Review: Lenovo Moto G4 Play
Oct 7, 2016, 3:00 PM by Eric M. Zeman
The Moto G4 Play takes up residence at the bottom of Lenovo's U.S. lineup of Android handsets. It is an entry-level device in design, features, and performance. It is more compact than Lenovo's other offerings, and offers a stock version of Marshmallow. Those seeking simple over sensational may want to take a look. Here is Phonescoop's in-depth review.
Is It Your Type?
The Moto G4 Play is one of the least expensive smartphones available from Motorola right now. If you're looking for a low-cost handset that provides a stock Android experience and not much else, the G4 Play covers the basics.
The G4 Play differs little from the G4 and G4 Plus, which were released by Motorola earlier this year. It looks almost identical to the G4, but steps down the specs a bit in order to drop the price point. It's a plain phone that doesn't have much in the way of personality
The biggest difference between the G4 Play and G4 is the size: the Play is about 10% smaller, which is more in keeping with the spirit of earlier G-branded phones from Motorola. The reduced size helps improve usability quite a bit compared to the bigger G4
I wish the G4 Play had more flair. It has a boring, conservative look that does nothing to get my blood flowing. The phone's front and rear surfaces are black. (A white version is available, too.) A gray frame separates the two. The shape is generic to a fault. The worst part? The G4 Play doesn't offer colorful, swappable rear shells like the G4 and G4 Plus. In fact, the G4 Play can't be customized via Moto Maker at all. That just stinks.
The front is glass, the frame is polycarbonate, and the rear shell is made of textured resin. It feels like the low-cost phone that it is, but it doesn't come across as cheap. The side edges are curved and give the phone a smooth feel. Some people will appreciate the size; I was able to use the phone one-handed quite easily. The G4 Play fit into my jeans without trouble, but I do wish it weren't quite so heavy.
Motorola selected fine materials for the device. Build quality is good enough for this class of handset. The phone is fitted together well and it feels strong. I don't think anyone will complain about the G4 Play's value.
The G4 Play's screen is smaller and of lower resolution than the other G4 phones. More bezel surrounds the display on the front face, too, which is something I don't particularly care for. The polycarbonate frame forms a very thin rim around the outer edge of the glass, helping protect it when placed face down. It's a bit sharp for my tastes, but I understand its purpose. The user-facing camera is plainly visible next to the earpiece above the screen. There are no buttons, capacitive or otherwise, adorning the front of the phone, as Motorola has long relied on software controls for its phones. The G4 Play does not have a fingerprint reader.
Motorola placed the volume toggle and screen lock button on the right edge of the phone. The buttons don't really make me happy. First, the volume toggle is located in the center of the right edge, with the screen lock button above it. The majority of phones I test position the lock button in the middle and the toggle above it — and that's how I prefer it. Neither control has a good profile. I often hit the top of the volume toggle when I really wanted to hit the screen lock button. Travel and feedback are acceptable, but I'd like more action from both. Worse, I often accidentally adjusted the volume when I was only trying to grip the phone. The headphone jack is on top, while the micro USB port is on the bottom.
The resin rear panel has a feel similar to that of soft-touch paint. It gives the G4 Play some much-needed grip, helping it stay stuck to your hand. The elongated, oval-shaped camera module sticks out from the rear surface quite a bit. A chrome-colored rim ensures that the module pops visually. The G4 Play has the standard indentation on the back with Motorola's stylized "M" logo painted in chrome.
Removing the rear plate requires some serious fingernail strength. The plastic clasps that hold the panel in place don't want to let go unless you're really serious about prying it off. Unlike the G4 and G4 Plus, the G4 Play features a removable battery, which some will surely appreciate. Motorola stacked the memory card and SIM card slots alongside the battery. It's worth noting that Play requires a micro (3FF) SIM and not the newer nano (4FF) card size. You can hot-swap the memory card, but not the SIM card.
Motorola did a decent job with the G4 Play body. It's a wee bit drab, but the hardware is put together and functions well enough for this price point.
The G4 Play has a 5-inch, 720p HD display. That's the same size/resolution as the G2 and G3, but is smaller than the 5.5-inch full HD screens on the G4 and G4 Plus. The Play's display is totally fine, just not particularly impressive. The resolution is just dense enough to hide most pixels, but you can spot them from time to time. Brightness is very good. I was able to use the G4 Play indoors and out under the sun without issue. Viewing angles are good enough; there's only a small amount of brightness loss, and there's no color shift at all when the phone is tilted. You can't ask for much more from a $150 phone.
The phone has very good support for the LTE networks of all major U.S. carriers with Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 25, 26, and 41 aboard. I tested the G4 Play on AT&T and T-Mobile in the metro NYC area and conclude that it performs on par with most other phones.
The G4 Play always remained connected and never dropped the network no matter how weak the coverage from AT&T or T-Mo. I was able to connect calls in known weak spots without issue. The G4 Play did not drop any calls, nor did it miss any while I tested it. It held onto a phone call across two dozen miles of highway driving with no problem.
Data performance was respectable but not the best I've seen. I did not see a major difference in the behavior of AT&T/T-Mobile speeds. The G4 Play was adept at streaming YouTube and Spotify as long as the quality settings were turned down a bit. HD content gave it some trouble. The phone never felt slow, though it never felt really quick either.
I'd rate the G4 Play's voice performance as average. Voices come through the earpiece in warm tones with infrequent distortion. You do need to set the volume close to the maximum to hear calls anywhere other than at home. Keeping the volume at 60% and taking calls in quiet spaces provides the best overall experience, but that's not very practical. Any time you're out in public expect to pump up the volume in order to hear. Those I spoke to said I my voice sounded "good."
The speakerphone produces loud calls that are easy to hear in most places. The G4 Play has no trouble filling a moderate room with sound. The speakerphone works well in the car, coffee shops, the mall, on city streets, and so on. The speakerphone is still prone to some distortion, but it's not too bad.
Notifications are very, very loud. The vibrate alert is adequate at best.
Along with its slightly smaller stature, the G4 Play has a smaller battery than the G4 and G4 Plus. The power cell rates 2,800 mAh, which is just fine for a device with a 720p screen and mid-range processor. I was able to coax a full day of life out of the G4 Play every day over a week of testing. Battery life was the same on AT&T and T-Mobile's networks. The phone did often dip below 30% by the end of the day, and on heavy usage days it was below 20%. Even then, it managed to push from breakfast to bedtime with at least some power to spare.
The G4 Play does not support rapid charging, nor does it support wireless charging. It offers only Google's standard Android battery saver tool. You can use this to dial back the phone's performance in order to extend battery life.
Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi
The G4 Play's other radios performed unevenly. Bluetooth could have been better. The G4 Play connected to PCs, headsets, speakers, and my car in a snap, though call quality through headsets and my car was mediocre. I tested stereo Bluetooth with several pairs of headphones and can say the G4 Play would not be my first choice of device for listening to music.
The G4 Play doesn't have NFC.
The G4 Play pinpointed me on Google Maps in about 10 seconds and was accurate to within 25 feet. That's about average. When used as a navigation device, the G4 Play doesn't quite measure up. Google Maps was sluggish and that didn't help when traveling between two points in real time in a car.
The WiFi radio worked very well.
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