The Motorola E is ready to shake up the entry-level smartphone market, with prices starting at around 90 Euros in developing countries and emerging markets, and just 120 Euros in Europe. Motorola is following a very aggressive and potentially disruptive pricing strategy that the company hopes will reap serious rewards in terms of market share. Today’s review will assess whether the device represents a worthwhile purchase in developed Western markets.
Written Roland Quandt, translated by Stewart Haston
The Motorola Moto E in India costs a mere 6,999 rupees, or the equivalent of just 85 Euros or $125 USD. With that price, you are undercutting the recently launched Nokia X and various other competitors while still offering a fairly attractive product. The Moto E sports a 4.3-inch qHD display with Gorilla Glass 3, a dual-core SoC from Qualcomm with support for HSPA+, plus other decent level specs.
The Nokia Lumia 630 was initially available in the UK and Germany for almost 160 Euros, but soon after launch, the price was slashed to the equivalent of about 110 euros. This one-third price reduction was necessary in order to make the Lumia 630 an attractive alternative to the Moto E – a decision which will have been echoing down the halls of Redmond and Turku, with far-reaching consequences for entry-level smartphone profit margins. Motorola’s strategy is to simply grab a foothold in the increasingly competitive entry-level smartphone segment, even if it means dispensing with immediate profits to do so.
The Moto E from Motorola has a solid overall design for an entry-level smartphone, but it does also have a few weaknesses. The component choices are of course limited by cost, reflecting the overall price point of the device. In terms of processor platform, you get what at first glance seems a somewhat feeble Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 at 1.2 GHz, but in truth it performs reasonably well thanks to various optimizations that offer an impressively slick UI experience. You are also getting an ample 1GB of RAM which helps with multi-tasking and general app performance. The Moto E has a 4.3 inch, 960 × 540 pixel display, a higher resolution than many of its competitors, and a generously sized battery that has a capacity of 1,980mAh.
Of course there are also some disappointing areas, the camera proves to be a truly entry-level shot taker, with a generally substandard sensor that reflects its price. Also, the 4GB of internal flash memory is, on the surface at least, very limiting, while the display certainly seems to lack adequate brightness. Despite its obvious and apparent flaws, the Motorola E remains a valid and worthwhile device in an extremely affordable package.
The Motorola Moto E has 1GB of RAM, which as I said is actually entirely sufficient. Many competitors are tempted to trim down on system memory, and then add insult to injury by failing to optimize the OS in terms application memory management. Motorola have done a good job; multitasking works well with plenty of system memory available to apps when needed. We initially feared we would run into issues when dealing with apps and large amounts of data, because the device is kitted out with a meager 4GB of internal flash memory. Interestingly, this proved not to be the case.
Theoretically, under Android 4.4.2 “KitKat”, you cannot use a microSD card for app installation, something which would be very handy on smartphones like the Moto E and its 4GB of storage. With Android 4.4. Google has decided to not let you install apps on the microSD card, so unless you hack the device, you are very limited in terms of storage space for larger apps, especially video games.
However, it seems that in the case of the Moto E, we have some very good news. Motorola have ignored Google’s decree and incorporated an option to install apps on the memory card. This is quite unexpected and contrary to common practice with “KitKat” devices. In most cases, we found this actually seems to work well, allowing us to easily install multiple, large-download game apps on the microSD card.
However, installing game apps on the Moto E was not entirely glitch free. For us it was not possible to actually install Asphalt 8: Airborne on to the SD card. Although Android did indicate that the game had successfully been installed on to the card, in truth it did not – the SD card confirmed only 322 MB used, while Asphalt 8 has an installation footprint of 1.43 GB. With the installation of apps and other games, there were no problems so we should probably chalk up the Asphalt 8 experience as an isolated instance. In fact it is great that Motorola let users take advantage of the MicroSD card slot on the Moto E in this way. It makes sense on a device that has limited on board storage.
Why is it that the Moto E has such a feature while other, much better equipped and more expensive devices remain incapable of microSD app installation on Android 4.4.2? It was pleasant surprise to see that Motorola have figured this out, we hope other manufacturers follow suit.
Did I mention that the Moto E might not win any design awards? The device adopts the same visual approach used on its big brothers, the Moto X and Moto G, however the smaller member of the Motorola family is actually one of the thicker devices on the market at 12.3mm. There is the same pleasantly curved back with a removable cover while shape and design of the front face corresponds to the design concept of the other recent Motorola smartphones.
