This is the best smartphone you can buy for $250

I’ve written before that I’m a big fan of the Moto G line of smartphones from Motorola. The G3 was a tough, zippy $180 phone that could run high-performance apps just a touch slower than the big-name flagships, and had a bold (if admittedly somewhat cartoonish) design. To this day I’ll argue that the upgraded 16 GB version is the best $220 I ever spent on a gadget.

So now we come to the G4 Plus, the pricier of the two ‘Gs Motorola released in its fourth generation. If “upscale model of a mid-range phone” sounds like a weird idea to you, that’s because it is. And you can feel that discord when you hold the device in your hand.

Where the G3 had a consistent design philosophy — well-made phone trading pricey innards for cost, looks like an aerodynamic Lego brick — the G4 Plus is a mishmash of high- and low-end features that don’t quite add up to a single idea of what a phone should be.

Reasons for concern

With an HD screen, fingerprint reader, and the option to spec up to 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage for $50 extra (that’s the version Motorola sent us), the G4 Plus could almost be mistaken for a manufacturer flagship. But the middling processor and just-a-bit-too-bulky design give it away as a cheaper model.

Now, that wouldn’t be enough on its own for me to strike a negative note early in the review. But the other signals of this phone’s cheaper build are a little more iffy.

This phone has neither the streamlined build quality of a high-end device nor the sturdy plastic simplicity of its predecessor. As Digital Trends’ Kyle Wiggers also spotted, the power and volume buttons tend to wobble a bit when you touch them, signalling a less-than-perfect construction and perhaps some cause for concern when it comes to long-term durability.

And more broadly, the device has a bit of a thrown-together feel. It lacks not only the G3’s good looks but its design coherence. Consider the frame of the phone that forms an unnecessary lip around the edge of the screen, or the fingerprint reader that occupies a spot on the lower bezel usually reserved for a home button, looks just like one, but won’t function that way.

In other words, the G4 Plus feels exactly like what it is: A G4 that got most of the way through its design process before someone asked What if it could also do all these other things?

Reasons to buy it anyway

All that said, this is a whole lotta phone for $250.

The camera, which I’ll review more thoroughly in the coming days, appears excellent in my early testing. Like the G3, its middling processor is more than enough for all of my needs, and I’m a heavy user — it even ran the resource-hungry “Pokémon Go” for me speedily and without incident. You have to accept that some apps will open a bit slower than they would on a comparable $700 device, but I never once found myself frustrated with crashes or lag. (Keep in mind that my model had 4 gigabytes of RAM, not the standard 2, but that typically isn’t the operative stat in phone speed.)

And concerns about the buttons aside, this is a sturdy-feeling phone. It’s just that millimetre or two enough thicker than a typical flagship to make you comfortable it will survive beyond the store display. And the screen, which looks as good as any HD screen from any company not named Samsung, is protected behind the latest in Gorilla Glass technology.

Behind that screen is a 3,000 mAh battery, which can mean a full day of charge depending on the Android. In the case of Motorola’s nearly-pure skin, while I never saw the multiple days of use on a charge I sometimes got from the G3, I also never had a problem getting through a day with this device. That Motorola decided to include fast charging also helps the G4 stand way out from the cheapo-phone pack.

You don’t need to go for the 64 GB storage upgrade either, even if you don’t store everything in the cloud. A micro-SD slot lets you expand the onboard memory into the hundreds of gigabytes.

Plus, while the design is uninspired compared to the G3, you still have more colour options than you would on most other devices. And that soft-textured rear panel feels good against your palm.

So if you’re looking for a sub-$300 smartphone, the Moto G4 is without a serious rival — even if it doesn’t quite live up to the name of its predecessors.

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