Moto G Play (2023) review: A budget phone bust
Moto G Play (2023): Specs
Android version: Android 12
Display: 6.5-inch LCD (1600 x 720)
Refresh rate: 90Hz
CPU: Helio G37
Storage / Expandable: 32GB / Yes
Rear cameras: 16MP (f/2.2) main, 2MP (f/2.4) macro, 2MP (f/2.4) depth
Front camera: 5MP (f/2.4)
Battery: 5,000 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:54 (Auto) / 12:32 (60Hz)
Size: 6.6 x 3 x 0.4 inches (167.2 x 76.5 x 9.4 mm)
Weight: 7.2 ounces (203 g)
Colors: Deep Indigo
Motorola has carved out a big slice of the cheap phone market for itself, with the Moto G Play (2023) the latest to join the mix. You can get this handset for just $169, which is a bargain. But to arrive at such a low cost, Motorola had to make some major compromises.
That’s led to a phone which is near impossible to use thanks to its sluggishness. The Moto G Play display lacks anything notable besides a 90Hz refresh rate — a feature that I’m glad to see — while the camera produces lifeless images that you’ll immediately want to trash. Couple that with the fact that this handset ships with Android 12, and will only get Android 13, and you have a device that I can’t recommend, not even for bargain hunters.
You get what you pay for, and as you’ll see in this Moto G Play (2023) review, your $169 doesn’t get you much.
Moto G Play (2023) review: Price and availability
The Moto G Play (2023) comes in at a very attractive $169, offering a large 5,000 mAh battery and 90Hz LCD for that price. You can buy it right now through Motorola or Amazon (opens in new tab). For that money, you get a paltry 32GB of storage, though you can use a microSD card to expand that up to 512GB. You’ll need to make do with 3GB of RAM, too.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a serviceable alternative at this price point. Of course, there’s a reason for that, but the next closest competitor would be the OnePlus Nord N300 at $228. (OnePlus’ budget phone is only available through T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile for the time being.)
The Moto G Play (2023) is in a league of its own, for better or for worse.
Moto G Play (2023) review: Design
Right out of the box, I noticed how cheap the Moto G Play (2023) is. It’s a hefty device thanks to its large battery, but the smooth plastic body certainly feels like a $169 handset. Both the back and screen also collect fingerprints and dust rather easily, making for a dingy phone after just a little bit of use.
The best way I could describe the Moto G Play (2023) is functional. Its basic construction and design certainly won’t impress anyone, but I expected no less for something at this price. I don’t like how slippery the phone is, though. I’ve nearly dropped it on more than one occasion.
I don’t dislike the look of the Moto G Play (2023), nor its construction. Just a few years ago, cheap phones would creak under the slightest pressure, while the Moto G Play (2023) seems to hold strong under normal use. It’s just a design that looks rather out of date at this point.
Moto G Play (2023) review: Display
While I have little problem with the design, the Moto G Play truly begins to show its compromises with the display. The 6.5-inch TFT LCD with a 720p resolution is just disappointing. The dull colors and dim brightness leave a lot to be desired.
The one saving grace is the 90Hz refresh rate, which theoretically helps to offer a smoother scrolling experience — when the meager system-on-chip can keep up. A fast refresh rate is a nice feature to see on a phone this cheap and I commend Motorola for including it.
Here’s what we measured for the Moto G Play (2023)’s display.
|Row 0 – Cell 0||Moto G Play (2023)||Nord N300||Moto G 5G (2022)|
|Screen size||6.5 inches||6.56 inches||6.5 inches|
|sRGB (%)||103 (Saturated) / 103 (Natural)||161 (Vivid) / 114 (Natural)||102 (Saturated) / 104 (Natural)|
|DCI-P3 (%)||73 (Saturated) / 73 (Natural)||114 (Vivid) / 81 (Natural)||72 (Saturated) / 74 (Natural)|
|Delta-E||0.23 (Saturated) / 0.22 (Natural)||0.25 (Vivid) / 0.22 (Natural)||0.24 (Saturated) / 0.24 (Natural)|
|Peak brightness (nits)||442||573||484|
Looking at the Moto G Play (2023), you can see that not a lot has changed since the Moto G 5G (2022) in terms of the display. Both have remarkably similar colors, color accuracy, and brightness. The biggest difference is that the 2022 Moto G uses IPS technology for its panel instead of TFT like the Moto G Play (2023).
At just 442 nits, the Moto G Play (2023) struggles with any sort of bright lighting. Using it outdoors was a chore, even in the shade. Trying to see the photos I had taken, for example, proved incredibly frustrating.
The 90Hz refresh rate isn’t enough to save this screen. Sure, the phone is $169 and won’t have a flagship-class display, but look at how much brighter and more colorful the Nord N300’s is at less than $60 more. The Moto G Play (2023) is almost an eyesore in comparison.
Moto G Play (2023) review: Cameras
As you might expect given the price and Motorola name, the Moto G Play (2023)’s cameras are not great. In fact, they’re downright bad in some cases.
Motorola calls this a triple camera system, but two — a macro lens and a dedicated depth sensor — are effectively useless. That leaves the 16MP main lens that does all of the work, and not well at that. Around front is a 5MP selfie camera that will not flatter anyone.
Let’s start this comparison against the OnePlus Nord N300 with this photo of a bowl of fruit outside on my deck. The Moto’s version is rather flat and lifeless, with colors that look dull and almost washed out. Meanwhile, the Nord has a warmer tone that I find more welcoming, especially with the better lighting on the left. The colors, while not great, certainly pop more than the Moto’s do.
Heading inside, the Moto G Play (2023) managed to make the bowl of fruit look less appealing. I see exposure and dynamic range problems right off the bat. It’s almost as if the phone tried to overcompensate for the dimmer interior of my (well-lit) breakfast area. The Nord N300’s image isn’t all that much better. It’s darker than necessary, but it retains its advantage with the colors.
