Review: Motorola Moto E4 for Verizon Wireless
Motorola's entry-level Android handset, the Moto E4, may be small in stature, but it's big on performance. The E4 is an affordable phone that includes a fingerprint reader, a 5-inch screen, and a capable camera. If you're in the market for an everyday device that outguns the competition, the Moto E4 may be your phone. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.
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Is It Your Type?
The Moto E4 from Motorola is an entry-level Android smartphone that offers a few high-end perks, such as a fingerprint reader and HD display. If you need a compact handset on the cheap, the Moto E4 includes a balanced feature set and fine performance at an affordable price.
Motorola's entire line of smartphones has adopted some obvious, over-arching design characteristics. First, there's the over-sized, round camera module. You'll easily spot it on the back of the E4. It is similar to those on the recently announced G5 and Z2 Play. Then there's the indented Motorola "M" logo on the back. Let's not forget the gently rounded top and bottom corners with curved ends.
I think Motorola is playing with a double-edged sword here. Surely a consistent design language has some benefits; you can tell this is a Motorola phone. On the flip side, it strips away individuality and personality. The Moto E4 is lacking in both.
I don't expect entry-level handsets to set the bar for high design, but the E4 is a boring slab that tells you exactly where it stands: near the bottom. Available in black or gold, the E4 is nondescript in most every respect. The front is covered in reflective glass and a single plastic shell wraps around the rest of the phone. The plastic has a matte finish that contrasts with the sparkly glass. I do like the way the side edges flow into the rear panel, which itself is slightly curved from side to side. The curves are friendly to your hand, but the phone's lines are plain. Only the crazy camera module gives the E4 any sort of visual appeal.
The phone is smaller than some other phones I've reviewed lately thanks to its 5-inch screen. It still qualifies as "average" as far as I am concerned, and it's certainly not a gigantic grip killer like the ZTE Blade X Max. Most people will be able to hold and use the Moto E4 comfortably for hours at a time. I'd call it a little chubby at 9.3mm thick, but it's really not bad at all. The weight is nice. The phone fits into pants pockets with no problem.
Motorola may have selected a fine piece of glass to form the phone's face, but the plastic rear shell is old-school in its feel and quality. The shell has a micro-texture that makes it slightly grippy. This texture vanishes along the side edges, which are smoother. Motorola did a good job assembling the phone. The various pieces all appear to fit together well and I didn't see any gaps in the joints.
The Moto E4 has a plain face that looks like dozens of other black-fronted slabs. The glass fills the majority of the front. It is glued into a thin plastic frame. The joint between the glass and plastic frame is tight, but it has a slight lip thanks to the way the plastic is positioned along the edge of the glass. You can sometimes feel this lip and I wish you couldn't. The user-facing LED flash, in the top right corner, is the most obvious element of the E4's face because it contrasts with the black so much (it's less obvious on the gold model). The Moto logo is barely visible at all, painted in between the earpiece and display. The bezels around the display are very thick, a dead giveaway that this is an inexpensive handset.
You'll note the indented fingerprint reader below the display. The button is easy to find and use. By default, it's set only as a fingerprint reader, but you can turn on some navigation features so it behaves more like a home button (see the Moto App). With the features enables, it can serve as a trackpad and allows you to navigate back or access the app switcher when you swipe left or right, respectively. You won't find any other controls below the display because the E4 uses on-screen buttons to interact with the Android user interface. However, if you turn on the fingerprint reader navigation controls on, the on-screen controls go away.
Motorola settled on a fairly typical arrangement of buttons and controls for the Moto E4. The rough-textured screen lock button is on the right edge, about at the phone's waist line. It is small, the profile is barely adequate, and feedback is mushy at best. The smooth-textured volume toggle is above the screen lock button. It has a better profile, but equally poor feedback. The 3.5mm headset jack is on top, the microUSB port is on the bottom.
The circular camera module stands out. It's about the size of a half dollar and pops up from the surface by about 1mm. A distinct rim encircles the large piece of glass that covers the lens and flash.
You can easily remove the entire rear panel of the E4. Some will be pleased to learn that the battery is removeable. You'll have to yank it out in order to swap SIM or memory cards.
The E4 is well short of waterproof. Like many other Motorola phones, the E4's interior is coated with a water repellant that will make liquid roll off without damaging the circuitry. It can handle some rain and mist, but I wouldn't hold it under a running faucet and you definitely can't dunk it in the pool.
