Motorola Moto E review: A dirt-cheap Android KitKat phone for the basics only

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.0
  • Design: 6.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 6.0

Average User Rating

2.5 stars 1 user review
Review Date:

The Good The Moto E is cheap, comes with the latest Android KitKat software and has a screen and processor capable of tackling the essentials.

The Bad Its camera and battery life don't impress and it isn't much less than the Moto G, which remains the best Android bargain around.

The Bottom Line The Motorola Moto E is unquestionably cheap and has a set of specs that makes it more than capable of handling your basic everyday tasks. Its price, however, isn't much lower than the Moto G, which has a better camera, more powerful processor, improved screen and longer battery life. Unless you're shopping on a very tight budget, the Moto G is still the best value phone around.

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The Motorola Moto G was my favourite phone of 2013. Not because it had the best HD display or most powerful quad-core processor, but because it offered a well-rounded set of specs for a price that blew its competition clean out of the water. Now Motorola has a cheaper mobile that means even the most cash-strapped of phone fans can get their hands on the latest Android software.

The Moto E is a 4.3-inch phone, boasting a dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, a 5-megapixel camera and the latest version of Android, 4.4.2 KitKat. KitKat aside, these are far from top-end specs -- it lacks 4G LTE -- but it is a very affordable phone.

You can preorder the Moto E from Amazon in the UK for £90 (it ships on 22 May), or buy it now from Amazon in the US for $130. It'll be available globally, including in Australia, where it will cost AU$179.

If you have a few more quid or bucks to spare, you may be interested in the new improved Moto G, now with 4G and microSD. You can find our first take of the new 4G Moto G here.

Motorola's first launch event for the Moto E was in India, and it went on sale at launch there and in Brazil, which highlights Moto's particular emphasis on emerging mobile markets, rather than on areas where flagship phones such as Samsung's Galaxy S5 dominate.

Design

It's easy to spot the Motorola family resemblance between the Moto E, G and indeed the Moto X as there are various design cues, common among all three. Most notably on the back, which has the same rounded, rubberised shape as the others. This curved design makes it very comfortable to hold in one hand as it sits snugly in your palm.

Also like the other Motos, there's a dimple in the back where the Moto logo sits. The camera is in the middle at the top and the power, volume rocker, 3.5mm headphone jack and micro-USB port are all scattered around the edges.

At 4.3 inches, the Moto E is the smallest of the bunch, so will suit those of you who can't bear stretching your thumbs out across 5-inch displays. It's pretty fat -- particularly when you compare it to extremely narrow phones such as the iPhone 5S -- but it will sit in your pocket without you noticing it too much. Even so, the E definitely feels bulkier than the Moto G, and a degree less luxurious.

motorola-moto-e-2014-7.jpg
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The front of the phone is pretty basic. It's an all-glass design with two metallic strips at the top and bottom -- they hide the speaker and microphone -- adding a little flair. While not oozing the sleek luxury of the all-metal HTC One M8, it's perfectly functional for a budget phone.

The back covers are removable and there will be a host of different coloured covers available, including cases with flip-over fronts to protect the screen. That might not be necessary though, as Motorola has used Gorilla Glass 3 for the display, which is particularly resistant against scratches.

The internals of the phone too have been given a water-resistant nano-coating. This is designed to protect the phone from small spills or from rainwater if you're walking along making a call in wet weather. It's not submersible though, so don't take it in the bath. Although the phone is far from "rugged", these tweaks should help it stand up to the sort of everyday use it's likely to see.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The phone has only 4GB of storage on board, which won't be enough to house your music, videos and apps -- particularly as there's little over 2GB available for you to use, as the operating system itself takes up a lot of space. Under the plastic back, however, is a microSD card slot to expand the storage, so you should definitely factor in the price of a microSD card too.

Display

At 4.3 inches, the Moto E has a marginally smaller display than the 4.5-inch Moto G and it has a slightly lower resolution too. It packs 960x540 pixels into its screen, which results in a pixel density of 256 pixels per inch. While that's slightly less than the G's 326ppi, it's a fair amount, particularly for such a cheap device. By comparison, the LG G2 Mini's display has 234ppi, and it costs over £200. It slightly beats the similarly cheap Nokia Lumia 520's 800x480-pixel display too.

motorola-moto-e-2014.jpg
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Side-by-side with higher resolution phones, you can see a noticeable difference in clarity, but the Moto E's display is at least adequate for the everyday tasks it's designed for. It's fairly bright too and I've definitely seen worse colour handling on other budget mobiles. If you're expecting to play the latest 3D games in glorious high-definition with eye-searingly bright colours, an ultra-budget phone really shouldn't be on your wish list.

I did notice that the Moto E's viewing angle wasn't great -- tilting the phone away from my line of sight resulted in a little colour distortion. The display generally isn't as good as the Moto G's, which is the best screen you get for the price, but it's still better than the vast majority of displays I've seen for around £80.

Processor and Android software

The processor has also taken a cut from the Moto G in order to keep costs down. It's a 1.2GHz dual-core rather than quad-core chip -- a Qualcomm Snapdragon 200, to be specific. It does, however, come with the same 1GB of RAM. Unsurprisingly, benchmark performance by the E was a little below that of the G. On the Geekbench test, the E racked up a score of 817 (the Moto G achieved 1,315).

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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Where to Buy

Motorola Moto E (black)

Part Number: 162-0286

Typical Price: $179.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

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