For budget smartphone buyers, the phone series I continually recommend is the Motorola Moto G. Now in its fourth iteration, the Moto G has delivered excellent entry-level value since its inception, despite increasingly stronger competition from Chinese vendors. The recently-released Moto G4 Play is no exception.
The G4 Play is the cheapest model in Motorola’s revamped Moto G line, which also includes the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus. While the standard Moto G4 received several hardware updates relative to last year’s third-generation Moto G, the G4 Play is a minor refresh that packs largely the same hardware at a lower price point.
Returning in the Moto G4 Play is the 5.0-inch 720p LCD and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 SoC, along with 16 GB of storage and 2 GB of RAM as standard. Last year, this bundle of hardware cost $220 at launch, but in 2016 you’ll pay just $150: a significant 32 percent reduction in price. The G4 Play also packs a larger battery, but a downgraded camera system.
One of the more interesting things to note about the G4 Play is that Motorola has managed to include a larger battery without increasing the size or weight of the smartphone’s chassis. Instead, the G4 Play is actually slimmer than its predecessor (9.9 vs. 11.6 mm), and just under 20 grams has been shaved off the overall weight, which helps this entry-level handset feel less like a brick.
On the other hand, Motorola has made no attempts to improve the overall design of the entry-level G4 Play. While Chinese competitors are upgrading their budget designs with attractive metal unibodies, Motorola has stagnated, releasing yet another cheap plastic body.
The G4 Play doesn’t feel bad in the hand – the curved plastic rear, textured with a weave-like pattern, is comfortable and has plenty of grip – but you won’t mistake this for something expensive. Simply put, the G4 Play feels and looks cheap.
When combined with large bezels around the five-inch screen, particularly on the left and right sides, it’s clear that the engineers behind the G4 Play paid little attention to design, resulting in a bland and boring smartphone.
But there are still some positives to discuss. The corners of this handset are rounded nicely such that the G4 Play fits snugly in the hand, and both the power and volume buttons on the right-hand side are in a comfortable location. The signature Motorola dimple is still present on the rear panel, but like with the third-gen Moto G, it’s not in a location that assists with ergonomics.
The camera module on the rear panel has been redesigned to more closely match the Moto G4 and G4 Plus, although I’m not a fan of its look or how it protrudes a half millimeter or so from the rear casing.
The second speaker on the G4 Play’s front panel has been removed, leaving a single speaker for both calls and media. The 2015 Moto G had two front-facing speakers but didn’t feature stereo audio, so the removal of the second speaker isn’t a feature downgrade. The quality of the G4 Play’s speaker is okay and can produce a fair amount of volume, though ideally I’d love to see the return of a second speaker in the large bezel below the display for stereo audio.
I was disappointed to discover there is no notification LED on the Moto G4 Play, which is one of my favorite aspects of Android’s notification system. There is a strange, unexplained sensor below the G4 Play’s display though.
The Moto G4 Play’s body is protected by a “water repellent nano-coating” which Motorola claims is enough to protect from “moderate exposure to water” such as accidental spills and light rain. The G4 Play is not water resistant and doesn’t carry an IP rating, though it’s good to see the phone is somewhat resistant to water ingress.
The G4 Play’s rear cover can be snapped off (with quite some force) to reveal a removable battery, which is new to this model. The previous version of the Moto G also featured a removable back, but strangely not a swappable battery, which is something they’ve now addressed.
Fans of dual-SIM functionality will be glad to hear the G4 Play supports two micro-SIMs, and there’s also a third slot for a microSD card.
Around the edges of the Play there are no surprises: micro-USB on the bottom, and the all-important 3.5mm headphone jack on the top. There are no capacitive buttons as Motorola has opted for on-screen buttons, which is a suitable decision, and there’s also no fingerprint sensor as you’d expect from a $150 product.