MOTOROLA MOTO X (2014) REVIEW
Last year’s Moto X was a modest phone. At the time, the then-Google-owned Motorola had created a new image for its handsets—moving on, once again, from its Razr devices—presenting us with a practical, mid-range smartphone that was well worth your money, but didn’t quite have the pizzazz to make it stand out from other popular flagships from Samsung and Apple.
As the company moves towards ownership under Lenovo, Motorola has readied a second-generation version of the Moto X, and this time it’s ready to take on the big boys. The new handset is bigger, includes a 1080p screen, and comes with beautifully designed hardware, all while retaining a near-stock version of Android and fantastic customization options via Moto Maker. Despite being a capable phone, 2013’s Moto X was reasonably easy to pass up, but doing the same this year would mean turning your back on one of the best Android phones on the market.
When placing the new Moto X in my hand, its clear to see that Motorola means business—this is easily one of the nicest handsets I’ve held. Everything about its design seems so well thought out, from the materials used and the curvature of its rear casing to the near-perfect symmetrical balance of all visible hardware.
Like LG’s G3, the front-side of the Moto X is almost all screen with slim bezels in every direction. The earpiece and microphone share the same horizontal grill design, creating a nice balance between the top and bottom of the phone, with the front-facing camera on the top right being the only component that slightly offsets things. The symmetry continues to the backside, with a circular flash wrapped around the center-aligned camera, perfectly matching the concaved Motorola badge just below it.
Using Moto Maker, you can purchase a Moto X in a variety of color combinations and different materials for the rear case, including plastic and wood. Our review model features a black bezel, a dark frame, and a black leather casing that looked and felt good. Only time will tell how the real leather backing deals with scratches and scrapes over the years, but the phone remained pristine during my time with the device.
Wrapped around the sides is a metal frame—replacing the plastic used with its predecessor—that acts as the phone’s antenna and adds a feeling of high-class hardware. The slim frame makes the Moto X seem thinner than it actually is, while its curved back keeps the phone comfortable to hold, despite the fact that the screen is about half an inch larger than the 2013 Moto X. The power button and volume rocker are located on the right side, with former sporting a rigid surface to ensure that you never mistake it for the latter.
The screen has been updated both in terms of size and resolution, with the Moto X now equipped with a 5.2-inch 1080p display, up from last year’s 4.7-inch 720p version. OLED technology is still being used, so you can expect the deepest blacks you can find, as well as Motorola’s intuitive at-a-glance Moto Display feature. Colors generally looked great, viewing angles were never a problem, and the screen’s pixel density of 423ppi kept jagged graphics away from sight.
Internally, the new Moto X utilizes a 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip, Adreno 330 graphics, and 2GB of RAM, matching what is found in the Samsung Galaxy S5. In our benchmark tests, the Moto X regularly beat out Samsung’s latest flagship and the HTC One (M8), and in my use I experienced nothing that would dispute the results. Android KitKat—Android 4.4.4 specifically, in this case—is already a speedy operating system, and with only a few software tweaks on board, the high-end internals were more than enough to keep the phone moving along, regardless of the situation.
If you’ve seen what Android is like on a Nexus device, then you’d be familiar with what comes with the Moto X. Nothing about the general UI has been altered, and Motorola’s few software additions are more helpful than gimmicky. Moto Display (formerly known as Active Notifications) lets you see the time and preview notifications when glancing at the phone or waving your hand above it, and does so without using a lot of energy since the OLED technology only activates the pixels that are used instead of lighting up the entire screen. Moto Voice is an extension of Google’s built-in voice controls, but you can now customize the greeting phrase and can utilize it even if the phone screen is off. Unlike Nexus devices, however, the Moto X can be littered with carrier bloatware, and our AT&T unit had at least half a dozen extra apps installed.
Unfortunately, Motorola’s latest still doesn’t include a removable battery or microSD slot; since the phone is only available in either 16GB or 32GB varieties, the lack of expandable storage could be a complete turn off for some. Our 16GB review unit only has about 10GB available for users, so that’s definitely something you’ll want to keep in mind. During real-world use, the 2,300 mAh battery was average for an Android phone. Light and moderate users will have no problem getting through an entire waking day, but heavy users who often find themselves away from a Wi-Fi connection will likely need a mid-day top-up.
One particular area where the original Moto X lagged behind high-end alternatives was its camera, and while the 13-megapixel shooter is a welcome upgrade from its 10-megapixel predecessor, it still doesn’t quite stack up to the competition. Photos are acceptable in properly-lit situations, but they lack the bright and bold colors of a G3 or iPhone 5Sand the clarity and detail of the Samsung Galaxy S5. The Moto X also underperforms in low-light situations, often producing grainy and blurry photos.
There are a lot of things to like about the new Moto X: it’s quick, beautifully constructed, and comes with a near-stock version of Android. Even better, the phone is competitively priced, starting at $100 USD on-contract, and if you want to make the handset as unique as you are, there are tons of design options available through the company’s Moto Maker service. And although it does have a few features that aren’t quite as good as its competitors, particularly in terms of its camera, its pros are plentiful enough to dismiss some of the cons.
Written by Justin Rubio on September 16, 2014 for IGN