One secret that I think designers will keep until their grave, is why they insist on using the same old chrome bars for the mono speaker and microphone on the upper and lower parts of the phone. I for one find this just plain ugly – it all comes down to personal opinion, yes – but for me it is less than aesthetically pleasing. Ultimately, however, the success or failure of the Moto E is probably not influenced too much by its good looks, but rather by other things, such as competitive pricing, attractive software and performance levels. Perhaps we could be forgiving of what is, at best, unadventurous design.
The front speaker is very audible to the user during gaming and video playback, unlike several other devices with rear speakers that can end up being covered by your hand. At the right edge of the plastic housing sit the power and volume buttons, which although easy to reach, can be difficult to respond unless pressed relatively hard. However I will stress that this could be due to our Moto E being a per-production sample. Although the cover is removable and swappable with a wide range of colors, the battery cannot be removed. Motorola clearly preferring to not create a thriving black market of counterfeit batteries in developing countries.
The materials used in creating Motorola Moto E are of a very high quality, and you do not get the impression that in your hand you have a smartphone that costs between 90 to 120 euros. While the front has a shiny brim, the back is kept matte with a wide array of replacements available in various colors from the aftermarket. We were given the white edition for the purpose of this review, and it does well to repel fingerprints – as does the black model we hope to get hold of soon.
The screen is one of the biggest weaknesses of the Motorola Moto E – but at the same time there are pluses, if you can live with some inherent limitations. The Moto E is equipped with a low-priced IPS panel with a qHD resolution of 960 × 540 pixels, which, in the 4.3 inch form factor, definitely looks okay. The panel enjoys a slightly better resolution than most competitors in this price and size class, offering a theoretically slightly sharper image. In practice this is confirmed, although the difference in terms of real-life sharpness compared to most devices is actually minor. The colors are strong but not over-saturated and the black levels also look good.
However, the display also has a number of problems that we would have to consider carefully in everyday life before buying. In truth, it is simply not very bright and is in fact outshone by most alternative products when used at maximum brightness settings. This is especially problematic outdoors because you cannot view the screen clearly when the weather is moderately sunny and bright. While the coating on the screen and the addition of Gorilla Glass 3 on the front help to reduce reflections, the lack of luminosity remains an issue.
Another smaller point of criticism is that the colors are washed out pretty quickly when viewed from the side of the display, despite being an IPS panel. The screen of Moto E does a decent job and is better than the competition in many ways, just not in the brightness – but this somehow such an essential characteristic. Even indoors in a room with standard level lighting, the maximum brightness of the Moto E feels somewhat insufficient. Maybe my eyes are not as good as they used to be, but I am sure most will agree, the Moto E is not the brightest kid in the class.
The diagonal 4.3 inch screen size is by today’s standards perfectly adequate, despite seeing more and more manufacturers focused on 5 inches and above. Customers looking for a compact smartphone that is great for one handed use will likely find the Moto E to be a decent handset. The relatively small display and rounded shape of the case feels good in one hand usage, so 4.3 inch smartphone users will feel at home.
There is not a great deal to write home about when it comes to the Moto E’s camera, and what we do have to say is not really all that positive. Instead of a really decent selfie cam on the front, or even a really low quality VGA-capable sensor, Motorola have decided to skip the front camera entirely. On the back there is a 5-megapixel camera, but even this is of only very limited use, lacking auto-focus and LED flash. Anything except the most rudimentary and simple snapshots will result in some pretty disappointing photos.
The camera app launches very quickly, which is always welcomed, however the functionality of the app itself is very limited, with only a few settings and features available. Videos for example can be recorded with at a meager maximum of 480p resolution. Devices from other manufacturers would seem to have more to offer, at least on paper in this price range. There are also smartphone models that do not cost much more, but at least offer an auto-focus and basic flash.
As mentioned earlier, the Moto E’s single speaker sits on the front and gives a pretty decent sound. In terms of volume and sound quality, I would say it is comparable to the Motorola Moto G; in fact I would guess that Motorola is using the exact same audio components in both devices. By placing the speaker on the front of the device, it is rarely obscured by the user’s hand, and is also very effective when the phone is placed on the table. The volume is as loud as the Moto G and all audio is played back without distortion. There is not much in the way of bass frequencies, as you would probably expect, but overall the sound of the Moto E is certainly better than many other entry-level smartphones we have tested.
