Moto E Review: A cheap smartphone worth buying

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If I asked you which phone is Motorola’s best selling phone of all time, you would probably answer with the Moto X. You would be wrong as it is the Moto G, which is a budget phone. Budget phones are generally laughed at, but they happen to part of the fastest growing segment. With 70% of the worldwide population using a flip phone or feature phone, they are unlikely to upgrade to a flagship when they finally join the smartphone craze. They could opt for a Moto G, but Motorola is now offering something that is even more budget-friendly. The Moto E promises to be built to last and priced for all. You can’t argue that $129 isn’t an amazing price for a contract free and unlocked smartphone, but is it too good to be true? Well hit the break to get started.

Design

When I first grabbed the Moto E, it reminded me of the Moto G, just a little smaller. I remember the Moto G was unbelievably solid for its $179 price point. The Moto E might be a little cheaper, but there is absolutely no sacrifice in terms of quality. The difference between the two devices is the obvious size difference (4.5-inch display vs 4.3-inch display) and the thickness. The Moto G comes in at 11.6mm at its thicket part, while the Moto E comes in at 12.3mm. Both are pretty thick by today’s standards, but the fact that the back covers are rounded fool us into thinking they aren’t so thick. The Moto G is actually 6.2mm thick at the thinnest part (the sides), which makes it comfortable in the hand.

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The Moto E sports the same removable back that the Moto G offers, which allows users to customize their phone with different colored Motorola Shells. I love this feature, and wish the Moto X offered the same. You might not be interested in looking at red for 2 years, so you can easily swap it for blue without too much cost. You will have your choice of either a black or white for the front and part of the sides. Motorola did a fantastic job with the cover in that it fits in so tightly and perfectly. In fact, most people wouldn’t even know it’s removable since there are no extra lips. Removing it can be hard to figure out though, but once you do, it’s quite easy to pop out. You just need to push down on the Motorola logo on the back of the device with your thumb, and with your other hand, insert a fingernail in at one of the bottom corners, and the cover will easily lift off. You can see what I mean in the video below.

Speaking of the back plate, it has a soft touch and a fantastic grip. You won’t have to worry about this one slipping out of your hand like many of the other smartphones offered today.

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As far as buttons and ports go, the Moto E is setup much like the Moto G. You will find the microphone jack at the top center. The bottom has the micro USB 2.0 slot at the middle. The right side has the power button towards the top, and just below it is the volume rocker. The left side has nothing on the outside,  but inside the back cover, you will find the SIM slot and micro SD slot on this side. The battery is non removable. The back has the rear camera at the top middle as well as the dimpled Motorola logo just below it. You won’t find a front-facing camera on this one, so selfie fans might have to look the other way. One notable difference is the front facing speaker at the bottom. At first glance, you might think the Moto E has front-facing stereo speakers, but it doesn’t The top front speaker is reserved for phone calls, while the lower front speaker is reserved for hands-free calls as well as listening to music.

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Motorola has always built high quality phones with careful attention to craftsmanship, and the Moto E is no exception. No, it’s not going to win an award for the highest quality phone in the world, but you will be shocked at how durable and how good it feels in the hand for $129.

Hardware

The Moto E features a 4.3-inch qHD (960 x 540) display (256 ppi), a 1.2 GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200, Adreno 302 GPU, 1GB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, microSD slot for up to an additional 32GB of storage, 5MP rear camera (4:3), 1980 mAh battery, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, and Bluetooth 4.0 LE.

Radios

US GSM Model:
GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) UMTS/HSPA+ up to 21 Mbps (850, 1700 (AWS), 1900 MHz)

Global GSM Model:
GSM/GPRS/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) UMTS/HSPA+ up to 21 Mbps (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz)

CDMA Model (Coming Soon)
CDMA/EVDO Rev A (850, 1900 MHz)

Performance

The Moto E sports a dual-core Snapdragon 200, which consists of two Cortex-A7 CPUs clocked at 1.2 GHz. The Moto E isn’t going to win any benchmarks, but don’t think this is a slow poke. The fact that it’s running nearly stock Android 4.4.2 KitKat gives it an advantage over a lot of the competition. Out of the box it’s buttery smooth, but of course the big question will be how it responds after 6 months to 1 year of use. I suspect it will hold up with the best of them. You might not be able to play high-end intense graphics games, but if you’re in the market for this phone, you probably aren’t worried about that anyway. The bottomline is the average user won’t have an issue. I did run the obligatory AnTuTu Benchmark and it scored 12,568. This obviously is pretty low, but again benchmarks don’t really give you a real world indication.

