Motorola Moto G9 Play Review: A Budget Bargain


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The Moto G9 Play arrived just six months after the Moto G8 series was on the scene. It’s the first of three phones in the G9 range (so far), which includes the Moto G9 Plus and the newly-announced G9 Power. 

The G9 Play, however, is also the cheapest at £159.99. We test it out to see just how much value it offers for your money. 

Design and build

Straight out the gate, the design looks clean and minimalist – and bright, thanks to a vivid, scintillating Sapphire Blue back (though you can pick it up in Forest Green too). It’s all smooth plastic, mind you, but it doesn’t feel cheap or tacky.  

The Moto G9 Play is light, at just 200g, especially in comparison to the chunky Vivo IQOO 3 (5G) gaming phone I usually use, and offers a relatively-thin 9.18mm profile. While it’s a tall phone, it is comfortable to hold and use one-handed, too.

As for ports and buttons, there’s USB-C for charging as well as a dedicated Google Assistant key above the volume rocker. And good news for traditionalists: there’s a headphone jack too. The Moto G9 Play also supports Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, along with dual-band Wi-Fi. 

Despite its tiny asking price, the G9 Play offers both face unlock and a fingerprint scanner, though the latter is positioned on the back of the phone instead of under the screen or behind the display. 

Both are generally reliable in unlocking the phone quickly, though you’re more likely to rely on the fingerprint scanner in low lighting.

Big Display – but could be better

While the Moto G9 Play offers a large 6.5in display, it’ll likely appear dull to anyone who has used an OLED-toting phone in the past. 

The G9 Play uses an IPS TFT LCD display – while that might look like a spoonful of alphabet soup, what it translates to, ultimately, is a budget panel. LCD displays are cost-effective, but at the cost of colour accuracy. This is where the TFT comes in – it’s a cheap add-on that helps modulate individual pixels to improve contrast.  

You can see this in action on the Moto G9 Play, where the contrast is decent, but where colours and vibrancy remain lacklustre.

The display does boast a decent 87% screen-to-body ratio, but there is a slight chin at the bottom and a black border around the edges which swoops into a dewdrop notch at the top for the camera. While the borders are fairly narrow, it does look slightly dated.

The resolution is also limited to HD+ (1600 x 720). Yes, that’s a bump up from standard HD (1280 x 720) but you can also get 120Hz display with FHD+ (1080 x 2400), and HDR10 for £199 in the Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC, currently the best budget phone on the market. 

Let’s be clear: it’s not a bad display for day-to-day use, and it looks fine if you’re gaming – as most games feature intense colours and high contrast anyway, but the display shouldn’t be why you buy this phone. 

Disappointing cameras

The G9 Play’s low price is most apparent in the camera system. While the phone boasts a 48Mp main camera the output is restricted to 12Mp with pixel binning – a process that combines four pixels (in the G9 Play’s case) into one. This, in theory, helps preserve image detail while keeping camera sensors from looking comically large on a phone. 

In practice on the G9 Play, the images just look dull and lack detail – the quality is similar to something you might have found in the early days of camera phones. With poor dynamic range, there’s not much contrast in images either.

While the phone does an okay job of brightening up low-light shots, you do lose a lot of detail in the process.

The triple camera setup also offers a 2Mp depth sensor for portrait shots and a 2Mp macro lens for closeup photography. In the macro mode, particularly, the camera fails to sharply focus on subjects in the foreground, leaving most attempts at such photos blurry and unusable.

Software and UX 

The Moto G9 Play operates on Android 10 and the experience is clean; no bloatware or pre-installed apps here.

By default, though, the G9 Play is set to “Gesture Navigation”, a button-less experience where you can swipe around with one hand to move through the Android experience. I found this wholly confusing and frustrating to use (it turned out the sensitivity setting was set too high by default), but thankfully you can opt for the three-button navigation we all know and love. Lesson: don’t reinvent the wheel.

The G9 Play also offers “Quick Gestures”, which allow you to take a screenshot by holding down three fingers, or use a karate-chop motion to turn on the flashlight. These aren’t essential but are nice flourishes that make this budget phone more unique. 

‘Gametime’ mode

I should point out the G9 Play is not technically powerful enough to be a gaming phone, even though it’s called the “Play”. Dedicated gaming phones have more powerful GPUs and RAM, along with specialised features, like higher touch response rates. See our rundown of the best gaming phones here.

The G9 Play does pivot towards gaming though, with excellent battery life (more on this below) and a dedicated ‘Gametime’ mode that limits on-screen distractions. A pop-up dash lets you quickly access up to two apps in a smaller picture-in-picture frame, so you don’t have to quit what you’re playing to respond to friends. You can also use it to block calls and notifications. 

Specs & Performance

Despite a budget price, the G9 Play offers a mid-range Snapdragon 662 processor with 64GB storage and 4GB RAM. In my experience, the phone operated smoothly, without any hitches and this was reflected in our benchmark tests, where the Moto G9 Play performed as well as some of the leading budget phones on the market.

In our gaming benchmarks, the G9 Play was never severely lagging behind the Xiaomi Poco X3 NFC (from £199) or the Realme 7 (from £179.99) – the two phones that have respectively currently nabbed first and second place in our round-up of the best budget phones on the market. Performance-wise, our Geekbench 5 test revealed the Moto G9 Play to be fairly on par with the Redmi 9 (from £139) and Redmi Note 9 (from £179), both which also feature in our leading budget phones chart. You won’t lose out on performance with the G9 Play.

In terms of battery life, it outshone all the phones we compared it to, including the Poco X3. Motorola promises two days of battery longevity – and this claim appears to ring true. With 5000mAh to spare, the G9 Play is optimised for battery-draining uses like gaming, video-watching and social media.

Price and availability 

The Moto G9 Play is competitively priced at £159.99 and is available in Sapphire Blue and Forest Green. You can order it from Amazon, Argos, Carphone Warehouse, Laptops Direct and Very. 

Verdict 

The Moto G9 Play offers excellent value for money. It packs reliable performance that’s comparable to more expensive budget phones but outdoes them too with incredible battery life – all at a humble price.

The G9 Play’s biggest flaw is its camera, which produces low contrast, grainy images. The display is bright but it’s not the punchiest. It will disappoint if you’re used to a more sophisticated screen too.

All said, if you need a simple phone for social media and casual gaming, or are buying the first phone for your child, you can’t go wrong with Moto G9 Play.

Related stories for further reading
Specs
Moto G9 Play: Specs

6.5in 20:9 HD+ (1600×720) Max Vision IPS LCD

Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 processor

4GB RAM

64GB/128GB storage

microSD expandable up to 512GB

Main camera:
48Mp main
2Mp macro
2Mp depth
LED flash

Front dewdrop 8Mp camera

15W fast charging

5000mAh battery

Rear-mounted fingerprint reader

3.5mm headphone jack

Dedicated Google Assistant key

Water-repellant design

Bluetooth 5.0

4G (i.e. no 5G)

USB-C

165.21×75.73×9.18mm

200 grams

Colours: Sapphire Blue, Forest Green

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