(Pocket-lint) - At the bottom end of the smartphone market, few manufacturers have shown consistency like Motorola. Its G-series phones have been the easiest budget smartphones to recommend in this segment for quite some time, and the latest range - in which the G7 Play fits beneath the standard and Plus models, alongside the battery beast Power - isn't much different.
With the Play, Motorola's aim was to create a smartphone that gets the basics right, without adding any flashy design, or overly complicated camera tech, while lasting you through the day. It's a phone, and it'll do what phones should do, without making a fuss and without showing off. There might be more competition in this segment now, but with its clean software and focus on simplicity, the G7 Play is a winner.
- Plastic finish
- Weighs: 149g
- Measures: 147.31 x 71.5 x 7.99mm
- Colours: Black, Deep Indigo, Fine Gold
With a price way below £200, you don't expect a flashy high end design with colour gradients or curved glass and polished steel edges. And with the Moto G7 Play, you don't get that. Instead, it's a sensibly styled device made predominantly from plastic. But don't let that put you off. After all, you're unlikely to find anything other than plastic on any device at the £150 price point. And let's not forget, if it was high-end materials, that would mean compromises in more important areas, like the screen and camera.
While other colours are available, we received the black model to review, which is arguably the best choice. The black colouring gives it a simple and relatively stylish look. What we like is the way it's been textured and curved to make it easy and comfortable to hold. All over the back there are very subtle concentric circles engraved into the plastic. Almost like a giant fingerprint. It's almost imperceptible to the human eye, but it does mean that it adds grippy-ness to the in-hand feel. That also means it's not a shiny, fingerprint attracting surface, which in turn means you don't end up with a greasy, messy rear cover.
As well as giving it this practical shape and texture, Motorola gave a simple symmetrical look by placing both the round camera protrusion and fingerprint sensor right in the centre. Even going as far as giving an angled chamfer to both - which glint slightly in the sun, contrasting the otherwise matte black finish.
It's a slightly different story on the front. Yes, it has an in-trend notch on the top, but both the notch and the bottom chin (or bezel) are so large it's hard to see why Moto even bothered. It would look more uniform and attractive if it just had two relatively slim full-width bezels on the top and bottom. It's not a deal-breaker, but given what Realme has achieved with the front of its own sub-£200 phone, it's definitely avoidable.
Still, what the G7 Play does have that Realme's budget 3 Pro doesn't is a Type-C port, which we think every single relevant device should have in 2019. We're glad Motorola has opted for this and hasn't laboured on with the tired and inconvenient Micro-USB port.
- 5.7-inch, 1512 x 720
- 19:9, IPS LCD
- Chunky notch
Compared to a premium flagship, the 5.7-inch 720p display on the G7 Play isn't all that great, but comparing it would be quite unfair. The display is often the most expensive part of a phone, so a cheaper phone undoubtedly means a lower quality. As a budget handset though, this one's actually pretty decent.
Colours are fairly natural - although a little faded and lacking in vibrancy - and they even hold up pretty well at different angles, meaning there's very little shift when tilting the phone or changing the angle of view. Whites are clean, too, although slightly cool - typical of an LCD panel - and blacks are a little lacking in depth. Combined, that means you don't get a tonne of contrast, but again you don't expect perfection in an HD screen on a low-end device.
One thing we will say is that it could do with being a little bit brighter. On the whole though, it's a nice enough screen to watch movies and play games on. Saying that, the resolution did get quite sketchy during some games, but we'll get into that in more detail in a bit.
Clean software experience
- Android 9 Pie
- No additional bloat, all stock apps
Anything Moto has been known for - along with its impressive budget devices - is not meddling with Google's Android software too much. It doesn't have a fancy custom skin and doesn't feature a shedload of additional and redundant apps. This sets it apart from a handful of the similarly priced Chinese competitors from the likes of Honor and Realme.
That's not to say there's nothing new or different. Moto's custom Actions are accessible from the Moto app. Here you can toggle on a number of gesture and control options, all in the same single app, which means you don't need to go diving deep into the Settings menu to find them all.
So if you want to toggle on the single-button gesture navigation instead of using the traditional three-button system that's been on Android for a long time, you can. With it activated, you can tap a slim bar at the bottom of the screen to go to the home screen, drag it left to go back, and drag it right to switch quickly to the previous app. Pressing-and-holding this tab launches Google Assistant, while dragging it up and pausing in the middle of the screen launches the recent apps view.
