You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a really good business phone. Motorola's second-generation Moto E smartphone is proof of that, offering respectable performance, long battery life and high-quality hardware for a ridiculously low price: just $130 off-contract, with no expensive two-year agreement attached. In addition to having nice hardware, the Moto E is one of the only budget-priced handsets to ship with the latest version of the Android operating system, which is packed with productivity-boosting new features.
As the smallest smartphone in the Moto line, the 4.5-inch Moto E is positioned as the lowest-end device behind Motorola's 5-inch Moto G and 5.2-inch Moto X. But the Moto E easily stands up to the Moto G, offering comparable performance for a lot less money. So does that make the Moto E our favorite phone for business users on a budget?
Despite its budget price, the Moto E actually looks and feels pretty slick. It also feels extremely solid and well-made, though it's a bit chunky compared to pricier models.
Our review unit's body was made of matte-black plastic. I especially like the soft-touch back, which gives the device an unexpectedly luxurious feel. The back also has the same gentle curve and trademark dimple as the other phones in the Moto line. Combined, those design features make the Moto E feel extremely comfortable in my hand.
The no-nonsense black-on-black design of our review unit is perfect for a work phone. Motorola also offers a white version (which is also pictured in this review), and both the black and the white models can be embellished with colorful bands; the plastic perimeter of the Moto E actually pops off so you can swap it out. The phone's SIM tray and micro-SD card port are also hidden under the band.
Compared to most modern phones, the Moto E feels extremely compact, measuring 5.11 x 2.62 x 0.48 inches with a 4.5-inch screen. But at 5.11 ounces, it's far from the lightest phone at this screen size. Still, it's smaller and lighter than the Moto G (5.57 x 2.78 x 0.24-0.43 inches, 5.25 ounces).
The teeny, tiny 4.3-inch display of the original Moto E, launched in 2014, was a bit too cramped for my taste. The second-gen model's 4.5-inch screen is still smaller than average, but big enough for basic productivity tasks. Browsing my email inbox was comfortable, though I felt a bit boxed in during more screen-intensive tasks like editing a spreadsheet in the Google Sheets app.
The 960 x 540-pixel IPS panel is a pretty low-res in addition to being small, though that's typical for a budget phone. Text on Web pages and in documents was still reasonably crisp and readable, as long as I didn't zoom out too far.
The screen is brighter and more colorful than displays on most competing phones. In our tests, it displayed a wider color gamut than the Moto G did. And this Moto E's screen topped out at 393 nits of brightness, which is brighter than the Moto G (303 nits), as well as the smartphone average (371 nits). That makes the screen easier to see outdoors, or in direct sunlight, which is a perk for mobile business users.
The Moto E is no speed demon, but it's fast enough for basic productivity tasks — and a whole lot faster than last year's version. Navigating around the interface felt nice and smooth, and most apps ran without a hitch. I experienced the occasional moment of slowdown when launching and switching between apps, though.
On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the Moto E scored 1,282, which is a bit faster than the Moto G (1,153). Both scored far lower than the smartphone average (2,072), but that's typical for budget handsets.
The Moto G runs on a modest 1.2-GHz Snapdragon 410 processor and 1GB, so don't expect too much and you won't be disappointed. If you want to check email, browse the Web and run a few apps, there's plenty of power here. On the other hand, if you can't stand the occasional hiccup during heavy multitasking, you should buy a faster phone.
While the original Moto E had a scant 4GB of onboard storage, Motorola mercifully doubled the new model's storage to 8GB. You can also increase that by up to 32GB with a micro SD card, giving you plenty of space to store lots of files and documents on your smartphone.
Like other phones in the Moto line, the Moto E comes with some handy software features that could make you more productive. That includes an easier way to view and act on incoming alerts and notifications in the form of Moto Display, which lets you see alerts without touching your device. When a new email arrives, for example, the phone will pulse an image of your email app, displaying a white icon on a black background in order to save battery life. You can press and hold the icon to show a preview of the message, then swipe up to quickly reply, or swipe sideways to dismiss the message. Since you don't have to turn on your phone every time your phone buzzes, you can spend less time fussing with it and more time working.
