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Motorola Motosmart review: Motorola Motosmart

The Motorola Motosmart has an alluringly cheap price but plodding performance means it's unlikely to be anyone's first choice.

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Natasha Lomas
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Natasha Lomas

Mobile Phones Editor, CNET UK

Natasha Lomas is the Mobile Phones Editor for CNET UK, where she writes reviews, news and features. Previously she was Senior Reporter at Silicon.com, covering mobile technology in the business sphere. She's been covering tech online since 2005.

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9 min read

The budget end of Androidland is a crowded place these days but that hasn't stopped Motorola lining up another cheap Android Gingerbread-flavoured blower for your consideration.

orig-motorola-motosmar-main.jpg
5.5

Motorola Motosmart

The Good

Cheap; Quite striking design; MicroSD card slot.

The Bad

Plodding performance; Stale version of Android; Ugly Motorola software; Low-res screen; Weak battery; Poor camera.

The Bottom Line

The Motorola Motosmart has an alluring price tag but juddery performance, a weak battery and an unlovely screen means it never shines. There are excellent, highly capable Android alternatives around this price so make sure you check out the competition before saddling yourself with what is, at best, a very middle-of-the-road performer.

Don't have a fortune to spend on a phone? Never fear. The Motosmart costs around £90 on pay as you go from Carphone Warehouse and £100 from T-Mobile, or it can be bagged from around £120 SIM free.

T-Mobile is also offering it free on two-year contracts costing £7 per month. But is the Motosmart the pick of the budget bunch?

Should I buy the Motorola Motosmart?

The Motosmart is not the worst budget smart phone I've seen -- and at £90 to £100 on pay as you go, it's cheap. But its low-res screen, plodding performance and weak battery aren't going to win it legions of adoring fans.

For £100, you can now bag a 'droid with a 1GHz chip and a clear and colourful 4-inch screen -- Huawei's excellent Ascend G300 -- which easily outshines the Motosmart's middle-of-the-road hardware. So this is the sort of device you'll only consider buying because viable pay as you go alternatives on your network are thin on the ground.

Motorola Motosmart back
It's not the slimmest of mobiles but it won't weigh down your pockets.

If you can't get your hands on the superior G300, the Motosmart could be worth a look, but you should also consider other cheap yet capable 'droids such as the pretty nippy T-Mobile Vivacity. If you can afford a little more cash up front, £150 spent on Sony's Xperia U puts a powerful dual-core package in your palm, which far outshines the middling Motosmart.

Design and build

Say what you like about Motorola's sense of design, you can't accuse it of churning out generic slabs. Most Moto handsets have a few design quirks that set them apart from all the iClones -- and the Motosmart is no different.

First up, there's a shiny silver bevel at the edge of the touchscreen, which flashes as you tilt the phone. It's different, certainly, but it can get distracting after a while.

Next, there's some slanted plastic on half of the phone's chin. It makes the handset look a tad wonky but it's literally a (slight) twist on the standard slab form.

Finally, turn the phone over and there's a big silver grille on the back, sitting below Moto's spangly, Batman-esque logo. The silver-on-black theme continues with the front speaker, power key and volume rocker.

Motorola Motosmart
The silver grille breaks up the expanse of black on the back.

The Motosmart isn't the thinnest smart phone I've ever wrapped my digits around, measuring 11.2mm thick, but nor is it super-chunky. It doesn't feel uncomfortably heavy either, so you shouldn't worry about being weighed down when it's tucked in your pocket.

Build quality feels rigid, no doubt helped by the Motosmart's backplate being made of metal (rather than plastic). The entire rear has also been coated with a soft-touch, slightly rubberised material, making the phone easier to grip.

There are two external ports on the device: a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top edge of the phone, next to the power key, and a micro-USB port on the left-hand edge. There's also a volume rocker on the right edge. Inside, next to the removable 1,400mAh battery, you get a microSD card slot to expand the 165MB of on-board storage.

On the front, the Motosmart has four touch-control keys: a menu key, home, back and search. I found these keys responsive to my taps -- although the menu key seems pretty under-used, rarely summoning up anything.

Motorola Motosmart
The Motosmart's plastic chin has a subtle twist.

Screen

The Motosmart's display is a 3.5-inch affair, giving it roughly the same size panel as the iPhone 4S. The two are not comparable, however, because the Motosmart's resolution is much, much lower.

