Last year’s Moto X was a highly anticipated phone, but when it was announced, you could hear a pin drop. Then the reviews starting coming in and eventually it was selected as the Android smartphone of 2013 by many tech writers, including myself. Unfortunately as with many award winning phones, it doesn’t always translate into sales.
Fast forward one year, and Motorola has an all new version of the phone with the same name. Motorola felt they already had a winner, but based on consumer feedback, they wanted to upgrade many aspects of the device to make it even more appealing. With a larger display, beefier processor, better camera, an aluminum frame, and upgrades to the software, is this the smartphone of the year again? Hit the break to find out.
One of the highlights of last year’s Moto X had to be the size of the device. While many manufacturers were pushing the envelope with 5 plus inch phones, Motorola went the opposite direction. Motorola tested various device sizes with many consumers to figure out what size was the most comfortable. Once they arrived at the size of the device, they then tried to fit as large of a display into it as they could. That ended up being 4.7-inches, which was much smaller than most of the flagships from 2013. Now after further feedback from customers, it’s apparent that size does matter. The logical next step would presumably be 5-inches, but Motorola pushed the envelope just a little more, going with 5.2-inches. Not too many flagship smartphones get that kind of jump year-over-year. Last year’s Moto X came in at 65.3 mm x 129.0 mm, while this year’s version comes in at 72.4 mm x 140.8 mm, which is much bigger. In order to make it as comfortable in the hand as possible, Motorola slimmed things down a bit. While still sporting the curved back, it’s 3.8 mm at it’s thinnest part (the sides), and 9.9 mm at it’s thickest part (the middle). Last year it was 5.7 mm and 10.4 mm respectively. The overall result is a very comfortable phone in the hand for a 5.2-incher.
The overall design is very similar to last year, but there are some tweaks for the better. The first is the back plate. For the basic colored options, it’s more of a softer touch then last year’s slippery plastic. Motorola also added a new leather option from the Horween Tannery, which also happens to supply the NFL. They still offer the wood options, but the leather version is by far my favorite. It feels very soft and has no signs of slipperiness. My only worry is how it will hold up over time.
The next big change is that the frame is now aluminum. It not only looks good, but it further adds to the grip, and it also houses the antenna. They are offering two shades of the frame. Those who choose a white front will get the lighter version, and those who chose the black front will get the darker version.
The Motorola logo on the back is still dimpled, but instead of it printed on the surface, it’s a separate metal piece within the dimple. I think it’s much classier, plus you can customize the accent color around it. Staying on the back, the camera now sports a ring around it sporting dual LED Flash, one on each side of the lens.
The front also gets a couple of changes. Motorola has moved the speaker to the front bottom. It actually looks like the phone has dual stereo speakers, but the bottom one is for music, video, and hands free calls. The top one is for handset calls. The color of both of these can also be customized through Moto Maker. Staying with the front, you will find four IR sensors (two each at the top and bottom) that are barely noticeable, and used for hand motion gestures.
Motorola also made a slight change to the power button. Instead of having the same feel as the volume rocker, which sits right below it, they opted to make the surface a little rougher. This makes it easier to distinguish between the two.
Going with a display of 5.2-inches was a bold move for Motorola because I think it’s at the very limit of what most consumers want. I am thinking a 5-inch version of this same phone would have been absolutely perfect, but I am not one to complain over an extra 0.2-inches. The funny thing is that every time I pick up the phone, my index finger seems to go right to the Motorola logo on the back. It feels like the LG G2 / G3 in that I am almost expecting a power button to be there.
The new Moto X is exactly what you would expect from Motorola. It’s made with top materials and it feels solid. The original was no slouch, but Motorola really upped the game here without changing the overall look. That’s exactly what they set out to do, and they hit a home run.
