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Motorola Moto E Review

May 16 2014, 2:30pm CDT | by , in Reviews | Mobile Phones

The Best Budget Android Smartphone Under $150.

Motorola Moto E Review
 
 

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Motorola Moto E Review

Welcome to the most important phone Motorola has ever made. I don’t say this lightly. The RAZR is a classic which is likely to be joined by the Moto X and Moto G, but Motorola has never produced a phone with as much potential to change the industry as the Moto E.

Why requires some context. Right now over 70% of the world uses feature phones because with an average asking price of $337 smartphones remain too expensive. The Moto G dropped jaws to the floor with its feature set and build quality for $179.99, but Motorola thinks it didn’t go far enough. With the Moto E, Motorola now claims it can offer a similar high class experience for just $129.99 (£89.99 in the UK) without a contract.

And the remarkable thing is Motorola has pulled it off. This review will explain why.

Design – Better Built Than A Samsung Galaxy S5
While HTC One M8 and iPhone 5S owners argue about what premium material their handsets should use, owners of truly budget smartphones have never had this luxury. The choice has been a simple one: cheap plastic or cheap plastic – until now.

The Moto E breaks this depressing cycle in emphatic style. The back is rubber with a tasteful matt finish that is both easy to grip and hides fingerprints while the front is Corning Gorilla Glass, the same stuff used in iPhones, the HTC One M8, Nexus 5 and Galaxy S5. Motorola has also matched these handsets by giving the Moto E an oleophobic coating to reduce finger prints.

That’s not all. Motorola has given the Moto E a ‘splash guard’ coating which makes it water resistant. Something only the S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 can match… on a $130 phone.

In addition, while the back is removable (letting users choose from 9 colours), the phone feels more solidly put together than the Galaxy S5. At 4.91 x 2.55 x 0.48 inches (124.8 x 64.8 x 12.3 mm) and 5oz (142g) it is no featherweight, but it is still portable and gives the impression it can take a beating.

A strange compromise is that, despite its removable back, the battery is still locked in behind 16 screws. This is a shame, but most importantly it means accessing the battery for repairs or replacements will be cheap and easy.

Features – Luxury For Less
So the design and build quality will turn heads, but what will really grab attention is the feature set. This price bracket is typically filled by phones with 3.5in 640 x 480 pixel displays, but behind the Moto E’s Gorilla Glass is a 4.3in 960 x 540 pixel panel that delivers 256 pixels per inch (ppi).

This is short of the 326ppi Apple states is a ‘Retina Display’ but it is in a different league to the small 165ppi screens of the Moto E’s rivals like the Samsung Galaxy Ace. The screen is also extremely bright, colours are vivid and while it can’t match the latest flagship phones it is a game changer for $130. The Moto E is also the first bargain basement smartphone to ship with a dual core processor and 1GB RAM (more on this in the next section).

Of course at such a low asking price the Moto E does have compromises. There’s no 4G, just HSDPA-certified 3G, 802.11n 2.4GHz WiFi (5GHz is faster, though arguably unnecessary) and a basic 5MP camera (more of later). There is also no front facing camera at all so those selfies will need to be guessed and video conferencing is out. Finally there is just 4GB of internal storage, but Motorola has wisely fitted a microSD slot which is compatible with 32GB cards. iPhone, Nexus 5, HTC One M8 eat your hearts out.

Performance – Faster In Day to Day Tasks Than A Galaxy S4
Delve more deeply into what powers the Moto E and you will find a dual core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 chipset with Adreno 302 graphics. This won’t play the latest cutting edge 3D shooters, but is again a major step up from the competition. Most crucial is performance when navigating the operating system and surfing with the web browser is fast and smooth. In fact Motorola has a few stats worth bragging about when it comes to everyday tasks.

Compared to a Samsung Galaxy S4, Motorola claims the Moto E is:
1.1 seconds faster opening the phone to answer or make calls
0.9 seconds faster opening the browser
0.4 seconds faster returning to the home screen
1.7 seconds faster opening the camera.

Admittedly Samsung gets a lot of abuse for the lag on even its high end phones due to its extensive remodelling of Android with its TouchWiz user interface and custom apps, but Motorola sticks the knife in as the Moto E benefits from simply using stock Android 4.4 KitKat. Motorola also guarantees Moto E owners an upgrade to the next version of Android (5.0). Given it updated the Moto X and G to KitKat just 19 days after it came out, the company has a great track record here.

