described as a little … dull. There’s nothing new here, and the Moto additions are a bit lacking. For a basic phone, that’s probably what you want, but if you’re looking for a bit of flair or a stand-out feature, it’s just not here.
The Moto E4 is cheap at $249, and can be found in a number of places including JB HiFi, Harvey Norman, Good Guys, Officeworks, and online from www.motorola.com.au. At that price, you’re hard pressed to buy something locally that offers better value.
Expectations have to be tempered a little at this price point, but the Moto E4 still stands proud; the display is good, the battery life astounding, and the fingerprint sensor is a surprising inclusion that functions really rather well. Even the construction is sound, and the software is in keeping with Motorola’s approach to Android, making this an easy phone to pick up and use without 1000s of useless bells and whistles.
While it’s nothing remarkable to look at, and while performance can drag a little under heavier usage, this is a great phone for the price. The camera is definitely a bit of a let down, but it’s more than good enough for a few happy snaps to share with friends.
Moto has not sought the return of the Moto E4.