When you've only $150 sitting in your pocket, you have to measure your expectations if you're looking to spend it on a phone. That sort of price bracket used to be the reserve of the cheap, plasticky feature phone, but today's launch of Motorola's Moto E puts a capable Android smartphone at your disposal for just $150.
Building on the great success of last year's budget-orientated Moto G, the Moto E is a no-frills Android smartphone that favours solid internal specifications over novelty features. Measuring 124.8 x 64.8 x 12.3mm and weighing 142g, it fits comfortably in one hand, with a curved plastic housing that's similar to what was seen in the Moto G. While it's far from being a premium-looking device (it's way too chunky for that), there's not a creak or flex to be found in its frame — a far cry from the cheap construction of other smartphones in this price bracket.
A 4.3-inch screen, running at 960 x 540 (qHD) resolution sits up front, with a 256ppi that Motorola states is best in its class. That's a tad smaller than the Moto G, and lower than the Moto G's 720p resolution. But it's still as colourful and bright, if not as sharp as the Moto G. To hit that price point a trade off had to be made, but at least Motorola hasn't massively undermined the screen quality.
Under the hood sits a 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 with A7 CPU, backed by 1GB of RAM and a 400MHz single-core GPU. Again, it's a step down from the 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 found in the Moto G, but it felt responsive enough during my brief time with the handset. A quick game of Angry Birds Go showed the handset at least capable of running some less-intensive casual games smoothly.
Part of the reason why the Moto E feels so responsive, despite its modest specs, is Motorola's commitment to using a near-vanilla version of Android. It's a great move — running Android 4.4.2 KitKat, the handset isn't slowed down by bloated overlays or unnecessary apps (the later particularly important seeing as only 4GB of internal storage is onboard — microSD cards up to 32GB are supported). With a lightweight Android build on board, navigating through homescreens, firing up apps and using tools like Google voice input felt snappier than some bogged-down handsets twice the price.
Along with the returning Motorola Migrate tool (for quickly jumping from an old device to this new one), Assist meeting manager and FM radio apps from the Moto G, Motorola have added just a single new application for the Moto E. Alerts, allowing you to track loved one based on location notifications, organise meet up points and quickly access an emergency contact in times of danger, belies Motorola's intended audience for the device. As much as first time, cash-strapped smartphone buyers, it seems as though Motorola is positioning the handset as a first smartphone for youngsters — and giving parents the means to remotely keep an eye on them through the phone.
If there's one area where the phone's budget nature is really obvious however, it's in its camera. Even with just a brief play with it, the 5MP camera wasn't up to much. Shots looked grainy, and the lack of a flash won't help in low-light situations. There isn't even a front facing camera on it, so selfie enthusiasts will have to perfect the "at arms reach" rear camera shot. The camera app itself allows you to tap anywhere onscreen to capture a photo, but in my experience that only ever leads to shaky shots — especially in a case like this where no notable stabilisation techniques are in play.
A 1980mAh battery is present, which Motorola claim is good for a full days use. Despite having a removable cover (Motorola will sell nine colourful "Shell" cases and five different protective "Grip cases which clip onto the back), the battery pack is inaccessible, so no swapping it out if you're running low on juice.
Concessions then have been made even over the basic Moto G, but for $150 the Moto E is a remarkable proposition. With level-headed expectations, this could comfortable be an excellent back-up device for those that don't fancy taking their $600+ phones out on a wild night, and equally attractive to those looking to make an affordable jump from feature phone to smartphone.