The Moto E4 is a budget smartphone that outperforms its discount price tag. The old adage of "you get what you pay for" is still true - you can't expect flagship features at a sixth of the price - but Motorola has managed to impress with just how much $249 can buy you.
What we love
- Excellent value
- Good build quality
- Clean version of Android
- Splash resistant
What could be improved
- Will be a little slow for some
- Poor camera lowlight performance
- Only 16GB of storage
- Display can be hard to read in sunlight
What is it?
The Moto E4 is a $249 smartphone that makes surprisingly few compromises for its discount price tag. Unsurprisingly, it's not going to go toe-to-toe with a $1,000 flagship - or even come close - but that isn't the point. Motorola has managed to stretch just how much phone $249 will get you, and we're pleasantly surprised.
Key specifications for the Moto E4 include a 5-inch 720p display, a MediaTek 6737 quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of expandable storage, an 8MP rear-facing camera, a front-facing fingerprint reader, and a 2800mAh battery. It ships with a mostly clean version of Android Nougat.
The Moto E4 is cheap, but it certainly doesn't feel cheap. While aluminium bodies are no longer exclusive to the upper echelon of smartphones, the Moto E4 is surprisingly premium for such an affordable device. There's a nice amount of heft to it, and the phone's power button and volume rocker have a reassuring clickly feel to them. The Moto E4's back cover is removable (as is the battery), which means you might notice a tiny amount of flex, but I found I had to actually squeeze the phone pretty hard to get any give.
I'll be honest; the Moto E4 is far from the fastest phone we've tested. If you're coming from a top tier device, it can be frustrating, but this doesn't mean the Moto E4 isn't capable. Apps will take a little longer to open and the phone takes a little longer to unlock, but the overall usage experience doesn't feel sluggish. There's enough under the grunt hood for a bit of light gaming too: we still had a smooth experience playing Super Mario Run, for example.
Part of the smooth software experience can almost certainly be attributed to the mostly clean version of Android Motorola has been shipping its phones with. Free from unwanted bloat, the Moto E4 runs what's essentially stock Android.
That being said, Motorola's take on Android isn't without customisation, but this mostly comes in the form of gestures, such as the karate chop motion you can make to turn on the flashlight, or the twist that will launch the camera app.
What's not so good?
At an outright price point of just $249, it's hard to be too picky about the Moto E4, but that's also our job. The good news is there's nothing overly wrong with it, but there are a few issues worth considering.
The Moto E4's camera isn't one of its strong points. If you're outside during the day, you'll get more than acceptable results. Outside of that, you'll run into issues. Even our reasonably well-lit office was too dim for the Moto E4, and resulted in in slow, imprecise focus.
These issues are magnified in actual low light situations. Even after five attempts, I wasn't able to get a sharp version of the "highway at night" photo normally featured in my reviews. Shooting completely still objects had its problems too: namely, a lot of camera noise. The Moto E4's flash can salvage some shots, but without it, you're not going to have too much luck.
While the Moto G4's display is fine for the most part, it can be tricky to use in bright sunlight. This isn't surprising for a $249 device, and outdoor visibility can still be an issue on phones that cost twice as much. On a screen related note, the Moto E4's display is only covered by regular glass, rather than scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. If you look after your phone, this isn't an issue, but it means the Moto E4 will be more prone to abrasions.
The Moto E4 is technically a dual SIM smartphone, but the second slot only supports 2G networks. Australia's 2G networks are all but dead, which makes this functionality useless locally. It could still prove beneficially when travelling overseas, however.
Out of the box, the Moto E4's fingerprint reader isn't a home button, which is a bit weird. Tapping it will unlock the phone or put it back to sleep, but it won't take you to the home screen. Instead, there's another layer of on-screen buttons above it.
If you'd prefer a physical home button, there's a setting that lets you make the fingerprint reader do just that, but it also removes the software buttons. Since the Moto E4 doesn't have any other capacitive buttons, you need to swipe across the fingerprint reader to bring up the multitasking menu or go back to your previous app. It works well enough, it just doesn't feel natural to me. Your mileage may vary.
Who's it for?
The Moto E4 pushes the boundaries of what you'd expect from a $249 smartphone. With the exception of poor lowlight photography and a comparatively small amount of storage out of the box (which can be addressed with a microSD card, if need be), the Moto E4 really doesn't raise any red flags. It isn't quite as a zippy as pricier smartphones, but there's not much else you can complain about. Especially at $249.
If you're just after a smartphone that does basic smartphone things without fault or flair, the Moto E4 is easy to recommend.
What else can I buy?
The $329 Nokia 5 is another great bang-for-buck smartphone. It's a little pricier, but has a slightly more formidable processor under the hood and a unibody build. Notably, Nokia is promising that the Nokia 5 will get two years of software security updates, which is generally unheard of for a phone in its price bracket.
Moto G5 Plus
If you can make your budget stretch, the $399 Moto G5 Plus is a great buy, offering a nicer screen, faster processor, and more detailed camera.
OPPO's new $328 A57 is a little pricier, but has a few nice additions over the Moto E4. The most significant of these is 32GB of expandable storage, rather than the Moto E4's 16GB. The Moto E4 does however run a clean version of Android Nougat, while the OPPO A57 runs a heavily customised take on Marshmallow.