Motorola stirred up the smartphone market last year with its Moto G handset, which launched at £135 and quickly became Motorola's best-selling phone ever. The Moto G has been a genuinely disruptive product — readers of handset reviews will be familiar with phrases like 'the less expensive Moto G does better', or, more bluntly, 'why buy this when you could buy the Moto G?'
The Moto G has just had a refresh to incorporate 4G and MicroSD storage expansion. At the same time Motorola launched the £89 Moto E, which fires a broadside at handset makers targeting the sub-£100 category. Indeed, Motorola has claimed that this is the handset that will finally bring the 'feature phone' era to an end.
The Moto E certainly has some impressive credentials. Headlining these is Android 4.4 in a pretty much unskinned form, along with good battery life — my experience with the Moto E so far indicates that with light usage you should be able to go two days between charges.
The Moto E's 4.3-inch screen has an anti-smudge coating and is protected by tough Gorilla Glass 3, which is impressive at this price point. Indeed, the Moto E generally feels robustly built, and should hold its own in a travel bag full of school- or work-related gear. In contrast to the original Moto G, the Moto E has a MicroSD card slot, so the paltry 2.2GB of storage that remains from the internal 4GB is easily expanded.
Camera functionality is a potential deal breaker for some, though: the rear camera is a rather lacklustre 5-megapixel unit with no flash, and there's no front camera. A year or so ago this might not have been an issue, but with 'selfies' now firmly established among younger users (surely one of the key target markets for this handset), the lack of a front-facing camera may prove a trade-off too far. Anyone who likes to do videoconferencing on their phone via Google Hangouts or Skype will miss a front camera too.
Although the Moto E's 4.3-inch screen has a relatively low resolution of 540 by 960 pixels (256ppi), other aspects of the display bothered me more — notably moderate brightness and viewing angles. Both of these shortcomings will compromise outdoor use.
There's another potential downside in that music-loving youngsters might not be wowed by the moderate sound quality from the single front-facing speaker that's hidden behind a narrow silver strip beneath the screen. It delivers enough volume, but high volume is no substitute for good audio quality.
Motorola may have caused a mini-revolution with the first-generation Moto G, but the Moto E has been built to even tighter financial constraints, and that shows. There are plenty of good things about this £89 handset, but there are clear opportunities for a competitor to improve on some aspects. Also, the £149 Moto G with 4G (LTE) connectivity, a front-facing camera and 8GB of internal storage may prove to be a bigger draw for those who are prepared to spend a bit more money.