While most budget phones run on older versions of Android, the Moto E ships with a fresh installation of Android 5.0 Lollipop, the latest version of Google's mobile operating system. In addition to tons of cosmetic updates, Lollipop adds a bunch of new features that business users will appreciate.
One of my favorite additions is Priority Mode, which lets you customize how and when you receive specific types of notifications and alerts. For example, you can ensure your morning meetings aren't interrupted by a buzzing smartphone by setting Priority Mode to only alert you to messages from specified family members, colleagues or employees during that block of time each day.
Lollipop also offers better ways to multitask than previous versions of Android did. As always, you can tap the square button to the left of the Home button to view your most recently used apps, but now the list can include multiple pages from individual applications. For instance, it can show your inbox and an in-progress email draft as separate items, so it's easy to jump back and forth between them.
Other nice features for business users include integrated wireless printing and better encryption for messaging.
Lollipop also offers good support for touchless controls. Just turn your phone on and say, "OK, Google," to activate the voice-command prompt. At that point, you can issue commands to check the weather, set a reminder, save a note or schedule an appointment in your phone's calendar, just by saying a few words. The nice thing about touchless controls is that they let you quickly and easily complete otherwise cumbersome tasks. But unlike the Moto X, which responds to voice commands even when the screen is turned off, the Moto E (along with the Moto G) only responds from the home screen.
One of the big sacrifices Motorola made to achieve the low price point of the original Moto E was leaving out the front-facing camera, which made the device totally useless for videoconferencing. Thankfully, a front shooter was included on the new Moto E, so you can use a video-chat app like Skype or Hangouts to meet remotely with clients or colleagues. Don't expect great video quality; a selfie I snapped was grainy and dull, and whites were totally blown out. Subpar webcams are typical for smartphones, and even though the Moto E's camera is a bit worse than average, it's fine for basic video calls. Unfortunately, the Moto E's speakers are a bit quiet, topping out at 74 decibels (81 dB is average), so you'll want to make sure you're in a quiet room, or using headphones, before initiating a video call.
This is where the Moto E really shines. The phone ran for a 8 hours and 32 minutes in our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing with the screen set to 150 nits of brightness. That's a lot longer than the Moto G (6:30), and it's also longer than the smartphone average (8:22) — pretty impressive for a budget phone. Long battery life like this is a big perk for business users who need a device that can last through the end of the workday and beyond.
So just how good a bargain is the Moto E? A $150 smartphone might not seem that cheap, especially if you're used to buying subsidized handsets with two-year contracts through big carriers like AT&T or Verizon. The difference is that the Moto E comes without the pricey contract attached, so you can buy the phone up front and opt for a much more affordable monthly plan through a small carrier.
Still not convinced? Consider how expensive the latest flagship phones are when purchased off-contract. The Galaxy S6 costs $600, while the iPhone 6 is $650. That should put the value of the Moto E into perspective.
Moto E vs. Moto G
If you're in the market for a budget business phone, there's really no reason to choose a device other than one of these phones; they are far and away the best smartphones you can buy for the money.
The Moto E starts at $120 for the version without 4G LTE connectivity, but I would strongly recommend the $150 LTE model, which offers faster Internet speeds. Meanwhile the 5-inch Moto G starts at $180 without LTE, or $220 with it.
Size and price aside, the Moto E's other big advantage is that it provides two extra hours of battery life compared to the Moto G. Otherwise, the two phones offer similar performance and the same software features.
The larger Moto G is still a great pick if you really want that extra half-inch of screen space to work with. But we think that budget-minded business users with only basic computing needs might be better off going for the Moto E instead.
The bottom line
Budget smartphones simply don't get better than this. The Moto E offers a solid design, great battery life and excellent software for a price that's lower than that of many lesser phones.
That doesn't mean you won't notice the phone's shortcomings if you hold it up against pricier models. The Moto E has a low-res display and middling performance compared to flagship phones, and its 4.5-inch display might feel a bit cramped, depending on what you're used to.
But for the money, you can't beat it.