Moto G6 Play review

The Moto G6 Play is a cheaper alternative to the Moto G6 and Moto G6 Plus. It trades away advanced features like 1080p resolution and a glass back to knock the SIM-free price down to a level more of us are comfortable with.

It costs $199 / £169 / AU$320, making it one of the cheapest 18:9 screen phones you can buy.

What do you lose? The Motorola Moto G6 Play doesn’t take great photos at night and the fingerprint scanner is slower than most. However, it’s still stunning value and is also one of the best-looking phones in this class.

Key features

  • A big 4,000mAh battery
  • 32GB of storage and a microSD card slot
  • Fast charging

There are two important areas to cover in the Moto G6 Play’s features. We need to check out what we miss buying this instead of a Moto G6, and appreciate the neat extras Motorola has managed to fit in at the price.

Let’s start with the parts that deserve some applause. The Moto G6 Play has 32GB of storage, which is excellent for the price. There’s a memory card slot if that’s not enough, but there’s plenty of room for some of your favorite games and thousands of photos.

Battery life is the real standout here, though. A 4,000mAh unit lets the Motorola Moto G6 Play plough on through a full day of intensive use, including, for example, an hour of YouTube streaming along with the usual messaging, browsing and camera use.

The Moto G6 Play is also one of the cheaper phones to have true fast charging. It’s a huge selling point if you want a low-maintenance phone. Its 13MP rear camera takes very pleasant shots in daylight too.

The missing parts? It has a micro USB charge socket rather than the newer USB-C and while the back looks a lot like that of the Moto G6, it is made of plastic rather than glass. It will pick up light scratches in your pocket quickly if you’re not careful. That said, Motorola includes a protective cover in the box.

Screen resolution takes a step down from the Moto G5’s 1080p too. It’s a 720 x 1440 screen, although we’re pleasantly surprised by how well it holds up next to its more expensive brothers.

The chipset is also the same as that of last year’s Moto G5, a Snapdragon 430. It’s not a super-powerful chipset but does get you more-than-acceptable performance in all areas, including high-end gaming.

Design

  • A plastic back with reflective elements
  • Surprisingly compact and easy to handle

This latest generation of Moto G phones marks the first time Motorola has used glass in this series. Well, aside from the front panel, which has been glass since the very first Moto G.

The Moto G6 and G6 Plus have curved Gorilla Glass rear panels. In the step down to the Moto G6 Play you lose this glass. It’s replaced by plastic. However, we’re pleasantly surprised by how close it looks and feels to the higher-end design. It’s just slightly tackier and doesn’t get that cool-to-the-touch feel of glass or aluminum.

There are a few important elements that make the plastic seem quite classy. First, the Moto G6 Play’s back doesn’t perceptibly flex under hand pressure. And it has the same reflective elements under the top layer as the more expensive models in this range. 

When they catch the light, you’ll see a lovely S-shaped pattern of bright blue snaking across the rear. It looks great.

It’s also much subtler than it may appear in some of our photos, because we’ve deliberately used light to bring out the effect. Use it indoors and the Moto G6 Play just looks like a very dark blue glass-backed phone.

It is not all-plastic, either. The sides are aluminum, although they are coated to keep the finish consistent.

Size is one other important aspect you’ll need to get your head around. From the spec list alone, you might imagine the Moto G6 Play is huge. It has a 5.7-inch screen. However, it isn’t huge.

Width is the main element that determines how large a phone feels. And at 72.2mm, the Moto G6 Play is actually less wide than the 73mm Moto G5. It’s easy to handle, and while around a centimeter longer than the Moto G5, this is because of its significantly taller screen.

Classier than the Honor 7A and more affordable than the Honor 9 Lite, the Moto G6 Play is one of the most pleasant phones you’ll find at the price.

There are a few compromises, though. It doesn’t have the water repelling nano coating of the higher-end Moto G6 models and there’s a micro USB on the bottom, not a USB-C.

The difference? As we get fast charging anyway, it’s all about the ease of putting in the charge cable. USB-Cs can be jammed in either way, micro USBs can’t.

It has a, hallelujah, headphone jack, too. This sits on the top edge. All the Moto G6 models have one, though, so it’s not a reason to pick this cheaper model. Lower cost is.

There’s a fingerprint scanner on the back too. Motorola told us it lives here because it’s cheaper to implement a rear sensor than a front one, as seen in the Moto G6 and G6 Plus, especially in a phone with fairly narrow surrounds like this.

The scanner works fine but is far from the fastest around. Huawei’s P9 Lite is quicker, and the Motorola Moto G6 Play is a little more picky than most about your finger position. However, it’s worth highlighting what the real difference is.

You’re looking at a standby to home screen time of about one second (or slightly under), where the quickest take about 0.3 seconds. It’s slower, but still quicker than using a passcode.

