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Posts tagged ‘Motorola’

28
Jul

Mini review: Our quick verdict on the Moto G4 and G4 Plus


Since 2013, the Moto G has been our favorite mid-range smartphone — or favorite budget phone, even, depending on how you define “budget.” Now in its fourth generation, the G series has expanded to include three models, two of which we got to take for a spin in a recent review. Indeed, the 5.5-inch G4 and G4 Plus mostly impress, but not every design decision feels like an improvement. Though the phones are more expensive than they used to be, at $200 and $250, respectively, the plastic build feels less durable than we would have otherwise expected.

What’s more, the G4 is no longer waterproof, and its camera suffers in low light, to boot. The G4 Plus at least offers a better camera and faster performance, though it too has a chintzy build that doesn’t feel likely to stand years of wear and tear. Those complaints aside, the handsets nonetheless deserve their strong scores of 84 and 86 — and they continue Moto’s tradition of holding down the “value smartphone” crown.

21
Jul

Moto Z and Z Force Droid review: The risks are mostly worth it


Ever since the original Moto X came out, I’ve been fascinated by Motorola. We saw one of the biggest, oldest brands in communications take a long, hard look at where it’s been and chart a thoughtful path forward. Flash forward a few years (and a few Moto Xs) and wouldn’t you know it? Motorola started to lose some of its voltage when it came to its flagship phones. Don’t get me wrong, the Moto X Pure Edition was a fantastic device, but in hindsight it’s not hard to see that it was more of the same.

While we might still see a new Moto X this year, Motorola decided to try something different. We now have two different modular flagship smartphones, the superthin Moto Z Droid ($624) and the sturdier Moto Z Force Droid ($720). Some might bristle that both are exclusive to Verizon and aren’t yet slated for an international launch (I sure did), but there’s no two ways about it: These are still the most exciting Motorola phones in a long time.

Note: For the sake of brevity, I’m not going to bother calling these things “Droid Editions” for the rest of the review.

Hardware

Review: Motorola Moto Z and Z Force (Droid Edition)

At 5.2mm thick, the Moto Z is the thinnest flagship phone I’ve ever used, and it’s just stunning. In fact, when it comes to design, the Moto Z couldn’t be any more different from the flagship Moto Xs that came before it — the friendly curves and sloping back are gone, leaving us with something more angular and elegant. Think of it as the lightweight Lamborghini to the Moto X Pure’s friendly VW Beetle. If I’m honest, I was concerned that a phone this thin would feel insubstantial, but Motorola dodged that issue too. Aside from the pane of Gorilla Glass covering its 5.5-inch, quad HD AMOLED display, the Z’s body is crafted entirely of metal, lending it a crucial air of rigidity. Fair warning, though: Our review units came in a two-tone black and gray finish that both looks lovely and acts like a fingerprint-and-schmutz magnet.

All that said, this phone certainly isn’t for everyone. Some people I’ve shown the phone to (here’s looking at you, Devindra) think the Moto Z is too skinny to feel comfortable in-hand. More important, you can’t build a phone this thin without making a few compromises. Motorola could only squeeze a relatively modest 2,600mAh battery into the Z’s body. The 13-megapixel camera juts out from the back in a circular hump. And the most divisive change? The phone’s slim frame meant Motorola had to ax the headphone jack. Motorola is convinced it’s on the right side of history with this move, but in the short term, you’re stuck buying either a pair of USB Type-C headphones or using an adapter that comes in the box.

I’ll delve more into the audio quality a little later, but right off the bat, the change presents some tricky issues to tangle with. Let’s say you’re a klutz like me: You’re probably going to lose that dongle before long. And if you’re listening to music through wired headphones, you can’t charge the phone at the same time. Inconvenient at best; counterproductive at worst.

Motorola is so sure of this decision that the Z’s cousin, the Moto Z Force, lacks the headphone jack as well, even though its thicker body could definitely have accommodated one. Throughout my week of testing, I’ve been looking at the Z Force as the Moto Z for everyone else: It has the same new look, paired with a bigger 3,500mAh battery and Motorola’s Shattershield design to keep you from cracking your screen. Throw in an improved 21-megapixel rear camera and we have a package that more than makes up for Z Force’s heftier dimensions. If owning an incredibly thin smartphone isn’t high on your list of priorities, you’re probably better off looking at this version of the Z instead. It’s just too bad neither of these phones are waterproof: They’re nano-coated to resist splashes, but that’s it.

Despite their differences, the slim Moto Z and the sturdy Z Force share some powerful silicon. Thrumming away inside both devices is a quad-core Snapdragon 820 chip paired with 4GB of RAM and an Adreno 530 GPU — just like almost every other flagship Android phone released this year. The similarities don’t end there, either: Both sport an excellent fingerprint reader beneath the screen, either 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot for as much as 2TB of extra space, and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera. A trio of tiny volume buttons and a sleep/wake key poke out of both phones’ right side, and on the bottom is a solitary USB Type-C socket for power, data transfers and audio.

Both devices are showcases for Motorola’s impeccable workmanship, but they’re made even more interesting by the array of golden contacts on their backs. Those 16 points make up what the company calls its Moto Mod connector, which allows power and data to flow between the phone and optional accessories that magnetically latch to the phones’ backs. The first batch includes a tiny projector, battery case and a JBL speaker, and they add a lot to the Moto Z/Z Force formula, so I’ll be sure to dig deeper on these in just a moment. For now, just know this: Motorola’s approach to modularity is the most elegant you’ll find on the market right now.

Display and sound

Both Moto Z phones feature 5.5-inch AMOLED displays running at 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, and they’re pretty great. In addition to very accommodating viewing angles, you’ll get the usual punchy colors that come with AMOLED screens. If they’re a little too punchy for your liking, though, you can hop into the device’s settings and poke around: The “Vibrant” color mode is enabled by default, but there’s also a “Standard” option that attempts to render colors more realistically. I’ve come to prefer the slightly oversaturated look you’ll see by default, but hey, it’s nice to have choices.

It’s also worth noting that these displays don’t look identical. My Moto Z’s panel seems a little more high-contrast than the Z Force’s screen, and I’m willing to bet that’s because of the Z Force’s Shattershield construction. In case you never owned a Droid Turbo 2, here’s the skinny: Above the AMOLED panel itself, there’s a redundant touch-sensing layer and two protective lenses, all meant to keep the screen from breaking if the Z Force takes a tumble. I reluctantly treated this thing like a jerk throughout my week of testing, dropping it on concrete for laughs and lobbing it onto my desk from across the room. The damage? A couple nicks on the screen and some scuffs on the phone’s aluminum edge. Shattershield is a welcome feature indeed, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t make the Moto Z Force invincible.

Both phones also have a single speaker above the screen, nestled in the same place as the earpiece. It’s a far cry from the stereo setups we’ve seen in other smartphones, but you know what? The Z/Z Force’s speakers consistently churned out crisp (if not terribly loud) audio. It’s not a surprise, really: Lots of companies sort of phone it in when it comes to speaker quality, and it’s clear Motorola would like you to buy one of JBL’s sweet speaker Mods.

Now, about that pesky headphone issue. I’ve used the included USB Type-C dongle with several pairs of cans and in-ears, and it doesn’t seem to affect audio quality at all when playing high-quality tunes saved on Spotify. If anything, my biggest gripes were logistical: When I didn’t keep the dongle attached to headphones, it got lost in the depths of my backpack. When I did keep it attached, it sometimes made the cord long enough to be cumbersome when jamming everything into my pocket (especially when those headphones had an L-plug).

