How do you beat the Moto G? Many budget smartphones have tried and failed over the years to claim the Moto’s throne, with only a few even coming close. There’s the Samsung Galaxy J5 and the Vodafone Smart Prime 7, but that’s about it as far as worthy competitors go at this kind of price. This year, though, Motorola’s made sure that even the second-best budget smartphones don’t even come anywhere close to its brand-new Moto G4, as its specs are simply beyond belief for something that costs just £169 SIM-free.

It’s so good, in fact, that it effectively eliminates nearly every mid-range smartphone of the last six months – including Motorola’s own Moto X Play – as the G4’s octa-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor and 2GB of RAM offers exactly the same amount of processing power for almost half the price. It also utterly wipes the floor with its budget rivals, providing a substantial upgrade even for current 3rd Gen Moto G owners.

Performance

The difference in speed is palpable, as apps not only open much quicker, but the whole Android operating system feels incredibly slick. It showed in our Geekbench 3 results, too, as the Moto G4 scored 717 in the single core test and a massive 3,107 in the multicore test. Give or take a few points, that’s roughly the same scores produced by the HTC One A9, which costs £420 SIM-free and £32-per-month on contract, and the Samsung Galaxy A3 2016, which costs £250 or £15.50-per-month, which is incredible for such a cheap smartphone.

It does face some competition from the newly released Vodafone Smart Ultra 7, however, as this handset’s octa-core MediaTek MT6755M processor managed 784 in Geekbench 3’s single core test and 2,927 in the multicore test. This puts it more or less on par with the Moto G4, which is impressive considering the Ultra 7 costs just £135 on Vodafone’s Pay as You Go service. That’s more or less the only smartphone that can compete with the Moto G4, though, as other sub-£170 smartphones such as the 3rd Gen Moto G, Wileyfox Swift, and the Obi Worldphone MV1 only managed scores of around 500 and 1,500 respectively, giving the Moto G4 a clear lead in terms of overall speed.

Moto G4 rear

It’s beautiful to use on a day-to-day basis and it’s even a pretty capable gaming machine, too. While its GFX Bench GL offscreen Manhattan 3.0 score of 412 frames (around 6.6fps) can’t match the faster frame rates I’ve seen from phones like the Nexus 5X (around £300 admittedly), I still managed to play a decent game of Hearthstone on the Moto G4 without too much stutter. Simpler 2D games like Threes! also worked like a dream, so it should be more than capable of keeping you entertained when you need to while away a few minutes on public transport.

Web browsing has also been significant improved since the 3rd Gen Moto G, as images, videos and adverts were quick to load, and scrolling was pretty seamless once pages had loaded fully. The Guardian’s media-rich homepage could still be a bit jerky in places, particularly when scrolling up and down at speed, but on the whole it provided a much more pleasant experience than its 3rd Gen predecessor, despite the Moto G4’s Peacekeeper score of 632 being lower than the 3rd Gen’s result of 731.

Unboxing Moto G4 Plus by Motorola

Battery life

All this power doesn’t come at the cost of battery life, either, as the Moto G4’s large 3,000mAh battery lasted an impressive 13h 39m in our continuous video playback test with the screen set to our usual brightness of 170cd/m2. That’s fantastic for a budget smartphone and a full two hours more than the 3rd Gen Moto G, and 30 minutes longer than the Moto X Play. It also storms past the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 as well, as this only managed 9h 55m in the same conditions.

Even better, the Moto G4 supports Motorola’s TurboPower quick charging technology, which Motorola claims will give you six hours of power in just 15 minutes. The only downside is that it doesn’t come with a TurboPower charger in the box, so you’ll have to buy one separately for around £25 (from Motorola) to take advantage of it.

Moto G4 display

Design & Moto Maker options

So far, so good, but the one thing that might put people off the Moto G4 is that it’s much bigger than its predecessors and bigger than any other budget handset out there. Motorola has taken the odd decision to move from a 5in display to a 5.5in display, taking the Moto G4 into phablet territory. Measuring 153x77x7.9mm, compared to 142x72x11.6mm for the Moto G 3rd Gen, this might be a step too far for those already hankering for the more compact designs of a few years ago.

It’s really quite a handful as a result, and the move to a flatter back isn’t quite as comfy as the 3rd Gen model’s curved, albeit fatter dimensions. As a result, you might want to get it in your hand before you buy, but having moved from a 4.7in phone to a 5.5in phone myself over the last year, it really doesn’t take long to get used to.

Moto G4 sized comparison with 3rd Gen Moto G

^ The 3rd Gen Moto G (left) is significantly smaller than the Moto G4 (right)

I’m not a big fan of the Moto G4’s general design, as its subtle crosshatch pattern on the rear isn’t nearly as elegant or stylish as the grooved, textured panel on the 3rd Gen Moto G. It’s also lost the 3rd Gen’s waterproofing protection, but its water repellent coating should still provide adequate protection from splashes or a light rain shower.

