Motorola Moto E 4G LTE review: Raising the bar for budget phones

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The Good The new Motorola Moto E is proof that a cheap phone can be good, too; you're getting reasonable performance, a sharp display and LTE connectivity for $150, unlocked.

The Bad Like its predecessor, camera quality disappoints. The processor also occasionally struggles to keep up with more hardware-intensive tasks, like gaming.

The Bottom Line The Moto E delivers in enough of the right areas to make it a fantastic option for a tight budget.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

Editors' note: This review was updated on March 30, 2015, to include test results and notes for the Moto E on Boost Mobile.

The latest Motorola Moto E doesn't hold a candle to a top-of-the-line superphone. Its chunky plastic shell won't turn heads, and the spec sheet doesn't do much to incite gadget lust. But that's OK if you're looking to save a few bucks; what the Moto E lacks in flair, it makes up for in affordability.

Last year's Moto E was a promising, inexpensive device, but it suffered from meager battery life and packed a disappointing camera. This time around, Motorola has also tucked in 4G LTE connectivity, a beefier battery and a near-stock version of Android 5.0 Lollipop -- the camera remains a sore point, serving up pictures plagued by image noise and washed-out colors. At $150 for an LTE model (about £100, or AU$194) and $120 for 3G (roughly £81, or AU$155), it's cheap, unlocked and delivers in enough of the right areas to make it a good option for a tight budget. We also testing a variant of the Moto E running on Boost Mobile: it'll set you back $99 (about £67 , or AU$92).


Josh Miller/CNET

The Moto E's chunky, plastic chassis is a far cry from metal-and-glass stunners like the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge or iPhone 6 Plus . But that's OK: in addition to being an order of magnitude cheaper than those devices, this chubby little phone is charming in its own way. Colors help; the phone is available in white or black, but the phone's border is a removable plastic band, available in an array of colors. These add a little bit of pep to the device. I've generally stuck with yellow, but occasionally swap over to purple when the mood strikes me. You can pick up extra colors from Motorola for $20. Sure, it's not quite the customization experience you'll find with the Moto X , but I rather like the ability to change things up on a whim.

The 4.5-inch display has a 960x540-pixel resolution, which is likely going to be a turn-off for specs mavens. That's seems a bit disappointing, especially given all of the 1080p (and higher) phones we see every day. But the relatively compact resolution works here: the phone offers a pixel density of 245 pixels per inch (PPI) and everything onscreen, from app icons to text, looks pleasantly crisp. Photos look pretty good, too, colors are accurate and remain true -- without shifting -- when I hold the device at awkward angles.

The swappable bands make on-the-fly customization easy. Josh Miller/CNET

Pop off the decorative plastic band and you'll run into the SIM card and microSD slots -- the 2,390mAh battery isn't removable. The microSD slot supports up to 32GB cards, and you'll want to pick one up to complement the meager 8GB of storage space.

Software and features

Near-stock Android Lollipop on an inexpensive device is definitely appreciated. Josh Miller/CNET

The Moto E is running Android 5.0.2 Lollipop -- a nice touch, as phones at this price point are generally behind the curve. Of course Android 5.1 has already started rolling out, but the OS remains a nice touch. Better still, Motorola hasn't bogged down the phone with lots of extra apps or a custom skin, it's quite nearly pure Android. There are a few scattered Motorola apps, like a tool to help you share your location with family and friends, and a migration tool to ease the process of transferring your stuff from an old phone to a new one.

While the version we tested on AT&T remained relatively bloat free, the slightly cheaper version available on Boost Mobile is bundled with extraneous apps. They're largely innocuous Boost Mobile-themed wares that are designed to let you manage your account or make payments. There are also a few shortcuts to install miscellaneous games and apps -- all readily removed. The security app Gadget Guardian from Lookout is also present, and can't be uninstalled.

Motorola has also baked in some of its own special touches. You might remember Moto Display from the Moto X -- notifications will appear on your device's screen discretely, allowing you to keep tabs on what's going on, even if your phone is sleeping. My favorite Motorola feature is probably the readily accessible camera; twist your wrist twice and, no matter what you're doing, the phone will open up the 5-megapixel camera and be ready to start shooting. It's a pretty deliberate action, so you won't have to worry too much about triggering it accidentally. It isn't exactly instantaneous, especially if you're playing a game or the like, but still a nice way to grab some spontaneous shots. The camera's aren't all that great, though -- more on that in a bit.


It's no barn-burner, but video streaming and casual gaming work fine. Josh Miller/CNET

I tested the Moto E on AT&T's LTE network in San Francisco, Oakland and Mountain View. Data speeds are going to vary based on a myriad of variables, including location and time of day -- I saw my best results down in Mountain View, where download speeds peaked at 16.51Mbps, but averaged around 9Mbps here in San Francisco during my testing. The Boost Mobile version of the Moto E runs on Sprint's LTE network. I did most of my testing in San Francisco, where my average download speed was about 8.4MBps.

Motorola Moto E call quality sample

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