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Review: Motorola Moto E5 Play

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Jun 15, 2018, 12:06 PM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Motorola is selling its able-bodied, entry-level Moto E5 Play from Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless, and Verizon Prepaid. If you're in the market for a solid, low-cost phone, the Moto E5 Play plays well thanks to its simple hardware, easy software, and capable performance. Here is Phone Scoop's in-depth review.

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Hardware 

Is It Your Type?

The Moto E5 Play is an entry-level phone from Motorola. It provides phone buyers who may be on a budget with the latest software and a basic toolset at a price anyone can afford. If you're in the market for a low-cost phone that doesn't feel too outdated, the Moto E5 Play is a fine option.

Body

The E5 Play is the fifth-generation E series from Motorola. It sees the series taking a bit of a sideways step. The hardware is nearly identical to last year's E4.

There's no questioning the phone's Motorola heritage. The company's devices have all borne a similar shape over the last few years and the E5 Play carries the same basic footprint into 2018. This phone has a flat glass face, that is fitted into a plastic shell that forms the entire rear surface and side edges. The four corners of the E5 are gently rounded, and the rear panel curves as it reaches the side edges of the phone. It's a black phone with a matte finish along the sides and a patterned finish on the rear. No other colors are available.

Body  

This phone is much bigger than it should be. It has a 5.2-inch screen, but is somehow just as large as phones in the market with 6-inch screens. It's just shy of 6 inches tall and 3 inches wide. At least Motorola kept the thickness in check and the weight reasonable. It feels solid, without feeling heavy. Small hands could handle the weight, but not necessarily the size. People with average-sized hands should be able to use the phone without issue. It fits into pockets and travels well enough.

I don't have any concerns about the polycarbonate shell and other materials that make up the Moto E5 Play. For a sub-$100 phone, all the bits and pieces feel strong and well-assembled. I appreciate the build quality and apparent sturdiness.

Like many Motorola phones, the E5 Play has a nano-coating on the inside to protect the electronics from minor splashes and rain. The phone cannot handle a plunge into water, so keep it away from the pool.

The E5 Play has a 16:9 screen shape (rather than 2:1) and huge bezels all the way around. The phone has a huge forehead, a huge chin, and chubby side bezels.

Face

Face

Only two buttons adorn the E5 Play and you'll find them both on the right edge. A textured screen lock key is the first your thumb encounters as it slides up the side. It has a fine profile and good travel and feedback. The volume toggle is closer to the top and has a smooth texture to it. Feedback could be better; it's a bit mushy.

The microUSB port is located on the bottom edge, while the 3.5mm headphone jack is on top.

I like the textured pattern that covers the rear panel. It sounds like a zipper when you drag your thumbnail across it. The camera module, about the size and shape of a quarter, is close to the top edge. The style of the module matches Motorola's other phones, such as the G6.

Camera

Camera

Sadly, the Boost and Cricket versions of this phone do not have a fingerprint reader. (The version for Verizon does.)

Unlike the majority of today's phones, the E5 Play features a removable rear shell. The entire back panel comes off if you work your thumb into the right corner. The SIM card and memory cards have their own distinct slots in the chassis underneath. You can pull the battery, and in fact you'll have to, in order to remove or replace the SIM card. I can't remember the last time I encountered a removable battery. Yeehaw!

Hand Fit  

I wish the Moto E5 Play for Boost were smaller and had a fingerprint reader. Otherwise, it's a respectable $100 bit of hardware.

Screen

The E5 Play's LCD measures 5.2 inches corner to corner and sticks to the older 16:9 aspect ratio. It has HD resolution (1,280 by 720 pixels), which is about what I expect from an entry-level phone. The resolution works well enough for this screen size and shape. On-screen elements looked clean and sharp. I couldn't spot any individual pixels. The display throws off plenty of light. I used the phone inside and outside without losing sight of the screen, even under direct sunlight. Colors looked good and viewing angles were excellent.

If you want to tweak the display, the E5 Play offers a few options. For example, you can select from a few preset color profiles in addition to managing brightness, and other typical behaviors.

Display  

Signal

The Moto E5 Play is sold from Boost, Cricket, and Verizon Prepaid. We tested the Boost-branded version on Sprint's network around New York City. (Boost is a Sprint brand.)

The phone did a very good job of finding and connecting to Sprint. It remained on 4G LTE everywhere I took it over the course of several days and never dropped the network entirely. The E5 Play connected calls consistently, even under poor conditions, and never dropped a call. That's all good news.

With Cat. 6 LTE aboard, you can expect decent data performance for a phone of this class. (Many entry-level phones still only go up to Cat. 4.) The E5 Play was quick enough on Sprint's network for browsing the web, perusing Facebook, and enjoying Instagram. Streaming music from Spotify and video from YouTube required lower quality settings to get a stutter-free experience.

Sound

Call quality was a bit uneven. Some calls were clear and some were not. It varied more than I've seen on most phones of late, but this kind of result can be the fault of the network. Volume was consistent. I never had any trouble hearing calls as long as the volume was set all the way up. I could discern voices when in coffee shops, malls, on city streets, and at home in the office. No worries there. I just wish there were less occasional distortion in the earpiece.

The earpiece doubles as the speakerphone. Speakerphone calls were crackly and messy at the loudest volumes. Dialing back the noise evened out the clarity by at least a little, but then made calls harder to hear.

