Motorola is on a some roll. Since relaunching under Google’s tutelage last year, the company has produced four superb handsets: the original Moto G and Moto X and following them in 2014 with budget champion the Moto E and the superb new Moto G. Now Motorola is refreshing the Moto X and after critical, but not commercial, acclaim it really means business.
How good is the new Moto X? In short it is the best smartphone I’ve used this year. Yes that means better than the LG G3, Nokia Lumia 930, HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy S5, Sony Xperia Z3 and iPhone 6 (though your choice of ecosystem will determine this). Yes the much anticipated Nexus 6 is still to be released this year, but that’s a phablet.
Design – Tough, Practical And Surprisingly Compact
There is no denying large screens are in, but they aren’t to everyone’s taste so when Motorola announced the 4.7-inch screen on the original Moto X would be bumped to a massive 5.2-inches many sighed – myself included.
So here comes the good news: Motorola has pulled it off. The 2014 Moto X measures 140.8 x 72.4 x 10 mm (5.54 x 2.85 x 0.39-inches) and weighs 144 g (5.08 oz). To put this in context, that’s shorter and narrower than the 5.1-inch Galaxy S5 and dramatically shorter and lighter than the 5-inch HTC One M8 (146.4mm and 160g).
Even the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 isn’t significantly smaller and while the iPhone 6 Plus has a screen that is only 0.3-inches larger than the new Moto X, side-by-side the difference in size is dramatic. Make no mistake, this is still a smartphone not a phablet.
The trick lies in the bezels. The 2014 Moto X has dramatically thinner bezels than its predecessor and only LG’s G3 can come close – but that’s another 5.5-inch phablet. The fact the Moto X has roughly the same footprint as the LG made 5-inch Nexus 5 (you can just about see its metal edging sneaking out when they are placed one atop of the other) is a testament to Motorola’s design team.
Features – Out To Compete With The Best
Motorola has earned a lot of praise for the way its recent handsets outperform rivals, despite not featuring the most cutting edge specifications. Yes Motorola has been the Apple of the iPhone world. But this changes with the new Moto X.
On paper the company’s flagship means business. The aforementioned 5.2-inch screen packs a Full HD 1080p AMOLED display which makes colours strikingly rich and vivid and combines them with great viewing angles. In fact I’d put it ahead of any other 1080p smartphone display I’ve seen.
Inside you’ll find a Qualcomm Snagpdragon 801 chip which puts it inline with the Galaxy S5, One M8 and LG G3 and is a dramatic step up from the ageing MSM8960Pro Snapdragon used in the original Moto X. There’s also 2GB of RAM and a quad-core 2.5 GHz Krait 400 GPU.
The next upgrade is the camera. Motorola has increased the resolution from 10 to 13 megapixels, added a dual LED flash and offered 4k video recording. The front camera remains 2 megapixels, but still supports 1080p video recording.
The most significant is the absence of a microSD expansion slot, something that has come back into fashion with its rivals. Its a surprising absence given the cheaper Moto G has one and with just 16 and 32GB configurations the Moto X lacks the capacity of some. The battery is also fixed.
Aside from this the lack of OIS (optical image stabilisation) in the camera is a shame and a crucial factor for shooting smooth video and the longer exposure times required when taking photos in low light. Finally there is no waterproofing like the Galaxy S5 and Xperia range. As such there may be a few deal breakers in here for some.
Software – The Motorola Touch
Where the Moto X immediately gets back in my good books though is its implementation of Android. For all intents and purposes Motorola uses stock Android on its handsets and the Moto X is no different.
This has two major benefits: firstly the Moto X is incredibly responsive as it operates without a third party skin. Secondly it allows Motorola to push out updates to the latest version of Android very quickly.
Current Motos have received updates within 30 days of a new Android release (making a mockery of some rival’s lead times of 3-6 months) and Motorola promises the same again with the upcoming release of Android L (expected to be Android v5.0). This could well beat some Google Play Edition handsets, if not quite the Nexus range.
In addition to this Motorola does add a few apps of its own but, unlike the much criticised bloatware from Samsung, these are subtle, well thought out and genuinely useful.
For example, ‘Moto Voice’ lets you use voice commands even when the phone is locked (and pick any trigger phrase you like) and ‘Moto Display’ uses front mounted sensors to display the time when you wave a hand over it, while a ‘peak’ view lets you preview notifications in the lock screen without having to open them.
