Review: Lenovo Moto G4 Play Android Smartphone

Moto (formerly Motorola) has had a pretty rocky few years. After being purchased by Google in August of 2011, the company was split in half, with the search giant selling off Motorola Solutions and keeping Motorola Mobility. Google drastically changed Motorola on the outside, users were seeing less and less smartphones coming out of the US smartphone maker, and the software was more and more like stock Android that Google puts on its Nexus devices. It was something that worked for Motorola before Google ultimately sold them to Lenovo in February of 2014.

Under Lenovo's ownership, many were wondering what would happen to Motorola. Well the biggest change was their name. Going from Motorola to just Moto, and essentially being a brand under the Lenovo umbrella. In 2015, we didn't see much of Lenovo's influence on the smartphone maker, but we are definitely seeing it in 2016. The company has launched three models in the Moto Z line and three in the Moto G lineup. These lineups once had just one smartphone. That's a pretty drastic change for a company like Moto, in such a small amount of time. When it comes to the Moto G4 line, there's the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus which we've reviewed already. And now the Moto G4 Play which is the cheapest in the lineup - and available from Amazon for just $99.99 for Prime members, it's regular price is $149.

The biggest question about the Moto G4 Play is about its existence. It's only $50 cheaper than the Moto G4. Yet it sports a lower-end processor, a smaller display and smaller battery. So is the Moto G4 Play really worth the money? That's something we'll attempt to answer in this review.

Specs

The Moto G4 Play's specs do differ quite a bit from its larger brothers. For instance, there is a 5-inch 1280x720 resolution display. This nets you 294 pixels per inch. Running the show is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 quad-core processor along with the Adreno 306 GPU. There is 2GB of RAM inside, along with 16GB of storage. There is a micro SD card slot underneath the back cover, above the micro SIM card slot. This micro SD card slot supports up to 128GB of storage and Adoptable Storage is included here. This is powered by a 2800mAh battery and Android 6.0 Marshmallow running on the software front.

Optics for the Moto G4 Play include an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera which has an aperture of f/2.2 along with an LED flash. There is also 4x digital zoom included on the rear camera. Keep in mind that it's digital and not optical zoom, so you still may not get the best image quality when zoomed in. The front-facing shooter is a 5-megapixel sensor, and it doesn't have an actual flash but can use the display as a flash. Its aperture is also f/2.2.

Connectivity options include WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1 LE (Low Energy) and A-GPS for location services. There are accelerometer, proximity, and ambient light sensors included. The Moto G4 Play does support GSM and CDMA networks, so that you can pop in your Verizon or Sprint SIM card without any issues. Speaking of SIM cards, it does use a micro SIM card slot. Unlike the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus, there are no nano to micro SIM card adapters included. Here are the bands that are supported on the US variant of the Moto G4 Play:

GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900

CDMA 850, 1900

HSPA+ 850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100

4G LTE bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 25, 26, 41

In the Box

With Moto, you generally know what to expect in the box. The big difference in this unboxing compared to the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus is the charger. Since the Snapdragon 410 does not have support for Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 (it does support Quick Charge 2.0 however), the turbocharger that Moto has been including in their other smartphones is not present with the Moto G4 Play. Instead you have a standard wall charger, however the USB cable is embedded. This was likely to keep the cost down on the Moto G4 Play. It does still charge the Moto G4 Play, but a Quick Charge 2.0 will do the trick, a bit faster.

Also inside the box, there is the battery. It's not included in the phone, as it is a removable battery. Something we haven't seen in a new smartphone in quite some time, where the battery is shipped outside of the phone. There's also your typical quick start guides and warranty information included in the box. And that's about it.

Hardware

Moto has always been known for their build quality, and it's no different with the Moto G4 Play. The look and feel of the Moto G4 Play is identical to the Moto G4, just a tad smaller. The camera module is a bit smaller, and the top of the phone isn't as curved as the Moto G4 is, finally the 3.5mm headphone jack is included on the left side of the top of the phone. Instead of being in the center. A lot of people have called this look "boring", but I prefer to say that it's functional. Sure it's not flashy like the Moto Z line is, but it does its job and does it well. The Moto G4 Play is slightly rugged, but not overly rugged. Meaning it can handle a drop or two, as long as it isn't coming from a two story window onto concrete.