Its resolution is just 320x480 pixels, which gives a pretty sickly pixel-per-inch count of 165 (compare that to the retina-slicing 330ppi of the iPhone 4S and you get the picture -- or rather miss out on half of it).

This lowly res means everything you look at on the phone will appear hazy and lack crispness -- so this blower isn't ideal for showing off your photos or watching glorious HD video. Everything looks impoverished.

Smaller text on websites appears blurry until you zoom in so web browsing can feel a chore on the Motosmart, with lots of tapping to zoom in and back out again. Add to that, the viewing angle isn't amazing, with content on screen shimmering or polarising entirely as you tilt the phone.

Motorola Motosmart
On this low-res pane even the glorious CNET UK home page looks lacklustre. Expect to zoom in and out a lot.

The Motosmart's touchscreen isn't hyper-responsive either -- slide your finger over its surface and it'll be a few millimetres before your touch registers. I also found taps frequently failing to register entirely -- requiring a second, more forceful push, which invariably made the pane flex into the surface of the display.

Power and performance

As its low price tag indicates, there's not a lot of high-tech hardware occupying the Motosmart's insides. It's powered by an 800MHz processor, which in this day and age is rather weedy. Considering you can get a 1GHz chip and a 4-inch screen for £100 in Androidland, it's not even amazing value for money.

Moving through the Motosmart's menus isn't the smoothest experience, with plenty of annoying judder and lag hindering progress. This appears to be just the tip of the iceberg though. Benchmark tests I ran turned in a truly slovenly performance -- not so much scraping the barrel as knocking its bottom out to plunge to new performance depths.

Motorola Motosmart
Under this black and silver bonnet lurks a middle-of-the-road 800MHz chip. Prepare for plod.

For instance, in the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, which probes browser performance, the Motosmart proved itself to be more Motoslow -- scoring a snail-paced 14,133.2ms when I ran the test (lower is better in this test as it's a measure of time).

I also ran Vellamo's browser benchmark and once again the Motosmart displayed itself as a bottom feeder -- managing a mere 241, and beating only one device in the rankings.

In tests of the phone's CPU and graphics, it also failed to impress -- coming bottom of Antutu's test with a score of just 2,212, and also bottoming out of Quadrant's benchmark, with only 874 to its name.

If you were hoping to play high-octane 3D games stutter-free on the Motosmart, think again. It ran GL Benchmark's Egypt Classic test at a less-than-impressive 28 frames per second.

Despite delivering such a poor set of benchmarks, the Motosmart actually isn't the worst Android foot-dragger I've come across. There can be very noticeable lags and slowdowns which, if you're used to a really slick phone, will be annoying. But if you're bagging your first smart phone, you may not mind all the judder.

If you have basic requirements and aren't expecting miracles, the Motosmart can suffice for simple stuff like lightweight web browsing and basic apps. For example, while the Facebook app feels pretty bloated, so long as you're not expecting hyper-responsiveness, it's perfectly usable.

The Google Play store definitely works the Motosmart's engines hard, but again, after a lag as you wait for images to populate, it works ok.

If you're browsing full-fat desktop versions of websites, the Motosmart slows down considerably. Switching to a mobile version of the site delivers improved speeds and pages can even seem pretty nippy to load. Just don't expect slick performance. Juddery scrolling and slightly fuzzy graphics are the best the Motosmart can offer.

Call quality is fine -- I had no trouble hearing or being heard on test calls. I also didn't encounter any dropped calls or other connectivity issues when using the phone.

The rear speaker can be pumped up to make a fair din but it sounds crackly and slightly distorted so it's a distinctly budget-sounding noise you'll hear.

Motorola Motosmart
It's not a slender phone but nor is it a hand stretcher.

Battery

Sad to say, battery life isn't a strong point of the Motosmart. If you have the screen brightness dialled to max, it's possible to exhaust a full charge in a few hours, so heavy users are in serious danger of running out of juice before the day is done. Even moderate use may be too much for the Motosmart. That's a poor show for a budget blower.

Dialling down the brightness will help lengthen life a little but it's a shame you have to worry about battery performance on a budget device, as one of the advantages a lot of cheaper phones have is you get decent battery life.

