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Motorola Moto E (2nd Gen) Review

Motorola’s second generation Moto E receives significant enhancements, including a faster 64-bit SoC, front-facing camera, and bigger battery. There’s even an LTE option. Is this budget smartphone worth more than its bargain price?

Camera Performance And Photo Quality

We’ll be comparing the quality of the photos taken by the Moto E (2nd gen) to those of the HTC Desire Eye, an upper mid-range phone with a 13MP Sony IMX214 sensor and f/2.0, 28mm lens. This is not a fair comparison, but we just did not have any other phones in this price range available at the time. Instead, think of this as a comparison between the Moto E and any near-flagship phone from last year that might be available now for free on contract. The iPhone 6 images are included for reference, since it produced some of the best images out of the group of phones tested.

For the indoor pictures, we add the Nokia Lumia 830 (10MP, OIS) and Moto G (2nd gen) (8MP, f/2.0) to the mix for a better comparison.

All images were taken using the Auto mode with the stock camera app unless noted. Also, you can view the full-sized image for each photo by clicking the text links below the images that are within a slideshow album. Both the Desire Eye and Lumia 830 shoot natively at a 16:9 aspect ratio, while the other phones shoot in 4:3.

Outdoors

Daylight

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Full Size Images: [Moto E: daylight Mustang], [HTC Desire Eye: daylight Mustang], [iPhone 6: daylight Mustang], [Moto E: daylight boxcar], [HTC Desire Eye: daylight boxcar], [iPhone 6: daylight boxcar]

The first picture of the Mustang was taken late in the afternoon with the sun low in the sky. In these conditions, the iPhone 6 gets the white balance right, capturing the yellow light from the sun. Both the Moto E and Desire Eye set the white balance a bit too cool, missing this detail. In the Moto E image, the car looks a bit orange and the yellow chairs in the background are undersaturated. Noise is similar between the Moto E and Desire Eye, but both have significantly more than the iPhone 6.

In the second picture of the boxcar, the Moto E selects a shutter speed that’s too fast, leading to an underexposed image and more noise in the sky.

Zooming into the full-size images reveals the difference in detail and aliasing when going from 13MP to 8MP to 5MP. With only a 5MP camera, the Moto E makes it difficult to get a good image after using the digital zoom or cropping the photo.

While the Moto E obviously trails the more expensive phones in daylight photo quality, it still manages to produce decent shots, especially if the photos will primarily be viewed on mobile devices or shared on the web where its lower resolution is not a serious handicap.

Dusk

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Full Size Images: [Moto E: sunset Corvette], [HTC Desire Eye: sunset Corvette], [iPhone 6: sunset Corvette], [Moto E: sunset Mustang], [HTC Desire Eye: sunset Mustang], [iPhone 6: sunset Mustang]

The two scenes above were taken right at sunset, and in the fading light, we start to see the Moto E struggle. Its image of the Corvette interior clearly shows more noise than the other two. It also holds the shutter open longer, overexposing the chrome highlights on the dashboard.

All three images of the blue Mustang are pretty noisy, but the Moto E uses the highest ISO of the group, resulting in the most noise. The Moto E’s low resolution and high noise level conspire to erase detail (under the hood) and blur edges (side mirror). Both the iPhone 6 and Moto E do worse than the Desire Eye at capturing the dynamic range of the scene based on the overly white sky.

Night

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Full Size Images: [Moto E: night], [HTC Desire Eye: night], [iPhone 6: night]

In this night shot, the Moto E’s image is a bit darker than the other two. However, it uses a lower ISO level than the Desire Eye, producing an image with less noise. Both the Moto E and Desire Eye exhibit more bloom around highlights than the iPhone 6.

HDR

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Full Size Images: [Moto E: no HDR], [Moto E: HDR], [HTC Desire Eye: no HDR], [HTC Desire Eye: HDR], [iPhone 6: no HDR], [iPhone 6: HDR]

With HDR turned off, the Moto E produces an overly dark image. Fortunately, its HDR mode is very effective, producing a better image than both the Desire Eye and iPhone 6. The sky is still a bit dark and the image is a bit noisier overall, but the colors are accurate and there’s no purple fringing or haloing around highlights. The image looks very natural.

In contrast, the Desire Eye produces an image with cooler colors and there’s weird light colored streaks on the green baggage car on the right. There’s also noticeable purple fringing artifacts around highlighted edges (top of baggage car, pole on the right, light on top of yellow car).

Indoors

The staged indoor shots below were lit by overhead LED lights, a CFL lamp from the front, and an incandescent overhead light in the background.

Bright Light

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Full Size Images: [Moto E: indoor bright light], [Moto G: indoor bright light], [Lumia 830: indoor bright light], [HTC Desire Eye: indoor bright light ], [iPhone 6: indoor bright light]

This indoor scene is not nearly as bright as the outdoor shots, so it’s no surprise we see the Moto E struggle, creating the worst picture of the group. The autofocus could not lock onto an object in this lighting, creating a generally blurry image. We took half a dozen different shots of this scene and they were all the same. The image is also overexposed, washing out the blacks and missing detail on the faces. The Moto E sets the highest ISO of the group and creates the noisiest image.

