Lenovo Moto G4 Play review

Budget fail: Lenovo’s Moto G4 Play isn’t worth $150 when less money gets you a better phone

Competition in the budget phone space has never been tougher, and the Moto G4 Play falls far short of the mark.
Competition in the budget phone space has never been tougher, and the Moto G4 Play falls far short of the mark.
Competition in the budget phone space has never been tougher, and the Moto G4 Play falls far short of the mark.

Highs

  • Compact
  • Almost stock Android

Lows

  • Occasional stutters in performance
  • No Moto features
  • Camera quality is subpar
  • Cheap, generic look

DT Editors' Rating

Google’s Android motto for the past year or so has been “Be together. Not the same.” Under Lenovo, Motorola may have lost the memo because there’s not much distinguishing the Moto G4 Play from a Nexus, at least on the software side.

That hardly means we’re complaining about having stock Android on a device that’s not a part of Google’s Nexus lineup. But when comparing the G4 Play to its predecessor, the 2016 variant feels like an afterthought — a step back after what the Moto G 2015 offered for a budget device. Lenovo has removed the features that make Moto phones unique, from the inside out.

The new Moto G4 Play leaves us with a phone that offers no compelling features, just a low price tag. Let’s take a closer look.

Random stutters, low performance

The Moto G line kicked off in 2013 and brought new meaning to the term “budget phone.” It continued to deliver solid performance and design for a low price in 2014 and 2015.

This year marks the first when the Moto G line was split into three smartphones — the Moto G4, Moto G4 Plus, and the Moto G4 Play. It mimics the lineup of Motorola’s flagship Moto Z line.

The Moto G4 and the Plus are slightly more expensive than their predecessor, and they offer better specs than the Play. The G4 Play is the runt of the litter and is $30 cheaper than the 1GB RAM variant of the Moto G 2015. Still, it has more in common with it than its bigger brothers.

Lenovo Moto G4 Play
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

It shares the same 5-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels. It’s powered by the same processor in the Moto G 2015 — Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 410, but it comes with one option of 2GB RAM. You’ll find it loaded with 16GB of internal storage, and there’s a MicroSD card slot that lets you bump the capacity to more than 256GB.

The 720p display is no problem — the device’s size allows it to have a lower resolution than you need. And it’s nice that Lenovo has one Moto G4 that’s not 5.5-inches for people who prefer smaller phones. It’s unclear why smartphone manufacturers continuously offer weaker specs in smaller devices, though.

There’s also only one speaker on the front of the device. It doesn’t get as loud as we’d like, but it’s not as bad as devices like the Google Nexus 5X, where sound is hardly audible.

It’s nice that Lenovo has one Moto G4 that’s not 5.5-inches for people who prefer smaller phones,

Performance is a little tricky on the G4 Play. We ran a few benchmark tests and the device actually performed the same, if not worse, than the 2015 Moto G. It’s very rare for old hardware to outperform the new, but that is the case here.

3DMark Sling Shot using ES 3.0 gave the device a score of 53 — that’s one point less than the Moto G 2015. In comparison, the Moto G4 Plus got a score of 384.

Using GeekBench’s app, the Moto G4 Play received a single-core score of 503 and a multi-core score of 1,267. That’s worse on both accounts compared to the 2015 version, which received 512 and 1,283 respectively.

And when comparing with AnTuTu Benchmark, the G4 Play earned a score of 28,393. That’s almost half of what Meizu’s M3 Note received, and that phone happens to cost the same price. These numbers paint a pretty bleak picture, but benchmarks are one thing — how’s real world performance? Upon immediately setting up the phone, we were greeted to random stutters and lag while moving between Google Now and the home screen, and when scrolling through apps and widgets.

This stutter is mainly present when you wake the device after some periods of inactivity, but for the most part we have yet to encounter any real performance issues. Apps and the camera open quickly, and we haven’t had much trouble playing somewhat graphically intensive games like Badland 2, Asphalt 8: Airborne, and Dead Trigger 2.

It’s unclear what’s causing the stutters then, but they’re not frequent and have not impacted our day-to-day usage with the G4 Play so far.

Regardless, do not expect flawless performance — especially when you’re swapping through multiple apps. The 2015 Moto G with 2GB RAM suffered sluggish performance and app freezes when multi-tasking after several months of use. If you’re a heavy user looking for a budget-priced phone, go for the Moto G4 Plus as it offers more processing power.

The G4 Play is a weak budget phone in a tough market filled with $200-$300 phones that offer far superior performance and power.

Where’s the ergonomic design? Moto Actions?

Previous Moto G smartphones featured a slightly curved back that offered better ergonomics. The Moto G 2015, for example, felt more at home in the hand thanks to the curved back.

That’s gone in the Moto G4 Play. While the device certainly looks a little more professional, it’s also a bit boring. The front has relatively large bezels on all four sides, but the back looks sleek. It carries the famous Motorola dimple at the center, and a camera and flash above it. There’s a metal frame around the device for some added protection.

