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Admittedly it has been quite a while since I have spent a significant amount of time with a budget smartphone, and the last time I used a Motorola device was the Moto Z Play from 2016. Going into my review of the new Moto G Play (2023), I knew I'd have to temper my expectations for how the device would perform as my daily driver after using high-end flagships like the Pixel 7 Pro and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4. So, how did the budget-minded Moto G Play (2023) fare? About as expected.

The phone itself comes in at $170 with a 90Hz display, plastic build, an aging processor, a near-stock software experience, and a camera system that isn't going to win awards. Considering those elements, along with a large 5,000mAh battery, the phone is a solid choice for anybody on a tight budget who wants a 2023 phone. However, even those who haven't been able to use a recent flagship will notice the compromises. The performance stutters, lackluster cameras, and constrained device storage will likely stand out and leave a bad taste in their mouths — as it did mine.

About this review: Motorola sent us a review unit for the purposes of this article. It did not see the contents of this review before publishing.

Back view of a blue Moto G Play 2023.
Moto G Play 2023
$150 $170 Save $20

The Moto G Play (2023) is a solid budget smartphone for those on a tight budget. It's nice to see a high refresh display at this price point that offers good colors. The cameras are decent, and the battery life is fantastic. However, overall performance is sluggish, and apps will hang up from time to time.

6.58 x 3.01 x .37 inches (167.24 x 76.54 x 9.36mm)
6.5-inch, IPS TFT LCD with 90Hz refresh rate, HD+ (1600x720), 269ppi
Navy Blue
Operating System
Android 12
MediaTek Helio G37
Micro SD card support
Up to 512GB microSD
5000mAh, 10W USB-C charging
Front camera
Rear cameras
16MP, 2MP macro, 2MP depth
4GB LTE, Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
USB-C, 3.5mm audio jack
IP Rating



Excellent battery life

Lots of performance stutters

Clean UI with helpful features

Can't move apps to the microSD card

The device feels good in the hand

Very slow camera load and capture times

Smooth 90Hz display

Launches with Android 12 with only Android 13 promised

Only 10W wired charging with no NFC or wireless charging

Moto G Play (2023): Price and availability

  • The Moto G Play (2023) sells for $169.99 at full price
  • It's available on a number of carriers and at Best Buy and Amazon
Motorola Moto G Play 2023 cameras and fingerprint scanner

Motorola announced the new Moto G Play (2023) on Dec. 8, 2022 and released the unlocked variant on Jan. 12, 2023, through Motorola, Best Buy, and Amazon for $169.99. Carriers such as Metro by T-Mobile, Dish, Xfinity Mobile, US Cellular, Consumer Cellular, Spectrum Mobile, and Optimum Mobile will begin selling the phone in the coming weeks. The phone comes in a single variant with 32GB of built-in storage, 3GB RAM, and a navy blue color scheme.

Design: Surprisingly nice to hold

  • The phone has a plastic back and frame in navy blue with a matte finish.
  • The 6.5-inch HD+ display is capable of a 90Hz refresh rate with a hole punch cutout for the front-facing camera.
  • On the phone's back, there are three cameras and a capacitive fingerprint scanner.
  • The 32GB of built-in storage is expandable up to 512GB via a microSD card.
Motorola Moto G Play 2023 buttons

A Moto G Play has almost always had a spot on the list of best cheap Android phones, and that continues here. With such a low launch price, I expected the new Moto G Play to feel hollow and cheap due to the plastic build. But I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the phone felt when holding it. While it does make some hollow sounds if you tap on the back, it doesn't creak or give the impression that it could fall apart if it were put down on a table abruptly. The matte finish on the outside also provides a grippy texture and does a great job of hiding fingerprints.

Speaking of fingerprints, Motorola has included a relatively snappy capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back with the iconic "M" logo on it. Also occupying the phone's backside is the three-sensor camera system. There's also a hole punch cutout on the front for the front-facing camera. I'll go into further details on the cameras in a later section.

You'll also find a textured power button and the single rocker switch for volume controls on the right rail when looking at the phone's front. The left rail houses the SIM tray with a spot to include a microSD card of up to 512GB.

Motorola Moto G Play 2023 outside

However, most surprising this time around is the inclusion of a high-refresh-rate display. The 6.5-inch HD+ LCD panel can reach 90Hz and automatically scale down to 60Hz if you leave the default setting enabled. You can choose to lock the refresh rate to 60Hz, but not to 90Hz. Overall the display is OK. It has decent colors, and most content will look fine. But it does struggle a bit in bright environments, and if you aren't looking at it directly from the front, the screen quickly becomes hard to read.

Overall, the build and design of the Moto G Play are quite nice, considering the price. While smartphones with plastic builds are frowned upon in many tech circles, the modern technics and materials used are much better than they used to be. Plastics are more durable and can take a drop here and there without major issues, unlike glass on many other smartphones. It's unlikely anyone would confuse the Moto G Play for a high-end device when being held, but I doubt many would honestly say it feels cheap.

