Moto G4: Bargain Smartphones for the Whole Family?

Motorola’s latest entry-level phones get the job done without hurting your wallet.

By Jason Cipriani

With models starting at $150, Motorola’s Moto G4 lineup targets users who don’t need to live on the far edge of new technology. Evidently there is a niche market of people who realize that the latest and greatest in tech is only a few weeks or months away from being supplanted by something newer.

In any case, the Moto G4Moto G4 Plus, and Moto G4 Play give you an alternative to loading up the family with expensive phones that offer more features than they’ll ever use. But are they enough phone for a typical nonplatinum user—a teen who has never had a smartphone before, a Mom who “just needs a phone,” or a Dad who knows nothing about tech? Let’s take a look.

What’s the Difference?

Before diving into performance and other observations, let’s discuss the different price tiers offered for the three models.

Motorola's recently unveiled Moto G4 Play is priced at $150 if you buy directly from Motorola, or $100 if you buy it through Amazon's Prime Phone program. (In exchange for the $50 Amazon discount, you'll have to put up with Amazon ads on your lock screen.) The G4 Play comes with 16GB of storage and 2GB of memory, crammed into a slightly smaller 5-inch display with 720p resolution.

The standard Moto G4 starts at $200. At that price you get the same 16GB of storage and 2GB of memory that you do with the G4 Play, but you also a bigger (5.5 inches), higher-resolution (1080p) screen, a stronger battery, and a better rear-facing camera. You can double the Moto G4's storage to 32GB for an additional $30, but the memory allocation stays the same.

The G4 Plus has a starting price of $250, and the difference here covers more than a boost in storage over the vanilla G4. Most notably, you gain a fingerprint reader just below the screen for unlocking the phone, purchasing apps from the Play Store, and establishing a security measure for some password managers and banking apps. You also gain three additional megapixels in the rear-facing camera: It’s a 16MP camera versus the 13MP version on the standard G4 and the 8MP version on the Moto G4 Play.

For high-midrange users, Motorola offers a 64GB version of the G4 Plus with 4GB of memory for a still relatively affordable $300.

Basic yet Capable

In most respects, the trio of G4 models are very similar in appearance and functionality. On both the G4 and the G4 Plus, the modest 5.5-inch display boasts a 1080p resolution, and colors look bright and vivid on the screen. As noted above, the G4 Play offers a 5-inch, 720p-resolution display,

Powering the G4 and the G4 Plus is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 617 processor, with 16GB of base storage. If you opt not to pay extra for internal storage, you can still increase the available storage by inserting a 128GB microSD card. A 3,000-milliamp-hour battery should get most users through a day’s worth of moderate to heavy use, with the added benefit of Motorola’s TurboPower fast-charging system. Plugged into the included wall adapter, the Moto G4 can draw enough juice to provide up to 6 hours of battery life in as little as 15 minutes of charging.

The G4 Play comes equipped with a slightly slower, Snapdragon 410 processor, and a 2,800-milliamp-hour battery. The decreased battery capacity isn't an issue, however, thanks to the power-savvy processor and smaller display.

What do the cameras' laundry lists of specifications mean in the real world? You should expect some slowdown when pushing any of these devices to its limits, but each will handle common tasks, such as checking email or text messaging, with ease. Playing Pokemon Go and trying to catch those little creatures in augmented reality mode made even the G4 Plus nearly unusable. It would freeze up for several seconds—sometimes in midthrow—only to come back to life, and then lock up again. Turning off AR mode removed the extra-heavy burden on the device, enabling it to catch ’em all with a lot fewer hiccups.

A Decent Snapchat Machine

All three G4 models come with a 5MP front-facing camera, complete with an onscreen flash, so they can can capture a decent selfie even in low light.

The 8MP camera on the G4 Play won't wow you, and the 13MP camera on the standard G4 isn't as sharp as its 16MP bigger brother. But all three do an okay job of capturing your surroundings.

As is often the case with cameras on entry-level smartphones, the caneras on all three G4 models struggled in low-light conditions and on some nature shots. In the photo above, for example, the blue sky is completely blown out and the foreground is much too dark.

On the other hand, for sharing photos across social networks and with friends, the camera on the G4 is certainly adequate.

Forget Carrier Restrictions

The G4 doesn't burden you with a monthly payment for the device, nor does it lock you into any sort of carrier contract. In fact, you can use the G4 with almost any carrier in the U.S. just by putting your SIM card in the phone. Motorola says that it has successfully tested the phone’s compatibility with Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, U.S. Cellular, Consumer Cellular, and T-Mobile.

I tested it on three of the four major networks (I don't have an active Sprint SIM), and on Cricket Wireless—and I can confirm that switching carriers is easy and doesn’t entail futzing with any settings on the device itself.

Why does this matter? As competition between carriers intensifies, better deals and discounts frequently become available. And with a Moto G4 phone (or any other unlocked device), instead of having to pay off the balance you owe for the phone in order to switch carriers, you can switch carriers at will.

And let's face it, if your teenager uses way too much data, you're bound to start looking for a better deal on any carrier that works in your area.


Another appealing aspect of the Moto G4 lineup is the option to customize the overall look of the G4 and G4 Plus. I’m not talking about throwing a bulky case on one, and calling it day. During the purchase process at Motorola’s website, you have the option to customize the front color, back color, and accent color (around the camera lens and flash) in hues ranging from black and white on the front, to pink, purple, two shades of blue, foam, and red on the back. The accent color options are silver, gray, pink, ocean, and gold.

For an extra $5, you can engrave your name or a favorite saying on the back plate of the phone, for a further level of customization. And when the phone boots up, you can customize a short greeting that you'll see every time you restart the phone.

The G4 Play comes in any color you want, as long as you want black or white.

Bottom Line

With this trio of G4 phones, Motorola is not simply targeting users in emerging markets, where expensive phones aren't a realistic purchase. The company is also offering budget-conscious buyers in flourishing markets an inexpensive alternative to smartphones that suffer from advanced specsheetitis with its tell-tale symptoms of feature bloat and unreasonable pricing.

On the essential criteria, the G4 Play, G4, and G4 Plus fill up a spec sheet quite nicely. But more important, they deliver on their promise to provide a satisfactory internet-connected computing experience without inducing sticker shock at the register.

At times, these phones' performance may struggle a bit, or the camera may not quite capture the shot you want, but the Moto G4 line gives you the freedom to switch carriers in pursuit of the best deal as often as you like, and you can add a personal touch to the device for free.

And with model prices starting at $150, how can you go far wrong? The G4 Play is the perfect device for parents who are trying to figure out if their tweens or teens are responsible enough to take care of a serious smartphone.

Photo credits: Jason Cipriani