Low-cost Android smartphones have almost always gotten a bad rap because of the compromises made with their processors, the quality of their screens, and more in order to achieve a low price. That’s changed recently, though, with affordable Android phones becoming increasingly attractive to shoppers on a budget. Motorola has played a large role in that change with its Moto series of smartphones, specifically the Moto G and Moto E. Motorola recently refreshed its most affordable Android phone, the Moto E, which is priced at just $149.99 without a contract. But does it make too many compromises in order to reach that low price? Let’s find out.
Hardware and Build Quality
The Moto E (2nd Gen.) features several notable upgrades over its predecessor. The front of the new Moto E includes a 4.5-inch display that’s slightly larger than the original E’s 4.3-inch screen, but they’ve both got the same 960×540 resolution. Up above the Moto E (2nd Gen.)’s display is a VGA front-facing camera, which is a step up from the Moto E (1st Gen.) that didn’t have any front-facing shooter at all. Both Moto E models have 5-megapixel rear cameras, but the second generation model’s is an auto focus shooter and the original’s is fixed focus. Finally, the new Moto E’s got double the storage of its predecessor (8GB vs 4GB), a 2390mAh battery that’s considerably beefier than the first Moto E’s 1980mAh battery, a new Snapdragon 410 processor, and 4G LTE connectivity. So yeah, there are a lot of upgrades here.
In terms of design, the two Moto Es don’t look terribly different, though the latest model does only have one silver bar on its face for the loudspeaker, whereas the original model had one earpiece up top and one speaker at the bottom. It’s not a bad thing that the two models have a similar design, though. The Moto E (2nd Gen.) has a plastic body that feels solid and a curved back that rests nicely in your hand. Motorola has also used the well-known dimple found on older Moto devices, giving you a place to rest your finger during phone calls.
One other hardware detail that’s worth mentioning pertains to customization. While there’s no Moto Maker to let you totally customize the Moto E (2nd Gen.), there are Motorola Bands that you can buy. They cost $19.99 and come in packs of three: one has turquoise, purple, and raspberry, while the other offers red, blue, and golden yellow. The bands are easily removed and snapped onto the Moto E (2nd Gen.)’s body, letting you quickly give your phone a touch of color, and they’re also textured to provide a little more grip. Motorola also sells Grip Shells that are priced at $19.99 each and come in blue, raspberry, turquoise, golden yellow, and charcoal color options. These Grip Shells have a thick, rubberized outer ring that offer considerably more protection than a Motorola Band, and they also have a plastic rear to protect the Moto E’s backside.
It’s also worth pointing out that in order to access the Moto E (2nd Gen.)’s SIM slot of microSD card slot, you simply remove the Band or Grip Shell that you’ve currently got on the device. Both slots are on the opposite side from the power/lock and volume buttons.
While the Moto E (2nd Gen.) isn’t quite as customizable as its Moto X sibling, Motorola does offer several different color options to add a bit of personality to your Moto E. And between the different colors and levels of protection, most people should be able to find a Band or Grip Shell that appeals to them.
The Moto E (2nd Gen.) has a 4.5-inch 960×540 display. That’s pretty low resolution by 2015 standards, remember that the phone is just $150 outright. The screen can be a bit fuzzy at times, especially when you’re staring at it up close, but in typical usage it’s not a bad display. Colors look accurate and viewing angles are good, save for a bit of a hit in brightness when you really get off to the side.
In terms of size, there’s no question that the Moto E (2nd Gen.)’s 4.5-inch display is on the small side compared to most other smartphones that’ve been released recently. There are a lot of folks that prefer a smaller screen, though, because it means that you can perform most, if not all, of your typical smartphone functions one-handed. Some apps have combated this by putting floating action buttons near the bottom of the smartphone’s screen, but there are some functions that still require you to stretch your finger. One example is reaching to the top of your phone’s screen and sliding down the notification panel. The Moto E (2nd Gen.)’s 4.5-inch display is small enough to let you do most everything one-handed with no issue, but it’s still big enough to let you enjoy videos and play games without feeling too cramped.
Powering the new Moto E (2nd Gen.) is the combination of a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor and 1GB of RAM. When it comes to regular day-to-day usage, there’s not much to complain about with the Moto E (2nd Gen.). Occasionally you’ll run into delays of two or three second while opening apps, but that usually clears up once you’ve got things up and running. I also ran into a few instances in which the phone took a second to respond to my scrolling in Chrome and to pop in an image in a post, but those issues aren’t what I’d call typical.
When it comes to gaming, I played a handful of different titles on Motorola’s new phone and had few issues. Some of the games that I played were Rayman Fiesta Run, Temple Run 2, and Sonic The Hedgehog. One thing I noticed was that Temple Run 2 took a while to load on a fresh start, but when jumping between apps, it started back up without a hitch.
