If you thought Motorola had left Australia, think again, because one of the pioneers of the mobile is back, and this time, it has something great for anyone keen not to spend an arm or a leg.
The second Motorola for 2014 in Australia is an entry class phone, which could be why Motorola has called it the “E,” or “Moto E” officially.
Inside this handset you’ll find a 4.3 inch quarterHD screen, also known as qHD and supporting the resolution of 960×540, with a pixel clarity of 256 pixels per inch. The third generation of Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass coating (Gorilla Glass 3) protects this screen, as does a level of anti-smudge coating.
Underneath this screen are the parts that make the Moto E work, and for that you’ll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor, a dual-core chip running at 1.2GHz and working alongside 1GB RAM, 4GB internal storage, and Google’s Android 4.4 “KitKat” running atop that storage.
Mobile connections are relatively standard for a low-end phone, with 802.11b/g/n, GPS, A-GPS, and Bluetooth 4.0 LE, with 3G connectivity complimenting this for mobile performance. Pretty much every telco in Australia should support the 3G offered by the Moto E, which is ideal since the E is sold unlocked.
Interestingly, the 3G on the Moto E is handled with not just one SIM slot, but two, with two microSIM slots found on the left slot, just above a microSD expansion slot for the 4GB storage inside the phone.
A camera can also be found on the Moto E, with a 5 megapixel shooter on the back, but no flash to accompany it.
Few buttons exist on Motorola’s E, mostly in line with the way Android handsets are heading. As such, you’ll find on-screen soft buttons for Android, and only two physical buttons, both located on the side and working for power and volume on the right edge.
Two ports can also be found, with a 3.5mm headset jack up top and a microUSB charge and data port at the bottom.
The rear plastic cover can be removed, revealing a fixed battery underneath with three slots, two for each microSIM and one for the microSD.
The battery is rated at 1980mAh.
Most of the handsets that pass by the GadgetGuy review desk are of a flagship nature, and that makes sense, since if you’re going to spend up to a grand on a phone, you should know what you’re buying into.
But some people don’t want to spend that much, and so we also review mid-range phones. Then there are people who don’t even want to spend that much, and that is precisely who this review is for, as we take a look at Motorola’s “E,” a new handset with a name — a letter, really — that could mean “everyone,” which is who this model might be made for.
Pick up the Motorola E and you’ll see a Moto X, especially if you’ve seen one before, albeit an X that is a little smaller in the hands. It’s a similar design from what we’ve seen before, with a softened rectangular shape, soft plastic back, and a build that feels good in your hands and won’t fall apart randomly.
There are a few design changes here and there, with a short soft chrome-look slit at the top where the speaker should be, and a longer one at the bottom where the microphone is, but by and large, this is the same style of body as the Moto X, with a basic design sitting around a 4.3 inch screen.
Switch the phone on and that 4.3 inch screen will come to life, showing a quarterHD resolution of 960×540 and a pixel clarity of 256 pixels per inch, on par with the screen out of the HTC Evo 3D, even if the Moto E lacks the ability to show 3D images without the glasses.
A ppi value of 256 isn’t anything to sneeze over, that said, 70 pixels from where Apple’s iPhone 5S is, and good enough for most people to view webpages on, as well as not look for pixels as they read websites, emails, or text files. The angles aren’t bad either, with minimal colour washout from various angles, and a solid amount of brightness provided the auto-brightness has been switched off.
Motorola’s special-sauce screen technology from the Moto X isn’t here, and that means the screen won’t light up in the middle to show you your notifications, but that’s fine, since there is a good $300 difference between the handsets.
Using the Moto E is just like using a Google Nexus phone, which should come as no surprise to people since Motorola was previously owned by Google. As a result of that ownership (and collaboration), the Moto E runs Android pretty much just like its brother, the Moto X, with Android the way Google envisioned it, complete with widgetised home screens, a lock screen, Google’s own drop-down notification bar, and an apps menu with tabs for apps and widgets.
