Smartphones are ubiquitous these days. In Malaysia, it’s pretty hard to get by without some kind of smartphone to run basic messaging and social media applications. But Malaysia’s in a bad spot and because our currency is so awful, a large majority of us can’t afford super expensive flagships.
And that’s where phones like the Moto M come in. Y’know, budget phones.
Now I know the term “budget” is very relative. Money is a complex subject in general and what is “budget” to some may not be the same to others. As phone reviewers, we have to look at the whole picture and from that, we think that the sweet spot lies somewhere close to the RM1,000 and RM1,200 price point, hence our big focus on it.
It’s a sweet spot for a reason because we think these phones are the lowest anyone should go on the price ladder without crippling drawbacks. Sure, you could spend less but then the disparity between the cash you pay and the phone you get becomes much more apparent.
Of course, when you’re paying close to the upper limit of the “budget” or “entry-level” and lower limit of the “midrange” smartphone market, you deserve a pretty solid phone. You deserve a smooth phone that can get you through the day without day-ruining hiccups in user experience, at least, I think that’s what you should be able to get in 2017.
Priced at RM1,199, the Moto M lives right smack in the middle of this “sweet spot”. But, is this a phone you deserve at this price point? And unfortunately, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no.
+ Great build
– Lackluster performance
[nextpage title=”It has very obvious pros and cons”]
First impressions definitely impress. The Moto M is a handsome looking device that’s sleek and unassuming. In grey, the M looks like the kind of bang-for-buck suit the untrained eye might mistake for something a lot more expensive, and that’s a good thing.
A lot of that comes down to the Moto M’s excellent build quality. Its metal shell can easily compete with phones twice its price and that makes this phone a dream to hold at just shy of RM1,200. The curved back further complements the phone’s ergonomics and Moto even took the time to machine off the sharp edges. Add that to the fact that the buttons are well-balanced and clicky, the camera bump isn’t too obnoxious, and the anodisation isn’t too much of a fingerprint magnet, you’ve got a solid A- build.
The Moto M’s speaker is also another asset that helps it stand out from the crowd. Despite being just a single bottom-firing unit, most of us at the office were thoroughly impressed with how it produces sound. It’s surprisingly balanced (doesn’t sound significantly louder at one ear) when you hold it in landscape and cupping the speaker didn’t really do much to improve the sound which speaks volumes for how well it works.
I suppose that isn’t too surprising since it’s got Dolby Atmos certification but eyebrows were definitely raised the first time I heard it. Audio quality is also good (for a single speaker) and I think that in this department the M absolutely punches above its price.
It also makes the Moto M a good media consumption device when paired with its 5.5-inch Full HD IPS display. Sure, it’s not the best panel in the market but it’s got nice viewing angles and looks good enough for stuff like YouTube videos or Twitch streams.
Up until that point, I was pretty amazed at how Moto managed to make such an affordable phone feel so good. In my mind, I was already sold on the Moto M and thought that this would be an easy phone to recommend anyone on a budget. However, like that too-good-to-be-true Mr Perfect you found on Tinder, once you spend some time with it, you really start to see its shortcomings.
We’ll start with a really painful one: Battery life. With moderate usage, I struggled to get three hours of screen-on-time with the Moto M. On average, I was getting about two and a half hours of SOT which means it often runs out before the end of my day. If I have to cover events, or need it for navigation, SOT goes below two hours. Charging is pretty linear. Fifteen minutes gives you about 15% while an hour nets you about 60%. Only the last 10% breaks that linearity so it takes a little over two hours to fully charge.
Performance is another con on the Moto M’s checklist. Not even 4GB of RAM could help the Moto M’s MediaTek Helio P15 put on a strong show. Thankfully, the Moto M runs on a really stock version of Android so the phone is still pretty usable but it’s definitely not what I’d call a snappy experience. At least, you do get 32GB of internal storage (further expandable via a microSD card) so space isn’t a big issue.
But now, we come to the biggest weakness of all: The Moto M’s camera. I mean, I get that this is a budget device and I’m not expecting DSLR-replacement image quality but the Moto M’s 16-megapixel f/2.0 camera is atrocious. In fact, even if you ignore image quality, the Moto M’s shooting experience itself is enough to turn you off smartphone photography.
There are snappy shooters and then there’s the Moto M which feels like it’s designed to be the anti-snappy shooter. It’s slow to focus and inaccurate when focusing. To make matters worse, the delay between the shutter animation, indicating that you’ve taken a picture, and the photo actually appearing in the gallery is criminally slow (especially in low light). Worst of all, if you exit the camera app somewhere between the shutter animation and the image actually saving into your gallery, the camera won’t save the picture at all.
The Moto M, then, is a phone with pretty clear-cut strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t operate in the grey and that can be a good and bad thing. It also has smaller pros like the fact that its fingerprint scanner is accurate and fast, and that it runs on stock Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
However, because its big weaknesses lie in what I’d consider core elements of a good smartphone, the Moto M becomes a device that I can’t recommend as a full-fledged daily driver, especially not when the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 (which is cheaper and better overall) exists. Unless all you want is a good build and a good speaker, there’s no competition, get the Redmi Note 4.
Here are more photos captured with the Moto M’s camera.