Are these huge issues? No, not really (and if you’re a Bluetooth headphone person, basically none of these gripes apply). Still, these sticking points aren’t going away for a while, so keep that in mind before you buy.

Camera

Let’s be honest: Motorola isn’t exactly known as a leader in photography. That’s why the company’s work this year is so surprising: We now have two Motorola phones with seriously good cameras. If the normal Moto Z is your thing, you’ll get a 13-megapixel main camera with a f/1.8 aperture lens and a laser autofocus module. My expectations were set needlessly low. As it turns out, the Z’s camera takes bright, nicely detailed shots with vivid colors almost across the board. It does stumble a bit in low light, where you’ll plenty of grain and soft edges, but really, what smartphone doesn’t? The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are still better all-around performers, but for once, Motorola has done well to close the gap.

Meanwhile, the Moto Z Force’s camera does a slightly better job of capturing fine detail, which really isn’t surprising — it’s a 21-megapixel sensor, after all. What is surprising is how tight the image-quality race can be sometimes. For a while, the Moto Z seemed a little better at rendering accurate colors, but then photos with the Z Force started coming out a little better. Then back. Then forth. You get my drift. What makes this whole thing even stranger is that the Moto Z Force was occasionally slower to focus on subjects than the Z, despite having phase-detection autofocus in addition to a laser-autofocus module. A quick tap or two is all it takes to set it right, but that’s still a little odd. It’s the Z Force’s low-light performance that clinches the deal here: It’s not quite Galaxy S7-level, but it’s closer than I dared dream.

Despite some curious performance quirks, I’d ultimately go with the Z Force as my shooter of choice — it’s as good a camera as Motorola has ever made, even if the underlying software needs some extra polish. Still, the standard Moto Z is no slouch.

Beyond the intricacies of their sensors, the Z and Z Force camera experiences have a lot in common. They share a 5-megapixel, wide-angle camera for selfies that does a generally lovely job of capturing those fleeting moments of vanity. Speaking of vanity, there’s also a new Beauty Mode that irons out the wrinkles and blemishes that might mar one’s selfies. I wouldn’t be at all shocked if this was a feature that parent company Lenovo insisted on; these sorts of cosmetic enhancements have popped up, and continue to pop up, in Lenovo smartphones.

It’s too bad it doesn’t work very well. I snapped selfies at both ends of the Beauty mode spectrum and neither did much for my looks. This year, Motorola also added a Professional Mode that allows for more granular control over your photos. Once enabled, you’ll get full control over ISO, white balance, shutter speed and exposure — change any of those settings and you’ll get a live update on your display. Just maybe don’t go too crazy with them. I managed to crash the camera app a few times doing that.

Moto Mods

Of course, the story of the Moto Z and Z Force extend beyond the devices themselves. Motorola has a vision centered on accessories that snap onto the phone with magnets. Not only is this less annoying than LG’s attempt with the G5 — it’s simpler and cleaner too. Motorola has also said that these first-generation Moto Mods will work with next year’s model as well, though the company isn’t promising anything beyond that.

First up: Motorola’s Insta-Share projector. When fully charged, the projector will run for about an hour on its own before using the battery in your phone. Stick it far enough away from a wall and you can get a picture that’s about 70 inches diagonal, a pretty big jump from the clunker of a TV I bought on sale years ago. Your environment needs to be superdark, and it can be tough to get the focus right, but once everything came together, I had a bit of a “wow” moment I didn’t see coming. There are, however, two potential issues to keep in mind. First, the speakers baked into the projector aren’t great, so you’ll want an external set if you’re really after something resembling a movie-theater experience. Second, it’ll set you back $299. If you’ve got money to burn, then by all means, go for it, but for most, it won’t be worth it.

Compared with that, the $79 JBL speaker Mod seems way more modest. I probably pissed off a few people in the office by cranking it up all the way, which can be almost unpleasantly loud depending on the kind of music you’re listening to. It lasts about 10 hours on a charge, and the speaker burns through that juice before switching to the phone’s battery for power. Alas, the audio doesn’t sound as meaty as I imagined; it seems to do better with podcasts and songs with lots of action in the mid and high range. Here’s my issue, though: You could get a portable Bluetooth speaker that sounds better (and works with any smartphone) for around the same price. Either way, you’d have to carry around a second piece of hardware. On the plus side, though, it has a kickstand to prop up the phone — a helpful touch when you’re watching videos.

Really, though, the best Moto Mod is a battery back that basically doubles the Moto Z’s battery life while still managing to feel like a natural extension of the phone. If you buy a Moto Z, this needs to go with it.

By building the Moto Mod connector and inking deals with companies like JBL, Motorola is admitting that we can’t always have everything we want in one single device. The beauty of Motorola’s design, though, means the things we add to the Moto Z feel like seamless parts of the device itself. It’s still early days for the Moto Mods program, and the only way to ensure it goes anywhere is to buy this stuff. Hopefully, enough people invest in this new ecosystem of hardware to keep it alive. It would be a shame to see such an elegant solution flounder.

(Side note: if you’ve got a brilliant idea for a Moto Mod of your own, Motorola is opening up its developer program in August — $125 gets you a hardware-development kit for bread-boarding and hashing out initial designs.)

Software

Motorola is well known for releasing smartphones that run very clean, almost stock versions of Android… unless those smartphones are Verizon exclusives like these. The broad strokes of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow are still there, and for the most part, Motorola seemed happy to leave well enough alone; the most notable visual tweak is a dark theme applied to the familiar Marshmallow menus and app launcher.

Still, Verizon’s influence is undeniable. There’s a separate-but-optional setup process to get started with Verizon’s cloud upon first boot, and lots of preloaded software I never touched. I’m talking VZ Navigator, VZ Protect, Message+, Caller Name ID and a cloud app, not to mention NFL Mobile, Slacker, Audible and a ton of derivative games. You can delete some of them, but the rest need to be disabled in the settings and I couldn’t so this fast enough.

Curiously, the Motorola-made apps that used to come preloaded on the company’s Verizon-bound phones aren’t here anymore. If you want Loop and Zap (which let you keep tabs on loved ones and share content with people nearby, respectively), you’ll have to get them from the Play Store. I love it when companies stop trying to force apps of dubious value on us — HTC recently did this too — but Verizon pushed enough bloatware that Motorola’s cleanliness almost went unnoticed.

On the plus side, Motorola’s thoughtful software tricks are all still here. The sensors on the Z’s face can still detect your hands as they approach, and they’ll light up part of the display to show you the time and your notifications. Like before, you can double-twist your wrist to launch the camera, and a double karate chop turns on the flashlight. As it happens, Motorola added a new gesture this year: If you swipe up from the bottom of the display, the on-screen view will shrink so you can reach the notification shade without having to reposition your hand.

The Moto Z siblings are great at listening for your voice commands, too. Once you’ve trained them to listen to your activation phrase (mine is the dull “OK, Moto Z”), the phones will wake up and take requests like a proper assistant. That might not sound like a high bar to clear — after all, virtual assistants have come a long way since the earliest days of Siri and Google Now — but Motorola was one of the first companies to go big on phones that always listened, and they’re still very good at making them.