It’s a pretty simple interface, and it is even one of the most up-to-date ones you’ll find, with an update rolled out to our handset mid-review bringing the Moto E up to Android 4.4.4, higher than the version running on this reviewer’s flagship handsets at the time.
There are some pretty cool inclusions on the Moto E, including the rear cover which is hard to remove — and that’s a good thing — and that it can be replaced with a more colourful case. We’re not sure how much they’ll be or where you’ll find them, but Motorola’s E rear covers will mean you can add a splash of colour to an E handset, more than just the black we’re used to seeing, and bring the old Nokia 8210 covers back to the front of our minds.
Also offered in the E is a second SIM slot, an unusual inclusion for a budget phone, and one that often is used by people going abroad, as it allows them to set up phone calls being made on one SIM, while text and data is handled by the other.
Motorola Assist is also a handy inclusion, a piece of software that Motorola installs to help you out by offering to switch your phone on silent when you’re sleeping or if you’re at a meeting.
While other phones include this sort of feature in the settings, having this in an app makes everything easy to explain, which will be handy for first-time users of the idea.
Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy is also here, a surprise inclusion since other modern wireless modes are missing in action, such as 802.11ac, infrared, and Near-Field Communication. We wish those three would have made an appearance, but we’re at least happy to see more than Bluetooth 2.0 or 3.0 in the Moto E, so that’s something to cheer for.
Performance isn’t quite as positive, though, because while it’s mostly balanced, you’ll find the 1GB RAM and relatively low spec’d Snapdragon 200 just doesn’t cut it for much more than basic web surfing, texting, emails, and phone calls. As you surf, you may find some lag between the page scrolling, some delay between pressing shortcuts for apps, and some time between when the camera opens and closes on various screens.
It is, for the most part, relatively minor, and also fairly expected, since the Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 isn’t exactly a high-end processor, which is exactly what we expect from a sub-$200 phone. That said, it’s worth being aware of, especially if you’re wondering why your new phone isn’t working as quickly as you are.
Also not working as quickly as you are is the mobile broadband performance, echoing something close to what we would receive in 2009 or 2010.
In our tests, we found speeds in Sydney on Telstra ranging from 3Mbps to 10Mbps, skipping out on the 3.5G-end of speeds altogether and missing out on 15Mbps. In fact, we mostly found the speeds were consistent around 5Mbps, which is far lower than most 3G only phones we’ve seen in recent years.
We hope you weren’t hoping for a decent camera, either.
It’s not that the 5 megapixel camera in Motorola’s E is the worst camera we’ve ever seen, but it’s not the best, not by a long shot, with the bare minimum of auto-focus, pretty weak quality in both daylight and at night, and no flash to boot.
No front-facing camera doesn’t help the lack of camera quality here, and in general, the quality across the board from the rear camera isn’t all that fantastic, so we’re not really surprised.
That said, it would have been nice to have something at least usable, because this camera is the sort we’d prefer to have not existed rather than be included in a sub-$200 smartphone, especially since there have been budget handsets with much better cameras thrown in for the cost.
The ultimate saving grace of Motorola’s $179 handset is its battery, and credit to Motorola, it’s not bad at all, providing almost two full days of battery life for us with its 1980mAh battery.
You can’t actually replace the battery in this handset, but that’s no bother since you’ll find a full day easily in this handset, and as much as two, possibly three if you use the handset less than we did, and our tests have us listening to streaming music, surfing the web, making phone calls, texting, writing and checking mails, and playing the odd game here and there.
Two days in a 4 inch phone isn’t bad at all. We can’t complain about this result, and neither should you.
Motorola’s attempt to take on the budget market is an interesting product, culminating in a handset that you’d be happy to own provided you weren’t dependent on the lacklustre camera and lack of 4G.
Without these two aspects, the Moto E flies in, providing a solid value for anyone keen to have an up-to-date mobile handset without spending that aforementioned arm and a leg.
But if you value faster mobile broadband speeds and would prefer usable cameras all around, we’d probably add a hundred bucks more to the picture, because at that price point, you’ll start to see some better all-rounders from more than just Motorola.