If you've read our Moto E4 review, you already know what to expect from Moto's budget lineup: reasonable specifications, bloat-free Android, and four-carrier compatibility in the US. All in all, it's a formula that we've found consistently puts Moto at the top of our recommendation pile in the entry-level to low-mid-range segment (including with phones like the excellent G5 Plus). Moto does inexpensive smartphones really well - aside from their lacking NFC in the US - and the E4 Plus is yet another example that sticks to a winning combination. Except, I'd argue it's even better than Moto's usual effort.
You might wonder where the $179-$199 (16/32GB) E4 Plus slots into Moto's portfolio. After all, the 32GB G5 Plus is just $229, a whole $30 more than the 32GB version of the E4 Plus. Why wouldn't you pony up thirty bucks for the better chipset and higher-resolution display? Glancing at these two phones, it might be hard for many people to understand why the E4 Plus exists at all.
The answer is simple: more screen and a lot more battery for less money.
If you don't care so much how fast your phone is, the E4 Plus's Snapdragon 427 is more than serviceable for basic tasks like web browsing, watching Netflix, texting, and social media. Sure, browsing is very noticeably slower than on a phone like the Google Pixel, and apps do sometimes hang a bit and generally require more patience, but that's true of literally every phone in this segment, and the E4 Plus is generally well-optimized for something with this kind of processing power. The 5.5" LCD is substantially larger than both the standard E4 or G5 Plus's 5" and 5.2" displays, too, and I'm still firmly in the camp of "more screen is better."
The real story with the E4 Plus, though, is the battery. Many of you have long wondered in our comments why so many cheap smartphones in countries like China and India have massive batteries relative to what we expect of most "flagship" devices here in the US. If some no-name manufacturer can slap a huge battery in a handset that costs $150, why are we making do with a fraction of that on phones costing four, five, or six times as much? And where are these affordable mega-battery phones to be found in America? The answer, my friends, is the Moto E4 Plus.
With a 5000mAh battery coupled to the power-sipping Snapdragon 427, this phone goes, and goes... and goes, and then goes some more.
The "need to know"
- Unlocked from Moto: $179 (16GB), $199 (32GB)
- Prime Exclusive (unlocked) versions with ads: $139, $159
- SIM-locked carrier versions also available
- Unlocked and Amazon versions work on all four major US providers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile)
- LTE bands: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 25, 26, 38, 41, 66
- Doesn't have NFC in the US (no Android Pay)
- Does have a headphone jack (with FM radio)
- Runs Android 7.1.1
- Full specifications available on Motorola's site.
|Battery||5000mAh. Need I say more? Two full days of fairly intensive use was doable with the E4 Plus, and I could never kill it in a single day alone.|
|Display||While not the best at off-angles, this is a reasonably good, if slightly low-res (720p) LCD panel with solid color reproduction.|
|Compatibility||Like its E and G siblings, the E4 Plus works on all four major carriers here in the US.|
|Camera||For something in this price range, the E4 Plus has a shockingly decent camera. When it cooperates, it's much better than the standard E4's. The front-facing one even has a flash!|
|Fingerprint sensor||It's about the same speed as the Google Pixel's, which is more than adequate for the money. Having one at all is nice at this price.|
|No bloat||The E4 Plus runs Moto's very light-touch Android skin with minimal modifications. Most of what Moto adds is genuinely useful, too.|
|Kinda slow||There's no way around it. Performance is serviceable for something costing $180, but the E4 Plus is not a fast phone - it's easy to get it to choke up when you start multitasking. It's generally respectable, though.|
|microUSB||I get why Moto does it (most people still have microUSB cables), but I think it's time to move into the future here. Give us USB-C next year, Moto.|
|No quick charging||A massive battery and a relatively pokey 10W max charging speed means the E4 Plus takes a long time on the wall wart to get back to 100% from single digits.|
|No NFC in the US||Lame.|
|Camera again||Autofocus performance is lamentable in anything but very good lighting. You have to be patient with this thing.|
Design and materials
The E4 Plus follows the design language of the new G5 and E4, which is in my opinion pretty bland - borderline unattractive. Especially in this gold color, I just don't get what Lenovo's trying to do here. Sure, you can tell this is a Moto smartphone, but I'd argue it's not in a good way; more like Moto's smartphones are a bit unrefined relative to others. Still, looks aren't everything (not to mention, highly subjective), and in the budget space, how much can you really complain? Buy the gray version and at least it's a little more subtle.
