Monday, 30 May 2016

Moto G4 Plus Review

Moto G4 Plus
The king of mid-range territory phones, Moto G series introduced new member of its family, the all new Moto G fourth generation earlier this month. Motorola is now completely acquired by Lenovo and it helped them in bringing down the costs thus providing better value for money to the customers. The unique selling point lies in its simple yet beautiful pure android experience set by the Google. The biggest change compared to previous model is that, the fourth generation Moto G devices are now available in two variants

1) Moto G4
2) Moto G4 plus (available in two colors, black and white)

The major difference between the two is the presence of 16 MP better camera with both laser & phase detection autofocus (PDAF) and a finger print scanner in Moto G4 plus . Moto G4 has "only" 13 MP normal camera borrowed from last year's Moto G3. Unlike the previous generation phones which were exclusively sold on Flipkart, this year the phones are sold only on Amazon India.

There is also another upgraded version of Moto G3 called Moto G3 turbo edition. The only upgraded feature is the turbo charging (more on it later) and priced at 12,499 rs, available on both Amazon and Flipkart. This is an outdated mobile and hence not suggested for buying. The new generation Moto G devices come with lot of improvements over the previous generation models, both hardware and software. Getting straight to the point, this review is divided into the following categories

A) Unboxing, Design, Build Quality
B) Network and Connectivity
C) Hardware (Screen, Chipset, RAM, Graphics, Battery, Camera, Sensors)
D) Software and Third Party Applications
E) Missing features and Overall score


A) Unboxing, Design and Build Quality: The packing is as usual simple with good looking colorful box containing handset with pre-inserted battery, data cable, headphones, a two pin turbo wall charger and instructions leaflet
Contents of the box
The first thing you will notice when you take out the device from box is that it no longer carries the Motorola traits. The shell is very thin and delicate made up of normal plastic rather than polycarbonate which is more durable and provides better signal strength.

Refreshed "Moto" logo
Turning on the device brings the new refreshed "Moto" logo which is uber cool. I am a bit surprised that the device showed up the local language first (Kannada) which is likely due to insertion of sim card prior to switching the device. Immediately a software update prompted with change log saying "Camera enhancements and Stability Improvements". The software size is around 158 MB and I suggest to update it before setting up the device. Moto G4 plus is available in two forms

a) one with 3 Gb RAM and 32 Gb inbuilt storage for better performance and
b) another decently specced with 2 Gb RAM and 16 Gb inbuilt storage priced at 14,999 and 13,499 rs respectively. Moto G4 is not yet available for buying and details about its availability and prices are yet to be announced.

Rear View
Power/Lock, Volume up/down
The design is flat on rear side with ridges (obviously matte finish!) and rounded edges for better grip and handling. The phone is tad big to operate with single hand (esp for women). Fake metallic buttons are placed on right side for lock/unlock and volume up & down.Loudspeaker is placed along with ear piece on the top beside the front camera along with proximity sensor and ambient light sensor (?).
3.5 mm jack on top
Sadly Moto G Plus is not IP67 rated unlike the yesteryear Moto G3 but has a nano coat layer which can resist splashes. Despite the bigger battery, the weight of the phone remained same (155 g) and feels light. The phone is slim by the current standards. Check the below shot for comparison various screen sizes: Lumia 1520 (6"), iPhone 6 plus (5.5"), Lenovo Vibe K4 (5.5"), Moto G4 Plus (5.5"), and Moto X Play (5.5").
From left to right: Lumia 1520, iPhone 6 plus, Lenovo Vibe K4, Moto G4 plus, Moto X play
B) Network and Connectivity
With LTE aka 4G penetrating fast into the Indian market, it is no surprise that all Moto G fourth generation devices are offering 4G as standard network feature. Although, the LTE bands offered differ from model to model and country. You can find more about LTE in my previous Moto G3 Review . Moto G Plus has the following connectivity options

LTE Cat 6 (band 1, 3, 5, 8, 40) (4G)
(FDD LTE: 2100, 1800, 850, 900 MHz and TDD LTE: 2300 MHz)
 850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz
850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
2.4 GHz + 5 GHz dual band

Mobile connectivity options are solid covering most of the frequencies in GSM (2G), UMTS (3G) and LTE (4G) networks. Kudos to Moto for providing category 6 LTE in this price range. With Cat 6 LTE, supported by the network, speeds can reach upto whopping 300 Mbps speed. The Wi-Fi chip is 802.11 a/b/g/n which means it is dual band supporting 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channels along with Wi-Fi Direct option. Wi-Fi Direct helps you in transfer of files using Wi-Fi as medium without a internet connection (Access point). Bluetooth version 4 has been upgraded to V 4.2 low energy (LE) which is optimized for internet of things (IoT).