There is also ‘Moto Migrate’ which transfers all files, call records and your SMS history over from your old phone (iPhone or Android) and ‘Moto Assist’ which automatically mutes notifications at night, reads received messages aloud when driving and silences the phone when it detects you are in meetings (taken from your calendar).
Its great stuff you wish Google would implement, rather than garbage that replicates existing Android features. Samsung take note.
Performance – Fastest Android Experience To Date
The cat may already be out the bag here, but the combination of the Moto X’s top end hardware and stock Android makes from a fearsome combination. Navigating around the UI is faster and more fluid than any handset I’ve used so far (including the Nexus 5) and there is quite simply nothing game-wise within the Google Play store that can trouble it.
When heavily tested the back of the phone can get warm, but it doesn’t reach the red hot temperatures I’ve experienced from the Nexus 5 and HTC One M8.
Of course the Snapdragon 805 is on the horizon, which will have a few spec warriors concerned about investing in the Moto X. I wouldn’t worry. The 805 offers incremental performance and battery improvements over the 801, but when your phone is already lightning fast and long lasting it should already do everything you need.
Battery Life – All Day Stamina Even With Heavy Use
Which leads us nicely onto battery life. There has been some concern at the 2300mAh battery inside the Moto X when capacities of between 2600 and 3000mAh are becoming standard on big screen phones.
In reality the bad news is this means you don’t quite get the superb battery life of Galaxy S5, One M8 or LG G3 (though this is technically a phablet), but the good news is it is still excellent.
With heavy use the Moto X consistently lasted me over 20 hours with around 10% left on the battery. Given a ‘normal day’ should be around 15 hours including an evening out (8am to 11pm) I can’t see even serious gamers running into too many problems.
Yes the S5, M8 and G3 tend to last 1.5 days, but the reality is surviving a long day of heavy use is the benchmark phones should meet and the Moto X (unlike the Nexus 5 and iPhone 6) achieves it. Only if you have an aversion to plugging your phone in at night should be be concerned.
Camera – Very Capable But Not The Best
Which leads us to perhaps the one area where I have slight reservations. Let me be clear: the camera in the Moto X is excellent. In fact it would possibly be class leading even a generation ago, but it can’t quite keep up with its main rivals in late 2014.
What I primarily put this down to is the lack of OIS (optical image stabilisation). In good conditions photos look fantastic and there’s great use of bokeh which can produce some really dramatic shots.
The problem is without OIS there are more blurred photos and in low light the longer exposures also pick up small shakes which can impact shots. Likewise the Moto X’s 4K video recording is crystal clear, but if you don’t have a steady hand the wobbles it picks up diminish results, notably for video taken on the move.
For me OIS (and digital image stabilisation – DIS – as seen in the iPhone 6) is now a key feature for every modern smartphones.
Where the phone comes fighting back are its best shot and and ‘Highlight Reel’. The former takes shots both before and after you do which is great for moments you just missed and the latter automatically creates Google+ style albums and slideshows. Neither feature is new, but they work well and the Highlight Reel offers greater sharing flexibility than HTC’s equivalent ‘Zoe’.
Price And Availability – A Bargain
Furthermore the Moto X really causes a stir when it comes to pricing. The Moto X will launch this month and on a two year contract it will cost just $99, undercutting most rivals by $100 while it costs a bargain $450 without a contact. This is substantially less than anything but the Nexus range and the OnePlus One phablet.
Couple this with Motorola’s commitment to fast Android updates which gives the handset longevity (Android L claims to bring better performance and battery life) and the new Moto X is an indisputable bargain.
The new Moto X is my smartphone pick of 2014. The reason is because it is such a complete package. It packs the biggest and best 1080p display I’ve seen inside the sector’s most compact and toughest form factor and marries it with barnstorming performance, what amounts to stock Android with some very smart tweaks, strong battery life, a very able camera and a great price.
There are caveats: the lack of OIS, expandable storage, a removable battery and water resistance will be deal breakers for some. But as a whole for me the Moto X breaks new ground, it is what a flagship Android handset should be: the thoughtful combination of hardware and software. iPhone owners have long been able to crow about this, but now Android has its own pin-up.
For Motorola the big question will be whether this Moto X will sell better than the last? I don’t know. As HTC discovered with the One M7 and M8, being the best phone at launch is far from a guarantee of commercial success. But one thing is certain: the new Moto X deserves to be a massive hit.