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Review: Motorola Moto E (2015)

By Leigh D. Stark | 12:09 pm 15/07/2015

Motorola’s take on the entry-level phone has always been priced competitively, but this year, Moto has upped the price just a smidgeon and added support for 4G. Is this the best budget phone around?

Features

Motorola’s second-generation E is here, and if you’ve been itching for an entry-level phone, it may end up being something for you.

This handset doesn’t push itself far from where the original E (2014) first ventured, though, so if you considered that model, the specs and design suggest it’s a minor upgrade altogether.

As such, there’s a change in processor technology with the 1.2GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 in the 2014 E jumping to a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 410 in this iteration, but keeping the 1GB RAM from last time.

Google’s Android is, of course, the operating system Motorola has gone with — the company was only recently owned by Google, so you kind of have to expect this — and Motorola has gone with Android 5.0 “Lollipop” out of the box, making it fairly up to date.

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Storage is set to 8GB out of the box here, which is twice what you had on the original E, and there’s still a microSD slot if you need to expand this considerably later on.

This sits under a 4.5 inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) screen running the quarterHD resolution of 960×540, which is 0.2 inches larger than the model from last year. Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 technology helps protect this display, which itself boasts a pixel clarity of roughly 245 pixels per inch, a good 80 lower than the Retina resolution used on the Apple iPhone 6.

Motorola’s camera is also pretty close to the original, with a 5 megapixel shooter on the back with no flash, while a new 640×480 VGA camera sits on the front for the bare minimum of selfies you might want to capture.

Connection on this phone change a little, though, with 4G added to the pile, working alongside 802.11b/g/n WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth 4.0. Two SIM slots are included on this handset, handled through two microSIM slots found on the edge under Motorola’s replaceable bands, where the microSD slot can also be found.

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Wired connections are slim, though, with only a 3.5mm headset jack up top and a microUSB charging and data transfer port at the bottom, both in the centre of the design.

Buttons are also few and far between, with two physical buttons found here, the power button and volume rocker on the right edge, while the rest of the buttons for Android are software-based and built into the screen.

The battery on the Motorola E (2015) is set to 2390Ah and is not removable in this handset.

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Performance

Motorola doesn’t make a lot of phones, but the few it does make are generally targeted at specific areas, and it does so with letters.

For instance, there’s the “X” (Moto X), a phone geared at the mid-to-high-end part of the market with a big screen, nice camera, and a solid performance for people prepared to spend.

There’s also the “G” series (Moto G) which is the mid-range phones, or phones that offer some of the features in the X but at a lower price point, with less of an emphasis on screen and innards, but still a decent all round performance.

And then you have the “E” (Moto E), a series you might want to interpret as the “entry-level” phones, because these offer enough of what you might want in a phone that won’t break the bank.

That’s the idea, anyway, because in this year’s E, Moto’s entry-level phone has climbed up in price, jumping from the $179 RRP of the 2014 Moto E to the $249 of the model offered this year.

The question you might be asking yourself is if the change is worth it, if the differences from one year will make an entry-level phone worth the $70 change in price.

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We’ll get to that shortly, but what has changed is the chip, the screen, the storage inside, and speed of the modem. These might seem like minor changes, and with the exception of the modem speed, they probably are, with the processor being a little faster here, the screen 0.2 inches bigger, and the storage doubled to 8GB.

But that modem is what we’re interested in, and now that 3G is the passé technology and 4G has overtaken it, we definitely want 4G in our phones, so it’s nice to see it here in the Motorola E.

Also here in the Motorola E 2015 is a taste of the Moto X, that flagship phone, as Motorola brings its “glance” technology down, providing a screen that shows you a hint of what awaits you when you unlock for notifications and messages simply when you pick up the handset and touch the screen.

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We’ve liked this feature before and it’s good to see that here, as it can help you decide whether it’s worth unlocking the phone and powering up that colourful display when all you really wanted to do was check if that special someone had called or sent a message and didn’t need to waste battery power with the whole display.

That display is very reminiscent of what we saw on the prior E, and though it’s jumped in size a little — a tiny amount, actually — the resolution is all the same, with a relatively bright 960×540 quarterHD (qHD) display that looks decent from the dead on viewing angle primarily, and washing out slightly as you move to the sides.

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In the hands, the Moto E is more of the same, with a plastic slightly curved body nestling itself comfortable in the palm of your hand, the soft polycarbonate backing feeling almost rubberised and still easy to grip.

While the design is familiar, Motorola has brought one new thing to the table with a removable band around the edge. This plastic band — which looks a little like a frame for the phone — covers the slots and provides the buttons, and it can be removed rather simply.

In fact, Motorola even made the bands one of those things you could customise, with different colours possible.

Or there would be customisation of the bands, anyway, if Motorola had supported it locally, which it doesn’t appear to be doing. If you want to replace these, you’re going to want to order them from that internet thing people are always talking about (us included).

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Under this band, you’ll find a few useful slots, too, with a microSD slot to expand that 8GB storage — yay! — and two microSIM slots.

Two SIM card slots mean this phone supports two networks or two accounts at the same time, which could prove useful if heading overseas or using different accounts for different services, such as one for voice and text and another for data.

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And data speeds will be quite nice, with 4G offered in the Moto E 2015 edition handset.