The entire rear cover of the E4 Plus comes off, but unlike the standard E4, the battery is not removable. The 5000mAh cell is permanently installed, but something tells me most people won't really care given just how long it lasts anyway. Inside, you'll find the SIM and microSD slots, and a metal panel in the center of the plastic cover where the NFC coil would be located in the EMEA market versions of the phone, which the US sadly does not get. And yes, you read that right: the center panel insert of the plastic cover is made of metal. Because premium. That's cool, I guess.
The power key and volume rocker have surprisingly good feel to them, and even if they do make kind of gross plastic creaking sounds, I'm so glad Moto got this right. I constantly fret about phones with buttons that suck, and these are decidedly above average in terms of satisfying clickiness.
Because of the massive battery, the E4 Plus's large camera cutout doesn't extend past the body, so there's no annoying hump to contend with. But don't be fooled: this is a bulky smartphone. At 181 grams, this 5.5" budget phone weighs nearly as much as the old Nexus 6 - a phone notorious for its ridiculous size and heft (I would know, I bought one). As such, the E4 Plus feels pretty dense in hand, but hey, I think we'd all kind of suspect that going in, because huge battery.
On the front, you've got fairly sizeable bezels, but nothing ridiculous for a phone in this price range. The lower chin houses the fingerprint scanner anyway, which at least makes it a functional use of space. That scanner isn't the fastest or most accurate, but I'd put its speed on par with the Google Pixel's. It's slow-ish by modern phone standards, but it's not actually all that slow, all things considered. The accuracy is a bit wanting at times, but I've generally just learned to consciously consider my finger placement when unlocking the phone. It can be a bit finicky on occasion, but I never found myself actively frustrated by issues with bad reads.
What more can you say, really? The E4 Plus is largely form following function, and while the form isn't going to win any awards, there's nothing really terrible about it. Are there phones that use nicer materials and look a bit more premium in this price range? Probably, especially if you start looking at gray market imports. But I'd argue that really doesn't matter when we're talking about the sub-$200 zone. I just want something that does smartphone stuff well.
The 5.5" LCD on the E4 Plus has a resolution of 1280x720, meaning you are definitely going to see some pixelation if you get up-close-and-personal. By comparison, the G5 Plus, costing $30 more, offers a 1080p screen with a 5.2" diagonal - meaning greatly increased density. If a screen's quality really matters to you above its size, the G5 Plus may well be worth the extra money. But if you're wanting the extra real estate, the E4 Plus won't disappoint.
Sure, you get some pretty serious black-to-gray cast at certain angles, and loss of brightness at off angles can also be pretty severe. But compared to the displays we were dealing with at this price point a few years ago, the E4 Plus has a damn good screen. Moto even offers a "standard" screen mode to provide a more accurate color profile, something I don't think you'll see on almost any other budget phone. It's a nice touch. The display gets pretty bright for outdoor viewing, and very dim for reading late at night in bed. The adaptive brightness can be a little conservative for my taste, but I never found it did the crazy seesawing I tend to experience on a lot cheaper handsets. Moto has it tuned right.
Moto Display is present on the E4 Plus, but it's a gyroscope-only version, meaning the phone activates Moto Display whenever you pick it up (or when a notification is received). There's no proximity detection. Still, you do get night mode for the screen with scheduling, which once again shows how much Moto is willing to let "premium" features trickle down to its affordable handsets.
With my Google Pixel XL, I average around 4-5 hours of screen-on time - on a good day - in a roughly 18-hour period of time off my charger. On a less than good day, that number can be under 4 hours. With the E4 Plus, I have consistently been able to achieve battery life that would allow me 10 hours of screen-on time over twice the amount of time off the charger (around 36 hours). That's insane.
If you're the type to try to eek out every last bit of battery, keeping the brightness low could probably extend that number further yet. And if you don't tend to use your phone much, I have no doubt the E4 Plus could easily last three to four days off the charger with light usage. This is an excellent backup phone - something to just keep with you in case your primary smartphone kicks the bucket. It's also a great travel phone for similarly obvious reasons (its excellent carrier compatibility is a big help there, too).
It's clear that Motorola expects the E4 Plus's battery life will move handsets, and I think that's a decent bet to make. $200 out the door for a phone that will last you two days and works on any carrier? That's not a hard sell.
Anyway, the E4 Plus's battery life is the stuff of legends. Cramming a gigantic battery into a phone with a power-sipping chipset is exactly the kind of thing that makes a stupid amount of sense from a product differentiation perspective. What makes the Moto E4 Plus better than some LG or ZTE budget phone you'll find at a T-Mobile or Sprint store? It lasts twice as long - if not more.
