Review: Motorola Moto E4 Plus
Moto E4 Plus
Motorola's latest budget handset is the battery-busting Moto E4 Plus. This phone has one of the longest-lasting batteries we've tested this year. If you're in the market for an affordable Android smartphone that keeps going and going and going, the E4 Plus should be at the top of your list. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth report.
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Is It Your Type?
The Moto E4 Plus from Motorola takes everything that's great about the Moto E4 and amps it up to 11. It isn't a high-end smartphone, but this affordable, big-screened device may be the best option for those who prioritize battery life over everything else.
Editor's Note: The Moto E4 Plus carries over nearly every feature from the Moto E4. As such, some of the text in this review is shared with our review of the Moto E4. Rest assured, we have fully evaluated the Moto E4 Plus — particularly the larger screen, bigger battery, and improved camera — and made sure this review fully reflects all aspects of this specific model.
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 Plus. It is similar to those on the recently announced Z2 Play and Z2 Force. 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 Plus is a little devoid of both.
I don't expect entry-level handsets to set the bar for high design, but the E4 Plus is a boring slab that tells you exactly where it stands: near the bottom. Available in black or gold, the E4 Plus 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 Plus any sort of visual appeal.
The 5.5-inch screen means the E4 Plus is similar in size to an iPhone 7 Plus or Google Pixel XL. It's above average as far as the footprint is concerned. I think most people will still be able to hold and use the Moto E4 Plus comfortably for hours at a time, but those with small hands may find the phone too big. The phone is somewhat chubby at 9.6mm thick, though I've seen worse. At close to 6.4 ounces, the E4 Plus is weighty. You'll notice when it's in your pocket.
Motorola may have selected a fine piece of glass to form the phone's face, but the rear shell is an odd mix of metal and plastic. I noticed one uneven spot along the seam of the frame and rear panel that bugged me. Otherwise, Motorola did a good job assembling the phone. The rest of the chassis components all appear to fit together well.
The Moto E4 Plus has pretty much exactly the same face shared by Motorola's entire 2017 lineup. The glass fills the majority of the front. It's glued into a thin plastic frame. The joint between the glass and plastic frame is tight, but it has a slight lip. You can sometimes feel this lip and I wish you couldn't. The thin frame around the display is then glued to the main chassis piece that forms the sides and portions of the rear.
The gold model doesn't hide anything on the phone's front. The user-facing camera, sensor, earpiece, and LED flash are all plainly visible in the E4 Plus' forehead. 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 nav features enables, the fingerprint reader can serve as a trackpad that 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 Plus 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 Plus. The finely-textured screen lock button is on the right edge, about at the phone's waist line. It is small, the profile is barely adequate, though travel and feedback are improved when compared to the same button on the E4. The smooth-textured volume toggle is above the screen lock button. It has a better profile, and similarly improved travel/feedback. The 3.5mm headset jack is on top, the microUSB port is on the bottom.
The rear panel of the E4 Plus is wholly different from that of the E4. The E4 has a single, removable piece of plastic that covers the entire back of the phone. The E4 Plus switches things up. It relies on a thick frame to create the side edges and distinct plastic end caps at the top and bottom of the phone. Most of the rear surface is made from a metal plate fitted into the large plastic frame. I'm not really sold on the way it looks, but I appreciate that Motorola added some metal to the design. The circular camera module stands out visually, if not physically. It's about the size of a half dollar and, surprisingly, is flush with the phone's rear surface.
Removing the rear panel is an incredible pain in the butt. The clasps that hold it in place are very secure and you have to exert a ridiculous amount of pressure to get it apart. The battery is unremovable. With the cover removed, you'll find the dual SIM/memory card slot on the left edge of the phone.
The E4 Plus is well short of waterproof. Like many other Motorola phones, the E4 Plus's interior is coated with a water repellant that will make liquid roll off without damaging the circuitry. It can handle some, splashing, rain, and mist, but I wouldn't hold it under a running faucet and you definitely shouldn't let it go for a swim.