Motorola reckons the phone will survive for up to 6 hours as a telephone, or up to 500 hours on standby (if you're not using the device at all). The company doesn't specify how long it will last playing video or audio, which is quite telling. And the size of the cell -- 1,400mAh -- is slightly less capacious than the battery Sony has stuck in its tiny Tipo, which only has a 3.2-inch screen. Moto seems to have scrimped with the Motosmart's battery.

I seriously question whether the Motosmart would last anywhere near 500 hours on standby. I left it unused in a bag and after about a day it was completely dead.

I also found the phone could get quite hot when left on. It's my guess that Motorola's software and Android implementation aren't optimised to ensure power-efficient performance -- a particular focus for Huawei's excellent budget 'droid, the G300.

Android 2.3 and apps

The Motorola Motosmart is powered by Android 2.3 Gingerbread. Now that Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is on the scene, it's two versions behind the latest edition of Google's operating system for phones.

That doesn't sound great, but the majority of budget 'droids are still Gingerbread flavoured. And the few Ice Cream Sandwich offerings at this price aren't typically worth your attention (such as the buggy Sony Xperia Tipo or the slightly more pricey but even more laggy HTC Desire C).

Having only Gingerbread at your command means you do miss out on certain apps and features such as Google's Chrome for Android browser or ICS's full device encryption. But arguably, here in Android's bargain basement, it's better to have a powerful Gingerbread blower than under-powered ICS.

In the Motosmart's case you're getting a slightly stale iteration of Android, powered by a medium-sized chip. Performance is definitely plodding (as detailed in the section above), but people with modest mobile needs shouldn't have too many gripes.

You do get access to the Google Play store, so you can load your phone with plenty of apps -- many free to download, from the ever-popular Angry Birds to Facebook, Twitter and Spotify. The BBC's iPlayer app is out of reach though. Attempt to download it and you'll be told the Motosmart isn't compatible.

Motorola Motosmart widgets
The more you use an app, the larger it becomes on the home screen.

Motorola has put its own spin on Android, with home screen widgets that display icons in a cluster and apps becoming larger the more frequently you use them. These may take your fancy, but if you're not too enamoured with what are rather ugly looking widgets, you can just ditch them.

Elsewhere you get the fairly standard Android fare including multiple home screens to swipe around and some ugly-looking squared-off icons. The lock screen has a few nifty Moto touches -- you can swipe in one of four directions to unlock the phone, fire up the camera, read your SMSes or use the phone's dialler. There's also a slider where you can toggle silent mode on or off.

Motorola Motosmart
Don't expect crisply detailed shots from the Motosmart's tiny little eye. But if you're after something impressionistic, you could be in luck.

Camera

On the Motosmart's rump you'll find a 3-megapixel camera sans flash. My expectations of this tiddler of a lens weren't high and, sure enough, results were pretty poor.

Shots often came off the camera with a highly blotchy look -- as if an 'impressionist painting' filter had been applied -- such as this snap below of purple flowers.

Motorola Motosmart camera
No, these blotchy flowers were not painted by Claude Monet, even if they look distinctly impressionistic (click image to enlarge).

Even when the subject I was snapping was in focus, images typically lacked crispness and had plenty of noise in shadier regions. With no flash, you can't add more light to improve results either.

Add to that a lag of around a second when you hit the shutter before the shot is taken. I've seen more slothful camera-phones, but it's laggy enough to mean you can miss out on the pose you were trying to capture.

Colours also look very wishy-washy.

Motorola Motosmart camera
The Motosmart is as bad at capturing certain shades of colours as it is at rendering crisp detail (click image to enlarge).

So, in short, if you're after a really basic camera to get snaps of your Facebook buddies' daytime antics, the Motosmart's lens can suffice but don't expect amazing photographic feats -- unless you're actively trying to achieve an impressionistic look.

The Motosmart can capture video at up to 30 frames per second. Again, footage has a distinctly blotchy look, but as basic YouTube fodder, it just about passes muster.

Conclusion

The Motorola Motosmart has an alluring price tag but plodding performance, a weak battery and an unlovely screen ensure it never shines. As a simple smart phone for basic apps and lightweight web browsing, it can suffice. But there are some excellent Android alternatives in the £100 to £150 price range -- such as the Huawei Ascend G300 or Sony's Xperia U -- which easily outshine the middling Motosmart. So even though it's cheap, this budget blower is unlikely to be anyone's first choice.

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