4G test results
Wi-Fi test results
Speed test: i) 4G test was performed during evening peak hours on IDEA 4G network which has solid coverage in Bengaluru. I had run the speedtest (through mobile app) 3 times and selected the best speed. Test conditions are ground floor, indoor and immobile. Open environment results will vary due to better signal strength.

ii) The Wi-Fi speed is consistent thanks to the newer dual band Wi-Fi chip

C) Hardware: When it comes to Android, better the hardware, better the experience as a whole. The system on chip (SoC) in Moto G4 Plus is ARM v8 based Qualcomm’s® SnapdragonTM 617 (MSM8952). It is a 64 bit Octa core processor with 1.5 GHz clock speed and Adreno 405 GPU with 550 MHz refresh rate. Strictly speaking, 64 bit processors comes in to picture when the RAM requirement is above 4 Gb only and it’s all marketing gimmicks. Though it is nowhere close to the Snapdragon 8xx series chipsets as offered in rivals like Lenovo's own Zuk1. The performance is good and significantly improved over last generation. As we discussed in the introduction paragraph, Moto G is available in two variants that differ in their RAM and inbuilt storage (NAND). I could not test the 2 GB RAM variant, hence cannot comment anything on its performance but, I expect it to be fairly well as performance is mostly due to the processor speed, not RAM. Inbuilt storage is eMMC based and nearly 24 Gb (32 Gb model) is available on first start up. There is a slot for SD card storage which supports upto 128 Gb.

Snapdragon 617 supports full HD (FHD) resolution (1920*1080) displays and hence the new Moto G device is upgraded to FHD from HD of G3. As I keep on telling every time, undoubtedly screen is the best feature of the smartphone. The screen in Moto G4 Plus is 5.5 inch FHD with resolution 1920*1080 that gives out 401 pixels per inch (PPI). It is an in-plane switching (IPS) LCD screen and is protected by a Corning gorilla glass 3 (Same as G3) which is “scratch resistant” but not “scratch proof”, hence it is advised to use screen guards, especially tempered glass screen guards which interfere less with the display output. I was sceptical about the display initially as the Moto G3 has a poor one with faded colors. To my surprise, the colors on Moto G Plus are excellent with well balanced brightness (Moonlight white) and photos look great on this device, perfect for gaming and watching movies. The viewing angles are good as it is IPS LCD. Disappointed that Motorola did not provide the latest offering from Corning, Gorilla Glass 4 which is more durable.

Android phones are power hungry since beginning (Of course performance comes at cost of power). Last year Android introduced doze mode in Marshmallow that intelligently powers down your phone or tablet when it's not in use for a long period of time and enhances backup. With the hardware capabilities of current android smartphones, a minimum of 3000 mAh capacity battery is standard by any norms and Moto G plus is no exception to this. By comparison, even 50,000 Rs Samsung flagship model S7 offers the same capacity. With heavy usage, solid one and half day backup is guaranteed. Snapdragon 617 brings the Qualcomm's quick charge 3.0 to the handset which means provided with a faster charger, phone can be charged quickly (turbo charging). Thanks to the provided turbo charger (12 V, 2.15 A), 15 mins of charging roughly gives 60% battery or as much as 6 hours of power. Charging time for one full charge (dead battery to 100%) is around 1 hr 40 mins.

