Motorola Moto G9 Play review
Quick verdict: Motorola's Moto G9 Play includes some compromises to meet its price point, but it's an overall appealing smartphone.
- Good app performance
- Fast fingerprint sensor
- Nice design
- Headphone jack
- Only a 720p display
- Triple cameras provide ordinary results
- Large battery doesn't last as long as expected
48MP + 2MP + 2MP
Finder rated as Excellent vs similar phones
Power, storage and battery
|Launch price (RRP)||$0|
Motorola has recently been branching out with more ambitious phones in the mid-range and premium spaces – devices like the Motorola Edge and Motorola RAZR – but its heart remains in the affordable phone space.
The Motorola Moto G9 Play might have numerical progression on its side over its recent G8 series phones, but it's a phone that ultimately feels like a smaller progression than you might expect. Fundamentally it's a sound device in the budget space, which is more or less what Motorola's been doing for years now.
- Sapphire Blue finish is appealing
- Only a 720p display
- Headphone jack and physical fingerprint sensor
While some of its competitors have started offering up budget phones with 1,080p capable displays, one way that Motorola keeps costs low is by using lower resolution displays. That's certainly the case with the Motorola Moto G9 Play, which features a 6.5-inch 1,600x720 269ppi LCD display with a water drop style notch at the top. That means it tops out at a maximum resolution of 720p, which feels a little dated for a 2020 handset, even one in the budget space.
That being said, the rest of the design of the Motorola Moto G9 Play is actually pretty nice. In Australia, it's being sold in either a "Sapphire Blue" or "Spring Pink" finish, and the phone comes with a simple case protector pre-applied. There are plenty of budget phone makers who drop a cheap case in the box with the phone these days, but Motorola was an early adopter of this idea, and one of only a handful that ships phones with the case already in place.
All of the Motorola Moto G9 Play's controls sit on the right-hand side, with a dedicated Google Assistant button sitting above the volume and power keys. It features a headphone jack at the top of the phone, while at the bottom you'll find a single speaker nestled next to the USB C charging port. It's great to see Motorola start to drop the micro USB charging standard in favour of the far more flexible USB C connector.
Around the back you'll find a square camera array that sits nicely flush with the pre-applied case, just above the Motorola "batwing" logo that, as usual, also serves as the phone's fingerprint sensor. While some makers are starting to push optical fingerprint sensors in cheaper phones, to date they've all been very flaky in our testing. The Motorola Moto G9 Play's sensor is nicely accurate and fast, and the rounding of the case makes it very easy to locate with your finger without looking.
- Triple lens array, but you'll really only shoot with one
- Macro lens is hard to use
We've seen a lot of experimentation in the budget space when it comes to camera technology of late, and it's mostly been a good thing. Long gone are the days when you automatically got a terrible camera on your phone simply because you were buying in the budget space. It can still happen, but mostly in the sub-$100 space.
Flip the Motorola Moto G9 Play over and you're greeted with a square camera array, comprising the LED flash and three distinct lenses, which might get your heart pumping at the possibilities of wide angles, telephoto lenses and the like.
However, you've got to let your adrenaline subside, because the mix that Motorola has opted for is a lot less exciting. There's a primary 48MP f/1.7 sensor that you'll do most of your shooting with. Then there's a 2MP f/2.4 macro lens, and finally a 2MP f/2.4 depth sensor. Like any other depth sensor, you never actually shoot through that lens, because it's just there to assist with providing focus effects for portrait style shots.
Combining that sensor with the primary 48MP lens can give you some nice shots, like this cow with a decent bokeh for a phone at this price point.
Switch over to the macro lens, however, and the results are a lot less appealing a lot of the time. The issue here is fundamentally that it's a very slow sensor to focus on the types of subjects you're likely to want to take macro photos of. To give an example, while testing the Motorola Moto G9 Play's camera, I spotted a bee checking out some nearby flowers, an ideal macro testing scenario.
However, I struggled a lot to get any kind of really pleasing macro shot, because the sensor couldn't even settle all that well on the flower itself, let alone the bee.
