With new Moto E, Motorola shows you can do more for less

Motorola continues to set the bar when it comes to low-cost smartphones: The company introduced its new Moto E on Wednesday with a starting price of $119. That gets you a 3G handset but if you want 4G LTE, you can have it for just $30 more.

Moto E (2nd Gen.) Front Dynamic - Black

I was very impressed with last year’s Moto E, which cost $129 at launch time and didn’t have a 4G option. At that price, I though the handset represented a great value: A capable Android phone with long battery life, some unique Motorola software features and colored shells to customize the phone.

This year, Motorola has upped the ante, and not just with a 4G option.

Instead of the dual-core processor found in last year’s model, the new Moto E runs on a quad-core chip with 1.2GHz clock speed. The 4.3-inch display from 2014 is slightly larger, measuring 4.5-inches but retains the same 960 x 540 resolution as the prior edition. Storage gets doubled to 8GB and a front-facing camera was added.

Moto E_2nd Gen_1 Phone

The new Moto E also ships with [company]Google[/Google]Android 5.0 and Motorola is promising at least one software update for the phone in the future.

The company also added some nice features found in the more expensive Moto X flagship phone. You can twist your wrist twice to quickly open the phone’s camera app, for example. Another twist switches from the rear to the front camera. Moto Display is also included for pulsing notifications on your lock screen that appear without waking the handset.

You can still customize the look of a Moto E, which is available in either a black or white front. Motorola is selling six different bands, which look similar to bumpers, that let you jazz up the low-cost handset. Clear case shells will also be available.

Moto E (2nd Gen.) Front - White

Motorola sent the new Moto E with LTE out in mystery box to various publications just prior to the official phone launch. Mine hasn’t arrived yet — maybe the delivery time is the mystery — but once it does, I’ll spend a few days using this $149 smartphone and report back on my experiences in a future post.

In the meantime, here’s an overview of the new Moto E with LTE from Motorola, showing off just how much phone you get on a budget.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/4YJJu46Gnc8]

 

Sony seeks budget buyers with Xperia E4, a curvy-looking Z3

Sony introduced a new phone on Tuesday, but it’s not the flagship you might have been waiting for. Instead, the company debuted the Xperia E4 with round edges for folks seeking a low-cost Android experience.

Although the official cost of the Xperia E4 hasn’t been revealed yet, I’d guess the price to be around or even under $150 off-contract, based on the specifications. That would put the E4 into competitive territory with the Motorola Moto G and other budget-friendly phones although it won’t be selling the phone in the U.S.

Sony E4

The 5-inch IPS screen has a 960 x 540 resolution display, for example, and instead of the 20.7-megapixel sensor found in [company]Sony[/company]’s flagship, the E4 uses a 5MP rear camera. The handset runs [company]Google[/company] Android 5.0 on a 1.3GHz quad core processor paired with 1GB of memory and 8GB of flash storage, which can be expanded with 32GB of additional space through the microSD card slot. Connectivity comes in the form of 2G and 3G networks; no LTE here. You do get Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS and an FM tuner in the phone.

With those internals and a 2300mAh battery, I’d expect solid battery life that could last well into a second day on a charge. And if Sony keeps the price point down, it could move some of these smartphones. Sure, the company’s Xperia Z4 is likely to be a star at next month’s Mobile World Congress event, but flagship Android phones alone won’t grow a mobile business.

Update: This post was updated at 6:53am to reflect no availability in the U.S.

Sony: Pictures hack cost $15M; 2,100 smartphone job cuts coming

Last year’s massive hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which the U.S. administration has blamed on North Korea, cost the Sony division around $15 million.

In [company]Sony[/company]’s results (PDF) for the third quarter of its fiscal year (the fourth quarter of 2014 proper), the company had to provide forecasted rather than actual results for the movie unit, because the cyberattack so severely disrupted its network and infrastructure.

The Japanese company placed the cost for investigating and remediating the attack at approximately $15 million, a hit that it will place on its books for the current quarter. It said the impact on its full-year results “will not be material.”

The quarterly results also showed a year-on-year 28.7 percent boost in sales and operating revenue for Sony’s smartphone unit, and the division’s operating profit for the quarter was up 46 percent, reaching a modest $76 million.

However, the smartphone unit is still heading for a bigger-than-anticipated full-year operating loss of 215 billion yen ($1.83 billion), and Sony also reiterated its plan to cut a couple thousand jobs in its smartphone division — now more specifically laid out as 2,100 jobs — by the end of March 2016. Previous reports have indicated these job losses will mostly take place in China and Europe.

