A lot of things changed in the smartphone market last year, but no change perhaps was as radical as the dramatic decline in the prices of smartphones. After years of the “you want good performance, you will have to pay” rule, consumers suddenly got access to a plethora of devices that performed brilliantly and yet cost much lesser than their counterparts would have a year ago.
And the company that started the trend globally was Motorola.
I was in Delhi for the launch of the Moto G and the Moto E (the events were a few months apart), and the one thing I recall about both events is the simultaneous applause into which mediapersons broke out when the prices of the devices were announced. The Moto G was priced at Rs 12,999, the Moto E at Rs 6,999.
Both offered staggeringly good hardware and a clean Android experience at those prices. There was nothing remotely close to them at those price points in the Android market. Not surprisingly, they sold like hot cakes, setting in motion the “gone in x seconds” phenomenon that has now become a part of the online phone purchase experience for many people in India.
Motorola had changed the rules for smartphone pricing. And it was an example many brands followed with phenomenal success. At the time of writing, an Indian consumer with less than USD 150 in his or her pocket can still dream of a very good smartphone experience.
So I could not help but feel a bit surprised at the devices that came in the wake of those two super offerings. The Moto G (second generation) was a decent device but was already seeming a slightly expensive proposition thanks to the likes of the Asus ZenFone 5 and the Xiaomi Mi 3. The second iteration of Moto X was a superb piece of design but again, lost out on the equation that had made the first Moto G and Moto E such overwhelming successes – the price-performance equation. No, these newer Motorola devices were not extravagantly overpriced – indeed, had they been launched a few months ago, they would have been considered very reasonably priced indeed.
But not now. Now they faced some very serious competition. There was no applause when the prices of the 2nd generation Moto G and Moto X were announced. The element of surprise was gone.
Motorola had changed the rules. And the competition had started following them.
Which brings us to the new Moto E. Expectations had been high from the device. After all, it had laid down the ground rules for a budget smartphone on its launch. The period since however had seen a plethora of devices that matched and even bettered it – the likes of the Redmi 1S, the Asus ZenFone 4 and then there was the Android One brigade that came with better specs and also had the “assured Android update” guarantee that came with the Moto E.
Given this scenario, the second Moto E needed to offer something seriously better than its predecessor to replicate the success of its predecessor. Now, we have not used the device yet or even seen it, but judging purely from what we have heard from Motorola, the device seems a bit of a marginal upgrade to the first Moto E. Yes, it now has a slightly bigger display (with same resolution), a front facing camera, LTE support in a slightly more expensive version, and also comes with a larger battery.
The price is USD 119.99 for the 3G version, and USD 149.99 for the 4G one.
A year ago, those prices would have been applauded. Today? Well, consider the following:
- The Lenovo A6000 offers a larger 720p HD display, better cameras and 4G connectivity at Rs 6999 (about USD 114)
- The YU Yureka offers a larger 720p HD display, much better processor, more RAM, better cameras and 4G connectivity at Rs 8999 (about USD 146)
- The Xiaomi Redmi Note 4G offers a larger 720p display, more RAM, better cameras and 4G connectivity at Rs 9,999 (about USD 162)
And these are by no means the only options. There are a number of other devices out there as well, each claiming to offer very good hardware at relatively low prices, with the successors of the ZenFone 5 and the Redmi 1S also being readied. Motorola’s supporters might point to the fact that the Moto E will come with the latest version of Android on it and will also run a ‘pure’ version of it, but while that appeals to the geek segment, so does the insanely feature rich MIUI and the incredibly customisable Cyanogen. And then there is a rather stark fact to consider: if pure Android was that much a rage, the Nexus range would have been the highest selling Android devices in tech town.
No, we don’t know if there will be a special price for India for the new Moto E. But as things stand, we cannot help but feel just a tad underwhelmed by what we have heard so far. Yes, the colourful bands are a neat touch. Yes, we are sure that the build quality will be superb. And yes, we know that sound quality is likely to be very good too. A year ago, we would have loved the idea of a decently specced 4G device for less than USD 150.
Today, we see the alternatives and USD 149.99 actually seems a bit on the high side. And Motorola’s blog entry stating “The new Moto E packs a bigger smartphone punch for a fraction of the average smartphone cost” seems like from another era.
From about a year ago, in fact.
But the rules have changed since.
The company that changed them?