Motorola Moto E: Brill budget blower with one bothersome blunder
Cheap'n'cheerful Android phone – but which one thing drove Reg man mad
Review Motorola couldn't have asked for more from the affordable Moto G. It bumped the company’s UK smartphone market share from next to nothing to 6 per cent all by itself.
For the first time in more than a decade, it gave European stores a Motorola device people actually wanted.
Motorola's Moto E: say goodbye to landfill Android
You could say it saved the company, at least on this side of The Pond. The Moto G most certainly redefined what you could expect from a “budget” Android smartphone. Motorola let me keep my Moto G review handset, and I’ve used it every day since and have not a single bad word to say about the thing.
Motorola’s plans for the budget market are far from done though.
Last week it announced a new budget blower, the £90 Moto E, and an improved Moto G with 4G connectivity and a microSD card slot which is yours for £150. The original Moto G continues to be available but I suspect its days are numbered.
Take your pick: Moto E and Moto G compared
With the Moto E costing £30 less and the new Moto G £30 more, there isn’t really room in between for a third device. Previously, 90 quid would lumber you with a piece of landfill Android offering basic functionality, a stodgy interface and zero brand appeal. So the question is, has the Moto E pulled off the same trick as the G and redefined a category?
First impressions are promising. There's a clear family resemblance with the Moto G as the Moto E is a very solid and nicely rounded, albeit a slightly heavy old Hector. At 142g, it’s only 1g lighter than the rather weighty Moto G. It’s a chunky monkey too. Sure, it's a few millimetres shorter and narrower than the Moto G, but at 12.3mm it’s nearly 1mm thicker. And the Moto G is hardly a svelte device to begin with.
Chunky monkey with Gorilla glass
The front of the Moto E houses a 540 x 960, 4.3-inch IPS Gorilla Glass 3 screen with a pixel density of 256dpi. For a budget touchscreen there is surprisingly little chromatic shift when viewed from obtuse angles – it can be seen, but it’s nothing to get bent out of shape over. It’s impressively colourful, bright and sharp with the individual pixels being invisible to the naked eye. In short, it’s an order of magnitude better than you have any right to expect for the money.
A significant design improvement over the Moto G comes in the form of that thin chrome strip you can see below the screen. It is actually the cover for the E's loudspeaker and an impressive component it is too, appreciably more composed and bass-capable than the G's crude rear-mounted equivalent.
A chrome strip protects the speaker beneath which sounds better than the one in the Moto G
In other respects, the layout is much the same with microUSB on the bottom, 3.5mm audio on the top and the power and volume controls sensibly placed on the right. Apparently, the Moto E is splash-proof, like the G. I’ve not tested the claim in either instance for fear of going beyond the boundaries of "splash".
Powering the Moto E is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 dual-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A7 processor, Adreno 302 GPU and 1GB of RAM. Despite being an entry-level component, the chipset gives the E a lick of speed previously unimaginable for a sub-£100 Android device. None of the games I tried on the Moto E including Dead Trigger 2 and Shadowgun (and its Deadzone multiplayer counterpart) managed to trip up or slow down.
AnTuTu benchmark results and storage allocation overview
It even manages to play 1080p MP4 video files. The AnTuTu benchmark app threw up a by no means disgraceful score of 13,000 while the SunSpider browser test returned numbers around the 1850 mark. Not great, but not the end of the world either.
Underlying performance aside, the Moto E feels fast. The near-stock Android 4.4.2 UI is consistently slick and fluid. The screen flip from portrait to landscape – always a good real-world test of ‘droid speed or the lack thereof – is snappy and prompt. By some margin, that all makes the Moto E the most satisfying sub-£100 smartphone I have ever used.
Shadowgun on an 90 quid phone – blimey
The Moto E packs a mere 4GB of internal storage, which just over 2.2GB is available for apps and files. Thankfully, you can add a microSD card of up to 32GB to increase capacity. Of course that limited internal storage does rather put the kibosh on legitimately installing big games like NOVA 3 (a 2.2GB download) but then the Moto E is hardly aimed at the hardcore mobile gamer.
Like the Moto G, the Moto E’s battery – a respectably capacious 1,980mAh affair – is fixed in place. Motorola boasts the Moto E can last a whole day on a charge and I’d not argue the claim. Twenty-four hours and then some of hard use between charges was something I regularly managed. Looping a 720p MP4 video file drained the battery to the tune of 15 per cent every hour, giving a maximum run time of just over 6hrs 30mins. That's over an hour shy of the best I got from the Moto G, but still reasonable.
Even 1080p video plays nice
Where the Moto E falls flat on its face is when it comes to the camera. And notice I use the singular. The Moto E doesn’t have a front facing webcam, an omission that rendered me slack-jawed with surprise when I first noticed it. Initially, I assumed it was an oversight on the spec sheet. Presumably, Motorola reckons budget mobile users don’t take selfies or make video calls.
To continue the worrisome news from the optics front, the 5Mp main snapper does not impress. For a start it lacks autofocus and the definition and colour registration are highly questionable. Performance in low light is extremely poor with image noise going from bad to horrific. This failing is exacerbated by the absence of a flash, which, of course, means no LED light to double as a torch.
No autofocus, no flash and a fixed battery to boot
The final problem with the Moto E's photographic credentials rears its ugly head when you want to record video. The best it can do is 854 x 480 @ 30fps, which is dire for this day and age, but Motorola may argue that having a mere 4GB internal storage, low-res video will at least be a space saver.
For the price, the absence of 4G/LTE connectivity is to be expected, and likewise the lack of 5GHz/802.11ac Wi-Fi, so you have to make do with 2.4GHz 802.11n. It does have Bluetooth 4.0, though, and there’s a white notification LED, something often missing on cheapo Androids.
User interface is close to stock Android KitKat, and browser
Alas, the micro USB port lacks support for either MHL media streaming (like the G) or USB hosting (unlike the G). Granted, the microSD slot makes the latter a little irrelevant but it’s still a feature I like to see on a smartphone.
As with the Moto G, Motorola gives you an FM radio but no earphones are supplied to make it work. I am, however, pleased to see Motorola guarantee at least one update to the operating system. So despite the cheap as chips asking price, you won’t be left out in the cold when the next incarnation of Android comes into view.
Camera shy: the budget smartphone with everything... almost
You can buy brightly coloured replacement backs for the Moto E, just as you can for its big brother but currently not the type with an attached flip cover. Like the Moto G, removing the back panel to access the SIM and memory card slots is a fingernail-breaking pain in the proverbial. To wrap on a more important note, I experienced no problems with call quality or signal reception, both of which proved well up to snuff.
The Reg Verdict
So has Motorola repeated the trick it pulled off with the Moto G? For just £90 you are getting a decent – no, make that a very decent – bit of kit, but come on guys, what's with the missing webcam? That really spoils the soup for want of a pinch of salt.
How much would it have cost to add a VGA front camera to the Moto E? £2? Less? I’m guessing that the reason for the omission is to make the Moto G seem more attractive by giving the Moto E an Achilles’ heel. It's possibly a trend as the £95 Nokia Lumia 520 lacks a webcam too, but for me it's a deal breaker as I use the webcam on my Moto G regularly to video chat on Skype.
While others might not care so much about a front-facing camera, I find its absence actually annoys me and knocks some of the shine off a device that I'd otherwise be very enthusiastic about. As it stands, unless you are after a backup handset, are confident that you will never have a use for a webcam or are truly skint, I’d suggest saving up the extra £70 and buying the 4G Moto G. ®