Those who like to customise their handset using Motorola’s Moto Maker service might also be a little disappointed, I feel, as the options this year are decidedly less fun than its predecessors. It doesn’t cost any more to change the colour of the back panel, but the shades on offer are rather more muted than the bright yellows and searing lime of yesteryear. The choice of metallic accents around the camera are also rather uninspiring, but considering it’s free, you might as well personalise it as much as you can to get the look you want.

Moto G4 Moto Maker options compared to 3rd Gen Moto G

^ The Moto G4 (left) doesn’t have as many eye-catching Moto Maker options as the 3rd Gen Moto G (right), either

The only thing you do have to pay extra for on Moto Maker is if you want to upgrade the Moto G4’s storage to 32GB. This costs an extra £30, but when the G4 comes with a microSD slot that takes cards up to 128GB anyway, this seems like a bit of a waste of money

Display

It’s a shame the display isn’t a bit smaller, but at least Motorola’s provided a 1,920×1,080 resolution, giving it a lovely sharp pixel density of 401ppi. It makes you wonder where budget smartphones can go next, really, as even some flagships are still only using Full HD resolutions.

Quality hasn’t been sacrificed for quantity, either. Our colour calibration tests showed it was displaying an excellent 90% of the sRGB colour gamut, and its contrast ratio of 1,693:1 was also most impressive indeed. It’s also considerably brighter than its predecessor, as it’s able to reach a peak brightness of 539.51cd/m2, making it much easier to see outdoors in direct sunshine. These are brilliant results for a budget smartphone, and its punchy colours look great regardless of whether you’re browsing the web or looking at photos in your gallery.

Moto G4 camera

Camera

Speaking of which, the G4’s rear 13-megapixel camera is arguably the best budget smartphone camera I’ve tested. Despite sharing the same resolution as the 3rd Gen Moto G, the difference in quality was plain to see, as the Moto G4 captured far more detail and everything looked that much sharper. It also produced much better pictures than those I took with the Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 as well.

Outdoors, for instance, colours looked accurate and its exposure was expertly judged. It blurred the occasional bit of brickwork, but overall it produced truly excellent photos. It looks like Motorola’s toned down its HDR mode this year as well, as rather than make images look overly artificial, it simply makes them look richer and more vibrant, so you’ll probably want to leave it on to get the best exposures.

Moto G4 camera test

^ Outdoors, the Moto G4 produced stunning images with very high levels of detail

Moto G4 camera test HDR

^ Switch on HDR mode and colours become even richer to really help them pop out of the screen

Motorola’s also simplified the camera app’s UI this year, as it now has a dedicated onscreen shutter button and easy shortcuts to toggle the flash, HDR and timer on and off. Tap the screen to focus and you can easily adjust the lens aperture to using the onscreen slider as well, which works brilliantly and shows you your results in real-time.

Moto G4 camera controls

^ The Moto G4 also has a Pro camera mode that lets you adjust the white balance, ISO, focus, exposure and shutter speed

The camera was an excellent performer indoors as well, as noise was kept to a minimum even in low-light conditions and detail levels were still pleasingly high. Some of the objects in our still life arrangement were a touch grainy in places, but switching on its excellent LED flash quickly sorts this out.

Moto G4 camera test indoors

^ Even in low light, the Moto G4’s camera coped extremely well, capturing plenty of detail while keeping colours bright and vibrant

Conclusion

Even if you’re not sure about the size of the Moto G4, there’s simply nothing else that even comes close to matching its value for money. Once again, Motorola’s rewritten the rulebook for budget smartphones, and if you’d told me a year ago that Motorola’s next Moto G would effectively replace its own Moto X Play, I’d have thought you were mad.

That a £169 smartphone can achieve so much for so little is absolutely astounding, and it firmly throws down the gauntlet to all other budget smartphone manufacturers. The Vodafone Smart Ultra 7 does, admittedly, come very close, but while it can match the Moto G4 on speed, it simply can’t compare when it comes to the quality of the display, camera, or battery life. The Smart Ultra 7 might be a fraction cheaper on prepay, but when the Moto G4 only costs another £35 (which then gives you the freedom to pick your own contract or SIM-only deal rather than being tied in to Vodafone’s rates), there’s simply no competition. It’s a Best Buy.

UK: Buy the Moto G4 now from Mobile Fun

US: Buy the Moto G4 now from Motorola

Hardware
Processor Octa-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 617
RAM 2GB
Screen size 5.5in
Screen resolution 1,920×1,080
Screen type IPS
Front camera 5 megapixels
Rear camera 13 megapixels
Flash LED
GPS Yes
Compass Yes
Storage (free) 16GB (10.8GB) / 32GB
Memory card slot (supplied) microSD
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.2 LTE
NFC No
Wireless data 3G, 4G
Size 153x77x7.9mm
Weight 155g
Features
Operating system Android 6.0.1
Battery size 3,000mAh
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