The display comes in at qHD, which equates to 960 x 540 (256 ppi). Yes it does feel like 2011 when Motorola first introduced the same resolution on the DROID Bionic. Sure it would be nice to see 720p, but it isn’t going to be as noticeable at 4.3-inches. Again, the target audience isn’t interested in getting caught up with how crisp it looks next to current flagships. The display is more than adequate for the target demographic, which is going to be kids and people that are buying their first smartphone.

Battery

The Moto E has a rather small battery (1980 mAh), but the fact that the display is only 4.3-inches and only qHD shouldn’t matter. However, just like the Moto G, the results weren’t as good as I was expecting. I conducted my usual video rundown test in which I loop continuous video with the display at about 67% while connected to 3G (no LTE) and WiFi (not connected), Bluetooth (not connected), and GPS turned on. I was only able to get 6 hours. How does this translate to a normal day? With moderate use, you should be able to get about 12-14 hours. It’s certainly not a workhorse, but certainly not the worst I have seen.

Software

You could almost call the Moto E a Google Experience device if you wanted to since it’s roughly 90% stock Android. You won’t find some of the extra stuff that you will find on a Moto X, such as Active Display and Touchless Control, but you will find Assist, Migrate, an FM Radio app, and something brand new called Motorola Alert. Motorola Alert allows others to track your whereabouts very easily by sending text messages to selected contacts. So for example, a parent could easily see when their child arrived or left their school, home, work, or the mall. Alert can also be used for emergencies providing an exact location to emergency contacts. There is also the Meet Me function, which lets selected contacts know where they are for a meetup. The Follow Me function is also great for trips because it will send periodic texts to selected users of the current location. All texts include the address as well as a Google Maps link for directions. It’s pretty nifty, and I am filing it in the cool and useful category. Here’s a video showing you how it works.

You can also get an idea how how Assist and Migrate work in my two videos below that I did with the Moto X.

The Moto E continues the tradition of the Moto X and Moto G by offering a near stock Android experience, which I prefer. It’s uncluttered with bloat, allowing the phone to perform almost as well as other flagships. There is also a good chance that Android updates will not only land on the Moto E, but they will also arrive timely since Motorola doesn’t have an extra UI interface to deal with. It’s refreshing to see this stock Android experience in a budget-friendly device, and we hope Motorola continues this trend.

Camera

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The Moto E camera interface is very similar to what the Moto G and Moto X offers, with a few things missing. It’s not stock Android, but it’s setup very similarly in that you swipe to the left to get to the Gallery. You will also find the options menu by swiping to the right. However, some features found on the Moto X are missing in action such as control for flash (no flash on the device), a slow motion video option, or the Quick Capture toggle. You will still get HDR, exposure control, panorama, location toggle, widescreen toggle, and a shutter tone toggle. There is one additional setting and that is for the microSD card. If you have one, you will be able to save photos to it.

Now don’t expect the Moto E to capture the greatest photos, but it will get the job done. I did find that it performed better than I expected as long as there is a decent amount of light. Performance in low light situations or any kind of motion was subpar as one would expect. Here are some sample shots from a variety of situations.

Outdoors

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Action

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Low Light

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Closing

The Moto E almost seems like buying a phone from 2011 that is still in an unopened box. The DROID Bionic might just be the best comparison, but in terms of pure specs, it probably was a better phone since it sported a front-facing camera, had more internal storage, and the processor consisted of Cortex-A9 CPUs. However, the Bionic cost over $600 off contract and the Moto E is only $129. Let me repeat that….$129. The Moto E might not win the phone of the year award, but it’s not trying to. There are still many people who cannot afford a smartphone, and the Moto E will help those join the party. It’s as durable and performs as well as most phones available today. The only real issue I have with it is that it only has 4GB of internal storage, but thankfully the microSD slot is available for up to 32GB of additional storage. The lack of a front-facing camera isn’t a deal breaker for me, but with the selfie craze going on right now, it could be an issue for some people.

Bottomline, it’s the absolute perfect starter phone for someone just getting into the smartphone game, but for me personally, I would probably opt for the Moto G for a few extra bucks, and in some cases actually cheaper with current deals. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

 


About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.


  • owl bhai

    This is phone is selling like hot cake in india .

    • http://www.sangeetkhatri.tk/ Sangeet Khatri

      I just ordered my Moto E today when it was in stock. It will come in the morning today.

  • JPB

    Perfect phone for kids headed to college who want smartphones but need encouragement to pay for it on their own.