Motorola Moto E: An attractive and affordable Android smartphone [Review]

Motorola Moto E with Shells

Anyone who regularly reads my handset reviews will know how important the Motorola Moto G has been. Since last November it has overshadowed every phone aiming at the £150 price range, and quite a lot priced a fair bit higher. Now Motorola wants the Moto E to achieve the same kind of dominance -- this time at the entry-level end of the phone market. The Moto E can be yours for £89 SIM-free.

By modern standards this is a small handset -- its screen is only 4.3-inches. It is amazing how much the landscape has changed over the last few years, so that a 4.3-inch phone seems small and 5-inch feels like the optimum size.

While the screen doesn’t sit in the chassis in an "edge to edge" manner (have a gander at the LG G2 if you want to see what that looks like), there’s not a lot of bezel around the long edges, so the Motorola Moto E is relatively narrow. It is, though, fairly thick and this means it doesn’t sit quite as comfortably in the hand as it could. It is heavy too -- 142g is way more than the 124g of the 5-inch Huawei Ascend P7, and almost a match for the 145g Samsung Galaxy S5. It does feel weighty in the hand.

On the plus side, as far as the Moto E being a comfy hold goes, there’s a curvature to the backplate which helps the phone nestle in the palm, and the back itself has a soft-touch finish.

The Moto E is a tough little cookie. The chassis is solid and doesn’t creak, and the backplate is a really tight fit -- it shouldn’t pop off if you drop the phone. The display is of course Gorilla Glass -- but the latest version, Gorilla Glass 3, providing the best protection you can get against scratches and blemishes.

Motorola has even tried to compete with the latest trend for waterproofing handsets. No, the E doesn’t have an IP rating, but it does have a splash guard coating. It just might stand a better chance of surviving a drop in a puddle or the bath compared to the average handset.

My review sample was black, but soon you’ll be able to get hold of shells in a wide variety of rich, bright colours just as you can for the Moto G. This could prove an important factor in the success of this handset, as for relatively little outlay you’ll be able to refresh the look of your phone.

There are two buttons on the right edge -- power and volume. The headset slot is on the top, and microUSB on the bottom. This is the same basic design as the Moto G, although there is one notable design difference from the Moto G in that there are two silver bars on the front (one above, and one below the screen). Neither actually does anything -- you might think the one below the screen is a controller of some sort, but no. The speaker sits behind it, churning out pretty tinny music, I might add.

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The Android controls are on the screen itself. Motorola has not troubled itself too much in terms of trying to wow us with the screen. The relatively high pixel count we saw in the Moto G’s 4.5-inch screen of 1,280 x 720 has come down here to 960 x 540. Now, the screen is not awful -- I was happy enough looking at websites and graphics. But it is not a shining beacon of quality, either, and text can look a little bit grainy.

I wouldn’t want to use a screen this small for eBooks or anything like that, so this is probably not a huge deal. What’s more annoying, in a way, is the relatively low brightness and shallow viewing angles. I kept the display on full brightness most of the time to ease these problems.

Motorola has decided to cut back on camera capabilities in order to save costs. There’s no front camera, while the back one is limited to shooting stills to 5 megapixels and lacks a flash. Video capture is way below par, maxing out at 854 x 480 pixels.

The processor is a fairly sedate 1.2GHz Snapdragon with 1GB of RAM in support. It won’t break any records and it may struggle if you are a big multitasker or want to do a lot of gaming. But it streamed YouTube without a hitch. It is great to see memory expansion here -- something Motorola dispensed with on the Moto G. The microSD slot is nicely protected under the backplate, as is the microSIM slot. This means you can build on the rather light 4GB of internal storage, 2.21GB of which is available for your own use.

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There’s no 4G and no NFC here, but you do get Android 4.4 in an almost unskinned form. There are some light tweaks, for example the Google Camera settings are on a carousel here instead of the stock slide-out panel.

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Motorola’s Assist is on board too. This is a great little app that you can use to set the handset up for specific tasks. It can, for example, automatically silence the phone when you are in meetings, allowing through a whitelist and persistent callers but nobody else.

There’s a 1,980mAh non-removable battery that Motorola says will last all day. Well, I’ve heard that one before. This time, though, Motorola does seem to have a point. As far as I’ve seen in a relatively short time with the Moto E, it does seem to meet that all-day life claim with a usage pattern that includes regular email fetching, web use, a little music playback and even a (very) small amount of gaming. Very importantly it also does really well on standby dropping minimal charge.

Verdict

Motorola hasn’t quite produced the stunner that some people might want with the Moto E. The absence of a front camera will immediately put it out of the running for the selfie brigade, and the screen disappoints a bit too.

Still, the robust build, Android 4.4, memory expansion, opportunity to add replacement back covers and that fantastic battery life are all points in its favor. Other ultra-low-cost handset makers now need to up their game.

Manufacturer and Model Motorola Moto E
Network 3G
Processor 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200
Ram 1GB
Memory 4GB (2.21GB accessible)
Memory expansion microSD
Display 4.3in, 960 x 540 pixels, 256ppi
Main camera 5 megapixel
Front camera None
NFC No
Wi-Fi Yes
GPS Yes
FM radio Yes
Battery 1,980mAh
Size 64.8 x 12.3 x 124.8mm   (WxDxH)
Weight 142g
OS Android 4.4

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