Jeremy Laukkonen is automotive and tech writer for numerous major trade publications as well as the creator of a popular blog and video game startup. A fan of EVs since the early 2000s, he stays up-to-date on the myriad complex systems that power battery electric vehicles.
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Great battery life
Big, bright display
Performs worse than other Moto G phones
Display resolution is low
The Moto G Play (2021) is a budget phone that brings a lot of value to the table, with performance, build quality, and battery life that you don’t often find in a phone at this price point.
We purchased the Motorola Moto G Play (2021) so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for the full product review.
The Moto G Play (2021) is a mid-range budget smartphone with a decent price and some attractive specifications and features. It shares a common form factor with the other Moto G phones (the Moto G Power and Moto G Stylus), with its low price tag being offset by a weaker processor, less RAM and storage, and an anemic camera array.
Despite the low price tag, it sports the same massive battery as the more expensive Moto G Power, a large display, and decent overall performance.
I spent about a week with the Moto G Play (2021) as my primary phone, carrying it with me and using it for calls, texts, video conferencing, email, internet, and more. I tested everything from overall performance to call quality, audio fidelity, and more.
The Moto G Play (2021) is a big phone, tipping the scales at 7.2 ounces, and sporting a massive 6.5-inch display with a decent screen-to-body ratio. The frame and back are plastic, but it doesn’t look or feel cheap like a lot of other plastic budget phones. It actually feels pretty good in the hand, and it looks good too.
The only color option is Misty Blue, which translates to a dark blue body and a slick-looking blue-to-black fade on the back. It’s a really attractive phone, and I actually prefer this color scheme to the faux-metallic look found in the more expensive Moto G Power (2021) and Moto One 5G Ace.
The Moto G Play's front is dominated by the 6.5-inch display, with fairly chunky bezels on the top and sides and a large chin that’s a bit bigger than the more expensive Moto G Power and Moto G Stylus. The selfie camera is accommodated by a thin teardrop, which is also a downgrade over the pinhole cams found in the other Moto G phones.
When you get to the Moto G Play's frame, every side has something going on. The SIM tray, which accommodates a microSD card, is on the left side. On the right side, you’ll find a volume rocker and power button. Unlike the Moto G Power (2021) and Moto G Stylus (2021), the power button is just a power button, not a fingerprint sensor. The bottom of the phone holds the USB-C port and the speaker grill, and the top includes a 3.5mm audio jack.
Around back, the Moto G Play features a three-camera array housed in an unnecessarily large bump, and a fingerprint sensor emblazoned with the Motorola logo. It isn’t the most comfortable fingerprint sensor I’ve used, but it’s functionally identical to the one found on the much more expensive Motorola One 5G Ace.
The Moto G Play (2021) features a 6.5-inch IPS LCD panel that accounts for about an 80 percent screen-to-body ratio. With a resolution of 1600 x 720 and the large display, the pixel density is pegged at 270ppi.
Those numbers aren’t going to win any awards, but this is a big, clear, bright display on a budget-friendly handset, and I found it to be pretty easy on the eyes after a week of use. Colors felt a bit muted compared to more expensive devices, but the screen is bright enough that I never had any issues with it except in direct, full sunlight. Streaming media from YouTube and Netflix looked great indoors in low light conditions, as did the games I tried out during testing.
Performance is the weakest point of the Moto G Play (2021), which features a slower processor than its more expensive relatives, along with less RAM. It has a Snapdragon 460 chip, just 3GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage, over half of which is taken up by the operating system and pre-installed apps.
While the Moto G Play doesn’t have the most remarkable specifications, I was impressed by its performance during the time I spent with the phone. I never experienced any lag with UI elements and only occasionally noticed a bit of wait time when launching apps. The phone handled basic tasks such as web browsing, streaming media, and email without any frustrating slowdown.
Opinions aside, I ran a number of productivity and gaming benchmarks to get a good baseline of how well the Moto G Play holds up. I started with the Work 2.0 benchmark from PCMark, which tests how well a phone can be expected to handle basic productivity tasks. It scored 5,554 overall, which isn’t bad for a phone in this price range. It is lower than the other phones in the Moto G line, but that’s to be expected from the hardware differences.
