Lenovo has a pretty extensive set of smartphones they’ll be releasing this year under the Moto brand. There’s the Moto Z2 lineup, the upcoming Moto X4, the Moto G5, and ultra-budget Moto C series. Between the latter two handset tiers sits the Moto E lineup which also received a refresh for 2017. We haven’t seen a Moto E smartphone hit the U.S. since 2015 with the second-gen Moto E, but now the Moto E4 and E4 Plus will be going on sale across retailers throughout the country. We had the opportunity to check out the lower-tier option known as the E4 for a couple of weeks which retails for $129.99 regularly and $69.99 at Verizon, and here are our thoughts on the handset.
And if you have to know now, you’re getting a lot more than $70 worth.
First off, the design of the E4 isn’t too shabby. It’s mainly plastic with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 covering the display, while the overall feel in the hand isn’t as bad as some might think. Yes, this is clearly not the thinnest phone on earth and those bezels could use a bit of trimming, but the overall aesthetic of this phone, for the price, really can’t be beat.
On the front of the E4, you’re getting a 5-inch 720p display. The best way I can describe this screen is simply by saying it’s passable. Colors aren’t as rich or vibrant as I’m used to seeing on more expensive smartphones, it’s a bit hard to see in direct sunlight, and there’s a weird pinkish tint that makes everything feel salmony. You can also see individual pixels during everyday use which I really dislike. But regardless, if you’re buying this phone, you probably don’t have high expectations for the screen anyway, and it shows that Moto acknowledged this.
Also mounted to the front of the E4 is a fingerprint sensor. Yes, you read correctly. A $70 phone, in 2017, has a fingerprint sensor. And luckily, it’s actually good. It’s by no means the fastest reader out there, but you definitely won’t be copping out just to punch in your PIN or password to unlock your phone. In fact, every time I’ve unlocked my phone, 100% of the time the handset recognized my print. This is a giant convenience to have on such a low-end smartphone so I’m happy to see Moto adopting the technology even for those with tighter budgets.
While we’re still on the front of the E4, it’s worth noting the earpiece doubles as the loudspeaker which, unfortunately, isn’t all that great. Literally, it sounds like someone increased the volume of any old earpiece. Therefore, if you’ll be watching movies or listening to music with this phone, I recommend using headphones.
But hey, at least the speaker is front-facing.
On the top of the E4, you’ll find a headphone jack which isn’t anything special. On the left is where nothing lives, while the right side houses a volume rocker and power button. I have to say, these buttons are pretty disappointing since they aren’t clicky at all, but they’re fine when considering the price you pay for this device.
Finally, there’s a microUSB port on the bottom of the E4 which allows for the battery to charge and data transfers to occur. Mind you, speeds aren’t all that fast (it shows especially while charging), but what more can you expect from seven Hamiltons?
It’s worth noting that there’s expandable storage and a removable battery, both of which are accessible via the removable back panel. These features could come in handy who choose to buy spare batteries for their phones for an instant recharge or can’t survive with just 16GB of storage. And yes, I’m one of those people.
As for specs, there’s a Snapdragon 425 processor powering the experience alongside 2GB of RAM. For the money, you’re getting decent performance that can tackle your everyday Twitter and Instagram browsing alongside light productivity. I wouldn’t recommend playing graphics-heavy games since there’s only an Adreno 308 GPU, but Temple Run 2 and Super Mario Run both ran well in our testing.
Software-wise, this is where the Moto E4 shines. The phone is running near-stock Android 7.1.1 Nougat which is a 0.0.1 update behind the latest Pixel and Nexus devices. I have to say, using this software on such low-end hardware actually provides a pleasing experience since everything is nice and smooth. I have yet to experience any major slow-downs in day-to-day usage with just the occasional stutter everyone gets with a phone so cheap. In fact, at times, the software can be smoother than my Galaxy S8, and that’s saying something.
With Android 7.1.1, you get App Shortcuts and improved battery life. Of course, performance also gets an upgrade with this software which is always a plus. I said this OS is near-stock before, and that’s because Moto has only added a few tweaks to improve the experience. For instance, there’s a custom launcher built atop the AOSP launcher that comes with stock Android by default, while a Moto app provides handy shortcuts and utilities to improve your experience. On the E4, there’s a blue light filter, Moto Display that previews your notifications and clock in an ambient mode, a swipe-to-shrink screen feature for those with smaller hands, and something called One Button nav.
One Button nav essentially lets you utilize the front-mounted fingerprint sensor to perform gestures that would normally require on-screen navigation keys. Tapping the scanner takes you to your home screen, swiping left takes you back, and swiping right takes you to your recent apps view. During my testing, the gestures were pretty inconsistent and I would be navigated back home a lot more times than I was taken to the previous page or the app switcher. Therefore, I mainly used the navigation buttons. But of course, if you absolutely need to get the most screen real estate out of the 5-inch panel present, this option may come in handy for you.
Some exclusions from the Moto app on the E4 happen to be some of the most helpful, like Moto Voice, the double karate chop to turn on the flashlight, and the double twist to activate the camera. But for $70, most people probably won’t even care they’re gone. I certainly didn’t.
As for cameras, there’s an 8MP sensor around the back with an f/2.2 aperture, autofocus, and an LED flash. Overall, images aren’t all that bad with sharpness playing a major role in post-processing. Unfortunately, this camera still doesn’t perform as well as I was hoping, and that’s saying something considering I knew this phone was $70 when I began my testing. And considering there’s such a small aperture, low light performance absolutely stinks.
For selfies, there’s a 5MP shooter that’s the equivalent of a potato. But hey, if you’re just throwing your pictures up to Instagram or Snapchat, you probably won’t care.
For video, the 8MP shooter around back can shoot in up to 1080p. Picture quality is fine, with a good amount of sound pickup. I’m having a hard time not murdering these cameras in this review, but when considering this is what you get for $70, the overall package is fairly decent.
Battery life happens to be another shining feature of the Moto E4. Thanks to the 2800mAh cell inside and the combination of Android 7.1.1, low-end processor, and unfantastic display, I can get around 3-4 1/2 hours of screen-on time. During heavy usage (e.g. heavier tasks, Bluetooth audio streaming, lots of games), I would have around 30% left by about 9 PM which isn’t too shabby. Overall, if you’re worried about the battery life on such a cheap smartphone, don’t be – you’ll be nothing less than impressed by this little guy’s endurance day in and day out.
Overall, for the price you pay, the Moto E4 is an excellent smartphone. Sure, the cameras aren’t the best by any means, the speaker is mediocre, the buttons are mushy, and there’s no NFC, but for anyone looking for a phone that has great battery life and excellent software, the E4 shouldn’t be overlooked. And if you just wanna buy a cheap smartphone just to buy a cheap smartphone, the E4 should be your default selection. In fact, don’t even consider anything else.
Y’know, other than the E4 Plus.