Moto G4 Play review: The best $150 you can spend on a modern Android smartphone

  • Editors' rating
    8.7 Outstanding

Pros

  • Low price with customization options, even less expensive with Amazon Prime
  • Snappy performance with pure Android OS experience
  • Solid camera performance
  • Removable battery
  • MicroSD card storage expansion

Cons

  • No NFC, so no Android Pay support
  • Poor speaker quality

In compliance with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall, I returned my phone and am waiting for my $930 refund from T-Mobile. After a week with the new Moto G4 Play, I'm really starting to question whether or not I need to pay five times the price of one phone for such a high end flagship.

Last week Motorola sent along its new Moto G4 Play and without looking at any of the information in the reviewer guide or on the Motorola website I popped in my T-Mobile SIM and a Google Project Fi SIM. It wasn't until after a few days of testing that I went to the Motorola website where I saw the phone was only priced at $149.99.

Securing Your Mobile Enterprise

iPhone X vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Based on their specs, which flagship makes the better business phone?

Read More

Needless to say, I was rather shocked to see the Moto G4 Play was priced at just half that of the new Moto G4 Plus. While there are a few compromises one has to make to use a Moto G4 Play as a primary smartphone, it should fill the needs of a majority of people who use their smartphones to communicate, capture photos, and interact on social networks.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 1.2 GHz quad-core
  • Display: 5 inch 1280 x 720 pixels resolution LCD screen with 294 ppi
  • Operating system: Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 16 internal with microSD expansion card slot supporting 128 GB cards
  • Cameras: 8 megapixel rear with 5 megapixel front-facing camera
  • Water resistance: Water repellant nano coating
  • Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS
  • Battery: 2800 mAh removable
  • Dimensions: 144.4 x 72 x 9.9 mm and 137 grams

Similar to the Moto G4 and G4 Plus, there is no NFC in the G4 Play. This means you won't be able to use Android Pay. I consider myself a smartphone enthusiast and have only used Android Pay a couple of times over the past couple of years and these were more for testing purposes than as a necessity.

One feature that I also enjoy is the FM radio. I am out and about a lot, but like to listen to local Mariners, Seahawks, and Sounders games on the FM radio so am glad some manufacturers are still enabling access to it.

Hardware

The Moto G4 Play is not a tiny phone like the iPhone 5 or SE, but it is one of the smallest Android smartphones with a five inch display. There are still sizable side, top, and bottom bezels, but it slips nicely into your pocket and is easy to hold in your hand.

Top ZDNET Reviews

The LCD display has lower resolution than high end flagships, but 720p on a five inch display still looks very good. The display is bright and crisp and nothing I did with it was worse because of the display resolution.

The front glass display has a slight raised edge around all sides where the plastic frame rises above the glass. This serves to protect the display a bit when placed face down on a table. There is no fingerprint scanner present on the Moto G4 Play.

The headphone jack is positioned on the top left edge, the microUSB port is centered on the bottom, with power and volume buttons on the upper right side. There is nothing on the left side.

The back panel on my eval unit is black with some texturing to make it easier to hold and less likely to slide across a table. You can also order the Moto G4 Play in white. The iconic Motorola dimple, under the Moto logo, is centered below the camera. It is more subtle than we've seen on previous Moto phones.

The back panel can be removed to reveal the microSIM and microSD card slots. I had to dig out a microSIM adapter since most cards today are nanoSIMs. The 2,800 mAh battery is removable so you can always carry a spare and keep using your phone if one battery dies.

The camera and flash are aligned on the upper middle of the back. The G4 Play has an 8 megapixel camera and I honestly was extremely pleased with the photos I captured and compared to the LG V20. A couple photos can be found in my image gallery so you can judge the quality for yourself.

The Moto G4 Play has a water resistant nano coating, just like most of the previous generation Moto smartphones. This means it can survive accidental splashes and spills, but try not to fully submerge the phone in champagne.

Software

Motorola continues to launch affordable phones with a clean, fresh software experience. There are even fewer Moto enhancements on these devices as you get a pure Google experience that even leaves out many of the Google apps that previously were installed by default.

The only additional application is one called Moto. This utility gives you access to a toggle to shrink the screen by swiping up from the bottom of the phone and manage your Moto Display settings.

Display options let you toggle on notifications that appear while the display is off. You can choose to block apps from the display, set how much detail is shown, dictate when the display should remain dark, and toggle on touch vibration.

The camera app is easy to use and supports auto photos, video, and panorama modes. Swipe in from the left to access settings and in from the right to quickly view photos in the gallery. You can control HDR, flash, and timer settings at the top of the viewfinder. Focus and exposure are easily controlled by tapping and sliding on the display with the capability to tap and hold to lock focus and exposure as well.

The rest of the software is typical Android Marshmallow, including the ability to enable the System UI Tuner and customize your Quick Actions buttons.

The review unit has the July 2016 Android security patch installed. Since there is no carrier involvement here, owners should see security patches and software updates appear in a timely manner.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The hardware is fairly basic, but it feels solidly built with a back that is easy to grip and keep secure. The display looks just fine and I enjoyed using the phone over the last week.

At just $150, I figured the camera would result in rather poor quality images. Thus, I was pleased to see it perform very well and with many people just sharing photos to social networks many may be satisfied with the 8 megapixel shooter.

I tried using the Moto G4 Play for a couple days as my only phone and found it more than adequate. After I test out a few new phones in the next couple of weeks I plan to try using the Moto G4 Play for an extended period of time to see if I can honestly live with a $150 phone.

Speaking of the $150 price, you can also purchase an Amazon Prime version of the phone for $50 less. At $99.99, this is a killer deal that can't be beat. The Amazon Prime version brings ads and deals to the lock screen while also adding in Prime Video, Prime Music, and Prime Photos for added value.

There are some excellent choices today for buyers looking for affordable and functional smartphones. If Android Pay is not an issue for you, then you may want to visit the Moto Maker site and select your own G4 Play. If you are an Amazon Prime member, seriously consider the Prime version at just $100.

Specifications

Cellular
Type Smartphone
Service Provider AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, MetroPCS
Operating System Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Miscellaneous
Color White
Processor
Clock Speed 1.2 GHz
Manufacturer Qualcomm
Processor Core Qty Quad-core
Display
Diagonal Size 5.0 in
Dimensions & Weight
Width 2.83 in
Depth 0.35 in
Height 5.68 in
Weight 4.83 oz

Topics: Mobility, Google, Lenovo, Reviews, Smartphones

Top ZDNET Reviews

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All