The Moto E4 is a bit of a throw-back. There's nothing new or groundbreaking about it; in fact it feels like smartphones of five years ago. Even so, the E4 is a well-made phone that offers just the right amount of functionality for its form.
The 5-inch LCD panel has 720p HD resolution. Only the least expensive phones have such a small pixel count these days, and there's no question Motorola selected this screen to keep the E4's cost down. With a density of 294 pixels per inch, you can spot individual pixels when you hold the phone close to your eyes, such as when swiping through Facebook in bed. That said, most graphics, images, and text on the screen look sharp and free of pixelated edges.
The LCD panel puts out plenty of light and I had no trouble viewing the screen indoors. Outdoor viewability was hampered by the high reflectivity of the glass. I had to crank the brightness all the way and even then visibility was scattershot. You'll find yourself seeking shade quite often. Colors were accurate and viewing angles very good. The quality of the display matches the price point well.
Motorola sells an unlocked version of the E4 online, but we tested the Verizon-branded model. The phone showed a strong connection to Big Red's network throughout the metro NYC area. I took it on a 90-mile jaunt on the highway, and the phone was able to keep Google Maps running in real-time navigation mode the entire way without fail. I didn't see the phone drop to 3G, and it never lost the network completely. Data speeds were mixed based on signal strength, but that's par for the course. The phone was able to connect phone calls under the worst signal conditions and it did not drop any calls. It performed really well from a wireless perspective.
The unlocked model has wide support for U.S. LTE networks, so it should work reasonably well on carriers other than Verizon.
Call quality is above average. I was pleased with both the volume and clarity of calls I made with the Moto E4. The phone was easy to hear in crowded spaces and voices cut through cleanly thanks to the punchy speaker. Truly, the E4 does a fine job connecting people and allowing them to speak to and hear one another. Those I conversed with through the Moto E4 said I sounded really good.
The phone supports Advanced Calling on Verizon's network, which translates to HD Voice through VoLTE. As long as you and your caller are both using VoLTE capable handsets on Verizon's 4G network, the sound is incredibly clear.
The earpiece speaker doubles as the speakerphone, something we've seen on Motorola handsets before. The earpiece produces plenty of volume when in speakerphone mode, and in fact you need to be careful not to blast your years. I was able to hear it plainly in a bustling coffee shop, in the car, and on city streets. Clarity is a bit mixed, as the speaker is prone to distortion when pushed too hard.
Ringers and alerts are loud enough to get your attention, and the vibration motor produces plenty of buzzy noise.
Motorola included a 2,800mAh battery with the Moto E4. I don't think you'll need to worry about battery life, as the Moto E4 easily made its way from breakfast to bedtime with no problems at all. We can likely thank the smaller, lower-rez screen for aiding battery life. After several days of testing, the E4 consistently had at least 25% capacity left at the end of the day.
The Moto E4 supports rapid charging via the included cable/charger. Charging the phone for 30 minutes should give you half a day's battery life.
Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi
The Moto E4's secondary radios all functioned as I expected them to. Bluetooth was painless to use. I made several calls via my car's hands-free system and they sounded pretty good. Music had a reasonably full sound when passed through a good pair of Bluetooth headphones. The phone had no issue connecting to other phones, accessories, and PCs for swapping files and such.
Google Maps and the E4's GPS radio worked in perfect sync. The phone consistently located me within a few seconds and was accurate to about 20 feet. Real-time navigation between points worked very well.
The WiFi performed speedily. The E4 doesn't have NFC.
The Moto App now handles the ambient display on Motorola handsets and manages the lock screen and notifications.
The Moto Display function in the Moto App can wake the screen regularly with a list of the current notifications; show important notifications on the lock screen as they arrive; or leave the screen entirely dark. The behaviors are fully customizable, which is something I've long appreciated about Motorola smartphones. It's a shame you can't double-tap the screen to wake the phone, as you can on higher-end Moto phones.
If you press the screen lock button, the display wakes fully to show the clock, wallpaper, and notifications listed below the clock. There are also shortcuts to the Google Assistant and camera on this screen. Sadly, you can't customize the shortcuts. (But hey, Google Assistant!)
The E4's fingerprint reader performed very well. It was quick to record fingerprints and consistent at recognizing fingerprints on the first try.
