NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Under Google's (GOOG) ownership, Motorola has proved that it can produce Android smartphones the public wants to buy. The Moto X was the first example. The company introduced a great phone and a new method to configure and buy the smartphone online. The result was quite positive.
A few months later, Motorola introduced the Moto G -- a less user-configurable smartphone with somewhat lower specifications. But it was built with one specific goal in mind: keeping overall value high and the price low. Without a contract, Moto G officially retails for $179 (with 8 GB of internal storage) or $199 (16 GB), but you can find it selling for less on the Web. The G was an instant international best seller. Actually, it's now Motorola's bestselling smartphone model ever.
But the G wasn't enough for Motorola and Google. So this week they introduced their newest smartphone that's built to a price: the Moto E.
Like Motorola's previous models, the new E stresses high value at an even more affordable price point. Moto E is set to sell for $129. That's the full, non-contract price. It's not priced as low as the $25 ZTE Firefox OS phone or some of the other super-ultra-budget devices on the market. Then again, you get what you pay for.
The Moto E is a solid device running on the latest version of the Android operating system, the 4.4.2/KitKat. Since Motorola/Google controls what else goes inside the E (like the X and G), the E runs on a near-stock version of the Android, meaning you don't have to worry about dealing with the usual "bloatware" that comes installed on other manufacturers' phones. (Think Samsung, HTC, LG, etc.)
The E has a great-looking 4.3-inch touchscreen (4:3 ratio, 540 by 960 pixels and 256 pixels-per-inch) protected by Corning (GLW) Gorilla Glass 3. Inside there's a dual-core Qualcomm (QCOM) Snapdragon 200 processor mated to 1 GB of RAM.
Moto E is a 3G phone. That means no speedy 4G/LTE connectivity. For much of the world that's not a problem; in remote corners, 4G is just a dream. The Moto G was and is still a 3G-only phone although there is now a premium (that means slightly more expensive) 4G model G about to be released.
On the E's negative side, there is only 4 GB of storage inside. But Motorola does provide users with a microSD expansion slot. You can add as much as 32 GB more.
Other obvious cost-cutting can be seen in the the compliment of cameras in the E. There's a 5 megapixel shooter on the back but no flash. But that's better than what's not on the other side. There is no forward-facing camera on the Moto E. "Selfies" are a no-go. Don't forget, this phone is meant to be built to a price.
Of course, there is also Wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity and an FM radio for added pleasure. The phone also has a 1980 mAh rechargeable (but non-removable) battery pack which actually provides a full day's worth of juice. You can purchase one of the 20 different super-colorful Motorola Shell back covers to customize your phone.
There are actually three models of the Moto E. There is the Global GSM-based variant, the unlocked North American GSM model, which can be used on AT&T's (T) as well as T-Mobile's (TMUS) cellular networks in the United States. There is also a CDMA model listed which, theoretically, can be used on Verizon (VZ) or Sprint (S) . Our test model came with an AT&T test SIM inside.
Motorola's goal with the E was to invent a high-quality Android smartphone which would sell for a very low price and provide a "buttery smooth" operational feel. For the most part, that's exactly what Motorola delivered.
Thanks to that near-stock version of Android, the phone is a pretty smooth performer. But it will never lull you into thinking it's a top-of-the-line model. Transition from one screen or one program to another sometimes slows down for a second or so. I'm guessing it has to do with the single-core graphics processor Moto chose for the E. It's not a deal breaker but it is noticeable.
The camera section is also noteworthy, but for the wrong reasons. There's no front camera and the rear shooter isn't that great. There's no electronic flash and it provides just adequate quality snapshots. Again, I'm guessing Motorola had to skimp somewhere and this was one of those places. Another is the operational memory. 4 GB is barely enough room to store much of anything. Consider the purchase and use of a microSD storage card as mandatory.
Despite having to take those product negatives into consideration, I found the Moto E to be a highly usable and enjoyable smartphone. It was adequately fast at 3G data speeds but an even better performer on Wi-fi connections. Surfing the Web was great. Streaming video (YouTube, Netflix (NFLX) and Time Warner (TWC) Cable apps) or audio (Spotify, WiMP) provided flawless entertainment.
Plus, the Moto E's battery lasted more than a day on a single charge. That means morning, noon, night, overnight and most of the next morning. That's pretty amazing for any smartphone, no less a "bargain" model. I never felt I was being held back by using a $129 handset.
Motorola promises the E will receive an upgrade to the next version of the Android OS when it's ready. In the recent past, Motorola has been very good at providing super-quick OS upgrades so far. But it's unknown exactly what Lenovo plans to do after it get control of the company.
-- Written by Gary Krakow in New York.
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