Moto M Review – A Value Champion?

The mid-range smartphone market – possibly the hottest smartphone market around. Manufacturers constantly fight so hard against each other by rolling out the latest and greatest to try to get the biggest market share. The name Motorola is not an unfamiliar name in this industry. Started with the famous ?? flip-phone that started GSM mobile phones, till today, moto as its now called, they’re still now providing well-priced smartphones with relatively-vanilla Android operating system. The Moto M is their latest device to join the line-up. Priced at RM1199, its targeted towards the lower end of the mid-range market between the Moto G series and the Moto E series. So, being a well-known brand that is in this market long enough to know what the customers actually want, does the company’s latest creation tick all the right boxes? Let’s find out.

Unboxing

As a relatively inexpensive device, the packaging of the Moto M is straightforward and simple. It’s brown on the outside, with the Moto M branding and the actual photo of the device at the front. The phone is the first thing you get to once you open the packaging. Moto provides you will all the bells and whistles to get you started, including the usual USB-C cable for data transfer and charging, USB wall adapter, a pair of earphone, some documentations and a SIM tray ejector. As an added bonus, you can also find a piece of screen protector as well as a clear case. For the price, there’s nothing to complain.

Design

At first glance, the Moto M looks pretty good. It’s well designed, mature and good looking. While it does have a unibody design, it does not desperately try to look like some of its other competitors. It still does adopt Motorola’s familiar design language, while having some new design cues as well.

The material used is very premium as well. With the front 2.5D edged glass and the metal back, this does not feel like a lower-to-mid range device at all. In fact, the metal body just feels and looks premium and easily on par with the flagships out there. At 168-grams, the Moto M can be on the heavier side considering most of its other competitors are around 10-grams lighter, but it makes the phone feel real solid.

The front is mostly dominated by a 5.5-inch display, under the super premium looking 2.5D curved glass. The bezels on both left and right sides are minimal and adequate enough to prevent annoying accidental inputs when finger is rested on its sides. On the top is an earpiece, some sensors along with a 8-megapixel front-facing camera. Like all other previous Moto devices, it utilizes on-screen Android navigation, so all its left for the bottom side is a small subtle Moto logo.

On the left is where the usual SIM-tray sits, in which we’ll find 2 slots. Unfortunately, its pretty similar to most phones we’ve looked at the past. The primary SIM slot takes a nano-SIM card, while the secondary slot takes either a nano-SIM card or a microSD card for storage expansion. Even though most of the phones these days feature a similar setup, we still think its very annoying, especially when you need to run two SIM cards and there’s nothing left for microSD card. The volume and power buttons are conveniently located on the right of the device.

The USB-C port is located at the bottom, and on each sides there are grills which makes the Moto M looks like it features stereo speakers, while in fact, only the right ones houses the mono speaker. The left one is solely reserved for the microphone.

On the back is the beauty spot of the Moto M. It looks especially good in the gold colour that our tester came in. Moto (or Lenovo) has added a stadium-shaped buldge towards the top which houses the 16-megapixel rear-facing camera and a dual-tone LED flash like the Moto G4 and Moto E3. One thing about this device that has not been seen in other Moto devices is the fingerprint reader, which is now located on the back and round shaped. Even the latest Moto G5 still has it on the front. As expected, it’s fast, accurate and rarely fails. There are antenna lines running across the top and bottom of the back of the device.

Two colours are offered in our market – Grey or Gold, like our tester.

Specs and Performance

You might be wondering what has Lenovo/Moto done to offer such a good phone at such low price, and the answer lays in the specs of the Moto M. While this is not the first time Lenovo/Moto turned to MediaTek for supplies in the processor department for their mid and lower range devices, it is still slightly surprised to know that Qualcomm Snapdragon processors were nowhere to be found in this device. The processor that is powering the Moto M is MediaTek’s Helio P15, a 64-bit processor with 8 cores, all of which clocked at 2.2GHz. The primary 4 cores were given priority, while the rest will only kick in when needed. 4GB of RAM is also coupled with the processor.