Performance

We can keep this part simple: The Moto Z and Z Force are damned fast. Is that really any surprise? Both run with the same high-end Snapdragon silicon as most other flagship Android phones I’ve played with this year, and they’ve all been really fast too. As always, my week of testing included all the usual, frenzied multitasking for work, along with loads of Real Racing 3, Mortal Kombat X, Hearthstone and Pokémon Go when the news died down. Try as I might — and trust me, I tried — the Moto Z and Z Force handled all of my trials with gusto. (They do get noticeably warm when you starting to push them, though.) Ultimately, now that premium smartphones like the Moto Z and its ilk all fall into the same performance range, the details that make these devices different are more important than ever.

AndEBench Pro 16,678 16,455 14,168 16,673
Vellamo 3.0 5,613 5,727 4,285 4,876
3DMark IS Unlimited 29,117 28,964 28,529 26,747
GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps) 49 49 45 48
CF-Bench 45,803 44,977 51,227 49,891
SunSpider 1.0.2: Android devices tested in Chrome; lower scores are better.

Consider batteries, for instance. Thanks to its slim body, Motorola fitted the Moto Z with a 2,600mAh cell. Not bad, but definitely not great. I’ll admit, even though I’ve used smartphones with similar specs and battery sizes before, I went into this review expecting the worst. Thankfully, that was unwarranted. On days of heavy use, the Z would get me through the work day but give up the ghost not long after. That works out to about 11 hours of pretty continuous use, though you can stretch that up to about a day and a half if you’re a very, very cautious user. In our standard Engadget rundown test (looping a video with the screen brightness set to 50 percent and WiFi connected), the Moto Z lasted about just north of 10 hours. That’s on par with the LG G5 and HTC 10.

This means the Moto Z’s battery will probably cut it for most people, but anyone on the fence should consider the next step up. As you’d expect, the Moto Z Force blew its skinny sibling out of the water. I routinely got two full days of use out of its larger 3,500mAh battery, and got closer to three days over a particularly quiet weekend. Not bad at all. And in our rundown test, the Z Force looped the same sample video for 14 hours and 12 minutes, just 18 minutes less than Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge.

The competition

I probably sound like a broken record saying this, but there’s really never been a better time to buy a top-tier Android phone. While some are better suited to certain situations than others, there really isn’t a bad choice among them. Samsung’s Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are waterproof and still lead the pack in camera performance, though you’ll have to deal with the (much improved!) TouchWiz interface that’s layered on top of Android Marshmallow. The HTC 10’s fit and finish is first-rate, and it handles media better out of the box: It’ll tune your music for your preferences and headphones, for one, and it’s the first Android phone to officially support Apple’s AirPlay streaming standard. Meanwhile, if you’re shopping for flagship power on a budget, the reasonably priced OnePlus 3 brings the speed for a fraction of what the Moto Z and Z Force cost.

But if we’re looking at the Moto Z and Z Force as modular phones, first and foremost, the only real comparison this year is LG’s G5. The broad strokes are similar — Snapdragon 820, 4GB of RAM, a circle of “Friend” accessories — but the Moto Z’s elegant execution gives those two phones a clear edge. Just look at LG’s setup: modules connect to the bottom of the G5, requiring you to remove the phone’s battery, attach it to the new module, stick that whole thing back into the phone and power it up. At best, it’s an annoyance. On the plus side, though, you’ll be able to swap batteries willy-nilly, and you have a really neat dual-camera setup to play with.

Wrap-up

I have to give Motorola credit for doing what LG couldn’t: building modular smartphones that are convenient, cool and worth using. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the Moto Z and Z Force are two of the best-made devices in Motorola’s history, and that they can go toe-to-toe with any other flagship Android phone out there. These devices represent Motorola at the top of its phone-making game.

It’s a shame, then, that some curious decisions have kept me from loving the Z and Z Force more fully. Part of it is the lack of a headphone jack. Maybe I’m old-school, but I can’t be the only one who misses it. Part of it, too, is that some of the Mods are of dubious value. Worse, only a certain chunk of people — Verizon customers — can buy these phones. Ultimately, though, the strength of the Moto Z line and the potential of Moto Mods outweigh the few cons. If you’re a Verizon customer on the hunt for a powerful smartphone, pay attention to these two. (And if you’re a klutz, pay closer attention to the Z Force.) The rest of us will just have to hang in there — Motorola can’t let phones this good stay exclusive for too long.

16
Jul

Moto G4 and G4 Plus review: Bigger and (mostly) better


When it comes to getting the most smartphone for your dollar, the Moto G line has been your best choice for the past few years. We adored the previous model, which came in at a mere $180. Now with the Moto G4 and G4 Plus, Motorola is literally aiming to make its budget lineup bigger and better. They’ve got larger and sharper screens, improved cameras and, of course, speedier processors. With those upgrades come compromises, though. For one, they’re more expensive: The G4 starts at $200 and the G4 Plus at $250. Motorola also made some curious design decisions, which in many ways feel like a step back. Still, they both manage to carry the mantle of Smartphone Value King.

Hardware

You won’t find any premium aluminum or chamfered edges on the G4 and G4 Plus. They’ve got practical and simple plastic cases. Still, they don’t feel like budget phones. Their curved edges make them easy to hold, and the slightly textured rear cover feels a bit luxurious against your palm. Both phones are also noticeably larger than any previous Moto G, thanks to their 5.5-inch 1080p screens. At least they’re thinner than their 11.6mm thick predecessor, clocking in at just 7.9 millimeters to 8.9 millimeters. Strangely enough, they weigh the same 155 grams (0.34 pounds) as before.

The G4 and G4 Plus feel pretty solid for plastic encased phones. There’s little flex or creaking when gripped tightly. Long-term durability might be a concern though — somewhere during my week of testing I nicked the top of the G4 Plus’s plastic edge. I never dropped it, so your guess is as good as mine as to how it got damaged. It does make me worried about how well they’d stand up to months of everyday use.

Both phones sport removable back covers, just like all the previous Moto G models. In addition to the nano-SIM slot, there’s a microSD slot for up to 128GB of additional storage. They pack in 3,000mAh non-removable batteries, a nice bump from the last Moto G’s 2,470 mAh offering. It’s a shame that the battery can’t be swapped out, but it’s also large enough that that shouldn’t be a huge issue. (We didn’t have a problem with it last year, either.)

Powering all of this budget goodness are 1.5GHz Snapdragon 617 octa-core processors. Both phones offer 16GB of storage by default, but you can bump up to 32GB with the G4 (a no-brainer $30 premium) or 64GB with the G4 Plus (for another $100). They come with 2GB of RAM, though the 64GB G4 Plus gives you a luxurious 4GB of RAM.

Given that they both share so much hardware, you’re probably wondering what makes the G4 Plus, well… Plus? The most obvious difference is the fingerprint sensor on its front, which sits right below the software home button. The G4 Plus also packs in a 16 megapixel rear camera with phase detection and laser autofocus. The G4, on the other hand, has a 13 megapixel shooter without the added niceties.

One unfortunate downgrade from last year: Neither phone is waterproof. Instead, Motorola is calling them “water repellant,” thanks to a “nano-coating” technology that protects them from spills. That means they should be fine during light rain, or if you spill coffee on them. Just don’t go fully submerging them in anything.

