The story of compromise is really a narrative of degrees. How much are you willing to sacrifice to achieve something else? In the Android world, as the dwindling price of components outpaces the speed requirements of the software powered by those parts, such commoditization has created a market of capable, low-cost devices with Motorola at the forefront.
While the Moto X was initially marketed at similar prices to competitors’ flagships, it became quickly apparent that Motorola’s advantage would be in the low-margin, high-volume sales tier. It was difficult, with the Moto X’s smaller, lower-resolution screen and last-generation chipset, to justify charging $200 on contract and $600 outright; the company quickly dropped the price permanently to $399 and, later, to $299 on promotion.
The new Motorola doesn’t mind making a small margin (if any) on its smartphones; it just wants as many of them out there as possible to ensure that it has the mindshare, and hopefully marketshare, of the first-time smartphone customer.
To really understand the Moto E, I had to pretend I upgrading from either a really crappy Android device, or an equally simple non-smartphone. Motorola isn’t expecting the Moto E to be attractive to existing owners of its own smartphones, but rather to the millions that have been tempted by Android’s siren call while unable to justify the $200+ entry.
When approached that way, especially after playing with other Android devices that run in the $180 level, the Moto E is quite a knockout. Not only does it perform admirably in most scenarios, but its screen is bright, its UI unadorned with subsidized carrier garbage, and its camera, an area usually sacrificed in the pursuit of lower costs, is pretty good.
There’s also something comforting about the weight and heft of the Moto E; it’s not a delicate phone, and while not waterproof is covered with Gorilla Glass 3 on the display and an anti-ingress coating throughout. The matte back cover, while removable, looks and feels sturdy, and represents the best of both worlds; replaceable with colourful insets, the phone’s longevity is directly correlated to the availability of those $15-25 pieces of plastic.
Using the Moto E is a curious case of Android’s benefits and limitations. As one would expect from a device with such a limited spec sheet — we’re looking at a 4.3-inch qHD display, a 1.2Ghz dual-core Snapdragon 200 processor, 1GB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, a 5MP rear camera sans flash and a 1980mAh battery — the device has its performance issues, and all but one, the limited user storage, are easily overlooked. Indeed, that the phone comes with just 2.2GB of storage out of the box limits what could otherwise be a phenomenal and compelling value proposition.
Alleviating the storage issue somewhat is the presence of a microSD slot, which can offload some of those storage issues for apps, games and media. Eventually, though, with enough downloads and the inevitable file system detritus they bring, that Low Storage Space Available message will rear its head. I had a difficult time, even limiting myself to the few apps I use on a regular basis, pushing all the games and third-party apps I could to the SD card, keeping that storage warning at bay.
Otherwise, though, Moto E is adept at just about everything. I loaded the 3D game Smash Hit and played it for an hour before I realized where the time went; I enjoyed a session or two of Ski Safari and revelled in the beauty of Monument Valley. The dual-core Cortex-A7 CPUs may be relatively underpowered compared to the quad-core prowess of most high-end Android devices, but the OS chugged along swimmingly. The GPU, a single-core Adreno-series chip running at 400Mhz, didn’t have to work too hard to keep up with the games I threw at it, mainly because the 960×540 pixel screen resolution is not that onerous.
Indeed, it appears that Moto made sacrifices in the right places. Battery life was phenomenal, period: I was easily able to get more than a day from the device, thanks to its low-profile spec sheet and highly-optimized software. And while the camera did not amaze, its 5MP sensor proved competent in good lighting.
The issue with the Moto E, at least in Canada, is that the price is all wonky. The $179.99 price tag is for the unlocked version sold in stores like Staples, which can be taken to any carrier in Canada. But being $50 more than the same product in the US is sure to irk consumers north of the border, and carrier pricing of the more-capable Moto G makes the Moto E less compelling. Koodo gets away with telling consumers that its Moto G, the 8GB HSPA+ version, sells for $150, when in fact it requires a service plan to be sold at that price. The beauty of the Moto E is that it is unlocked and omits any carrier bloatware; the equivalent unlocked 16GB Moto G sells for $249.79.
So while the Moto E is a good deal for customers who either want to bring it to an AWS carrier like WIND, Videotron or Mobilicity, the carrier-sold Moto G — if carrier flexibility is not important — is a better proposition.
The Moto E will be available sometime this summer at select retailers.
Recommended with caveats
Moto G LTE
Whereas the Moto E has some glaring pricing issues, there is no mistaking the incredible value of the Moto G LTE. Adding a microSD slot and LTE connectivity, the two main issues with the XT1032 model available in Canada on TELUS and Koodo, the Moto G LTE is a keeper.
The more I use the Moto G, the better I realize its triumph. It lacks the wow factor of the Moto X’s OLED-based Active Notifications, and eschews the streamlined body for one slightly thicker and more utilitarian, but it’s the first $200-ish phone I’d heartily recommend to my peers.
While the Nexus 5 perhaps offers a better spec-to-price ratio, most customers still buy phones from carriers, which puts its $349 entry price out of reach for many. The Moto G, however, looks and feels like a real smartphone, and now that an LTE version exists, it can stand head to head with many other more-expensive choices on the Rogers or Fido showroom.
Its 720p screen still amazes, specifically because it’s comparable in sharpness, brightness and viewing angles to devices twice or even three times the price. The same goes for performance; the Snapdragon 400 inside the Moto G compels it to complete tasks effortlessly, and the only real downside is the low RAM count, from which the device suffers when attempting to quickly cycle through applications.
The specs are well known by now: a 4.5-inch 1280×720 pixel LCD display, a 1.2Ghz quad-core Snapdragon 400 SoC, 1GB of RAM, a 5MP rear camera with flash, 8GB of internal memory with expandable storage, a 2070mAh non-removable battery, and now LTE connectivity. And, of course, Android 4.4.3 out of the box, the latest and greatest version of the software.
It’s hard to fault the Moto G, but camera enthusiasts should heed a warning of softness and overall lack of detail. There’s also a distinct lack of affectation in the software; the Moto G lacks the Google Experience launcher of the Nexus 5, and while I’m a fan of stock Android, some may find its Android 4.4.2 version unimaginative. Of course, like the Moto X and Moto E, Motorola’s speciality apps, specially Assist, ensure that users will be treated to unique qualities not found on other Android phones. For example, Moto Assist can be configured to detect when you’re at home and read out caller names or the contents of a text message. Motorola’s Gallery and accompanying Camera apps are also superior to most OEMs’, and, like the rest of the company’s wares, get right to the point.
Coming on June 19th to Rogers for $0 on a 2-year plan and to Fido for between $0 and $50 depending on the plan, the Moto G LTE is not a hard buying decision to make. While Motorola won’t confirm plans to sell this version unlocked — it currently only has the 16GB 3G version in that configuration — consumers will be well-served by either one.