Moto E4

Motorola has made it dead simple to stumble upon not just an affordable Android phone, but a really good one, at that. 

The new Moto E4 is no exception, and at the low cost of $129/£129/AU$199, it honestly had me fooled that it wasn’t gunning for the mid-range alongside the Moto G5.

It’s easy enough to see why I was mistaken. This new budget phone comes loaded with Android Nougat alongside its quad-core processor, the 2.5D glass front covering the E4 gives it an undeniably fresh look and the fingerprint sensor is an unexpected treat at this price point. 

Finally, add in a few crowd-pleasers like Google Assistant, a removable battery and microSD support and you’ve got the makings for what seems like a robust mid-range option on paper.

While other competitors like the BLU R1 Plus are encroaching on its territory, Moto’s latest shows that its unwavering focus on value and pushing the design and software capabilities to the max place it a cut above the rest. 

Moto E4 release date and price

  • Available for $129/£129/AU$199 unlocked, $99 ad-supported via Amazon
  • Works on both GSM and CDMA carriers, covering AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and more

The latest budget phone from Moto is available now at Verizon in the US for $69.99 on a prepaid basis. If you snag that model, it’ll be tied to that network for a year or until you make $75 in payments. Then, it will be unlockable.

The phone is also available unlocked from the start for $129/£129 from Amazon, NewEgg, Best Buy, B&H, Fry’s and Motorola’s website. Moto tells us that like its previous budget phones, an ad-supported E4 will be available subsidized through Amazon in the US for $99.

No matter where you choose to purchase the E4, it supports both CDMA and GSM signal, meaning that carriers like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile and other MVNOs will work out of the box.

Design

  • Slick, glass-covered front looks high-end
  • UK gets a metal back, but the US version is all plastic
  • Consistent in design with the Moto G5

Affordable smartphones are better than ever. Not only are the specs fairly respectable on the whole, but design cues from the high-end range of smartphones have seeped in, making cheap phones not look so…cheap. 

The Moto E4 impresses off the bat with its slightly curved 2.5D glass panel, melding into the all-plastic chassis almost seamlessly. The small lip at the display’s edge where the glass transitions to glossy plastic breaks the illusion a bit, but it doesn’t impact its smooth feel in the palm.

On its front, you’ll find the usual suspects, like a front facing camera, an LED flash and an earpiece that doubles as a speaker. More surprising an inclusion is the fingerprint sensor, which looks to be lifted from the Moto G5. The concave sensor is easy to find without looking for and it’s as responsive and secure as one’s your find in phones that cost two to three times as much.

Around the phone’s sides, you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a microUSB port for charging, and combo of volume rocker and notched power button along its right edge.

The phone’s rear will look different depending on where you live. In the UK, you’ll be treated to an all-metal body, which gives it a more premium look. In the US, it’s made up of lightly textured plastic. Personally, I’m more a fan of the plastic since it gives it a distinct look when sitting next to the G5.

Both feature a circular camera system that sticks out just a bit, which has oddly enough become somewhat of a signature Moto feature. We’re not sure why it couldn’t have sat flush given that the sensor doesn’t feature any high-end features, but thankfully, the bump doesn’t detract from the experience much given that it’s a near-$100 phone. 

Popping the plastic cover off reveals the battery, SIM slot and microSD slot. People, including myself, love having the flexibility of swapping out a battery, so the fact that this phone offers it is a big plus. 

Interface and reliability

  • Comes with the latest version of Android Nougat
  • Moto will likely update the E4 with Android O down the line
  • The additional software tricks from Moto give it some smarts

When you opt for a budget smartphone, there’s bound to be compromise somewhere. But for the E4, you won’t find any when it comes to the Android Nougat operating system and Moto’s clever batch of software tricks. 

Moto is among the best out there in terms of staying up to date with the latest Android software. Not just that, its latest phones keep a clean, Pixel-like interface and if you snag the unlocked versions, it will come with no bloatware whatsoever. However, in the case of our review unit, which arrived courtesy of Verizon, the pre-installed apps consist of My Verizon, VZ Navigator, NFL Mobile, Verizon Cloud and its messaging app. Not too bad, and these can be disabled if you plan on switching carriers.

If you’ve used Nougat before, you’ll find it in full effect here. Visually, it’s not too different from Android Marshmallow, but you’ll reap the benefits of the split window multitasking and enhanced Doze support, which extends battery life intelligently based on your usage patterns.

Where the E4 diverts from other Nougat phones is with its swipe interface, first seen on the Moto G5. Once enabled, the on-screen navigation buttons disappear and are delegated to unique gestures on the fingerprint sensor. Tap to go home, swipe to the right to look at the list of open apps and swipe to the left to go back. Some may not like this over the traditional look, but it yields a bit more screen real estate and works without a hitch in our experience.

Movies, music and gaming

  • What its 720p display lacks in quality, it makes up for with a bright, vivid picture
  • Viewing angles are surprisingly generous

The Moto E4 is not the best device out there for viewing movies and YouTube videos or playing the latest gaming releases on the Google Play Store. 

That’s not an opinion, it’s based off the fact that it features a 720p screen and is backed with a chipset that isn’t about 60 frames per second 3D gaming. However, what it can deliver is totally adequate in most situations and despite its lower-end innards, the overall experience is smooth regardless of your preference.

The 720p display doesn’t gush with detail, though it is impressively colorful and vivid considering its low price. The screen is well-lit and doesn’t become too tough to read in direct sunlight, an area where low-end displays and even some high-end ones tend to falter. Viewing angles are pretty good, too, so if you and a friend are crowding around the five-inch display, you’ll both be able to see what’s playing easily.