The Moto X 2014 features a 5.2-inch AMOLED 1080p (1920 x 1080) display at 423 ppi with Gorilla Glass 3 and the Motorola Mobile Computing System consisting of a 2.5 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 (MSM8974-AC), an Adreno 330 GPU, one core for contextual computing, and one core for natural language. It also has 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB or 32 GB of internal storage, 13 MP rear camera with Ring Flash and UHD (4K) video capture, 2 MP front-facing camera with 1080p video capture, 4 mics, front-facing stereo speakers, nano SIM slot, and WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/b/n/ac.
The processor in this year’s Moto X has been seriously upgraded. The heart of it is a quad-core Snapdragon 801 clocked at 2.5 GHz as opposed to the quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro clocked at 1.7 GHz on last year’s model. We also get a better GPU, an Adreno 330 at 578 MHz vs Adreno 320 at 450 MHz. Last year the processor and GPU were part of the Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System when paired with two additional cores, one for contextual computing and the other for natural language. The new Moto X gets the same setup, but it’s now called the Motorola Mobile Computing System. These additional cores are so that Moto Voice, Moto Display, and Moto Assist can work efficiently without battery drain. The extra power from the Snapdragon 801 is noticeable from the get go. It’s rare that you see a jump this much from one model year to the next. The original should have sported a Snapdragon 600 or 800, but they went on the lower end with the thought that the user experience mattered the most, but initial pricing wasn’t in line. The obvious result was that many reviewers and consumers trashed them for it.
The display also gets a major upgrade. Not only is it bigger (5.2-inches vs 4.7-inches), but it’s 1080p (720p last year). Now it’s not Super AMOLED (just AMOLED) so don’t expect it to be up there with the Galaxy S 5. I think when it comes to displays, the average consumer isn’t as picky as reviewers are, and Motorola knows it. Most people don’t own a TV that features the best display in the business, so they don’t require it in their smartphone either. The Moto X display has very good color representation along with fantastic viewing angles. It’s enough to satisfy those that don’t deem themselves as hardcore connoisseurs of displays, which is like 99% of the consumers out there.
Motorola has always been a leader when it comes to sound, and the all new Moto X is no exception. This phone sports four separate microphones (three last year) to improve voice quality and reduce background noise. You will also get high definition wideband noise cancellation and noise adaptive hearing enhancements thanks to CrystalTalk.
The front-facing speaker is yet another upgrade. Unfortunately it’s not stereo, but it makes listening to YouTube videos or hands free calls much better for sure.
Another thing I have noticed is that the new Moto X picks up WiFi much better than the original. Often times on the original, I have only one bar showing even when I am not that far away from the router, but the new X will get 2 bars at the same distance.
Usually when a phone gets bigger, the battery size increases a considerable amount as well. That’s not the case with the new Moto X as it’s only slightly bigger, 2,300 mAh vs 2,200 mAh. Motorola really wanted to keep the thickness down to a bare minimum. The only problem with this is the slightly bigger battery is now pushing a much larger display with a higher resolution. Motorola says everything will stay the same since the processor is more efficient, and our testing confirms it.
I ran my usual video rundown test in which I run continuous video with the display set at roughly 66% brightness while the device is connected to LTE, and WiFi (not connected), Bluetooth (not connected), and the GPS are all turned on. I was able to get 9 hours and 57 minutes, which is actually lower than last year’s test, but only slightly. We were able to squeeze out 10 hours and 30 minutes on the original. Both phones are rated at roughly 24 hours of usage, which is doable with moderate use. I should also point out that last year’s model yielded the same results during my review, but it dwindled over time. Ever since the first KitKat update (and including the 4.4.4 update), I haven’t been able to get more than 12 hours or so. The new Moto X is obviously on the same Android 4.4.4, but I haven’t seen the same issue at this point in the game.
One of the best features of the Moto X is the fact that is just about stock Android (4.4.4). I say “just about” because there are some additions that Motorola offers that you won’t find on a Nexus or Google Play Edition device. However, those additions do not affect the Android user interface at all. They are just proprietary apps that Motorola includes on the device. So you get the Android stock experience, including the Google Now Launcher, along with a few apps that Motorola develops just for their own devices. Proprietary apps are nothing new. Samsung, HTC, LG, and Sony offer them as well, but those companies also skin the Android user interface. Plus. a lot of those proprietary apps aren’t always that useful. Motorola’s aim is to offer you stuff that you might actually use. I noticed that in my original Moto X review when I called it the smartphone with features that matter.
