Hands on: Moto E5 Play review

Moto’s budget phone is playfully basic

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The E5 Play isn’t a powerhouse and its lack of gyroscope means it won’t appeal to gamers. But if you’re looking for a deal, this US-only Moto phone appears to pack in plenty of value.

For

  • Feature-filled
  • Carrier agnostic
  • Promises to be affordable

Against

  • Lacks gyroscope for tilt gaming
  • May not be powerful enough for your needs
  • US-exclusive

Sitting at the bottom of Motorola’s 2018 budget phone lineup is the US-exclusive Moto E5 Play, the company’s only plastic, 16:9 aspect ratio-touting model.

It’s mostly the Moto E4 swapped into a slightly refreshed design, and with expectations in check, this could make for the perfect companion if you’re looking for a small upgrade that brings along some big features. Android Oreo, a fingerprint sensor, replaceable batteries, expandable storage via microSD - it’s all here.

Multimedia powerhouse, this phone is not. Its 5.2-inch LCD display is 720p resolution, and don’t expect its Snapdragon 425 chipset (or Snapdragon 427, depending on the region) to perform any miracles on the gaming front.

Motorola hasn’t announced pricing for the Moto E5 Play or the Moto E5 Plus (its larger counterpart), instead leaving it up to carriers to set the bar. We expect this one to come in at around $100, or at least it should based on what’s offered here.

Design

This phone is about as inconspicuous as they come, with a design that looks modern and also nods to Moto phones of the past with its rounded look.

Starting with the screen, the bezel-filled phone packs in a 5.2-inch 720p LCD display that is fit to a 16:9 aspect ratio. Viewing angles weren’t stellar in the press room, but we’ll be sure to test this out in the full review.

Hugging the screen are some sizeable bezels and of note within them, Motorola has stuffed an ear speaker, selfie flash and a 5MP camera up top. If you enjoy listening to music with wired headphones (who doesn’t?), you’ll be pleased with the 3.5mm headphone jack on the phone’s top. The lone micro USB charging port occupies its bottom.

Around the back is a smooth and rugged plastic shell, which Motorola assured us could be popped off to replace the battery. The only features present here are the rear-facing fingerprint sensor and the camera that it flanks.

Like the Moto G6 Play, this biometric feature rests a little deeper into this phone’s chassis than we’re used to seeing, but it’s comfortable. And the 8MP camera sits within a ring that, unlike the other G-series phones, doesn’t really bump out at all.

Performance

Not much has changed inside of the E5 Play since the E4. In fact, it still runs with either the Snapdragon 425 or 427 depending on your region – no longer switching to a MediaTek chipset for regions outside of the US as Moto did last year.

Backing up the processing and graphics power, which there doesn’t seem to be a ton of, is 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage that can be boosted to 128GB thanks to its microSD support.

We didn’t have the opportunity to test any games, but we’re not holding our breath for the likes of PUBG Mobile to run well here.

One thing we’re slightly worried about is this phone’s lack of a gyroscope, which might severely limit your gaming mileage here if games like Subway Surfers or Sonic Rush are favorites. You simply can’t tilt the phone to interact with the game. This is something that we hoped Moto would have fixed.

This aside, the E5 Play appears to pack in a reasonable amount of power for this phone’s budget price, and pleasingly it also comes with Android Oreo.

The 2,800mAh battery size isn’t astounding, especially considering that the comparably sized Moto G6 Play features a 4,000mAh pack. But this phone gets the nod for having replaceable batteries.

Early verdict

It’s hard to be picky when you don’t have a lot of cash, but the Moto E5 Play looks to be a decent way to spend around $100. 

Motorola hasn’t confirmed the price and is instead leaving it up to carriers to set, but if you’re looking for a utilitarian smartphone that is good at the basics, and includes some sought after features like a replaceable battery, Android Oreo, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a low price, this could be your next phone when it releases sometime in May.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.