Motorola Moto E (2nd Gen) (2015) review

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Announced and made available on February 25, the new Moto E is one of the cheapest off-contract smartphones you’ll find. But, does cheap mean low quality or shoddy craftsmanship? Hardly. Not only is this one of the least expensive models you can buy without a service plan, it happens to be one of the better choices for various user needs.

The second generation Moto E is definitely an evolutionary take on its predecessor and doesn’t stray far in overall design and approach. Looking very much like a late edition Motorola it would be easy for an average person to confuse this one with last year’s edition – or the different Moto G and Moto X models.

Design

Pick the Moto E up and you’ll notice it has a nice, soft finish that doesn’t grab oils, dirt, or fingerprints. Available in black or white, the phone feels like it can take a bit of moderate abuse. Throw your phone in a pocket or purse without much thought? No worries, the Moto E is forgiving.

[blockquote author=””]It’s going to be hard to recommend any other brand over Motorola at this price range.[/blockquote]

Along the outer edge of the phone you’ll find a textured grip in either of the default colors. Not only does this give you some extra bite when in hand, it can also be used to accent your design. You can purchase additional color options that add a hint of color or pizzazz to the phone. No, it’s not on the same level of the Moto Maker stuff for the Moto X, or even the replacement battery covers on the Moto G, but it’s nice to know you’re not stuck with what you bought.

Popping the edge ring on and off proves no challenge; interestingly, the volume and power buttons are included as part of the grip. It’s quite something how a little strip of blue or pink might change the overall aesthetics.

Android

As is the case with other Motorola smartphones of late, the Moto E features a nearly stock Android software experience. As of this review the Moto E ships with Android 5.0.2 which is just about the absolute latest in releases. For what it’s worth, Android 5.1 was announced and began deployment right around the same time as the phone’s debut.

Motorola has opted to include a handful of its own apps and services; present here are Migrate, Assist, and Moto Display. You’ll also find minor tweaks to the user experience such as flicking your wrist to open the camera. In short, none of these really duplicates anything found in the Android OS and each can be user-defined or left alone.

Does all of this mean that the device moves along without snags or stutters? No, we did find the occasional burp or minor pauses in response. Nothing crazy, though, and there were no force closing problems. Unless you have spent a lot of time with more powerful phones or are doing head-to-head comparisons, you may not even see the difference.

Display

Slightly larger than its predecessor, the second-gen Moto E features a 4.5-inch display. It doesn’t sound like much and doesn’t feel all that different in hand, but it’s nice to see more screen for the money. On the other hand, it provides the same overall resolution (960×540) which means less pixels per inch. Does this matter to you? We venture to say it shouldn’t – especially because of its price.

Motorola has opted for Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection atop of the display. Additionally, there’s a water resistant coating to help guard against life’s little spills. It’s not a true waterproof finish but it’s all you’ll need in the event you’re caught out in the rain.

We did find that the screen is not quite as bright as we might have hoped. We do like to dial down brightness to preserve battery; however, the higher settings are still a little darker than we’d hoped. Dealbreaker? Hardly.

Storage

Motorola has doubled down on internal capacity for the Moto E 2015. Customers now get 8GB to work with and there’s also microSD expansion. It’s worth noting, however, that you are limited to 32GB cards for an all-in total of maximum of 40GB. But, thanks to the ever-growing list of cloud storage options and online backup services, this capacity isn’t quite the dealbreaker it would have been two years ago.

Camera

One area where less expensive smartphones tend to pull up short is in the camera. Indeed, the first-generation Moto E suffered from a less-than-desirable experience that had somewhat justified its lower price point.

Thankfully, Motorola has moved the needle for this year’s model by integrating auto-focus and an Auto-HDR mode. Between the two of these we found the camera was able to capture images quickly and fairly accurately. There’s nothing worse (ok, there are plenty of things worse) than whipping out the camera to snap a few pictures and the phone not locking on to the subject. The Moto E 2015 was much quicker and more precise than we expected.

Video recording gets a boost this time around, jumping from 480p to 720p. It’s the low end of HD, sure, but we’ll take it. Sadly, there’s still no flash to be found so you’ll want to ensure you have good lighting.

Also new in this generation, there’s a front-facing VGA camera. Absent altogether in the previous model, it’s just enough to say it exists. If you’re looking for something HD for video chat you’ll not find it here.

Battery

Coming in with 2390mAh capacity, the battery is a 20% increase over last year’s power supply. What does that mean to you, the user? How about more than one day of juice and a downright incredible standby time?

We were blown away by the way the Moto E sipped at its battery over the span of a few days. In our mixed usage we found that the battery was able to give us all-day life plus more. Light users, we imagine, could get 2-3 days or more from this one. Things could get even better if you’re using the 3G model or don’t spend much time utilizing high speed data.

Conclusion

We are extremely impressed with the Moto E. Considering the $150 price point we would have been happy with a slightly larger screen over last year’s model. Or, perhaps just adding in 4G LTE support. Fortunately for us, we get both of these as well as the latest release of Android. Throw in the better camera details and battery it’s all bonus.

At $120, the 3G variant is still plenty of smartphone for someone making the leap from feature phone. Both are attractive enough in price to consider one of these as a backup or replacement for a lost or damaged model.

It’s going to be hard to recommend any other brand over Motorola at this price range. Sure, Blu, Huawei, and a few others are treading into that space and offer compelling devices, but we’ve got to give the nod to Motorola. There’s more than enough here to merit the money and the brand is one we’ve been all too pleased to learn to trust again.

The Motorola Bands and Grip Shells are a nice touch that help users get a more personalized design. You’ll spend a few bucks to do so, yes, but you’re still walking away with a semi-personalized, low-cost smartphone with leading edge Android. Oh, and it’s also unlocked and waiting for your micro-SIM card.

If this is indicative of what a post-Google and Lenovo-owned Motorola is going to do then we’re on board.

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In addition to smartphones and mobile gadgets, Scott has a deep appreciation for film, music, and sunflower seeds. A husband and father, he likes spending down time riding his mountain bike or binge-watching TV. Scott has overseen the day-to-day activities of AndroidGuys since 2007.