There's more to Android than high-end devices, as we take a look at Motorola's entry-level Motoluxe
On the European side of the Android world, Motorola hasn't really made the same impact as it has in the US. Moto brings good hardware to the table, yet we live in a Samsung and HTC dominated world. That said, Motorola has been pushing its latest entry-level offering, the Motoluxe, quite hard in the UK.
As the weeks since the device’s launch have passed, we've seen press release after press release detailing yet more European mobile markets receiving it. It even made release in Canada these past few weeks. Motorola is promoting this as a style focused device, starting with a swanky London launch party. Truth be told, though, we're more interested in the device beneath the style. We've spent some time getting to know the Motoluxe over the past couple of weeks, and in our honest opinion, it isn’t all that bad. The important thing to remember is the market that this device is aimed at, and for those people it’ll do just nicely.
We'll take you through it after the break.
Excellent build quality, especially for an entry level device. Surprisingly competent 8MP camera, with the dedicated camera button a nice touch. Screen is bright and colorful.
The Motorola software isn't that good, with some pretty bad lag when scrolling between home screens. The activity widget is prone to constant re-drawing. Sound when recording video is poor.
Motorola makes good hardware, and the Motoluxe is no exception. Its thin, without being overly thin, and we get a bit of metal in there too. It feels very similar in construction to the old Milestone (OG Droid). In a world of polycarbonate and MAO treatments, it actually feels nice to have some metal on a new phone. With metal of course comes weight, and for its relatively small size, it's a pretty heavy little thing. It feels really nice in the hand though, and for someone who uses a much larger device on a daily basis, it made me realize that sometimes smaller devices can be just as pleasant to use.
As this is a Gingerbread device, we're treated to the traditional capacitive buttons on the front. Until playing about with this, I didn't realize I missed having a search button over the ICS style search bar. Kind of like a comfort blanket, it feels safe and familiar. The screen itself is 4 inches diagonally, which compared to many higher-end devices is pretty small. There is still a market for a device of this size though, and I enjoyed not having to two-hand the phone just to pull down the notification tray.
Elsewhere, we have an 8MP camera on the back a VGA camera on the front, and a dedicated camera button on the right hand side. This is a great addition, and is down to personal choice but I much prefer a dedicated physical button. The camera itself isn’t anything overly special, but that said, it doesn't take bad photographs, and we'll look at that later on.
We also get the standard Micro USB charging port, 3.5mm headphone jack, volume rocker and power switch on the top, which completes the switchgear. On the rear of the phone is a pretty sizeable speaker, again reminiscent of previous Motorola phones. You're never going to get great quality sound from a phone speaker, but this one at least gives decent volume. Never once did during testing did I miss a notification tone.
So what about battery life? With its diminutive size comes a smaller battery than many of us would feel comfortable living with day-to-day. The 1390 mAh battery is actually pretty good though, and using it much like any other phone -- i.e. fairly heavily -- it never struggled to get through the day. As for those inevitable times that it didn’t get plugged in at night, they’re no problem either. The Motoluxe seemed to have the staying power, and that will definitely please the type of user who could well pick up this device.
Under the hood is an 800MHz processor, backed up by 512MB of RAM. It isn’t a powerhouse, far from it, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like it struggles with the majority of tasks. It had enough guts to plough through some serious Angry Birds and Temple Run sessions, after all. But if you’re a processor nerd, you won’t be buying this phone. So we’ll not dwell on it any longer.
There’s no pretty way to say it, so I’ll just come out with it. The stock Motorola software just isn’t that great. Let me explain.
The vast majority of the user experience, the menus, the app drawer, even the UI, isn’t bad. It looks pretty good, it’s colorful, and it’s easy to use. But the problem is lag, and there's some pretty horrendous lag in Moto's launcher. That said, it's the only time the Motoluxe feels under-powered. A custom launcher made a slight improvement, but in 2012 it isn’t right that even an entry-level device should suffer in this way. Casual consumers who may pick this up as a first smartphone, or a first entry into the Android world, aren’t going to be overly impressed. Flicking between the home screens isn’t fluid, it’s jerky, real jerky, and then we get to the coup-de-grace -- Motorola’s Widgets.
As you’ll no doubt have seen in many promo shots, Motorola's loaded a few custom widgets onto the 'luxe, including the social graph and the activity graph. The activity graph charts your 10 most used applications -- in principle a really useful idea. In practice, it constantly redraws itself if you use a lot of apps, which really defeats the object of it being there. It's a shame, because it is nice to see a manufacturer trying to be creative with their UI. The fault lies in the execution.
The social graph is a similar widget for your most recently contacted people. I'm not big on old-fashioned voice calls, but I can imagine big talkers and texters may run into similar redrawing issues with this widget.
I do like the combined weather and clock widget though. It looks good, and the weather app behind it uses Accuweather so it’s pretty reliable too. We’re not talking HTC-like levels of UI polish, but it’s impressive nonetheless. The notification menu is pretty useful too, with the last 4 apps used lining the top above your notifications.
App wise, we’re not actually bloated down on this one, but this is an unlocked device from Motorola.
Quickoffice Lite is on there, as is Twitter, and Facebook, and Google+. The Music and gallery apps are pretty much the stock Android versions given cute new icons. Motorola has also thrown in a File Manager. It’s fairly basic and not a patch on something like Astro, but it’s there and it works, so it’s useful. Otherwise there’s a lot of stock -- stock browser, stock contacts (albeit with a cutesy Motorola dialer), and the usual selection of Google apps.
Perhaps the most impressive piece of software though is Swype, which comes pre-installed. On a smaller screen such as this, Swype really comes into its own. It is by far more responsive than the stock keyboard, and it was a pleasant surprise to see it nestled there in the settings menu.
We’ll get the front facing camera out of the way first. It isn’t that good. You probably wouldn’t expect it to be, but it really isn’t. It just isn't good enough at either still photos or videos to make it worth making regular use of it.
The rear 8MP camera is pleasantly surprising though. It isn’t in the same league as HTC’s 8MP cameras on the One series, but for a budget orientated device it’s not bad at all. Low light performance isn’t too hot, but in well lit conditions it produces reasonable images. There’s also a selection of built in effects to the camera app, which can make basic adjustments to color, and saturation, and white balance and the like.
The video camera doesn't do HD video recording. As such, quality isn’t really anything to shout about. We’ve shot a sample video for you to check out though. It's watchable, but doesn't compare to the higher-end offerings out there.
For the first time smartphone or Android user, there’s definitely a lot to like about the Motoluxe. The hardware is excellent for the price. The screen is nice, bright and colorful. It feels good in the hand, and more importantly it feels well built. The addition of a dedicated camera button, too, is a nice touch. The issue is with the software. UI lag is sadly something that is too often associated with low end Android devices, but that doesn’t make it excusable. It really is a shame, because for the price the Motoluxe is a great little device with a lot to offer. It’s likely to be snapped up by pay-as-you-go customers looking for a cheap, yet full featured smartphone. For those people, it’ll do just nicely. And at £199, it’s not badly priced either. If you're after a basic Android smartphone, the Motoluxe is definitely worth a look.