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Motorola Moto G Play (2023)
What we like
What we don't like
Motorola Moto G Play (2023)
If anyone knows the secret to a successful budget phone, it’s Motorola. The Chicago-based giant has lasted longer in the affordable Android segment than just about anyone else, refining its craft over countless generations of Moto G devices. However, the landscape of cheap smartphones isn’t the same as it once was. Premium specs are working their way down, while once-low prices are on the up. Can Motorola continue to succeed with its classic “Play” formula? Find out in our Motorola Moto G Play (2023) review.
What you need to know about the Motorola Moto G Play (2023)
- Motorola Moto G Play (2023) (3GB/32GB): $169.99
The second most affordable Moto G device is back after taking a year off in 2022. Motorola’s Moto G Play (2023) slots right back into its old space above the Moto G Pure and right behind the Moto G Power, and it doesn’t fall far from the family tree. In fact, the Moto G Play (2023) takes quite a few lessons from its Power-packed sibling but keeps them at a lower price point.
The Moto G Play and Moto G Power share identical footprints — right down to the millimeter. You get the same 6.5-inch LCD, 90Hz refresh rate, and HD+ resolution with a punch hole camera in the center. The nearly repeated design leaves you with a sizable chin bezel, but it means there are still a few creature comforts; Motorola’s Moto G Play (2023) still carries a headphone jack and room for microSD storage expansion.
You’ll probably want to take advantage of that expansion, too, given the single configuration of 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. They’re accompanied by a Mediatek Helio G37 chipset to keep the lights on and a hefty 5,000mAh battery for good measure. It’s not a fast refill at just 10W peak wired charging, but Motorola does at least provide you with a charger in the box.
As for the rest of the design, the Moto G Play (2023) has a plastic frame and plastic rear panel. It comes in a single Navy Blue finish, and the back plastic is broken up only by the classic fingerprint reader baked into the logo and the corner-mounted camera bump. The Moto G Play (2023) now has three cameras — an increase over the previous model — with the 16MP main sensor as the highlight. It’s backed by a 2MP dedicated macro lens and a 2MP depth sensor for extra processing data.
Most of these specs are the same as they were on the previous Moto G Play (2021). The display size and resolution are the same, only differing in refresh rate, and the base RAM and storage are identical, too. Perhaps the only major shifts are the adoption of a Mediatek Helio G37 in place of the Snapdragon 460 (more on that later) and a couple of extra megapixels on the primary camera.
Our Motorola Moto G Play (2023) arrived with Android 12 out of the box and has not received Android 13. We’re expecting one full Android version and three years of security patches — Motorola’s usual budget promise — but not much more.
Motorola introduced plastic-free packaging with the Moto Edge (2022), and the trend continues with the Moto G Play (2023). The box is made from 60% post-consumer material and includes the 10W charger mentioned above, a USB-A to USB-C cable, and essential paperwork.
The Motorola Moto G Play (2023) also sticks to a familiar trend of arriving in the US and Canada but skipping the rest of the world. It’s a bargain — if you could call it that — at $169, and it’s available unlocked through Motorola, Best Buy, and Verizon. The carrier support is pretty much wide open, covering AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, as well as most of their MVNOs.
Motorola’s strength in the budget segment is its consistency. What’s good in one version of a Moto G device will likely be just as good in the next. With the Moto G Play (2023), that idea is never more present than when talking about battery life. The 5,000mAh cell, combined with the power-sipping 4G/LTE processor, results in a phone that lasts for days and days. It doesn’t matter what you do with the phone — whether gaming, streaming, or browsing social media — you shouldn’t have to charge more than every other day at the least.
The Moto G Play (2023) also sticks to Motorola’s light and breezy My UX. We’ve long praised it as one of the lightest Android skins, and it’s no different here. If you’re buying unlocked, the only bloat you face right out of the box is the Facebook app, and you can easily uninstall it. Motorola doesn’t load you with its version of apps, instead preferring Google’s versions. One of the unsung heroes of the My UX experience is the dedicated Moto app. It might look like unwanted bloat at first, but it’s more like the Pixel Tips app and a customization suite rolled into one. You can set your app grid, choose a new font, and then learn your way around your new phone from the same app. It’s great for newcomers and those that want to customize their experience with a few taps.
Motorola's My UX software is light, consistent, and one of our favorites — especially the Moto app.
Despite its budget limitations, the Moto G Play (2023) isn’t a bad-looking phone either. Sure, it’s plastic which doesn’t feel all that great in the hand, but the Navy Blue finish and matte texture give it a slightly more premium appearance. I didn’t have any issues with fingerprints, and the slight texture on the power button makes it easy to find without looking. Motorola’s 90Hz display is eye-catching as well. No, it won’t give a 120Hz OLED a run for its money, but an upgraded refresh rate is an easy way to upgrade a simple panel, even if the weak performance hampers its fluidity (more on that later).
