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Moto E Review: you get what you pay for...and a little more

Review by Andrew Kameka on Thursday June 19, 2014.

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Moto E
Moto E

At some point, the "You get what you pay for" saying can't be stretched any further. We've seen advancements in technology make features once thought high-end become requisite. So when companies continue to push the limits of what can be accomplished at the bottom barrel of the pricing structure, it's expected that they'll eventually reach their breaking point and deliver a disappointment. The Moto E arrives at a time when companies are doing the opposite and delivering even lower priced smartphones with even higher performance. The Moto E is one of the cheapest notable Android phones in recent history, but how low can you price a phone and not release a terrible handset?

Hardware and Design

Motorola says that the E was built to last despite its cut throat price. The phone mostly lives up to the billing because after dropping the phone on the rocky hills of provincial Jamaica, the screen didn't crack thanks to Gorilla Glass 3 protection. The removable back cover still feels finicky and has since I first held the device, yet it has so far remained secure. Though the phone is water resistant, it's only meant to repel light splashes like rain drops or a small glass of water spilled onto a table. This is only for light water, so dropping it into a pool of water or puddle is a potentially fatal mishap.

Moto E
Moto E

Motorola's 2013 design language continues with the Moto E. You can draw a straight line from the Moto X to the G to the E and see how it regresses in terms of power but keeps some of the external strengths in tact. The phone is thick and short in its bite sized form, and the sloped back stays in a shape meant to form into someone's hand. The hard plastic coating gets dirty very easily so be sure to keep alcohol wipes handy for cleaning. For that reason, it makes a lot more sense to purchase a black Moto E rather than the other bright color options. The Moto E is also a nice change of pace for people who have grown tired of the super phone era where even devices with a 4.7-inch screen can be classified as "mini" handsets. It's a phone that's far more comfortable to hold.

Screen Quality

The Moto E manages to be so comfortable because it has a 4.3-inch display with qHD (960x540). There's nothing particularly spectacular about the IPS screen, and no one would reasonably expect it any other way. The Moto E's display is small and lands on the good side of being average thanks to strong brightness within its class and somewhat muted but solid color range. Looking not-so-closely can make the display somewhat pixelated -- take a look at the text of home screen icons to see the easiest example -- on the home screens but it's still of reasonable clarity. Within a few days of staring at the low-res screen, my eyes were fine making the adjustment because of the smaller overall display area. I would have preferred a screen better capable of outdoor visibility, especially when the Jamaican sun was at its brightest, but the display is acceptable.

Moto E
Moto E


The performance grade of the Moto E is in a similar territory. We saw with the Moto G that even a less powerful processor is still capable of being a consistently smoother performer with the right software optimizations, and the Moto E is like that to a lesser extent. While the Moto G was slower at loading games but still just as good as the Moto X in my experience, the E is a gaming liability that can load Riptide or Runbot comfortably, but the GPU won't deliver as strongly as other handsets. There was also some inexplicable cause of crashes. I installed the same set of apps that I normally use on every test phone and things were fine for one week, but I suddenly started getting frequent crashes on several apps, including preloaded options like YouTube. A factory reset was later necessary for me to get back on track and have a mostly headache-free experience.

Real world activity is much better at holding up its end of the bargain. Jumping in between apps and browsing the internet were headache-free, despite the seemingly anemic specs. The Moto E has a dual-core 1.2 GHz quad-core processor with 1GB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage. The software keeps things light and takes advantage of Android 4.4 KitKat's ability to run smoothly even with low memory, so it's able to accomplish more with less. I was able to enjoy using my device comfortably, and really only felt pressed once returning to the Moto E minutes after I cheated and reverted back to a higher-end device for a few hours. Someone who uses the device full-time will acclimate to the better than anticipated performance.