Display and sound

There’s nothing budget about the 5.5-inch 1080p displays on the G4 and G4 Plus. They’re not quite as fancy as the quad HD displays we’re seeing in some flagships, but they still pack in 401 pixels per inch, which is plenty sharp for typical usage. Colors were bright and bold, even in direct sunlight, and viewing angles were surprisingly great. I didn’t notice much of a difference between my iPhone 6S while reading long articles from Pocket and the New York Times app. Videos also looked uniformly great. The big downside is that they’re less capable when it comes to mobile VR. It’s no wonder they’re not Google Daydream ready (though nothing is stopping you from plugging them into a Google Cardboard headset).

On the sound front, Motorola made the curious decision of replacing the last Moto G’s solid stereo speakers with a single one. It’s plenty loud, but it doesn’t sound nearly as good as before. Now that Bluetooth speakers are cheap and small, I’d recommend just snagging one as an accessory.

One nice feature that I never thought I’d have to call out in 2016: both phones have headphone jacks! For the uninformed, you use them to connect a wide variety of audio devices, including headphones. Someone should tell Motorola that these audio ports, which have been universally supported for decades, would be a nice addition to their flagship Moto Z lineup. That’s especially true for the Z Force, which is thick enough to fit a headphone jack. (Yes, the Moto Z comes with a dongle, but that comes with plenty of compromises. You won’t be able to charge the phone when the dongle is plugged in, for example.)

Software

Motorola delivered a nearly stock OS on the G4 and G4 Plus, specifically Android 6.0.1. Marshmallow. The phones are devoid of the junkware and sponsored apps you often find on budget devices. None of this is new for Motorola, it’s been trying to deliver vanilla versions of Android since it was under Google. But it’s nice to see the company stick with that philosophy under Lenovo.

Motorola’s unique gestures, which made their debut on the original Moto X, once again make an appearance. Twisting either phone twice, similar to turning a door handle, quickly loads up the camera from anywhere in the OS. Making a double-chopping motion turns their flashlights on and off. What’s particularly nice is that both features work consistently even when the phones are in standby mode.

Camera

This is where the Moto G4 and G4 Plus truly diverge. Should you settle with a 13 megapixel camera, or spend the extra cash for the G4 Plus’s 16 megapixel one loaded with autofocusing upgrades? Based on my testing, the G4’s camera is a bit hit or miss. Sometimes it delivered sharp and vibrant photos, but sometimes its color rendering was all off. It was also a constant disappointment in low light. The G4 Plus was a lot more consistent — it was able to lock onto subjects much more quickly, and it was actually useful in low light. Looking at both phones shows how far we’ve come in the world of mobile cameras. But, if I had to choose, I’d opt for the G4 Plus’s shooter without any hesitation.

While Motorola used a light touch with most of the software, its camera app is a very different experience from Google’s stock entry. There’s a radial exposure meter right next to the focusing ring, which lets you lighten or darken the image by dragging it up or down. Flash, HDR and timer settings are also on the left side of the screen, instead of the top. If you want to take panoramic photos, or simply want manual controls, you’ll have to use a separate app, like ProShot or Open Camera.

Performance

While I was bracing for a slow experience with the Moto G4 and G4 Plus (due to increased rendering demands for 1080p screens, last year’s display was only 720p), both phones surprised me with their relatively smooth performance. Sure, they’re not as instantaneously zippy as expensive flagships, but they also don’t feel like “budget” devices. Browsing around Android Marshmallow, launching multiple hefty apps like Pokemon Go, and juggling through them was relatively painless. There was the occasional slowdown on the G4, but nothing show-stopping. If anything, their performance feels more in line affordable mid-range phones like the Nexus 5X.

And when it came to demanding usage, I was surprised by how well both phones held up. I was able to capture 1080p videos of both phones’ displays using the AZ Screen Recorder app while running Pokemon Go and jumping through several apps. The Moto G4 showed a bit of slowdown, but Pokemon Go was still totally playable. And the resulting video didn’t have any major hiccups or dropped frames. The Moto G4 Plus with 4GB of RAM fared even better, with no slowdown during screen recording.

Moto G (2014)
AndEBench
16,159
16,371
4,259
3,929
Vellamo 3.0
2,762
2,819
1,992
1,669
3DMark IS Unlimited
9,841
9,851
4,518
4,679
GFXBench 3.0 Manhattan Offscreen (fps)
6.6
6.6
1.7
N/A
CF-Bench
61,030
60,998
20,999
14,470

The benchmarks for both phones reflect the strong performance I saw. Compared to last year’s Moto G, they scored four times higher in AndEBench, three times faster in CF-Bench and they were more than twice as fast when it came to the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited. Of course, benchmarks aren’t everything, but huge performance bumps like these are noteworthy. I wouldn’t have dared play a complex 3D game on the last Moto G, but the G4 and G4 Plus ran games like Racing Rivals without any issue.

The fingerprint sensor on the G4 Plus was easy to set up, and it had no trouble accurately recognizing my fingers. Its placement on the face of the phone is confounding, though. Motorola would have been better off placing it on the rear of the phone like LG, or making it an actual home button like Samsung and HTC.

As for battery life, neither phone disappointed. Their 3,000mAh offerings had no trouble lasting me throughout a full day, even when I decided to go on some impromptu Pokemon hunts. In our test, which involves looping an HD video at 50 percent brightness, they both lasted around 12 hours and 30 minutes. The previous Moto G, lasted 10 hours and 40 minutes.

The competition

At $200 for the Moto G4 and $250 for the G4 Plus, both phones are practically in a class of their own. There are cheaper phones out there, including Motorola’s own Moto E and HTC’s $179 Desire 530, but they all have significantly worse performance in every respect. If you wanted a big upgrade, you could step up to the Nexus 5X, which currently sells for between $280 and $350, and remains one of the best Android phones on the market. Beyond that, there are the affordable high-end options like the $399 OnePlus 3.

If you’ve only got $200 to spend, there’s no better option than the Moto G4 right now. Stepping up to the G4 Plus gets a bit more confusing. If you want the 64GB version with 4GB of RAM, you’d have to shell out $300. At that point, the Nexus 5X is more tempting thanks to its faster hardware, though you’d have to live with its smaller 5.2-inch screen.

Wrap-up

Motorola’s big problem with these new phones is that the last Moto G was simply too good. In pushing for larger screens and other upgrades, it also introduced some compromises. Ultimately though, the good outweighs the bad. The Moto G4 and G4 Plus offer plenty of power and versatility without breaking the bank. And they show that, once again, nobody does budget phones better than Motorola.

14
Jul

The new Moto E is the largest one yet


Motorola’s entire smartphone lineup is getting a refresh in 2016. Following the new Moto Z and Moto G families, the company has unveiled the Moto E3, an update to its most affordable handset. It sports a 5-inch HD display, up from the 4.5-inch panel in the last model, a quad-core processor and a 2,800 mAh battery, which Motorola claims will last you a full day. The rear-facing camera has been stepped up to eight megapixels, while a 5-megapixel selfie-snapper sits on the front. Internal storage is a mystery (don’t expect much) but it will come with a microSD card slot.

The phone is set to grace the UK in “early September” starting at £99 (roughly $132) in select retailers including Tesco, Amazon and Argos. An international release seems likely; the Moto E is an important phone for the company, given its position at the low-end of the market. With Lenovo in charge, the Moto team has a lot to prove with this year’s phones. The Moto Z and its modular accessories are a grand departure from the Moto X line, and initial reviews of the Moto G4 have been less than positive. Here’s hoping the new Moto E can continue the legacy of its capable predecessors.