It would be an understatement to say that the Moto G Play (2023)’s portraits ended up sloppy. I can’t say there’s anything redeeming about this. Not only is the focus completely out of touch, the blurriness and horrific color reproduction completely mess with my complexion. The Nord N300 isn’t a whole lot better by any means, but it has sharper focus and stronger colors.
To wrap up this rear camera travesty, the Moto G Play (2023) wholly lacks a night mode altogether. So you’re left to the whims of the main sensor to try to eke out low-light photos — and it doesn’t exactly work well. You can’t even make out the bowl of fruit in the blackness, whereas you can at least see it in the Nord N300’s image. It’s not pretty, but it crushes the Moto without breaking a sweat.
As for selfies, there’s nothing impressive with what the Moto G Play produces. The 5MP sensor just couldn’t capture much detail, overly flattening both my face and the background. Focus is a huge problem here, too. The blue of my eyes looks lifeless. That’s not to say that the Nord’s selfie is much better, but at least it got a lot more detail in the lines of my face and hairs in my beard.
As you can see, the Moto G Play (2023) falls flat as a camera phone in every scenario. Every new scene was like watching a trainwreck happen right before my eyes.
Moto G Play (2023) review: Performance
The Moto G Play (2023) is one of the most disappointing phones I’ve ever used, and perhaps the most frustrating. The system-on-chip is grossly underpowered to the point that using the phone becomes nearly impossible until the chipset catches up.
I’ve never hidden my dislike for MediaTek’s lower-end chips, and the Helio G37 in the Moto G Play (2023) does nothing to change my opinion. It’s barely functional at times, causing the phone to lag significantly in places — which sometimes obviates the display’s 90Hz refresh rate.
We ran into some trouble while running benchmarks on the Moto G Play (2023), but here’s what we could gather.
|Row 0 – Cell 0||Moto G Play (2023)||Nord N300||Moto G (2022)|
|CPU||Helio G37||Dimensity 810||Dimensity 700|
|Geekbench 5 (single-core / multicore)||161 / 579||595 / 1769||542 / 1659|
Most of our other benchmarks, including Adobe Premiere Rush and 3DMark Wild Life, would not run on this chipset. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing — the Geekbench results were so poor, I laughed when I saw them.
The multicore score was less than the OnePlus Nord N300’s single-core one. In this budget phone segment, I frankly didn’t know that was possible, but it shows that MediaTek truly can scrape the bottom of the barrel.
I won’t belabor the point. The Moto G Play (2023) hits points of unusability, lagging on incredibly basic tasks like snapping photos, scrolling quickly on a web page, and even unlocking sometimes. The most frustrating example of this laggy performance was when I went to answer a call and the phone hung for several seconds when I hit the answer button. This caused the caller to think I had answered and they began talking. Not the end of the world, but certainly not acceptable from any device in 2023.
Moto G Play (2023) review: Battery life and charging
Where the Moto G Play (2023) manages to claw back some merit is in its battery life, an area where Motorola admittedly excels with its G Series handsets. The 5,000 mah power pack lets the Moto G Play (2023) go for an incredibly long time, significantly longer than phones that cost hundreds of dollars more. That’s the benefit of having such a low-powered CPU.
Here’s how the Moto G Play (2023) performed in our custom battery life test, where we task to endlessly reload web pages over a cellular connection.
|Row 0 – Cell 0||Moto G Play (2023)||Nord N300||Moto G (2022)|
|Battery size||5,000 mAh||5,000 mAh||5,000 mAh|
|Battery life (Hrs:Mins)||12:55 (Adaptive) / 12:32 (60Hz)||13:13 (Adaptive) / 12:51 (60Hz)||11:37 (Adaptive) / 10:36 (90Hz) / 11:59 (60Hz)|
|Recharge percentage (15 mins)||10||26||10|
|Recharge percentage (30 mins)||20||48||21|
The OnePlus Nord N300 outlasts the Moto G Play (2023) in both the adaptive and 60Hz refresh rate modes. It has a more powerful chip, too, plus much faster charging. So while the Moto G Play (2023) certainly goes a wonderfully long time on a charge, it’s not the best under the $300 mark, though it does wind up on our best phone battery life list.
The Moto G Play (2023) charges agonizingly slow at just 10W. In 30 minutes, it only regained 20% of its battery capacity. Compare that to the Nord N300’s result, which was almost 50%. At least, charging speed is in line with the Moto G (2022).
Moto G Play (2023) review: Software
In the final disappointment, the Moto G Play ships with Android 12, an OS version that’s almost a year and a half old at the time of our Moto G Play (2023) review. Worse yet, Motorola has only promised a single upgrade to Android 13, which is almost six months old. I find this absolutely inexcusable.
It’s a bummer because the Motorola software isn’t half bad. It’s a lot like stock Android, just with some extra tweaks thrown in. But the shoddy performance hampers the software experience, making it a chore to use most of the time as I waited for noticeable seconds as things loaded.
Moto G Play (2023) review: Verdict
I can’t remember the last time I disliked a phone as much as the Moto G Play (2023). The horrible performance on its own almost drove me to madness on more than one occasion. The lifeless photos also left a sour taste in my mouth, while the disappointing display let me down as soon as I started looking at it.
While the low price of the Moto G Play (2023) is admirable, I find nothing redeeming about this handset. Its only strength, battery life, is surpassed by the OnePlus Nord N300, which costs less than $60 more for a much better overall experience.
I cannot recommend the Moto G Play (2023) under any circumstances. You’re better off looking at an older higher-end phone for this price. You would be surprised at what you can find on eBay and Swappa.