When Motorola announced the price of the original Moto E last year, I remember several hard-nosed media people bursting into instinctive applause. The idea of getting a device running the latest version of Android with a decent display and processor and 1 GB RAM for as little as Rs 6,999 was music to the ears of all those (and there had been many) who had been insisting that getting a decent performing handset cost way too much. The Moto E was not perfect (it had a very mediocre fixed focus camera and no front facing camera) but in most other departments, it rubbed shoulders very comfortably with devices that were priced twice or even thrice as much as it did. We certainly believe that it triggered off the ‘low price, high performance’ smartphone phenomenon, which has since seen such worthies as the Xiaomi Redmi 1S, the Asus ZenFone 4, the Lenovo A6000 and YU Yureka.
And now sees the successor to the Moto E, the Moto E (2015 or 2nd Gen). Unlike the original, the new Moto E has not just got to shoulder some hefty expectations but also face some very stiff competition.
Still a Plain Jane
The original Moto E was made for function, not fashion, and its successor follows the same design ethic. In terms of looks, it remains relatively nondescript. Thanks to a bigger display, it is slightly longer and wider than the previous Moto E, and at 12.3 mm thickness is hardly svelte. However, the fact that it has a relatively small display (4.5 inches) by modern standards, means that it remains very comfortable to hold. It is also about the same weight as its predecessor: 145 grammes as compared to 143 grammes.
However, there is no chance of the new Moto E being mistaken for the old one, because unlike in the original, the new Moto E comes with just one metal bar above the display (there were two metal bars – one above and one below the display – in the original Moto E, for the loudspeaker and earpiece). Next to the bar is also a new addition – the front facing camera. Everything else appears similar – the volume and display/power buttons are on the right side, the left side is plain, the audio jack is on top of the device, and the micro USB port at the base. As in the case of the original, the back curves out gently, and the back has a camera with the Motorola logo below it. However, unlike in the first Moto E, you cannot remove the back – to get at the SIM card and memory card slots, you will have to lift a band that has been jammed tightly all along the sides of the device. It is not easily done, but Motorola has different band colours available for those who want to make their Moto E look a bit more colourful. All said and done, the Moto E remains a plain and ever so slightly tubby Jane – it won’t make people faint with revulsion, but it won’t attract too many second glances, we are afraid.
Still decently specced
“Forget the looks, check out the specs” was the cry of the Moto E loyalists and well, it works with the new Moto E as well. The specs of the Moto E had been powerful for its price at the time of its release, but with the onset of a number of competing devices had started looking a trifle weak, so Moto has upped the spec ante for the device. The display size has been increased from 4.3 to 4.5 inches and comes with Corning Gorilla Glass 3, but remains rather oddly at the same resolution (960×540 pixels), which actually decreases its pixel density.
The processor has been given a boost too, moving up from its dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor to a quad core one. RAM stays at 1GB but onboard storage had been doubled from 4 GB to 8 GB RAM. The camera, considered an Achilles Heel of the original Moto E, remains a 5.0-megapixel affair at the back, but has autofocus and can record 720p video, and is now accompanied by a VGA camera in front. The battery has been yanked up to 2390 mAh from 1980 mAh, which is a considerable achievement when you consider that the weight of the device has barely increased. Connectivity options include dual SIM connectivity, 3G, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
It is not a bad spec sheet, but it does not quite look in the same league as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 410 chips, 8.0-megapixel shooters and 2.0-megapixel front facing cameras, 4G connectivity and 720p displays in the similarly priced Lenovo A6000 and Xiaomi Redmi 2 – something we had pointed out at the time of the launch. We would call it a decent, rather than exceptional, hardware set-up.
Still a good performer (still don’t say cheese!)
But where the Moto E – and indeed all recent Motorola devices – have an edge over the opposition is in performance. A lot of this can be owed to the pure, no-nonsense version of Android running on them. The new Moto E comes with Android Lollipop (5.0) running out of the box, and is expected to receive updates too. And of course, you have great touches like the glance screen (getting notifications on your lock screen) and even the option to activate your camera from the lockscreen with just a flick of the wrist (a la Moto X!).
Although we would have preferred a higher resolution display, the one on the new Moto E is decent enough in terms of brightness and detail and is definitely good enough for lots of reading. Routine tasks like browsing the Web, checking social networks and mail work beautifully. Yes, we did encounter the odd lag as one got into HD gaming territory but most casual games like Angry Birds, Temple Run and even earlier editions of Asphalt worked well enough. Just don’t push it too far is our advice.
Battery life has definitely improved – we could get through a day of heavy usage quite easily – but the camera, autofocus notwithstanding remains a weak point. We got some good photographs in normal daylight but move indoors or try to snap in the evening and image quality falls quite dramatically. Sound quality is good, but we just felt that the original Moto E had an edge in the loudspeaker department. The benchmark scores are not the greatest but then, this is not a multimedia gaming monster.
Conclusion: Grab this Moto?
So well, where does the new Moto E stand? Well, it definitely is a notch above its predecessor. However, as we keep pointing out, the whole concept of the budget phone has been turned on its head in the past year (ironically, it was the Moto E that was responsible for proving that great performance could be delivered at a relatively low price too), and in that regard, frankly the new Moto E comes off looking rather ordinary in comparison to the likes of the Redmi 2 and Lenovo A6000, both of which pack in 720p displays, much better 8.0-megapixel cameras, 4G connectivity (notwithstanding its limited availability in India) and also come with better processors and dare we say it, design. In fact, truth be told, the only department where we saw the Moto E hold a very clear edge over those two was in the version of Android (Lollipop to the KitKat running on them), but for the general consumer, that is unlikely to make much of a difference, especially when you consider the number of features that MIUI 6 brings to the Redmi 2.
So should you be considering investing in the new Moto E? Well, we honestly think that while it is a very smooth performer, it is more likely to strike a chord more with the geeks who love ‘pure Android’ and want an uncluttered experience, than to the feature-seeking mainstream user. Unless you are a pure Android aficionado, we cannot see ourselves recommending it ahead of the Lenovo A6000 or the Xiaomi Redmi 2 which outgun it in most departments.
No, we are not saying that the Moto E is a bad phone. It is a very good one for its price and is as good a phone as any out there if all you want to do is mess around with calls, social networks and mail, with some Web browsing thrown in. However, from what we have seen, consumers now want more bang for their buck. And pure Android is coveted more by the geeks than the mainstream. The result: the new Moto E is a good device but it just does not stand out from the competition the way its predecessor did. Given what the original Moto E triggered off, and what has happened over the past few months, we expected more, Moto. And oh the irony, it is all your fault! After all, who changed the smartphone price rules with the original Moto E?