My one complaint in regard to this epic, enormous, everlasting battery is the time it takes to charge. While Motorola may call 10 watts "rapid," it's certainly not when you've got 5000mAh of juicing up to do. From empty, the Moto E4 Plus will take well over three hours to fully charge, and that's if you're not using it at all. If you are, expect that figure to rise considerably.
Wireless and reception
The Moto E4 Plus's Snapdragon 427 chip utilizes a Qualcomm X9 LTE modem. It offers LTE Cat7 downlink performance (Cat13 uplink) and supports features like 2x20MHz carrier aggregation and VoLTE, but it's unclear if the Moto E4 Plus has actually implemented this stuff. Performance on Verizon during my testing has been good - the E4 Plus seems pretty able to maintain a signal, something phones like the much pricier Z2 Play struggled with in my apartment.
The Snapdragon 427 does support Wi-Fi AC, but Moto seems to have opted out of this on the E4 Plus, with 5GHz N being the best you'll be able to get. A phone at this price point and with this kind of performance probably wouldn't really benefit terribly from even faster Wi-Fi, though. I found the E4 Plus's Wi-Fi to perform adequately in my apartment, with no issues to report.
Bluetooth performance has been satisfactory, too. I've tested the E4 Plus with a number of headphones, as well as in my car, and Bluetooth signal strength seems solid. Though, like a number of Moto handsets lately, the E4 Plus occasionally didn't want to connect to my car, requiring me to flip in and out of airplane mode to force the connection to complete. I'm not sure if this is some firmware quirk with newer Motorola phones, but it is a bit annoying.
Speakers and audio
The E4 Plus has a headphone jack. That's about the extent of the nice things I can say about this headphone jack, which has pretty low output and generally doesn't sound amazing. It's not bad, but Qualcomm's newer 400-series chipsets feature uprated audio components - the 427 hails from the mid-life refresh of Qualcomm's 2nd-generation 400-series processors, and the age is beginning to show. Don't buy an E4 Plus expecting to power your open-back Sennheisers.
The single front-facing speaker gets the job done, though, and has surprisingly decent clarity for a budget phone. Max volume isn't anything to get excited over, but it's sufficient for watching YouTube. I'll say this: it could be a lot worse.
When it cooperates, the E4 Plus offers a surprisingly competent smartphone imaging experience. When it doesn't, though, it can be more than a bit frustrating. In good lighting, the E4 Plus captures vibrant (if not very accurate) images thanks to built-in HDR processing, something not often seen in budget phones. An f/2.0 lens with a 13MP sensor also has the E4 Plus punching above its weight for the class. And the images do seem to agree - I've captured some very passable photos using this phone, and while the processing can leave a bit to be desired (fuzziness is a real issue), these are very much social media-ready pictures.
With a steady hand, the E4 Plus can even capture pretty half-decent night images when HDR is enabled - though that steady hand part is rather key to avoiding a useless, messy blur. Also an issue: autofocus. While it generally cooperates in good light, the autofocus performance in dimmer situations is downright annoying, sometimes completely missing the focal point even after repeated taps on the subject area.
But Moto's HDR really does shine here, and allows the E4 Plus to get photos that a lot of cheap smartphones just wouldn't be able to replicate, providing good dynamic range in high-contrast situations instead of just blackening shadows into oblivion. I've just left HDR in the "on" position because the quality of the images is that much better to my eye under almost any circumstance. You may want to disable it indoors, though, because it's definitely not Pixel-esque in its ability to avoid blur.
The one real pitfall of the E4 Plus is its performance. Its smaller, cheaper sibling is able to write off essentially any concerns about speed because of its price. For $129, can you really complain? But the E4 Plus costs substantially more, and the one you really should get - the $199 32GB variant - is starting to butt up against phones with substantially speedier chips.
The quad-core Snapdragon 427 is the last hurrah for the 42x series, released in the first quarter of 2017. This chip uses a quad-core ARM A53 setup clocked at 1.4GHz, which is nearly the same configuration you would have seen on a Snapdragon 410 three years ago (albeit clocked a bit slower back then). This is all to say that the Moto E4 Plus performs a bit like a slow, old phone - because in some ways it actually kind of is a slow, old phone.