The Moto G (2nd gen) produces a much better picture than the Moto E, although it too is a bit overexposed and suffers from noise. The Lumia 830 sets the exposure correctly, but colors are far too cool and there’s some purple fringing artifacts in some locations.

Low Light

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Full Size Images: [Moto E: indoor low light], [Moto G: indoor low light], [Lumia 830: indoor low light], [HTC Desire Eye: indoor low light], [iPhone 6: indoor low light]

Turning off the overhead LED lights and CFL lamp leaves a very dark scene all phones have trouble with. The Lumia 830 performs the best here thanks to Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), which none of the other devices have. It allows the camera to use a much slower shutter speed and to hold a lower ISO level, which leads to a brighter image with less noise.

Despite using the same shutter speed and ISO as the Moto G, the Moto E produces an image that is basically unusable. It’s so dark that we can barely see the Third Doctor or the black Dalek on either side. It’s also extremely noisy.

In order to reach this price point, some sacrifices need to be made. For the Moto E (2nd gen) this applies to the rear camera. The addition of an autofocus at least makes it more than a toy and it is capable of producing decent images in good lighting that are at least suitable for viewing on mobile devices and sharing on the Web. Its HDR mode is also very good.

However, as the light begins to dim, so do your chances of getting a decent shot. Its low-light performance is generally poor and the lack of an LED flash makes it unsuitable for evening or dimly lit indoor usage.

  • emad_ramlawi
    Lenovo k30-W for the win
    all the above +
    HD ready resolution 720p
    internal storage 16GB
    the only con, is there OS, which is good, but not really vanilla android
    Reply
  • atljsf
    i bought one and had to return it, it restarts while charging and motorola at this moment hasn't solved the problem, a shame because it is a nice fast phone
    Reply
  • tekelymailcom
    The only international variant mentioned is the XT1505 but there are more. I found very interesting the XT1523 which has 16GB, dual sim and digital TV reciever.
    Reply
  • HideOut
    There might be an error in the speaker/sound part above. "Plugging in a set of good headphones provides a similar listening experience. Relative to the iPhone 6, bass has less punch and the Moto E lacks clarity; the signal-to-noise ratio seems higher." The S/N ratio on the Moto E should be LOWER, not higher if it sounds like its lacking clarity.
    Reply
  • HideOut
    There might be an error in the speaker/sound part above. "Plugging in a set of good headphones provides a similar listening experience. Relative to the iPhone 6, bass has less punch and the Moto E lacks clarity; the signal-to-noise ratio seems higher." The S/N ratio on the Moto E should be LOWER, not higher if it sounds like its lacking clarity.
    Reply
  • HideOut
    site posting is not working well...Either nothing or multiples
    Reply
  • MobileEditor
    The S/N ratio on the Moto E should be LOWER, not higher if it sounds like its lacking clarity.

    Good point. I must have been thinking of THD, which is expressed as a percent. I've made the necessary correction.

    - Matt Humrick, Mobile Editor, Tom's Hardware
    Reply
  • Dr3amCast
    I also purchased this phone and experience the restart while charging issue. Also, the performance is on par with a very, very basic Lumia 510 I had the misfortunate of having to use for a short time. The phone chugs while multi-tasking. And I mean by just hitting the home screen instead of closing out of apps. And even that takes an inordinate amount of time. I'm talking a noticeable 3-4 seconds after you hit home: your background wallpaper shows up, but no icons or app try icon, then another second or 2 later the icons show up. It's performance is dreadful. As well is its 1GB of memory. If I'm in the car I use bluetooth and Google Play Music / Google Maps. If I begin navigating to a destination and begin playing music Maps will close. I'm assuming due to lack of sufficient RAM. If I'm at a stop light and open snapchat, Google Play Music, Maps or Waze will close if I view a Snap. It's really rather frustrating the more you use the device. And I don't have many apps on here at all. Essentially just FB, Twitter, Snapchat, Waze, WatchESPN, HBOGo. That's all. It's frustrating seeing reviews like these on this phone that don't actually put it through its paces for a decent amount of time.
    Reply
  • MobileEditor
    I also purchased this phone and experience the restart while charging issue. Also, the performance is on par with a very, very basic Lumia 510 I had the misfortunate of having to use for a short time. The phone chugs while multi-tasking.

    I'm sorry you had a poor experience, but thanks for taking the time to add your story. This is why we included the HTC Desire Eye in our performance evaluation, so our readers could see the performance delta between some lower-cost devices and last year's flagships running Snapdragon 801 SoCs, which are now considered mid-tier.

    Our unit did not experience the restart while charging issue, and while this comes as no solace to you, the Moto E handled its 1GB of RAM better than the Lumia 830 did during our testing and evaluation.

    - Matt Humrick, Mobile Editor, Tom's Hardware
    Reply
  • quadrider21
    I've experianced BT connectivity problems with both the Moto G and this new Moto E when connected to various cars. I'd be wary purchasing these phones if you rely on BT connectivity in your cars.
    Reply