The inclusion of a macro lens on lower-end phones isn't a new idea, but I'm yet to see it implemented in a way that gives terribly pleasing results. For most users, it would have been much better had Motorola opted for a wide lens instead, like it did with the Motorola Moto G8 for example, or a telephoto lens for that matter. All you're left with is digital zoom, which rarely produces good results. We're just coming into peak magpie swooping season in Australia, so I didn't really want to get too close to the local avians to speak of. Sadly, that left me with zoomed images that were distinctly sub-par:
All of this might give you the impression that the Motorola Moto G9 Play just has bad cameras, but that's not the whole story either. That primary 48MP sensor can shoot quite well, and Motorola's included camera app is, as it's long been, quite pleasant to use if all you want to do is point and shoot. The problem really is that even in the budget space, expectations around camera technology and capabilities have jumped up a lot in the last 12 months, but Motorola is rather dragging its feet.
Motorola Moto G9 Play sample photos
- Snapdragon 662 works well
- Motorola launcher is unobtrusive
The Motorola Moto G9 Play is the first phone to hit our test labs running on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 processor, paired up with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. Like other 6 series Qualcomm processors, it's a balancing act of affordability and features, but we've seen more phone in this upper tier of budget pricing ship with Qualcomm over MediaTek of late.
In terms of CPU power, the Motorola Moto G9 Play edges out similarly priced phones in benchmark terms, but only by relatively slender margins. Here's how it compared against a range of budget handsets using Geekbench 5's CPU test:
Here's how the Motorola Moto G9 Play's Adreno 610 GPU fares against the same pack of phones:
We've passed the point where basic phone functions can't be handled by pretty rudimentary processors, so if all you want out of a phone is basic browsing and social media for example, the Motorola Moto G9 will manage that without an issue. It's a more challenging story if you're pushing graphically heavier games of course, where you can expect less impressive performance and some frame drops from time to time.
The Motorola Moto G9 is an Android 10 phone with Motorola's typically lightweight launcher installed on top of it. As it has for many years, Motorola doesn't push too many additional features or overlay elements onto the user beyond its Moto Actions that allow you to use physical motions to engage features like the LED lamp as a torch. It's a big plus in Motorola's favour, because so many of its competitors go in for a full user interface rewrite, but rarely with particularly impressive results.
The Motorola Moto G9 is also NFC capable, so it can work with Google Pay compliant credit cards if you prefer phone-based contactless banking.
- 5,000mAh battery gives fair performance
- 15W USB C charging
Motorola was one of the first budget phone makers to offer a 5,000mAh battery in its phones. There's one in the Motorola Moto G9 as well, which brings with it the promise of easy multi-day battery life, especially when you consider that a 720p-capable display should use less power over time.
As always, that's a question of what you use it for, and how often. Running our standard battery rundown test with a YouTube video streaming for an hour from 100% at maximum brightness and moderate volume saw the Motorola Moto G9 give a result that felt a little less exciting, especially given our usual test scenario runs that video at 1,080p, not the 720p the Motorola Moto G9 is capable of. Here's how it compared.
Typically, phones that can manage above 90% in that test can make it through a day's general usage without issue, and that's definitely true for the Motorola Moto G9. If you're only using it lightly, two days or more is actually feasible, but if you are a heavier user it'll deplete more rapidly.
Where Motorola's cheaper phones clung desperately to the older – and less costly to build – microUSB standard for charging, the Motorola Moto G9 includes USB C charging at up to 15W. However, with a 5,000mAh battery to fill it's not astonishingly quick to top up.
Should you buy the Moto G9 Play?
- Buy it if you want a good all-round Android budget phone.
- Don't buy it if you want camera flexibility.
The Motorola Moto G9 doesn't change up Motorola's budget formula all that much. Performance is fine, battery life is fine and camera quality is a little bit wanting, and I can't help but feel like I've said that about Motorola phones in the past, too. If camera quality is your core concern this won't be the phone for you, because even at the lower price point of the Motorola Moto G9 you can do better. However, it's a well built, nicely designed handset with good app performance in its price bracket and reasonably good battery life too. You don't get the clutter of the fancy-but-odd UIs of other vendors, making it a good, safe choice as your next budget phone.
Pricing and availability
Power, storage and battery
Images: Alex Kidman