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Motorola Moto E4 Review: A brilliant budget blower

4.5

The Good

  • Metal finish
  • Satisfying UI
  • Sharp display

The Bad

  • Limited performance
  • Basic camera

Packing some surprising specs for a low price, the Moto E4 from Motorola is one of the best value smartphones we’ve reviewed in some time.

If you’re after an affordable handset to replace your old mobile or simply to use as a secondary device for festivals and trips, the Motorola Moto E4 certainly appears on the surface to be an ideal choice.

With a SIM-free cost of just £119 here in the UK, this is one of the cheapest smartphones that you’ll find from a well-known brand. You can grab it from the likes of Tesco Mobile from just a tenner a month on contract, which is great news if your monthly budget is seriously limited.

Yet despite that low asking price, the Moto E4 packs a surprising amount into its dinky 5-inch frame. For one you get a fingerprint sensor, for quick and convenient security. You’ll also find an 8-megapixel camera sticking out of the rear, while Motorola’s metal construction makes the handset pleasingly hardy.

So is the Moto E4 really a dream come true for budget-conscious consumers? Here’s my full thoughts after using the phone as my own.

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Motorola Moto E4 review: Design

At this sort of price point, we’re used to handling plastic fantastic phones which feel just like toys. However, Motorola has shunned that kind of cheap and cheerful design, in favour of a sturdy metal frame that belies the low cost.

What you get is a two-tone aluminium shell, complete with a simple silver finish. There’s little stand-out about the look of the Moto E4, yet the solid construction is very welcome and proves resistant to scratches and other scuffs. Even the circular camera lens, which sticks out of the surface a little, is pleasingly tough.

Note that in the US, the Moto E4 reportedly doesn’t offer a metal finish; our review unit was from the UK.

You can actually pull that rear plate off the device, in order to access the removable battery and SIM/micro SD memory card slots. This takes a fair bit of effort however, especially if you’re a fingernail biter. On the plus side, that means the back is firmly held in place during everyday use.

Although the Moto E4 isn’t water resistant, Motorola does claim that it’s ‘water repellent’. The odd rainstorm certainly doesn’t pose a problem, beyond the usual screen responsiveness issues.

What works?

That Moto E4 may offer quite simple, stripped-back aesthetics, yet the metal finish is quite unique at this price point. Likewise, the ability to rip out the battery and replace with a backup is pretty rare these days in a smartphone.

What doesn’t?

To be honest, any complaints we have about the Moto E4’s design - such as a very limited choice of colours (two in all) - seem rather petty considering the great value for money.

Motorola Moto E4 review: Screen and media

Any smartphone around the £100 price point is usually designed for quite basic everyday use. We’re talking emails, web browsing and other simple bits like that.

However, the Moto E4 is actually a decent little media machine considering that low cost. You get quite a punchy 5-inch display, which produces pretty crisp HD visuals thanks to its 1280x720 pixel resolution. Colours are just as punchy as you’ll find on more pricey Moto devices such as the G5s Plus, while viewing angles and brightness levels are fine for comfortable use in a range of conditions. You even get a Night Display mode for evening use, which is easier on the eye when all is dark.

As you might expect, the single dinky speaker on the rear of the phone is rather tinny and best used only for YouTube viewing and the like. Luckily there’s a 3.5mm jack for headphones and of course full Bluetooth support.

Want to carry around a good-sized collection of music and movies? Perfectly possible, thanks to the Moto E4’s microSD expandability. That’s just as well, as the 16GB of built-in storage only offers around 10GB of usable space, which is quickly eaten up by apps.

What works?

That 5-inch display is perfectly fine for enjoying some YouTube or your favourite Prime Video show on the go. You get expandable storage also, for lugging around all your media.

What doesn’t?

Again, it’s difficult to complain about things like the tinny built-in speaker at this asking price.

Motorola Moto E4 review: Performance and battery life

It’s no surprise that the Moto E4 sports a very basic Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 chipset, backed by just 2GB of RAM. This means it’s best suited to simple tasks, as well as patient users who don’t mind a few stutters and stammers here and there.

Even though apps sometimes take a little while to load and basic things such as typing quickly can make the Moto stumble, this little soldier can still churn through some of the latest games with an admirable frame rate. We haven’t seen a single crash in quite a few days of constant use, either.

