There are a daunting number of choices when it comes to “good but cheap” smartphones.

Lenovo, now the owner of the Motorola brand, makes a compelling argument if you need the basics covered well and on the cheap. Its near-stock software with the promise of upgrades doesn’t hurt the Moto G4 Plus, either.

Plastic unfantastic

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There’s a soft disappointment to the Moto G4 Plus that can be seen, not felt. We don’t mind the plasticky feel too much; hell, other manufacturers come out with unapologetically plastic phones all the time. Its design, if you haven’t noticed yet, is a sticking point, especially at a time when fairly attractive budget phones (with metal all over the place, mind you) represent an emerging trend in many markets.

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It just looks sort of… out of place to us — as if somehow a Samsung Galaxy clone from 2012/2013 has made its way to the present, and is taking over retail shelves. A couple of clever design features we take for granted today are nowhere to be found in the G4 Plus, like curved 2.5D glass and sides and bezels that reduce the overall footprint, resulting in a device that isn’t as comfortable to hold and operate as others.

The G4 Plus has plastic on it like it was made in 2012… by another OEM. Huawei, OPPO, Vivo, Xiaomi, and even Samsung have shown time and again, this year and before, they could offer more — and ask less. But to be fair, the plastic all around the G4 Plus seems to be of the durable kind, and there isn’t any creak or hollowness in the bodywork.

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There’s no obnoxious branding or design flourishes other than the Motorola dimple in the near-center of the textured back cover.

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Which peels off easily enough to reveal the microSD and SIM card slots.

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The thick plastic frame looks cheap, with its matte-silver finish.

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The front houses a speaker that doubles as an earpiece. The audio is better than we anticipated and loud and clear enough to watch movies without resorting to headphones.

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There’s also a front-facing fingerprint reader that wakes the phone with a tap. It doesn’t double as a clickable home button, though, even if it looks like one, and the square design doesn’t quite match the rounded shape of the body.

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All hardware buttons (power/lock key and volume rocker) can be found on the right portion of the G4 Plus. Regrettably, they feel mushy and provide little tactile feedback to the user.

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A USB charging port is on the bottom for when the G4 Plus inevitably dies after a full day’s use. The good news: Topping up the 3,000mAh battery won’t take too much of your time — around 90 minutes from zero to full using the bundled quick charger, at least from what we’ve seen so far. Like other fast chargers, it charges hard out of the gate, but slows down as the battery approaches a full charge.

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Screen’s a plus

The LCD panel has a resolution of 1080p, which represents an improvement over the 720p display of previous Moto G iterations. But unlike the standard G4, the G4 Plus squeezes a larger, 5.5-inch screen into the front. It’s par for the course in the segment, although the G4 Plus produces bright colors, rich contrast, and deep blacks.

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It also has viewing angles that are categorically superior to those of most budget handsets and affordable midrangers we’ve used. You can see what’s on the screen no matter where you look at the display from, is the point we’re trying to make here.

Ditto for the cameras

The rear camera has a 16-megapixel sensor that captures good photos in mixed lighting, even in auto mode. It gets fancy with laser-assisted autofocus to judge the distance between the handset and the subject and to help the camera perform better overall. Tap the screen to lock onto someone or something, press the shutter key, and you’re generally good to go.

The 5-megapixel selfie snapper is quick to focus and shoot, and results tend to have lots of detail and vitality. Even more so when HDR mode is activated. It comes with a screen flash option, which briefly brightens the display to allow the camera to capture more light; it works like the one on Apple’s iPhones.

Moto’s camera UI is both simple and intuitive. Swiping from the left-hand portion of the screen brings up the settings menu; swiping up or down on the screen applies digital zoom. You can tap and hold on the screen to freeze focus and tweak exposure values.

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There’s also a manual mode for the adept and knowledgeable photographer.

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What about gaming and performance?

Most games should run without hiccups; however, hardcore users wanting to play the latest graphics-intensive games at high visual settings may find the phone’s mid-level processor inadequate. Everyday performance is relatively hitch-free, with nary a slowdown as you glide through screens and switch between apps.

Partly to thank for that is Motorola’s decision to stick with mostly stock Android (Marshmallow, for the time being) for the G4 Plus. We must say, after using it extensively, this phone does indeed feel unencumbered by features you don’t need and pre-installed applications you don’t want.

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Many of Moto’s own software tweaks aim to make your life a little easier. Twisting your wrist twice, for example, will launch the camera app.

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Raising the G4 Plus to your face will show you notifications without having to wake up the phone.

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You can likewise perform a chopping motion twice to toggle the flashlight.

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Is this your GadgetMatch?

Motorola’s G4 Plus picks up where previous generations left off. It’s just a terrific value for the price, with the 16GB version starting at $249. For $50 more, you’re looking at enough storage space (64GB) and RAM (4GB from 2GB) to last you until the next upgrade. The bottom line is that should consider the Plus, largely because of its display, camera, and unencumbered performance.

And if you’re a big fan of stock Android, you may want to ready your wallet and mouse-clicking finger already; look no further if you want an affordable Nexus/Pixel alternative in 2016.

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