Motorola’s latest device in a series of releases this year is aimed squarely at the budget market. The Moto G9 Play offers good value at a low price, which is always a solid combination.

What is it?

Being a high value budget device, you can expect to see many middling features with one or two that stand out. In this case, the Moto G9 Play offers a fairly low-power processor, only 4GB of RAM, and a mere 720p display. However, reading onwards through the spec sheet, you’ll see a whopping 5000 mAh battery and a 48MP camera with 64GB of storage with more from an optional SD card. But there are some caveats – more on that later.

On the outside, there’s three physical buttons; power, volume up and down, and a dedicated Assistant button. There’s USB-C charging on the bottom edge, and a headphone jack on the top edge. The rear of the phone offers a fast fingerprint sensor, three camera sensors and a flash.

A teardrop notch appears at the top of the display to house the front camera.

What’s good about it?

There’s a lot of value to be had here if all you’re after is a basic smartphone. You know, to contact people with, maybe browse the internet, play a couple games. You can do all this with ease on the Moto G9 Play, and it will do it for ages because of that enormous battery.

Day-to-day usage performance is smooth. There’s a slight delay when unlocking with the fingerprint sensor, and processor-intensive scenarios like using the camera app while downloading in the background make for a stuttery experience, but overall the G9 Play handles regular tasks well.

Motorola has done a good job on the finishes, and it adds a touch to the appeal of the phone. We got the Sapphire Blue version and it’s quite pretty, and there’s a Spring Pink colour available alongside it.

Despite coming with a 3.5mm headphone jack, Motorola has seen fit to package in a pair of wireless Motobud earphones along with the phone. This is a really nice inclusion, and brings up the value of the device by quite a bit.

What’s not good about it?

When you start digging deeper into the G9 Play’s feature set, it runs into issues.

The 720p display is a bit disappointing. Colours can look a little washed out and the brightness is lacking, especially in high ambient light. At this price point, there’s definitely other brands that are putting full HD displays in with better brightness and colour reproduction.

Frankly, the cameras also leave something to be desired. According to Motorola, the main sensor is a 48-megapixel unit that does some witchcraft that combines four pixels into one for an end-result outcome of 12 megapixels. The company touts the AI capabilities powering the camera, and with all that technology you get photos that look like this.

Main lens

Parts of the image are blurry that ought not to be, the colours look a little off, and there’s a slight noise or grain around sections of the image.

Main lens, 100% crop

The other sensors don’t fare much better – they are a 2-megapixel macro lens and a 2-megapixel depth sensor that doesn’t actually take photos, instead helping the others with autofocus data.

In my opinion, the macro lens is not even worthy of inclusion on the phone at all – it produces extremely washed out, low detail images. It doesn’t even do a better job at focusing on close-up objects than the main lens, as seen in the motherboard photos. A more useful inclusion may have been a wide-angle lens or a telephoto lens – or saving the money and reducing the price by not including a macro lens at all.

Low-light performance isn’t great either. With Night Mode off, the images come out very grainy, and with it enabled, the shutter speed suffers significantly so the photos are very prone to blur. On a slightly more well-lit scene, detail suffers a lot and the lenses are very prone to flare.

The autofocus seems to be hell-bent on disobedience, attempting to focus on random parts of a scene, and completely ignoring my chosen focal points. Put simply, this phone all but requires more than one shot to produce a decent photo.

The selfie camera suffers much the same as the other lenses – washed out colours and low detail – but at least it’s better than the macro lens.

Should I buy it?

There’s a lot of competition in this price segment, and the Motorola G9 Play doesn’t provide any features in particular that its competitors don’t. The wireless headphones are a nice touch for those who don’t already have a pair, but the main draw should be the phone itself – and I can’t confidently say there’s anything here that impressed me enough to recommend this phone above all others at the same price.

If you’re after a budget device, there’s plenty of options out there. The G9 Play comes in at $299 with good value, but the competition includes the OPPO A52, which has a significantly better display for the same price, and adding an extra $50 to your budget puts you in range of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9, which offers a properly impressive camera for its price, a better screen resolution and twice as much storage.

If you just want a phone with a big battery, adequate performance, and a cleaner OS than some of the competition, the G9 Play might be for you, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking to take photos on the go.