Dual-SIM phones are few and far between, especially in telco-dominant markets, like the US and Australia. Luckily Motorola has snuck one past the carrier guard dogs and released the dual-SIM Moto E for anyone who can make use of the extra connectivity.
- Great camera for the price
- Good 4.3-inch screen with responsive touch panel
- Solid battery life
- Poor earpiece speaker impacts call quality
- No camera flash
- Screen hard to read on an angle
- Not 4G
The look and feel of the Motorola Moto E is so familiar, you’ll swear you’ve seen it before.. The feature-less black plastic shell and the heavily rounded corners not only look like the Moto G, but a number of other low-cost smartphones that have been released over the past few years.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a phone which retails for under $200. In fact, there’s a mysterious kind of pleasure in knowing that the reason the Moto E looks so nondescript is be because you’ve saved hundreds of dollars not buying a more impressive looking model.
It still might be a bit thicker and heavier than you’ll like, but again this is another of those value-for-money trade-offs. We didn’t find this impacted on using the handset at all, in fact, the Moto E has a great, solid feel to it, and more grip than an iPhone, thanks to its plastic construction.
The battery cover is removable, but annoyingly the battery itself is locked into position, so you’ll only remove the cover to install SIM cards or a microSD memory card.
When assessing the quality of the screen in a low-cost phone isn’t about whether it is good or bad, but more about how bad it is. The display is consistently one of the major factors which separates the different cost classes of smartphones, and when you buy a phone for under $200, you can’t expect much.
The 4.3-inch screen in the Moto E is one of the better ones. The touchscreen is suitably responsive (not always a given in this price range) and colours represented on-screen are good.
Viewing angles are pretty awful though, with the screen being almost unreadable from certain angles. For example, you have have this phone sitting on the desk while you work and you receive a message, you will need to pick up the phone and hold it towards your face to read the message. The more acute the angle is to your eyes, the darker the screen appears.
Ordinarily, the camera is another major focus of cost-cutting in a low-cost smartphone, and while the Moto E might look like proof of this concept on paper, it is actually quite a good camera if you can overcome its limitations.
Chiefly, the lack of a flash and auto-focus are these limitations. Motorola opt for a 5-megapixel fixed-focus module for the Moto E, which means it is suitable for general photography, but it will frustrate the photographically minded who may want to take macro-style close-ups.
Photos taken within the limits of this camera come out surprisingly well, with great colour reproduction and decent handling of light. The fixed-focus lens means the camera is always ready to fire and what you see on screen is typically what you get.
Our hats are off to the recently updated Google Camera app (available for most Android phones on the Play Store). This app has a simple suite of tools and settings, but includes one of the best HDR modes in the business. If you’re not familiar with the technique, High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is achieved by algorithmically combining several photos across the dynamic range — dark shots with lighter shots, simply put.
The auto-HDR photo mode works superbly with the camera in the Moto E, as you can see in our samples below:
HDR mode helps even out the exposure in this late afternoon shot.
HDR mode again, this time working to help those colours pop.
The fixed focus lens means you'll have difficulty lining up some subjects.
Having Dual-SIM card slots and a low-price tag sets the Moto E apart from a number of its competitors in this category. From our experience using the phone with two SIM cards installed, the feature works well, but has a common limitation. If you have cards installed in the two SIM slots at the same time, only one can have an active data connection. You can select which SIM this is, and you can switch the data connection from one SIM to the other, but you can’t use both at once.
Managing how these SIM cards works is relatively straight forward, but you will need to dig around in the menus to make adjustments. Given this is a major feature of the Moto E, it would have been nice for Motorola to shortcut this process with an app of some sort.
It is also important to note that this is not a 4G LTE phone; the maximum download speed the Moto E can achieve is 21Mbps. This may sound like a major drawback, but we really haven’t noticed any downsides to this. Internet access is sufficiently speedy and major apps, like Facebook and Twitter, work as expected. If anything, the lack of 4G is a blessing for battery life, but more on this later.
Besides these considerations, other connectivity options in the Moto are pretty much as standard. There is 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and a standard micro USB 2.0 port for connecting to a computer.
Performance and battery life
As we mentioned earlier, the lack of 4G options in the Moto E appears to have a positive effect on how long the battery lasts between charges. As much as we love fast 4G speeds, a connection to a 3G network is often more stable, so the phone spends less energy maintaining its connection to the network. This is true for all phones, and is worth remembering if you’re unhappy with the battery life in your current handset.
We consistently enjoyed two full days of battery life between charges with our Moto E test unit. Even on days with higher use, we still saw a day and a half of use — or enough power for a full day and the eight-hours of the following work day.
General software performance on the Moto E is also good, with fast app loading and smooth animations and transitions across the user interface. There really is very little difference between using a Moto E and using a more expensive model.
Our only major complaint is in the quality of the audio coming from the earpiece speaker. All calls made using the Moto E during our tests sounded crackly and shallow. We could still hear well enough to hold a conversation, but this is well below what we would expect from any phone.
For its price, there are few better Android smartphone available. Motorola is economical in its design decisions, but the end result doesn't feel hamstrung by cheap components and poor performance -- in fact it is quite the opposite.