Look and feel
The MotoSmart retains that distinctive Motorola design of phones such as the Motoluxe. The stocky build makes it feel like a miniature brick, but it’s comfortable to use one-handed
Ease of use
Android Gingerbread is getting on a bit and also surprisingly stuttery. The MotoSmart’s dinky touch-screen isn’t as responsive as we’d hoped for browsing the web and apps, but proves fine for texting and emailing. The excellent auto-correct is a boon for typists
As with most phones hovering around the £100 mark, the MotoSmart has only basic features. The three-megapixel camera takes drab pictures and has no flash
Apps and games occasionally slow down as the MotoSmart’s processor catches up, and Android Gingerbread struggles at times. We also witnessed a couple of app crashes
A massive disappointment. You won’t get even half a day of use if you regularly fiddle with your phone, while streaming video kills the MotoSmart dead in under four hours
Motorola’s MotoSmart is billed as a ‘first-time user’ smartphone, meaning it’s affordable (around £100 SIM-free and under a tenner a month on contract) and supposedly hassle-free. However, it faces stiff competition from the influx of budget Android mobiles, from Sony’s new Xperia Tipo to the excellent range of sub-£100 Alcatel phones. So can the likes of Motorola’s excellent social network integration help steer the MotoSmart ahead of rivals?
At first glance, the MotoSmart looks like another Motorola handset, the Motoluxe. A glass panel covers most of the front edge, down to a sloping plastic lip at the bottom, while the sides and rear are soft to the touch. The MotoSmart’s screen is a compact 3.5 inches, although it looks even smaller because of the thick black borders surrounding it. Beneath the display are four touch-sensitive buttons that light up when the phone is in action.
At 115g, the MotoSmart is perfectly weighted for its size. It feels a little like handling a brick thanks to its stocky rectangular build, but it’s still comfortable to wield one-handed, using your thumb to prod and swipe the screen. The sides are light on buttons and ports: aside from the power button, you get a headphons socket, volume controls and a Micro USB port for hooking up to your PC. A panel on the back slides free to reveal the removable battery, SIM card slot and a microSD card slot for expanding the meagre built-in storage.
Easy as pie
Setup is indeed simple, and no different from most Android phones. Turn on your MotoSmart for the first time and you’re prompted to create or sign into your Google account, which also syncs your mail, calendars and other personal bits. With that done, you’re set to download apps from the online Google Play store and populate the seven Android desktops with a healthy supply of apps and widgets. It’s just a shame that the old Gingerbread version of Android has been used here (now fast approaching its second birthday).
Texting and emailing is also a doddle thanks to the logically laid-out keyboard. We had no trouble typing in either portrait or landscape modes, and the excellent auto-correct feature fixed any mistakes we made. The bright screen makes it easy to read text even in bright sunshine, so anyone who has to constantly stay in touch with friends and family is well served.
Unfortunately, we weren’t quite as impressed when surfing the web. The MotoSmart’s touch-screen has some responsiveness issues: it seems to take a second to recognise that you’re dragging your finger across the glass, during which time the webpage stays still. Browsing around a large website feels stiff and awkward. It’s not a deal breaker, but it detracts from the overall experience.
We also found some games and apps took a while to load and occasionally dropped in frame rate, giving a jittery experience. Combined with the mixed responsiveness of the touch-screen, we were sometimes left wondering if our swipes hadn’t registered or if the processor was simply struggling to keep up. We also noticed some slowdown when flicking between desktops or through Android’s menus (although Gingerbread was never the smoothest effort). Add in the occasional app crash and the overall experience is at best iffy, at worst irritating.
The MotoSmart may use a creaky old OS, but Motorola has added some neat little features in the form of widgets. The Activity Graph and Social Graph return from the Motoluxe, giving you handy shortcuts to your most-used apps and contacts. These are presented as a jumble of squares, and the more you use an app/contact, the larger their square becomes. It’s a simple but effective idea, and well implemented. You can also access recently-used apps in the notifications tab.
Media and camera
Visuals are reasonably sharp for a budget display when watching HD video, but the panel is a little lifeless, lacking those rich colours that really bring images to life. It’s also a little too small for enjoying a full-length film, but does the job if you’re simply checking out YouTube clips or catching up on TV episodes. Sadly, your battery is unlikely to survive a lengthy trip: after just four hours of texting, emailing and apps, the battery was already two-thirds depleted. Try streaming video, and the MotoSmart will go from 100% to dead in under four hours. Turning off Wi-Fi and GPS helps, but it’s simply prolonging the inevitable; we recommend carrying your charger just in case.
We never expect much from budget smartphone cameras, and the MotoSmart’s three-megapixel snapper is typically basic. The fixed-focus lens means your subject almost always comes out soft and fuzzy, while our test snaps were typically dull with bland colouration. You can mess around with basic sepia and mono filters and there’s even a ‘burst shot’ mode, although the one-second gap between each snap renders this practically useless. The lack of flash means evening shots are a write-off too. It’s possible to shoot video, but the results are grainy and the mic doesn’t do a great job of picking up voices.
Motorola’s MotoSmart is aimed at first-time smartphone users, but the combination of jittery performance, unresponsive touch-screen and terrible battery life is liable to put people off mobiles for life. We like some of Motorola’s tweaks to the ancient Gingerbread OS, but there’s little to recommend here.