Motorola wants to end the feature-phone era with the Moto E

The water resistant smartphone has a 4.3-inch screen and costs $129

Motorola Mobility hopes its $129 smartphone, the Moto E, will attract consumers that might otherwise have bought a feature phone. For people that have a slightly larger budget, the Moto G has been upgraded with LTE and a MicroSD card slot.

The company hopes it will build on the success of its Moto G, the best selling phone in its history according to Steve Horowitz, head of global software engineering at Motorola.

The goal with the Moto E is to finally end the feature phone era, he said, adding that about 70% of phone owners still have a feature phone, a term typically applied to phones that can do more than just send and receive calls and text messages, but don't have the flexibility or the processing capacity to run sophisticated downloadable apps

The water-resistant 3G smartphone uses Android 4.4 and is powered by a dual-core processor running at 1.2GHz. It has a 4.3-inch screen with 960 by 540 pixel resolution. The screen is protected with Gorilla glass and has an anti-smudge coating. The Moto E also has a 5-megapixel camera and 4GB of integrated storage, which can be expanded using a MicroSD card slot, and 1GB of RAM.

When developing a smartphone that costs as little as the Moto E, some compromises have to be made. The device doesn't have a front-facing camera, and it doesn't have LTE. However, Motorola has managed to design a phone that doesn't feel cheap.

The Moto E also won't come with the customization options Motorola offers Moto X buyers through its Moto Maker service. However, Moto E buyers can still choose between black and white on the front as well as 20 design and color combinations with Motorola's own shells for the back of the device.

The Moto G, launched six months ago, has a 4.5-inch 720p screen, a quad-core 1.2GHz processor, and 8GB or 16GB of integrated storage. At $180 without a contract in the U.S., it showed that affordable smartphones didn't have to skimp on performance.

On Tuesday, Motorola gave the G another boost, launching an LTE version which will cost $219. That the company can add LTE to the Moto G without making it too expensive shows the cost of the necessary components is decreasing rapidly.

In addition to 4G connectivity, Motorola has added a MicroSD card slot to the Moto G. That omission in the original version was a mistake, but Motorola has listened to complaints from users and made the change, it said.

The Moto E will be available immediately in the U.K., in the U.S. on and in India, and then in more than 40 countries in the coming weeks. The Moto G LTE will start shipping at the end of the month.

Since Mobile World Congress in February, smartphone manufacturers have increasingly been focusing on the low-end of the market.

"The next wave is about selling smartphones to people that don't yet have one, and don't necessarily need one. But if you can offer this group a smartphone that costs about the same price they paid for a feature phone two or three years ago, vendors are hoping they will still get one," said Francisco Jeronimo, research director for European mobile devices at IDC.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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