Focus sensors, lens and dual LED flash

Camera Type
Camera Specifications
Primary camera
16 MP, Hybrid Autofocus (PDAF + LAF), Aperture f/2.0, Dual Tone LED flash
Video 1920*1080 @ 30 fps, 960*540 @120 fps (Slow motion), 4x digital zoom,
16 MP JPEG(4:3), 11.9 MP JPEG (16:9)
Secondary camera (front facing)
5 MP, f/2.2, Wide-Angle lens, Display flash
Video 1920*1080 @ 30 fps, 960*540 @120 fps (Slow motion), 1x digital zoom
5 MP JPEG(4:3), 3.8 MP JPEG (16:9)

Motorola updated the camera aspect only in G4 plus (not G4). The 16 MP sensor with aperture f/2.0 is equipped with a hybrid autofocus comprising high end Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) feature and a laser auto focus (LAF). When combined together the camera can achieve very quick focus lock and hence faster photos. To my observation, the focus time is less than a second and the images are captured insanely fast. It is aided by color adjustable dual tone LED flash (See above pic) set up for night portraits. The hardware is brilliantly aided by the software offering various features like geo-tagging, drag to focus, auto high dynamic range (HDR), slow motion videos, what not !.Tested the camera under all possible conditions in day to day life.

Test settings: Auto mode without HDR, Images are untouched after taken except cropping the frames. Check out the below gallery
The colors are little over saturated but it looks great on the device

Moto G4 plus is capable of taking great macro shots with minimum focus distance of just ~6 cm

The panorama resolution and quality is just OK
Panoramic view from Nandi hills 
Digital zoom is good but as usual pixelated on closer inspection
Normal View

Using 4x digital zoom
Auto white balance works well and you can adjust it on the screen quickly at the focused point

Location: Nandi Hills

Night shots are above average and are grainy
Took in the early morning just before sunrise
Moto G4 plus can shoot videos in FHD (1920*1080) resolution at 30 fps as well as slow motion videos in 960*540 resolution at 120fps, once again thanks to the snapdragon 617 chipset. The quality is average.
There is no sophisticated optical image stabilization (OIS) but there is a digital stabilization offered by the software which works well (but nowhere near OIS). Check the below video

Sensors and Location services: Moto G Plus is bundled with following sensors
Sensor Type
Primary Use
For gaming and navigation
Ambient Light Sensor
For automatic brightness adjustment
For Gaming and motion detection
Proximity Sensor
For locking screen during calls
Fingerprint reader
For secure access

HERE maps
The new sensor for fingerprint detection is a welcome change but again missed out the magnetometer (useful for navigation). For positioning the device, Moto G4 Plus has support for assisted GPS (A-GPS) which means it requires network connectivity for quick locking the position to satellites. I am not sure whether the device supports GLONASS (Russian satellite navigation system) and BeiDou (Chinese satellite navigation system) or not as it is not mentioned in specifications but were present in G3. Location services are well powered by the inbuilt Google maps which has great search functionality compared to rival HERE Maps but misses out the "full offline maps functionality" (Hopefully Google brings it by this year end).
Basemark OS II

Benchmark Tests: I performed the Basemark OS II benchmark free version which included few basic tests like memory read and write, graphics, calculation speed etc. Basemark OS is a cross platform benchmark software available on three OS and scores across all the devices. Check the result (higher the score better the result)

Android Marshmallow

D) Software: My experience with Android is still in infancy. Moto G4 plus is bundled with the latest Google offering Android Marshmallow (v 6.0.1) upgradable to Android N when released. The UI has not much changed compared to Lollipop on G3 since Marshmallow is more of a performance upgrade. And as expected, the OS is pretty stable and fast.
Google play store is well organized, easy to search and install apps & games quickly without much trouble and the app updates are prompted gently. The onscreen navigation is simple with cool transitions. High end graphic games like Asphalt 8 are well handled without any hiccups.

Personal assistant "Google now" is available for all Android devices and does the same job as Siri in iPhone and Cortana in Windows Mobile. It has evolved a lot during the last one year and tracks your emails, daily activity etc perfectly. Audio player interface is simple and the quality is good.

The inbuilt video player is capable of playing almost all video formats thrown including MKV without any glitches. The software experience is great and compliments the hardware well.

Third Party Applications: Come on, its Android !

