- Compact and comfortable build
- Excellent battery life
- Runs near-stock version of Android
- Highly affordable
- Terrible camera
- LTE isn't particularly fast
- Moto G is uniformly superior, and doesn't cost much more
The Moto E is a competent, capable smartphone for people who don't want to (or can't) break the bank on a mobile device. The $120 handset is fantastic value in a vacuum, but it's difficult to fully recommend when Motorola's other budget device, the Moto G, brings a superior display and design for just $60 more.
The Moto E is a phone for the people. Whereas most budget smartphones are content with merely being a smartphone, the E gives those shopping at the lower end of the market something they won’t feel embarrassed about.
Like Motorola’s other inexpensive showcase, the Moto G, it’s proof that you don’t need to make a sizable investment to enjoy the luxuries of a modern mobile device. It largely did this when it debuted last year, but a handful of refinements to this year’s model only cements the sentiment.
For $120—the price of two video games, or a couple of trips to the grocery store—you get a compact and comfortable build, performance comparable to a phone three times as expensive, and truly superb battery life. For $30 more, you get LTE connectivity. You also get myriad reminders that you’ve paid less than $200 for your phone. But taken as a whole, the Moto E continues to disassociate “cheap” from “affordable.”
We’ve been using Boost Mobile’s LTE variant of the device, which retails for $100 unlocked, for the past couple of weeks, so let’s take a deeper look at why that’s the case.
Build and Design
Motorola has crafted a specific design language for all its premier phones over the past couple of years, and the new Moto E doesn’t stray from it. It looks like a smaller Moto G, which looks like a smaller Moto X, which looks like a smaller Nexus 6. It emphasizes comfort and ease of use over visual flair and bonus functionality, with a subtle, minimalist chassis that does indeed fit snugly in the hand. It’s chunkier (12.3mm) than its more expensive brethren, as you’d expect from something this cheap, but it’s compact enough to never feel unwieldy.
The feel here is very much similar to that of the Moto G. Like that device, the Moto E features a smooth matte plastic finish, gentle curves around the back, rounded edges, with a little dimple on its rear cover that’s naturally inviting for your index finger to rest on and rub. A plastic yet tight volume rocker and power button are its only buttons, with a distinguishable ridged pattern on the latter. The front is coated in Gorilla Glass 3—which is dated at this point but tough enough—and is almost entirely barren save for a couple of small sensors and a thin (and again, plastic) sound bar across the top.
Really, there are only a couple of differences between the two budget Motos. One is simply that the E, with its 4.5-inch display, is smaller—though it’s a smidge taller (129.9mm) and wider (66.8mm) than last year’s 4.3-inch model. The other is the ridged plastic material that makes up the phone’s border, which comes off as a little too budget (even for this phone), but is nevertheless easy to ignore. It’s one of the few parts of the device that’s customizable, too, as it can be swapped out for a variety of different colored frames. The bulk of the device will always be black or white, however.
Other than that, the song remains the same. It’s immediately obvious that this is the lowest-end Moto phone, but, similar to how the Moto G laps the field in its price range, the Moto E’s build quality is just about unparalleled for phone this affordable. Its lines are clean, its mix of plastic and glass is tightly fused together, and its chassis is legitimately solid. There’s no feeling of looseness or creakiness when you’re using it.
It isn’t particularly eye-catching without the metal edges and high-end finish(es) of the Moto X, but there’s a certain charm to the Moto E. It’s chubby, but comfortable—its contours aren’t as dramatic as they are on other Motos, but they naturally slide into your hand, and the phone as a whole is neither too tall nor too wide. It’s weighty (at 145g), but well-balanced—it has a presence in the hand without feeling like a burden.
It courts utility over beauty, but there are still distinct bits of personality here—the slope around the top of the back, the solitary speaker bar, the way the dimple and main camera sit on top of each other like a couple of presses in clay. Motorola just refuses to beat you over the head with them. Perhaps best of all, it’s genuinely useable with one hand, all the time.
Basically, it looks and feels like a modern smartphone. Not a striking or high-end one, but emphatically not a toy. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s rare to see a handset this cheap that respects the people buying it.
The Moto E’s 4.5-inch display isn’t as obviously above its pay grade. It’s an IPS LCD panel with a resolution of 540 x 960, which equates to about 245 pixels per inch. That’s a decided step down from the Moto G’s 5-inch 720p panel, and as such there’s a consistent hint of fuzziness to text, graphics, and animations. Individual pixels can be spotted if you look closely enough, and zooming in on photos yields some blurriness.
Some of the other expected pitfalls of a budget display are here too—it can’t get particularly bright, dark tones aren’t as dark as they could be, and it’s more or less useless in direct sunlight. For $60 more–$80 if you count our test model—the Moto G’s screen is noticeably superior in just about every way.
Still, the panel is at least comparable to those on more expensive devices, which is an achievement in and of itself. For people who aren’t spec fiends—i.e., most people—it’s perfectly usable. It handles colors accurately, it’s responsive to the touch, and that aforementioned fuzziness isn’t so dramatic that it’ll bother you unless you go looking for it. The bezels that surround it are adequately thin (save for the top), and its viewing angles are fine as long as you don’t overdo it.
There are definite flaws here, but they’re easy enough to look past when you remember the price tag. The problem is that Motorola cannibalized it before it even hit the streets.