Of course, the Motorola Moto E is not a performance miracle. Fast processors cost considerably more than slower ones; this is a fact borne out by the Moto E which is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 dual core SoC. Clocked at 1.2GHz, the Snapdragon 200 combines two ARM Cortex-A7 cores with the integrated Adreno 305 graphics processor. Of course it is a low-end model, but it is reasonably well suited to the Moto E. In benchmarks it only returns values that fall at the lower end of the scale, but Motorola has made noticeable tweaks to the Android version used here with his new entry-level smartphone. Android 4.4.2 “KitKat” runs very smoothly in virtually all usage scenarios – no jerkiness, no crashing or other inconsistencies. Dealing with multiple apps can of course be a challenge, but the device actually worked very well, at least as well or better than its competitors at this price range.
Speaking of the competition: The optimizations Motorola have implemented on the stock-Android OS allow the Moto E to perform very well in everyday life tasks, almost at a similar level to high-end devices like a Samsung Galaxy S5. When using the camera app, or standard Google apps like YouTube, or the Gallery app, and the device is very responsive and slick.
Watch the video below to see how the device performs in our benchmarks. Real life usage experience is a separate issue and not always reflected in good benchmark scores, but they can give you a good idea of how the raw performance is looking. Generally, the Moto E performs exceptionally well at this price point.
Games are in most cases not a problem for the Moto E, as you can see in our gaming video above – with most games it offers a slick experience with decent frame rates. You may experience some issues, but nothing that cannot be resolved if one is willing to deviate from the maximum graphics settings.
Overall, the performance of the Moto E is more than sufficient for the vast majority of users, out-performing most competitors at this price point. Also note that performance is certainly aided by the relatively generous 1GB of memory that the Moto E enjoys. Most devices in this segment have only 512MB of memory, and are worse off performance-wise as a result.
The Motorola Moto E has a battery that is quite amply sized at 1980mAh. Certainly for this price range and the performance class, it seems be quite generous. In combination with the fuel-efficient dual-core platform from Qualcomm, the device provides battery life that you can bet will get you through the day.
Of course, it is possible to drain the Moto E battery with continuous gaming or Internet surfing time, especially with the screen switched to maximum brightness but under normal conditions, the battery capacity is sufficient for at least one day. In a regular day with approximately four hours of active usage with Internet surfing, syncing, and some casual gaming, the Motorola Moto E should perform admirably, without users having to think too much about the distance to the nearest power outlet.
The Motorola Moto E uses what we would describe as a stock version of Android 4.4.2 “KitKat”, an almost 100 percent Google experience that is very close to Google’s Nexus experience. The UI is simple and looks good, designed to give user experience that is simple and pleasant. Motorola has as made various optimizations, so that the interface is wonderfully fluid, and really gets the most out of the devices’ entry-level hardware.
Motorola complements the stock Android 4.4.2 with some simple and non-intrusive in-house apps. Motorola Migration helps the user to migrate and configure the phone with a wizard for importing data and contacts from other devices. Motorola Assist and Motorola Alert add features that include call settings during sleep, plus other useful day to day configurations that add plenty of flexibility. We anticipate an Android 4.4.3 update soon, proving that Motorola now has a strong connections it can exploit in its relationship with Google.
While it is still a little too early to see any alternative ROMs for the Moto E, there is already a community being built around the Moto E in the XDA-Developers forum. You can expect to see alternative custom ROMs like CyanogenMod OS in the coming weeks and months. In addition, the boot loader can quite easily be unlocked with a manual provided by Motorola itself.
The Motorola Moto E basically offers everything you could want from an entry-level smartphone of this price. One might even question why anyone should spend any more money on a smartphone, if indeed attractive offerings such as the Moto E exist. The future of the entry-level smartphone segment looks good, and we can regard the Moto E is a shining example, one that offers a complete package of good battery life, decent enough display and good performance on a great mobile OS.
The price performance ratio is in fact extremely impressive. It does have issues; the low brightness of the display, the disappointing camera and a design and look that may not appeal to all users. Despite these issues, the Motorola Moto E speaks volumes as an entry-level smartphone. It has real potential as a 4.3 inch smartphone for people on a budget, or as a solid and capable back up unit. It’s also a great example of just how thoroughly decent budget smartphones have now become – a standard bearer perhaps.