The other important thing to note here is that Motorola took what they offered last year and refined it rather than just offer a bunch of new features on top of last year’s features. Most of the other manufacturers add a bunch of newer features with each flagship so they can have something to talk about during their announcement events. Motorola’s way of doing things is very refreshing. Consumers don’t want more bloat, they want useful features. There is no reason to throw “junk” on a phone to see what sticks.
This year, Motorola grouped their core features into one app called Moto. It makes it a lot easier to find the settings for each application now that they are in one place. Last year, they were scattered amongst either separate standalone apps or within the main Android settings. The Moto app includes Moto Display, Moto Assist, Moto Voice, and something brand new called Moto Actions.
Moto Display is probably the coolest and most useful feature on the phone. It was called Active Display last year. It allows you to see your most recent notifications without turning on the full display. Motorola uses the AMOLED technology to light up only the icons and text of the notifications. They found that people might turn on their phone’s display over 100 times per day to see their notifications and/or to see the time. With Moto Display, you can get this relevant info while using less battery power since the majority of the display isn’t lit. Last year’s Active Display was limited in that even though you could see that you had received a bunch of notifications, you could only read the contents of the most recent one. This year’s Moto Display allows you to read the contents of the last three notifications while easily switching between them. If you slide your finger up to the notification contents, your phone’s display will fully turn on and automatically open that particular application for you to take further action. All very cool and very useful.
It’s a lot easier to show you how it works, so check out the video below.
Moto Voice is probably the second coolest feature of the Moto X, but some might even rank it over Moto Display. It depends on how much you like to use your voice for things. Again, this is an application that gets a name change. It was called Touchless Control last year. It operates the same exact way, but just like Moto Display, Motorola made enhancements to it that make it more usable. Let me first explain what Moto Voice is in case your aren’t familiar with it. Moto Voice allows you to ask your Moto X a question or tell it to do something, all without every touching your phone. So the phone could be sitting on your desk, and you want to know who won last night’s big game. All you have to say is your wake up command and then say “What was the score of the Steelers game?” It works in conjunction with Google Now, so you will not only get a text prompt, but your Moto X will also speak the information if it’s a compatible question. There are tons of other things you can do like set a timer, make an appointment in your calendar, send a text, and so on. Again, without ever touching the phone.
What Moto Voice brings to the table that Touchless Control didn’t is the ability to use whatever wake up command you want. Last year, it was only “OK Google Now,” but Moto Voice now let’s you record anything you want. It could be “OK Honey Bunch,” “Listen Up Lover Lips,” “Beam Me Up Scottie,” and so on. Just like last year, you wil record your voice three times so that your Moto X will only listen to you. Moto Voice also gets third party support this year. Now other developers can use Motorola’s APIs to make their own app compatible. For starters, Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube are all compatible. So now you can post your status update without touching your phone. Motorola also added a few new commands like “Take a Selfie,” “Good Morning,” and “Good Night.” With “Good Morning,” your Moto X will tell you what appointments you have today and “Good Night” will put your Moto X in Sleeping mode. I am not much of a voice actions guy, so I don’t use Moto Voice a lot, but I know many of you are. It’s not only cool, but very useful.
I put together this video showing you how it all works…..
Moto Assist debuted on last year’s Moto X, and it keeps the same name this time around. It does get a few slight enhancements, but overall, it’s essentially the same app. Moto Assist is a contextual learning engine, allowing you to set up certain actions based on where you are (home or the car) or what you might be doing (in meetings or sleeping). For example, the Moto X will read your text messages and announce who is calling when you’re driving. You can even respond to these texts if you wish. Home works much the same way as the Driving mode, allowing you to leave your phone on the kitchen counter while you are cooking. Meeting mode will silence the phone during any appointments that are marked as busy in your calendar. You will still be able to get phone calls from your favorites if you wish and/or from those that call you twice in succession. The Sleeping mode works much the same way. You can manually enter Sleeping mode or simply set a daily schedule for it to happen automatically.
