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Moto E Review - budget smartphone, redefined

Moto goes to another part of the alphabet to offer yet another budget device. What does it offer? We find out in this review of the Moto E.
May 26, 2014

Motorola moves to a different part of the alphabet in its continuing attempt to offer consumers a budget-friendly entry level smartphone that is meant to last. Essentially made to its retail value, the Moto E packs far less than the typical power performers were increasingly getting used you.

While it may not feel like something a typical western user would want, the Moto E isn’t about power, but about the experience it has to offer, in what is easily one of the most accessible packages ever. Does the latest low-cost smartphone offering manage to stand true to its claim of an experience that is built to last? We find out, in this comprehensive review of the Motorola Moto E!

The Moto E is priced at just $129, unlocked, making it one of the cheapest smartphones you can get your hands on. The closest competitor is another Motorola device itself, the Moto G, which is priced $50 higher, but gets you a better display, a faster processing package, and a more reliable experience.
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Even with a single glance, the one thing that is obvious from the get go is that this is a Motorola device. The generally curved design all around resulting in a pebble-like look, that was first introduced with the Moto X, is now a common trope, of course with the Moto E being smaller and beefier in thickness and weight.

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Up front is the 4.3-inch display, a screen size that many will view as a throwback, or consider to be optimal, depending on where you stand. Above and below the display are the only main stylistic choice made in this device, with silver slits that house the phone and loud speakers.

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There isn’t much to see on the sides except for the button layout, with the power button and volume rocker all found on the right. The feedback from the buttons aren’t nearly as good as I’d like, with only a somewhat meaty click at the bottom of the movement. That said, they haven’t failed in responsiveness thus far, and shouldn’t prove to be an issue in the future either.

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The soft touch plastic back is removable, and replaceable with numerous colourful Motorola Shells that are available, which may result in you having to spend a little more, but do well in upping the style factor, and offering some form of customization to suit your needs. The back cover is not difficult to remove, and opening it gives you access to the SIM slot and microSD card slot.

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Given its size, handling is very easy in this case. With screen and phone sizes becoming larger and larger, it’s quite refreshing to be able to use a phone with literally no trouble at all. Despite its low price point, you can rest assured that the phone is certainly built to last, with the screen being made of Corning Gorilla Glass 3, along with the entire device rated to handle tumbles and splashes. Things are ultimately very simplistic when it comes to the general design, given the low price and specifications of the Moto E, but because of Motorola’s general style, the phone definitely won’t be mistaken for a feature phone.

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The 4.3-inch display features a qHD (960 x 540) resolution, resulting in a pixel density of 256 ppi. The comparatively low resolution is expected in this case, considering the segment the Moto E is competing in. It has to be said that the sharpness here, however, is definitely higher than that of any any other phone sporting the same screen size.

Navigating through the interface and getting through websites posed no issues, and while the ultra colourful Candy Crush has definitely seen better days, it is still workable on this screen.

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What is true for the display, and something you will find is increasingly the case with the Moto E, is that while the device is capable of being the lasting communication device it is meant to be, it is only somewhat capable of tasks that require more than it is able to provide.

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The line above holds true with regards to the processing package as well, with the Moto E featuring a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor, clocked at 1.2 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 302 GPU, and 1 GB of RAM.

As you might have seen in our comparison with the Moto G, the Moto E is simply just a slow device all around, and provides an experience that is far from as snappy as what you’d expect from the higher rated Snapdragon processors that we’ve become accustomed to.

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Unfortunately, 1 GB of RAM doesn’t feel like enough for any power users out there, and you will eventually experience a slowdown if you try to go too crazy. Expect either some force closing, or even the need to restart the phone if things get very sluggish. 

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You will see more cut corners when it comes to the hardware, with a lot of concessions made in order to keep the price down. One aspect of the hardware we do have to appreciate though is the front facing speaker. It’s not an incredible performer by any means, but just its placement alone truly sets this smartphone apart from the vast majority of other devices found at this price point.

