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Moto E review: The new benchmark for budget devices?

As Motorola drive their products even further down in price than the Moto G, does the compromise become too much?

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The Moto E is £89. SIM Free. In your hands. No contract, no SIM lock, no strings attached. Compare that to the SIM free retail price of the device you’re using right now – it’s almost certainly cheaper, probably by a large margin.

The question is of course, is it cheap as in cheerful, or cheap as in nasty? Motorola managed to get the balance spot on with the Moto G, their previous low to mid range effort, but the E is a more than £30 cheaper than the cheapest G and at this price point, that’s a lot.

In this part of the market the overall experience is almost as important as the specs, but let’s have a look at those anyway. The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 dual core A7 running at 1.2GHz, with 1GB RAM and 4GB ROM expandable by microSD. The screen is a 4.3” qHD (960 x 540) IPS unit with anti-smudge coating and Corning Gorilla Glass 3 for durability. The rear camera is a 5 Megapixel fixed focus unit (there is no front camera). WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 are on board, as is HSPA+ support (no LTE of course) and the package is powered by a 1980mAh battery behind a changeable back cover.

Without doubt, these are not flagship specs by any stretch of the imagination, but the key to success on a budget is spending the money where it counts and Motorola have done that. The processor is an entry level item, but it at least has A7 cores to return reasonable performance. 1GB RAM is almost unheard of amongst the E’s peers and makes a huge difference to the general performance and usability of the device.

A qHD screen is considered low-res nowadays, but devices like the Desire 500 still ship with the inferior WVGA screens and Motorola have really excelled themselves by including an IPS panel. The biggest compromise is the camera – although it has a 5 Megapixel sensor, the fixed focus means you will struggle to shoot anything better than mediocre shots and the lack of front camera means Selfies are out of the question!

With a low end processor, a lightweight software build is important and thankfully, that’s what we get on the Moto E. As with the Moto G and the Moto X, the phone runs a virtually stock version of Android 4.4 KitKat, with only a small number of additional apps to enhance the overall experience. In a move that is unprecedented in this sector, Motorola have pledged to continue updating the E beyond the next major release of Android. Very impressive.

Motorola have done a great job with the design of the E. Alongside its more expensive siblings, the family resemblance is striking, particularly on the back with the sunken ‘M’ logo. Build quality feels top notch with no creaks, no cheap feeling surfaces and volume and power buttons that click reassuringly. The silver grilles top and bottom look a little bit retro, but not necessarily in a bad way.

At 12.3mm deep at its thickest point, the Moto E isn’t a thin device, but the curve of the back panel (the device is 6.2mm thick at the edges) hides this well. In a world where we’ve come to accept larger devices as the norm, the Moto E feels quite pleasingly petite.

On to the important question – what is it like to use? For the most part, a joy. From the moment you switch it on to be impressed by the quality of that IPS screen, it’s a very positive experience. Of course, it’s not difficult to work the device to a point where you’ll start to experience some slowdown, but in general use for a regular user that happens rarely, helped in no small part by the generous 1GB RAM.

Everything it does (with the possible exception of taking photographs), it does well. It’s a joy to use, fantastic for phone calls with great mobile and WiFi signal and the inclusion of Bluetooth 4.0 for connection to a growing number of Bluetooth Smart devices is a bonus that’s easy to underestimate.

A photographer’s phone this is not, but then at this price point, what is? For snapping pictures to post on social networks or to ruin, er, filter using Instagram, it’s probably OK and there’s no doubt in our minds, the device’s other positives make up for this shortfall.

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Review by Paul O’Brien

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