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Motorola Moto G4 Play review: Our second-favorite super-budget phone

If you're on the lookout for a cheap phone with a decent camera and long battery life, start here. (But we still like the regular Moto G4 even more.)

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Expertise Apple, iPhone, iOS, Android, Samsung, Sony, Google, Motorola, interviews, coffee equipment, cats Credentials
  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Patrick Holland
3 min read

If the Moto G4 didn't exist, the stepped-down (and even cheaper) Motorola Moto G4 Play would be the deal of the century. For just $150 (or $100 for Amazon Prime members who submit to Amazon Prime ads, like this), £130 and AU$279, you get a budget phone that's surprisingly pleasant to use, for a rock-bottom price.


Motorola Moto G4 Play

The Good

Motorola's Moto G4 Play is the most affordable phone in the G4 line. It's splash-resistant, comes loaded with a near stock version of Android 6.0, has great battery life and can be used on any major carrier in the US.

The Bad

The G4 Play lags when playing games and taking panoramic photos. The display can be hard to read in direct sunlight and you won't be able to customize the phone using Motorola's Moto Maker website.

The Bottom Line

If you're on the hunt for an affordable phone with pretty long battery life, the Motorola Moto G4 Play deserves your attention. But the regular Moto G4 gives you even better features for just a little more cash.

But there is a Moto G4, and it comes with a larger screen, a better camera and a much faster processor. Best yet, it only costs a little more -- $50 or £39 -- than the G4 Play (it doesn't sell in Australia, but the G4 Plus does). So for my money, I'd invest a little more and get the G4 over the G4 Play.

That said, the G4 Play is actually a great budget find on its own merit. I never encountered a moment where I thought, "I can't use this." The G4 Play is the Toyota Corolla of phones; it has that wonderful balance of price and value to do real-world things like text and email, upload photos and snap pictures of cute little Fifi.

Motorola's Moto G4 Play in the wild

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The Moto G4 Play is pretty much identical to the Moto G4, just a tad smaller (see how specs compare over the page). Despite having a relatively low 1,280x720-pixel resolution for its 5-inch screen, images and websites looked fairly crisp and sharp. But even with adaptive brightness enabled, you might have trouble reading in the noontime sun.

Then there's the 8-megapixel rear facing camera. Honestly, I was surprised by its better-than-average performance. Is it the best phone camera out there? No way. But in good light, it takes good photos. In mixed light, it takes OK photos. And in low light, it struggles and images tend to have some noise. Skin tones looked fairly natural in selfies, and for those who like such things, there is an optional beauty mode. The Moto G4 Play shot serviceable 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution video at 30 frames per second (fps). Take a look at some of the snaps I took with the Moto G4 Play in the gallery below.

Using the Moto G4 Play's 8-megapixel camera

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During my time with the G4 Play, I found it responsive in general use. I didn't experience any lags when opening or switching apps. However, playing games like Pokemon Go and Monument Valley really slowed things down, and so did taking panoramic photos. On the plus side, this little guy gets great battery life. In our looping video drain test, the Moto G4 Play lasted 13 hours, 36 minutes.

Storage is on the slim side -- 16GB -- which you expect for a low-cost phone. Luckily, a microSD slot supports an additional 128GB. Another perk: The Moto G4 Play comes with two years of free storage on Google Photos. Between photos and videos, it's easy to use that 16GB up pretty fast. I would definitely recommend getting a microSD card.

So what's it missing? A fingerprint sensor and color customization through the Moto Maker website. While the US and Australian models are missing NFC, the UK model is NFC-enabled. The G4 Play does have a headphone jack, unlike the higher-end Moto Z and Moto Z Force (US-only).

Take a look below to see how the G4 Play compares to the similarly specced (and priced) Moto G4, Samsung Galaxy J3, Sony Xperia XA and Huawei Honor 5X.

Phone spec comparison

Motorola Moto G4 PlayMotorola Moto G4Samsung Galaxy J3Sony Xperia XAHuawei Honor 5X
Display size, resolution 5-inch; 1,280x720 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5-inch; 1,280x720 pixels5-inch; 1,280x720 pixels5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 294ppi401ppi294ppi294ppi401ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.7x2.8x0.39 in6.0x3.0x0.39 in5.6x2.8x0.3 in5.7x2.6x0.31 in6x3x0.32 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 144.4x72x9.9 mm153x76.6x9.8 mm142x71x7.9 mm144x67x7.9 mm151x76x8.2 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 4.83 oz; 137 g5.47 oz; 155 g4.87 oz; 138 g4.8 oz; 137.4 g5.6 oz; 158 g
Mobile software Android 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 6.0 MarshmallowAndroid 5.1 Lollipop
Camera 8-megapixel13-megapixel5-megapixel13-megapixel13-megapixel
Front-facing camera 5-megapixel5-megapixel2-megapixel8-megapixel5-megapixel
Video capture 1080p HD1080p HD720p1080p HD1080p HD
Processor 1.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 4101.5GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6171.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 4102GHz octa-core MediaTek Helio P101.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615
Storage 16GB16GB16GB16GB16GB
Expandable storage Up to 128GBUp to 128GBUp to 128GB200GBUp to 128GB
Battery 2,800mAh (removable)3,000mAh (removable)2,600mAh (removable)2,700mAh (nonremovable)3,000mAh (nonremovable)
Fingerprint sensor NoneNoneNoneNoneBack cover
Connector Micro-USBMicro-USBMicro-USBMicro-USBMicro-USB
Special features Splash-resistantWater-resistantN/AN/ADual-SIM card slots
Price off-contract (USD) $150$199$110-$180 (varies by carrier)$280$200
Price (GBP) £130£169£140 (8GB version)Converts to £195Converts to £135
Price (AUD) AU$279Converts to AU$260AU$329Converts to AU$390Converts to AU$275

This review originally published September 15 at 6 a.m. PT and updated at 12:12 p.m. PT with results from our second battery test. It was updated September 20 at 10:30 a.m. PT with more information about carrier connectivity as well as NFC.


Motorola Moto G4 Play

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 7Camera 6Battery 8