The Age of Entry-Level: Motorola Moto E

Faster. Quality build. Robust.

If I told you those were the words I'd use to describe an entry-level product, would you be surprised? If you've been following what Motorola's been doing the last couple years, maybe not. Catering to emerging markets like China are paying huge dividends for tech companies trying to assert their dominance on the marketplace but here stateside, are low cost phones good enough to feed that first world technolust?

In a word, yes.

The first thing you'll notice when you remove the Moto E from the box is how substantial it feels in hand. It's a little on the chunky side but not in an unwieldy way, it actually feels quite nice and natural in hand with it's curved back and compact size. On the front side of the phone you're going to be looking at a 4.5" qHD 540x960 245 ppi IPS featuring Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3 with an anti-smudge coating. Up front you'll also get a VGA front-facing camera, and the usual array of sensors. The phone has a very clean, minimal design with ridged edges for grip and soft touch plastic on the back. Also on the rear of the device you'll find a 5 MP camera with a f/2.2 aperture which means that it won't have amazing low light performance and you won't get any assistance from a flash because the phone doesn't include one. You'll also find a second microphone on the rear of the phone. The Moto E does allow you to remove the rim around the phone to access the SIM card and expandable memory but doesn't allow you to access the battery- yes, it's a fixed battery design. That said, the 2390mAh battery should be more than enough to get you through a whole day's worth of use.

This year's Moto E brings with it a slight bump in screen size, going from 4.3" to 4.5," and looks great indoors but struggles outdoors in direct sunlight. That's probably the most noticeable compromise you'll see in this $150 LTE equipped phone. And at that price, it's one that I'm sure the majority of users will be able to live with. One other issue I noticed, having come from 1080p and QuadHD displays is that images and text on the 960x540 screen just aren't as sharp as what many people rocking flagship phones have become accustomed to. Again, minimal issue here as the target market for this device probably won't be coming from a 1080p or QuadHD display.Then there's the processor. Equipped with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 410 you get a bump up from last year's Moto E which means you get a faster, more power efficient phone than what was previously offered. That doesn't make it the fastest on the market but you do get more bang for your buck now and that's never a bad thing!

As an entry-level phone, the camera quality is on par with what you'd expect. As long as you're taking pictures in favorable lighting conditions like outdoors in direct sunlight or indoors under bright lights, you're good to go. As I stated previously, there's no flash so low light and indoor pictures aren't going to be that good at all. Even under good lighting, the sensor on this camera produces images that are a bit soft and things with bright, harsh colors are going to bloom a bit. All of that said, the images the rear camera produces will be just fine for what most people do with camera phones anyway and that's posting food photos to their network of choice. Around the front, the VGA camera is only going to be serviceable for quick selfies. VGA means that you're only getting 0.3 megapixels but you're now able to video chat with that front camera which is a step up from last year's model.

One of the best aspects of the software on the Moto E beyond the fact that you get minimal bloatware, is that you also get trickle down from models higher up the food chain. You'll get Moto Alert, Assist, Actions, and Display. With Moto Actions you'll have the ability to get to the camera app with a flick of your wrist, and get to it fast! From a completely locked screen I can get into the camera in under 2 seconds, ready to take a photo.

Part of the reason that a phone like this is able to exist at this level of quality is that Motorola's software is light on extras added on top of Google's Android. What you get is one of the closest experiences to stock Android outside of their reference Nexus devices. That means a snappy user experience which doesn't feel like $150 as opposed to the experience of a $400 phone. Matter of fact, if you gave this phone to people and had them use it against a more expensive phone, in many instances, I don't think most people would be able to tell the difference between the two with regard to the quality and speed of the user interface/user experience.

Is the Moto E the fastest phone on the market? No. You want the fastest phone, you're going to expeditiously part with your money. You want a solid phone and don't want to break the bank? You want to buy a good phone for a tween or teen who earned it but don't want to shell out the cost of a laptop for a phone? Look no further than the Moto E. You'll get at least 7 hours out of the battery, you'll have a handset that works well and takes advantage of some excellent Motorola extras and you won't have any of that nagging buyer's remorse to deal with. And, if you're buying for a tween or teen and don't need LTE you can always pick up the 3G version of the phone at $120. The good news about the $120 version is that it also includes the 1700 MHz band which means that T-Mobile users can take advantage of HSPA+ (AWS) and see "4G" speeds in areas where towers have been updated to accommodate that spectrum.

Disclosure: Motorola provided me with a demo unit of the phone for the purpose of this review.