E) Missing Features and Overall Score: Glance feature Always on display (Can observe this feature in initial image where the time and other information is displayed under lock screen). Always on display is available in few high end android phones and requires display memory for the panel which is expensive and hence unavailable. Double tap to lock screen or unlock screen is missing. It is available in similar priced android phones like of Asus made Zenfones and low priced Lumia phones since last 3 years. Once again Moto G misses out the near field communication (NFC) which is not really essential at least in Indian market but its always good to have the extra capabilities. Super sensitive touch is absent which means it cannot work when wearing gloves. Other missing features include hardware camera button, reverse USB type C etc. All these feature are not deal breakers for most users but enhance the phone experience. Features I could not test include the audio recording, water resistant test and call quality.

Overall Score
Design and Build Quality: 8/10
Network and Connectivity Features: 10/10
Screen: 8.5/10
Other Hardware: 8/10
Software Overall: 9/10
Camera 8/10
Final verdict: Worth buying

Kindly share the review if you like it, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Our Car Story Unfolded

Reviving my blog after almost 5 months and wanted it to be something special. It is all about how we bought our car and simultaneously explaining the frequently used terms, technology when dealing with cars. This article may be helpful to you as brief guide. This article has been complied with help of my twin brother 

The toughest task
Never imagined that selecting a car is a tough job. Buying a mobile phone feels very simple !. The first and most important consideration is the budget, first set the budget range and then look out for cars. For every 10,000 rs increase in your budget, a new model or variant will be added to the comparison list. There are tons of features, you need to prioritize them before buying one. These features can be broadly classified in to four types

1) The Engine
2) Safety
3) Comfort and Convenience
4) Miscellaneous

These four features are sorted according to "our" priority and may vary according to individual requirements. Every car will have its unique selling points (USP) and  disadvantages. It is ultimately the buyer who needs to select them based on his/her requirements.

1) The Powerful Engine: Engine is the heart of a car, no second thoughts about it. It is the most crucial part in experiencing the pleasure of driving a four wheeler. An engine power is determined by two outputs 

i) Brake Horse power (BHP, some companies mention this as kilowatt, KW) 
ii) Torque (measured in newton metre, Nm)

Diesel engines will give you good torque ( how much capacity it can pull) but lose out in the horse power (how fast it can pull) whereas petrol engines are vice versa. Besides these, the maintenance costs differ between both engines and considering the recent ban of diesel cars in Delhi and heavy taxes, buying a petrol car is a safe choice. For our usage (which is less than 1200 km per month) petrol engine suits well. Hence we made our first choice that it should be a petrol car. We wanted the engine to be a powerful one albeit our budget is around 10-11 lakhs. Our priority is a minimum 100 horse power (HP) engine with very good amount of torque  (minimum 150 nm)

An automatic transmission will give you the best comfort in ever increasing Bengaluru traffic (and similar metro cities too). Automatic transmission comes in two forms 

1) a continuous variable transmission (CVT or fully automatic) and 
2) automated manual transmission (AMT or semi automatic transmission where you can shift gears with out clutch pedal). 

There are several other components that come in to picture like valve configuration (SOHC vs DOHC) or the geometry of the valves (variable vs waste gate) which are beyond the scope of my knowledge or this article. For a common buyer, these are not bothering things other than whether it is auto or manual transmission.

2) Safety
Safety of a car is equally important like that of its engine. We listed the following safety features as mandatory list before comparing

1) Two Airbags minimum (4-6 would be really great)
2) Disc brakes with anti lock braking system (ABS) (4 disc brakes are welcome but 2 are ideal for a sedan like vehicle)
3) Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
4) Traction Control System (TCS)
5) New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) rated
6) Brake Assist (BA) and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD)
7) Hill Hold and Descent Control

Other small yet important safety features include height adjustable seat belts, alloy wheels, front and rear fog lamps, double beam head lamps or preferably projector headlamps, speed sensing auto door locks etc. Unfortunately most cars which are available to middle class range are not equipped with many of these features especially in the low trims.