Screen

  • 5.7-inch 18:9 screen gives you lots of space
  • 720 x 1440 resolution is lower than the rest of the G6 range

The screen shows off both the Moto G6 Play’s most important upgrade, and one of its notable budget compromises. It’s a 5.7-inch 18:9 aspect screen. Until late last year all affordable phones had less 'tall' 16:9 aspect screens. This phone proves such a display is no longer just for more expensive mobiles.

Benefits include more space for your fingers while playing console-style landscape orientation games and more lines of text on-screen when you read an article. You’ll notice this all the more when the on-screen keyboard pops-up. It takes a lot of a 16:9 phone’s screen. Not so with an 18:9’er like the Moto G6 Play.

Resolution is the compromise. 720 x 1440 pixels may sound like quite a lot still, but this is just a stretched take on 720p. The Moto G4 Play is last time we saw a Moto G phone with this class of resolution, back in 2016.

If you currently have a 1080p phone, you’ll probably notice the phone isn’t quite as sharp within the first few minutes. However, we were quite surprised by how quickly our eyes bedded in.

Android uses font aliasing (smoothing) these days, and there’s no 'screen door' effect, which is where pixel density is so low you can see the light gaps between pixels. The Motorola Moto G6 Play still has a 282ppi pixel density, after all, which isn’t bad.

Color performance is only very slightly worse than the Moto G6 too. Vivid reds look just a hint less saturated when using the Vivid mode.

You can choose between this mode and 'standard', which is intended to look more natural but also loses some richness. Color temperature is customizable too. There are warm, neutral and cool settings.

Use 'vivid' color and 'warm' temperature and the Moto G6 Play looks great, more inviting and luxuriant than the Honor 7A. This is a very nice screen for the price, although the higher pixel density of the Moto G6 does get you closer to the look of an ultra-high-end phone thanks to its smoother fonts.

Out on a sunny day, the Moto G6 Play holds up about as well as the Moto G6, with enough brightness to make the display contents comfortably visible.

Battery life

  • Big 4,000mAh battery comfortably lasts all day
  • Fast charging gets you from 0 to 100% in under two hours

A large battery is one of the Moto G6 Play’s key features. It has a 4,000mAh cell, 1,000mAh bigger than the Moto G6’s. In theory this phone should last for ages.

This mostly plays out with real world use. On one day testing we ended up going down a YouTube rabbit hole, watching an hour or more’s worth of video about people dropping anvils onto toilets and letting insects sting them. The internet happens to us all sometimes.

Even at midnight, with a full day’s worth of the usual messaging, photo-taking and a few hours of podcast streams, the Moto G6 Play still had just under 30% battery left.

With lighter use you should find you have 40-50% left by bed time.

It didn’t do that well in our standard playback test, though. 90 minutes of video at maximum brightness takes 18% off the charge level.

That’s good, but is not close to the 9% drop we’ve seen in phones like the Huawei P20 Pro. And it's also slightly worse than the 16% drop experienced by the Moto G5S, which is a little disappointing. 

It would seem the new 18:9 LCD is a bit of battery hog even if it is relatively low-res. Though it comfortably beats the 21% loss exhibited by the standard Moto G6.

Charging speed is best-in-class, though. The Moto G6 Play has true Motorola TurboPower fast charging, which gets you from flat to 100% charge in under two hours. 

As usual, the first 50% or so is replenished very quickly, and charging slows in the final stretch.

Camera

  • 13MP single-lens camera performs decently in daylight
  • Slow to shoot
  • Struggles at night

The Moto G6 Play has a 13MP camera on the back with an LED flash and an f/2.0 lens. It’s a similar spec to the Moto G5.

We asked Motorola for details on the exact sensor used, but that info wasn’t available. It’s likely the phone uses a Sony or Samsung sensor, and may even use different hardware between territories.

You get all the same benefits and drawbacks we saw in the Moto G5. The main positive is very solid image quality when shooting during the day.

Use the default Auto HDR mode and you can take some lovely shots. The software bumps up dynamic range so your images look pretty good even if there’s quite a lot of light variance in the scene. No one wants blown-out highlights or a foreground that looks super-dim.

Color is well-saturated but fairly natural and we didn’t see any color temperature disasters, where a phone mis-judges the light and skews all color tones as a result.

As the Moto G6 Play and Moto G6 do not have top-tier image processing or image signal hardware, the results tend to vary fractionally between shots. But in daylight the G6 Play can often rival its more expensive brother for image quality, although it does suffer from purple fringing with some high light contrast scenes.

The Moto G6’s Auto HDR mode seems, surprisingly, more reliable than the G6 Play’s too. It is as if it has an extra level it can reach too when required to avoid blowing highlights, and uses a more effective HDR level more often.

