Ed. Note: The 2015 Moto E, released in early March, will remain on Android 5.1 Lollipop and not be updated to Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which was made available some seven months later. As such it is not a smartphone we can recommend purchasing.
Motorola's bottom-rung budget phone — the Moto E — has gotten a much-needed upgrade to keep up with the times.
Motorola surprised us this morning with a shiny new upgrade to its least-expensive smartphone, complete with an itty bitty cardboard press conference and everything we need to get to know this new budget phone. Like its predecessor, the new 2015 Moto E isn't meant to compete with the heavyweights in Android land. It's a $150 no-contract experience designed to offer a better experience than the often aging and outdated models that fill this space. Last year's model blew us away by how great the experience was at such a modest price tag, and now that Motorola is boasting a quad-core processor and an LTE variant (which is the model we're using) there's an expectation of greatness despite the admittedly meager offering.
Now that we've had the phone for several hours, however, it seems unlikely that this new Moto E is going to live up to that expectation.
It's probably been a while since you've wondered what a 1.2GHz quad-core processor with 1GB of RAM and a 960x540 resolution display could offer you, but that's exactly what happens when you pick up a 2015 Moto E. Motorola has removed the second silver strip from the front of this phone, taking with it any confusion about whether or not this phone is packing stereo speakers. It's a chunky little phone with a 4.5-inch screen and all of the usual Motorola design decisions, right down to the little dimple in the back. Unlike some of Motorola's other designs, the size of this phone doesn't lend itself nearly as well to using that dimple as a resting place for your index finger.
Instead you're more likely to grip the phone by the textured trim around the outer edge, which has its own little surprise built in. This trim is removable, and like Motorola's other phones is designed to be user replaceable with a variety of colored alternatives. Motorola provided us with a purple and a red band to go with this review unit, both of which snap on with ease and don't slide around or wiggle once in place. This trim also hides the microSD card slot and SIM tray, as well as a ribbon tucked deep in the phone with IMEI and FCC documentation. It means the outside of the phone looks nice and clean, and users can still choose their own adventure with the colors.
Despite the increase in power and the hope that Android Lollipop would play nice with lower end phones, turning the 2015 Moto E on is where the fun stops. Many of the same UI quirks that we've seen on the 2014 Moto X with Android 5.0 are present in the Moto E, and performance in general is just plain poor. Material Design animations are either noticeably jittery or just fail altogether, and many of the first-run apps on the phone took nearly five seconds a piece to fully load after tapping the icon. Getting back to these apps from the multitasking window took significantly less time, but it was still far from the snappy experience found with the previous Moto E out of the box.
One bright spot with the software experience seems to be the camera, which focuses quickly and can be launched almost instantly from the Motorola double twist action. In fact, all of the Moto actions that are present on the phone seemed to work well out of the box. This short list includes Assist, Actions, and Display, which all work exactly the way you'd expect them to if you've ever used a modern Motorola phone. The same could be said for Google Now, which is always a swipe away thanks to Motorola's use of the Google Now launcher in their Android builds.
At the time this was written, the 2015 Moto E has only been in hand for six hours. We're not ready to pass any sort of judgement on the experience based on such limited time with the phone, but to say our experiences so far lack the spark of enthusiasm generated by the previous Moto E is an understatement. Still, remembering this is a $150 phone of contract and the potential for Motorola to have a software update right around the corner to address some of the Lollipop issues we're seeing across their entire line is probably a good thing to do.