The back panel of the Moto G4 Play has a bit of texture to it as well. Now this is noteworthy because most flagship smartphones are slippery. If you go and read a review of most of these smartphones that cost over $600, you'll find that every single one is slippery. Not the case with the Moto G4 Play. It's textured which means holding onto the device is much easier. Of course, the fact that it is a slightly smaller smartphone helps too. The sides or the frame, of the Moto G4 Play, give you the allusion that it is metal. But it's not. It's plastic dressed up to look like metal. And that's fine. It keeps the phone nice and light, and makes it look good as well.

Button placement is also identical to the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus, with the volume button being on the right side and the power button being slightly above it. The power button is textured as well, making it easy to tell which button is which, especially when using the smartphone in the dark, as most of us do from time to time. As already noted, the headphone jack is at the top and the micro USB port is at the bottom of the phone. Beneath the back cover, you'll find the removable 2800mAh battery, micro SIM and micro SD card slots. And that's about it. It's definitely nice to see that Moto has included a removable battery on the Moto G4 Play, and a bit interesting considering the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Play have removable backs but the battery is embedded and is not removable.

The build quality doesn't scream "premium" on the Moto G4 Play, but then again, it really doesn't need to. As this definitely is not a premium smartphone and it's not marketed as one either. The phone sits nice and comfortably in the hand, and there's really no complaints about the build quality here.

Display

Despite the other Moto G4 members sporting a 1080p display, the Moto G4 Play does indeed sport a 720p display. Now with the fact that it is a smaller display, it does make it a bit better. But we still would have loved to see a 1080p display on this device, especially in this price range. The Moto G4 Play's display isn't a bad looking display at all. It's actually quite good looking. This panel is surprisingly bright and colorful. Despite what many may believe, you cannot see individual pixels on this display, that's due to the display having a 294 pixels per inch density. While it's not in the 400s like many of Moto's other smartphones, it's still pretty respectable.

Moto does include a couple of color modes here for the display. So we have Standard which "displays realistic color" and then Vibrant which "displays enhanced color and saturation". During the review process, we kept the Vibrant mode on, and really liked it. Unfortunately, there's no feature to adjust the saturation and other aspects of the display individually. Something that many other smartphones have been adding in recently.

When it comes to "cheap" smartphones like the Moto G4 Play, a corner that is typically cut is the digitizer. Which lays underneath the glass and it basically takes your touches and translates them to the OS so that it knows where you touched the display. For example, if you touch a button, the digitizer needs to relay that to the OS to carry out the task. Often times, cheaper smartphones have issues with its digitizer. Whether it be that it's just slow, or doesn't work at all. But we are happy to report, that there are no issues with the digitizer here on the Moto G4 Play. There's no lag whatsoever. Definitely a good thing.

Performance

Let's address the elephant in the room here. And that's the Snapdragon 410. This chipset is nearly 3 years old now. And in the world of processors, and just mobile technology in general, that's quite old. Now flagship chips like the Snapdragon 800 series, and maybe even the upper-end of the 600 series can get away with this. But not the Snapdragon 410, which was destined as a mid-range chip in December 2013 when it was made official. It is clocked at 1.2GHz, so it does seem slow, but it is more than capable of running Android and most applications, it just isn't all that great for gaming on any smartphone in this day and age. Despite the Adreno 306 GPU being pretty stellar.

That said, the Snapdragon 410 actually performed quite well for us. Obviously this doesn't compare with the Snapdragon 820 or even the Snapdragon 652 that has been in recent Moto smartphones, but for under $150, you could definitely find smartphones with worse chipsets. 4G LTE connectivity is included in the Snapdragon 410, which is what makes it a great chip for lower-cost handsets. The Snapdragon 410 handled everything we threw at it pretty well. Now it could be a bit slow at times, but remember that this is clocked at just 1.2GHz, which is quite slow compared to many flagships, so this is expected. There weren't any hints of lag here, even with the 2GB of RAM included.

Gameplay of course was not spectacular, but you are able to play some games without much of an issue. Of course, more graphic intensive games are going to be more of an issue with the Moto G4 Play and its older chipset. But if you are in need of a cheap smartphone, and don't play many hardcore games - more of a casual gamer, then the Moto G4 Play is definitely a great smartphone in the performance department.

