Review

Moto G Play (2021) review: The most impressive Moto G phone

Motorola refreshed its Moto G lineup earlier this month, and the entry-level Moto G Play comes in at just $169.99. Now that I've already reviewed the Moto G Stylus and the Moto G Power, I have to say that the Moto G Play is my favorite one.

With both of the other devices, my biggest criticism is that Motorola no longer strives for the best value at the price point; instead, it focuses on specific use cases like a stylus or great battery life. The Moto G Play is the only one that's not playing to a specific audience.

Specs

CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 460, 1.8GHz octa-core Kryo 260
GPU Adreno 610
Body 166.59x75.99x9.36mm, 204g
Display 6.5-inch Max Vision display, 1600x720, 269ppi, 20:9, IPS TFT LCD
RAM 3GB
Storage 32GB, expandable by up to 512GB
Camera 13MP f/2.0 + 2MP depth, Front - 5MP f/2.2
Video 1080p - 60fps, Front: 1080p - 30fps
Battery 5,000mAh, 10W charging
Material Plastic
Color Misty Blue
OS Android 10
Price $169.99.


Design

Personally, I think that the Moto G Play is the most stylish of the family. In fact, I really feel like out of the four devices that Motorola announced this month, they go in a reverse order in terms of design.

The color of the unit that Motorola sent me is called Misty Blue, and frankly, I'm really not sure what's so misty about it. It's actually two shades of blue, with the bottom darker half blending into a lighter top half, and it's quite nice. It gives this inexpensive device a bit of a premium feel.

That's what makes it feel so out of place compared to the rest of the lineup. The entire family is made out of plastic, but the Moto G Stylus is glossy plastic, so naturally, it has more of a cheap look and feel. In terms of making a pretty phone, the Moto G Play really feels like the winner to me.

It uses a square camera with rounded corners, like most of the lineup. The Moto G Stylus camera is rectangular and placed in the corner. However, like the Power, the Moto G Play has a centered camera.

Beneath the camera is the fingerprint sensor. Both the Moto G Power and the Moto G Stylus have the fingerprint sensor in the power button on the side, but the Moto G Play places it on the back, just like the more expensive Motorola One 5G Ace.

On the bottom of the device, there's just the usual USB Type-C port for charging, microphone, and speaker grille.

On top, there's a 3.5mm audio jack, so you can use whatever pair of headphones that you want. In fact, Motorola touts having a headphone jack in its entire lineup, right up to the flagship Motorola Edge. The only product that didn't have one is the Moto Z, and that seems to be dead now.

I've noted before that I prefer the 3.5mm audio jack and the charging port to be on the same side on phones. It just makes listening to headphones while charging easier. The thing that makes this nice though is that the battery life is so good that charging isn't as much of an issue.

Like I said, the Moto G Play has my favorite design of all four of the recently-announced Motorola smartphones. I like the color, the feel, and I really like that the fingerprint sensor is located on the back.

Display

The Moto G Play has a 6.5-inch 1600x720 display, giving it a 269ppi pixel density, which is ever-so-slightly higher than the 267ppi pixel density on the 6.6-inch Moto G Power. Note that you're going to see some pixelation here, which is to be expected at this size at 720p, but it's also expected for a $170 phone.

The panel itself is pretty decent. There are no visible color distortions when viewing it from an angle, something that often happens in cheaper phones. It's not particularly bright when using it outdoors, as you'll see from the photographs, but it wasn't a pain point for me.

Motorola still has its peek display, which is a feature in the Moto app. It just sort of randomly turns on at times, and it will turn on when you lift the phone, showing you the time, date, and notification badges. Unlike with an OLED screen though, when this lights up, you can easily tell that the whole screen is lit up, as LCDs are entirely backlit.

While both the Moto G Power and Moto G Stylus include hole-punch cut-outs for the front cameras, this one has a tear-drop notch. While it's not considered to be as premium of a feature, it's obviously less intrusive. This device also has a quite large bottom bezel, which really isn't important but I had to say it.