I’ll also praise Motorola’s continued use of classic features one more time. It’s nice to see a 3.5mm jack stick around for one more year for those unwilling to spend money on Bluetooth headphones. Expandable storage is good, too, as 32GB is rarely enough out of the box — I’ve already filled 10GB in just a few weeks and a huge chunk is occupied out of the box. The 2023 Moto G Play is also rated for basic splashproofing and limited dust ingress, which isn’t always a given at this price tier.
What’s not so good?
The other side of consistency is that we don’t tend to see major improvements from one Moto G device to the next. Unfortunately, the Moto G Play (2023) leans heavily into some of its more dated features.
For example, we took issue with the underpowered Helio G37 chipset when it came to the Moto G Power in 2022, and the now two-year-old chipset hasn’t picked up speed in 2023. It’s easy to move too quickly for the Moto G Play, especially if you’re trying to scroll through a long webpage or jump through settings too quickly. I’ve regularly had to stop and wait for the phone to catch up, even if just for a second or two. The 4G-locked Helio G37 also means that we won’t see Motorola bring 5G to its most affordable devices for at least another year, while Samsung offers top speeds on its upcoming Galaxy A14 5G for just $20 more.
Not only is the Mediatek Helio G37 long in the tooth and slow on the draw, but it’s actually slower than the chipset in the previous Moto G Play. That model had Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 460 under the hood, which outperforms the Helio G37 in just about every context. Maybe the change is a result of the global chip shortage, but it’s kneecapping an already limited device.
The Moto G Play’s limited RAM and storage probably also contribute to the occasional lag. We’re at the point where 3GB isn’t enough when you’re multitasking, and it’s very easy to fill up the 32GB of base storage with just a few large games. You’ll almost certainly want a microSD card.
The Moto G Play's Helio G37 lacks punch, and 3GB of RAM and 32GB of base storage aren't a great supporting cast.
Underpowered is a theme throughout the Moto G Play, and it continues when you finally drain the battery. The phone only supports 10W wired speeds, so you’ll have to plant yourself at an outlet for a while. Like the Moto G Power (2022) — which has the same battery and charging speed — the Moto G Play (2023) takes about two hours to charge back to 100%.
While the large 6.5-inch display has a 90Hz refresh rate, it hardly ever hits the mark. It spends more time stuttering through menus than smoothly scrolling through, well, anything. The display isn’t particularly bright in direct sunlight, even when set to maximum brightness. I’m also usually a fan of rear-mounted fingerprint readers, but the Moto G Play (2023) occasionally struggles here, too. It recognizes my fingerprint maybe two-thirds of the time, which isn’t a great success rate.
Perhaps the worst aspect of Motorola’s consistency is the software commitment for budget phones. The Moto G Play (2023) arrived with Android 12 out of the box, but we’re not expecting it to see too much support beyond an eventual Android 13 update. Motorola tends to limit its most affordable lineup to a single Android refresh and three years of security patches, which is an improvement but isn’t great when users keep their phones longer.
Rounding out the unfortunate limitations: there’s no NFC chip in the Moto G Play (2023). That means wireless payments or Nearby Share file swapping are off the table. It also eliminates digital hotel keys and virtual driver’s licenses, though those uses are less commonplace. And finally, the Moto G Play (2023) packs a single down-firing speaker, which is capable of good volume but feels a bit off balance without using the earpiece as a stereo unit.
Motorola Moto G Play (2023) camera review
More isn’t always better, no matter what a cheap camera phone tells you. We’d rather have two good lenses than one useful lens and some supporting options, but Motorola is heading the other way. The Moto G Play (2023) picked up an additional lens over its predecessor, a dedicated 2MP macro. Sure, it results in a bump that matches most of Motorola’s other phones, but you’ll spend most — if not all — of your time using the 16MP primary sensor while the depth and macro options fill in when you want them.
Motorola’s 16MP main camera is fine in good lighting, but even then, I wanted a little more. Even though it picked up an additional 3MP over the Moto G Play (2021), the pixels got smaller, costing some low-light performance. The results aren’t bad in the image of records in a milk crate or the Rolex clock, but the colors aren’t very punchy, and the details tend to fall off as soon as you’re out of good lighting. For example, the leaves in the corner of the prism image are somewhat blurry against the sky, and the trees behind the three busts fall into the same trap.
