Why the new Moto E is the most important Android phone this year

The Moto E is not the "best" or the "most powerful." But it is the most important.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Moto E with 4G LTE (2nd generation)
(Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive)

Everyone loves an underdog. Just three months into the new year, we may have a contender in the smartphone space.

Forget anything you've seen at Mobile World Congress. As exciting it was to see the new Samsung Galaxy S6, remarkable breakthroughs in storage and security, and the resurgence of BlackBerry (with the possibility that a tablet may soon be on deck), these rank fairly low on the breakthrough scale.

The low-budget Moto E could be the one phone of the year to shake up the Android market, particularly the newcomer segment. And yet nobody's talking about it. All eyes on the high-end phone you'll replace in a year anyway.

The Moto E hasn't considerably changed since its first-generation model, except for the addition of LTE capability, and a slightly larger 4.5-inch qHD display (with a resolution of 960 x 540 pixels). Compared to the iPhone 6, it's a fraction smaller in display size and with a lesser pixel density than the Retina display. Performance is far from bad, but it struggles in high-demand tasks. (Don't rely on it for blasting out a game on your subway ride to work.) And its design is je ne sais quoi; a lumpy and dowdy shell with no physical home buttons.

But it's just shy of $150, off-contract and unlocked, with far more than you'd expect from an entry-level phone. What's not to love?

Hands-on with the new Moto E smartphone

Hands-on with the new Moto E budget smartphone: in pictures

LTE mobile broadband for the modern age: You'll fall into LTE, the latest in cellular networking, whether you like it or not -- and there's very little not to love (once you get over the data caps). Due to its price, you can call the Moto E either a low-end super fast cellular browsing device, or a pricey mobile hotspot. Motorola introduced LTE to the phone to keep it on par with its competitors -- at least in Western markets. For those still lagging behind the times (or those not wanting to shell out for data costs), the discounted 3G-only version costs just $119.

Four-times the expandable storage: The Moto E lands with 8GB of internal memory. Want more? Add in a microSD card for a few bucks, and you've got yourself four-times the capacity. The photo quality from the camera on a sub-par display may not look fantastic to the trained eye, but it's certainly not bad quality for what you're spending.

A near-stock version of Android cuts out the crapware: Android is an alien concept to a select portion of the smartphone share. (For me, I can work around it but it takes me time to get to grips with what's what.) With the phone maker's additions, it's crapware for the mobile age. Who actually uses photo backup tools, let alone half of Google's own services?

The Moto E comes with a clean and easy-to-use version of Android "Lollipop" -- the latest version of the software, with all the benefits and less of the noise associated with most modern Android phones. You won't get Samsung's enterprise security benefits, nor will you get the fingerprint reader. But you can still bring-your-own-device to your workplace, large or small.

It comes with Exchange and Google mobile apps for cloud-based email and calendar support. And you've got device encryption (though it's not automatically enabled) that'll keep your data protected.

Thin and light, but the battery packs a power punch: How long does the the Moto E lasts? At least a day, with moderate use. It certainly lasts longer than an iPhone 6 on full charge.

Android devices are typically cheaper than an iPhone. But there's not a phone out there on the market with this level of quality, performance, and service for the price. The Moto E isn't trying to be something it's not. It's an approachable device that's aimed at the first-time Android user.

And for anyone who's shied away from a modern smartphone, it may be a temptation far too great to pass over.

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