I’ve been excited to have a look at the Moto E since its announcement in the middle of May. At $129 US, the Moto E is about the same price as dinner and a movie, and the buzz about how well it performs in the entry-level smartphone domain put it at the top of my wishlist. I’ve had a little time with it, and have to say I’m not disappointed in the least. After years of low-priced models that failed to deliver, Motorola found their niche. Now they have expanded it with an even lower priced model in the Moto E. Let’s have a quick look at how it fares in daily use.
- It costs $130
- Comes with Android 4.4 KitKat
- Comfortable to hold
- Great battery life
- Decent-sounding speakers
- Moto Alert is useful
- MicroSD slot included for expanded storage
- No 4G LTE
- 4GB of internal storage is not enough
- Crappy rear cam, no front cam
- Screen has poor viewing angles
- Battery cover rattles
- No NFC
The Moto E looks very much like it’s big brothers the Moto G and the Moto X — two phones I’m very familiar with. You’ve the same friendly rounded design with a scalloped top on the back, the same rounded corners and camera trim ring, and even the buttons and ports are in the same spot. The back is a removable plastic shell, and like the Moto G there are replacement covers in an assortment of colors. It’s slightly smaller — especially compared to the Moto X — but aside from a few small cosmetic differences, the design language follows through the whole family. Ask anyone using a Moto X or one of the Droid variants on Verizon and they’ll tell you that this is a good thing. It fits well in your hand, feels solid, and while not made of any fancy materials like wood or aluminum, it’s very well built. Better built than the $129 price tag suggests.
One of the main cutbacks of the Moto E is the screen. It’s a 4.3-inch 960 x 540 pixel display, a little smaller and significantly lower-res than the Moto G’s 4.5-inch 720p screen.
Those used to high resolution phones will notice the slightly more jaggedy edges of text characters, and a lack of fine detail in games.
Is it a big sacrifice for the sake of £20 or so? Yes, but the Moto E display can still go head-to-head with phones that cost upwards of £150. At £80 it’s class-leading. Many far more expensive phones than the Moto E ‘make do’ with a similar 960 x 540 pixel screen.
These include the Sony Xperia M2 (4.8 inches), the HTC Desire 601 (4.7 inches) and LG G2 Mini (4.7 inches). All cost more than twice the price of the Motorola Moto E. It’s an eye-opener.
Image quality is good too. Colours are well-saturated among sub-£150 phones, contrast is good and viewed straight on black level is marginally better than the Moto G. Viewing angles are a bit weaker, though. There’s a bit of brightness loss at an angle, although we doubt many will try to share a screen this size anyway.
The Motorola Moto E has a very basic camera get-up. There’s no front-facing camera and no rear flash. This means no selfies, no video chat and any photos you take at poorly-lit parties will probably look dreadful. Just as important, the Moto E’s main 5-megapixel camera has a fixed focus, rather than an autofocus lens. You can’t make the camera lock onto a specific subject, just point and shoot. Moving the ‘aim’ reticule in the camera app only affects exposure.
It has been a while since we’ve seen a fixed focus phone camera, and despite the low £80 price we find this a little disappointing. A fixed camera means the Moto E cannot take close-up photos at all – the subject will simply be out of focus:
Image quality is acceptable given our limited expectations of a 5-megapixel camera these days, but it is most definitely a serious compromise. Pictures are often a little glum-looking, with somewhat anaemic colours and low contrast, but you can just about scrape together some share-able shots with the phone.
The Motorola Moto E has a fairly chunky battery of 1,980mAh. That’s a mite smaller than the 2,070mAh unit of the Moto G, but the difference is accounted for by the smaller, lower-resolution screen.
You can pop the plastic cover off the back to see the battery’s footprint, but it’s locked in place. You can’t replace it easily.
With light use you’ll be able to squeeze about a day and a half out of the phone, but so far we’ve struggled to get the near two day’s performance we commonly get from the Moto G.
Part of the reason may be that the Moto E’s Snapdragon 200 chip is rather less efficient that modern chips like the Snapdragon 801 – the opposite of what you might expect. We’re trying to find out from Qualcomm whether the Moto G’s Snapdragon 400 has slightly more advanced power efficiency measures. The battery still drains down a bit overnight at a rate of a few per cent an hour. This precludes getting the sort of 15 to 20-day standby some pricier phones claim.
Should I buy the Motorola Moto E?
The Motorola Moto E sits in a tricky spot. Among its sub-£100 peers, it offers better basics than the competition. The screen, software and design are great for the price.
But if you’re willing to pay a little more, you get a significant bump-up in quality by moving up to the Moto G. Its screen is better, its camera much more versatile and there are very real benefits in moving up to a quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU from the Moto E’s dual-core Snapdragon 200.
However, we think that more casual users not obsessed with tech specs will find the Moto E a dream to live with. Motorola has picked its battles carefully with the Moto E, and as such it is almost as great a success as the Moto G, but one with a different audience in mind. That audience is not the typical TrustedReviews reader, but this is a phone even tech enthusiasts will be able to live with happily enough.
As long as you don’t want a good camera. It’s rubbish.