We were slightly disappointed at first to find a MediaTek processor in such a promising device given our previous experience with them, but as this is one of the higher-powered processors from MediaTek, we decided to give it a go. The overall performance is pretty impressive. There are minimal lags during average daily operations, and most of the time it has no problem dealing with higher powered tasks as well as the “secondary” cores will kick in providing some processing power. The 4GB RAM provides good multitasking experience too. There’s no problem when switching apps, even though occasionally you do get some lag. During higher powered processors, the body does heat up slightly and rather easily. One annoying thing that MediaTek hasn’t fixed is the phone freezing up after unlocking the device from a long sleep. It does not happen all the time, but its annoying then it does, especially when you need to do something quickly, taking a quick photo, for instance. Other than that, the phone did perform well.

Geekbench 4 has always been the benchmarking app that we always stick to, and on the Moto M, the app returned a single-core score of 775 and a multi-core score of 2570. Processors like the Helio P10 is usually compared to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625, and the scores are significantly lower. Despite having an octa-core and a rather high clocked speed, the multi-core score does seem to be disappointing. But thanks to the rather vanilla Android interface, the Moto M did perform quite well.

Other bells and whistles that came with the Moto M include Bluetooth 4.1, 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac dual-band WiFi hotspot and LTE. At this price rage, NFC and IR blaster is nowhere to be found. 32GB of internal storage are found for our market, and if that’s a bit short, the Moto M will take microSD cards up to 128GB.

Speaker

The bottom of the Moto M does fool you into thinking that it has stereo speakers, but in reality, there’s only a mono speaker located towards the right. The loudspeaker performance is rather impressive for a mid-range device. Not only its rather loud, at max volume it has no problem putting out nice and clear tunes. You can credit that to the built-in Dolby Atmos audio enhancement software, which is an equalizer that works for both the speaker and external audio device. While bass and treble settings are at the right point, you can still adjust them to your preferred settings. Overall, Moto/Lenovo has done a great job by collaborating with Dolby to create one of the best mono speaker experience for a mobile device.

Display

The display setup of the Moto M is not new, in fact, we’ve repeatedly seen the word “5.5-inch” and “1080p display” for many times. Yup, the Moto M is the same. 5.5-inches is probably the sweet spot in mobile displays, hence why manufacturers like it so much. In fact, hats off to Moto/Lenovo for offering this setup even at this price point. With a resolution of 1080 X 1920 packed in a 5.5-inch display, there are around 401 pixels-per inch, which is rather sharp. With this setup at this price point, there isn’t much to complain about.

The panel that Moto/Lenovo used in the Moto M is a standard IPS panel with software enhancements. In its standard setting, the colours are not as vivid or as accurate as it should have been, and it does slightly seem to be on the warmer side. Diving into the settings and switching the settings to vivid mode and there is a noticeable difference. Colours seem to be more vivid and accurate, and its not overly artificial looking. It still won’t match an AMOLED panel in terms of colour reproduction and brightness. The display is still not as bright as we expected it to be, but thanks to its high quality construction, its totally usable under the sun and still offers wide viewing angle.

Camera performance

On paper, the camera setup does sound pretty good. The rear camera comes with a 16-megapixel sensor with f/2.0 aperture. While it may sound like it has the same setup as its bigger brother, the Moto Z Play, the pixel size on the Moto M is smaller.

With that said, while it works, the performance from the camera is actually quite all-right. In conditions with sufficient lighting, it wasn’t bad at all. Images produced in such conditions are quite neutral, and exposure is correctly levelled when its left alone. It will tend to overexpose or underexpose when you tap on an object to manually focus on it and it takes some time to adjust the exposure back to acceptable level. Since there is no stabilization that is offered in this device, you do need steady hands or hook it up to a tripod in order to get the best out of it. The HDR mode does bring some rather dramatic results to pictures. The images are towards cooler side rather than warm. Most of the time it worked well, even though you have to manually toggle it.

At conditions that do not favour the camera, it really starts to struggle. In dark conditions, the details are completely blown away, and all you get is an image with fuzzy details, potentially a bit of noise and very dark image towards the cooler side. It does not try too hard to blow the exposure up or increase the shutter time for a brighter image. At times, there are shutter delays where the autofocus is trying hard to focus on an object.

