Our full review of Motorola's Moto E budget phone, a great-value £89 Android KitKat device with some stunning specs and only one real weakness...
When we first heard the price of Motorola’s Moto E smartphone, a fully-fledged 4.3-inch Android KitKat handset, our exact words were something like “that’s ****ing *****”. Just £89 bags you a responsive, easy-to-use mobile with all the features you’d expect from something twice the price.
Normally we’d say don’t even bother reading this review, just go out and buy the thing (actually, we’d say read this review anyway, and click a few links, and then go out and buy it). But we have a quandary, and that quandary is the better-specced Moto G, which is now available for just £99.
Bear that in mind as we dive into the Moto E’s world...
Motorola Moto E design: Firm and soft
For just £89 you might expect a phone made of plasticine and belly fluff, but the Motorola Moto E is a solidly constructed and attractive little beast. It’s a little more rounded than its older sibling the Moto G, but once again uses on-screen buttons and has a snap-off rear plate that can be swapped for a variety of colours. We’re talking the whole rainbow here, which is great - we’ve had enough of drab, black cheapy handsets.
Build quality is superb throughout. The Moto E’s screen is solid, not showing any flex under pressure, while the back plate is firmly attached and again shows no hint of weakness. Best of all, the Moto E is really comfortable to clutch and operate. That 4.3-inch screen makes for easy one-handed operation, and the soft-touch back helps to keep the phone in your grasp.
Our only complaint would be that the Moto E is a little chunky, but frankly that’s just moaning for the sake of it.
Pop the back plate off and you’ll find the SIM card slot, and also a microSD memory card slot. That’s a great addition at this price point, and fantastic news for anyone who wants to carry music around, download tons of apps or take lots of photos. We filled the 2GB of available space in about half a second.
Motorola Moto E setup and features: Easy peasy
We’re also chuffed with how easy the Motorola Moto E is to set up. Like all Android phones you’re prompted to sign into WiFi networks and Google accounts the first time you boot it up, but Motorola has gone even further by helping you to migrate your stuff from your old phone and set up free security features.
Motorola Migrate doesn’t just copy your contacts from your rickety old blower, it’ll also chuck over your music, videos, photos and even messages, so you can keep those deeply regrettable texts you sent to your ex at 3am. All you need to do is download the app onto your old phone from Google Play, and then hook both phones up to your Wi-Fi. Of course, you’ll need to plug a microSD memory card into the Moto E first, as there’s only 1GB of free space.
Protect Your Phone is a nifty integrated security feature that can be turned on in mere seconds, and allows you to remotely locate, lock and wipe your phone if you go and lose the damn thing. There are free apps on Android that do much the same, but it’s nice to have a solution already on the phone, which is so quick and easy to set up.
You’ll also find a Moto Assist feature, which is a little limited right now but has the potential to expand. It’s not exactly a virtual assistant as we hoped, but instead aims to prevent interruptions during meetings or your regular sleeping period, by automatically silencing your phone. We’d prefer a greater variety of assist options, and perhaps the ability to silence by flipping the phone over rather than selecting specific sleeping times, but we’re hopeful that Motorola will have another bash soon.
Motorola Moto E screen and media: Mini hero
Like the Moto G before it, the Moto E packs a brilliant screen for the price. That 4.3-inch display isn’t quite high definition like the Moto G’s, but the 960 x 540-pixel resolution (256ppi) beats out the rest of the similarly-priced competition and produces sharp, pleasing images.
At 4.3-inches, the Moto E’s screen is just about big enough to comfortably browse the web and bash out emails on the virtual keyboard, while also compact enough to comfortably use with one hand. The screen isn’t particularly bright annoyingly, and we did occasionally struggle out in bright conditions, and the Moto G also produced cleaner, brighter whites. That said, the Moto E’s screen is still colourful and definitely strong for a budget display.
One advantage that the Moto E has over the original Moto G is its expandable storage (there’s a microSD memory card slot tucked away underneath the case). That’s great news for media fans, as you’ll be able to carry your whole music collection and even a fair few videos. Of course, given the Moto E only has 4GB of space compared with the 8GB Moto E, you’ll need all the help you can get.
Motorola Moto E performance and battery life: Longer lasting pleasure
We still get the shakes when we think back a couple of years to the slew of cheapy Android Gingerbread smartphones that flooded our office. The horror as we tried to open an app or skip through a menu, and watched the little plastic turds shudder and cough under the stress, or even lock up entirely.
Motorola’s Moto E is the exact opposite. Even with live wallpaper enabled, the Android KitKat desktops scrolled smoothly and we saw nary a stutter while zipping around the menus and loading apps. Motorola reckons the Moto E can even open apps such as the camera and browser faster than the Samsung Galaxy S4, and in our tests they were at the very least neck-and-neck (although our Galaxy S4 runs less than brilliantly these days).
However, our jaws really dropped into our laps when we started gaming. Even the latest fast-paced action and racing games played with surprisingly smooth frame rates. We’d expect things to chug a bit more as time goes on and apps and games become more demanding, but the Moto E should certainly cope well in the short time.
As for battery life, it’s more good news. After 24 hours of regular use (emails, web browsing, snapping a few photos and so on), we still had over 40% battery life remaining. If you’re always watching video or playing games on your commute, you’ll get a commendable return on each charge too. Non-stop movie streaming whittled down a full battery charge in a little over five hours, a fine effort for a budget blower.
Motorola Moto E camera: No more selfies
Sadly there is a weak link in the Moto E’s otherwise sturdy and shiny chain, and that’s the camera. The 5-megapixel rear lens isn’t a bad snapper by any means, but it’s significantly weaker than the Moto G’s camera, and the Moto E slashes a front-facing shooter so you can’t get your video chats on the go.
And while the Moto G’s rear cam had full auto and manual focus, the Moto E uses a fixed-focus lens. This basically tries to capture as much of the scene as sharply as possible, but we found our up-close-and-personal shots often came out blurry. There’s also no flash, unlike the Moto G, so forget about evening shots.
All that grumbling aside, the Moto E’s camera does a decent job when shooting natural scenes outdoors. There’s a slight delay between taking shots, but our photos looked sharp enough to show off on digital photo frames or online, and the ability to select an area for exposure helps with tricky lighting conditions.
Motorola Moto E verdict
Right, it’s time to be annoyingly contradictory.
Do we love the Motorola Moto E? Yes, we do. It’s a great performer for the price, with a colourful screen, fun design, and plenty of great features that make it easy to set up and use.
Would we recommend it? Ngggggg, sadly not.
For just a tenner more, you can pick up Motorola’s Moto G smartphone, which has a few advantages over the Moto E. The HD screen is sharper and brighter, and a little bigger too. Also the camera features auto and manual focus, and there’s an LED flash for night shots. That’s a lot of plusses for not much moolah.
The only advantage the Moto E boasts is its expandable storage, which admittedly is great news if you plan on carrying loads of music, videos and apps around. But we’d honestly take the screen and camera boosts over it - and if you can spare a little extra cash, the new Moto G 4G packs a memory card slot, although costs a significant chunk more at £149.