It is rare to see hardened mediapersons burst out into rapturous applause when the price of a device is announced. Well, a number of them did just that when Motorola announced that the Moto E would be available for Rs 6,999 in India from Flipkart.com (it will be available only from that online portal) from midnight, March 13.

moto-e

And on the surface, it was not hard to see the reason for their delight. Here was a device from the house of Motorola. Running the latest version of Android (Kit Kat, 4.4), with a dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. With 1 GB RAM. Dual SIM capability (3G support). With a 4.3-inch 960 x 540 display and a 5.0-megapixel camera, expandable memory (even the Moto G and Moto X had that not). And in a body that was dust and water resistant.

Not bad for the price, eh?

On the surface, indeed not. This was Moto replaying the Moto G card, albeit with more modest specs and a more modest price.

My initial reaction was one of optimism. Mainly because of the price. It has been a long time since a major international brand (Moto remains that, notwithstanding the hands the company has gone through) has launched a smartphone at that price. A few minutes with the phone, however, and cold logic began to work its way into mine cynical brain.

Great…or just good?

For, while there is no doubt that the Moto E is built on solid lines, in appearance it is pretty much the poor cousin of the Moto G. The device looks colourful enough thanks to the Moto Shells that accompany it, but the display, notwithstanding all the talk of 256 ppi is not the brightest. And the interface, in spite of having Kit Kat on board, should signs of pausing and lagging – I tried two units and my experience was the same each time. There is the little matter of the camera too – no autofocus would not have been too much of a deal breaker but a camera that puts shades of grey and blue in normal daylight shots is not going to be welcomed easily.

All of which results in a device that does not stand out in a crowd the way the Moto G did. There are some decent devices in striking distance of the Moto E – for about a few hundred Rupees more (About USD 10-15), one could get the bestselling Lumia 520, which has a slightly lower screen resolution and lesser RAM but way better design and a very handy camera. And yes, like the E, it too is assured of getting the latest OS – Windows Phone 8.1 is due to descend on it shortly. And even as this is being written, Indian manufacturer Lava has announced that it will be releasing Android Kit Kat devices for prices under Rs 8,000 under the Lava Iris X1 name – and sneer not please, Moto might be a ‘brand’ in geekland but when it comes to the lower segments, Indian brands rule the roost with a vengeance.

Yes, the Moto E is trying to repeat the Moto G’s formula but unlike it, it is not really the first of its kind – the G was the first relatively low cost device to run the latest version of Android and come with a Qualcomm quad core processor and 720p display. The Moto E, put starkly, has a decent display but not one that jumps out at you the way the G did. And unlike the G, it has some competition.

The online factor

It also has a problem that the G did not. The Moto E will be targeting the low-end, feature phone crowd which is also the one that really prefers to touch and see a product before using it. The E being available only online, that option is effectively out of the question. And that we believe could affect sales. Yes, we know it did not happen in the case of the Moto G but that was because (read the previous para please) it had the advantage of being first on a few counts, and also because it was a device that received widespread acclamation from the geeks. A repeat applause session with the same “amazing, unmatched price” logic might not cut much ice with a target segment that tends to go more by look and feel and less on reviews.

So where does that leave the Moto E? Well, a more concrete conclusion can be drawn only after a review, but as of now, I must confess that while one definitely has to doff one’s hat to Moto for giving us what seems a very decent device at a very competitive price, the claim that many make of its being unique and disruptive is on shaky ground, to say the least. There are other phones out there. Phones that are visible in shops. And can be touched and felt. By a target audience that is unlikely to shop online.

What we think of this What we think of this
The Moto E seems to be a very good phone on the surface. But based on what I have seen today and the state of the market, I am not too sure whether it will be a great one. For that, Motorola needs to take the battle of the budget phone segment to where its audience resides – offline, on the streets.
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Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.