11
Jul

Engadget UK giveaway: Win a Moto G4 courtesy of Mobilefun.co.uk


Summer is upon us, and as usual it’s a pretty underwhelming affair. Hopefully a brand new Moto G4 will keep you occupied on some of the many rainy days to come, however. The smartphone is one of a couple of recent additions to Motorola’s highly regarded G range, and thanks to Mobilefun.co.uk, we’ve got two of the things to give away this week. Better yet, the retailer has raided its accessory selection to pair each phone with no less than five different covers and cases. To be in with a chance to win, simply enter via the Rafflecopter widget below, but do us a favour and give the rules a quick scan first, would ya?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
  • Contest is open to all residents of the UK, 18 or older! Sorry, we don’t make this rule (we hate excluding anyone), so direct your anger at our lawyers and contest laws if you have to be mad.
  • Winners will be chosen randomly. Two (2) winners will receive one (1) Moto G4 and assorted cases.
  • If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes your real name and a contact email or Facebook login. We do not track any of this information for marketing or third-party purposes.
  • This unit is purely for promotional giveaway. Motorola, Mobilefun.co.uk and Engadget / AOL are not held liable to honour warranties, exchanges or customer service.
  • The full list of rules, in all its legalese glory, can be found here.
  • Entries can be submitted until July 15th at 11:59PM BST. Good luck!

Source: Mobilefun.co.uk

28
Jun

Gene editing can end disease and fight global famine


We’re looking at the single greatest advancement in genetics since Mendelev started growing peas. CRISPR-Cas9 gene-modification technology is powerful enough to cure humanity’s worst diseases, yet simple enough to be used by amateur biologists. You thought 3-D printers and the maker movement were going to change the world? Get ready for a new kind of tinkerer — one that wields gene-snipping scissors.

CRISPR — clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats — is a potent genetic-editing tool. It’s called this because each CRISPR unit is made of repeated DNA base-pair sequences that can be read the same way forward or in reverse and are separated by “spacer” pairs. Think of it like an organic Morse code palindrome.

With CRISPR we can now edit any genetic code — including our own. In the three years since its advent, researchers have used CRISPR to investigate everything from sickle-cell anemia and muscular dystrophy to cystic fibrosis and cataracts. One group has even used it to snip off the cellular receptors that HIV exploits in order to infect the human immune system. If the disease is caused by your genetics — doesn’t matter if it’s due to a single malformed gene, as is the case with Huntington’s or sickle cell, or if it’s the byproduct of hundreds mutations like diabetes and Alzheimer’s — CRISPR can conceivably fix it.

Even complicated conditions like cancer and autism, which we’ve studied for years and still barely have a grasp on, can benefit from CRISPR technology. A big reason treatment advances for these marquee diseases come at such a glacial pace is that researchers have to develop them on animal models first. This trial-and-error technique takes forever. But with CRISPR, that process stands to accelerate exponentially by creating the precise desired genetic changes on the first try, every time.

How CRISPR is changing the world

These CRISPR units can easily slice through DNA and replace nucleotide bases with others, but they aren’t accurate enough to consistently aim at specific locations. For that, each CRISPR needs an RNA-based “guide,” called a Cas (CRISPR associated) gene. These guides search for a specific set of nucleotides, usually a 20-pair sequence, and bind to the site once they locate it. That’s a pretty impressive feat, given that the human genome contains around 20,000 genes. Working in unison, a CRISPR/Cas system can target and silence the expression of single genes anywhere along a given strand of DNA about as easily as you can edit a Word document. It’s basically “find-and-replace” for genetics.

This technology can be applied to any living organism, though its effects vary greatly depending on which genes are being targeted. The two primary versions of CRISPR-based edits are somatic cell engineering, which only modifies the genes of the individual, and germline engineering, wherein an individual’s modified genes are passed onto their offspring.

The biological mechanism behind CRISPR is actually quite ancient. See, scientists used to think that bacteria were equipped only with innate immunity — the lowest, most budget form of biological defense around. Since a microbe’s restriction enzymes will blindly attack and destroy any unprotected DNA they come in contact with, scientists figured that it was just automatic, a simple reflex. Multicellular organisms, conversely, enjoy acquired immunity, which enables them to mount specific counters to different threats. It wasn’t until they discovered CRISPR that researchers figured out bacteria and archaea have been leaning on acquired immunity for eons. They’d been using it as a rudimentary adaptive immune system against viruses. Here’s a video from the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT that explains the process in detail:

This system enables the bacteria to obtain immunity against that specific breed of virus and respond to future infections far more rapidly than it could otherwise. It’s much in the same way the human immune system uses T-cells and antigens to keep us from repeatedly being sickened by the same diseases. This is why vaccinations work and why it’s so important to vaccinate your kids. (Seriously, vaccinate your damn kids.)

Granted, there is a lot of hype surrounding both CRISPR’s potential benefits and dangers. Not everything we do with the technology is going to be Earth-shattering advancements and cancer cures. We’re probably going to do a lot of silly shit with it as well. “I would bet that within 20 years, somebody is going to make a unicorn,” Hank Greely, director of Stanford University’s Center for Law and the Biosciences, told me during a recent phone call. “Some Silicon Valley billionaire with a 12-year-old daughter will get her a unicorn for her birthday. It will involve taking genes that grow horns and moving them into a horse.”

CRISPR’s benefits aren’t limited to animals. In 2014, a team of geneticists in China managed to give wheat full immunity against powdery mildew — one of the most common and widespread plant pathogens on the planet — by cutting just three genes out of its DNA. Similarly, researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s Center for Desert Agriculture have used CRISPR technology to “immunize” tomatoes against the yellow leaf curl virus while a team from the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE) in Pakistan has done the same for cotton leaf curl. And just last year a Japanese team drastically increased the shelf life of tomatoes by editing the gene that controls the rate of their ripening.

Examples of yellow leaf curl virus in cotton plants. credit: the NIBGE

This technology stands to revolutionize nearly every aspect of modern agriculture. We can create stronger, more robust crops with higher yields and increased tolerance to drought, pests and blight. We can do this without waiting multiple generations, as is the case with traditional breeding methods, and without introducing foreign DNA into the plant’s genome, as we would with conventional genetic modification (GMO) techniques.

“CRISPR is just a more efficient way of doing what’s been done for millennia of looking for genetic variance within a population that would make it better,” Greely said. “With CRISPR instead of waiting for them to arise naturally, you make them. Heck, for the last 50 years we’ve used radiation to increase the rates of mutation. With CRISPR we’re instead causing mutations where we know what mutations we are causing. It’s a much smarter way to do the kind of crop and livestock improvement we’ve done since the agricultural revolution.”

Of course, this new technology is not without potential danger. We’re at the point now where we understand the technology just well enough to hurt ourselves but haven’t used it long enough to fully comprehend the long-term implications.

Take the recent controversy surrounding the creation of the world’s first modified human embryo, for example. This technology theoretically will allow doctors to cure any human disease or defect before a person is born, but were something to go awry during the operation, the results could be devastating. That said, those sorts of procedures will be exceedingly rare for the foreseeable future, contends Greely. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the population won’t need gene editing to have a baby that won’t get the disease that they’re carrying,” he told me. And even if someone is born with a genetic disease, Greely extrapolated, somatic cell editing should still be able to treat them.

