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Motorola Moto G Play (2021) review: Near-stock Android at a nice, low price

Smooth software makes this phone as much fun to use as it is to look at.
Reviews
By
October 23, 2021
Moto G Play top down diagonal
Ryan Haines / Android Authority
aa2020 recommended
aa2020 recommended

Motorola Moto G Play (2021)

Motorola's Moto G Play shows that the company hasn't forgotten how to make a strong affordable phone. It packs attractive hardware and software, and Motorola's careful sacrifices don't compromise the overall experience.

What we like

Attractive design and fingerprint-free finish
Near-stock Android software
Excellent battery life
Snapdragon 460 offers just enough power

What we don't like

Plastic feels cheap
Camera options are limited
Yet to receive Android 11 and limited long-term support
No NFC

Motorola has long held a tight grip on the affordable smartphone market. It keeps finding a way to balance specs and cost to bring the most value to all types of users. The Moto G Play (2021) is just the latest entry in a long line of fun-first phones, but how well does it keep up? Find out right here in our Motorola Moto G Play review.

Motorola Moto G Play
$169.99 at Amazon

What you need to know about the Motorola Moto G Play (2021)

An image of the Moto G Play open to the app drawer
Ryan Haines / Android Authority
  • Motorola Moto G Play (3GB/32GB): $169.99

The Moto G Play (2021) slots in as the second most affordable member of Motorola’s smartphone family. It sits just above the Moto E, and the Moto G Power and Moto G Stylus complete the G series trio. However, you won’t find this device in the UK or the rest of Europe as those regions received a Moto G9 Play model that is closer to the Moto G Power.

The Motorola Moto G Play ships with Android 10 on board and has not received its Android 11 update yet. Motorola did promise one major version update and two years of security updates that would take the Moto G Play through until 2023.

See also: The best Motorola phones you can get

You’ll find the Qualcomm Snapdragon 460 at the heart of this operation, as well as 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. If you’re looking for more storage, you can also add a microSD card to the mix. One thing you won’t have to worry too much about is battery life — Motorola packed a 5,000mAh cell into its budget-friendly body. A 6.5-inch HD+ display sits on top of it all, complete with a small v-shaped notch for the selfie camera.

Motorola also keeps things pretty bare bones in the box, only adding a charging block and USB-C cable to the mix. You’ll find a SIM ejector tool to get you started and some essential paperwork to get the lay of the land.

The Moto G Play is far from the only solid option for less than two Benjamins. A few good alternatives include Samsung’s Galaxy A12 and Nokia’s 3.4. The Galaxy A12 matches the massive 5,000mAh battery, while the Nokia is a better bet if you want the same Snapdragon processor. If you want to stick with Motorola, the Moto G Power offers an extra kick, though it costs a bit more at $249.

What’s good?

An image of the Moto G Play's ports
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

It’s not easy to track down a stock Android device these days. The Moto G Play isn’t truly stock, but Motorola has found a way to get its skin awfully close. Everything feels light and clean, and just about every app onboard is straight from Google. In fact, you might have a tough time telling Motorola’s skin apart from Google’s Pixel skin if not for the Moto app. As for bloatware, our Moto G Play showed up with TikTok pre-installed, but that’s it.

It’s not just the software that looks good here — Motorola nailed the design. The Misty Blue finish doesn’t pick up fingerprints or smudges, and it catches your eye in the sunlight. Motorola’s overall plastic construction offers a little peace of mind that the Moto G Play won’t shatter even if it takes a tumble.

The sleek software and eye-catching hardware make it easy to use the Moto G Play all day long.

You’ll find a mono speaker tucked away on the bottom edge of the device, and it’s up for some impressive output. Whether you’re listening to a podcast or catching up on your favorite Hulu shows, the speaker can fill a room without much trouble.

The Moto G Play isn’t a powerhouse by any means, but the Snapdragon 460 is perfectly capable. I didn’t face many issues with lag, and I could jump between apps all day long without much trouble. Of course, the huge 5,000mAh battery helped in that respect, as I never found myself reaching for a charger in the middle of a day. You won’t find a 5G antenna, but that leaves the battery to focus on keeping the lights on.

What’s not so good?

An image of the Moto G Play open to the camera app
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

Motorola may not have cut too many corners to design its budget-friendly phone, but it skimps on the camera a bit. The Moto G Play offers a 13MP wide lens and a 2MP depth sensor in a segment where plenty of other phones are adding an ultra-wide shooter to the setup. Granted, the primary lens offers decent quality, as seen below, but it’s limited in terms of overall flexibility.

Indeed, Motorola’s software experience looks and feels great on the Moto G Play, but it’s out of date. The phone launched in early 2021, yet it landed with Android 10 on board and hasn’t gotten around to Android 11 yet. Other members of the Moto G series have already received their updates, and Android 11 is already the only major update that this device will see. As if that weren’t enough, Motorola has only promised two years of security updates for the Moto G Play.

As nice as Motorola's software experience feels, two years of security updates are simply not enough.

Some OEMs also go to good lengths to make their plastic phones feel like anything but. Unfortunately, the Moto G Play isn’t one of those phones. While the plastic looks great, it doesn’t always feel the most solid and can pick up scratches easily. Sizeable bezels weigh down Motorola’s design at the top and bottom of the display, adding to the phone’s overall height. There’s also no word on if Motorola is using strengthened glass. We do know the phone isn’t IP rated for water and dust protection, but that’s uncommon at this price point.

There’s also no NFC support, which means mobile payments are off the table. A strange omission that’s unfortunately par for the course for budget Motorola phones at this stage.

Motorola Moto G Play camera samples

Motorola Moto G Play specs

Motorola Moto G Play
Display
6.5 inches
IPS LCD
720 x 1,600 (20:9)
Processor
Qualcomm Snapdragon 460
RAM
3GB
Storage
32GB
Cameras
Rear dual camera:
13MP wide (f/2.0)
2MP depth (f/2.4)

Front:
13MP
Battery
5,000mAh
10W wired charging
IP Rating
None
Software
Shipped with Android 10
Dimensions
166.6 x 76 x 9.4mm
204g
Colors
Misty Blue
Security
Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner

Motorola Moto G Play review: Should I buy it?

A close image of the Moto G Play cameras and fingerprint reader
Ryan Haines / Android Authority

The Motorola Moto G Play is a good phone for the money. You’ll have more than enough screen real estate for your favorite shows and some light games, and the Snapdragon 460 keeps lag to a minimum when used correctly. Motorola’s attractive design and Misty Blue finish are sure to catch your eye, even if the camera results don’t keep your attention for long.

The Moto G Play (2021) shows that the company hasn't forgotten how to make a strong affordable phone

If you’re not sold on the Moto G Play, you might want to give the Nokia 3.4 ($179) or the Samsung Galaxy A12 ($179) a shot. They nearly match the Moto G Play on the spec sheet, and the difference might come down to which version of Android you like best. Another Motorola option worth checking out is the beefed-up Moto G Power ($249). It’s slightly larger with a more complete list of specs and a powered-up Snapdragon 662 chip.

Moto G Play lock screen
Motorola Moto G Play
The Moto G Play is one of Motorola's most affordable models, and it offers plenty of value for your money. It packs a 5,000mAh battery, Snapdragon 460 chipset, and a light, breezy Android skin.