Smart locks: the next smart-home winner?

Nest paved the way for the smart home, showing investors that consumers would pay $249 for a next-generation thermostat. Now many are wondering what other connected-home products could become breakout success stories. In 2015, smart locks, and security related products in general, are the most promising.

For a smart-home device to succeed in the consumer market it must be as easy to use compared to its non-connected version and there must be a return for the consumer in terms of cash/energy savings or convenience. If connectivity merely adds complexity, a product’s in trouble.

Connected thermostats have proved a winner based on these criteria. The lock is a technology that has stood the test of time since metal keys and locks first appeared about 900 AD. If we’re truly ready to move beyond their elegant simplicity, we’ll need some clear benefits. Smart locks must make our lives easier.

A number of startups have risen to the challenge, including August, Kevo, Lockitron, Danalock, and Goji, which all have smart locks for sale in the $179 to $299 price range. Jason Johnson, who co-founded August along with designer Yves Behar, noted to me, “We wanted to wait until we felt there was a real problem to solve and not just make another gadget for the home that was kind of cool but you used it for a few months. We wanted to make something that would last for many years. It’s not easy to do. It’s not easy to find a product to do that in the home.”

As I discuss in more depth in my recent Gigaom Research report, smart locks offer attractive benefits: Being able to grant a house guest or a repairman short term access to your home via a smart phone, going for a run without taking your keys, and being able to use a friend’s phone to open your house in case you do the smart lock equivalent of “losing your keys.”

The trick in the smart home, of course, is always moving beyond the early adopter crowd. Right now, products are being developed that include everything from a connected water monitor for your fish tank to a connected toaster. Getting the broader market to pay for connected products is a different story.

I am optimistic about smart locks, partially because it is a very promising market not just in the residential sector but also in hospitality. Consider an Airbnb host who only wants to grant access to her apartment for specific periods of time and who doesn’t want to have to go meet her guest. Now she can just authenticate the guest’s smart phone for a set number of days. Business travelers are another opportunity. Instead of showing up at a conference and seeing a line of 20 people waiting at reception, your phone can check you in and serve as your hotel room key. I could see big chains like Marriott or Hilton integrating this functionality into their apps.

The risks? Like any newish technology there are imperfections. One reviewer complained that if he entered through the garage and walked by the front door, where his August smart lock was installed, it unlocked even though he was inside the house. One of the reasons the Kevo smart lock requires a simple touch sensor to unlock is that its designers felt intent to unlock was important in preventing situations like this. Others have noted that with features that automatically lock the door after it closes, stepping outside without a phone means being locked out of your house. (Of course, this feature can be turned off and, anyway, plenty of traditional locks work this way too.). Still, I think consumers will move past all of these minor glitches as they get accustomed to how the technology works. The technology is also likely to get better as data collected from a couple years of consumer use produces quicker product cycles and improved functionality.

Smart locks have a lot of benefits for consumers, and, longer term, businesses interested in maximizing customer experiences will see value in them. I suspect that will be enough to move smart locks out of the early adopter set.

Image courtesy of Maxiphotoa/iStock.

Photographers rejoice, Eyefi gets IFTTT integration

eyefitifttt

Eyefi, the company that lets you pop a Wi-Fi enabled SD card into a traditional DSLR camera, has built an If This Then That integration that will make it easier to dictate how and where photos are shared. Pics taken from the DSLR get sent to the Eyefi cloud, where a user can then add tags that will trigger the IFTTT recipe. So one might tag a photo #social, and the recipe would share it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It apparently works in reverse too. If you want to get a snapshot from your smartphone into the Eyefi cloud just tag it #eyefi (or whatever) on Instagram and it gets stored in the Eyefi cloud.

Sharp’s nearly bezel-free smartphone is a great value if you’re on Sprint

2014-08-19-17.17.49

The Sharp Aquos smartphone with those oh-so-skinny bezels announced earlier this week in Japan is officially coming to the United States, and no surprise, it’s headed exclusively to Sprint and its prepaid subsidiaries, Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile. But what is a bit of a surprise is how attractively priced it is: At $240 without a contract, it represents a strong challenge to the Moto G LTE for the mid-range Android crown. It’s even cheaper on Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, checking in at $150 when purchased locked from Sprint’s prepaid MVNOs. There isn’t an official release date yet, but it should be available later this fall.