Moto M Sample Photos
Click on image to view other sample photos.

The Moto M only records Full HD videos (1920 X 1080) at 30 frames-per-second, and there’s not much settings to choose from other than manually set the focus and exposure, turning on the flash light and switching between the two cameras. There’s not much to like about the video quality either. Colours are bland and natural with very little details. You do need steady hands as it does not seem to feature any stabilization at all. However, it reacts to change of conditions and focuses well on an object rather quickly and accurately, and it gets the job done. Audios recorded are not very accurate, as they sound like they are being recorded underwater.

The front features an 8-megapixel front-facing camera with f/2.0 aperture, with slightly larger pixel sizes than the rear. It may not be the best camera out there and will not blow you away with huge amount of details and lighting selfies, but, like the rear camera, it works. The focus distance is spot on at an arm’s length, and colours are natural and there’s not much artificial add-ons to it. There is a beautification mode that you can turn on to brighten up the skin and fixes blemishes. While it does not feature front LED flash, there is a fill light option which uses the entire screen as a flash, and there are 2 colours to choose from depending on the surroundings – pink or chrome. There is an option to bring the photo quality up to “Ultra HD” mode, which promises more details, but it’s more like a gimmick and we didn’t really notice much difference.

As a Moto device with a rather vanilla Android experience, you do expect Moto/Lenovo to include a vanilla version of the camera app, but in fact, the camera app is unique to the Moto M, and it even differs from the other Moto devices. It does look like its belong to one of the cheaper products in the market, but it still gets the job done. It has the right amount of modes and settings without making it too complicated to use. Apart from various filters to choose from, panorama mode and a night mode, there is also a pro mode which allows manual controls over exposure, ISO, shutter speed, focus and white balance.

Software

Motos have been well known to feature latest rather-vanilla Android operating systems, and the Moto M is no exception. It comes with Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow that is as close to stock as possible. There are a few custom Moto apps installed alongside with some stock Google apps but overall it’s pretty much bloatware-free, which is what makes this device performs pretty snappy. The vanilla Android interface is a fresh change when compared to other custom interfaces by their respective manufacturers. It’s as close to the Google Nexus devices as it gets. But, at the end of the day, the operating system is managed by Moto/Lenovo, and all the latest software updates had to be obtained from Moto/Lenovo. Till the day that we’re writing this, there is still no sign of latest Nougat update, so there is something to take note there. The experience is snappy, good performance and less frustration, which is what you want on a smart device.

Battery life

Built into the Moto M is a 3050mAh non-removable battery. While it is rather average, it will easily last you a day, with around 20% of battery life at the end of the day with 1 SIM card running on a moderate-to-busy day, and it will go on for around 16 hours before it gave up. It does seem to drain more battery than usual during video playback, which is what you should keep in mind if you decided to use it as a video-watching machine. While Moto claims that it supports rapid charge, it will only take charge up to 5V/2A with either the included charger or a third-party charger.

Conclusion

Even though Moto M is one of Moto’s lower range devices, but no doubt it is still a good smartphone (as proven by their entry level Moto E and hot-selling mid-range Moto G ranges). While there are have some differences between the Moto M and other Moto devices, it is still truly a Moto device. We do however expect a better overall performance and image quality from the camera even for a device that costs RM1199. But this does not mean that you should give it a miss. Do give it a try if you’re looking for a device at this category.

Recap:
5.5-inch IPS display, 1080 X 1920 Full HD resolution, 401 ppi
MediaTek Helio P15, 2.2GHz Octa-core processor
4GB RAM, 32GB internal storage, microSD support up to 128GB
16-megapixel rear facing camera, 1080p video recording @ 30 frames-per-second
8-megapixel front-facing camera
3050 mAh battery

Pros Cons
Premium design and feel Average performance
Rather vanilla Android interface with little bloatware Colour accuracy on display could be better

 

Nice loudspeaker Image quality
Blazing fast and accurate fingerprint reader Video quality
Strong and sturdy, good built quality