3) Comfort and Convenience
This is where most car manufacturers attract people. From manufacturers point of view, providing these features will cost them less compared to safety features and powerful engine. Moreover, it makes the marketing team's job easier. The costliest comfort feature one can go for without second thought is the automatic transmission. You will know the comfort level when you drive in cities like Bengaluru but this comes at a higher price (almost 0.80-1.5 lakhs more than manual variant cost). Other comfort features that are worth considering include the automatic head lamp projectors that turn on in darkness and rain sensing vipers that automatically clean the windscreen when its raining or drizzling, an armrest for long drives and a rear AC vent for equal distribution of air.

Coming to the convenient features, one can think of power outlets (12V charger points) in all seat rows, one touch power up and power down windows, steering mounted audio controls, paddle shifts (for automatic transmission only), cooled glove box, cruise control and dead pedal for long drives etc. The most convenient feature could be the keyless entry and engine on/off button.

4) Miscellaneous
These features include the spare wheel, navigation systems, sound system, reverse parking camera and sensors etc. Most of these features are actually post market customizable which means you can get them later when you have money (Should be careful as some fittings void warranty if touched).

The two main points which we did not discuss here but influence lot of buyers is the design and color, and mileage. Design and color are purely subjective in nature and should be considered based on the buyer's taste. For me, both these are neutral. We like both the sporty look design with fancy colors like red as well as the classy design of cars with dark colors. Regarding mileage, engine performance comes with fuel cost and you have to sacrifice either of them.

The following cars fit in our category in sedans and hatchbacks
 1) Hyundai Verna (SX variant)
2) Honda City (SV CVT)
3) Volkswagen Vento (TSI) and 
4) Polo GT (both Vento TSI and Polo GT TSI have the same engine with very small difference)
5) Skoda Rapid

and in the light utility vehicle (LUV) or compact SUV segment 
1) Ford Ecosport with ecoboost turbo 1 L engine
2) Renault Duster (RxL)

We initially zeroed in on Volkswagen Polo GT TSI. Ford Ecosport also meets most of our requirements but because of lack of automatic transmission in Ecoboost variant, we didn't prefer that. Other competing cars miss out one or two features which we thought are really important like ESP which is absent in almost all sedans/hatchbacks of similar price range.

We approached Volkswagen Whitefield showroom, with lot of excitement, in Bengaluru to enquire about the Polo GT TSI and any year end offers (since it was in December). We were disappointed to hear that GT TSI is the only model of Volkswagen that has been sold for three consecutive years, since its launch, without any discount except the corporate discount of 3000 rupees! We were also told that there would be a waiting period of around three months for red color, although the sales guy tried to convince us by saying that he could provide the car in four days if we pay the booking amount right away. Since there was no discount on offer, we had to rethink about our choice. By the way, the sales guy also said that he could give up to 75000 discount on select manual variants of Vento! We then approached Volkswagen Palace Cross showroom. Although we heard the same news about no discount offered on Polo GT TSI, we were pleased to hear that there was 75000 rupees plus corporate discount (8000) on offer for Vento TSI comfortline model. This has helped us choose Vento TSI over Polo GT TSI as the on-road price of Vento was 11,65,000 against 10,45,000 of GT TSI after all discounts.  

Volkswagen Vento TSI 1.2 Comfortline
VW Vento was first released in Indian market in 2010 and since then underwent many changes in its design and features. The recent facelift launched in June 2015 is the last modified one.

Our car model : Vento TSI Comfortline
Model year : 2015
Color: Toffee Brown
Fuel: Petrol
Volkswagen Vento 1.2 TSI Comfortline, Toffee Brown

The RFID based key

First thing that comes to our mind when describing the car will be the "premium" feel. Right from the logo on the key to interiors like dash board to exteriors like paint quality, everything looks premium both by look and feel. 

The engine is 1.2 litre (1197 cc) turbo stratified injection (TSI, is a direct fuel injection system coupled to a twin charger - turbo and super charger) with 7-speed direct shift gear box (DSG, a registered trademark of VW CVT technology) with dual clutch mechanism. In dual clutch transmission, one clutch employs a gear (for example odd number gears) while the sensors monitor the car movement, anticipate the gearshift (up or downshift) and load it in the other clutch so that the gear is shifted seamlessly in very short time (often within milli seconds scale). Added fuel to the fire is the "turbo" charging of the engine rather than natural aspiration. In turbocharging, the air required for combustion is compressed and supplied in greater quantities whenever required for example during a quick acceleration while overtaking a vehicle. The overall effect of all these components helps in smooth gear shifts in very less time and fast acceleration.