“Most people are more concerned with doing it for enhancement reasons but right now we don’t know squat about enhancements,” he continued. “We know all sorts of intelligence genes that, when mutated a certain way, you end up with very low intelligence. But we know basically nothing about gene editing to make you smarter. Or taller. Or more athletic. We can’t even do a particularly good job with eye, hair or skin color.” So don’t expect to see Gattaca-style designer babies coming to your local fertility clinic anytime soon.

What you will see is an explosion of novel uses for the technology. Gene editing is quickly moving from the realm of pure academia and into the hands of the general public and private enterprise. This transition resembles that of another transformative technology: personal computers. Computers went from being, essentially, toys for adults to a keystone of the modern era. CRISPR has the potential to do the same but for biology.

Take Ethan Perlstein for example. “I initially wanted to be a professor,” he explains. “Like a lot of people who get trained in graduate school, especially in biomedical sciences, are thinking we’re going to be professors … that’s how you can be a scientist professionally.” However, the nation’s glut of postgraduates has long outpaced the supply of available professorships. “My goal was academia; reality suggested that I take another path. And actually through my explorations on Twitter, I learned about rare diseases.” His subsequent interactions with the social media communities that spring up around these rare diseases led him to found Perlstein Lab.

Ethan Perlstein, CEO Perlstein Lab. credit: Engadget / Benito Gonzalez

This San Francisco-based biotech startup is using CRISPR technology to drastically accelerate research into some of humanity’s least-studied diseases. “There are about 4,000 inherited diseases that are caused by a single broken gene,” Perlstein said, with roughly 5 percent of those manifesting during childhood and nearly all of which have no known pharmaceutical treatment. Specifically, Perlstein’s team is working on drugs that can treat Niemann-Pick Type C, a lysosomal storage disorder that causes a buildup of toxic material within cells; and N-glycanase 1 Deficiency, a congenital glycosylation disorder that causes a whole host of issues, from cognitive impairment to joint deformities. Both of these devastating illnesses are caused by a single recessive gene, potentially by just one incorrect base pairing.

“These rare diseases, especially the ones that are caused by a single broken gene, tend to involve pathways and networks within the cell that are very ancient,” Perlstein explained. What’s more, those primal genes are disproportionately more likely to “break” than, say, the relatively new genes that control your autoimmune system. Their ancient nature enables the lab to effectively model them in simple animals — specifically, fruit flies, zebrafish and yeasts.

“In the past, there have been technologies available with which to make disease models but that would essentially require taking a sledgehammer to the genome,” Perlstein said. “CRISPR changes the situation as it allows for very elegant and precise changes to happen — down to a single letter change.” So once researchers identify the genetic source of the disease, they’re able to “program” that same fault into their animal models and measure the effect of the disease in them.

By using CRISPR to break a test animal’s genes in the exact same place and the exact same way as in the patient, Perlstein’s researchers are able to create a perfectly customized model. Plus they can do so far more quickly than traditional methods would allow. “Depending on the kind of mutation you’re trying to create [using CRISPR], it can be quite fast,” Perlstein said. “You’re only really limited by the breeding time of the animal.”

Since the diseases that Perlstein’s team research are recessive, the lab can’t introduce these gene breaks directly into the models and then immediately study them. Instead, the team introduces these breaks into an organism and then breeds a second generation. Those organisms are then screened those that possess both copies of the recessive gene. Once a sufficient population of models that carry the gene defect has been bred, the lab leverages an automated system to expose them to thousands of chemicals and compounds to see if they have any positive effect — reversing, or at least reducing the disease’s symptoms.

Josiah Zayner, bio-hacker with The Odin. credit: Engadget / Benito Gonzalez

Not all of the emerging uses for CRISPR technology are quite as severe as the diseases Perlstein Lab is combating. Josiah Zayner, founder and biohacker of The Odin, wants to turn the everyman into a citizen scientist — specifically, an amateur synthetic biologist. “I worked for Motorola in the early 2000s before the dot-com bubble burst. … I controlled the systems that allowed those old walkie-talkie cellphones to work.” Zayner told me during a recent interview at his home/headquarters in Castro Valley, California. After going back to school to earn his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, Zaynor worked at NASA’s synthetic biology lab at Ames Research Center.

“One scientist can only accomplish so much,” Zayner reasoned. So, he asked himself, “How can I get more people involved? What happens if I go out get five people … train them, pay them a decent wage and have them help me with these science projects?”

This was impetus for The Odin’s DIY CRISPR kits. “I thought something like the CRISPR kits is something the public could grasp and be able to use,” Zayner said. It would provide people who have no previous experience with not only a new and unique experience but also stimulate their curiosity in biology and science in general. “I’m showing them how cool science can be and, in the process, they’re learning to do science, which, I think, strengthens the world.”

Zayner wants to use harmless (as in nonvirulent) E. coli and yeast cultures to help teach the basics of genetic engineering. The kits are designed to act as introductions to the technology by providing simplified sample experiments for people to follow. “You get to change the genome of an organism and see the results visually,” Zayner exclaimed. That could be a change in the organism’s color or its response to light simply by adjusting the expression of genes that code for fluorescent protein production. And with more advanced and involved experiments available on the Odin website, neophyte biohackers can expand their technical repertoire as they see fit.

“We’re trying to take genetic engineering, which the public has really only experienced in an abstract way,” Zayner concluded, “and move it into their everyday lives through things like brewing [with a DNA-customized yeast culture] or making yogurt … something that people can experience on a personal level.”

Of course, genomic editing isn’t going to remain an abstract technology for very long. We’ve already seen how quickly it’s moved out of the confines of academia, and the positive effects that it has had on humanity. The pace of its adoption is only going to accelerate. Just as with personal computers that preceded it, CRISPR is going to radically advance our civilization in ways that we can’t even fathom. Whether it involves beating back the scourge of congenital disease or improving crop and livestock yields, CRISPR technology is here to stay. But like all transformative technologies (looking at you, nuclear energy), it’s up to us to apply it responsibly. Now then, who want’s to make some unicorns?

A unicorn, as seen in its natural habitat. credit: Engadget / Andrew Tarantola

25
Jun

Motorola Moto G4 Plus review


The original Moto G – released back in 2013 – was one of the first smartphones that kicked of the trend of affordable but high quality smartphones, and went on to become one of the best-selling Motorola smartphones ever. Motorola has continued to release a successor every year since then, but with a lot more OEMs offering options in this ever-growing category, Motorola did have to do something different with the forth generation of their affordable mid-range smartphone.

  • Hands on with the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus
  • Moto G4 Play announced

That something different arrived in the four of three variations of the latest Moto G, with the Moto G4 Play, the Moto G4, and the Moto G4 Plus, that come with varying display sizes, processing packages, camera setups, and other hardware features, with the latter being the highest-end of the lot. While more expensive when compared to its siblings, the Moto G4 Plus remains extremely affordable, and tacks on a few extras that ultimately make it far more compelling to users.

Buy the Moto G4 Plus now!

What does this device bring to the table? We find out, in this comprehensive Moto G4 Plus review!

Design

Unlike the flagship Moto Z, which features a dramatic departure from the norm, the new Moto G4 Plus retains a lot of the design language of its predecessors. There are a few minor aesthetic changes, but for the most part, the line of Moto G4 devices features a design that is largely reminiscent of previous Motorola smartphones.