This frankly doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when HDR is largely software-based, and doesn’t rely entirely on the native dynamic range of the camera sensor when shooting in daylight.

At night the disparity between the Motos widens. The Moto G6 Play camera struggles at night just like every other budget 13MP phone.

You have to manually alter the exposure dial, which appears by your focus point, when shooting very dark scenes. Otherwise you end up with a near-black image. And when you do, your photos will look vague.

Post-processing can’t help much either. Even though the Moto G6 Play reports using much lower ISO sensitivity than the Moto G6 in ultra-low light, open up the results in Photoshop and there’s little shadow detail to be recovered. It’s the usual sacrifice of using relatively low-end camera hardware.

Strangely enough, though, the Moto G6 Play actually lets you do more to help low-light performance using the manual mode than the G6, with launch software at least. This manual mode lets you set things like the shutter speed, white balance and ISO, just like an SLT camera.

Flip the shutter speed to manual and you can slow it down to 1/1.5 of a second. This is usually far too slow to result in a sharp picture handheld, but by taking around four seconds using, we assume, multiple merged exposures, it lets you take sharp, much-improved low light pics.

It’s not close to the kind of low light performance we saw in the Huawei P20 Pro. But is a nice half-hidden extra for those willing to dig deeper. Normal night photos are also sharper than those of entry-level 13MP cameras of a couple of years ago.

All issues explained so far are typical of a cheaper phone. Shooting speed is the one lingering disappointment.

Use the Auto HDR mode, sensible if you want the best results, and the camera feels a little slow. There’s a little shutter lag, a little processing lag. Shooting does not feel instant, and you can only take roughly one shot a second. Switch off HDR and the speed improves a little but not enough.

Relatively slow shooting speed was an issue with the G5 family of Moto phones, and it affects the more expensive Moto G6 too. This is a real shame as it’s one of the phone’s few grating issues.

The app is easy to use, though, and has just a couple of useful extra modes. There’s Panorama and slo-mo video, to add to the Manual mode. As there’s just a single rear camera, you don’t get the background blur seen in the more expensive Moto Gs.

The phone crops into the view a little when shooting video, in order to stabilize footage, but you can only capture at up to 1080p, 30 frames per second.

Around the Moto G6 Play’s front sits an 8MP selfie camera. As you’d expect for the price, though, this is not a high-end sensor and doesn’t get close to the detail and dynamic range of, for example, the Pixel 2’s front camera.

It does the job, though, and there’s a relatively subtle Beauty mode to zap your eye bags.

Camera samples

Interface and reliability

  • Near-stock Android
  • Optional gesture controls
  • Solid general performance but buggy

The Moto G6 Play's software looks much like that of the Moto G5S, aside from one obvious change: a nasty pre-loaded wallpaper.

Perhaps slime green is in this season, but the one customization we’d recommend is switching it to something else. An array of much more pleasant pre-installed backgrounds show off the phone’s solid color performance much better.

Just long-press on a home screen and select ‘Wallpapers’ in the pop-up to do this.

As ever, Motorola uses a very light interface similar to standard Android. It’s not quite what you’ll see on a Google Pixel 2 or an Android One phone like the Nokia 6 (2018), though.

The Moto G6 Play doesn’t have a white apps menu, instead using a darkened version of your home screen wallpaper. Yes, this isn’t exactly Android 8.0 as Google intended, but this look is actually a little less stiff than the default style.

Motorola has added some features too, but as usual these all live in a single Moto app. There are no annoying pre-installed apps you’ll instantly want to delete. Just Moto and Outlook, pointing to a Microsoft team-up.

The Play’s Moto features fit into three neat categories: Actions, Moto Key and Moto Display.

Actions are gesture shortcuts. As standard only two are switched on. A double karate chop toggles the torch (using the camera LED flash) and a quick double twist loads the camera app. You can also silence ringtones by picking the phone up or placing it screen down.

You enable these manually, as Motorola doesn’t want you thinking your phone is faulty when these kick in without you realizing they’re gestures.

Next up, Moto Key takes over from Google’s Auto-fill feature, letting you use the Moto G6 Play’s fingerprint scanner to log into apps. We quite like Google Auto-fill as-is, but the option is there if you like the idea of fingerprint login.

Moto Display is a long-standing Moto feature. It phases notifications in and out of the lock screen view, subtly reminding you of any recent messages without attention-grabbing audio or vibrate alerts.

The one part missing is fingerprint soft key control. You can use finger scanner gestures to replace ‘back’, ‘home’ and ‘recent apps’ commands in the Moto G6, but not here.

There’s no huge disparity between the day-to-day performance of the Moto G6 Play and Moto G6, though. Basic apps load as quickly here. It’s only with a very data-intense app load, like Asphalt 8, where you’ll see a significant improvement in the higher-end model. Like most budget phones, apps that need stacks of data can take a few seconds.

