Review: Motorola Moto E4 Plus
The Moto App now handles the ambient display on Motorola handsets and manages the lock screen and notifications.
The Moto Display function in the Moto App can wake the screen regularly with a list of the current notifications; show important notifications on the lock screen as they arrive; or leave the screen entirely dark. The behaviors are fully customizable, which is something I've long appreciated about Motorola smartphones. It's a shame you can't double-tap the screen to wake the phone, as you can on higher-end Moto phones.
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If you press the screen lock button, the display wakes fully to show the clock, wallpaper, and notifications listed below the clock. There are also shortcuts to the Google Assistant and camera on this screen. Sadly, you can't customize the shortcuts. (But hey, Google Assistant!)
The E4 Plus's fingerprint reader performed very well. It was quick to record fingerprints and consistent at recognizing fingerprints on the first try.
As noted earlier, the fingerprint sensor doubles as a navigation pad and it is managed via the Moto App. You have to turn it on manually. It works well enough when I remembered to use it.
The E4 Plus ships with Android 7 Nougat with minimal tweaks from Motorola. Owners can customize the typical stuff, such as wallpapers, widgets, and so on. The home screens behave as expected for an Android Nougat phone.
The E4 Plus does include a Google Now-style home screen panel to the left. It's not something you can turn on or off. It's just there. As long as you're signed into your Google account, this panel shows you your local weather, calendar appointments, travel times to local points of interest, and so on.
The app drawer is almost standard Android. It doesn't include a dedicated button on the home screen. Instead, you swipe up from the dock to bring up the app drawer, similar to Pixel phones. Apps are listed alphabetically in the drawer, with four app suggestions lining the top. The E4 Plus trades the white background found on Pixel app drawer for whatever wallpaper you have set for the home screen. The app drawer doesn't support folders, nor does it allow you to hide apps.
The notification shade, Quick Settings tool, and main settings screens are all standard Android, and work accordingly. There are no themes or other fancy interface tricks on board, which is fine as far as I am concerned.
As for performance, the Moto E4 Plus has a 1.4 GHz Snapdragon 427 processor with 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage. The 427 delivered consistent performance across the board on our review unit. The phone ran really well.
The E4 Plus does not have a dedicated physical camera button, but there are several ways to open the camera. The best way is to quickly double-tap the screen lock button. This works consistently well. The age-old Motorola wrist-twisting gesture appears to be unavailable, which hurts my soul. You may also open the camera from the lock screen shortcut or home screen icon. The camera opens quickly enough.
There are three controls on the left side of the screen (timer, flash, HDR) and three on the right (video, shutter, front camera). I like that both the flash and HDR tools can be set to on, off, or auto.
As for shooting modes, the E4 Plus offers auto, video, panorama, and manual. Slide your finger up or down to zoom. Your can press-and-hold the shutter button to capture a burst of photos. Swipe from the left side of the screen to access more minor settings such as grid-lines and resolution.
The manual mode lets you take full control over focus, ISO, shutter speed, brightness, and white balance. The controls line the top of the screen and are easy to adjust. It's a shame the shutter only lets you select speeds as slow as one-third of a second (the same as the G5 earlier this year); that's hardly long enough to get creative or take really great night shots. There's no slow-motion mode, nor time-lapse.
The layout is easy enough for novices to use effectively, and flexible enough in manual mode to allow for at least some degree of creativity. Even though this is an entry-level phone, I'm disappointed by the lack of some of the more common creative photo modes.
I did not see any performance issues, as the camera app worked smoothly.
On paper, the E4 Plus has a better camera than the E4. The result is, in fact, a noticeably better camera that outperforms its little sibling, particularly in low-light situations. I was pleased with the majority of shots I captured with the E4 Plus. They were sharp, colorful, and properly exposed. I didn't see much grain, even in dark environments, and came away generally happy with the results.
The user-facing camera is a direct carry-over from the E4 and it does a fine job. I didn't cringe looking at my selfies, which were in focus and well-exposed. The selfie flash is a great addition, particularly given the price point, and truly helps those nighttime selfies look their best.
You can capture video up to 1080p (full HD) resolution with the E4 Plus, and I suspect you'll be happy with the results. The phone handles video recording duties with aplomb, delivering footage that is colorful, bright, and clean.
It's safe to say the Moto E4 Plus is a fine everyday camera. It can likely handle vacations and family events as well.
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