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The Moto G4 Plus comes with an all plastic build, and despite appearances, the frame is plastic, albeit with a metallic finish. Understandably, you don’t get the premium look and feel of a smartphone that features a metal or glass build, but for a phone made of plastic, the Moto G4 Plus is definitely one of the sturdiest ones out there. It doesn’t feel hollow, rattle, or creak in any way, and feels like a very solid phone overall. This is something that Motorola has always done a good job with, and its great to see this continue to be offered with the Moto G4 Plus.

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On the back is the signature Motorola dimple, and the back cover has a nice texture to it, that helps a lot with the grip. However, the smooth finish of the sides does result in the phone being a touch slippery, but not enough to be a cause for concern. The back is also removable, and gives you access to the SIM card slot and the dedicated microSD card slot, with some versions of the device, depending on the market, also coming with dual SIM card slots. While the back cover is removable, the battery is not.

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The power button and volume rocker are found on the right side. The power button comes with a textured pattern that makes it easy to differentiate from the volume rocker, but the button layout is unfortunately a little too high up on the chassis to be within comfortable reach. The power button should have also ideally been placed below the volume rocker, but that isn’t case, and requires a lot more effort to get to. The buttons don’t provide a lot of tactile feedback either, and you’re often left wondering whether you have actually pressed them, because of how they feel. The headphone jack and the microUSB port are at the top and bottom respectively. 

Display

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Unlike previous generations of the Moto G, the IPS LCD displays of the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus have been bumped up to 5.5-inches, with resolution getting a boost to Full HD as well, resulting in a pixel density of 401 ppi. That said, those who prefer a smaller size have the option of the Moto G4 Play, which comes with a 5-inch 720p display.

The larger display and higher resolution allows for a more enjoyable experience when reading text, watching videos, and playing games. It’s not the best Full HD display on a smartphone out there, but it certainly more than gets the job done. It looks sharp, with good viewing angles, and the display is vibrant enough for the colors to not appear washed out.

Performance

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Under the hood, the Moto G4 Plus comes with an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617 processor, clocked at 1.5 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 405 GPU and 2 GB, 3 GB, or 4 GB of RAM, depending on which storage option you opt for. This particular review unit comes with 3 GB of RAM, and the performance has been pretty good.

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You won’t see very impressive results when running benchmark tests, but as far as real world performance is concerned, everything has been fast and responsive. Apps launch quickly, multi-tasking is smooth, and the device can handle gaming without much of a hitch.

Hardware

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The Moto G4 Plus is available with 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB in built-in storage options, and as mentioned, this also dictates how much RAM you will be getting. There is also expandable storage via microSD card, up to an additional 256 GB. While there are versions of the device, depending on the market, that feature dual SIM capabilities, you will still get a dedicated microSD card slot, so the great news is that users won’t have to make the choice between dual SIM support and expandable storage, which is often the case with other affordable smartphones out there.

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The Moto G4 Plus comes with a single front-facing speaker above the display, and is a part of the earpiece. There is no stereo sound to be had, but the single speaker does sound pretty good, and is capable of getting decently sound without sounding tinny or distorted.

Also up front is a fingerprint scanner placed below the display, and this is one of the extra hardware features that is available only with the Moto G4 Plus. The fingerprint sensor is as fast and accurate as expected, and is comparable in quality to the scanners found with more high-end smartphones as well.

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It may sound a little nitpick-y, but it has to be mentioned that this scanner isn’t particularly attractive looking. The square shape clashes with the rounded and curved design of the Moto G4 Plus, and looks out of place. Another very minor issue is the fact that the sensor doesn’t double as a home button, and anyone who has used a device with a front-facing fingerprint scanner will find this something that takes some getting used to.

There is still no NFC available, which is unfortunate, and means that you won’t be able to use this device to quickly connect to Bluetooth speakers, transfer content, or use apps like Android Pay. Another point of note is that the Moto G4 Plus, and other devices in the line, aren’t water resistant anymore. While you will get some form of splash protection, that should keep it safe from a simple splash of water or a sprinkle of rain, these phones aren’t IP-certified, and will not survive being submerged in the water.

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The Moto G4 Plus comes with a 3,000 mAh non-removable battery, which has become the standard size for a lot of current generation smartphones. The battery has been pretty good, and the device can provide a full day of use with average usage that involves sending and receiving messages, browsing the web, checking social media, watching a few videos and playing games for a little while.

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With more intense usage, such as when playing a lot of games or taking a lot of pictures, the battery does run out pretty quickly though. However, the Moto G4 Plus does come with fast charging capabilities, so you will be able to get back to a full charge in a short amount of time.

Camera

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The camera is another hardware feature that is better on the Moto G4 Plus when compared to the other devices in the Moto G4 series. The Moto G4 Plus comes with a 16 MP rear camera with a f/2.0 aperture, phase detection auto focus, and a laser auto focus system, along with a 5 MP front-facing shooter. However, there is no optical image stabilization available, which is unfortunate.

Moto G4 Plus -12

The Motorola camera app has also been improved significantly, with there being a shutter button now that makes taking pictures with one hand easier, and the app in general is simpler and easier to use. A swipe from the left side opens up a menu for basic camera settings, and a button on the upper right corner lets you quickly switch between photo and video, along with a few other modes like panorama and slow motion video. The most notable change with the camera app is the addition of a manual mode, which is something that was definitely long overdue.

As far as picture quality is concerned, it is actually surprisingly really good. Granted, it’s not going to stack up favorably against the high-end Samsung and LG flagships out there, but for a device that is so inexpensive, the camera is certainly capable of taking some nice looking shots. In good lighting conditions, you get shots with plenty of detail and vibrant colors, and the images are sharp, without looking over sharpened.

Moto G4 Plus Camera Samples-18

Dynamic range isn’t the best, with the camera tending to crush shadows a little too much, but that is all taken care of with HDR. Using HDR mode tones down the shadows and highlights, and adds some more vibrancy to the image, without making it appear unnatural or fake.

In low-light conditions however, is where the camera falls apart extremely quickly. We expect some noise to be present in images taken in poorly-lit situations, but the grain is quite significant with the Moto G4 Plus. Highlights are also typically overexposed, there isn’t a lot of detail to be had, and the camera also has trouble finding a point of focus in low light.

If you’re looking for a really good low-light smartphone camera, the Moto G4 Plus is unfortunately not going to cut it, but in most other situations, this camera more than gets the job done. The 5 MP front-facing camera comes with a wide angle lens, and proves to be more than adequate to cover all your selfie taking needs.

Software

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On the software side of things, the Moto G4 Plus is running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, and this is as close to stock Android as you can get without it being a Nexus smartphone. There is virtually no bloatware to be found, and the software package isn’t as packed with features as what may be found with the high-end Motorola offerings.

There are some features available though, such as Moto Actions, which lets you do things like turning the flashlight on with a chopping motion, flipping the phone over to silence it when it rings, or launching the camera with a twist of your wrist. A simpler version of Motorola’s ambient display feature is also available, but with there being no sensors on the front, it is entirely contingent on motion.

Moto G4 Plus -14

You can’t wave your hand over the display to wake up the phone, and it also doesn’t continuously pulsate to indicate notifications. The only time it lights up is when you take the phone out of your pocket or pick it up from a table, or when you initially receive a notification. Other than these Motorola features, the software package is entirely stock Android, and sometimes, a clean and simple experience is all you need to keep things smooth and snappy.

