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Motorola Moto E: Feature Phone Killer

Moto E undercuts the competition with respectable features and a rock-bottom price.

Motorola announced the Moto E, its least expensive smartphone to date, on Tuesday. Motorola believes the device will not only shake up the entry-level smartphone segment, but sound the death knell for feature phones once and for all.

The Moto E carries over the same design language used by Motorola in the Moto X and Moto G. It is compact, made of durable plastics, and offers at least some customization of appearance. Where the Moto X can be made to order, the Moto E lets users swap the rear cover to change the look of the phone. Motorola Shells (as they are called) come in 20 different colors and cost an extra $14.99 each. According to Motorola, the Moto E is splash- and scratch-proof, which means it should be able to handle the minor bumps and bruises that occur throughout the life of a modern smartphone. The base colors of the Moto E are black and white.

The Moto E has a 4.3-inch display that is protected by Corning's Gorilla Glass 3. The resolution is qHD, or 960 x 540 pixels. Motorola says the Moto E has a pixel density of 256 pixels per inch, which is far below that of today's high-end smartphones -- but outclasses the 800 x 480 displays on most entry-level phones. The Moto E is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor with two cores clocked at 1.2 GHz each, accompanied by an Adreno 302 GPU at 400 MHz for graphics. The Snapdragon 200 is one of Qualcomm's least-expensive processors. It doesn't offer the killer power of the Snapdragon 400 or 800, but it is more than capable of delivering performance for a device such as the E. The E has 1 GB of system memory, 4 GB of internal storage, and supports microSD memory cards up to 32 GB.

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Motorola opted for a 5-megapixel camera, but there's no user-facing camera for selfies. (What a shame!) The camera can capture 720p HD video and offers shooting modes such as panorama. The phone has a 1,980-mAh battery that Motorola says delivers a full day of battery life.

Connectivity options are somewhat limited. In order to keep the price down, the Moto E does not include LTE 4G. It supports HSPA and CDMA networks in some regions, and also includes Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, and single-band WiFi. It doesn't have NFC.

The Moto E runs Android 4.4.2 KitKat, which is the most recent version of Android available, and Motorola is promising the phone will receive at least one major operating system update during its lifetime.

The specs aren't the whole story. Motorola is going to push the device through 80 carriers in 40 countries for the low price of $129. That's without subsidies and about as low as it gets for a contract-free smartphone. The Moto E falls under the Moto G in Motorola's lineup, which costs $179. (A new LTE-capable version of the G went on sale Tuesday for $219.) The Moto X is still available for $349 without a contract.

To put the Moto E's price into perspective, Motorola said the $179 Moto G is its best-ever selling smartphone. That's significant, considering the popularity of its Droid smartphones, sold by Verizon Wireless. The Moto G has a better set of specs, and is wildly popular with prepaid services around the world. The Moto E should be even more popular, as the lower price point will make it more attractive to the budget conscious.

The Moto E's price is so low that it truly endangers feature phones. Sure, plenty of feature phones can be purchased for $50 to $100 without a contract, but the Moto E closes that critical features-for-the-cost gap. It will be much easier for people to see the value of the Moto E and make the jump from a feature phone to a smartphone. There are billions more people on Earth yet to connect. The Moto E could very well be their first smartphone.

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