Drilling down further, the Moto G Play scored 5,436 in the web browsing category, which is actually a bit higher than the Moto G Stylus (2021). It also scored a decent 5,659 in the writing category. Low scores in video editing and data manipulation reflect the low amount of RAM and the relatively weak processor. Overall, these are the scores of a budget phone that’s great for basic tasks like web browsing, email, and streaming video.
Other than exceedingly long load times, I found Asphalt 9 to run extremely well.
Beyond productivity, I also ran some gaming benchmarks. This phone doesn’t have the specifications for high-level gaming, as reflected in abysmal scores of 241 and 1403 in the 3DMark Wild Life and Sling Shot benchmarks, in which it managed a meager 1.4 FPS and 9 FPS respectively.
In the less intensive Car Chase benchmark from GFXBench, it managed a score of 539 and 9.1 FPS, which is still unplayable in real-world terms. It turned in a better result for the even more forgiving T-Rex benchmark from 3DMark, with a score of 2,001 and 36 FPS, which would actually be playable if it were a game and not a benchmark.
With that in mind, I loaded up Gameloft’s fast-paced Asphalt 9 and ran a few races. Other than exceedingly long load times, I found Asphalt 9 to run extremely well. It’s a pretty well-optimized game for lower-end hardware, but I’ve still seen issues on some lower-end phones. No graphical or performance issues here though, just pulse-pounding racing action.
The bottom line here is that despite the name, the Moto G Play isn’t a gaming phone, and you won’t be disappointed if you keep that in mind. It’s great at basic productivity tasks, and it runs lower-end and well-optimized games really well, but the weak processor and low amount of RAM do hold it back.
For cellular connectivity, the unlocked Moto G Play (2021) supports GSM, CDMA, HSPA, and LTE. During my time with the phone, I used it with my Google Fi SIM that connects to T-Mobile’s LTE network in this area. For Wi-Fi connectivity, it supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, including dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, and hotspot functionality. It also supports Bluetooth 5.0 for local connectivity, but there’s no support for NFC.
To test the Moto G Play’s Wi-Fi connectivity, I connected it to a 1 gigabit internet connection from Mediacom, using an Eero mesh Wi-Fi system. I started out by getting a baseline reading a few feet from the router using the Speed Test app from Ookla.
At that distance, in ideal conditions, the Moto G Play recorded a maximum download speed of 256 Mbps and an upload of 68.9 Mbps. That’s lower than the other Moto G devices I tested at the same time, but still fast enough to handle anything you could feasibly throw at it.
After the initial test, I moved about 10 feet from the router into a hallway. At that distance, the speed dropped to 138 Mbps, which was, again, lower than the other Moto G devices I tested at the same time in the same location. At a distance of 70 feet, with a couple walls between the phone and the router or nearest mesh beacon, it managed 70.6 Mbps down and 67.9 Mbps up. That’s a significant drop, but still fast enough to stream high definition video.
Finally, I took the Moto G Play out to my driveway, at a distance of over 100 feet from the router or nearest beacon. Here, the download speed dropped to 18 Mbps, and the upload speed to 12.5 Mbps.
Cellular data speeds were similarly low compared to the other 2021 Moto G devices I tested at the same time. I averaged about 2 Mbps down when connected to cellular data, with the highest number I saw during my week with the phone being just 5 Mbps. Despite these lower speeds, I didn’t have any trouble with dropped calls. Call quality was almost universally crisp and clear, without any connectivity issues.
The Moto G Play (2021) includes a single mono speaker that fires out the phone's bottom through six large holes. The speaker isn’t the loudest I’ve heard, but it’s loud enough to get the job done. I unfortunately noticed a significant amount of distortion with the volume cranked up all the way, to the point where I couldn't imagine anyone wanting to leave the phone at that volume for any amount of time for any reason.
In addition to the unpleasant, buzzing distortion at high volumes, the mono speaker is predictably tinny. It sounds okay if you leave the volume down, but you’ll want to pack along a set of headphones to plug into the 3.5mm jack if you plan on spending any amount of time listening to music, videos, or games.
The other issue with the speaker is that the vent holes are easily blocked with your hand when playing games in portrait mode. You can solve that by plugging in headphones, but I found the headphone jack to then interfere with my left hand when gaming.
The Moto G Play (2021) punches above its weight class in a lot of areas, but camera quality is one place where it falls flat. It features a two-camera array on the back, with a main 13MP sensor and a depth sensor housed together with the LED flash in a square panel. The square housing is exactly the same size and shape as the one found on the more expensive Moto G phones, despite the fact that they each include a macro lens in addition to the main camera and depth sensor.