Specifications

Display 5.5-inch IPS LCD display with 1920 x 1080 resolution
401ppi
Processor 1.5 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 617
GPU Adreno 405
RAM 2/3/4 GB
Storage 16/32/64GB
MicroSD Yes, up to 256 GB
Cameras 16MP rear camera with f/2.0 aperture
5MP front camera with f/2.2 aperture
Fingerprint sensor Yes
Battery Non-removable 3000mAh battery
Software Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
Dimensions 153 x 76.6 x 7.9-9.8mm
155g

Gallery

Pricing and final thoughts

If the standard black or white options aren’t enough, the Moto G4 Plus can be customized using Moto Maker, that lets you choose between different back cover and accent colors, and allows you to add an engraving as well. That said, the availability of Moto Maker is dependent on the market.

The price and availability of the Moto G4 Plus in the US is still unknown, but in India, the 32 GB version (with 3 GB of RAM) is priced at Rs 14,999 (~$230), while the 16 GB iteration (with 2 GB of RAM) is priced at Rs 13,499 (~$207), and we can expect the pricing to be similar in the US as well.

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So, there you have it for in-depth look at the Motorola Moto G4 Plus! The Moto G series has always been among the best bang for your buck smartphones around, and things remain the same, even with the technically more expensive Moto G4 Plus.

  • Hands on with the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus
  • Moto G4 Play announced

The Moto G was in desperate need for an upgrade though, and the changes Motorola has made to the display and camera make the Moto G4 Plus a very compelling option for those who are looking for a smartphone that falls in the sub-$250 category.

Buy the Moto G4 Plus now!

What do you think of the Moto G4 Plus and the improvements made vs previous Moto G smartphones, and do you plan to buy one? Let us know your views in the comments below!

16
Jun

ICYMI: Rock-like smartphone, stomach tap and more


ICYMI: Rock-like smartphone, stomach tap and more
Today on In Case You Missed It: The FDA has just approved a device for obese people that is first surgically inserted into the stomach, then used like a tap after meals to drain up to a third of the food inside. The Runcible ‘anti-smartphone’ is going up for sale for $300, designed to not make a single noise except to notify you of incoming calls. It includes a camera, bluetooth and touchscreen, but still clearly resembles a rock on the back.

And finally, It is this show’s first birthday, so we are touching on a few of our favorite stories from the last year. If you’d like to check out a brief clip of the pigeon video out of New York, that’s here. As always, please share any interesting tech or science videos you find by using the #ICYMI hashtag on Twitter for @mskerryd.

12
Jun

Moto Z Droid Edition sends original images to Google Photos for free


Motorola is bundling the Verizon-exclusive edition of Moto Z with a feature shutterbugs would love: two years of free original-quality Google Photos storage. It wasn’t mentioned on stage during Lenovo’s event, but 9to5google has spotted the info on the upcoming handset’s web page. Motorola’s website only has the “Droid Edition’s” details up, so it’s not clear at this point whether the unlocked version will get the freebie, as well.

Google Photos doesn’t cost anything, but it’s limited to 16-megapixel images and 1080p videos. Further, it doesn’t save images in their original state: it keeps compressed jpeg versions instead. If you want to save your original snapshots without compression, you’d have to upload them to Google Drive, which only gives you 15GB of free storage per month. Upgrading to 100GB will cost you $1.99 per month. If you’re not exactly sold on the Moto Z but already have a Nexus device, you could be looking at a similar deal. Android Police dissected the app in May and found that it could give Nexus devices unlimited original-quality photo storage, as well.

Source: 9to5google, Motorola

10
Jun

The Moto Z and Z Force are Motorola’s new modular flagships


So long Moto X, hello Moto Z. For its next round of Android flagships, Motorola is going for a new brand, an ultra-thin design and support for “Mods” that expand their capabilities. And yes, the Moto Z is seriously thin at just 5.19 millimeters millimeters thick. How Motorola achieved will probably be controversial, though: the Moto Z and its slightly beefier sibling, the Moto Z Force, don’t have headphone jacks. Instead, you’ll have to plug in the included USB-C to 3.5mm jack adapter to use headphones. But is any of this enough for Lenovo to finally have a hit phone? (Take a look at our hands-on impressions of both phones here.)

At the very least, you can’t say Motorola is being lazy. It’s embracing the idea of modular add-ons, Moto Mods, wholeheartedly. Both new phones have magnetic connectors on their rears, which a variety of accessories can connect to. So far, that includes a homegrown pico projector, a speaker upgrade from JBL and a variety of battery packs from Incipio, Tumi and Kate Spade. Moto says the Mods will work on next year’s phones, which should give potential buyers a bit of piece of mind. Yes, the whole concept is similar to what LG attempted with the G5, and it’s still unclear if mainstream consumers care about modular upgrades.

Lenovo is the first major manufacturer to dump headphone jacks in exchange for a thinner design, and it’ll likely end up taking the majority of consumer flack for doing so. But it’s not alone: Intel is also pushing USB-C over headphone jacks, and Chinese phone maker LeEco has already dumped them with its latest devices. We’ve even heard from the rumor mill that Apple might be considering the same thing for upcoming iPhones. But as someone who usually has expensive earbuds plugged into my smartphone, I’m not looking forward to relying on a dongle. (And I’m definitely not going to be upgrading to USB-C headphones anytime soon.)

While it took a few revisions for the Moto X to become truly great, the Moto Z seems like a leap ahead in many ways. It’s got the usual speed improvements, with a new quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor running at up to 2.2GHz and 4GB of RAM. Its screen is a tad smaller than last year’s, at just 5.5-inches instead of 5.7-inches, and it sports the same quad HD resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels (535 pixels per inch). Naturally, its thinness means it’s significantly lighter than before, weighing in at just 4.6 ounces (136 grams), compared to last year’s Moto X Pure (Style outside of the US) at 6.3 ounces (179 grams).

On the camera front, the Moto Z packs in a 12 megapixel rear shooter with an f/1.8 aperture lens, optical image stabilization and laser autofocus. Its front camera is a typical 5 megapixel entry. Motorola seems to have crammed in as much whiz-bang technology it could to deliver a better photo-taking than its past phones: the rear camera also features color-corrected flash with dual LEDs and a 1.12um pixel size.

Just like last year, there’s also a more powerful model with a few additional features, the US-only Moto Z Force. It’s a bit thicker (6.9mm) and heavier, but it also packs in a significantly larger battery (3,500mAh compared to the Z’s 2,600mAh) and a more capable 21 megapixel camera with phase detection autofocus and Deep Trench Isolation (a technique Apple used for the iPhone 6S camera). The Moto Z Force’s screen also uses Motorola’s Shattershield technology, which it claims is more resistant to cracks and scratches than Corning’s Gorilla Glass. While it’s not as mind-blowingly thin as the Z proper, the Z Force sounds like the ideal Android phone for power users.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to be on Verizon to nab the Moto Z phones this summer, where they’ll be available as “Droid Editions.” Motorola says it’ll also sell the Moto Z unlocked on its website this fall. The Moto Z will be available internationally in September, but Motorola says the Z Force is a US-only affair for now.

Get all the news from today’s Lenovo and Motorola event right here!

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