Benchmarks

As usual, we ran three different benchmarks on the Moto G4 Play. Now it's been a good little while since we've benchmarked a smartphone with the Snapdragon 410 (actually come to think of it, we may never have, as the Snapdragon 410 hasn't been that popular, compared to the Snapdragon 400), but the scores were about where we expected them to be. We ran AnTuTu, 3D Mark and Geekbench 4 - which was just released a few weeks ago.

Battery Life

When it comes to the Moto G lineup, everyone knows it for one thing and that is spectacular battery life. The Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus that we reviewed earlier this year both sported some incredible battery life, and the Moto G4 Play is no different. Despite having a smaller and lower-resolution display, as well as a slightly smaller battery, the Moto G4 Play still lasts all day and then some. We were often able to get through a full day and still have around at least 50% left. Leading us to believe that you could get two days out of this phone, if not almost two days.

Now when it comes to charging, this is where the Moto G4 Play cuts corners a bit. The Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus both sported Quick Charge 3.0. But the Moto G4 Play has the older Snapdragon 410 processor, which doesn’t support Quick Charge 3.0, but it does support Quick Charge 2.0. Which is still plenty fast - around 2A - and can charge up the 2800mAh battery here in a pretty quick time frame. It takes just under two hours to charge from empty to full. Of course, Quick Charge 3.0 would have been preferred, but Quick Charge 2.0 isn’t a slouch either.

The included charger does not support Quick Charge 2.0, so if you do want to charge your Moto G4 Play a bit faster, you may want to invest in one. Which they are pretty cheap nowadays anyways. So you shouldn’t need to spend more than about $10 for one.

Sound & Speakers

Unlike the Moto Z, the Moto G4 Play does indeed have a headphone jack. There's nothing special about this headphone jack. It doesn't output any HiFi audio or anything like that. It works just as it should. So there's no complaints there. The sound quality is pretty decent, it's not going to blow you away, and it won't impress audiophiles out there.

The speaker is the same front-facing speaker that is present on every other Moto smartphone to launch this year. It's hidden in the earpiece on the front of the device. This means that there isn't any extra bezel on the front, but you also get a front-facing speaker, even if it is just one. The front-facing speaker is pretty superb as well. Again, no HiFi audio here, but it will make many users happy. The speaker can get very loud, in fact most of the time that I was using the Moto G4 Play, I had the volume set to a few notches below full volume. Which is not something that I usually do. That shows just how loud it can get. All of that without the sound being distorted at all.

Phone Calls & Network

As you can probably see from the bands that were listed in the specs section, the Moto G4 Play is compatible with Verizon and Sprint's CDMA networks. And since this is an unlocked smartphone, all you need to do is pop in your SIM card and you're all set and ready to go. There's no other settings that need to be changed or anything like that. During the review we used the device one both Verizon and T-Mobile's network. Both provided the same experience we've had with other smartphones. Data speeds were comparable, and phone calls were dropped about the same amount - which means not at all.

When it comes to phone calls, however, because this is an unlocked smartphone and not a carrier branded one, you won't be getting any of the special features like VoLTE, WiFi Calling or even Verizon's Advanced Calling. But you will still get great coverage - depending on your carrier and location. While HD Voice, WiFi Calling, VoLTE and Advanced Calling would be nice features, it's easy to see why they are not included. And that's due to the carrier's software not being on the device.

Software

When it comes to software, we mostly know what to expect from the Moto G4 Play. Lenovo hasn't changed Moto's software philosophy all that much since taking over the company a couple of years ago. We have stock Android here with some Moto enhancements. We're looking at Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow along with the July 1st, 2016 security patch. That's not the latest security patch, but it is relatively recent. It's important to note here that Lenovo and Moto have stated that they won't be pushing out security patches every single month. Instead they will be doing it every few months, with all of the security patches included. They feel that monthly updates are just to frequent, especially when you have as many different models as they have now.

For enhancements, there is just Moto Actions and Moto Display. Moto Voice is reserved for the Moto Z line of smartphones, unfortunately. Moto Actions is pretty limited too, there's many actions missing from the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus. In fact, the only action that is available here is the Swipe to shrink the screen. This is to make it easier to use with one hand. Although with a 5-inch display, that probably isn't as useful as it would be with the 5.5-inch display on the Moto G4 or the Moto Z. Then there is Moto Display and you should mostly know what to expect there. It shows you your notifications on the lock screen without lighting up the entire display. This has replaced the notification LED on Moto smartphones since the Moto X launched in 2013, and it's continued to get better. Now you can choose which apps will show their notifications on Moto Display, and you can also choose to keep the screen dark for a set time - like when you're in bed or asleep.