Battery: The star of the show

  • The 5,000mAh battery is rated to last up to three days.
  • Wired charging is capped at 10W and includes a wall adapter in the box.
  • The Moto G Play does not have wireless charging.
Motorola Moto G Play 2023 battery

Perhaps the highlight of the Moto G Play is the battery life. The phone is equipped with a huge 5,000mAh battery that is rated for three days of use, according to Motorola. While I didn't hit that number, I easily got a day and a half. If there is a major pitfall of most flagship devices that typically populate the list of best smartphones, it's that the batteries generally last 24 hours at best. But those usually land closer to the 18-hour mark. Using a phone I could leave off the charger at night without worrying about the next day is an experience I'd like more often.

However, there is a downside regarding power and the Moto G Play: charging. Motorola includes a USB-A to USB-C cable and a 10W wall adapter in the box (more than we can say for some recent flagships). However, the battery is so large and has a maximum charge rate of 10W, so it takes a long time to recharge the phone. It also lacks wireless charging, which is a very minor complaint given the price point.

Software: Lightweight but with few updates

  • The Moto G Play comes with Android 12 and, as of Jan. 17, 2023, the October 2022 security patch.
  • Motorola has only promised an update to Android 13 and three years of security updates.
  • The My UX interface is light and offers the traditional helpful Motorola features.
Motorola Moto G Play 2023 software updates

While I generally prefer the software found on Google Pixel devices, I love the UI on the Moto G Play, called My UX. It's quite light and doesn't overcomplicate areas that users interact with frequently. Oh, and you won't find duplicate apps or bloatware on the Moto G Play unless you get it through a carrier. For the most part, the interface is very similar to what Google offers, but with some subtle differences. Motorola has landed somewhere between Google's approach and Samsung's with One UI with an uncluttered overall aesthetic and tasteful customization options.

An extra app, the Moto app, is an actually helpful app dedicated to providing tips on using the phone, along with a well-curated customization engine. It also comes with some well-done premade themes that include wallpapers, preset icon colors, and shapes, or you can create your own in the app. There are also options to set icon shape, color, and size. Motorola has done a good job of providing users with ways to customize their experience on the phone without overwhelming them or forcing them to download a launcher.

My UX experience also includes some easy-to-use gestures to turn on the flashlight and camera. The fan-favorite double chop to enable the camera and the double twist to launch the camera are some of the best smartphone features of all time, and I'm so glad Motorola continues to offer them. But I also greatly appreciate what it calls Peek Display. No, this isn't a descriptor for the display but a separate feature. When viewing the lock screen of the always-on display, you can press and hold on the notification icon to see what it is for, dismiss it, or turn it off, all without unlocking your phone or even picking it up. I found myself falling back in love with these Motorola features all over again and wishing other OEMs offered similar options.

Motorola Moto G Play 2023 Peek Display

A software fact that's far less enamoring is that Motorola is launching the Moto G Play in 2023 with Android 12. Though Android 12 is fine, even at a $170 launch price, there's no reason it shouldn't ship with Android 13 at this point. To make matters worse, the device is currently slated to only get one major platform update — to Android 13. To release the phone with software that came out in 2021 and had available a newer version that's been out since 2022 is disappointing, sure. But to only offer one platform update to the software it should've released with is downright terrible.

If the phone is only getting one platform update, the least Motorola could do is ensure it is kept as secure as possible with frequent and timely security updates. Thankfully, the phone is going to get three years of security updates, but it's unclear how frequent the updates will be, although it's likely to be quarterly. As of Jan. 17, 2023, the phone is operating with the October 2022 security patch, so I guess make of that what you will.

Performance: Low RAM and storage lead to weak use

Motorola Moto G Play 2023 performance
  • It comes with a Mediatek MT6765 Helio G37.
  • At best, the phone is slow to respond, and at worst, apps crash.
  • The 3GB RAM and 32GB built-in storage don't help the performance.

When I began using the Moto G Play, I knew I had to lower my expectations when it comes to performance. It doesn't run the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 or one of the high-end MediaTek Dimensity chips, so I was ready to wait a beat or two for the phone to respond to input. But it was worse than I thought I imagined.

I knew I would have issues due to the 32GB of built-in storage, but only about half was available for use. From the jump, I had to change what apps I installed to keep the phone functioning by not overfilling the storage. But then I remembered I could expand the storage with a microSD card. After installing a 128GB card, I was ready to move apps onto it and free up space on the internal storage. But that wasn't available. I thought I needed to format the card to act as internal memory, but that wasn't an option, either. The only place that apps can go is on the internal memory and the microSD card is for holding files.

