Motorola’s Moto G smartphone shocked everyone. Mid-range handsets rarely delight avid smartphone enthusiasts, as they’re often riddled with compromises and offer little in the way of innovation. The Moto G bucked this trend with stellar performance for its low-cost price-tag, alongside a clean design and minimal tweaks to the Android experience.
Now, Motorola is back with the Moto E, an entry-level smartphone that aims to supersede the higher-end feature phones and bevy of slow, cheaply made Android handsets. With the tagline “goodbye dumphone,” Motorola is pitching a low-end smartphone for the masses. This is about mid-range performance, coupled with a price-tag ($129) that everyone can afford.
The Moto E isn’t Motorola’s most elegantly designed piece of hardware. It’s a pleasant handset, but it doesn’t have the style or sophistication that made theMoto X stand out. On the front, you’ll find two chrome speaker grills at the top and bottom, which increase its physical size and, unfortunately, tends to pull your attention away from its compact 4.3-inch display.
The build quality is top-notch, however. Although you can peel off the interchangeable backs – called Motorola Shells – at any time with your finger nails, the Moto E feels like a single, cohesive device. The adjoining line is clearly visible, but the sheer density of the hardware gives it some considerable heft. At five ounces, this is by no means the lightest smartphone for its size, but you get the impression it could easily withstand a few drops and knocks.
The volume rocker and power button are located on the right-hand side, nearing the top of the device. You can reach them easily without adjusting your grip, but they don’t feel particularly well-built. While the Moto X buttons were clicky and responsive, these are mushy and lack sufficient travel.
On the back, the Moto E shares a near-identical design to its pricier siblings. The circular camera module is discreet and doesn’t protrude from the back Shell, so you can place the handset on a flat surface and it’ll sit perfectly still. The dimpled Motorola logo is a delight too – your index finger will rest there naturally and it only improves the ergonomics of the hardware.
Alongside the Moto X and Moto G however, the Moto E is a little chubby. The curved back and rounded edges give it a healthy dose of style, but it’s not enough to hide the Moto E’s portly profile. It’s a shame, because shaving just a couple of millimeters would have made a huge difference here.
Pixels, or a lack thereof, make a huge difference. The Moto E sports a 540 x 660 resolution display (256 ppi), covered by tough Gorilla Glass 3 and an anti-smudge coating – which rarely flatters Google’s mobile OS.
Stop for a moment and you’ll immediately notice the jagged edges surrounding each app icon, as well as the soft text and UI elements littered across each screen. The panel is fairly bright though and, even in direct sunlight, I was able to unlock the handset and navigate apps without shielding the screen.
Viewing angles are respectable and color representation is accurate, for the most part. Blacks are strong and deep, but whites tend to border on a dull, faint grey. This is particularly noticeable when browsing ebooks, emails and the Web – the Moto E simply lacks the contrast needed to display this content properly.
Despite these problems, Motorola has nailed the fundamentals. The touchscreen is responsive and does an admirable job of hiding the usual smudges and occasional scratch. It’s neither impressive or terrible, instead sitting comfortably in the realm of adequacy. For an Android smartphone with such an affordable price-tag, that’s an achievement in itself really.
Finally, a new Android smartphone with front-facing speakers. The placement makes a great deal of sense when you consider how everyone is consuming media on their mobile devices. Too many manufacturers bolt the speaker(s) to the back of the device, which reduces power and stereo sound reproduction when you’re staring at the screen. For music videos, sports highlights and Instagram clips, it’s just a poor design choice and wildly inefficient.
None of this is a problem with the Moto E. The speaker grille on the front packs some real punch; if you’re sat on the beach or want to share something in a crowded room, you can ramp up the volume and easily make yourself heard. While I was working on this review, I found that 50 percent of the handset’s maximum volume was easily enough to fill my room with some tunes.
The speaker is crisp and clear, although the dynamic range is somewhat lacking. High notes are sharp and punchy, but you’ll notice some distortion at higher volumes. At the low-end, the bass is shallow and underwhelming, although that’s common for most smartphones – regardless of the OS.
These are small blemishes against an above-average speaker, however. The overall performance is excellent and casts a long shadow over similar smartphones in its class. If you use your handset for music and podcast playback in your home, the Moto E should serve you well.
It’s worth noting that with a pair of headphones, the handset is equally impressive. Audio playback will, of course, vary depending on your choice of earbuds and the format/source of the content, but regardless of which “cans” I’m using – the Moto E is always able to deliver.