Priced at just £89, the Motorola Moto E brings an air of quality to the budget Android market. The camera might be a let-down, but the phone's design, screen, operating system and performance add up to make it a very stronger contender in the sub-£100 bracket.
Review by Sunetra Chakravati,5/19/2014 3:55:06 PM
Look and feel
Ease of use
Good design and excellent build quality.
Bright, good quality screen.
Unmodified Android, plus futureproof for at least one major upgrade
Tiny internal storage.
Occasionally feels a little slow.
Average rear camera and no front-facer.
By Alistair Charlton, Devices Editor
Motorola may have been the darling of the mobile phone industry with its phenomenally popular Razr in the early 2000s, but having fallen on hard times in the wake of the iPhone and Samsung, Motorola is now making the most of selling budget phones with a premium name. First the Moto G arrived and proved sub-£150 Android phones should be worth a second look, and now the even cheaper Moto E promises to offer the full Android experience for less than £90.
Also Read - Motorola Moto G Review
Can cheap really be cheerful, or with smartphones is it still a case of getting what you pay for? Let’s find out.
The Moto E is a slightly smaller version of the Moto G, which is itself a slightly smaller version of the Moto X. All three handsets clearly carry the same DNA, from their soft-touch plastic rear covers - removable and offered in a range of bright colours - to the Gorilla Glass-covered touchscreens and almost unmodified versions of the Android 4.4 KitKat operating system.
Measuring 124.8 x 64.8 x 12.3mm and weighing 142g, the Moto E isn’t the lightest or thinnest smartphone on the market - in any price range - but what it loses in bulk, it makes up for in build quality. The Moto E feels very well put together, with a fit and finish that would only have come from a company who has been in the phone game for as long as Motorola has.
Although it doesn’t offer dust-or water-proofing of any kind, Motorola’s claims of the Moto E being a phone “built to last” hold true - it certainly feels as if it could shrug off the occasional drop, and share a pocket or handbag with any variety of keys and loose change.
A glossy black plastic bezel surrounds the screen, while a metal trim around the rear camera, chrome volume and power buttons, and chrome accents on the earpiece and loudspeaker all add an air of quality to this budget blower.
The slightly curved rear cover is removeable - Motorola is offering nine colour options for those who fancy something a bit different - but while this reveals access to a microSD card slot (boosting storage from 4GB to up to 32GB), the 1920mAh battery cannot be removed.
The Moto E is probably a little fatter than most consumers would like it to be, and the screen bezels are a touch too large - especially the gaping space below the display - but these complaints should barely register on the radar of someone looking at a sub-£100 smartphone, and at £89 the Motorola really does very little wrong.
The screen is all-too-often where a budget phone reveals its shortcomings and embarrasses itself, but I’m pleased to say the Moto E kept its composure. It may not be the biggest or brightest, and it has a tendency to show colours a touch too warm, but the 4.3-inch panel is otherwise faultless for a phone of this price.
Resolution is 540 x 960 and pixel density is 256 per inch. Neither of these will keep Sony and Samsung awake at night, but again, for the price, the Moto E is surprisingly good. There are just about enough pixels to keep text rounded and icons sharp, although the odd jagged line can be seen if you look hard enough. Colours are accurately reproduced; the backlight can overcome most of the glare and reflections sunny days outside throw at it, and viewing angles are good, if not great.
A common fault of budget touchscreens is their lack of oleophobic coating, which prevents grease and fingerprint smudges from building up. The Moto E doesn't suffer as much as some at this price range, but its screen just doesn’t stay as clean and pin-sharp as those from more expensive handsets - without a quick wipe on your jeans, anyway.
It’s not HD, but the E is sharp enough for most users - and the lack of too many pixels means a boost in battery life, too.
The Moto E’s 5-megapixel rear camera is possibly the weakest part of the handset. Despite using Motorola’s clever camera app which lets you zoom, change settings and view the gallery with a single swipe of your thumb, the results were fairly average. The camera is fixed-focus, meaning it cannot refocus on objects up close or far away - this is particularly troublesome for close-ups, as anything closer than around 30cm (12in) will come out blurred. Being fixed means it is impossible to select a specific object in frame to focus on - instead, tap anywhere on the screen to take a photo.
Speed is also a problem, with the app taking a good few seconds to process each shot before letting you snap another one.
Photo quality is fairly average - good enough for quickly posting to Twitter or Facebook, but you won’t be printing them out onto canvas any time soon. Don’t forget though, this phone is less than £90.
The Moto E misses out on a front-facing camera. Sorry, selfie-lovers.
Although currently being sold to Chinese company Lenovo, Motorola still markets itself as a Google company, and to that end it has left the search giant’s Android 4.4 KitKat operating system almost completely standard. Where Samsung and Huawei work hard to create their own user interfaces, the Moto E’s is almost exactly as Google intended it to be.
The camera has been swapped for Motorola’s own version, which features swipes and gestures to zoom in, open settings and view previously taken photos - all with one hand. Elsewhere, Motorola has included its brilliantly useful Migration app, which helps you transfer contacts, photos, text messages and more from an old Android phone to the Moto E over Bluetooth.
New for the Moto E is Motorola Alert, which lets you share your location with friends and family, provide automated updates of where you are, and issue your loved ones with notifications when you leave or arrive at certain locations - handy for parents who want to keep an eye on their children without hassling them with regular phone calls.
Performance for the Moto E is provided by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 dual-core processor clocked at 1.2GHz and with 1GB of RAM. This may not sound like much on paper compared to more expensive rivals (or the £149 Moto G), but it’s enough to give the E all the get-up-and-go you’d expect from a cheap phone.
Apps and games open quickly enough, but closing some apps - particularly games - would cause the phone to hang for a couple of seconds. The phone generally feels less snappy than more expensive alternatives, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise given the price - and for a quid under £90 I think Motorola has given the phone all the performance most of its buyers will need.
Gaming doesn’t cause the phone to get overly hot - something slimmer super phones from HTC and Sony can't boast about - but the lack of internal storage quickly becomes a problem, as games like Real Racing 3 and Grand Theft Auto don’t fit on the phone, so you’ll need to buy an (admittedly cheap) microSD card to supplement the phone’s puny 4GB of space.
Another disappointment is the lack of 4G, but considering Motorola has only just updated its mid-range Moto G with this, I was hardly surprised to see the Moto E miss out for now.
Interestingly, the company has promised that the next major Android update, version 5.0, will quickly come to the Moto E when it launches later in the year.
Whether Motorola will continue to offer quick Android update after its sale from Google is completed remains to be seen, but for now its handsets are the quickest way to get the newest versions of Android.
I found battery life to be good, with half an hour of Netflix streaming over Wi-Fi taking 12% of change. With average use the Moto E will regularly get through a full day’s use, and a weekend of light use should also be possible, although I’d recommend nightly charging when possible.
Best in the sub-£100 class, the Moto E proves a smartphone can be both cheap and desirable. The E isn’t the thinnest and lightest; it doesn’t have the biggest screen, the most memory or the fastest processor. But it is incredibly affordable, has a good spec sheet, with an attractive and customisable design, great build quality, and an almost pure version of Android which will see a major update this year. An excellent phone that is affordable to almost everyone.