Motorola Moto E review

When Motorola launched the Moto G smartphone last year, it said it wanted to offer "an affordable smartphone for people who don't want to compromise on quality, experience or style". It more than succeeded in that venture, and now its focus shifts to the even more budget section of the market with the Motorola Moto E.

The Moto E is less spec-savvy than its bigger brother Moto G, but it still puts on a darn good show considering its £89 asking price. By cutting back on the specification and price point has Motorola got the balance right to be the budget king once again? We've been living with the Moto E as our go-to phone for a couple of weeks to see whether it adds up.

Great design

The Moto E has clearly taken some design cues from the Moto G. There's a similar curved back that is soft and warm to the touch, along with a matte finish that is, once again, a delight to hold.

READ: Motorola Moto G review

It looks great and one-handed operation is a breeze, making a nice change from the bigger devices that we are starting to become accustomed to. However, that said, it may be a little too small for some - it's all about personal preference.

The Moto E measures approximately 125 x 65mm and is just over 12mm thick, which makes it small enough to slip into your pocket or bag - but it's far from the thinnest of smartphones out there. One of the first things we noticed was it felt a little weighty considering the size, and although the 142g weight is hardly going to break the scales it's noticeable for a phone just one gram lighter than the larger Moto G. The E almost feels heavier as a result.

The two devices are almost identical if you look at them from the sides, with the Moto E featuring the same headphone jack on the top, charging port on the bottom, along with the metal-finish volume rocker and power button on the right-hand side. That's good news for easy-to-use control, although we found the buttons were a lot harder to press than the Moto G's - so snapping a screenshot was a little more effort, for example.

The rear of the Moto E has been simplified in comparison to the Moto G and it's actually to its advantage because it looks better: less fuss and more streamlined, with just the camera lens and the circular 'M' branding indent.

When we held the phone to our ear, we found our index finger rested over the rear camera lens rather than within this indent. The natural holding position of our finger was over the camera lens and we had to keep adjusting for it, which wasn't particularly comfortable.

The front of the Moto E has also introduced new design characteristics: a metal bar at the top and bottom where the respective speaker and microphone grilles are. It provides a premium feel to this otherwise budget handset and the quality of sound output it not only great, but loud too. 

However, next to the top grille is a small black rectangle for the LED notification light which blends in with the bezel on the black handset, but stands out significantly on the white option and undoes some of the design subtlety.

Speaking of colours, the Moto E offers interchangeable backs so you can select alternative colours. Being able to match your phone to your outfit or mood is a nice touch and it wins the Moto E points in the saturated entry-level market. It's nothing new in the smartphone world though, but it's a feature we like as it offers a cheap way to refresh the handset.

For a plastic handset, the Moto E looks great and has an almost premium feel. We weren't embarrassed to carry it around as its design offers a lot more than the £90 price tag originally suggests. We've spent more on a pair of shoes before now that didn't offer the same satisfaction.

Good display

The Moto E comes with a 4.3-inch display that sports a 960 x 540 resolution, meaning a 256ppi pixel density. That's a step down in the resolution stakes compared to the Moto G but, again, for the money it's as sharp as you can get in this class.

The difference between the two Motorola displays is quite obvious when you put the two devices side-by-side, but if you take the Moto E on its own merits, the display is fine. You might notice a slight fuzziness in the detail, as this is no top-spec smartphone, but it's so slight that you won't notice it in isolation - you'd need have to have a sharper display next to it to highlight the difference.

The colours the Moto E produces are punchy and vibrant, making for a pleasant viewing experience. The viewing angles are also good, almost inline with the Moto G and certainly better than the Acer Liquid Z5, meaning the display does its job well at this level of the market. However, the whites aren't the purest we've seen, but the blacks are rich and deep. 

READ: Acer Liquid Z5 review

The Moto E has a thin bezel and edge-to-edge display much like the Moto X's design - and it looks great. However, at the bottom of the device where that metal bar and speaker lives it feels like there's wasted space.

You'll find the same Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection on the Moto E as the Moto G offers, and there is also a splash-resistant coating. We've had the Moto E in our bag and our pockets, next to keys, chargers and coins but we haven't managed to scratch it yet. Not that we're actively trying. The only thing it has been affected by is temporary fingerprints: the ones that you'll persistently rub off using a fistful of whichever top you happen to be wearing.

Hardware and performance

The Moto E performs well enough thanks to the 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor and Adreno 302 with a 400MHz GPU under the hood. With just 1GB of RAM, however, it's less proficient than higher-spec devices - many of which come with 2GB or 3GB - which means longer waiting times when loading apps.

Where we found it to struggle the most was with more demanding games such as Angry Birds Go!. This game isn't the quickest app to load at the best of times, even on a flagship device, but the Moto E took an additional 25 seconds longer than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to get it up and running. With less significant games, such as Candy Crush Saga, we found the Motorola loaded titles on par with the flagship Samsung.

Overall we found the Moto E to switch between tasks and apps without a problem, despite the wait, and once apps are open the device goes about its business without any delay. Given that it costs about five times less than the top-spec devices out there, that's a compromise we can live with.

If you're after the fastest mobile connectivity then you'll need to look elsewhere as there's no 4G on board. Not a deal breaker, as 3G works just fine, but other devices such as the EE Kestrel do offer 4G at a similar price point.