The Moto G Play’s single wide lens is not always the easiest to zoom with. Motorola offers quick taps for macro mode and 1x zoom in the camera app, but anything else requires pinching and squeezing to get right. I felt comfortable zooming in to about 3x without losing too many details, but it starts to fall off quickly after that. 8x zoom, which you can see on the right, is as far as the Moto G Play (2023) goes, and it gets progressively tougher to land a good shot. A few of the edges of the bulb are noticeably soft, and the color profile has also shifted.
While the Moto G Play’s zoom can be hit or miss, its low-light performance is almost always a miss. There’s no dedicated night toggle, so you have to rely on the 16MP primary sensor and a little post-processing luck to reach the finish line. That means the details get even softer, as seen in the trees flanking the statue, and the lights inside the casino tend to bleed. The large neon logos on Caesar’s Palace suffer a similar fate, melting into bright red blobs.
Motorola’s 5MP selfie camera isn’t excellent, though I was impressed with its edge detection. It only trimmed a few of my wilder hairs and handled the area where my hair met the rocks behind me pretty well. The shots below are a little soft on my face, and the sky is blown out behind the casino, but I find that the color profile is closer to real life than what the primary camera achieved.
The Moto G Play (2023) also sticks close to its predecessor for video, offering just Full HD recording at 30fps. You can shoot up to HD footage at 30fps with the macro camera, and the selfie camera is in line with the primary sensor’s Full HD capability. This is all fairly standard for entry-tier phones.
Motorola Moto G Play (2023) specs
|Motorola Moto G Play (2023)|
6.5-inch IPS LCD
90Hz refresh rate
Mediatek Helio G37
Expandable up to 512GB
10W wired charging
- 16MP wide, 1.0 μm, f/2.22
- 2MP macro, 1.75μm, f/2.4
- 2MP depth, 1.75μm, f/2.4
- 5MP, 1.12μm, f/2.4
Single bottom-mounted speaker
3.5mm headphone port
Single Nano SIM
Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner
Dimensions and weight
- 167.2 x 76.5 x 9.3mm
- 203 grams
Motorola Moto G Play (2023) review: The verdict
Nobody ever said that making a great budget-friendly Android phone would be easy. Really, it probably gets tougher as premium features try to work their way down and brands try to nail specific price points. Unfortunately, the Motorola Moto G Play (2023) is stuck in that squeeze. Many of its features worked well in 2021 with the last G Play model, but they don’t all keep up in 2023.
Sure, it still has a headphone jack, a battery that lasts and lasts, and the light, smooth My UX skin, but that doesn’t feel like enough. The Mediatek Helio G37 lacks any punch, the charging leaves you tethered to the wall for hours, and there’s no sign of NFC or 5G on the horizon. Of course, we have to remember that this is one of the most affordable Android devices on the market at just $170, but the tide is rising around Motorola.
The Moto G Play has a 2021 mentality that doesn't quite land in a 2023 environment.
In particular, Samsung’s new Galaxy A14 5G offers key advantages across the board, adding a Full HD resolution, additional RAM and storage, and 5G speeds for just $30 more. It shifts to 15W wired charging and a reliable side-mounted fingerprint reader that doubles as the power button. It’ll also be supported with Android version updates for two years and security patches for four years, making it a safer investment. We’ll have to wait and see how Samsung’s updated camera array performs when we get our hands on one, but it’s shaping up nicely with similar lenses and a 50MP primary shooter.
The OnePlus Nord N300 ($228 at T-Mobile) is another reasonable competitor in a similar price segment. It has flaws of its own, but it brings more RAM and storage right out of the box and offers much faster 33W wired charging. Add a little extra punch — and 5G support — from the Dimensity 810 chipset, and it’s easy to see where spending a little extra money gets you, though for now it only supports T-Mobile.
Perhaps worse for the Moto G Play (2023) is that carriers are loaded with deals for free phones. It usually takes little more than a two-year agreement to get a more premium device in your pocket, with options like the Motorola Moto Edge (2022), Samsung Galaxy A53 5G ($399.99 at Amazon), and Google Pixel 6a ($339.58 at Amazon) on the table from some carriers. When that’s your competition, it’s tough to recommend an underpowered budget experience.
Top Motorola Moto G Play (2023) questions and answers
Motorola has promised one Android update and three years of bi-monthly security updates.
The Motorola Moto G Play (2023) is still a 4G-only device due to its Mediatek Helio G37 chipset.
Yes, and you can expand the Moto G Play’s storage by up to 512GB.
No, the Moto G Play (2023) is limited to 10W wired charging.
The Moto G Play (2023) and Moto G Play (2021) share the same display size and base RAM and storage. However, the newer Moto G Play offers a faster refresh rate and swaps the Snapdragon 460 chipset for a weaker Helio G37.