General consensus of ads appearing on smartphones is this: It’s unacceptable - when they occur without disclosing that there will be ads, anyway. However, there is one retailer on the market that sells smartphones at a discount price: Amazon. The catch? Your phone will display “lockscreen offers and ads”. We recently received the new Moto E4 Plus, ads included, to review from Amazon, and the experience of using a phone with ads sprinkled here and there turned out almost as I expected. Almost.
When Amazon unveiled their plan to sell discounted phones with ads, I never was too critical about it. Amazon has always been upfront about what you were getting in exchange for the discount. The retailer also offers ad-free versions of the device for $50 more, which is convenient since there isn’t any way to remove the ads without finagling with rooting the device. At least there’s a way to remove the ads if tinkering with the important bits in your phone isn’t your thing. Additionally, there is an option to pay the extra $50 at a later time to remove ads from an ad-enabled phone.
The ads themselves are… not bad. They can be noticeable and intrusive, especially the ones on the lockscreen. When you have other notifications, there’s just a small banner ad at the bottom of your notifications.That's not too bad. However, when you don’t have any notifications, the ad will take up the entire screen. That’s probably what bothers me the most about them. They don’t make sound and I quickly forget about it once I unlock the phone, but it is surprising when I check the phone for notifications and there’s another full screen ad.
Ads are also located on a preloaded widget on the home screen (which can be removed) and in the drop down notification area (which can’t be removed), and that’s it. Three places, two if you remove the one that can be removed. In the end, it isn’t that bad. If I were to use this phone as my daily driver permanently, I'd probably still pocket the $50 and learn to live with the ads.
One of the nice things about the Moto devices is that they don’t have a lot of bloatware. Amazon, however, does include bloatware like Amazon shopping, Prime Video, Amazon Music, Kindle, Alexa, Amazon Drive, Audible, Prime Now, IMDB, Goodreads and Prime Photos. All of these can be disabled from the settings menu. A couple of minutes of disabling and you’re left with a visually bloatware-free device.
Something that did surprise me about the Moto E4 Plus is its extensive collection of wallpapers available to customize your device. Normally, I have to hunt for an app or across the web for something good, but there were so many categories and options to choose from right out of the gate on the E4 Plus that I didn’t have to do any of that.
The Moto E4 Plus isn’t the most premium device on the market, but it still looks nice in my opinion. The Amazon Prime Exclusive version only comes in the gray color. The biggest downside of the device’s design is that the smooth plastic back is slippery – really slippery. It has almost slipped out of my hands a number of times in the couple of weeks that I’ve been using it, so if you end up getting one of your own I would highly recommend a case. Otherwise, the build seems solid, and although I used to criticize phones for being housed in plastic, it’s a welcome relief from owning a phone with a glass back. At least when you drop a phone housed in plastic, you only have to be concerned that one of the sides has shattered.
Something I’m having trouble getting used to with the E4 Plus is having a fingerprint sensor on the front that is not also a physical button. Functionality is the same, where you simply place your thumb on the fingerprint sensor to unlock the device and open the home screen, but I still keep trying to push down on it. Old habits die hard. You can also wake the phone up by pressing the home button and entering a password, if fingerprint sensors aren't your thing.
Despite its ordinary design, it is a hefty device, which probably has something to do with the massive 5000 mAh battery in it. It’s nice to be able to use a phone for the entire day and not have to worry that I’ll wake up to a dead (or nearly dead) phone in the morning in case I forget to charge it. This phone consistently lasts two days on a single charge, which is pretty amazing. My only complaint about battery life has more to do with Android than it does the E4 Plus, and that’s that the battery drains more than I would like overnight. It's possible that the ads exacerbate the issue, but this is a problem I see consistently across Android devices.
Cameras are decent at best. I was more impressed with the front-facing camera than the back. Even with a 5-megapixel camera, the images from the front-facing camera are sharp, and even when using the flash the colors came out warm and natural. The rear-facing camera works alright for everyday photos, and the best quality is taken in adequate lighting. Photos taken in low light situations resulted in grainy photos. Also, anything that needs to be zoomed in on leaves much to be desired.
There’s a single speaker on the device, which also serves as the earpiece. It’s nice that the speaker is located on the front of the device, although when you turn it up all the way it does sound a little distorted. Not too badly, though, and it’s still quite loud.
The rest of the E4’s specs aren’t exactly impressive, but that should probably be expected of a device that costs $139.99 ($179.99 without ads). It features a 5.50-inch screen with a 1080x720 display, powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 427 processor, and has 2GB of RAM. Although performance was usually snappy and smooth, 2GB of RAM gets used up quickly, even when few apps are being used. Users can choose between 16 and 32GB of storage, but can expand storage via microSD up to 128GB. I would recommend either investing in microSD or opting for the 32GB if you know you need a lot of storage. Out of the box, the device uses nearly half of its storage in the 16GB model through its system and apps. It also uses micro USB to charge, which seems a little bizarre considering most have moved on to USB-C, even in the low to mid-range devices.
Overall, the Moto E4 Plus is a decent device for $139.99. It lacks bloatware and lasts reliably for a couple of days on a single charge. Motorola’s Active Display is great for checking notifications on the fly, and the fingerprint reader seems to have no issues reading my fingerprints. It supports microSD cards and has a 3.5mm headphone jack. Ads can be intrusive and annoying at times, but become “normal” and fairly easy to ignore after getting used to things, or simply removed for an extra $50. The device could have used more RAM, and the 16GB model probably won’t suit most people’s needs for very long before having to offload media elsewhere to free up some room. Finally, the cameras are okay at best, and really only seem to work well under optimal conditions.
There are an even amount of pros and cons to the device, but it is nice to see a manufacturer put as much focus on good battery life as Motorola has with the Moto E4 Plus. After all, what good is a smartphone if its battery is dead?