The E4 Plus is a well-made phone from Motorola that offers plenty of functionality for its form.
The 5.5-inch LCD panel — an increase of half an inch when compared to the E4 — has the same 720p HD resolution. Only low-cost phones have 720p (or lower) resolution, and there's no question Motorola selected this screen to keep the E4 Plus's cost down. With a density of 267 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 Plus online, which we tested on AT&T's network in and around New York City. The phone showed a strong connection to AT&T's network throughout the metro area. I took it on a 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 decent, but not the best I've seen on AT&T's network. 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 bands and should work on most any carrier.
Call quality is above average. I was pleased with both the volume and clarity of calls I made with the Moto E4 Plus. The phone was easy to hear in crowded spaces and voices cut through cleanly thanks to the punchy speaker. Truly, the E4 Plus does a fine job connecting people and allowing them to speak to and hear one another. Those I conversed with through the Moto E4 Plus said I sounded really good.
The phone supports advanced calling features on all four major networks, which, on most, translates to HD Voice through VoLTE. As long as you and your caller are both using capable newer phones on the same 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.
Here is where the Moto E4 Plus really shines. The phone packs a whopping 5,000 mAh battery, one of the largest available in a phone, period. The phone consistently pushed right through one and a half days, and sometimes managed to live through two days. It's one of the longest-lasting batteries I've tested this year. You won't need pricey Moto Mods to keep the E4 Plus up and running; it offers all the battery life anyone could need.
The Moto E4 Plus supports rapid charging via the included cable/charger. Charging the phone for 30 minutes should give you half a day's battery life. There is no wireless charging.
You'll find only the basic Android battery saver tool on board, though I don't think you'll need it.
Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi
The Moto E4 Plus'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 Plus'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 Plus 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 Plus'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 Plus 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 Plus 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 Plus 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.
As for performance, the Moto E4 Plus has a 1.4 GHz Snapdragon 427 processor with 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. The 427 delivered consistent performance across the board on our review unit. The phone ran really well.
The E4 Plus 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 Plus 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.
On paper, the E4 Plus has a better camera than the E4. The result is, in fact, a noticeably better camera that outperforms its little sibling, particularly in low-light situations. I was pleased with the majority of shots I captured with the E4 Plus. They were sharp, colorful, and properly exposed. I didn't see much grain, even in dark environments, and came away generally happy with the results.
The user-facing camera is a direct carry-over from the E4 and it does a fine job. I didn't cringe looking at my selfies, which were in focus and well-exposed. The selfie flash is a great addition, particularly given the price point, and truly helps those nighttime selfies look their best.
You can capture video up to 1080p (full HD) resolution with the E4 Plus, and I suspect you'll be happy with the results. The phone handles video recording duties with aplomb, delivering footage that is colorful, bright, and clean.
It's safe to say the Moto E4 Plus is a fine everyday camera. It can likely handle vacations and family events as well.
As long as you don't mind the larger and heavier footprint, the Moto E4 Plus delivers huge gains in battery life and camera quality. These make it a better option than the E4 in my eyes, despite the cost and size differences.
Motorola didn't do anything to spice up the phone's design, but the rear panel has some new metal that I like. The large screen is nice and bright, while wireless and voice performance were above average for this class of device. The battery life — close to two days — is killer, and reason enough to buy this phone. The E4 Plus outlasts most other phones on the market right now.
Motorola's version of Android (close to stock) is about as good as it gets. The E4 Plus may not have the crazy advanced software you'll see from LG and Samsung, but the simpler build of Android makes the E4 Plus easier to use day in and day out. Toss in the highly capable camera app and imaging results, and you have a winner on your hands.
If you're in the market for a phone that costs under $200, head straight to Motorola.com to buy the Moto E4 Plus. Motorola sells the phone for $180, though some carriers are offering it for a little less. The E4 Plus is also available from Amazon for $140 via its Prime Exclusives program.
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