We saw speeds ranging from 13 to 50Mbps on the Telstra 4GX network, and that’s a pretty clear indication that this device will offer at least Category 3 speeds of 100Mbps, though that will be something dependent on your network provider, of course, as well as your location.

That’s a huge improvement over last year’s 3G-only Motorola E, and that’s not the only area the handset maker has improved on, either, with the specs getting a once over, too.

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Unfortunately, while Motorola might have taken the time to update the specs, the system performance of the 2015 E isn’t far off the mark from last year’s E, resulting in a phone that has the potential to operate efficiently, but most of the time doesn’t.

As such, you may find quite a few slow downs when getting to use the new E, which should be faster, and sometimes even feels faster, but often generally comes crashing to a halt and making you wait for the processor and operating system to catch up to you.

Take opening Chrome, which is the default web browser on many an Android phone. We have a shortcut at the bottom of the screen in the dock, and yet we’d press on it with the E, watch the icon light up momentarily, and then nothing would happen. Nothing would continue to happen for a second or two later, so we’d press it again, and eventually — three or four seconds in, Chrome would open.

That similar experience was found with Google’s Play Music app, which often did the same, and even went further by crashing out on us while we were listening to music, usually mid-song. We’re not sure why, and after testing quite literally hundreds of phones, we’ve yet to see this pop up on other devices, making us wonder just what in the blazes is going on with this phone.

Is it the processor, the memory, or just a phone that hasn’t been optimised properly?

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Honestly, we’re not sure, but the new Moto E reminds us of last year’s Moto E, despite there being a different processor with two extra cores, and an updated Android that now runs version 5.0, also known as “Lollipop”.

Whatever is wrong, it is certainly doing the 2015 edition of the Moto E no favours, because while the phone can work efficiently, it just generally doesn’t feel like it is, and there were times where we wanted to throw this phone out the window (that’s the not so fun part of this job where you review something that gets you frustrated).

Battery life is also a bit of a downer, with our regular phone test of using the phone with wired headphones and listening to music, doing some social networking, web surfing, making phone calls, reading and writing emails, taking pictures, and generally using that phone over the course of a day revealing not much more than 24 hours of battery life.

We’re going to assume that because not much has changed in this model outside of the 4G modem and the faster and more capable processor that these two aspects are the reasons we’re seeing a battery drop, but it could also be the screen which is now a little larger, too.

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Either way, a little over a full 24 hours isn’t super impressive performance, especially when the previous Moto E netted two days of life, even though it was only 3G.

You’ll get a little less if you decide to switch Bluetooth on, or use your phone more aggressively, so think of this as another day-long phone, only, at least from our tests.

So performance is certainly an area Motorola could have managed a little better on, and we’re in much the same frame of mind with the camera, which hasn’t received much of a bump if any at all.

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Here you’ll find another 5 megapixel camera with no flash, a hint of autofocus (though it’s usually happening without you touching the screen, and there is no touch to autofocus control), and pretty hum-drum performance whether the sun is out or sleeping.

The daylight shots are definitely more preferable, because low-light imagery from this camera just isn’t the best, with focus not always on target and sharpness hard to find, especially since there’s no flash to stabilise the image if need be.

Essentially, you’ll need to hold very, very still, and with this 5 megapixel camera, it’s just not work it.

Image from the Motorola E (2015) in HDR

Image from the Motorola E (2015) in HDR

There’s a little more video control here if you fancy some 720p HD action, and Motorola has been kind enough to upgrade the front-facing camera by the simple act of including one this time around, but we’re not talking high quality innards here, so don’t expect this to replace your dedicated camera anytime. Hell, we’d carry one around just because this isn’t a good camera.

At least it’s a comfortable phone to hold, and at least there’s a great incarnation of Android running here, with one pretty much bereft of any of the extra overlays manufacturers generally put on, making it the way Google develops Android to be.

But with performance issues all over shop and more of a ho-hum experience, it’s hard to see the new Moto E being an improvement over the original, though we hope Motorola addresses these concerns with future firmware updates that could end up addressing these.

Image from the Motorola E (2015)

Low-light photos from the Moto E’s 2015 camera just isn’t all that hot. Bring a camera around if you plan to take photos at night. You know, a proper camera.

Conclusion

While the specs read like Motorola may have made the best budget phone ever, the result is further from the truth than the dream, and unfortunately, the 4G Motorola E just doesn’t hold up as strongly as a Moto model barely $50 more, the G with 4G.

In fact while the original E was an acceptable entry-level phone for a bit under $200, the now $70 more costly E is harder to justify, especially since it faces some pretty steep competition from other entry level phones out there.

Not helping the new E is a performance which just feels slow, a battery life that doesn’t make the two days of battery life we had hoped for, and the general feeling that you’re being overcharged for something so close to where Motorola plants the mid-range option.

If none of that bothers you, Motorola’s new E is an acceptable device, but we’d wait for the price to drop on this one before it’s worth considering, as there’s just so much else out there that performs better in this price bracket, and Motorola even makes one of those options.

 

Price (RRP)

$249

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Dual SIM 4G phone; Feels good in the hand; Motorola has finally brought its glance screen technology to a budget phone; Easy to snap off the edge frame and load another SIM card or microSD card;

Product Cons

No flash for the rear camera; Pretty mediocre camera; Relatively buggy with obvious slowdowns; Battery life could be better; Motorola’s colourful frames won’t be sold in Australia;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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