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Motorola Moto E5 Play review: The best sub-£100 phone yet?

Our Rating :
£72.00 from
Price when reviewed : £89
inc VAT

Motorola’s E5 Play has its flaws, but its sub-£100 price and capable camera save the day


  • Impressive camera for a sub-£100 phone
  • Inexpensive
  • Fast fingerprint reader


  • Awful display
  • Sluggish performance

Phones are getting increasingly expensive. Where once the idea of spending £500 on a device seemed preposterous, but it’s now (unfortunately) the norm. Nowadays you’re expected to pay near the £700 price mark if you want the latest and greatest phone from the likes of Apple and Samsung.

Thankfully, there are still manufacturers like Motorola who are aiming at the budget market, too. The company’s cheapest E-series phone is the E5 Play that costs less than £100. There were three new phones for 2018, the E5 Play, E5 and E5 Plus, and the Play.

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Motorola Moto E5 Play vs E5 vs E5 Plus: What you need to know

The UK variant of the Moto E5 Play is a 5.34in phone with a 960 x 480 FWVGA+ (18:9) TN display. It runs Android Oreo out-the-box; has a quad-core Snapdragon 425 processor with 1GB of RAM; and has 16GB of internal storage space that can be expanded with up to 128GB of additional space through a microSD card.

By comparison, the 5.7in E5 and 6in E5 Plus both have an 18:9 720p IPS display. All three phones have the same processor and have the latest iteration of Android Oreo pre-installed.

The biggest difference is the camera and the battery capacity. The E5 Play has a single rear-facing 8-megapixel camera, while the E5 and E5 Plus have 12- and 13-megapixel cameras respectively. Battery capacities vary across the range: the E5 Play has 2,100mAh, the E5 has 4,000mAh and the E5 Plus has a massive 5,000mAh battery instead. On the plus side, the E5 Play’s battery can be removed, so you can potentially buy spares to carry as a backup.

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Motorola Moto E5 Play review: Price and competition

At £89, the Moto E5 Play is the cheapest in the family. The regular E5 costs £120, and the E5 Plus is £149.

It has quite a few rivals. Vodafone’s Smart N8 fluctuates between £65 and £85, and it has a 16:9 5in 720p display, a 13-megapixel rear shooter and comes with a MediaTek processor coupled with 1.5GB of RAM.

There’s also the newer Smart N9 at £110, which one-ups its predecessor with an 18:9 720p 5.5in display and 2GB of RAM.

There’s also the Alcatel 1 at £70. It has an 18:9 5in display that runs at a 960 x 640 resolution; a MediaTek processor with 1GB of RAM; a rear-facing 8-megapixel shooter; and 8GB of internal storage space which can be further expanded with an 8GB microSD card.

Best Motorola E5 Play contract and SIM-free deals:

Motorola Moto E5 Play review: Design and features

Make no mistake, the E5 Play looks like a budget phone. The all-plastic build and uninspiring looks aren’t going to win any design awards, but the phone feels robust and the removable plastic rear cover allows you to easily replace the phone’s 2,100mAh battery, access the 128GB microSD card expansion, or swap out the nano-SIM.

There’s a 5W, fast-charging micro-USB port on the phone’ bottom edge and a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top. The volume rocker and power button reside on the right edge. The phone’s speaker sits above the display, which means you get forward-facing sound – it’s not especially loud, however, and it doesn’t sound particularly refined.

Around the back of the phone, there’s a fast fingerprint reader that works remarkably well, and an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, which protrudes from the body of the phone.

The E5 Play isn’t waterproof, though Motorola claims the phone is ‘water repellent’ due to ‘advanced nano-coating technology’ – so it should survive the odd accidental splash of water. Just don’t take it in the bath.

It also doesn’t have NFC, which means you won’t be able to make contactless payments as you would with the E5, E5 Plus and the Vodafone Smart N8 and N9.

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Motorola Moto E5 Play review: Display

The E5 Play has a 5.34in 960 x 480 FWVGA+ (18:9) TN display. The phone’s resolution is rather poor for a modern-day phone, and given that the Vodafone Smart N8 has been out for over a year and sports a 720P display, it’s rather disappointing to see Motorola hasn’t upped the pixel count.

It’s not the prettiest display to look at, either. There’s noticeable colour shift when tilting the phone, so viewing angles aren’t great, and colour accuracy, vibrancy and contrast ratio measure poorly.

The E5 Play achieves an average Delta E of 8.74 and a maximum of 15.49. To put that into perspective, the black spectrum looks blue and colours are all over the shop; it achieves only 67.9% of the sRGB colour gamut, so the most vibrant colours appear dull and subdued. The 619:1 contrast ratio is equally unimpressive, and leaves the screen looking less punchy than some rivals.

