Motorola Moto E (2015) review – the ultimate budget mobile phone?

Price when reviewed

Motorola has a knack for creating impressive budget phones and the second-generation Motorola Moto E is no different. With a faster processor and the very welcome arrival of 4G support, it looks like Motorola might just be onto another budget winner in 2015.

Motorola Moto E (2015) review - the ultimate budget mobile phone?

Motorola Moto E review: design

Like all Motorola phones, the Moto E features an ergonomic curved back complete with a Motorola “M” finger dimple just below the camera. Soft-touch plastics stretch across the removable casing, and the 12.3mm-thick, 145g shell oozes a solidity that makes the Moto E feel like it’s built to last. Factor in the Gorilla Glass 3-coated screen and water-resistant coating and you have a handset that’s destined to survive any rough treatment.

Motorola Moto E (2015) Review - screen close

The Moto E comes with Android 5 Lollipop installed as standard, and Motorola’s rather helpful migration app is preinstalled as well, which makes it quick and easy to get up and running. Indeed, it’s pleasing to see Motorola not opting to bring a bloated version of Lollipop to the Moto E. The temptation to bundle unnecessary apps would be too great for many other manufacturers, especially for such an affordable handset, but Motorola’s additions are genuinely useful.

The included “Moto” app learns how you use your phone, and lets you set automatic adjustments to notification frequency based on times of day. It also provides a useful notification system similar to the app AcDisplay, turning on the screen to show you when a new notification comes in. It’s not always ideal, but since the Moto E has no notification light, it’s really the only way to know if there’s something waiting for you.

Motorola has also customised the camera app: flick your wrist, and the app springs to life in a couple of seconds. That done, you can touch anywhere on the screen to take a photo, hold to activate a “quick shot” mode, drag your finger to zoom in and out, and swipe in from the left to bring up a radial menu. It’s simple enough to operate, but the lack of a flash limits its usefulness once the lights go down.

Motorola Moto E (2015) Review - full back

Motorola Moto E review: specifications

We’re pleased to see that Motorola has turbo-charged the Moto E’s internals. Gone is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 of the previous model; in its place now sits a 1.2GHz Snapdragon 410 quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM. It’s a capable combination for a budget handset, and from our time with the Moto E it does a grand job of keeping Android Lollipop feeling slick and responsive. However, as soon as you start to run more than three or four apps simultaneously, things do slow down rather noticeably – this is a budget phone, after all.

Benchmark results show a significant improvement on the previous generation. The new Moto E completed the SunSpider browser benchmark in a reasonable 1,293ms, racked up results of 459 and 1,400 in the single- and multi-core components of Geekbench 3’s tests, and struggled manfully through GFXBench’s T-Rex HD test at an average of 12fps. None of these results sound that impressive compared to the flagship handsets that have come through PC Pro’s doors, but for a £109 handset the Moto E can hold its head up high. To prove the point, it’s now more powerful than either the Honor Holly or the Motorola Moto G 2.

As is typical for budget handsets these days, you’ll find that the 8GB of internal storage is gobbled up rather quickly due to only 5GB being usable. Thankfully, the Moto E supports up to 32GB of external storage via microSD, and if you’re smart with Google’s automatic backups you won’t need it for much more than overspill for apps or videos.

Motorola Moto E (2015) Review - side on

Motorola Moto E review: display and cameras

The Moto E’s 4.5in display has grown by 0.2in since last year but has retained the 540 x 960 pixel resolution, a move that drops pixel density down to 245ppi. The Moto E’s IPS screen isn’t as bright as its counterparts, hitting a maximum of 330cd/m2 in our tests, but the contrast ratio of 1,488:1 is very good – so good, in fact, that we suspect dynamic contrast may be at work behind the scenes. It also fared reasonably well in our colour accuracy tests, covering a respectable 94.5% of the sRGB gamut with a decent level of fidelity.

It’s worth noting that not all Moto E’s will necessarily have the same display – from further investigation it seems that Motorola may be employing different LCD panels. Indeed, having observed some disparity between the display measurements on our review sample and the one provided to our sister site, Expert Reviews, we conducted some further testing. 

The results showed that while our review sample sported a much higher measured contrast ratio, Expert Reviews’ sample displayed much cleaner, less yellowy whites. Running through the same suite of tests revealed that the ‘other’ Moto E’s display hit a brightness of 369cd/m2, had a contrast ratio of 969:1 and had noticeably better colour accuracy. Side by side, it’s fairly easy to spot the difference between the two: open up the settings menus, and the off-white background is clearly a different colour on both handsets.

We didn’t notice such disparities when it came to camera quality, however. Sporting the same 5-megapixel rear camera as last year’s model, this time the Moto E gains a VGA camera in its front. Video recording has now improved to 720p at 30fps and no longer exhibits clunky brightness shifts when auto adjusting exposure, but photo white balance and exposure in low-light conditions remain poor. And should you want to take advantage of all five of the Moto E’s megapixels, you’ll have to shoot in 4:3 as a 16:9 photo only uses 3.7 megapixels.

Motorola Moto E (2015) Review - camera close

From our time with the Moto E, battery life hasn’t been much of an issue. While the 2,390mAh battery isn’t huge, it will easily last you a day, perhaps into a second if you don’t push it too hard. However, in our tests the results were less than favourable compared to last year’s Moto E model. In our audio tests, battery depleted at a rate of 7.1% per hour, jumping to 8.2% per hour in our 720p video test with the phone running in airplane mode – not the best results we’ve ever seen, but competitive by the standards of its peers.

Motorola Moto E: verdict

If you’re looking for a cheap knockabout phone that doesn’t compromise heavily on features, the Moto E 2nd Gen is a cracking choice. It’s good-looking, compact and well built, and the improved performance and good-quality screen seal the deal. Motorola is onto another winner.

Motorola Moto E (2015) Review - screen full

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