Which is the best budget Android phone?
The Moto G was our favourite budget phone of 2013. And it is still one of the very best buys in 2014.
However, there’s a new cheap mobile phone contender – the EE Kestrel. It’s the cheapest 4G phone we’ve ever seen.
Both mobiles are available for £100 on a pre-pay basis, and offer specs that are common to phones twice the price or more. But is the EE Kestrel better than the Moto G? Let’s find out.
Moto G vs EE Kestrel – Design
Moto G – Plastic, 143g, 11.6mm thick, Gorilla Glass 3
EE Kestrel – Plastic, 115g, 7.85mm thick, Toughened glass
Like almost every sub-£100 phone, the Moto G and EE Kestrel are plastic-bodied devices. They don’t feel quite as expensive as something like the HTC One M8, but they’re both pretty great in their class.
The Moto G is curvy and friendly-feeling. The EE Kestrel is a lot slimmer, but ends up looking and feeling a bit more severe as a result. Our initial assumption was the Moto G would be significantly larger – its 11.6mm-thick body doesn’t make it exactly seem small – but their footprints are pretty similar.
The Moto G is a bit shorter than the EE Kestrel, and just under a millimetre wider. There’s really not much in it.
Being a good thee millimetres and change thinner than the Moto G, the EE Kestrel slips into pockets more easily. Bit we actually prefer the look and feel of the Motorola phone.
Its ‘invisible’ light-up soft keys are more stylish, the less boxy, more curvy look works and the black-on-black finish looks a bit better than the grey-on-black finish of the Kestrel.
Both phones let you remove their plastic battery covers, but neither actually lets you take out the battery. They’re locked in place. And, as is the norm these days, the Kestrel and Moto G use micro SIMs.
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Moto G vs EE Kestrel – Screen
Moto G – 4.5-inch IPS LCD, 1,280 x 720 pixels
EE Kestrel – 4.5-inch LCD, 960 x 540 pixels
Screen quality is where we see perhaps the most important difference between the Moto G and the EE Kestrel.
The Motorola has a much better display. They are the same size, but the Moto G offers much higher resolution, superior viewing angles and stronger colour reproduction.
Using a 960 x 540 pixel screen rather than a 720p resolution one like the Moto G is one of the key ways the EE Kestrel manages to cost less than £100 while offering 4G. But in person the difference is very clear.
A little bit of blockiness to the display marks the Kestrel out as a low-cost phone, where the Moto G is almost as sharp as phones costing five times the price. The difference is particularly obvious when you’re reading small text or playing a non-anti-aliased 3D game like Real Racing 3 – the graphics are much ‘jaggier’ on the Kestrel.
The difference in colour reproduction and contrast is down to the screen architecture and basic panel quality, not specifically resolution. Everything pops that bit more on the Moto G screen, and the display layer appears to be closer to the surface than the Kestrel's. Part of this is down to the Motorola offering deeper blacks and better contrast, but we'd bet the display of the Moto G may also have a slightly more slim-line construction than the Kestrel.
Whites also have a slight blue hue in the Kestrel, although this may alter slightly between batches – there are often minor differences in white colour tone between identical models.
One minor practical win for the Kestrel is that it comes with an unobtrusive plastic screen protector attached. This stops you having to a) buy one and b) go through the tricky process of fitting one. However, it is plastic and gets scratched very easily so many of you may get rid of it fairly quickly. We’ve used the Moto G for months and have no serious scratches on the screen’s top layer, which is super-tough Gorilla Glass 3.
Moto G vs EE Kestrel – Power and Performance
Moto G – 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU MSM8226, 1GB RAM
EE Kestrel - 1.2Gz quad-core Snapdragon 400 CPU , 1GB RAM
The Moto G and EE Kestrel have almost exactly the same core specs. They both use a Snapdragon 400 processor with four cores clocked at 1.2GHz.
Both have 1GB of RAM, too. Although pretty low-end, these are great specs given the price of the phones. We’ve seen phones costing twice the price or more use Snapdragon 400 CPUs in the last 12 months, and using a Snapdragon ensures great developer support – most of the big-name phones of today use Qualcomm Snapdragon CPUs.
As you’d expect, then, they perform at a very similar level in most benchmarks. In Geekbench, they average around 1,150 points, or 320 per core. The EE Kestrel scores slightly higher, but not by a particularly significant amount.
In AnTuTu, another benchmark app, we see the same sort of results played out. The Moto G scores 16,827 points, the Kestrel 17,497 – again pretty close to the Galaxy S3.
What’s rather interesting is that a more contextual benchmark shows quite a different result. In Sunspider, an in-browser benchmark, the Moto G buries the Kestrel. It’s a test that sees how long it takes a phone to run through a number of java-based commands – so the smaller the score the better.
The Moto G completes the test in about 1,550ms, the Kestrel in about 2,200ms. A huge difference. This is when using the same Chrome browser, suggesting that the system software of the Moto G may be more efficient – no surprise there as the Moto G uses vanilla Android.
However, performance in both phones is very good given the price. They’re fairly quick, with none of the chronic lag that affects some older budget phones.
These mobiles can handle high-end games too – with less-than-Full-HD screen resolutions, they don’t need as much power to shine. We do find the Moto G to be a bit more reliable, and at times at bit quicker, though, thanks to the slightly more stable software.
Moto G vs EE Kestrel – Software
Moto G – Android 4.4
EE Kestrel – Android 4.3 with EmotionUI software
Using Android 4.4, the Moto G is commendably up-to-date for a budget phone. We often see manufacturers make do with older versions in their cheaper mobiles, as if budget buyers are second-class citizens. The EE Kestrel lags behind a little with Android 4.3, but we've been promised an update to Android 4.4 in time.
