Review: Motorola Moto E and Moto G

Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 10.25.57 pm

Over the last year I’ve played with just about every flagship smart phone available. Each device had better specs than my day to day phone, a trusty iPhone 5. The Samsung Galaxy S5 had twice the RAM and a better processor, the Nokia 930 had a better screen and camera, the HTC One (M8) was just sexier in every way. Yet none of these flagships really excited me. Instead, the phone that I’ve fallen in love with is a mid range device from little old Motorola.

The Moto Line Up

Motorola have gone back to basics with their current line up, offering just three models of phone: good, better and best. Its a strategy I really appreciate, as the smartphone market is so damn crowded and confusing these days. The low end phone is the Moto E, the middle phone is the Moto G, and the flagship is the X – although even that is around $300 cheaper than most other flagships out there.

And that’s what is so interesting about this line up. Even the high end comes with a mid-range price tag, and the bottom end, well it’s cheap as hell and still a damn fine phone. Sweetening the line up is Motorola’s clean Android experience, but more on that later.

Design

The phones have the same basic shape of 2011’s Samsung Nexus S. That’s not a bad thing; this is a great, comfortable design from an age before phablets, when android phones couldn’t comfortably fit in your hand.

The plastic case is has a smooth, rubbery feel. It doesn’t feel cheap or slippery as some phones can, it feels like something designed to be held. Both the Moto E and G come with interchangeable plastic shells in a range of colours.

Each device has a little dimple in the back, making it just that little bit easier to hold, and to tell the right side up in your pocket. It’s the little things.

Software

Motorola are cleverly keeping their Android experience as vanilla as possible. That means no bloat, the phone runs lean and mean. There are no hideous settings menus or notifications, and soon as Google release a new flavour of Android, you can expect to see an update for the Motorola. The Moto G is the Nexus mini I’ve been waiting for.

Pure Android, No Filler.
Pure Android, No Filler.

Despite the stock Android experience, the Moto range ships with some extra apps. Cleverly, they’re de-coupled from the OS, downloadable via the Play Store. This means app updates don’t need to wait for a major OS upgrade, and the OS upgrade doesn’t need to wait for them to be ready, either.

The apps included are Moto Alert and Moto Assist. Assist is quite clever, going beyond the standard do not disturb features of modern smartphones – Assist can silence your phone if you’re in a meeting based on your calendar, or even when it detects you’re driving.

Alert, to copy from the app description, ” lets you quickly alert people important to you when you need them. Simply put your phone on alert, and it will begin sending periodic notifications with your location to the people you designate so they can act fast to get you the help you need.” Thankfully I didn’t get to test this feature, but set up was easy enough.

All modern smartphones need a software gimmick – but Motorola’s may be the best yet. The Moto G includes an app called Spotlight, which I didn’t notice for the first week or two. Then one day, a little hat started blowing around my screen… Spotlight is a bizarre, utterly pointless, and completely wonderful interactive animation app, from former Pixar folk. I don’t want to spoil it anymore than that, but it’s delightful little addition to the phone.

So what’s the difference?

The Moto E is just $179 – for that you get a well built, well designed bit of kit. The internals may not be the fastest on the market, but thanks to the vanilla Kit-Kat Android base, the little guy performs with very little lag.

The screen is 4.3″ at 540×960 (256ppi). It’s a better screen than I expected to find in a $179 phone. You can still see the pixels when you look close enough, and the phone can struggle with colour bleed over white backgrounds – most notable when scrolling through emails or a light-themed Twitter app, but again, its one hundred and seventy nine bucks!

In my testing, the Moto E easily lasted a full day off the charge under heavy use. Interestingly, even the Australian model of the Moto E has two SIM slots.

Size Comparison
Size Comparison

The camera is really the only thing that lets down the Moto E. This is no big deal if using the phone as a work handset, but the camera is just not good enough for capturing memories. But again, for the price of many smartphones, you could buy the Moto E outright and still have money left over for a DSLR.

The Moto G is around $279 – $299, depending where you look, but in my opinion, that extra $100 is worth spending.

First, the Moto G comes with 4G (the official name for this model is the Moto G 4G, so um, yeah). These days, I would not purchase a 3G only phone. It’s not that I need the speed, I’m usually just using my data connection to read Twitter on the bus, but in Sydney and Melbourne I’ve found 4G covers over some of the 3G blackspots.

The Moto G screen is just a smidgen bigger than the E, at 4.5″. The screen is a hell of a lot nicer though, its a 720p display with 329 ppi. Basically, the screen is as sharp as the screen on phones costing twice as much. The colours are great, with none of bleed of the E.

The only thing letting down the Moto G is its camera. (Sample Shots) Colours bleed and can look cartoonish, images blow out in high contrast. All the hallmarks of a cheap camera jammed into a smartphone. Apparently the camera on the Moto X (which is $100 more than the Moto G) is a huge improvement, but I didn’t get a chance to test the X.

Conclusion

There are cheaper Android phones on the market than the $179 Moto E, but most of them are just awful. Hell, even $600 Android phones can be a nightmare to use. But if you’re on a tight budget – if you’re looking to buy your mum her first smartphone, or looking to roll out a couple hundred phones in your work place, the Moto E makes a compelling case.

Spend an extra $100 and you’ll end up with the Moto G (with 4G). It’s one of the best phones I’ve used this year, and my favourite Android experience. It’s not as flashy as some phones, but thanks to its stock Android base, it’s actually faster than some of the flagship phones I’ve played with this year.

The Moto series is like the Toyota Corolla of phones. They’re no status symbol, but they’re well built, well designed, and have a feeling of quality that far exceeds their low price point. And like the Corolla, you can’t help but feel these little devices will outlast many of their competitors.

Motorola have an announcement September 4th, so hold off buying either model until then. But come September 5th, I’m gonna buy me a G. I’m just hoping for a better camera.

Reckoner had its humble beginnings way back in June of 2013.

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