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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?

Software

The Moto E (2nd gen) runs Android 5.0.2 out of the box, although an update to version 5.1 should come soon. Even though the 4G LTE version uses the 64-bit Snapdragon 410 SoC, the less expensive 3G version still runs 32-bit Cortex-A7 CPUs. Rather than maintain two different firmwares for the Moto E, Motorola goes with the lowest common denominator and loads both versions with 32-bit Android. This will not impact the 4G LTE’s performance dramatically, but it does miss out on the new SIMD cryptography instructions included in AArch64.

Motorola comes very close to providing a stock Android experience. Similar to a Nexus device, Google Now is the launcher and all the usual Google software offerings are present. Motorola does provide its own camera app and a few additional features.

For starters, there’s the Motorola Migrate app, which lets you easily transfer your data from another phone. If you’re coming from another Android phone, your apps, Wi-Fi settings, contacts, and photos (only if syncing is enabled in the Photos app) can be synced from your Google account. The Migrate app helps you transfer all the other data that Google does not backup, including text messages, call history, SIM contacts, and any local photos, videos, and music.

After installing the Motorola Migrate app on the old Android device, you use it to scan a QR code displayed by the Migrate app on the Moto E. The phone then initiates an ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection that helps you transfer the files.

For those with Apple devices, it can also transfer contacts and calendar data from iCloud, but requires you to divulge your Apple ID to a third-party service. Even feature-phone users can transfer their contacts via Bluetooth.

The included Motorola Alert app can be used to let family or friends know where you are by notifying them when you arrive or depart from a location. You can also use the app to send a text message to someone, telling them where to meet you. There’s a “follow me” mode as well, which allows you to broadcast your location periodically to your emergency contacts.

The Moto Assist app serves as a control panel for Motorola’s added features. Since the Moto E lacks some of the sensors of the more expensive Moto X, some options, like waving your hand over the phone to wake the screen, are missing. Moto Assist can still keep the Moto E from becoming a distraction while you’re trying to sleep or in a meeting by extending Android’s Downtime feature.

You can also use Moto Assist to configure Moto Display. Similar to Android Lollipop’s Ambient Display feature, which was modeled after Moto Display, it turns on the display if you tap on it or pick up the phone. It will also activate the display when new notifications arrive. The Moto E (2nd gen) does not come with an AMOLED display, so the whole display will be turned on for a few seconds each time you receive a message. This can drain the battery if you tend to get a lot of notifications.

The Moto E includes a feature we do not see very often on smartphones: an FM radio. The phone uses the headphone cable as an antenna, so you cannot listen to the radio with the external speaker. While most people stream music via the internet these days, or just load an SD card with songs, it’s nice to have an extra option. This is especially true for a phone at this price point, where people are more likely to opt for less expensive and more restrictive data plans.

Motorola provides one of the least cluttered Android builds of any OEM for the Moto E. It tosses in a few useful features, although it lacks some of the nifty tricks included on the Moto X.

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.