Moto E
Moto E

Key Specs

- 4.3-inch IPS display w/ 960x540 resolution (256ppi)
- 1.2 GHz quad-core processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon 200)
- Adreno 302 400 MHz single-core GPU
- 1GB RAM, 4GB internal storage, 32GB microSD
- 1,980 mAh battery
- 5-megapixel camera
- Bluetooth 4.0 LE, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 2.4 GHz
- Android 4.4 KitKat
- Dimensions: 124.8 x 64.8 x 12.3mm (4.91 x 2.55 x 0.48in)
- Weight: 142g (5 oz)

Moto E
Moto E


As with any Motorola device, there's not much to say about the software other than to be content with how close it is to the regular versions of Android. Or, depending on perspective, complain about how close it is to the regular version of Android. Motorola's Android 4.4 KitKat software loaded on the device doesn't come with the value-added tweaks one might spot on an HTC, LG, or Samsung handset. It also doesn't come with the perceived lag or bloat associated with those devices either. Instead is a software package that's visually identical to stock Android and only has a few add-ons.

Sadly, hardware limitations mean the Moto E also does without the great Motorola enhancements like ActiveDisplay or always-on voice prompts. The only real enhancement is Motorola Alert, a new system designed to track close contacts and notify them in an emergency. Alert can be set to share location with families, so parents can know if their child made it to school or friends can know that Jane is heading out for an after-work drink. The app also has a one-tap "Emergency" button that sends messages to your desired contact or contacts emergency services if something happens.

Motorola Alert
Motorola Alert

Motorola also includes its Migrate app to help transfer content from an iPhone or Android device to a Moto E. The on-board software is otherwise standard Android with Google apps dominating all service needs and an understated dark black theme permeating throughout the menus. It makes sense that there isn't much else going on because this is a phone designed to fulfill the most basic needs at maximum value. Well, maximum within the parameters of an entry-level/midrange device. To that end, it lives up to the hype. You get a solid browser in Chrome, plenty of cloud services that sync with your productive or entertainment needs, and get a large number of apps to download from Google Play.

Moto E app drawer and battery tracker
Moto E app drawer and battery tracker

Every Motorola's flagship smartphone has a weak camera, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that the Moto E has a terrible camera. The 5-megapixel camera routinely struggles to focus and has dark colors when snapping photos. The only good photos I ever managed to take with the phone were when I went out in direct sunlight and there was absolutely no motion taking place. Even on the well-lit verandas of family and friends or inside, photos were fuzzy. The lack of flash means night time photos are out of the question, and there's no front facing camera for video chats or self-portraits. Lower your expectations when using the Moto E, and then lower them further when looking at the sample images below.

Data and Communication

I've spent one month with the Moto E and got a chance to test it with two networks in two different countries and several cities. The unlocked phone delivered strong 4G HSPA+ speeds in Kingston and Mandeville, Jamaica, and it was equally up to the task in New York City. There's no 4G LTE, but the phone is designed for markets that probably don't have that technology yet. On Digicel, the call reception was solid even when I was in the rural areas of Jamaica, and the same was true of the congested urban New York area. The large silver bar at the bottom of the phone is the microphone that does a solid job of making your voice clear, but the speakerphone mode has harsher sounds on both ends of the call.

Moto E
Moto E

Battery Life

The Moto E does exceptionally well in the battery department. I arrived in Jamaica with a full charge Friday afternoon and spent the remainder of the day coordinating meetings with family, browsing Twitter, and watched YouTube on Wi-Fi. The phone didn't need to be recharged until Saturday evening. Sure, there's only a 1,980 mAh capacity, but with a small screen, moderate processor, and no LTE draining resources, the Moto E will almost always provide a full day of power.

Moto E
Moto E


Motorola has rested its hat on delivering the most phone possible for the least money necessary. The company cut corners on the Moto X and focused on software, then cut even more corners with the Moto G and focused on price. With the Moto E, it's raced to lower depths and still managed to create a phone worth buying. That's because the Moto E costs only $129 without a contract. At that price, no other smartphone comes close. I'd recommend anyone considering a Moto E aim a little higher and get the Moto G if they can afford it, but for someone whose first priority is the budget, the Moto E is the best option. The camera is abysmal and the form is a little shaky, but the Moto E is good in so many other key areas that it's hard to not be impressed by how good a phone can be even when aiming to go downmarket.

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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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