Moto G6 Play review: Cheap but charming

£169
Price when reviewed

Inflation at the very top end of the smartphone tree has been a contentious subject in recent years, with flagship prices rising from typically below £600 to £700 and more, but it’s arguably an even more sensitive factor at the budget end of the market. The original, brilliant Moto G turned heads in 2013 when it launched for £135, but the Moto G6, five years later, will set you back £219. It’s just as brilliant – and cheap by today’s standards – but it’s objectively more of an outlay than it was back in the good old days.

If that makes you look despondently at your wallet, then there is an alternative: the Moto G6 Play. Coming in at £50 less than the Moto G6 and £100 less than the Moto G6 Plus, it (just about) keeps the spirit of the original Moto G alive. There are, of course, concessions but nothing that should really put you off if money is tight.

Motorola Moto G6 Play review: Design[gallery:1]

First the good news: not much of the Moto G6’s charm has been lost in the move to a cheaper model. Yes, the rear and frame are made from plastic, unlike its pricier siblings, but it looks pretty good for it. It has curves along the long edges at the rear, and a large, circular camera housing, just like its siblings, but this one doesn’t jut out quite as much. And yes, like the other members of the Moto family, it has a 3.5mm headphone jack.

There are some visual differences: first, the fingerprint reader is on the back of the phone, rather than the front. Whether you see that as a positive or negative is largely down to personal preference but I personally prefer it on the front: it means you can unlock the phone while it’s sat flat on a surface where a rear-mounted reader means you have to pick it up. Second, the charging port is micro USB rather than USB Type-C. Theoretically, this is a disadvantage, because it limits charging speed but you might quietly quite like this if, like me, you’re swimming in spare cables.

Finally, while the phone has a decent 32GB of onboard storage, it is expandable by up to 256GB if you feel like it. Unusually, if you pay extra for the dual-SIM version you won’t have to sacrifice one of the phone’s two SIM-card slots if you choose to do that since the G6 Play has a 3-in-1 tray.

Motorola Moto G6 Play review: Screen[gallery:4]

While cosmetically the differences between the Moto G6 Play and the regular Moto G are limited, the screen is an obvious money-saving point of difference. Both are 5.7in, but while the G6 has a Full HD screen, the G6 Play has to make do with 720 x 1,440. And on a screen this size, you can absolutely tell – it just doesn’t look as sharp.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. The screen is the same handy 18:9 shape that used to be reserved for flagship devices, meaning it’s tall and thin and easier to hold in one hand than phones with the same screen size and 16:9 screens.

Second, resolution aside, the screen is closer in quality to the slightly superior G6 Plus than it is to the G6. Its sRGB coverage is a decent 86.3% and colour accuracy is near identical with a Delta E of 2.68 (anything below 2 is superb, FYI.) Not only that, but this display is considerably brighter than the Moto G6’s, reaching heights of 495cd/m2 at its peak. In other words, in bright sunlight, the G6 Play will be more easily readable at max brightness than the regular Moto G6.

Motorola Moto G6 Play review: Performance[gallery:5]

So far, so good. Where the Moto G6 Play loses ground is in its raw specifications. You may remember my big complaint about the Moto G5 last year was that it had pretty much identical performance the Moto G4.

Well, prepare for disappointment, because unlike the more expensive G6 models, the G6 Play gets another helping of Snapdragon 430. True, last year’s base model came with 2GB, while the G6 Play is available with 3GB as standard, but that won’t boost performance overly much.

Unsurprisingly, this leads to performance essentially identical to the Motos G5 and G5S and a distance behind the Moto G6 handsets.moto_g6_play_review_cheap_but_charming_-_2

Where it has a slight advantage is in graphical performance but, make no mistake, this isn’t because of a superior GPU. Rather, the Moto G6 Play’s lower resolution means it can simply pump out more frames per second in the GFXBench benchmark.moto_g6_play_review_cheap_but_charming_-_1

So does the Motorola G6 Play have anything over its more expensive siblings? Actually, yes: it’s powered by a big 4,000mAh battery: that’s 43% larger than the Moto G5’s and 33% bigger than the G6’s. That should lead to more stamina and, thankfully, it is better than G6, which lasted under 11 hours in our video test. By contrast, the G6 Play lasted 15hrs 39mins.moto_g6_play_review_cheap_but_charming_-_3

One final positive is that the Moto G6 Play runs a pretty clean version of Android 8.0 Oreo. Yes, more manufacturers are starting to see the appeal of doing things this way but at this price point, the number still isn’t that high. Honor may be doing excellent things at the lower end of the smartphone market, but its Emotion UI, though much improved of late, still puts a cramp on its style.

To be clear, this isn’t an entirely clean version of Android, but the changes made, such as they are, are broadly positive and subtle. My favourite is Moto’s long-standing gesture control system, which is a convenient way of activating commonly accessed functions. A quick double twist launches the phone, while a double chop activates the torch.

Motorola Moto G6 Play review: Camera[gallery:7]

On paper, the camera looks like a weak spot and my fear was that it was entirely the same unit that we saw a year ago in the Moto G5. It’s a single snapper, rather than the dual setup you get in the other Moto G6 handsets and it captures stills at 13-megapixels with an f/2 aperture and phase detect autofocus.

Fortunately, while not up there with either the Moto G6 or G6 Plus, the camera on the G6 Play isn’t bad at all for the price. Unfortunately, it’s also a little way behind the Moto G5S:motorola-moto-g6-play-vs-g5s-hdr

And, again, in low-light:motorola-moto-g6-play-vs-g5s-low-light

All the same, on a sub-£180 handset, this kind of quality blows everything else out of the water. HDR is a particular strong point, enhancing details in dark areas nicely as the image below neatly demonstrates.motorola_moto_g6_play_tower_hdr

If you want to capture video though, there are distinct limitations, mostly imposed by the limited processor: you’re capped here at 1080p and 30fps with no electronic image stabilisation. If you want to shoot video, you’ll need to hold steady.

Motorola Moto G6 Play review: Verdict[gallery:10]

I was a bit sceptical of the Moto G6 Play going into this review. You’re looking at a processor which was budget-friendly two years ago in a package only £50 cheaper than the excellent Moto G6. That didn’t seem a big enough price drop to make it worth considering in 2018.

But, somehow, the Moto G6 Play pulls it out of the bag. It looks the part, has a super camera for the price, and performance – on balance – isn’t too shabby, especially in the battery department. The only thing keeping it from the full five-star rating is that you can get the Moto G5S on the cheap now, and, if you can stretch to it, £50 extra for the Moto G6 offers a lot more bang for the buck.

Don’t let that put you off the Moto G6 Play, though. If your budget is tight, you’ll be hard pushed to find better for £169.

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