While the rear camera is serviceable, I found it to turn in uniformly disappointing results. Shots tended to look okay in perfect light, with decent depth of field and colors, although with less detail than I’m used to. In less than ideal light, things get muddy fast, and there’s no night vision option at all, unlike the other phones in the 2021 Moto G lineup.
The front selfie cam isn’t really any better. It features a 5MP sensor, and it turns in decent enough results in perfect lighting conditions. I found shots taken in great lighting to look fairly sharp, with lively colors. In mixed light and shadow, and low light conditions, the results fall off a cliff.
Video results are pretty much the same as stills, with both cameras performing well enough in excellent light conditions, and not well at all in less-than-ideal conditions. If you plan on using this phone for video conferencing, you may want to invest in a good ring light.
The Moto G Play (2021) includes the same big 5,000 mAh battery found in the more expensive Moto G Power (2021), and the results are predictably fantastic. The combination of this big battery with lower power requirements due to lower specifications is a real winner.
I was able to go two or three days at a time between charges during my week using the phone, and the support for rapid charging means you can juice back up to full really fast.
To really put the battery to the test, I connected to Wi-Fi, switched off the Bluetooth and cellular modem, and set the phone to stream YouTube videos on a nonstop loop.
I was able to go two or three days at a time between charges during my week with the phone, and the support for rapid charging means you can juice back up to full really fast.
The Moto G Play lasted well over 18 hours of non-stop video streaming before it finally shut down. That’s longer than the Moto G Power despite the price difference.
The Moto G Play (2021) ships with Motorola’s flavor of Android 10 with its My UX interface. It runs almost exactly like stock Android 10 with a handful of additions, which is good. But it’s Android 10, which isn’t that great.
While Motorola has guaranteed at least one OS update, which isn’t always a given on phones in this price range, that update is going to be consumed by the jump to Android 11.
Motorola typically launches its Moto G phones with the current version of Android, not an old one, so getting stuck with Android 10 is a bit of a letdown.
The good news is that Android 10 runs well on the phone, and the My UX interface doesn’t add a lot of unnecessary clutter. It’s essentially invisible, bringing you Moto Actions to accomplish tasks such as turning on the flashlight with a chopping action, and Moto Gametime to elevate your gaming experience to the next level.
Motorola typically launches its Moto G phones with the current version of Android, not an old one, so getting stuck with Android 10 is a bit of a letdown. However, a lot of phones in this price range launch with outdated versions of Android with no promised update, so things could be worse.
With an MSRP of $169.99, the Moto G Play is a great deal. It doesn’t have the performance or specifications of other phones in the line, but it shares enough of their DNA to represent a good value at this price point. With a big display, massive battery, and solid performance, it’s worth every penny.
The Moto G Power (2021) is a natural competitor for the Moto G Play (2021). Despite being in the same line, and nominally aimed at different target markets, these phones share so much in common that it’s impossible to buy one without first asking whether the other would be a better deal.
With an MSRP of $199.99 for the 3GB/64GB version and $249.99 for the 4GB/64GB version, the Power is a bit pricier than the Play. The Power has a slightly bigger display, but it sports the same resolution, so the pixel density is a bit lower. It also has the exact same battery, so the battery life is a lower thanks to the bigger screen and more powerful processor.
The more powerful Snapdragon 662 chip is where the Moto G Power pulls ahead, as it outperforms the Moto G Play in every respect. The less expensive configuration suffers from the same issues due to the lower amount of RAM, but the more expensive version doesn’t have that problem. It also has a significantly better camera array, and twice as much storage if you opt for the more expensive version.
While the Moto G Play is a good phone for the price, the Moto G Power is definitely worth a look if you have some room in your budget. The lesser of its two configurations will net you a slightly larger display and a more powerful processor, while the higher-end version also gets you more storage space and RAM.
The Moto G Play (2021) is a great budget phone, but you can spend a little more to get a lot more.
The Moto G Play is a great phone for the price, with decent enough performance and a fantastic battery life. If you’re working on a tight budget, and the Moto G Play comes in just under the wire, then there’s no question: Pull the trigger. If you can squeeze a bit more space in the budget, then consider upgrading to the Moto G Power (2021), which offers better performance and a better display for only a minor additional investment.
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