READ: EE Kestrel review

When it comes to storage, the Moto E offers microSD storage to expand upon its limited 4GB of internal memory. You'll need to buy a microSD card, of course, but as the Moto G lacked this optional expansion we see it as a big push forward in the Moto E. It brought a smile to our face when we saw it on the spec sheet as it means fewer limits on storing all those extra files, photos and videos you capture.

Camera

Although when it comes to photos and videos you probably won't want to take that many. The Moto E offers a 5-megapixel rear camera but there is no LED flash present like the Moto G and its results are far from good. Actually, they're pretty bad.

The shots we took featured a lot of image noise and although the colours were good, the lack of autofocus - it's fixed focus only - was a problem, making many of our images look blurred.

When it came to night shots we had problems too as, without a flash, it made taking low-light pictures virtually impossible unless you were just looking for silhouettes in a dark room.

Controlling the camera is easy though: swipe from the left to bring up the settings menu, just like the Moto G offers, which offers HDR, Panorama, Exposure Control and Geo Tagging options; while a swipe right will take you to the Gallery. Then tap anywhere on the screen to take a photo, which is particularly handy if you need to grab a shot quickly.

Unfortunately to zoom you need to swipe rather than pinch and this feature is one we still can't get used to. These digital zoom shots further amplify the image noise that appears - so to avoid shots looking too horrible we would suggest you get a bit closer to your subject instead.

You'll also be disappointed if you are a selfie junkie as, oddly, there is no front-facing camera either. Despite our dislike of the word selfie, the rise in popularity for such ego shots made us think it would be a key feature. All about cost savings we would think.

Android 4.4

The Moto E ships with Android 4.4, better known as KitKat. Motorola offers the raw Google Android experience, just like on the Moto G, so you won't find any tweaks or manufacturer skins on top. This will be a positive for some and a negative for others, depending on your preference. And if you don't know your KitKat from your Jelly Bean or your HTC from your Sony then, well, you won't really care much either - because it all works well.

In the latest version of KitKat there are a number of benefits such as an improved phone dialler - it allows you to look up contacts and favourites from the dial pad - and additional photo editing options and filters in the Gallery. You'll also find support for printing photos and other content using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, coloured emoji, Google Voice Search, and a new version of Google Hangouts all provide plenty to play with.

Moto Migrate and Moto Assist

While the software may not be a Motorola exclusive, the Moto E does come with the Moto Migrate and Moto Assist features as found on the Moto G.

The Moto Migrate is brilliant and offers an easy way to move from one device to another without the faff or worry of losing things. All you have to do is download the Moto Migrate app on the device you are moving from and it will pair your Moto E with your other device using a QR code. After the devices are paired, the app will transfer your photos, SIM contacts and call and text history.

It didn't take too long for us to move across to the Moto E and we could use both our phones while the process was taking place - really handy as it meant we didn't miss any calls or have to stop what we were doing.

Moto Assist is also a great feature and one that we grew to love when we were using the Moto G, and now again with the Moto E. It uses your Google Calendar to work out when you are in a meeting, changing the settings on your device accordingly to make sure you don't get interrupted. It will allow you to create exceptions such as making sure a specific contact, such as your partner or parents, can always contact you. Alternatively you can set it to allow a call to come through if a contact has called twice within five minutes, with the assumption being that it's an important call rather than just one asking what you want for dinner.

Additionally, the Moto Assist feature comes with an Auto Reply function and Sleeping setting. The former will reply to your favourite contacts with a pre-set message that you can edit while the latter will set your device to silent when you have gone to bed.

Battery

The battery is another area where the Moto E makes its mark. Under the hood there is a 1920mAh capacity cell that Motorola claims will give you 24 hours of power. Just like the Moto G, we didn't manage to get the full day of use but the battery did hold out well enough.

We were accepting calls, sending messages, checking emails, using social media, sending WhatsApp messages, taking the odd photo and listening to music, throughout the day and we managed to get around 13 hours. It might not be an entire day but is still an impressive amount of time and as much as you'll need to get through an average working day.

The battery saver feature will give you a run-down of what applications are eating away at the battery - so if you do need it to survive a bit longer then you can always shut specific apps or do the usual tricks such as making sure the screen brightness is dimmed.

Verdict

The Moto E is a brilliant device for the price. If your budget doesn't stretch beyond £100 then we would say - ignoring the lack of 4G connectivity - that there isn't a competing device that offers the same overall experience, specification and design.

Despite the price point the Moto E has glimpses of premium about its build; the matte finish on the rear makes it a delight to hold and the metal buttons feel quality. Add some useful software features, a true Android experience, solid battery life, microSD slot for storage expansion, quality sound output and it's an undeniably decent device.

On the not-so-good side of the coin the rear camera really isn't up to much and the lack of a front-facing one feels like an oddity, plus the screen resolution is fairly low. But that's hardly surprising given the price.

All said and done the Moto E gives plenty of bang for your buck. But it sits in a busy market, and one that's already dominated by Motorola. That, in part, is the Moto E's undoing, because we would still opt to spend a little more cash and buy the 4G Moto G instead. But that can't detract from the Moto E's successes: it's a great phone available at a great price.