Unlocked handset has a 4.3-in screen, but base storage is small, it has only one camera and only a dual-core CPU

Recently my inbox had a heads-up about the new Moto E handset from Motorola, which is now available in the Canadian marketplace for $179 at Staples…unlocked. For those looking for a new handset, that’s a pretty tempting price…but what exactly do you get for that?

Well, the important thing upfront: you’re not going to have to lock yourself into a multi-year contract with a cellular provider to take advantage of the price. That’s huge, considering many unlocked phones out there are over $500, if not pushing $1,000. By comparison, this is a bargain. Of course, that savings is going to come from somewhere, and on the Moto E it comes from a few places.

First up, the processor is a 1.2-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200, rather than one of the quad-core CPUs popping up on most other new models. That means slower performance overall, but for most uses this isn’t a deal-killer.

The bigger problem is the lack of onboard storage; while many other new models are coming in at 16 and 32 gigabytes (or even 64 gigs), the Moto E sports a paltry 4 gigs of onboard storage.

Sure, there’s a microSD slot that will allow you to add another 32 gigabytes of storage, but of course that comes with all the associated problems of swapping files to the card, and managing apps to make sure that you’re not clogging your main system storage. (Since the card slot is buried under the rear plastic cover, you can’t just swap it in and out at your leisure, either.)

This means you’re not going to be using this phone to store a ton of photos and video, loading it up with tons of games, etc. In a cloud-based world, that’s less an issue than it used to be, but for anyone who needs to bring a lot of data on their device, it will be a big problem.

One other sacrifice with the phone is the screen: while it’s a large 4.3-inch screen with durable Gorilla Glass, the resolution is only 960×540 — definitely not high-def. To be fair, many users may not ever see this as a problem – the screen still looks great, but it just doesn’t have the clarity you’ll get on a more up-market model.

The Moto E also has a more basic camera setup: no front-facing camera, and a five megapixel camera on the rear of the phone. There’s no flash included, so the camera will be best in brightly-lit rooms, where the photos will be relatively decent. (In darker rooms you get the expected blurring, though the camera’s HDR feature will offset it somewhat.)

It’s also worth noting that the Moto E isn’t an LTE phone, so you’re not going to get the fastest data transfer speeds available from leading carriers. The phone does have Wi-Fi onboard, so you’ll be able to transfer data fairly quickly when you get to your friendly neighborhood hotspot, but if you rely on ultra-quick data
when you’re on the road, you may want to cast a glance up the Motorola ladder at the LTE-equipped version of the Moto G.

One last way the Moto E pinches its pennies: there’s no audio headset included in the package. For those of us who like to sub in our own higher-quality headset anyhow, this isn’t a big loss.

Once really nice touch with the Moto E is that it comes with KitKat 4.4, which is a nice improvement over most value-oriented models. (Being part of the Google mothership probably doesn’t hurt in that regard.) That means better app compatibility right from the get-go. Better, you should get new versions of Android as soon as they’re available, which is a big security plus.

The Moto E also features a reasonably powerful 1980 mAh battery, which means your phone won’t crap out early in the day…unless you’re really putting it through its paces, of course.

The phone is also semi-customizable, allowing you to swap out the back cover fairly quickly and easily; while it comes with only a single pre-attached “Motorola Shell” (typically black or white), you can purchase replacement shells in colours like red, blue and green, and swap them out to better match your mood or branding.

The bottom line is that the Moto E is a reasonably solid phone for those with fairly basic needs, but power users will probably want to step up to the unlocked version Moto G, which (for $249) gives you 16 gigs of storage, a front-facing camera, and a quad-core processor (among other things).

As a starter phone, though, the Moto E makes for a pretty good choice; it has all the basics and it won’t hurt the pocketbook too much if anything happens to it. That makes it the perfect choice for a handset to give to your kids, or for corporate handsets where you don’t need a ton of horsepower (ie basic calling and email, and maybe the occasional game).

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