As noted earlier, the fingerprint sensor doubles as a navigation pad and it is managed via the Moto App. You have to turn it on manually. It works well enough when I remembered to use it.
The E4 ships with Android 7 Nougat with minimal tweaks from Motorola. Owners can customize the typical stuff, such as wallpapers, widgets, and so on. The home screens behave as expected for an Android Nougat phone.
The E4 does include a Google Now-style home screen panel to the left. It's not something you can turn on or off. It's just there. As long as you're signed into your Google account, this panel shows you your local weather, calendar appointments, travel times to local points of interest, and so on.
The app drawer is almost standard Android. It doesn't include a dedicated button on the home screen. Instead, you swipe up from the dock to bring up the app drawer, similar to Pixel phones. Apps are listed alphabetically in the drawer, with four app suggestions lining the top. The E4 trades the white background found on Pixel app drawer for whatever wallpaper you have set for the home screen. The app drawer doesn't support folders, nor does it allow you to hide apps.
The notification shade, Quick Settings tool, and main settings screens are all standard Android, and work accordingly. There are no themes or other fancy interface tricks on board, which is fine as far as I am concerned.
It's clear our review unit comes from Verizon. There are plenty of Verizon-branded apps aboard, and a whole folder of Verizon stuff on the home screen. Thankfully Verizon didn't dictate that Motorola change any major elements of the E4's user interface.
As for performance, the Moto E4 has a 1.4 GHz Snapdragon 427 processor with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage. The 427 delivered consistent performance across the board on our review unit. The phone ran really well.
The E4 does not have a dedicated physical camera button, but there are several ways to open the camera. The best way is to quickly double-tap the screen lock button. This works consistently well. The age-old Motorola wrist-twisting gesture appears to be unavailable, which hurts my soul. You may also open the camera from the lock screen shortcut or home screen icon. The camera opens quickly enough.
There are three controls on the left side of the screen (timer, flash, HDR) and three on the right (video, shutter, front camera). I like that both the flash and HDR tools can be set to on, off, or auto.
As for shooting modes, the E4 offers auto, video, panorama, and manual. Slide your finger up or down to zoom. Your can press-and-hold the shutter button to capture a burst of photos. Swipe from the left side of the screen to access more minor settings such as grid-lines and resolution.
The manual mode lets you take full control over focus, ISO, shutter speed, brightness, and white balance. The controls line the top of the screen and are easy to adjust. It's a shame the shutter only lets you select speeds as slow as one-third of a second (the same as the G5 earlier this year); that's hardly long enough to get creative or take really great night shots. There's no slow-motion mode, nor time-lapse.
The layout is easy enough for novices to use effectively, and flexible enough in manual mode to allow for at least some degree of creativity. Even though this is an entry-level phone, I'm disappointed by the lack of some of the more common creative photo modes.
I did not see any performance issues, as the camera app worked smoothly.
The main camera has an 8-megapixel sensor and an aperture of f/2.2. It's a great little shooter for an entry-level handset. The samples below are generally in focus with proper exposure and accurate white balance. I was pleased with the performance when out in full sunlight. The camera even did well with some indoor shots, like the clock. I'm perhaps most happy that the images aren't grainy; every picture I took was free of noise. I think the E4's camera outperforms the rest of the phone.
The 5-megapixel selfie camera does a good job, too. The flash helps when shooting in low light, but I found I didn't need it most of the time.
The E4's camcorder records video at resolutions up to full HD. I was pleased with the results, which were sharp, colorful, and properly exposed.
The Moto E4 is not the most exciting handset in the world, but it does everything well. The hardware is inexpensive without being "cheap"; the screen is bright and colorful; battery life is solid; and data/voice performance was quite good. Some people will be happy about the swappable battery and others will find joy in the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Motorola and Verizon left the Android 7 operating system unmolested, which I appreciate. The simple additions from Motorola, such as the ambient display, add real value to the day-to-day experience with the E4. The camera app is a breeze to operate and the phone outshoots more expensive handsets.
If you're in the market for a smaller sub-$100 handset, the Moto E4 is the one to get. Verizon is offering it through its prepaid service for just $70. That's an absolute bargain. You'll find it unlocked from Motorola's web site for $130. Even at the higher price, the Moto E4 is well worth it. The E4 is a perfect first-time smartphone for a younger child and may make for a good going-back-to-school gift.
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