Experts may question the validity of the “trickle-down” theory as it applies to economic policies, but there’s little doubt that it operates in smartphone design. Budget-minded shoppers are now being deluged with affordable new models packing large, high-resolution displays, top-notch cameras, intuitive controls, and other desirable features once restricted to premium-priced flagships.
The fourth-generation Motorola Moto G4 and G4 Plus are two good examples. They start at the bargain-basement prices of $200 and $250, respectively, for models with 16GB of internal storage. (Amazon even sells a version of the Moto G4 for only $150, but you'll have to endure Amazon ads and other come-ons on the phone’s locked screen and in the pull-down notifications bar.)
Both phones have a 5.5-inch, 1080p (1920 x 1080) LCD touchscreen that provides about 400 pixels per inch of detail. That's surprising for a smartphone in this price range. There’s also a capacious 3,000 mAh battery that Lenovo says can continuously crank 24 hours of juice during “mixed use.” When it’s completely drained, you can squeeze another 6 hours out of it by plugging into the included rapid-recharge adapter (USB 2.0) for about 15 minutes.
Notably, both come with Qualcomm’s reasonably fast 1.5 GHz Snapdragon 617 chipset with an octa-core CPU and 550 MHz Adreno 405 GPU. That sounds like a mouthful of jargon, but these specs matter. Octa-core processors, which used to be found only on flagship smartphones, are a great thing for multitaskers because they help the phone operate faster when running several applications.
These chips can also boost battery life. An octa-core is actually two quad-core processors: One fast one tackles intensive tasks like HD video and gaming; the other is a bit slower but uses less energy, which is fine for checking e-mail and reading Facebook posts. The phone uses the slower chip when possible to save juice.
Perhaps the most striking thing about both these phones is what they don’t have: Carrier locks. You can take these to any of the four major carriers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon), as well as the smaller providers that piggyback on their networks. And you can switch any time you want by simply swapping out a SIM card. That goes for foreign travel, as well.
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Skip the G4, go with the G4 Plus. For a relatively small jump in price, the G4 Plus offers significant hardware improvements over the plain G4. These include a fingerprint reader for unlocking the screen and authorizing transactions, as well as a higher-resolution camera (16.0 megapixels vs. 13.0) that promises better pictures thanks to proprietary rapid-focus and low-light image-capture technologies.
The G4 Plus also comes with bigger upgrade options for internal storage and memory (64GB vs. 32GB of internal storage; and 4GB of RAM vs. 2GB.) Just a $100 more than you’d pay for the base-model G4 will get the 64GB Moto G4 Plus, which is quite a bargain.
Plasticky, but comfy and customizable. Measuring 6 inches x 3 inches x 0.4 inches (at center), these feel a tad bulkier than some of the other large-screened models we’ve seen recently, including the OnePlus 3. And their removable plastic backs do have a cheapie feel. But these phones are still rather comfortable to hold and come with significant customization options when you have them made to order on the MotoMaker site.
Battery drains slow, recharges fast. In my informal trials, I found the Moto G4 Plus gave me more than a day’s worth of work, which included lots of photo-taking, email- and Facebook-checking, shopping on Amazon, tracking bids on Ebay, and streaming politically poignant YouTube clips of George Carlin. And, after plugging the near-dead smartphone (battery gauge showed 1 percent) into the included quick-charge “Turbo-Power” adapter, I was able bring the phone’s battery charge up to 30 percent in about 20 minutes. At least that’s what the phone’s gauge said.
For a more accurate assessment, you’ll have to wait for our Ratings, which should post in a few weeks. Our testers use precise—and expensive—instruments to assess smartphone battery life. And our protocols factor in the varied ways those batteries may drain in consumers’ hands. For instance, we measure the time it takes to discharge the phone’s battery while using the phone’s cellular, LTE data, and WiFi networks; while making voice calls, uploading and downloading content, browsing Web sites, and performing other tasks.
Meaningful gesture controls. Phone makers, especially Samsung, went a little crazy in the early days of gesture control by coming up with all sorts of ways to interact with your phone’s touchscreen without touching it. But these Motos have several touch-free controls that are actually pretty convenient.
For instance, chopping the phone downward twice turns on the LED flashlight. If the phone starts ringing while you’re in a meeting, picking it up switches it to vibrate mode. And if you don’t want to be disturbed, you can put the phone on the table face-down to silence calls and notifications.
I had some trouble with the phone’s Quick Capture feature, which is supposed to launch the main camera when you twist your wrist a certain way. I could only get it to work sometimes, and stopped trying after a while to avoid injuring my delicate wrists.
Stay tuned for more on these Moto twins in a few weeks, when we post our Ratings.
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