As for battery life, that simple platform makes for quite power-efficient running. As a result, drain is consistently low, unless you’re blasting through action games non-stop. Even after a full day of quite intensive usage (including liberal use of the camera and some media streaming), the Moto E4 always has juice left in the 2800mAh tank. And while Motorola’s Turbo Charge feature isn’t on board, the promise of ‘rapid charge’ holds true.

What works?

You can expect decent battery life, reasonably quick charging and a respectable everyday performance, as long as you keep usage light.

What doesn’t?

If you’re hoping for a silky smooth experience, you’ll need to bump up your budget.

Motorola Moto E4 review: Features and OS

Like all of the other Motorola phones we’ve recently reviewed, the Moto E4 comes packing a virtually untouched version of Google’s Android Nougat OS. This gives the phone a streamlined, simple interface, which is still fully customisable.

You do however get the Moto app pre-installed, which adds a couple of bonus features to help with everyday usability. For instance, you can shrink the Moto E4’s desktops towards the bottom of the screen to make the phone easier to use with a single hand; not that this is particularly necessary on the E-series, as it’s a relatively compact 5-inch handset.

You can also replace the on-screen back, home and recent apps buttons with gesture controls, using the fingerprint sensor. A tap of the sensor acts as the home command, while a swipe left or right performs the back and recent apps actions. This works perfectly, although the only real benefit is to free up a tiny bit of screen space (and save a brief moment of time when using apps which hide that virtual bar).

Unfortunately the neat gesture shortcuts from other, more expensive Moto phones are missing in action here. No double-twist to open the camera app, for instance; you’ll have to find and tap the app icon instead, like any old chump.

Still, the fact that the Moto E4 has a fingerprint sensor is definitely a major plus, given the asking price. This may not be the swiftest scanner in the world, although it’s proved perfectly responsive, rarely failing to recognise our prints.

Sadly there’s no NFC in this model, so you can’t whip out the Moto E4 to pay for your junk wirelessly.

What works?

That clean version of Android, unfettered with clunky overlays, is easy to use while still packing plenty of helpful features and full customisation.

What doesn’t?

It’s a shame the standard Moto shortcuts are missing from this handset. And while those fingerprint gestures work well, they aren’t really much of an improvement over the standard on-screen buttons.

Motorola Moto E4 review: Cameras

The Moto E4 rocks a simple 8-megapixel rear camera, for snapping your everyday life. This proves perfectly fine for everyday shareable shots, although it’s understandably limited as well.

Moto’s usual camera app offers quite a straightforward shooting experience, which is handy if you simply want to point and snap away. You don’t get much at all in the way of bonus modes, or manual controls. All you can do is switch to video recording and a panorama tool.

The f/2.2 aperture lens performs fine in good light, capturing a decent amount of detail for a budget camera. Of course, performance takes a huge dip when the lights are low, so you’ll definitely need to make use of that LED flash.

Here’s a few of our test shots so you can judge the photo quality for yourself.

You can also shoot 720p HD video, which is again fine when the lighting conditions are reliable. These clips look quite grainy when viewed on a TV but they’re fine when viewed back on the 5-inch display.

Around the front you’ll find a 5-megapixel selfie camera with an f/2.2 aperture lens. Again, this captures pretty good shots in good light and quite grainy snaps when the light is low.

Read next: The best budget-friendly camera phones right now

What works?

The camera app is dead easy to use and captures solid shareable shots in decent conditions.

What doesn’t?

As you’d expect, the camera tech is quite limited, maxing out at 720p HD video and with no real bonus modes or manual controls to speak of.

Motorola Moto E4 review: Verdict

The Moto E4 delivers solid value for money, coming in cheaper than pretty much any other mobile by a well-known manufacturer. Despite that low asking price you still get HD visuals, a neat metal design, dependable battery life and performance that isn’t frustrating, making this a great choice for students, festival goers and anyone else hunting for an affordable device.

Key Specs

  • 5-inches
  • 1280x720
  • 151g
  • Android Nougat
  • 8-megapixel
  • 5-megapixel
  • Snapdragon 425
  • 2GB
  • 16GB
  • Yes
  • Fingerprint sensor

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