The Moto G4 and G4 Plus are great phones for buyers on budgets, but not everyone wants a 5.5-inch screen. The unlocked Motorola Moto G4 Play scales things down to 5 inches and drops the price to $149.99, while keeping the design language, software experience, and broad carrier compatibility consistent across the board. But the G4 Play has a lower-resolution display and less-powerful hardware than its larger counterparts, making it slightly less appealing. It's no threat to the Blu R1 HD, which delivers better performance for less money, and retains Editors' Choice honors in the budget unlocked phone arena.
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Design, Features, and Display
The G4 Play has the same gray-and-black polycarbonate design as the G4 and G4 Plus, just in a smaller form factor. The handset measures 5.7 by 2.8 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.8 ounces, smaller and lighter than the G4 (6.0 by 3.0 by 0.4 inches, 5.5 ounces), and roughly on par with the R1 HD (5.6 by 2.8 by 0.3 inches, 5 ounces). One-handed use is easy, though I'm not fond of the fairly thick bezel around the display or the lip at the bottom.
All other physical features remain largely the same as the other G4 models. The power button and volume rocker can be found on the right side, a micro USB charging port is on the bottom, and the 3.5mm headphone jack is up top. The back cover peels off to give you access to the SIM card slot, a microSD card slot that works with a 256GB Samsung Evo+ card, and a removable 2,800mAh battery. That last feature is one you won't find on either the G4 or the R1 HD, which is definitely a plus if you like to carry around a spare battery.
On the front you'll find a 5-inch, 1,280-by-720 IPS display. The resolution works out to 294 pixels per inch (ppi), just like the R1 HD, which isn't nearly as sharp as the 5.5-inch, 1080p panel on the G4 (401ppi). That said, the display benefits from good color reproduction and viewing angles. But it doesn't get very bright, which makes it difficult to see in sunlight.
Network Performance and Call Quality
The Play is compatible with all four major US carriers, which is a big advantage over the R1 HD, which only works on AT&T and T-Mobile. It supports GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz), CDMA (850/1900MHz), HSDPA (850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz), and LTE (1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/25/26/41) bands. We tested it on AT&T and Verizon in midtown Manhattan and saw strong performance on both carriers, with download speeds up to 32Mbps on Verizon and 22Mbps on AT&T. It also supports Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz band.
Call quality is excellent. Transmissions came through loud and clear on both ends, with very little distortion even with loud construction noise nearby. And the earpiece is loud enough to be heard in noisy environments.
Processor and Battery
The big difference between the Play and the G4/G4 Plus is performance. The Play is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 processor clocked at 1.2GHz, compared with the Snapdragon 617 that powers the other G4s. The difference in benchmark scores illustrates a notable difference: The Play scored 28,647 in AnTuTu, which tests overall system performance, while the G4 managed nearly double that at 46,260. It's also worth noting the Play scored lower than the MediaTek 6735-powered R1 HD (31,847).
Despite having a high UX score due to a lightweight UI, the Play managed a 3D score of just 720, compared with the R1 HD's 3,277. That means you'll get much better gaming performance on the R1 HD, which can actually run GTA: San Andreas, as opposted to the Play, which offered up stop motion-like frame rates. Outside of 3D gaming, however, performance is smooth. The Play has 2GB of RAM, which is sufficient to handle a fair amount of multitasking.
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Battery life is a bright spot. The phone clocked 7 hours and 50 minutes in our rundown test, in which we set screen brightness to maximum and stream full-screen video over LTE. That's better than both the R1 HD (5 hours, 57 minutes) and the Moto G4 (6 hours, 1 minute). You shouldn't have any trouble getting a full day's use out of the phone, especially since you can always buy a spare battery and swap it in when needed.
Camera and Software
The G4 Play has a capable 8-megapixel camera that falls in between the G4 and R1 HD in terms of picture quality. Shots taken outdoors are crisp, with colors that appear true to life. Autoexposure handles the contrast between shadows and sunlight well, better than most phones we see at this price range. There's some noise, though, specifically in the corners of pictures, and dimmer lighting results in muddiness and grain.
The Play is also capable of recording 1080p video at 30fps, but it can be a bit jittery. The 5-megapixel front-facing camera takes clear pictures, with occasional softness depending on lighting conditions. Overall, it's a solid camera for the price, capturing sharper images than the 8-megapixel R1 HD, but not quite as sharp as the 13-megapixel G4.
The Play comes running a stock build of Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, with no changes, additions, or customizations to speak off, aside from Motorola ID added to Settings. There's no bloatware, leaving you with 10.96GB out of 16GB of total storage. You can also take advantage of Android's Adoptable Storage feature, which lets you treat a microSD card like internal storage.
Overall, the Motorola Moto G4 Play is basically a more compact, less expensive version of its larger siblings. It supports a wide range of carrier bands, has decent overall performance, and runs a clean build of Android. For $50 more, however, you can get the G4, which has a sharper display and a faster processor, as long as you don't mind the increase in size. And for $50 less, you can get the Blu R1 HD, which offers similar features but better gaming performance, making it our Editors' Choice for low-cost smartphones.