As a mitigating factor, I can attest that Motorola has done an admirable job optimizing the meager power of this aging CPU. Oddly, all system animations were turned off on my review unit when I received it, so I turned them back on in developer options, and I think most things run pretty OK. Transitions are generally fluid, and navigating the OS is quick enough not to be bothersome. Start doing any kind of heavy lifting like loading a rich web page or flipping between apps, though, and you're going to choke this phone up fairly quickly. Even launching Google Maps can be oddly slow at times, and that's probably down to the exceptionally underpowered Adreno 308 GPU, which has about half the processing power of the Adreno 505 found in the more robust Snapdragon 430 and 435.
All in all, the sluggishness of the E4 Plus is probably the single biggest point against it, and while it's certainly no worse than the E4 in this regard, it's also substantially more expensive. When $30 more gets you the much quicker Snapdragon 625 in the G5 Plus, the E4 Plus's larger display and ginormous battery may not be enough to tip the scales for some buyers.
The E4 Plus runs Moto's take on Android 7.1 Nougat, which really isn't much of a "take" at all. Aside from the Moto app (which houses Moto Display and Moto Actions), the camera, and the FM radio, there really isn't even anything Moto's done to tweak Android. Sure, you get the little stuff like the aforementioned color mode for the screen and Moto Display, but there really isn't almost anything else. Motorola's rather open take on Android does mean they're generally averse to stripping out features, though - stock Android items like the system UI tuner, splitscreen, and multi-user support are still present.
Gone are some Moto Actions, however; you can't chop to turn on the flashlight or twist to launch the camera, so be aware of that. The kind of weird, kind of neat "one button nav" mode from the G5 is present, though, allowing you to use the fingerprint scanner to navigate the OS.
The only other "skinned" item is technically the launcher, but even that's really just the newest version of the AOSP launcher, launcher3. You get the concentric circle home button for easy access to Google Assistant (the E4 Plus does not support screen-off hotwording, by the way), your Google Now pane, and the Google Wallpapers app is even installed out of the box.
There's no bloat to be found on the unlocked version of the E4 Plus, unsurprisingly, and that's the way it should be. All in all, this is exactly the software experience you'd expect on a modern Moto phone, albeit minus a few of Moto's already-scarce additions to the OS.
The Moto E4 Plus competes, somewhat strangely, most directly with Motorola's own G5 Plus. That phone offers a much speedier processor, a higher-resolution display, faster fingerprint scanner, a few more software features, and a better camera - all for $30 more. The compromises you make in stepping up to the G5 Plus, though, come in the size of the display (5.2" for the G5 Plus versus 5.5" on the E4 Plus) and the battery (3000mAh on the G5, 5000mAh on the E4 Plus).
You could throw in devices like the $229 Nokia 6 here, but in the US, that phone really only fully supports T-Mobile, and half-supports AT&T. Its Snapdragon 430 is also not nearly the step up the G5 Plus's 625 is, and Nokia is a completely unknown quantity in terms of post-purchase customer and software support (not that Moto has the best reputation for either recently).
If you're torn between the G5 Plus and the E4 Plus, it's really going to come down to priorities. If battery life is a huge concern for you, the E4 Plus is probably the longest-lasting smartphone on sale in the US today. It's ridiculous. And I'm always partial to a larger screen, personally. The lack of NFC on either phone is a bitter pill to swallow, but at least Moto hasn't gone pillaging its budget portfolio of headphone jacks just yet.
Regardless, I think the E4 Plus is an excellent value, and if you can stomach the lockscreen ads, $159 for the Prime Exclusive 32GB version could well make this an irresistible backup phone option, or as something to tide you over until you're ready for a serious upgrade.
The Moto E4 gets dangerously close to being the perfect combination of budget phone give and take. Sure, it's slow, but the battery lasts forever. Yes, the display resolution isn't great, but it's a big screen, and I think most people tend to prefer that anyway. It doesn't skimp on the really important stuff - it works on all four major carriers, the camera is usable, there's a decent fingerprint scanner, you can buy one with enough storage - but it does leave a few things off my checklist for an "ideal" budget handset. Specifically, I'd really, really like to see NFC and a slightly more modern chipset. But aside from those two things, I find it hard to fault the E4 Plus given its price point.
Motorola seems to get this whole affordable smartphone thing, and I don't see anyone really coming close to them in this segment. I wholeheartedly recommend the E4 Plus as long as you can deal with the slowdowns and the lack of Android Pay support. This very well may be the best budget smartphone I've ever tested, and it probably goes without saying, but I'm also giving it our editor's choice "Most Wanted" award. Keep up the good work this side of $300, Motorola.
Maybe figure out what you're doing with that whole Z thing, though.