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Motorola also doesn’t skimp on the call quality, as the same great sound comes through at either end of the call. In terms of phone networks, this budget-friendly phone made for the global stage sticks to HSDPA connectivity for fast mobile internet. A Dual SIM version of the Moto E is also available in certain markets, making it one of the cheapest smartphones to offer this feature.

As far as the storage is concerned, you get only 4 GB of internal storage, which is further expandable via microSD up to 32 GB. The inclusion of expandable storage is definitely necessary, as 4 GB certainly isn’t enough to install anything more than just the bare essentials, even excluding all the media that you might be looking to store, that can also take up space very quickly.

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When it comes to the battery, the Moto E packs a 1,980 mAh unit, which is touted to be capable of lasting an entire day. This largely holds true, considering that a phone like this isn’t meant for even moderately heavy usage and media consumption. Basically, if you treat it like the communicator device it is meant to be, that is, making phone calls, working with SMS and emails, and some web browsing, you could easily get a full 12 hours of use out of it, and even more with power saving.

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The camera situation with the Moto E is bleak at best, and is one area where the most corners were cut. In a nutshell, you get a 5 MP rear shooter with a fixed focus and no flash, and there is no front facing camera.

Talking about the camera application, you get the same simplistic design that Motorola sticks with, and while HDR and Panorama modes are available, these are the only additions. Shooting is fairly fast, but without the quality and control, it feels like a stale trade off.

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As such, the quality of the photos is entirely dependent on your ability to set up the scene. Fixed focus is the biggest detractor, and thus requires you to be able to frame the scene yourself to allow for the best possible outcome. Any close up shots will remain blurry, while the lack of flash making low light situations a fringe shooting opportunity at best.

Ultimately, the 5 MP camera of the Moto E is nothing more than a required addition towards the overall smartphone experience, and far from a defining feature.

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When it comes to software, you do get Android 4.4.2, with a promise of timely updates from Motorola to at least the next iteration of Android, which makes the Moto E one of the easiest entry points for any new Android user. You get what you’d expect from the core experience, with homescreens, an app drawer, a notification dropdown menu, and quick settings.

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We’ve already talked about the periodical force closes, and the phone’s own limitations with regards to the low RAM and internal storage, but underneath the core surface are a few Motorola additions. Motorola Assist does help in certain instances, such as changing the phone settings to correspond with where it knows you are. Motorola Alert is a nice addition that aimed to towards helping you out from a predicament by sending emergency messages to specific contacts, and also includes a built-in alarm. And finally, Motorola Migrate helps you make the move from your previous device to your new Moto E.

The Moto E boasts an Android experience that is as close to stock Android as possible, and that is definitely a feather in the cap of the budget-friendly device.

Display4.3-inch LCD, qHD (540×960), 256 ppi, Gorilla Glass 3
1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon 200
Adreno 302
1 GB
4 GB, microSD card slot, up to 32GB
5 MP rear
1,980 mAh
GPS, microUSB 2.0, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
UMTS 850/900/1900/2100
AWS 850/1700/1900 (2100) + QGSM 850/900/1800/19000
GSM 850/900/1800/1900
CDMA 800/850/1900

Dual-SIM version
Android 4.4 KitKat
124.38 x 64.8 x 12.3 mm
142 grams
Black, Turquoise, Lime

So there you have it, the Moto E!  This is definitely a case where the phone falls in line with its retail value. While, for some people, this will be considered a steal, for others it is an indication of just what is missing in this device. What we have to remember is that those are two different camps, and this phone is trying to not only reach both groups of people, but everyone in between as well. In plenty of places around the world, the Moto E will likely be considered the gateway into the current world of smartphones. On the other side of the spectrum, people who might already have the means to buy higher tier devices will look to the Moto E as no more than just a backup phone.

No matter where you stand, what you get here is a phone made for the very bare essentials, and provides the core communication experience, a sturdy device that is easy to handle, and the battery power to keep you in touch with who is important to you. If there is anyone in your life that has never used Android, or a smartphone, before, this might give them the most accessible way to get started.