There are other gestures and controls too. For instance, you can set it so that whenever your phone is placed screen down it activates the Do Not Disturb mode, so you don't get any notifications or distractions. You can also activate the ability to unlock the phone just by lifting it up, or use the volume keys to change music tracks when the screen is off. Other gestures include the three-finger screenshot, the quick flashlight that you can switch on just by karate-chopping the air with the phone in hand, or twisting quickly twice to launch the camera.
Apart from that, all the default stock apps are Google's own. So that means Messages, Calendar, Photos, Gmail and others are the same as what you'd get on any Android One or Pixel device. That means a consistent, clean and efficient experience e, which matches perfectly with the no frills hardware design.
Did I stutter?
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 632, 2GB RAM, 32GB storage + microSD
- 3000mAh battery
- USB Type-C
- 3.5mm headphone socket
Perhaps the one area the Moto G7 Play doesn't quite match its Realme and Honor counterparts is in performance. That's not to say it's terrible. In fact, if you're using it for only basic functions like checking your social media feeds, emails and messages, you likely won't noticed much of an issue at all. It transitions between various parts of the interface quite quickly, but it's not consistently smooth.
Load up a game and this is amplified further. Graphics aren't close to being smooth on many games, even ones that don't seem particularly intensive. It's here that you realise you definitely do not have a flagship phone in your hands. Animations are jittery and it drops frames like a juggler with too many skittles.
On games where the phone choses animation smoothness over resolution, games like Asphalt 9 end up looking quite rough. Smooth lines disappear, and in their place you get jagged, rough looking edges. It reminds us of drawing basic, low-res lines in MS Paint back in the 90s on Windows 95. But in a game where fast reactions are necessary, one could argue that smooth and responsive performance is more important than higher resolution.
All this could be down to a few different things, but we suspect the biggest reason behind this is the low amount of RAM. Moto's Snapdragon 632 chip should be plenty to keep things running smoothly, but with just 2GB - very low by modern Android standards - there's seemingly not quite enough available memory to keep everything running that bit smoother.
The one plus that comes from having an underpowered phone with a low resolution is that the battery seems to last for ages. Whether it's because the performance left us not particularly wanting to use it as much as other phones, or because there's not as much load on the battery, it easily lasted a full day. With comparatively light/moderate use, it wasn't unusual to get to bedtime with around 50 per cent of the battery left over. Sometimes meaning it might last two days.
- 13MP rear camera, f/2.0, 1.12µm, PDAF
- 8MP front camera, f/2.2, 1.12µm, selfie flash
- Portrait mode
The Moto G7 Play has a single rear camera. But whether or not pictures turn out well seems to depend on how the phone is feeling at the time. It'll never win any prices for sharpness, dynamic range or colour reproduction, but then you don't really expect it to at this price point.
As long as you're in decent light the shots are just fine. If you just want something to snap holiday pics to remember, you'll be fine with the G7 Play. But, again, if you pay a little extra for a phone like the Realme 3 Pro, you'll get sharper, more dynamic pictures with a more natural colour and more consistent results.
The Moto G7 Play sits at the bottom of the pile in Motorola's G-series range and is therefore everything you'd expect a phone this cheap to be: a no-frills phone that gets the basics done.
But that's not a total bad thing. It's well considered and well targeted. With its subtle plastic build, ergonomic shape, clean software and long-lasting battery, it won't let you down.
But there's a good chance it won't wow you that much either. Camera results are inconsistent, overall speed and fluidity lacks in some instances, and gaming is off the cards given that lowly processor and lack of RAM.
Still, if all you have to spend is £150, and you want the most no-nonsense phone you can get, the G7 Play is a safe bet.
This article was first published as a preview in February 2019 and has been updated to reflect its full review status.
Alternatives to consider
Realme 3 Pro
Oppo's sub-brand has launched an affordable phone that punches comfortably above its weight. It's only slightly more expensive than the Moto, but for that price you get a nicer display, better camera, fast battery charging an an attractive design. What it lacks is the stock Android software experience, but for many, that's not really an issue.
Moto G7 Power
Essentially the Play, but better, with an even longer-lasting battery. The camera produces much nicer images, too.