Camera

The Moto G Play includes a 13MP f/2.0 camera, which is really along the lines of what we'd have seen in a $300 phone a few years ago. Out of the four phones that Motorola announced, this is the only one that doesn't have a 64MP f/1.7 main lens. The handset also includes a 2MP depth sensor, which is really just a way for Motorola to say that it has a dual-lens camera. Pretty much any 2MP camera just serves that purpose.

As far as features go, there's no night mode on this one, something that Motorola boasted for the Stylus and the Power. It does include the new spot color video option though.

To go a bit off-topic here, I have to say that having a single-lens camera without night mode was a refreshing experience. You just point, shoot, and get what you get. There are no options for zooming out or in, or worries that if you selected a zoom lens that you'll make a sacrifice for low-light conditions. There's no worry that you should have toggled on night mode either.

But while you get what you get, you're about to see that what you get isn't very good.

While I appreciate the daytime performance, nighttime performance is terrible, with blown-out lighting and poor visibility. This is not a phone that you should buy for the camera.

Performance and battery life

The Moto G Play includes a Snapdragon 460 chipset, making it the only member of the Moto G family to not include a Snapdragon 6 series SoC. Even the Moto G7 Play, which was the previous Moto G Play, had a Snapdragon 6 series chipset. Being that I already said that performance was sluggish on the Moto G Stylus and Moto G Power in their respective reviews, that's kind of a given here.

Honestly, when it comes to performance, you're getting what you pay for for $169.99. Remember, that Moto G7 Play that's the predecessor to this actually started at $199.99. The handset also only comes with 3GB RAM and 32GB of storage.

Battery life is pretty great though, as it has a 5,000mAh battery and an HD screen. A 1080p screen would affect battery life, so we're really seeing similar specs that we saw in the Moto G Power. The battery life is probably even better here because of the lower-powered processor. You should be able to make it two days with this phone though, at least. At that point, it's tough to determine which one actually lasts longer.

For benchmarks, I used Geekbench 5 and AnTuTu. First up is Geekbench 5, which tests the CPU.

For comparison, the Moto G Power got 313 on single-core and 1,280 on multi-core, while the Moto G Stylus got 539 on single-core and 1,588 on multi-core. Next up is AnTuTu, which tests everything.

Once again, for comparison, the Moto G Power scored 151,459 and the Moto G Stylus scored 208,991. I didn't run GFXBench because frankly, a GPU test on a device like this is immaterial.

There's a bit of other bad news though, which is that the Moto G Play, along with all of the 2021 Moto G series, runs Android 10. And since Motorola only promises one Android feature update for the Moto G lineup, that's probably going to be taken up with Android 11, a version that was available for months at the time of the devices' launch.

Conclusion

The Moto G Play is my favorite phone out of the 2021 Moto G family. I find it refreshing that it's not trying to scratch some specific itch like everything else that Motorola makes. With the Moto G Stylus, you're way better off with a OnePlus Nord N10 5G for $299, but the Moto G Stylus is a niche phone that gives you a pen. The Moto G Play is just a $169.99 phone and doesn't pretend to be anything else. Of course, this has the Nord N100 to contend with, which costs $10 more and has an extra gigabyte of RAM.

But while the OnePlus Nord N10 5G comes out well ahead of the Moto G Stylus, the Nord N100 and the Moto G Play are pretty much on the same ground. The Moto G Play is by no means a perfect device, packing an unimpressive camera, sluggish performance, and a year-old version of Android, but for $169.99, it's impressive.

It also looks and feels like something that costs more than it does. It comes in this pretty gradient shade of blue, and it's a nice look. I don't hate plastic phones, just slippery ones that feel cheap. I like this one.

If you want to check out the Moto G Play on Amazon, you can find it here.

As an Amazon Associate, Neowin may earn commission from qualifying purchases.

 

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