We bought the Motorola Moto G Play (2021) for our reviewer’s test.
The Moto G Play (2021) is a budget mid-range smartphone with a reasonable price and interesting specs and features. It shares a form factor with other Moto G phones (Moto G Power and Moto G Stylus), and its low price is offset by a weaker processor, less RAM and storage, and an anemic camera array.
Despite the low price, it has the same huge battery as the more expensive Moto G Power, a large screen, and decent overall performance.
I spent about a week with the Moto G Play (2021) as my primary phone, taking it with me and using it for calls, text messaging, video conferencing, email, the internet and more. I’ve tested everything from overall performance to call quality, sound reproduction, and more.
Design: Looks good for a budget phone and doesn’t look cheap
The Moto G Play (2021) is a large phone, weighing 7.2 grams, with a huge 6.5-inch display with a decent screen-to-body ratio. The case and back are made of plastic, but it doesn’t look or feel as cheap as many other cheap plastic phones. It actually feels pretty good in the hand and looks good too.
The only color option is Misty Blue, which means a dark blue body and a smooth fade from blue to black on the back. It’s a really attractive phone and I actually prefer this color scheme over the metallic look of the more expensive Moto G Power (2021) and Moto One 5G Ace.
The front of the Moto G Play is dominated by a 6.5-inch display with fairly thick bezels on the top and sides and a wide chin. The selfie camera has a thin tear, which is also poor value compared to the pinhole cameras on other Moto G phones.
Image quality: wide and clear with low resolution and pixel density
The Moto G Play (2021) has a 6.5-inch IPS LCD display that represents about 80% of the screen-to-body ratio. With a resolution of 1600 x 720 and a large screen, the pixel density is 270 ppi.
These numbers won’t win any awards, but this is a big, clear, bright screen in a budget phone and I found it easy enough on the eyes after a week of use. The colors looked a bit muted compared to the more expensive devices, but the screen is bright enough that I’ve never had a problem with it, except in direct sunlight. Streaming media from YouTube and Netflix looked good indoors in low light, as did the games I tried in testing.
Performance: decent for the price
Performance is the weakest point of the Moto G Play (2021), with a slower processor than its more expensive relatives and less RAM. It has a Snapdragon 460 chip, just 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage, with the pre-installed OS and apps taking up more than half of that.
While the Moto G Play doesn’t have the most notable specs, I was impressed with its performance during my time with the phone. I’ve never experienced any lag with UI elements and just noticed a bit of a wait every now and then when apps launch. The phone handled basic tasks like web browsing, media streaming, and email without frustrating delays.
Looking further, the Moto G Play scored 5,436 points in the web browsing category, which is actually slightly higher than the Moto G Stylus (2021). Low scores in video editing and data processing reflect low RAM and a relatively weak processor. Overall, this is a cheap phone score, great for basic tasks like web browsing, email, and video streaming.
Connectivity: Remnants of other Moto G phones
For cellular connectivity, the unlocked Moto G Play (2021) supports GSM, CDMA, HSPA and LTE. While using the phone, I used it with my Google Fi SIM card, which connects to T-Mobile’s LTE network in this area. For Wi-Fi connectivity, it supports 802.11 a / b / g / n / ac standard, including dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct and hotspot functions. It also supports Bluetooth 5.0 for local connections, but there is no support for NFC.
To test the Moto G Play’s Wi-Fi connection, I connected it to Mediacom’s 1 gigabit internet connection using the Euro mesh Wi-Fi system. I started by getting a basic reading a few meters away from the router using the Oakland Speed Test app.
Sound quality: loud enough, but not great sounding
The Moto G Play (2021) features a single mono speaker that radiates from the bottom of the phone through six large holes. The speaker isn’t the loudest I’ve ever heard, but it’s loud enough to get the job done. Unfortunately, I noticed a significant amount of distortion when the volume was turned up, to the point where I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to leave their phone at that volume for any length of time, for any reason.
In addition to the unpleasant hum distortion, at high volumes the mono speaker is predictably thin. It sounds great if you leave the volume down, but we recommend bringing headphones that you can plug into the 3.5mm jack if you plan to spend time listening to music, videos, or playing games.
Another issue with the speaker is that the vents are easily blocked by hand when playing in portrait mode. You can fix this by plugging in headphones, but I found that the headphone jack interfered with my left hand while gaming.
Camera and video quality: three cameras and they all disappoint
The Moto G Play (2021) punches above its weight class in many areas, but camera quality is one area where it falls short. On the back is a dual camera array with a 13-megapixel main sensor and a depth sensor next to the LED flash in a square panel. The square body is exactly the same size and shape as the more expensive Moto G phones, although it has a macro lens in addition to the main camera and depth sensor.
While the rear camera is functional, I’ve found it to produce consistently disappointing results. Images generally looked good in perfect light, with decent depth of field and color, though less detail than I’m used to. It gets muddy quickly in sub-optimal light and doesn’t have a night vision option, unlike other 2021 Moto G-series phones.
The front-facing selfie camera isn’t really any better. It has a 5MP sensor and produces pretty decent results in perfect lighting conditions. I’ve found that photos taken in great lighting look sharp enough, with vibrant colors. In mixed light and shade and low light, the results fall off a cliff.
Battery: you can leave the charger at home
The Moto G Play (2021) packs the same large 5,000mAh battery as the more expensive Moto G Power (2021), and the results are predictably fantastic. The combination of this large battery with lower power consumption due to lower specs is a real winner.
I was able to charge two or three days in a row during the week with the phone, and the fast charging support means you can back up very quickly.
To really test the battery, I connected to Wi-Fi, turned off Bluetooth and the cellular modem, and set the phone to stream YouTube videos on a continuous loop.
The Moto G Play lasted over 18 hours of seamless video streaming before it finally shut down. Despite the price difference, it is longer than the Moto G Power.
Software: Android 10 with guaranteed operating system update
The Moto G Play (2021) comes with the Motorola version of Android 10 and its My UX user interface. It works almost exactly like Android 10 with a few additions, which is good. But it’s Android 10, which isn’t great.
While Motorola is guaranteed to have at least one OS update, which is not always a given for phones in this price range, moving to Android 11 will consume this update.
The Moto G Play is a great phone for the price, with pretty decent performance and fantastic battery life. If you’re on a tight budget and the Moto G Play is just below the line, there’s no doubt about it: pull the trigger. If you can squeeze a little more space into your budget, consider upgrading to the Moto G Power (2021), which offers better performance and a better display for a small additional investment.