Moto G4 and G4 Plus: Phones continue to get better and cheaper

Moto G4 and G4 Plus: Phones continue to get better and cheaper
Credit: Lenovo

Just a year ago, consumers had to make big compromises when buying a phone costing less than $300. The G4 Plus has made this history.

iPhones and cable TV have a lot in common: Consumers tend to buy more than they need. iPhones and the Android flagship phones have more features than an individual consumer will use—like cable TV has a lot of channels that an individual consumer won’t watch. Given the choice, consumers might shave their consumption of both and save a few hundred dollars to a thousand dollars a year.

Compare the prices of Apple’s entry-level iPhone SE to the Moto G4 Plus. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but an insightful one, nevertheless.

iphone se vs moto

The comparison is in a way apples to oranges. The iPhone SE has Apple’s powerful brand, an NFC chip for payments, and a glass and metal design. The G4 Plus, on the other hand, lacks the NFC chip and is has a mostly plastic exterior design. But the G4 Plus has a larger higher-resolution screen and its storage can be expanded with a microSD cards with as much as 128GB. Depending on the configuration of the Chinese-manufactured devices, the G4 Plus costs $150 to $200 less than the iPhone SE.

Where it is an apples-to-apples comparison, though, is in how consumers use them for the same purpose: messaging, mobile search, navigation, apps and an occasional phone call.

A consumer shaving his or her technology expenses might look to the G4 right after the cable TV bill.

Designers of the G4 and G4 Plus made intelligent trade-offs between materials, components, features and cost. The result: a very human and affordable phone that does almost everything a user could want. The G4 is a subset of the G4 Plus. Lenovo capped the G4’s RAM at 2GB and ROM at 32GB. The G4 has a 13-megapixel camera compared to a 16-megapixel camera in the G4 Plus. And the G4 doesn’t have the added security of a fingerprint reader that the G4 Plus has.

How Lenovo designed the G4 and G4 Plus

The best place to start is by looking at what Lenovo designed.

User interface: Both the G4 and G4 Plus run the latest release of an almost-pure version of Android 6.0.1. Six iterations of Android operating system development have produced a comprehensive touch-screen interface, rich features and more than a million apps on the Play Store. Users moving from iOS and earlier versions of Android encounter little friction. It’s the same user interface and operating system that runs on Android flagship smartphones. Thankfully, Lenovo hasn’t added the distraction of a proprietary user interface or proprietary apps that would interfere with a smooth, pleasant user experience.

Performance: The Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 System on a Chip (SoC) powers both the G4 and the G4 Plus. The Snapdragon 617 is a cost-reduced design that Qualcomm targeted at midrange phone makers. It has eight cores clocked at 1.5GHz. Compared to the Snapdragon 820, clocked at 2.2GHz, that now dominates the top-tier Android phones, the Snapdragon 617 operates at last year’s top-tier performance levels.

Although the specs of the new 820 SoC are more powerful, humans don’t perceive a big performance impact on the operation of their apps from the increased year-over-year SoC speeds. New apps like richer game experiences, and virtual reality drive the needs for faster hardware. Apps such as Gmail, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are developed for the lowest common denominator phones and intentionally are designed not to burden the consumer with the cost of a phone upgrade to run them.

Features that matter to consumers: Great marketing evokes emotions that make consumers buy both expensive smartphones and 400-channel cable packages. There are just a few make-or-break features that have to be implemented well to please consumers.

Display: Both phones share the same 5.5-in. HD (1080x1920) colorful display. At 401ppi, it is denser than the iPhone’s display.

Camera: The G4 Plus camera is excellent. It is ranked in the top-tier of smartphone cameras, along with the iPhone 6s Plus by DxOMark. Until recently, cameras were a tradeoff made by designers to lighten the component cost of mid-priced smartphones. Last September, Google set a new price point for a flagship quality camera at $500. Lenovo has halved that. The maximum resolution of the camera is 16 megapixels, with an aperture of f/2.0 and hybrid laser focus and phase detection. On the front is a 5-megapixel sensor with a f/2.2 aperture.

Battery life: With a 3,000-mAh battery, the Moto G4 Plus can be used for more than 24 hours, that includes playing games and watching videos. The turbo USB charger will restore 60 percent of the battery power in about a half hour and will give you a full charge in about an hour.

Look and feel: The G4 Plus shares the design language of the Moto X Pure edition, with chamfered edges but implemented in plastic. The curved plastic frame is similar in many ways to the metal used in the Moto X. In combination with the Gorilla Glass 3 screen, the frame may also be a resilient bumper cushion to protect the phone from a drop.

It has the same sturdy feel as the Moto Maxx 2, though it isn’t guaranteed to be shatterproof. The Maxx 2 stood up to the same drop tests as the Moto Turbo 2.

The front bezel comes in white or black. The interchangeable back cover is available in eight colors.

The lines between top-tier and mid-tier phones continue to blur. Though Moto G4 designers made tradeoffs to achieve cost targets, they didn’t make many, giving consumers much more choice in the affordable smartphone category. In this price range, the design language of unibody glass and metal top-tier phones, such as the iPhone 6s, the Samsung S7 and the HTC 10, weren’t in the budget. Designers were able to deliver the mature Android user interface; a crisp bright a screen; a fingerprint sensor; fast, smooth operation; and a very good camera in an attractive package at a very affordable price.

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