Motorola's new Moto E4 isn't exactly thrilling, but it's cheap

You're probably still better off getting a Moto G5, though.

Motorola is as well known for its cheap phones as it is for flagships, so no one was surprised when it revealed the fourth-generation Moto E earlier this month. For those not familiar, Motorola's E line always felt like a curiosity, as though the company was challenging itself to build a phone for as little as possible without turning it into a smoldering pile of garbage. Its track record speaks for itself: Motorola does fine work on the cheap, and that hasn't changed. The frills here are few, but after a little hands-on time, the Moto E4 seems to be a strong option for just $130.

Let's start with the basics, which are, uh, pretty basic, indeed. There's a quad-core Snapdragon 425 in here with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 308 GPU -- that's solid enough for basic web browsing and productivity, and some light gaming, too. You'll run into issues if you try to run anything too visually intense, though: Mortal Kombat X took quite a while before it started running. (Some games, like Afterpulse, refused to install altogether.) The phone also comes with 16GB of storage, but that's sort of a technicality. Once you factor in the space Android 7.1.1 takes up, there's only 9GB of space you can actually use. Fortunately, there's a microSD card slot you can access by popping off the phone's back and battery. It takes cards as large as 128GB.

Right up front is a 5-inch, 720p screen that's tough to complain about considering the asking price. There's some graininess to be seen if you peer at the display long enough (a result of its modest pixel density), but it's generally bright enough to easily read even under harsh sunlight. Color reproduction seemed pretty good too, if a just a little washed out. I'd like to see Lenovo make the leap to 1080p at some point, but screens are among the most expensive components in a phone's bill of materials; getting a decent full HD display in a phone this cheap is going to take some time.

Thankfully, even modest Motos like this one run very clean versions of Android. It's very, very close to stock, but with some of those handy Motorola experiences built-in. You can set the screen to display notifications while the screen is off and ditch those on-screen buttons in favor of one-button navigation with the built-in fingerprint sensor. It takes a little getting used to, but the option is nice to have if you want to maximize the amount of stuff you can squeeze onto the screen. Unfortunately, more complicated gestures (think: twisting your wrist to launch the camera) aren't supported here.

Speaking of cameras, that's one of the areas we're looking forward to testing more thoroughly. The Moto E4 sports an 8-megapixel camera on its back, baked into a prominent classic circle above an LED flash. In my brief hands-on time, it managed to take decent photos, but the results were too often hampered by lousy automatic exposure; if you're taking shots of an area that's partially bright and partially not, expect the bright bit to be totally blown out. Colors tended to come out on the drab side too, and the level of detail was often lacking. There's a Pro mode here with more nuanced controls, though, which did help mitigate some minor issues.

This phone came in full retail regalia, so this is very likely the camera experience you're going to get too. Even so, we're going to play with the camera more before passing a final verdict. The other thing I'm really looking forward to testing more thoroughly is the battery. There's a removable 2,800mAh cell here, which should go a long away, considering the modest power this thing produces. Motorola says the phone should last all day on a single charge, but we'll be the judge of that.

All told, this is a pretty solid package for the price. Cheap as it is, the biggest knock against the Moto E4 is that it just isn't that much less expensive than the fifth-generation Moto G series. Motorola and Lenovo have made only the Moto G5 Plus available in the United States, and an additional $100 ultimately nets you a much, much better device. As I've said, though, we're going to keep testing the Moto E4. Maybe it'll surprise us if we spend a little more time with it.