The beautiful thing about smartphones becoming ubiquitous is that smartphone quality has become democratized.
As the highest-end phones improve, the standard set for everything beneath them rises. And as the broader market for smartphones becomes increasingly commodified, the line between “the best” and “good enough” shrinks.
It all keeps trickling down and blurring together until we hit the point where the many people who don’t obsess over specs and display bezels can now pay less to get a phone that’s not a trash fire.
Which brings us to the Moto E4. The latest ultra-budget phone from Lenovo-owned Motorola goes for $130 unlocked, but can be had for as low as $70 with a Verizon prepaid plan (which start at $40 a month). That is very affordable! And it makes what would be another ho-hum Android device into a wonderful value.
Let’s be clear, this is very much a budget phone. Most of the the Moto E4’s features can’t hold a candle to what you’d get with a pricier device. To give you an idea:
• Its 5-inch, 720p display isn’t as sharp as that of an iPhone or those of most top Android phones. That’s manageable, though. The bigger issue is that its colors aren’t totally accurate. Black tones aren’t very deep, white tones have a slightly reddish hue to them, and everything in between is a tad dull.
• Its Snapdragon 425 chip and 2 GB of RAM can, at times, make the E4 feel underpowered. Compared to a good mid-range phone like Moto’s own G5 Plus, it takes a few seconds longer for apps to load, and webpages with bad ads take more of a toll. It’s not uncommon to see little stutters when Chrome suggests a URL, for instance. And graphics-heavy games like “Lara Croft Go” make the whole thing chug.
• Its camera is decidedly mediocre. It’s the usual deal: If the sun is out and everything is well-lit, it’s possible to take some Facebook-ready shots with decent colors and little noise. But even then it can struggle.
Sometimes the pictures will come out overexposed, with the camera blowing out what light is there. Other times they’ll come out blurry, since the camera lacks optical image stabilization. And if you use the camera in darker settings, the resulting pictures will typically be overly grainy, with lacking details and muted colors. You can see some sample photos below.
And there are other little annoyances beyond that.
• The Moto E4 only includes 16 GB of storage. And on my Verizon-issued model, only about 10 GB are usable out of the box. That’s just too little. Thankfully, you can pop in a microSD card if and when you need more space.
• It uses a microUSB port, which is slower at both charging the phone and transferring data than a newer USB-C port would be.
• Motorola hasn’t been especially fast about issuing Android software updates since being acquired by Lenovo, so there’s reason to doubt it will be speedy here. My test unit was also a month behind on Google’s monthly security patches; it’s not alone in that, but it puts the phone at risk either way.
• The speakers are weak.
It should be no shock to hear that a cheap phone has compromises, though. This isn’t a device for people who are passionate about smartphones; it’s for middle schoolers, bargain hunters, my mother, or anyone who just can’t afford to drop hundreds on something swanky. For that, the Moto E4 is beyond competent:
• The display, while not the most accurate, can get impressively bright, and doesn’t totally wash out text when viewed from the side.
• The textured plastic back doesn’t feel expensive, but it’s tightly fused together. The device is supremely lightweight (150 g), and the relatively small 5-inch screen means it’s not impossible to use with one hand.
• There’s a fingerprint scanner. It’s a bit too sensitive to accidental presses, but the fact that it’s there and functional is a bonus for something this affordable.