Update: Just an hour after I had published this post, Motorola introduced Moto E 2nd Gen. Packing quad core processor, 8GB RAM, LED flash, front VGA camera, and of course Android 5.0 Lollipop out-of-the-box. Available in LTE and 3G versions, priced at $120 and $150 respectively.
Motorola made an great move that gave them a hope to win their share in the hyper competitive market of smartphones when they introduced Moto G back in late 2013. Instead of trying to compete with flagship models from other brands such as Samsung Galaxy S line, HTC One, or Google’s own Nexus series to name some, they turned their focus on middle market. It was actually a more challenging market to enter as they would need to compete with Chinese phone makers who could always offer a lower priced models in a blink of an eye.
That did not stop Motorola to win in that tough category though. Notable number of very positive reviews made it as one of most popular phones available under $200 that year. All thanks to the right mix of features:
- The price was relatively lower than the mid-end range of more familiar brands (ie. Samsung, LG, HTC). It even allowed it to compete with Chinese brand smartphones.
- It came with almost plain Android latest version, which was good. By 2013 Google had made lots of improvements over the OS’s UI and it actually looked better than most other makers’ custom UI. It also allowed the OS to be updated rather quickly when Google released the next Android version.
- It was equipped with just the right components. Not the latest and greatest, but more than enough to impress anyone using it as their first Android phone: 4.5″ 720p (329 ppi) screen, quad core CPU, 1 GB of RAM, external MicroSD slot, and LTE to name a few.
- There is only one model (with 8GB and 16GB internal storage for variation) in their mid-range product line. Other makers usually have half or even a dozen of different models competing against each other with new models coming every 2-3 months. That was just too confusing. Motorola did this right, just like Apple with the iPhone.
- Good battery life. Some that is usually sacrificed when making low cost devices or just install it with any OS available on the table without properly tweak it.
The success of Moto G was then followed with a refresh in September 2014, preserving the same name. Some upgrades here and there, notably was the screen size had been increased to 5″ while preserving the resolution at 1280 x 720 px, which means lower ppi but still looked great.
“Wait, I thought this review is about Moto E not Moto G?” you say. Yes, we will get into it. I find it is important for you to understand the genes that made Moto E and know that it is not just a lame attempt by Motorola to grab the biggest market segment with a disappointing product.
With Moto G had proven to be a hit, time for Motorola to aim the low end segment. Do not get it wrong, this is the emerging market. With the decline of Nokia and Blackberry, the market needs products that can fill the gap. Same as mid-level, the segment had been pre-populated with Chinese branded models.
Using the same formula for Moto G, the Moto E was introduced in May 2014, between first and and second generation of Moto G. The result: a sub $100 Android based smartphone for literally anyone. Seriously, the price is quite insane considering what you get from a reputable brand:
- 1.2 GHz Dual-core Cortex A7 CPU
- 1 GB RAM
- 4 GB internal storage
- MicroSD slot
- 1,980 mAh (non user-replaceable)
- 4.3″ screen with Corning Gorilla Glass 3 @ 960×540 px (256 ppi)
- 5 MP rear camera (no flash)
- GPS / GLONASS, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 for connectivity
Those are more than enough to do every smart things from your phone, except to run resource intensive games, but let’s get real with the expectations. The two things you might (or not) miss are front camera and flash on the rear camera. To keep things short, if you require to take a photo or selfie from your phone day and night, this is not the right phone for you. For the rest, you can continue reading my review.
I got my unit last week because I needed a secondary phone which would allow me to use a separate number from my personal one. For the note, I use iPhone 5s for my primary phone.
Holding the unit for the first time, it felt heavier than I had thought, but it wouldn’t break an arm. In matter of fact, I like it because it does not feel cheap. The construction is solid and the finish is more than what you pay. Screen is obviously not “retina” quality but honestly 256 ppi is still a good density. So in short: impressive. I have been playing with it more than I thought I would, which eventually lead me to write this post.
Inside the box there were earphones set with handsfree, Micro-USB charger and cable, but I left them intact since I already have Sanctuary4 from Bluelounge as my charging station.
Android 5.0 Lollipop
One of the biggest challenges in buying Android phone, especially mid to low end models, is not knowing whether it will get the software update it deserves. It sort of defeats the purpose of having a smartphone if you are going to get stuck with the current version of Android OS at the time of purchase. To most manufacturers their goal is achieved the second you buy their products.
Luckily thanks to Motorola almost plain Android approach, and the fact that Motorola Mobility was owned by Google for a short period, the Moto G and Moto E can avoid that sad ending. The latest Android version 5, codenamed Lollipop, is coming to Moto E very soon. Officially it is under Soak Test, which can be translated as beta phase.
Of course if you are like me and simply cannot wait for the official release, there are multiple blog and forum posts that can guide you to upgrade to 5.0.2 immediately. It is not for everyone though, so if you are not very comfortable in messing with command lines or simply do not want to brick your Moto E, then my advice is to be patient just a little bit. It is coming.
So what’s the outcome after upgrading to Lollipop? Well, it makes a good device into lovable.
Four words: I love Material Design! Material Design is the latest design/visual language developed by Google and incorporated into Android 5 Lollipop. It is a HUGE improvement and for the first time ever, I feel Google has done a better job compared to iOS 8’s flat design philosophy. In the case of Moto E, the new design works great with the screen resolution. It does not magically increase the pixel density, but it is definitely more pleasing to the eyes and individual pixels become less noticeable.
Many reviewers claim a boost in term of speed/performance after upgrading to Lollipop. To be fair, maybe that is the case with higher end models. Considering Moto E does not use the latest quad or octa core CPU and only 1GB RAM, I am already happy this upgrade does not make the phone super laggy. Again a common case when older device gets the latest major OS update, it even happens with the iPhones. Scrolling the Home screen and tapping on app icons feels smooth.
Remember that I only use my Moto E as a secondary phone. I typically only spend 30-60 minutes a day doing real activities on it, but it can easily pass over 3 days with a single charge. Wi-Fi is always on and my model is the dual SIM version with both SIM cards active. If I disable wireless and only active one SIM, no doubt I can get an even longer life. I am quite confident for typical use like browsing, managing email, SMS, instant messaging and a number of calls, this thing can last throughout the day without sweating.
The Motorola Moto E is a fine piece of device for its price. $100 is average amount of money people used to spend to buy typical Nokia phone less than 5 years ago without caring about CPU, RAM, or camera capability as long as they can make calls and send out SMS. If you keep your thoughts simple, than you would realize how good deal it is. With the update to Lollipop, the experience will improve even further.
Who should buy Moto E:
- Someone already using a smartphone and need a secondary one, like me
- Someone who wants to replace his or her really old phone and learning using a smartphone
- First time Android user
- Parents who want to give their kid his or her first phone
- Android fan who wants a cheaper device to tinker
These people might get disappointed with Moto E:
- A selfie junkie
- Someone who requires to do video calls every now and then
- Someone who plans to put a hundred apps and all his media files into his phone
- A person who just lost his iPhone 6 or Galaxy S5 and looking for a replacement
- Customer who always in need to have the greatest gadget but not willing to pay premium for it