Switching over to music, the 3.5mm headphone jack is your expressway to listening bliss. However, it also supports Bluetooth wireless headphones and can play tunes aloud through the single earpiece speaker. That said, the earpiece speaker doesn’t sound too great. Perfect in a pinch, but if you’re listening for the long haul, you’d best find a set of headphones as they aren’t included in the box.

When it comes to gaming on the E4, your experience will vary depending on the games that you enjoy playing. Personally, I get by with a mix of Alto’s Adventure and Punch Quest, which aren’t the most demanding games. I also enjoy Hearthstone, which runs fairly choppy on this device. Sonic Dash, an endless runner, runs well most of the time, but some stylish 3D animations cause a bit of unsightly stuttering. Gaming performance isn’t a deal-breaker, but it’s not the most future-proof device.

Specs and performance

  • Marginal improvement over the Moto G4 Play, but feels faster
  • Offers microSD support with adoptable storage
  • Can play most titles at a reasonable frame rate, but 3D games are hit-and-miss

The Moto E4 sits just below what the Moto G5 contains in terms of specs. Although the G5 isn’t available in the US, the E4 appears to take the place of it with a Snapdragon 425 quad-core chipset. In the UK, the E4 will launch with a Mediatek Helio MT6737 instead.

Launched with a single configuration, this device contains 2GB of RAM that helps to keep things moving at a relatively snappy pace. 

In terms of storage, the E4 comes with 16GB by default. Thankfully, that meager offering is offset completely thanks to microSD support that allows for up to 128GB of adoptable storage – storage that you can utilize with app installs, not just multimedia files.

If you’re looking for a performance powerhouse, the E4 isn’t the best option overall. That said, it packs a surprising amount of gusto for the price. Its quad-core processor feels faster on the whole that we saw in last year’s Moto G4 Play and doesn’t encounter hiccups as frequently, even if it’s just a marginal improvement over its Snapdragon 410.

Battery and camera

  • Removable battery means the party doesn't have to stop when the phone dies
  • 2,800mAh capacity is fairly generous for a budget phone
  • Has little issue lasting for at least a day under normal usage

Flagship smartphones tend to come under more scrutiny when it comes to battery performance than budget phones do. That’s because they not only cost more, which raises expectations, but commonly, the battery is fused within the chassis and not accessible by the consumer.

The Moto E4 is the perfect illustration of the polar opposite of that spectrum. It’s priced low, so it’s all the more impressive to see that its 2,800mAh can carry a charge for longer than a day, depending on usage. Not just that, it’s removable so you can theoretically keep things going for a days on end if you have a second battery handy.

During our testing, we were able to squeeze more than a day out of the E4 on average. At the very least, a tough day filled with listening to music, playing games and browsing Chrome brought it down beneath the 50% mark. Watching a 90-minute HD video drained its battery down by 18%, leaving you with 82% to carry on the day.

But with battery saver activated, it lasted easily through a particularly busy wedding weekend, pumping out tunes, downloading a hi-res episode of Twin Peaks over 4G LTE and survived an hour of gaming, with change left over.

It’s tough to kill this phone, which flies in the face of our expectations given its budget status. Once it dies, you can swap out the removable battery. But if you just want to bring it back to life, it charges up rather quickly with its included charger. From 0%, it takes under two hours to fill back up. After just a half hour, it was up to 50% charge.

Camera

  • Front and rear cameras generally produce good results
  • The E4 doesn't capture particularly well in low-lit or fast-moving scenarios
  • Professional mode makes it easy enough to get the desired effect

Stocked with a 8MP rear-facing camera and a 5MP front snapper, the Moto E4 produces generally competent results. In good light, it’s easy to walk away with a photo that you’re happy with: a photo filled with a good amount of vibrancy, balanced contrast and exposure levels. 

However, if you’re in low lighting conditions, you’ll frequently turn out blurry, fuzzy photos unless you’re perfectly still or utilize the appreciate professional mode that lets you tweak the exposure, ISO levels and more. 

If you’re into shooting video, this phone is capable of 1080p capture at 30 frames per second. It’s a little puzzling that the E4 can capture at a higher resolution than its display can push, but it’s an ideal setting for uploading to social media or what have you. Check out the video sample below.

Verdict

Moto has upped its own bar by bringing yet another well-designed budget phone to market that will suit many users perfectly.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Moto E4 isn’t a gaming powerhouse or the premier choice for enjoying your multimedia compared to high-end options. But for the price, this almost no-compromise is well worth celebrating.

Who's it for?

For those on a budget who don’t want to sacrifice too much. The Moto E4 is available unlocked for $129/£129 and is compatible with virtually every mobile network under the sun. Better yet, you can snag an ad-supported version in the US through Amazon for just $99.

Based on the phone’s affordable price tag, we’re impressed with just how good the E4 looks and how much it packs in. From the glass front to the fingerprint sensor, it has style down. Add on the removable battery and microSD slot and you’ve got a fully-featured smartphone.

Should you buy it?

If you want the latest Android Nougat software, you could invest in a pricey flagship smartphone, or you could pay a fraction for the E4, which features the same experience. Based on Moto’s track record, users will likely be treated to Android O when it releases later in 2017.

Equipped with the Snapdragon 425 quad-core processor, the Moto E4 is capable, but not what we’d call a powerful phone. For light to moderate users, you’ll rarely encounter a hitch during your time with the phone, but intensive gamers will require more power.

All said, the Moto E4 is a tremendous value and somehow, Moto has topped its previous efforts. Given that the phone is so affordable, this is a reservation-free purchase that will satisfy at every turn.

Cameron Faulkner
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