Right Side View 

Rear View
We took it to drive on NICE road and NH-4 
around Bengaluru over the last two weeks and tested the engine noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels. 
Absolutely no sound or vibration inside the cabin with 6 people on board at higher speeds (100+ kmph). Top speed we achieved was 163 kmph! with 5 people on board on NH-4. The ABS disc brakes were excellent and the vehicle was very well controlled while taking sharp turns aided by the ESP.

DSG Gearbox
Flat bottomed steering wheel
The leather wrapped flat bottom  steering wheel added sporty look to the car. The gearbox has 5 modes parking (P), reverse (R,), neu-tral (N), driving (D) and sports (S) (4 modes P, R, N and D are common to all automatic cars of any make).
You can manually shift the gears in D mode if you feel the automatic transmission in not responding properly in challenging conditions like ghat roads or water flooded roads. Suspensions are good with average ground clearance of 165 mm

Coming to the safety features, it has 2 air bags for front passengers and 2 ABS disc brakes (front) fitted with 15 inch 10 spoke alloy wheels that complemented the classy look of Vento (Our comfortline variant was supplied with  only steel rims and wheel caps which we got replaced, while purchasing, with company made alloy wheels that are available in highline variant). The new car assessment program (NCAP) simulates the car crash test under controlled conditions and rates them cars based on collision resistance, severity of injury to passenger and child safety. Most of the Indian made cars especially the hatchbacks and low end trims fail in these tests. Air bags will only work if the car can withstand the impact of collision. One more reason for us to go with VW Vento is, it is rated 4/5 star in NCAP global rating, which is very good for a car in this segment.
10 spoke Zirconia alloy wheels
A reverse parking camera is absent even in highline variant (even in VW Jetta!) but the rear parking sensors alert the driver when there is any obstruction.

The safety feature that requires special mention is the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system (also called as ESP by most manufacturers) which also includes the traction control. We really think every car should be equipped with these advanced features. You can feel the difference right away while taking sharp turns at 80+ kmph speeds. ESP gives super confidence to the driver especially on long drives.

3D LED tail lamp (Stripes only LED)

Features we liked very much :

The rear 3D LED tail lamps which give the premium look, a segment above.

The flat bottomed sporty steering wheel with tilt and telescopic function.

Ample boot space of 495 litres. No big luggage worries for long drives.
Instrument cluster

MFD displaying outside temperature

Multi function display with many features like mileage, digital speedometer, outside temperature display, engine temperature, average speed, mileage. It is very brightly illuminated and looks super cool.

Dead pedal

Rear arm rest  

Theatre effect lights inside the cabin.

A very comfortable dead pedal.

Cruise control system on the light dipper lever

Features, we felt, that need improvement
a) Better infotainment system, very outdated one given in Vento.
b) Transmission trunk which makes it inconvenient for the fifth passenger.
c) Reverse parking camera is missing, only parking sensors are available.
We could not test the sports mode automatic transmission and cruise control as of now. We are getting mileage of around 10-12 kmpl when A/C turned on in city and 12-14 kmpl when turned off.

The purchase experience was good at Volkswagen Palace Cross, Bengaluru and exciting as it is the first car in our family. As a freebie, we got the 10 litres of petrol and a chocolate box which is very cute.

IPL edition scuff plates

Most important thing we checked before finalizing the payment is the vehicle identification number (VIN) which will give you the important information about the car manufacturing year, model year etc. VIN can be found in many places. For example, on left bottom of windscreen. Paid accessories we got during delivery are the rain/wind visors (you can see them in side view of the car image), scuff plates and car cover besides the costly Zirconia alloy wheels.

That's the story of our car selection, purchase and ownership experience. Hope you enjoyed the article. Please share the link if you like it and add comments below. Thank you

Outdoor Photoshoot Location : Ragihalli forest range, Bannerghatta national park
Camera : Nikon D7100 with 35mm lens