Moto E (2015) review: An adorable low-end phone with an absolutely abysmal camera

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They say good things come in small packages and in the second-generation Moto E’s case, that’s mostly true. At $150, Motorola’s cute-as-a-button, low-end device packs all the essentials you need from a smartphone: a quad-core processor, a bright display, 4G LTE data speed, and a MicroSD expansion slot to tack on as much storage space as you damn well please.

That cheapness comes at a cost, however. While this year's Moto E will make a great first smartphone or backup device, its camera performance is so abysmal that Motorola might as well have left it off. 

The most adorable little smartphone

moto front Rob Schultz

The Moto E. 

Look at the Moto E—just look at it. It’s simply adorable. It’s not as customizable as its flagship counterpart, the Moto X, but you can easily swap out the bumpers to add your own little flair. (And if you get really desperate for customization, there’s always Washi Tape.)

moto back Rob Schultz

The Moto E's rubbery backside.

Its rubbery backside will keep it from sliding out of your hand and it fits into almost any pocket or purse. The phone is otherwise very bare-bones.

That’s the point of the Moto E: keep it simple. If all you're looking for is a decidedly plain-looking, candybar-style smartphone, this is most certainly it.

A display that's good enough

moto top front Rob Schultz

The Moto E features a display that's not all that bad for a low-end phone.

As displays go, the Moto E's could be worse. Its 4.5-inch screen is small—really small—and though it is easy to see in the dark, it’s hard to see in the sunlight. You’ll also need to enlarge the text in Chrome and other applications to really read anything. I’m so used to bigger screens these days that the small size and 900 x 540 resolution really made me squint. Typing on it is a bit of a chore, too. I often had to rely solely on auto correct to properly track my taps. 

Enough power—and power efficiency

The Moto E is powered by a 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor and 1GB of RAM. It's capable for checking email, using Google Maps to navigate around a foreign city, or playing through several rounds of My Vegas Slots. The hardware supports 64-bit instructions and the Moto E ships with Android Lollipop right out of the box, which Motorola promises to update on time.

Performance was pretty smooth overall, though there were some instances where the phone would take a few seconds to reload—like after unlocking the phone or when exiting out of a memory-intensive app—though there was never a considerable wait time. Overall, the Moto E didn't feel as low-end as its low price suggests.

As a phone—an actual phone to have conversations with—the Moto E is solid. I used it to make phone calls on the Orange network while I was overseas for Mobile World Congress and very clearly heard the person on the other line. It was the same in the US on the AT&T network, too.

However, the most impressive feature of the Moto E is its battery life, though that’s expected considering how low-powered the hardware is. The Moto E’s 2,390 mAh battery lasted five days on standby, with still enough juice to make a call or send a text. In a Geekbench battery rundown test, it lasted a total of six hours and 22 minutes, which far exceeds the capabilities of devices like the Samsung Galaxy S5. The Moto E is indeed reliable for an entire day out on the town.

Why skimp on the camera?

It makes sense that manufacturers will skimp on something like stereo sound, heavy-duty processors, or all-metal construction when they're piecing together an inexpensive phone, but to completely skimp on the camera seems like a crime against humanity.

Think about it: the majority of consumers purchasing the Moto E are either first-time smartphone buyers or those who can't afford the whole kit-and-caboodle. It's also likely that they won't be buying cheap point-and-shoot either, and that their camera phone is how they plan to capture memories. 

motoe thebay

Eh, it's okay.

The Moto E's 5-megapixel rear-facing camera is better than its predecessor, but it's still not very good—which isn't surprising considering the camera performance of either generation of the Moto X and Moto G. Motorola doesn't exactly have the best track record with cameras.

motoe outside

Our video team shooting the video of me you see above. 

Outside under the blazing sun, the Moto E takes acceptable photos for sharing on social media. 

motoe lowlight

This is the Moto E's low-light performance and it is awful.

motoe outdoors

In real-life test cases, you can barely see what's happening at night, even with some ambient lighting. 

Its low-light performance is abysmal, however. The Moto E doesn't have a rear-facing flash, either, so you won't be able to shoot photos in the bar or in a dimly-lit room. I tried to take a picture of my cat, but I had to turn up the brightness on my monitor to see what was going on. And it did just as poorly at an outside beer garden surrounded by patio lighting.

motoe selfie

Not an acceptable selfie—for a number of reasons, one being the resolution of the Moto E's front-facing camera.

The VGA front-facing camera isn't much to write home about either. Even if you're going to spend $120 on a phone, the least you'll want to do is post an outfit photo once in a while. You won't want to with the Moto E.

Almost-stock Android

motoe ui

Beautiful stock Lollipop.

One of Motorola’s biggest selling points is that its phone software is consistently updated with every new version of Android. That’s because it runs what I’ve dubbed “almost-stock” Android. The interface looks and feels exactly like Lollipop because it is. The differences are mostly visible in the Settings menu, where Motorola bundled in features like Actions and Glance Display. They’re helpful additions to Android and easy to set up.

A cute lil' phone for a low price 

moto back confetti Rob Schultz

This phone is just too cute. 

The Moto E is as basic as smartphones get. If you're not into all the fanfare and hoopla that typically trails flagship devices, maybe going for something a little more humble like the Moto E might be worth the switch. There is really no other low-end phone out there that rivals this one. For $150, you get nearly stock Android, fantastic battery life, LTE data, and a quad-core processor in an adorably cute little package. I'd use this phone as my day-to-day if my 64-bit flagship powerhouse died a disastrous death, though I'd be sure to carry around something like the HTC Re to take pictures with. The Moto E is really not a camera phone.  

greenbot rating 35

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At a Glance
  • Greenbot Rating

    The Moto E will make a great first smartphone or backup device, but the cheapness comes at a price: its camera performance is just so awful.

    Pros

    • Long lasting battery life will get you through a day of adventures
    • Low-end phone without the low-end performance

    Cons

    • Both rear- and front-facing cameras are just awful
    • You will have to buy a MicroSD card to store a decent amount of media on this device
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