Note: the Moto E doesn’t have the Google Now Launcher homescreen (that is currently only available to Nexus and Google Play edition devices) but it can be easily enabled with this simple hack.

Camera – The Drawback
There is one telling part where Motorola has deviated from stock Android and that is the camera. Motorola uses its own camera user interface, but the stock UI is no big loss as burst photography becomes available just by holding your finger on the screen and the settings ‘wheel’ is as intuitive to use as Google’s standard camera (if not more so).

As good as the camera is to use, sadly that doesn’t extend to its performance and – while no-one expects a stellar camera in such a cheap phone – this is the one area where the Moto E doesn’t surpass our expectations.

On paper the camera has a perfectly acceptable 5 megapixel lens, but in practice its results are weak. Photos are often washed out and lack detail while it struggles to focus on close range subjects as it has no macro mode. It is also very easy to blur a photo with the phone susceptible to the slightest motion and action shots are out of the question. In short: this is how a camera on a $129.99 smartphone tends to perform.

It is a similar story for video. There’s no HD shooting but the phone will capture relatively wide angle 854 x 480 pixel content at 30 frames per second (fps). The quality is fine for sharing over WhatsApp or Facebook, but it isn’t the hardware to use for capturing important events.

Battery – A Full Day And Then Some
A much underreported feature of Motorola’s Moto X and Moto G is their excellent battery life and the Moto E carries on this trend. Whereas most smartphones – notably flagship models – struggle to provide a day of usage, the Moto E with its 1980mAh battery flies past this benchmark and keeps going.

Key to it is how efficient the Moto E is in standby losing us 7% of its charge in 18 hours. While every phone will see a battery life hit with extensive web browsing, gaming and camera usage in some ways it helps that you aren’t likely to be doing much of the latter two on the Moto E. Furthermore with moderate usage after 20 hours the handset still had almost 70% of its battery so even two days of use is a realistic target between charges.

Interestingly these figures are all achieved using Dalvik, Google’s aged service for running apps. Given the Moto E has Android 4.4, it can be switched to its new replacement, Android RunTime (ART), which improves battery efficiency and speeds up performance. Here is a guide how to enable it.

Loose Ends
Three additional plus points of the Moto E deserve your attention: the speaker, FM radio and Motorola Alert. The former is a real surprise being both very loud and clear. It won’t compete with the dual front facing stereo speakers on the HTC One M8, but it is certainly louder than a Nexus 5. Of course bass is always thin on such a small speaker, but it is ideal for podcasts and the lower broadcast quality of radio.

Which brings us to the FM radio. Typically these have been cut out of higher end phones because users have unlimited (or at least sizeable) monthly data packages. Motorola wisely recognises the target market for this phone is less likely to be able to afford that and the FM radio, complete with its smart companion app, is a great way to access free content.

Lastly we have Motorola Alert. This enables you to easily share your location with friends and family, issue regular updates and have notifications sent when you leave or arrive at a specific location. While helpful to most, Alert will be particularly useful for parents who buy this phone for their children. It also features a one touch Emergency Mode which notifies all specified contacts and triggers an alarm through the phone’s speaker. Combined with Google Device Manager it will provide a lot of confidence.

Value
All of which brings us to the best part about this phone: its value for money. In a nutshell: this handset redefines what a bargain basement smartphone can provide. It is stylish, durable, very well built, fast and long lasting. It also comes with stock Android and the promise of a rapid upgrade to Android 5.0 when it launches later this year. You can’t guarantee that from any Android phone (regardless of price) except for a Nexus or Google Play Edition handset.

The fly in the ointment is the camera. For a phone in this price bracket we wouldn’t consider a bad camera to be a negative, merely a fact of life. Yet given the Moto E lifts expectations so high, it is a shame the same cannot be said for the camera.

Verdict
Motorola has changed the budget smartphone market – again. The Moto G remains an incredible handset and the new 4G edition remains the handset of choice for those who can afford to spend $180, but at $129.99 the Moto E is the first truly bargain basement smartphone that has ever impressed me. Its design, features, speed and battery life at better than rival phones twice the price and while the camera is merely average for the price point the Moto E should sweep all before it. Motorola has a mission to eradicate the feature phone market, I cannot see any reason it will not succeed.

 

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/31" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

 

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