Stock Android, Fixed-Focus Camera

The current version of Android running on the Motorola Moto E is Android 4.4.4 ‘KitKat’, with essentially no modifications made to the stock Google experience. This is good for a number of reasons: Motorola hasn’t spent development time on a pointless skin; the vanilla Android experience is visually pleasing and more coherent than a third-party UI; and the phone hasn’t been bogged down by unnecessary extra features.

Of course on higher-end phones you might want additional features embedded in the operating system, but on an entry-level device where you want the best performance and battery life, often it’s best to leave extras to third-party apps.

As the majority of the software on the Moto E is just stock Android 4.4, you can head over to my Nexus 5 review to get a full breakdown on what the software is like.

There are three extra apps included on the Moto E that are an addition to the stock Google applications found in Android 4.4. Motorola Migrate is the easiest to explain: it makes the process of moving from one phone to another as easy as possible, guiding you through simple steps to transfer contacts and other data.

One of my personal favourites is Assist, which allows the Moto E to automatically change settings when certain triggers are met. For example, when it’s night time, or when you’re in a meeting (based on what you have in your calendar), Assist can automatically turn your phone into silent mode, among other things. Unfortunately the triggers are basic on the Moto E’s version of Assist, with Motorola having restricted the more flexible Drive and Home trigger modes to their higher-end handsets.

Alert is the third application included on the Moto E, allowing you to send automated messages and make calls to select contacts in the event of an emergency. Once you’ve set up the app, clicking the emergency button can both text and call your emergency contact, sending out important data like your location in a streamlined fashion.

It also allows you to send out your location quickly to contacts so you can organize meet-ups with ease, either through a one-off text message or a series of messages as you change location. The final feature allows you to send messages automatically when you enter or leave saved locations, such as your house, which could come in handy tracking the safety of children.

Of the few additions included on the Moto E, Alert is a fantastic first-party application.

Camera

Like the Motorola Moto G, the Moto E makes use of Aptina’s 5-megapixel AR0543 1/4” CMOS, with 1.4µm pixels, paired with a surprisingly narrow (for a smartphone) 38mm-effective f/2.4 lens. There’s no front-facing camera on this smartphone, nor is there an LED flash, and the rear camera is capable of 480p video recording.

Easily the biggest downside to the Moto E’s camera system is the fixed-focus lens. I tore the Nokia X’s camera system to shreds for having a dumbphone-like fixed-focus lens (among other deficiencies), and the Moto E deserves the same treatment. At least half the photos I want to take on a camera require a focus length shorter than what the camera can do, and that sucks.

Trying to take photos of flowers, food, items in your hand, business cards and even people (at times) is basically impossible on the Moto E. Autofocus is an absolutely essential feature on any phone camera system because if you don’t have it, the camera’s flexibility becomes severely reduced. I would far rather Motorola used a cheaper lens or sensor than remove autofocus as part of their cost cutting regime.

Unsurprisingly the quality from the sensor itself is poor. Although white balance is often accurate, color saturation is way under what it should be, and dynamic range is lacking. 5-megapixel images are never going to be fantastic in terms of sharpness and clarity, but images taken on the Moto E are particularly lacklustre thanks to aggressive sharpening filters being applied in post.

Despite relatively sizable pixels (1.4µm), the Moto E isn’t capable of decent low-light photography, hindered by the f/2.4 lens and quality of the CMOS. And if you really want to illuminate your shots, you can’t, as there’s no LED flash (although this is typical for an entry-level handset).

The camera app is also quite barebones, offering a basic HDR and panorama mode, and that’s pretty much it. You can tap anywhere on the display to capture an image (no touch-to-focus because there’s no autofocus), and a small button engages video mode. I wouldn’t exactly say captures are instant, but I haven’t seen an entry-level smartphone yet that offers a zero-delay shutter.

The Moto E shoots standard definiton video only, with a strange resolution of 864 x 480 that's slightly wider than 16:9. The audio quality is good, but as expected the video quality is on-par with the mediocre still camera. Videos themselves are captured in Baseline H.264 with a bitrate of 8 Mbps.