On the plus side, the display’s peak brightness of 340cd/m² is bright enough to remain legible under normal ambient light. Take it out in the sunshine, however, and you’ll struggle to see the phone’s display.

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Motorola Moto E5 Play review: Performance

All the budget phones I’ve reviewed under £150 struggle to perform, as they’re let down by weak processors: the E5 Play is no exception.

As you’ll see from the graph above, the phone looks on-par with other budget phones, but in practice it’s a different story. Motorola’s decision to pair the 1.4GHz quad-core processor with only 1GB of RAM is regrettable. By comparison, the regular E5 has 2GB, while the Vodafone Smart N8 has 1.5GB. That extra bit of RAM goes a long way; it allows for a more fluid experience, and especially when you’re switching between apps.

^ Motorola Moto E5 Play Geekbench 4 benchmark

Despite its name, this phone isn’t cut out to play games. You can fire up Candy Crush or Temple Run, but don’t expect to play PUBG Mobile on it. And if you’re wondering why the E5 Play outperforms all its rivals in the onscreen tests, there’s a simple answer: its lower resolution screen is less taxing on the hardware.

^ Motorola Moto E5 Play GFXBench benchmark

Battery life, on the other hand, is impressive. It’s no match for the bigger batteries in the incredibly long-lasting E5 and E5 Plus, but a result of 10hrs 9mins in the Expert Reviews video rundown test means that it should survive a full day of medium-to-low usage.

^ Motorola Moto E5 Play battery life

As for software, the E5 Play comes with a largely clean install of Android 8.1 Oreo. It’s great to see Motorola sticking to a near stock experience. It’s how Android was designed to be. Of course, should you want to customise the launcher or download some funky widgets, you can always head over to the Google Play Store.

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Motorola Moto E5 Play review: Camera

My first impressions of the E5 Play’s camera were terrible. Initially, I was bitterly disappointed with the results, but that’s because I was looking at them through the phone’s awful display. On my computer screen, however, it was a completely different story.

Despite only having a rear 8-megapixel f/2.0 and front 5-megapixel single lens camera, the E5 Play captures plenty of light and detail.

On a typically overcast day in London, the E5 Play picks out details in a buildings’ brickwork which many of its competitors would reduce to a smeary mess. The E5 Play captures lifelike colours and doesn’t oversaturate the image, either.

^ Motorola Moto E5 Play rear camera quality

With HDR enabled, outlines become sharper, the clouds are less washed out and there’s even more detail on the brickwork. The E5 Play revels in brighter conditions, and far outclasses the Vodafone Smart N8, N9 and the Alcatel 1.

^ Motorola Moto E5 Play rear camera quality with HDR

In low light conditions, the E5 Play holds its own, but isn’t as impressive as its Vodafone counterparts. Here, the Smart N8 and N9 perform better. In the image below, you’ll see that on the left-hand side, the Smart N8 has much less image noise, has a better colour accuracy (on the vase and pens), and has more punch to its captured images.

^ Left: Vodafone Smart N8; right: Motorola Moto E5 Play

With flash enabled, image noise is suppressed on the E5 Play, but there’s still a discrepancy in colour accuracy and the flash makes colours look a tad warmer.

^ Left: Vodafone Smart N8 with flash; right: Motorola Moto E5 Play with flash

If you like taking selfies, you’ll be pleased to know that the 5-megapixel front-facing camera is very impressive. The E5 Play is able to capture plenty of detail, and colours and skin tones look natural. It copes well in low light, too, as the phone has a forward-facing flash.

^ Motorola Moto E5 Play selfie

The E5 Play is capable of shooting 1080p video at up to 30fps, which is the norm for phones that sit below £100. It one-ups the Smart N8, which shoots up to 720p at 30fps.

The quality is good, and the sensor captures plenty of light and detail. However, with no electronic image stabilisation (EIS), videos appear a little jittery, especially if you’re walking around while filming.

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Motorola Moto E5 Play review: Verdict

First impressions count for a lot, and it’s here that the E5 Play falters. It has an uninspiring design, performance is let down by the limited amount of RAM, and its display is awful.

However, when I started digging into the phone’s features, I was pleasantly surprised: the fingerprint reader is fast, battery life is good, and the replaceable battery is a genuine rarity these days. What’s more, the forward-facing speaker works well for watching content on your phone, the taller 18:9 display gives you more screen to scroll on, and its front- and rear-facing cameras are impressive.

If you’re on a £100 budget, it really comes down to two phones: the Vodafone Smart N8 and the Moto E5 Play. Picking between the two is tough but, ultimately, I’d say that the Smart N8 narrowly pips the E5 Play at the post: with a superior 720p HD display and similarly capable camera, it’s still the budget phone to beat.

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