The Camera app on the Moto E (2nd Gen.) is a custom-made Motorola app, and it’s pretty simple and straightforward to operate. You can move the focus ring around the screen to focus on certain objects. You can also slide your finger up and down to zoom, and sliding your finger out from the left of the display will display options for HDR, panorama, a timer, and more. There are also a pair of on-screen buttons for switching to the video camera or flipping to the front-facing camera.
When it comes time to take photos, the new Moto E’s 5-megapixel camera takes decent shots. The shooter performed well during the day, producing photos that may not be the sharpest that you’ve ever seen, but that will be adequate for posting to social media accounts. Things change in low light, though. The new Moto E doesn’t have a flash, and so don’t expect to get much if you’re shooting in a dimly-lit place. If you’re in a situation with little lighting, you’ll need to find a way to brighten things up a bit, or you’ll be left with some low-quality shots.
Turning our focus to the front-facing camera, well, don’t expect much. The fact that there’s a front-facing shooter at all is a welcome change from the original Moto E, which had no camera at all on its front. However, the VGA front camera on the Moto E (2nd Gen.) produces photos that are lacking in detail and can be a bit fuzzy. The front-facing shooter could be of some use if you ever find yourself making video calls, but for still photos you may want to try flipping the phone around and attempting to take a photo of yourself with the rear camera.
The Moto E (2nd Gen.) comes equipped with a 2390mAh battery, which is quite a bit larger than the original Moto E’s 1980mAh battery. And while the new model includes LTE, which was missing from the original, the Moto E (2nd Gen.) still manages some impressive battery life. In my time with the new E, I found that it had no problem lasting a day with normal usage that included checking social media, browsing the web, taking photos, streaming music, and some light messaging.
My Moto E (2nd Gen.) came preloaded with Android 5.0.2, and as with other Moto-branded phones, the Android user interface was nearly stock. Motorola does include its custom Moto app that offers Moto Assist, which can automatically silence the phone during sleeping hours and during meetings, at which time it can also send auto-replies to missed calls from your favorite contacts. There’s also Moto Actions, which in the case of the Moto E (2nd Gen.) means that you can activate the camera from anywhere just by twisting your wrist a couple of times. This works even when the screen is off, and while the camera takes a second to start up, the feature still gets you ready to take a shot pretty quickly.
The final feature of the Moto software suite is Moto Display, which will show the time and up to three app icons when you get alerts. You can place your finger on each app to get a preview of the notification, slide up to jump into that app, or slide down to unlock the phone. Moto Display also lets you choose whether you want an app preview to be shown and which apps can use the feature.
Motorola’s also included a few other custom apps with the Moto E (2nd Gen.) Motorola Alert will let you designate emergency contacts and, if you’re in an emergency, you can press a button to quickly shoot off a text message, call an emergency service, and sound a super-loud alarm. You can also send a Meet Me message to a friend with your location or use Follow Me to send your current location in selected intervals to certain recipients.
Also included is Motorola Camera, an app that I went over in the Camera section of this review, and a custom Gallery app that’ll let you view your Camera Roll, Albums, Highlights, and Videos. Finally, there’s Motorola Migrate, which will help you to migrate things like photos, videos, music, call history, messages, contacts, and more to your Moto E (2nd Gen.) or from the Moto E to another device.
It may sound like Motorola has packed a lot of its own apps into the Moto E (2nd Gen.), but that’s really not the case. Several of them are hidden away in the Moto app, and if things like Motorola Alert and Motorola Migrate really bother you by sitting in the app drawer, you can disable them and hide them for good.
Outside of those few custom apps, the Moto E (2nd Gen.) runs a vanilla version of Android 5.0.2. Lollipop here is just as you’d expect, with Material Design notifications, new Quick Settings, and updated software navigation buttons. It’s great to see plain ol’ Android on a device that’s not a Nexus or Google Play edition, especially since the Moto E (2nd Gen.)’s low price means that most anyone can see what vanilla Lollipop tastes like. This approach also means that Motorola can push Android OS updates out fairly quickly, which it has done quite a bit in the past.
The entry-level smartphone market isn’t one that’s filled with much glamour, and it doesn’t seem to get a ton of love either. Motorola is giving a lot of attention to that part of the market, though, and that has made devices like the Moto G and the original Moto E some of the best affordable smartphones on the market. And that focus on making low-cost devices actually good continued with the Moto E (2nd Gen.)
The new Moto E is a pretty great little phone. It’s got a few shortcomings, most notably in the camera department, but thanks to its combination of software features, solid build quality, LTE connectivity, and long battery life, the new Moto E is one of the best sub-$200 smartphones that you can buy.