Moto E5 Play review: Okay phone, but an excellent price tag

Motorola has made budget-friendly and prepaid phones a strong part of their DNA, starting way back with the original Moto X during their Google years. Even after being bought by Lenovo and taking a swing at flagship phones again, the really exciting Motorola devices happen at the lower end of the price spectrum.

This year’s Moto E5 Play continues the trend while adding a few new key features to bolster the Motorola brand, available on a few different prepaid carriers in the US. So is the Moto E5 Play a worthwhile purchase, or should you spend a little bit more for a better phone? Let’s find out.

Design

The Moto E5 Play is a sub-$100 phone, so keep that in mind, because it completely feels like a sub-$100 phone. There’s a lot of plastic here, with a back that pops right off to expose the battery and SIM/SD card slots. That functionality is nice, but when you’re used to modern, sleekly designed phones with everything sealed in, you forget how these phones used to feel from a few years back.

There’s a decent amount of to the device, so it doesn’t feel terrible, and all of the buttons are suitably clicky. It’s all coated to be water resistant, too.

Above the screen you’ll find the only speaker on the device, with the power and volume buttons resting on the right side.

The left side is empty, and the micro USB charging port is on the bottom.

The bottom chin of the device is pretty large, too. Unfortunately, the Moto E5 Play didn’t get the fancy screen treatment like some of the other Moto phones this year.

The backside of the phone features Motorola’s new signature camera layout reminiscent of the Moto Z line, and the Motorola logo hides a surprisingly functional fingerprint scanner.

There’s nothing to write home about, but honestly, there’s nothing to complain about, either. I’d take the cheaper price over more premium materials here.

Hardware

 Moto E5 Play
AnnouncedJuly 2018
ReleasedApril 2018
Display5.2-inch HD (1280x720)
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 425
RAM2GB
Storage16GB with microSD card slot
Rear Camera8MP f/2.0, 1.12 µm, AF
Front Camera5MP
Water ResistanceWater repellant coating
Battery2800mAh
ChargingMicroUSB
SoftwareAndroid 8.0 Oreo
ConnectivityNFC, Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n
SensorsAmbient, proximity, motion, compass, gyro, fingerprint
Measurements151 x 74 x 9mm
Weight150g
ColorsBlack, Dark Lake, Flash Gray

Performance

Motorola opted for a Snapdragon 425 CPU with the Moto E5 Play, which is one of the lower level chips available. It’s not a bottom tier processor, although it’s not quite as effective as our site-favorite Snapdragon 600 series.

For the price tag, though, getting something that’s not at the bottom of the barrel is a major plus. Typical usage isn’t bad, and you’ll never want to throw your phone against the wall just for browsing the web and checking your email. I noticed a bit of chug and slowdown in Gmail threads with tons of attachments or messages, or while playing games and an on-screen ad changes. Nothing major, and hardly a headache, but worth keeping your expectations grounded.

 

If you’re planning on using the device as a media and entertainment phone, you’ll most likely have a good. The screen is only 720p, and honestly, you’re going to notice a bit of softness and mediocre black levels. The colors are accurate, if a little washed out, which is something that you don’t always see in cheaper phones. The speakers are actually pretty good for their price tag, too, so explosions in movies and your music will be fun and not grating. Seriously, I think the Moto E5 Play barely outdoes the OnePlus 6’s terrible speakers, and it’s only rocking a single speaker in the top grille.

Battery

Battery life on the Moto E5 Play is good, but not great, and it’s heavily dependent on what you’re doing with it. The 400 series Snapdragon chip can really struggle if you throw too much at it, and that’s going to take a toll on trying to get through the entire day on a single charge. Light usage will get you through, but be careful about playing games or streaming a ton of YouTube on your lunch break. And hey, at least it’s removable.

The lack of fast charging or USB-C hampers your ability to carry around high watt batteries or a quick charger, too.

Software

There’s almost nothing to talk about with the Moto E5 Play’s software, and with its weaker processor, that’s a good thing. It’s mostly stock Android 8.0 with just a few tweaks and additions, most of which are actually kind of cool.

You’ll get Motorola’s ambient display to see notifications without fully turning on the screen or unlocking anything, plus all of Motorola’s gestures to take screenshots, shrink the screen, and a few others. The Moto app also does basic device maintenance for you, like offering to uninstall bloated apps when you’re running low on storage and letting you know if an app is draining your battery.

Through no fault of Motorola’s, Android is getting bigger and bigger. Out of the box just under half of the storage is eaten up with baked in Android stuff, and if you get a carrier version you’ll have to deal with that, too. Verizon loves bloatware, even on prepaid phones, so expect dumb games and Yahoo apps that you’ll never want. Uninstall, ASAP.

Camera

We’ve seen tons of major camera improvements trickle down into cheaper phones, like dual-camera setups and better image stabilization. Unfortunately, it’s still hard to see that in the phones this easy on the wallet, so serious photographers beware.

If you can line a shot up perfectly in excellent lighting conditions, you’ll get something serviceable. Just don’t zoom in much.

Low light really struggles, and if you have a drastically different amount of light in the background and foreground, it’s really easy to accidentally end up with a blown out, washed out shot. Finer details get soft very quickly, too.

But it’s not potato quality, and with some clever filter effects, it’ll be just fine for your Instagram pictures. Keep that price tag in mind before you judge too harshly.

Closing

Compared to the phones that normally fill news headlines and grab our attention year-round, the Moto E5 Play is pretty middling. Performance is so-so, the camera could use some serious improvements, and there’s no single standout feature that really sells the phone on its own.

With all of that being said, it’s still a fantastic phone for the price you’re paying, especially on certain carriers. Verizon’s version is just below $100 and nets you a fingerprint scanner, plus the water-resistant design and 16GB of storage. Flagship users will scoff, but for anyone that’s tried to navigate the world of sub-$100 phones, that’s a big deal.

Sure, you can spend more and get more, but for what you’re paying, I’m not sure there’s a better value for dollar phone on the market right now.

Buy it now: Verizon
Best Buy (Boost Mobile)
Best Buy (Verizon)
Motorola


About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid, but the tech enthusiasm currently covers just about everything. He likes PC gaming, Lenovo's Moto Z line, and a good productivity app.


  • Alex

    Picked it up at cricket as a quick replacement while my main phone is currently bricked. I am actually impressed by this phone for what i paid. it can play pubg just fine, and works great for browsing, messaging, music and gps. I paid $65 for it, and by far worth every penny.