In the end, I kept 4GB free on the phone and still installed the apps I needed. So, if the phone had been sitting for a while and I pick it up to use it, the Moto G Play would respond in an acceptable amount of time and function just fine. But after using it for an extended period, apps started crashing and swipes were met with jittered reactions or none at all.

Motorola Moto G Play 2023

My truck has native Android Auto, and I had a bad experience when the phone was connected wirelessly or via USB-C. Running navigation via Google Maps and listening to YouTube Music would often cause one or both services to stutter, stop, or even force Android Auto to reboot entirely. Forget running two apps and trying to take a phone call. I'm not 100% blaming this on the MediaTek processor, as it is used in many other smartphones. Instead, I lay much of the blame on the paltry 3GB RAM.

Thanks to the low amount of RAM and very limited internal storage, the phone will have a terrible response time and struggle with multitasking. The issues only compound when the free storage space is low. I don't know if there are any software tricks Motorola has available to improve the Moto G Play's performance, but as it stands today, the phone is not going to do well with even just moderate use.

Cameras: Just decent, as expected

  • The Moto G Play has three cameras on the back and one on the front.
  • Image quality is acceptable in good lighting and grainy in low light.
  • Motorola includes some useful camera features but lacks a dedicated night mode.
Motorola Moto G Play 2023 camera app

As many of you know, one of the first areas to get demoted when trying to hit the budget price point is the cameras. While Motorola could have been applauded for offering three cameras on the back of the phone, two of them provide little to no benefit. The main lens is a 16MP that provides perfectly fine images in good lighting conditions. It's the accompanying 2MP depth sensor and 2MP macro lens that are the letdowns.

In the past, some phones, budget or not, included a depth sensor that was often useless. People discovered this by taking photos utilizing the sensor, like portrait mode, and covering the lens. The phone would take the same photos as if the lens had been uncovered. Doing that on the Moto G Play produces a pop-up saying the lens is covered.

The phone provides a pretty good image in portrait mode with natural background blur and even-ish edge detection around the subject. The macro lens is just OK. The number of times most people would use this lens over an ultrawide or telephoto lens is probably much less. The image quality from this sensor is functional, but I'd much rather have a different lens altogether.

Below are some shots that compare the Moto G Play and the Pixel 7 Pro. While this comparison may not be fair, it is a way to see what differences in the camera system, hardware, and software. Based on Google's camera prowess, you can probably guess which photos were taken with which phone.

When it comes to the camera app on the Moto G Play, Motorola includes the expected video, photo, and portrait modes, but there are also Pro, Spot Color, Panorama, Timelapse, and more options. The Spot Color mode is a fun one where you drag a color picker to select the exact color you want in the scene, adjust the intensity of the effect with a slider, then take the photo. After processing, depending on your settings, you'll get a black-and-white image with a pop of color.

The Moto G Play also has a 5MP sensor peeking out from the hole punch in the display. The photos from the selfie camera are very similar in usability to the rear sensor — serviceable in good lighting and grainy in low light. Motorola does include some fun modes for this camera, too.

Moto G Play (2023): Should you buy it?

Motorola Moto G Play 2023

You should buy the Moto G Play (2023) if:

  • You want a 2023 phone and are on a tight budget
  • You don't mind a plastic build
  • You don't like your phone to have a lot of bloatware
  • You need a phone with a headphone jack and expandable storage

You shouldn't buy the Moto G Play (2023) if:

  • You need consistent performance from your phone
  • Photo quality is of great importance to you
  • You use a lot of apps
  • You want to keep the phone for a long time

Motorola is kicking 2023 off with its classic Moto G Play, which has been such a popular budget phone line for years. The 2023 model brings excellent build quality, despite the plastic materials, fantastic battery life, and a clean interface that's easy to use. The unfortunate part is that even at $170, the performance and lack of timely software updates, or at all, really put a damper on what could be an excellent option for those on a tight budget.

In the last couple of years, there has been a bump in the number of excellent Android phones under $300, forcing the Moto G Play to work even harder to get recognition. With phones like the recently announced Samsung Galaxy A14 5G, OnePlus Nord N200 5G, and more offering better specs and performance for very little extra money, the Moto G Play is a tough sell in 2023.

Whether you should get this phone is going to depend on your situation. If you genuinely need to save every penny, the Moto G Play is a solid choice through retailers directly or at some of the best prepaid carriers. But if you can go the route of getting a postpaid cell phone plan from one of the big carriers, you'll likely be able to get a comparable or better phone for less or even free.

Back view of a blue Moto G Play 2023.
Moto G Play (2023)
$150 $170 Save $20

The Moto G Play (2023) is a solid budget smartphone. It is nice to see a high refresh display at this price point that offers good colors. The cameras are also decent, and the battery life is fantastic. However, overall performance is sluggish, and apps will hang up from time to time.