The ringers are well and truly loud enough to get your attention when needed. The vibrate alert is just okay.

Battery

The E5 Play has a 2,800 mAh battery inside and it does a great job. The screen and processor doesn't demand as much juice as those on higher-end phones. That means you win when it comes to battery life. The phone rarely ended a day with less than 40% during my tests. It easily pushed into a second day on a single charge.

The E5 Play supports rapid charging. It doesn't take too long to power up when plugged into the included charger.

Bluetooth, GPS, NFC, WiFi

Bluetooth worked fine with headphones and speakers, but wouldn't talk to my car at all. Calls sent to speakers sounded pretty good, but not the best. Music was just okay when streamed to a pair of good headphones.

The GPS did much better. The E5 Play located me quickly enough and to within about 25 feet. It handled real-time navigation without too much fuss.

There is no NFC radio on the E5 Play.

The WiFi radio helped a lot and worked fine when downloading apps at home.

If you're an FM fan, the E5 Play lets you listen to local stations as long as you have a pair of wired headphones available.

Software 

Lock Screen

The E5 Play offers a decent lock screen experience, though it dials back on the number of features when compared to other Motorola phones such as the Moto G6.

Everything is managed in the Moto App. Moto Display is what Motorola calls its "ambient display." It wakes the screen regularly with incoming notifications if you wish. It only shows notifications, lets you dismiss them, or respond to them. There are no fancy lock screen gestures or swiping actions on the E5 Play's lock screen.

If you press the screen lock button, the display wakes fully to show the clock, wallpaper, and notifications listed below the clock. There are shortcuts to the Google Assistant and camera on this screen, though these can't be customized.

Lock Screen  

Home Screens

The E5 Play may be one of the least expensive phones on the market, but it still ships with Android 8 Oreo and some of Motorola's useful additions.

The main home screen panels are simple to adjust and customize with your own apps and shortcuts. The E5 Play includes a personalized Google feed as the left-most home screen panel. It shows you local weather, calendar appointments, travel times to work/home, and so on.

E5 Play Home Screens  

The app drawer, notification shade, Quick Settings tool, and main settings screens are all standard Android as designed by Google, and work accordingly. Apps are listed alphabetically in the drawer, with five app suggestions lining the top. The app drawer doesn't support folders, nor does it allow you to hide apps. There are no themes or other fancy interface tricks on board, which is fine as far as I'm concerned.

Moto Actions are hand gestures that serve as shortcuts for certain some tasks. For example, drag three fingers down the display to take a screenshot, make a chop motion with the phone twice to turn on the flashlight, or pick it up to stop ringing. I'm glad to see at least these few are available to the E5 Play.

Moto App  

As for performance, the Moto E5 Play has a 1.4 GHz Snapdragon 425 processor with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. This is close to scraping the bottom of the barrel these days. Still, the E5 Play managed to deliver a respectable performance. It never felt that slow, though there was certainly some sluggishness from time to time.

Camera

Motorola's quick wrist-twisting gesture to open the camera isn't available on the E5 Play. Sad face. Instead, the best, fastest way to open the E5 Play camera app is a quick double-press of the screen lock button. The app takes a hair longer to open than I want it to.

The camera app is simple. The controls on the left side of the viewfinder let you adjust HDR (on, off, auto), flash (on, off, auto), and set a timer.

E5 Play Camera App  

A selector next to the shutter button lets you access special modes. These include professional, slow motion, and panorama.

The professional mode is the only advanced mode. It lets you manually adjust focal point, white balance, shutter speed (but only up to 1/2 second), ISO, and brightness. There are sliders for making adjustments as you go. It's fairly easy to use and previews the results in real-time as you slide the controls.

The pano and slow-mo modes are easy to use. There are no other special video tools, but the selfie camera includes a beautification filter.

E5 Camera App Modes  

The E5 Play's camera isn't as fast as I want it to be, but it's easy to use.

Photos/Video

The main camera has an 8-megapixel sensor at f/2.0 and an LED flash. The camera does a very good job for a phone at this price. The shots I captured were sharp, colorful and properly exposed. I saw few white balance problems. Because the camera is slow, you may have trouble getting the E5 Play to focus on moving subjects, like your kids or friends. Otherwise the camera pleasantly surprised me.

The selfie camera has a 5-megapixel sensor and its own flash, which is surprising for a device at this price. The selfie cam didn't include as much detail as I want, and images were often a bit soft. Exposure and color were good.

The phone can record video up to full HD (1080p) and it does a reasonably good job of it. I saw some grain in low-light video, but otherwise the results are on par with similarly spec'd phones.

E5 Play Photo Samples  

Wrap-Up 

The Motorola Moto E5 Play gets the job done for some customer groups. The simple design is kid-friendly in that it isn't fragile, though anyone with small hands may find it somewhat big. The screen is solid, and core functions like call quality, data speeds, and battery life are all in the right ballpark.

Motorola's tasteful additions to Android continue to be some of my favorite, and the phone runs relatively smoothly. The camera is simple to operate and produces surprisingly good photos for an entry-level phone.

Boost Mobile sells the Moto E5 Play for $80 and it's $70 over at Verizon Prepaid (remember, the Verizon version has a fingerprint reader). This is a really great price for such a solid phone. If you need an easy-to-use phone for your kid or older relative, the E5 Play is the right play.

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