Here’s a quick video showing you how Moto Assist works….
Moto Actions is all new with the 2014 Moto X. We expect all of the newer features of the Moto Display, Moto Voice, and Moto Actions to make it to last year’s Moto X device, but Moto Actions will be exclusive to this year’s phone. The reason is because it utilizes the IR sensors I mentioned earlier, which last year’s model doesn’t have. With Moto Actions you can wave your hand over the phone to ignore a phone call or snooze an alarm. The phone also senses when your hand is approaching the phone (if it’s laying on your desk) and will automatically turn on Moto Display. This isn’t too big of a deal since Moto Display constantly flashes every so often when there are notifications to read anyway. Of the four main features, this is probably the least useful, but we expect Motorola to offer more gestures in future updates.
On top of these four core apps, there is still Motorola Alert, Motorola Migrate, Motorola Connect, and Trusted Devices.
Motorola Alert debuted on the Moto E, and it’s a location sharing app. With Motorola Alert you can setup specific locations such as home, work, school, the mall, and other. Whenever the owner of the phone arrives or leaves either of those locations, a text message is sent to designated contacts. There is also a Meet Me function, that will quickly send a text message of the current location to specific contacts. The Follow Me function is perfect for trips. This is where you can set the app to send periodic text messages of the current location to specific contacts. Lastly, there is the Emergency function, which will call and send a text message to selected contacts letting them know the owner of the phone might be in danger All text messages include the address as well as a Google Maps link so others will be able to pinpoint the location or easily get directions.
Motorola Alert wasn’t pre-installed on my review unit nor does it show as compatible at the time of this post. I suspect that this is only temporary, and you will either find it pre-installed on the retail versions of the phone or it will be downloadable from the Play Store.
I did a video demonstrating it on the Moto E back in May. Here it is….
Finally, Trusted Devices is back. It allows you to set any Bluetooth device as a “trusted device” so that whenever you’re connected to it, the security lock screen will be disabled. Assuming you utilize a security lock screen such as PIN or Pattern, you can set your car’s Bluetooth as “trusted,” so when you’re in the car and connected to it, you won’t have to fumble with the security lock screen. This also works with an Android Wear smartwatch as well. Motorola could have added Wi-Fi and/or location support, but they are coming natively with Android L.
If you like the stock Android experience, there isn’t a better phone out there. Sure, it is isn’t fully stock, but what Motorola does bring to the table is apps that you will find useful. You might not use everything, but the bottom line is your phone won’t feel as bloated as other offerings.
If there is an achilles heel for Motorola it has always been the camera. They just never seem to get it right. I was hopeful with last year’s Moto X when they introduced Clear Pixel for better low light performance, but the quality of photos in both low light and bright light was inconsistent. Now it’s one year later, and I am back to being hopeful again because Motorola has ditched Omnivision in favor of Sony for the sensor. This year’s model sports the13 MP Sony IMX135, which is also found in the Samsung Galaxy S 4, LG G2, and LG G3.
Unfortunately we are back to square one with Motorola and cameras. It’s definitely an improvement, but the Galaxy S 5, Galaxy Note 4, HTC One (M8), and the LG G3 all perform much better. The new Moto X does a very good job with bright light situations, and even with movement, but once the light dims a little, things aren’t so good. There is either too much noise or blur. To combat this, Motorola implemented a dual LED ring flash, which in theory, should provide a softer light. However, I didn’t see a huge difference as compared to other smartphones when utilizing it. The colors and overall look were often unnatural. I have three examples down below in which one didn’t do so well, the second one was pretty good, and the third one was so so.
The camera interface hasn’t changed at all. It’s still very simple to use with minimal controls. Quick Capture is still on board allowing you to shake twice to automatically wake your phone and go straight to the camera app. A new feature allows you to say “Take a Selfie” using Moto Voice, which will obviously start the camera app with the front-facing lens. It will also initiate a 3 second countdown so you can get ready for your self-loving portrait.
