Wednesday, December 09, 2015

First Impressions, Motorola Moto E LTE (2015)

I have to say that over the last year or so, Android has finally redeemed itself in my eyes, and the reason for that mostly has to do with Motorola. The Moto G has been an unmitigated top level experience for me so far, so when I found $10 Moto E LTE (Verizon) being blown out by Best Buy during Black Friday, I picked up one.

In previous years, you would have been hard pressed to recommend an Android phone for anything under $200. In fact, for my parents, I'd moved them to Lumia phones for that reason: it seemed that for anything with under 2GB of RAM, Android was really sluggish, and had miserable battery life. The Motorola Moto E with 1GB of RAM didn't seem like it would be any better, but for $10 I could have a spare phone.

I'm a T-mobile user, so the first thing I did was to follow the instructions to convert the phone to GSM mode. These instructions involved turning the phone into a developer machine, and then using adb to set the wireless radios to talk to the GSM network instead. The penalty is that if you ever switch SIMs (or even pull the SIM out and reboot), the device will revert back into Verizon mode, so this isn't a phone you could expect to travel to various countries and buy local SIM cards with: you'd have to go through the unlock sequence every time you inserted a new SIM card into the device, so unless you're also bringing a laptop with adb installed and are willing to go through it every time you switch SIMs, you're better off buying a truly unlocked phone.

Part of the reason Android performance on lower end devices is now acceptable is because hardware has gotten faster. The Moto E LTE has a Snapdragon 410 SoC, which is clocked just 200MHz slower than the one in the Moto G 2015. That 15% disadvantage in clock speed is noticeable, but it's the 1GB of RAM that's really what makes the phone feel less than instantly responsive to your touch. Apps startup just that bit slower, though once started, the apps feel just as fast as on the Moto G. Note, however, that app startup is something you do frequently on Android phones: you click on a link in Gmail, for instance, and startup a web browser. You'd click the share button on the web browser, and then bring up Facebook or Google+ to post. So the performance penalty for task switching really hurts if you're a power user.

The camera is decent for taking pictures of receipts and in good light. But without even a flash to help, it's pretty much something you're not going to use and be delighted with. The 4.5" screen feels like a throwback to 5 years ago: coming from the Moto G, you wonder how anyone ever thought 4.7" was a decently sized phone, let alone 4.5". The smaller screen does help with the performance, though: with fewer pixels to push, the device is acceptably fast most of the time.

For $10, the phone is definitely a deal. It's more than acceptable, and better than any of the cheap Lumias from past years. For the full retail price of $120, I'd say the Windows Phones start looking better. Fortunately, you'd never have to pay that: the Amazon street price of the phone is around $35, and at that price, I'm think that Windows Phones aren't ever going to be taking market share from Android. The Moto E LTE is a phone that does everything that the higher end devices do acceptably, and with the full range of apps that the windows phones cannot match. I'm now convinced that even supposedly "thin" skins such as found on the Sony Xperia phones suck a ton of CPU/GPU power away from UI responsiveness, and that's to be avoided if at all possible, and if you manage to do so, phone hardware is now powerful enough that the Windows phones no longer have an advantage.


I have to say, if Motorola had been smart enough to make the Moto X Pure waterproof, it would now be in the running for an upgrade: that's how impressive the Moto G has been. Seriously, I have no idea why most of the flagship phones aren't waterproof. It seems like such a basic feature if even a $180 phone can achieve it!
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