However, their approaches to software are otherwise completely different. The Moto G has a near-vanilla version of Android while the EE Kestrel uses a custom interface produced by the company that made the phone. Although it bears the EE name, the Kestrel is actually made by Huawei.
The Emotion UI is one of the quirkiest custom interfaces out there, coming complete with its own look and its own system structure. Where the Moto G – and just about every other Android phone – has home screens and a separate apps menu, everything is crammed into your home screens on the Kestrel.
That means that, if you install an app, it has to go on a home screen. You can have up to nine of these home screens, and folder support lets you cram in as many apps as you’d need. Space is not a huge issue.
But Emotion UI needs a lot more careful curation than the standard Android interface of the Moto G. As items aren’t automatically ordered, you need to move things about yourself. And you also need to choose your own look for the Kestrel.
The EE Kestrel supports themes, which alter the lock screen, icon designs, wallpapers and so on. You get four pre-installed, and you can download more from the Huawei website. Well, you can download more from a specific part of the Chinese-language Huawei website if you know where to look, as there’s no easy place for us UK folk to get hold of them. It's bad planning on Huawei and EE's part.
Do some searching and you’ll find some good-looking themes. But work is involved – and that’s true throughout. The EE Kestrel is harder work than the pleasantly simple Moto G. And it’s also loaded with much more bloatware.
The Moto G has just a custom camera app and a pair of Motorola apps – Assist and Migrate. Assist lets you turn off phone notifications at certain times, and Migrate lets you take over content from your old phone.
This is an easy win for the Motorola Moto G.
Moto G vs EE Kestrel – Connectivity and Storage
Moto G - 3G, Wi-Fi b/g/n, 8/16GB non-expandable storage
EE Kestrel – 4G, Wi-Fi b/g/n, 8GB with microSD slot
The one area where the EE Kestrel trounces the Moto G is connectivity. It has the two things the Moto G really lacks, the two things we admit the phone could do with (and we gave the Moto G a 10/10 review last year).
EE’s Kestrel has 4G mobile internet and a microSD memory card slot, making it easy to expand the 8GB of internal memory. The Moto G is limited to HSPA 3G mobile internet, and there’s no way to physically add to the 8/16GB of storage. So choose which model you buy very carefully.
Having a memory card slot in the EE Kestrel makes the phone a much better portable video and music player. Even the 16GB Moto G doesn’t have enough storage for a proper collection of either video or audio.
Aside from these differences, the Kestrel and Moto G have similar connectivity bits. You get GPS, Wi-Fi and so on, but no ac Wi-Fi and no NFC. We think that both of these are very sensible things to leave out in a budget mobile.
Moto G vs EE Kestrel – Camera
Moto G – 5-megapixel with LED flash on rear, 1.3MP front camera
EE Kestrel – 5-megapixel with LED flash on rear, 1MP front camera
With 5-megapixel main cameras, the Moto G and EE Kestrel were never going to be photographic superstars. However, we think the Kestrel edges out the Motorola. Just.
Their sensors harvest around the same amount of detail, and as the Kestrel has a slightly wider-angle lens, that means the Moto G will appear to offer slightly more detail when you zoom in. But the Kestrel generally takes more lively, more colour saturated photos. Take them out snapping and the Kestrel will perform a little better.
It still has its problems, though. The autofocus engine is not 100 per cent reliable, the colour skews a little warm and there’s loads of chromatic aberration in areas of high light contrast. But you can certainly get Facebook-worthy photos out of the EE Kestrel.
We also think the EE Kestrel’s camera app is a bit easier to use, a bit simpler.
With the Moto G, you use gestures to bring up a rotary dial of options. It's a bit fiddly to use in the heat of the moment. In the Kestrel there’s a menu button that sits under your left thumb, used to bring up the mode important modes. It looks and feels less slick than the Moto G UI, but it is eminently usable.
Here are some same pics to compare the phones’ performance:
The Kestrel shot is grainier and has a much warmer hue that is a little artificial, but zoomed-out the photo looks more vibrant.
Both phones have a decent HDR mode, a must for any camera phone that sits lower down the pecking order.
Here we see the biggest difference. The Moto G shot looks more natural, but there's way more pop and zing to the Kestrel photo, especially in terms of colour.
The Kestrel has a slightly lower-resolution front camera than the Moto G, but we think it’s actually a shade better. It produces more natural-looking skin tones. The focal length is wider on the Moto G, though, making it easier to fit in multiple people.
Moto G vs EE Kestrel – Battery Life
Moto G – 2070mAh non-removable
EE Kestrel -2000mAh non-removable
Given the Kestrel is a lot thinner than the Moto G, you might assume it also has a much smaller battery. But it doesn’t.
Its 2,000mAh unit is only a little smaller than the Moto G’s 2,070mAh one. These are pretty great capacities for 4.5-inch screen budget phones, especially when matched with the relatively efficient Cortex-A7-based processor.
You can easily get a day and a half out of each of these phones with slightly conservative use – with some effort you may even get two days out of them. In this sense they outclass a good many more expensive phones.
The EE Kestrel and Motorola Moto G are admirable phones borne of their makers’ attempts to get you as much more your money as is humanly possible. They’re bargains.
However, unless you really care about 4G, we highly recommend going for the Moto G, for one main reason. It’s the screen. The Moto G’s 720p display is a good few leagues above the Kestrel’s, and not just in resolution but general image quality too.
Next, read our Moto G tips and tricks feature