Lenovo Moto G4 Play
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The back certainly makes the phone feel cheap, though, as it’s a plastic, textured back. It can be removed, like previous Moto G phones, and you’ll find a removable battery underneath. Thanks to the plastic back and the 5-inch size, the device is quite light at 137 grams.

There’s nothing really unique that stands out from the phone. Save for the Motorola dimple on the back, the G4 Play looks like your run-of-the-mill budget smartphone. It’s not bad, but it’s not exciting. It’s odd complaining about design for a phone that only costs $150, but for $30 more in 2015 the Moto G did have something unique.

The G4 Play is a weak budget phone in a tough market filled with phones that offer far superior performance..

Foregoing the ergonomic design, the Moto G 2015 was IPX7 rated, meaning you could keep it submerged underwater for 30 minutes up to 1 meter. The Moto G4 Play can’t do that, so stay away from water.

The device also runs Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with almost zero bloatware. The Moto G4 Play is as close to stock Android as you can get without owning a Nexus, and that’s a good thing. Oddly, there are no Moto Actions that many have come to enjoy on their devices, such as double twist to launch the camera and a double chop to turn on the flash. These software tricks are available on the G4 and G4 Plus.

The G4 Play only has Moto Display, which lets you see notifications at a glance on the screen, and a feature that makes using the device easier with one hand.

The Moto G4 Play isn’t available via Moto Maker, Motorola’s customization tool, either. The Moto G 2015, and the new G4 and G4 Plus are customizable — you can change the color trim, the back color, add an engraving, and more.

One note about the operating system — the Moto G4 Play launched after Android 7.0 Nougat did. The new Android version has been in beta for the past six months, so it’s unclear why Lenovo, which hardly has any additional software layered over Android on its Moto line, would need more time to roll an update to its devices. The G4 Play should have come shipped with the new Android flavor.

Low-detailed images

The camera isn’t doing the Moto G4 Play any favors, either. The good news is that the camera app snaps pictures quickly and in great lighting conditions, photos look good. Unfortunately, in any other scenario they’re grainy, blurry, and out of focus.

Anything with movement will most likely come out blurry unless you’re in direct sunlight. And as for photos in good outdoor lighting — as soon as you zoom in, you can see that images are not sharp, which is likely thanks to the 8-megapixel camera on the rear. The front-camera has 5-megapixels.

Most of the G4 Play’s competitors have far better cameras, and both the G4 and the G4 Plus produce superior photos. ZTE’s ZMax Pro costs $50 less at just $100 and it has a 13-megapixel camera that blows the G4 Play’s camera out of the water. Granted, it’s only available on MetroPCS.

The Moto G4 Play’s camera will get you by, but stay far away from this phone if that’s a priority. It’s one of the most disappointing features on the phone.

Battery

A 2,800mAh battery may seem big enough to keep a 5-inch, 720p device powered on for a while, but you can only expect a day’s use with the Moto G4 Play.

After a moderate day of use, we returned home with under 25 percent battery. Again, if you’re a power user — go for the Plus or one of the many other budget devices available in this price range. Most phones can at least manage a day and a half before conking out, especially when the screen is under 1080p resolution.

Warranty information and software updates

Motorola offers a standard one-year warranty for the Moto G4 Play. This covers any damage that occurs as a result of a manufacturing defect. If you’re in need of extra protection for your device, the company does offer Motorola Care Accidental Protection, which includes coverage over accidental damage such as water damage and shattered screens. It costs $70 for 15 months, or $100 for 24 months.

In terms of Android updates, Motorola is one of the better manufacturers, so it’s likely the Moto G4 lineup will get Android 7.0 Nougat soon. However, since Lenovo bought the Moto brand, the updates may not be quite as snappy.

Conclusion

For $180, last year’s Moto G offered an ergonomic design, IPX7 waterproof rating, Moto Maker, and Moto Actions, It didn’t feel like a budget device, bar the occasional performance hiccup. You might have expected the new Moto G4 Play to continue on this path toward greatness, but instead it regresses.

The Moto G4 Play does feel like a budget device and for $150, it feels as though more features were stripped away than necessary. There’s always the Amazon Prime-exclusive route, where you can get the device for $100 with lock screen ads and offers. But even at that price, you’re better off buying the ZTE ZMax Pro, which costs $100 after a rebate on MetroPCS, has far better specs, and no ads.

The Moto G4 Play is hard to recommend when just $50 more can get you a much more powerful devices with better specs overall. You won’t have to worry about the device handling strenuous tasks if you cough up a little extra dough for devices like the Moto G4 and Plus, the Huawei Honor 5X, Alcatel’s OneTouch Idol 3, or ZTE’s ZMax Pro.

Competition in the budget phone space has never been tougher, and the Moto G4 Play falls short of the mark.

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