Otherwise, all of the features that you'd expect with Android Marshmallow are present here on the Moto G4 Play. This is running the Google Now Launcher, so to the left of your home screen is Google Now. Giving you easy access to Google Now (and perhaps the Google Assistant in the near future?). What's also important here is that because this is an unlocked smartphone, there are no bloatware apps included at all. Aside from the typical Google apps, the only other app that is included is an FM Radio app, and the Moto app for the enhancements that we talked about already.

Google has made Android very lightweight with their recent releases, and that was done specifically for smartphones like the Moto G4 Play which have lower-end specs, but can still provide a pretty stellar experience for those using the device. Android Marshmallow runs nice and smooth with the 2GB of RAM and the Snapdragon 410 processor inside. Which shouldn't really be a surprise, but it is definitely nice to see.

Camera

In today's world of smartphone cameras, the number of megapixels doesn't tell the whole story anymore. With smartphone makers going with larger pixels that let in more light, and lower megapixel counts. Like with the Nexus 6P, and the Galaxy S7 Edge. However with the Moto G4 Play, that's not the case. This smartphone sports a 8-megapixel sensor around back, and it performs decently. Now this isn't going to blow you away, and you definitely shouldn't expect it too. Especially if you're comparing it to smartphones like the Galaxy S7 Edge, or the HTC 10. Both of which are nearly 5 times the price of the Moto G4 Play.

To be completely honest here, there's plenty of noise shown in the pictures from the Moto G4 Play. You can see all of the images we took with the device in the Flickr gallery below. Indoors, even in decent lighting conditions, the Moto G4 Play's camera does really suffer a bit. There are some pictures that have a ton of noise, but then pictures that were taken outdoors, for the most part, look amazing. Of course it's not as detailed as some other smartphone cameras on the market right now, but it could definitely be worse.

When it comes to the camera experience, there's really nothing new here from Moto. If you've used a Moto smartphone in the past few years, you'll feel right at home here. They have kept the rather minimal interface for the camera app. With just your essential settings being shown. However if you swipe in from the right, you'll be greeted with the rest of your settings, and be able to change the aspect ratio of your pictures. It defaults to 16:9, which is about 6-megapixels. All of our images we took are 4:3 which is using all 8-megapixels of this camera. If you swipe in from the left, you'll be greeted with the pictures you've taken recently, from the Google Photos app. Since Moto doesn't have their own gallery app anymore, you are taken directly into Google Photos. Which is a good thing, and it makes it a bit less confusing for the user.

The Good

Price

Build Quality

Software

Battery Life

Removable Battery

Carrier Compatibility

The Bad

Camera

Aging Snapdragon 410 SoC

Low base storage option

Wrap Up

The Moto G4 Play brings to the table all of the specs and features you would expect out of the normal Moto G. In fact, its specs are basically the same as last year's Moto G (third generation), but with a slightly larger battery (2800mAh in the Moto G4 Play vs 2470mAh in last year's Moto G). All in all, it's not a bad phone whatsoever. It's a pretty good workhorse that will more than last you an entire day. In fact, you could probably get through two days or even more out of the Moto G4 Play. That's something we can't say about many other smartphones available today.

Should I buy the Moto G4 Play?

If you need a smartphone that can get the job done, and you don't do a whole lot of gaming. Then yes. The Moto G4 Play checks all of the boxes for a "basic" smartphone. And it comes in at a decent price as well, starting at $149 - if you're an Amazon Prime member, you can get it for $99 if you don't mind the occasional ad on your lock screen. However, with the Moto G4 and Moto G4 Plus being slightly more expensive, one has to wonder if it wouldn't be a better choice to pick up the Moto G4? Given that it starts at $199, just $50 more but you get a bigger, higher resolution display, and a better processor. If you like having a 5-inch display, then the Moto G4 Play is hands down the best smartphone on the market in this price range. There's nothing that can beat it right now.

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About the Author
2018/11/alex-2.jpg

Alexander Maxham

Section Editor
Alex has written for Androidheadlines since 2012 as Editor of the site and traveled the World to many of the biggest Smartphone and Technology events. Alex has a background in Technology and IT and Deep Passion for Everything Android and Google. His specialties lay in Smartphones of all budgets, Accessories, Home Automation and more. Contact him at [email protected]
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