I didn't spend too much time with last year's Moto E, but there seems to be a slight improvement in overall photo quality when compared to the test shots in our last review. And -- good news! -- you can finally record high-definition video. It's only 720p, but it's something.
Once again, Motorola's simplified camera software is the Moto E's saving grace. You can tap anywhere on the screen, or hit one of the volume buttons, to snap a shot. There's no need to aim for a virtual shutter button. Autofocus is just fine (it's sometimes snappier than more expensive smartphones I've tested), and the phone generally manages to take a photo in under a second. But of course, there's no fancy image stabilization here, so the quality of your photos will usually depend on how steady you can hold the Moto E. As for that wrist-flick camera gesture, I was honestly surprised at how well it worked. It typically launched the camera in just a few seconds -- yes, even when the phone was locked -- and it ended up being faster than my iPhone 6 on several occasions.
Performance and battery life
Acceptable. That's the best way to describe the Moto E's overall performance. Its 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 410 processor is fine at accomplishing a single task, like navigating through YouTube and watching videos, scrolling through web pages or browsing through music on Spotify. But once you start asking the phone to do more than one thing at a time -- say, browsing Twitter while Google Play downloads and updates apps in the background -- it becomes an exercise in frustration. Everything takes way too long to load, and it almost feels like you're fighting through a veneer of molasses as you interact with the phone's touchscreen. That's especially surprising since it's packing a gig of RAM.
Even when you're not overloading the phone, the Moto E feels considerably slower than most other handsets. There's always a quarter-second delay when you're doing just about anything, be it tapping an app icon, hitting a link in Chrome or making fast gestures with your fingers. But again, this is a $150 phone! A certain amount of slowdown is acceptable for a phone in this price range. And, as with its camera deficiencies, the less discriminating smartphone shopper might not notice the issues.
What's most impressive about the Moto E? It's much faster than its predecessor, and in some benchmarks it even bests the new Moto G. That raises some questions, though: Why, exactly, does it feel slower than the revamped Moto G when it has more powerful hardware? My guess is that lower-quality components, like its touchscreen, end up negating the hardware bonuses. Swiping and scrolling on the Moto G's screen feels buttery smooth, whereas the Moto E's screen feels like you're swiping through butter.
After using the Moto E for several days, its speed issues bothered me less and less. In fact, it might be the ideal for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the onslaught of digital information we face every day. It forces you to be mindful and methodical about everything you're doing. This may just be the first phone that's best suited for the Zen state of mind. If you haven't mastered your inner calm yet, though, then you might be better off with the Moto G.
One benefit of being slightly underpowered? Great battery life. I was typically left with around 25 percent of battery after a full day of use. The Moto E also managed to last around 10.5 hours on our standard battery test, which involves looping a 720p video at half of the screen's brightness until it dies. That's a huge jump over the original Moto E, which hung in there for 5:45. It also lasted more than seven hours across a slew of other battery tests, which involved browsing websites, running a bit of 3D games and playing media. The Moto E's 2,390mAh cell is a solid improvement over the previous model's 1,980mAh capacity, but it's also helped by better energy management in Android Lollipop and the Snapdragon 410 processor. For someone who doesn't use their phone very often, it may end up lasting two days on a charge.
Cheapo Android smartphones aren't hard to find, but most of them aren't devices you'd actually want to use. Sharp's $149 AQUOS Crystal is a decent option, but you can only snag it on Sprint or Boost Mobile. There are also plenty of low-end Windows Phones, like the recently announced $70 Lumia 430 and the Lumia 640, but you'd have to forgo Android's richer app ecosystem to use one of those. The Moto E, as an inexpensive phone that proves itself capable with a solid selection of features, is a rare breed. It's a significant step up from last year's model, which didn't even have LTE.
The toughest decision with the new Moto E? At $150, it's only slightly less than the $180 Moto G, which has a 5-inch screen, a significantly better camera and a far more responsive interface. I bet the new Moto E's $120 3G variant will end up being far more popular than the LTE version I tested out.
If your main concern when choosing a smartphone is price, and you don't want to be locked into a lengthy carrier contract, the Moto E is a good choice. Motorola's done a fine job of bringing its curvy design and technology down to a low price point (though it'll be even more appealing when the LTE version gets a price drop). Even if it's not quite your bag, you can't deny what Motorola has done. Companies like OnePlus and Xiaomi are getting plenty of credit for making cheap phones with high-end hardware, but even those phones would be overkill for less demanding users. Motorola, on the other hand, has taken that idea even further by making the lowest of the low end something you'd actually want to buy.