Motorola Moto G Play (2021) review: a pretty good phone for a very good price

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The Moto G Play is the least expensive of the four phones Motorola introduced to the US market earlier this year. Introduced at $ 169, it’s already enjoying a seemingly permanent $ 10 discount, placing it firmly in the budget area.

Most of what you’ll find on the G Play’s spec list makes sense given that price point: a 6.5-inch 720p LCD with standard refresh rate, Snapdragon 460 processor with 3GB of RAM, and a generous 5000mAh battery.

There’s another factor that could swing some shoppers in the direction of the G Play: as LG is leaving the budget phone space and the remaining stock disappears from retailers’ shelves, Motorola’s budget-friendly phone will be one of the smaller options. In the U.S. We haven’t seen the kind of under $ 150 Motorola devices that the company has introduced to other markets this year, so for now, the G Play is a likely candidate for the budget-oriented phone store’s consideration.

There are some aspects of the phone’s feature set that feel disappointing even given the price: namely, a paltry 32GB of storage (although it can be expanded afterwards) and a 13MP main camera if it’s more advanced, high-resolution Pixel binning sensors for example, become the norm in every price range. But in short, the G Play performs well for its price. Just know that you have to bring patience and acceptance of a few shortcomings, and if you spend an extra $ 50 to $ 100 if your budget allows, you can get some meaningful upgrades.

The G Play’s 6.5-inch screen is a bit low resolution for its size and is hard to see in bright outdoor light.

Moto G Play performance and screen

The G Play uses a Snapdragon 460 chipset introduced over a year ago and is an entry-level Qualcomm processor. Coupled with 3GB of RAM, it manages to keep up with routine tasks like jumping between apps and scrolling on social media, albeit with subtle but noticeable stutters. Heavier tasks like starting and stopping Google Maps navigation take a few extra beats. It’s not as frustrating as my experience with the LG Stylo 6 was, but it’s a step back from the kind of performance you’d expect from a phone that’s $ 50-100 more expensive, including those in Motorola’s own G-series .

The screen also gets the job done, but doesn’t seem special. The 720p resolution is stretched thin across the 6.5-inch screen, and the images are noticeably grainy. The colors are on the cooler side and the screen is a bit dim unless you max out the brightness. Even with the brightness all the way up, I had a hard time seeing it outside. We spend so many hours looking at our devices that this is one area worth upgrading. That said, there’s not really anything wrong with the screen – it’s just not very nice.

There is better news on the battery front. The G Play packs a 5,000 mAh battery, which is significantly larger than the typical 4,000 or 4,500 mAh found in other similarly sized Android phones. Motorola claims that the battery lasts for three days, which is probably the case if you are a light user and are conservative with the brightness of your screen. I had no problem charging for two days with screen time a few hours a day. A full day and then some intensive use is certainly reasonably to be expected.

The Moto G Play only packs 32 GB of storage – about as low as it will be in 2021. Since roughly half of that is occupied by operating system files, that’s just not enough. Storage is expandable via a microSD card, so plan that extra $ 10-15 as a necessary part of the purchase if you don’t already have one.

The G Play comes with Android 10 installed. While it is on Motorola’s list to receive an Android 11 update, the timing is unclear and, given the company’s track record, it could be many more months. The phone will receive security updates until January 2023. Unfortunately, that’s a short lifespan, so you can expect to trade it in after a few years or exchange your upgrade with your carrier.

There is only one camera on the rear panel of the Moto G Play, plus a depth sensor and a flash.

Moto G Play camera

The G Play only has one 13 megapixel camera on the back (accompanied by a 2 megapixel depth sensor) and a 5 megapixel selfie camera. That is it. Even in the budget class that won’t be many cameras in 2021. I don’t think anyone (myself included) will miss the low-quality macro camera that manufacturers keep putting on their devices these days, but not having an ultrawide is a bummer since it doesn’t difficult to find a phone that offers one at this price.

If nothing else, the G Play’s camera offerings are very simple. There are only two main shooting modes in the native camera app: photo and video. Portrait mode and a few other extras are available in the shooting menu, but there’s no night mode here.

Outside in good lighting, this 13 megapixel camera does fine. The overall exposure is balanced and the camera tries not to do too much HDR-ing, which I appreciate, but you don’t have to look too close to notice that details in grass and leaves are smoothed out. Things go downhill quickly in poor light – the G Play is just not suitable for low-light photography. The selfie camera is also guilty of aggressive blending at the default “Face Beauty Auto” setting, which made my face look like a glazed donut. Fortunately, you can turn this off.

The G Play is well priced for what it has to offer, but spending a little more would mean some worthwhile upgrades.

Obviously, the G Play has some shortcomings – at $ 160 it has to. The question is whether these are considerations that you can live with for a few years. If you’re in a very casual relationship with your phone, the G Play will do all the things you need to.

Everyday achievements for the basics – light web browsing, social media, email, music – are enough. If you’re just using your phone camera for quick snapshots and don’t expect too much from it, the G Play will do just fine.

If you suspect that you need a little more from your phone, or you want to spice up the experience of using your phone, I highly recommend spending a little more on something like Motorola’s own Moto G Power for a better camera. Samsung and OnePlus have recent entries in the under $ 200 class that are also worth checking out; I have not tested them, but they are specified competitively.

If your relationship with technology is less complicated than those of us who spend hours of our precious time on this Earth every day, staring at the tiny glowing screen in our hands, jumping between social media apps and pushing our phone cameras to the limit, then you get along well with the Moto G Play. Just think about the rest of us, please?

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge