The latest smartphone in Motorola’s line up sees it continue its unrelenting “race to the bottom”. The specifications are modest on the Motorola Moto E, and coming off the back of the much-lauded Motorola G, offers a smartphone at a $100 price point. Is this latest attempt to drag dumb phone users kicking and screaming into the smart phone arena a worthy effort? Let’s take a look.
Let’s start by clarifying this particular review process. A common trope in technology reviewing is to rely on competitor comparison to formulate a conclusion about the specific device. there are, on occasions, devices that don’t really give you that luxury, or, in the case of the Moto E, force you to consider the device on its own merits and it’s intended use case. That is precisely what this review attempts to do. Quite frankly, there isn’t much else in this particular space to compare with anyway!
Overview & Specifications:
The Moto E, announced May 2014, makes no bold statements about its specifications, nor does it dress itself up as anything more than it is; an attempt to pull emerging markets into the smartphone era. Motorola is no foreigner to crafting lovely, but cost-effective devices for its product list. The Moto G released in November 2013 also had a similar design aesthetic, and shared the E’s route to market to a point. However at a very appealing £89 unlocked, the Moto E looks to smash the £100 barrier and deliver performance, at a low price point, for all.
With Google’s Android OS now accounting for a Billion monthly users (Google I/O 2014), we can see that the emerging markets (Africa, S.America, E.Europ, Asia etc) are the biggest growth area for Smartphone OEMs and software vendors alike. Perhaps Google’s recently touted “One” strategy of targeting “the next Billion” users in these geographic locations, harmonises with the Motorola devices we’ve seen recently. It remains to be seen if we continue to see this trend now Motorola are a Lenovo company.
The Moto E sports what is considered to be a relatively entry-level specifications list which will come as a surprise to nobody. With it’s Dual-Core Snapdragon 200 CPU, 1GB RAM, and 4.3″ 960 x 540 LCD display, don’t expect this device to pack a punch on a par with anything else out there, current generation. The 5MP camera and 1980 mAh battery give it a modicum of self-respect however, albeit the camera is only capable of 480p Video at 30FPS.
The box itself continues in Motorola, and Google’s trend of smaller and compact packaging. That’s nice to see.
In the box comes the device, front and centre, along with some warranty information, and a white USB cable. There is no charger unit, and no companion in ear headphones with this device. Something you might have expected from an entry-level phone, but it’s still disappointing that neither was included.
Design & Hardware:
Let’s get this out of the way. The Moto E is not a pretty device. It’s not a svelte, sleek, uni-body concoction capable of drawing gasps from hardened tech enthusiasts. It looks bulky, a bit boring, and a little cheap. Above all else however it does look practical. That is the point of the Moto E. It’s the practical choice. The phone does however come in two colour schemes, black and white.
With dimensions measuring 124.8 x 64.8 x 12.3 mm, it’s no small device. You feel every millimetre of that depth in the hand too. However, strangely, despite topping the scales at a whopping 142 grams for its dimensions, it still feels reassuring to the grip. This is helped in no small part by Motorola’s soft touch back place, and chamfered design.
The Moto E maintains the ‘M’ dimple from the previous Moto lines which still mystifies as to whether it was an intentional design feature, or happy coincidence. Either way, it does provide the perfect place to rest your finger during a phone call.
Front and centre is a 4.3″ IPS display flanked at the top and bottom by silver bars which look purely aesthetic, however act as speaker outputs. Don’t expect Boomsound-esque sound from these, however the sound is adequate in most settings. The Moto E packs some protection too and is topped with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for some scratch resistance. On the right hand edge sit the Power and Volume Rocker buttons which can be depressed with a relatively satisfying click. On the top of the device is a microphone pinhole and the 3.5mm headphone jack in the centre. On the bottom edge is the micro USB port. Finally, on the backside, is the 5MP fixed focus camera with no flash provided.
Sadly, for Selfie enthusiasts, there is no front facing camera. If that’s deal breaker, comfort yourself by remembering you can always find a bathroom mirror to use for that all important duckface instagram pic!
Under the hood, the removable back reveals an non-removable 1980mAh battery, along with SIM card slot and that all important Micro SD Card slot, capable of receiving cards up to 32GB capacity.
So how do the reduced specification internals fair during normal use? Quite well by all accounts. You see Google have gone out of their way to make recent versions of Android perform on lesser hardware just fine and dandy. The Moto E is living proof of this. It managed to deal with high intensity games such as Dead Trigger, and Voxel Rush without too much hassle, although there was the occasional stutter to deal with, along with the delayed loading when compared to flagship devices. General navigation through the Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat operating system is, however, absolutely smooth.
Only after loading a number of applications did we manage to cause sluggishness, probably down to the limited 1GB RAM on this device. All other times seemed reasonable.
The bigger struggle however, was managing to download enough applications to stress test the device in the first place. With a paltry 4GB of onboard storage, users will find themselves using the bare minimum of applications and constantly removing those older photos to make way for a new set. Luckily the SD Card slot can be used to supplement this limit. With the relative price of storage contributing only a very small percentage of the overall bill of material cost, we’d like to have seen an 8GB model of the Moto E.
Overall, if your use case is limited to browsing the Internet, receiving emails, playing the odd game, and watching the odd video, you should see little to no slow down on the device in daily usage. The specifications package, whilst lacking compared to the flagships of 2014, and 2013 for that matter, still provide enough bang for the buck to make this a viable option as a secondary device, or somebody’s first smartphone.
This is where the Moto E starts to become interesting. The battery isn’t particular large, but it makes the most out of every one of it’s 1980 mAhs. We tested the Moto E’s battery by forcing the screen to stay awake, and charting the battery drain from 100%, with brightness on full, and only the WiFi radio in operation. This isn’t indicative of everyday usage, but it does give some indication of how the battery can perform. Boy does it perform.
The Moto E provided over 8 hours of screen on time, averaging 12% per hour (despite an anomaly occurring at, yes, 12%). Bearing in mind that the brightness was on full for every minute of the 8 hours 10 minutes it survived, this is really quite an achievement. Of course, the IPS screen isn’t the highest resolution, so that 1980 mAh battery isn’t shifting as many pixels as many other devices of the same size, however, it’s still impressive.
Speaking of the screen on the Moto E, it’s really not all that bad. Yes it’s not the glorious 1080p panels we’re used to seeing, but it manages to produce acceptable colours, and decent contrast. With the device on full brightness, it’s not all that ‘loud’ but inside it will still be more than adequate. In the daylight/sunshine however, it is difficult to see in some situations.
This, coupled with the low price point, and the rugged feel of the device makes it the perfect companion on those days out. Just be sure you don’t want to be taking any pictures.
This is really the failing of the Moto E and something that might make first time smartphone users really think about whether this device is for them. On the face of it, a 5MP camera doesn’t seem particularly bad on this entry-level unit. It wouldn’t be, if the lens itself wasn’t a fixed focus lens. This means, in essence, you’re limited the theoretical focus assigned at the time of manufacture. This proves to make taking a crisp snap of any object extremely difficult. Close ups are out of the question, and with no flash of any kind, low light performance is non-existent.
Suffice to say that the Moto E’s camera is where the brunt of the cost cutting is really felt. As you can see from the images above, we failed to get a fully focused shot from this device, despite our attempts.
Video Recording is, sadly, no better. The colours aren’t particularly bad, but lack of focus, no optical image stabilisation (OIS) and poor contrast and transition mean that unless pushed, it wouldn’t be worthwhile taking any snaps, or video on this device.
Software & UI:
The Moto E runs a flavour of Kit-Kat. Version 4.4.2 to be precise, with an upgrade to 4.4.3 in the near future (US devices have already started receiving the OTA update). As mentioned in the overview, Google strive to ensure that even lower end devices can run their flagship OS without a hitch, and the experience on the Moto E seems to back that premise.
Navigation through the UI is a breeze, and the transition from home screen to home screen, through widgets, and the recent apps manager are all seamless, which is somewhat surprising given the lightweight processing package on the device. It really can hold its own in many areas. Most of those areas are simple smartphone uses, which further backs the marketing campaign for this phone; “Moto E: Made to Last. Priced for All.”
Motorola also deploy some familiar additions to the all but stock Android feel.
Motorola Alert allows the user to set emergency contacts and emergency services to contact in the event of an alert being sent from the device. Furthermore, there is the option to allow certain contacts to constantly be able to track you via Maps. A potentially brilliant feature for parents and those with vulnerable people they are responsible for. The audible alert is, for us, a little too feeble to cause any attention however. Motorola Assist is available also. This app allows users to manage the way in which the smartphone should react to incoming calls/texts/notifications during a specific scenario. For example, setting the volume to low and ignoring all but key contacts in when in the “Sleeping” mode. Finally there is Motorola Migrate, which does exactly as it says on the tin. It helps new users to the phone migrate their data, music, pictures, videos etc from their old Android and iPhone to their new Moto E device. A nice touch.
Quickoffice also comes pre-installed on this device and is a welcome addition. Productivity on smartphones is still nowhere near what it should be, however it’s always nice to have the option to view documents on the go.
The Moto E comes equipped with the stock Google Keyboard, and this functions as well on this device as on any other.
There really isn’t much here that hasn’t been seen on any other stock-ish device. This is a clean interface and it’s very familiar to anyone who’s used Android in the past. Not a disappointment.
It was quite difficult to review this particular device. As was mentioned in the overview, one must forget the fact this is just “another” smartphone in the same space as the Samsung, LG and HTC heavyweights, and instead take a step back to see the unique selling points of the Moto E. That being primarily and perhaps wholly, price. Moto E price this device under $130 in the US and here in the UK, you can pick it up from around £80-£90. For that price, you’d be able to buy almost 6 of these devices for the price of one HTC One (M8) depending on your choice of retailer. That’s some price point!
Looking at that stat above, you’ve be forgiven for thinking “Is the HTC One (M8), or any flagship 6 times more impressive than the Moto E?” Difficult question, and one that our time with the Moto E has managed to answer quite emphatically. Frankly, no. No flagship is worth 6 times that of the Moto E. That doesn’t mean the flagships are lacking crucical features, or that the Moto E is just a brilliant device. Instead it’s more to do with the price point and the key features of the Moto E. These do not differ from phone to phone. On the Moto E, phone calls are clear, text messaging is easy, emailing and web browsing are satisfactory and gaming and media consumption are likewise in most situations. If that’s what you use your smartphone for, you couldn’t do much better for the price.
However, if you’re anything like the majority of the smartphone wielding public, you’ll want some bells and whistles. Selfies are a no-no on this device due to the lack of a front facing camera of any description which ultimately handicaps the device for key demographics. Poor picture/video taking options frustrate further. Couple this with its less-HD screen, entry-level specification, and very small storage capacity, and the Moto E becomes a tough phone to recommend.
In the end, the Moto E is good at most of what it does, and awful at what it does badly. It’s an insane price point for a device with this look and feel, and firmly vindicates Motorola’s decision to release it. We don’t believe that a price point of $129 will be sufficiently low to tempt emerging markets to jump on the smartphone bandwagon just yet, but it’s another step in the right direction. If Motorola intended the ‘E’ branding to stand for “emerging”, they’ve succeeded only in delivering “entry-level”. That’s not wholly a bad thing, but it’s a mixed bag unfortunately.
We’ve enjoyed our time with the Moto E, and will be keeping the device around to be used as a secondary/backup device. We were impressed with what compromises we would be willing to make if push came to shove, and this is where the Moto E has a market. Simplistic smartphone use is where it lives, and it’s very good at it. However with the Moto G just £25-£30 more (and the 4G version surely set to come down in price towards the holidays) the Moto E fails to usurp the Moto G as our go to device for bargain hunters.