We’re pretty pleased with how the Moto G6 Play runs and have noticed fewer stutter moments than in the Nokia 6 (2018). However, there is a big caveat.

A few days before we started writing up this review, something strange happened to the Moto. Scrolling and gestures stopped working properly. When swiping between photos in the gallery our swipes were the equivalent of a boat motor’s ignition pull, and scrolling through web pages barely worked at all.

It’s a phone-ruining bug and we couldn’t find an obvious fix. Aside from a factory reset, anyway. Performing the reset flushed out the problem. We were back to very solid performance again. However, if this is something that will happen to many Moto G6 Plays it could be a huge problem for Motorola. It’s dead annoying.

A launch software blip is the most likely cause, though, and this can be fixed with a simple software update.

Movies, music and gaming

  • 32GB of storage gives you breathing room
  • Reasonable gaming performance
  • Weak speaker

The Moto G6 Play is even a good gaming phone, better than you might expect considering it is a low-price model. Storage has a big part in this.

32GB of storage offers masses more space than a 16GB model, more than twice the free space you might expect. Remember, in any Android a lot of space is taken up by the operating system, and it’s only at the 32GB mark you get a comfortable bit of wiggle room for apps, games and the photos you take.

There is a variant of the Moto G6 Play with 16GB of storage, though, so check the specs carefully before buying.

Some games will appear clearly less sharp than they would be on a Moto G6, though. As the Moto G6 Play has lower screen resolution, you’ll see more jaggies in full-3D games.

Keen gamers should consider upgrading to the Moto G6 or Moto G6 Plus. However, if you only play the odd title when at a loose end the Moto G6 Play is still great fun.

The speaker is not great, however. It sits on the front, a better position than the bottom when you actively watch something on-screen, but it’s not very loud or beefy-sounding. The Moto G6 speaker is better, and while both have Dolby sound optimization, it’s not very effective here.

Performance and benchmarks

  • Low-end Snapdragon 430 chipset
  • Performance and benchmark results are in line with its price

The Moto G6 Play has a Snapdragon 430 chipset. This is the same as used in the Moto G5 from 2017. It’s around 30% slower than the Moto G6’s Snapdragon 450.

It’s an octa-core CPU with Cortex-A53 cores and an Adreno 505 graphics chipset.

In Geekbench 4 the Moto G6 Play scores 2,394 points (635 per core). As expected, this is very similar to the Moto G5S and Moto G5, which have the same chipset.

It’s a low-end CPU, commensurate with the price. It's coupled here with 3GB of RAM, though a 2GB version also exists.

Verdict

The Moto G6 Play is a great deal. What else did you expect from the Moto G series?

Its slightly more expensive brother the Moto G6 is the biggest issue. For an extra $50/£50 you get a glass back, sharper screen and better, more versatile camera. It may well be worth the extra.

That said, the Moto G6 Play is still one of the best phones for buyers on a budget. Like the Moto G phones of old, it focuses on the basics to get you a day-to-day experience with minimal obvious compromises.

Who's this for?

This phone is for people who want something affordable, reliable and low-maintenance. It’s a quality phone at the right price.

Should you buy it?

If your budget is tight, the Moto G6 Play is a great buy. There’s nothing wrong with this phone, it’s just not quite as snazzy as the more expensive members of the family.

There are other cheap options, such as the following three phones:

Moto G6

Is the Moto G6 worth the upgrade? You get a nicer glass back, a faster chipset, a better camera and a higher-resolution screen. There are improvements all-round, but you’ll have to judge whether that’s worth the extra $50/£50.

More money gets you less in upgrades further up the phone scale, but we also need to factor-in that it’s a 35% price hike. It’s a great value upgrade in our book, but we’ll have to leave this one to you.

Read our full Moto G6 review

Honor 7A

For a little less money, the Honor 7A is the most important alternative. It has the same CPU, and a secondary rear camera for basic background blur effects.

However, the Moto G6 Play has fast charging, a better-looking screen and simpler software. It also looks a little better. Both phones are made of plastic, but the light-reacting finish of the Moto G6 Play adds an extra touch of class. General performance of the Play is much better too. It’s the better choice.

Read our hands on Honor 7A review

Honor 9 Lite

If you want a phone that does not have a plastic back but can’t quite afford the Moto G6 upgrade, the Honor 9 Lite is a good middle-ground. Its rear is glass, the sides metal, and the screen is sharper than the Moto G6 Play’s.

You also get a secondary back camera for blur effects. However, some of you will prefer the simpler software of the Moto and the battery is much larger in the G6 Play. The Honor 9 Lite also lacks fast charging.

Read our full Honor 9 Lite review

First reviewed: April 2018