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The Moto E is shockingly cheap and surprisingly good

Keeping Android pure and prices low is helping Motorola sell a lot of phones

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The Moto E isn't the sort of phone you dream about or sketch concepts of in your spare time. It's made simply and of simple materials; it's neither extremely thin nor especially light. It's just a regular smartphone. What's different about the E, however, is its price: $129 without a contract. Nobody's going to fantasize about this phone because almost everyone who wants one should be able to afford it.

Motorola has proven with the Moto G, which costs $50 more than the new E, that it can condense a modern and responsive Android user experience within tight budget limitations. After only six months on the market, the G is already Motorola's best-selling smartphone ever, and is presently the top seller in Mexico and Brazil.

Tapping into the insatiable appetite for cheaper smartphones, Motorola distinguished itself with swift updates to a near-stock variety of Android that was a joy to use. A market populated by the likes of the Galaxy Fame and Galaxy Young — both of which are stuck on Android 4.1 with little hope of an upgrade — hadn't seen anything like the quick and well-made G before. Or since, for that matter. The Nokia X has waded into this battle, but its lack of Play Store apps and glacially slow performance mean it's more of the same.

The screen's smaller and the processor's slower, but somehow the phone still feels great

With its new phone, Motorola is putting up the strongest challenger to the Moto G yet. The company's chief of software engineering, Steve Horowitz, says the Moto E is nothing short of a "game changer." While it was surprising that a high-quality Android experience could be trickled down from the Moto X to the Moto G, it is downright impressive to see it drop even further in price with so little compromise. The screen's smaller and the processor's slower, but somehow the phone still feels great. Motorola is maintaining its mantra of "pure Android" and shipping the E with KitKat on board and, just as vitally, guaranteeing to upgrade the phone to the next major revision of Google's operating system.

"If you look at the way Android is headed," says Horowitz, "KitKat was intentionally designed to run on lower memory, so the Moto G and Moto E have very long lives ahead of them." The sales pitch from Motorola couldn't be simpler: fast and responsive software, matched by reliable updates, encapsulated in a durable, customizable device.

To back up its speed claims, Motorola has run comparisons between the Moto E and Samsung's flagship phone for 2013, the Galaxy S4. Moto's numbers show the newer handset is about a second quicker to answer calls or launch the browser and a whole 1.7 seconds faster in launching the camera app. My own experience with the Moto E's camera affirmed that it works very swiftly, although the pictures themselves are terrible. Still, speed kills, and the victims here are Motorola's competition, who can't offer anything comparable for the price.

The Moto E's construction doesn't feel downmarket at all, and it maintains the same curved shape as the other Moto phones. Its back covers are interchangeable and it has a microSD card slot, adding an extra bit of versatility and a potential upgrade path for the most price-sensitive buyers. You can see more of the new handset in the images below.

Motorola Moto E hands-on pictures


There are just two buttons on the entire phone: one to turn it on, and a volume rocker to adjust the sound.