In an effort to further enhance the camera experience, Motorola added a couple of new features. The first one is is unnamed, but the phone will detect when there is motion and automatically capture additional photos. It will then analyze them for blurriness, smiles, and eye blinks. If there is a better version of the same photo, it will let you know. You will also see a small icon at the bottom left of each photo that has additional versions of it. Just tap on it to see both versions and keep the one you want. The second feature is called Highlight Reel. This is a lot like HTC’s Video Highlights and Google’s Auto Awesome Movies. Highlight Reel is more limited, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing because consumers like simple. Highlight Reel will take all the photos and videos from a particular day and make a movie of it. You can easily choose which images/videos you want, change the length, and/or what song you want (yours or Motorola’s). Once you’re happy with your video, you can save it for later and/or share it. Highlight Reel is limited in that you won’t find any effects, and there is no easy way to easily group images/videos from multiple days.
Video has been upgraded this year to include UHD 4K capture. You probably won’t get a lot of use out of it, but another nice touch is that now your slow motion videos can be captured at 1080p, whereas last year it was limited to 720p.
Basically what you have here is a good basic camera. Nothing more nothing less. I think I have finally come to the realization that Motorola will never ever offer a top of the line camera in any of their smartphones.
Below are a number of examples in a variety of situations.
The following one wasn’t so good since it was in lower light
Low Light – Flash comparison
Flash OffFlash On
The all new Moto X feels like a major upgrade over the original in every way. The display is much bigger along with better resolution and the processor is much faster. The camera is even improved, although it’s still not on par with other flagships. The aluminum frame also adds a nice touch, not to mention the new leather option. Of course the interface is refreshing in that it’s primarily stock Android with added features that are actually useful. So what is there not to love about the all new Moto X? For me it’s the camera that keeps it from being the holy grail of smartphones. Last year’s Moto X had the same flaw, but I still picked it as the smartphone of the year because the concept of the Moto X was more of a game changer. Motorola proved that it was all about the user experience, not the specs. While the new Moto X is a major upgrade, a lot of it has to do with the specs. The software has certainly improved, but it doesn’t give you that same “game changer” feeling that last year’s version did. That’s because the game was already changed.
Now with all that said, I think the spec upgrade is actually pretty important here. I have been using the original Moto X as my daily phone of choice for the past 6 months and I do have to say that it hasn’t held up as well as other smartphones as far as sluggishness goes. I still agree that the user experience is the key, but after spending more time with the device, it’s apparent that specs do matter for the longevity of the phone. The Qualcomm S4 Pro was fine for when you first turn on the phone, but with many people buying their phones on a 2 year contract, it’s wasn’t going to cut it. That is something I didn’t think about it my initial review or when I picked it as the smartphone of the year. It’s obvious Motorola realized this too because it’s very rare that a flagship phone gets this kind of an upgrade the following year. Normally you see 0.1 to 0.3-inches for the display and I can’t think of a phone that jumped from a Snapdragon S4 Pro to a Snapdragon 801 from model to model.
Of course, I can’t know for sure, but I suspect the new Moto X will hold up much better over time, and I believe it will be mostly because of the Snapdragon 801.
The bottom line is that the new Moto X is by far a better phone than the original, and it’s probably the best all around Android phone right now when you consider the features and the cost of $99 on contract or $499 off contract. However, that camera is enough to hold me back from using it as my daily phone of choice. If the camera quality isn’t high on your list, You cannot go wrong with this phone. If you’re like me, and you depend on having a great camera in your pocket, you are probably better off looking elsewhere.
As to the question from the beginning of the article….is this the smartphone of the year again? There is still 3 months to go, but my early feeling is no. If the camera was on par with other flagships, it would be a definite yes. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of people are enjoying smartphones that I didn’t pick as the best. There can only be one “best” if you know what I mean. The bottom line is the all new Moto X is a solid phone with great features at a competitive price, and there’s nothing wrong with that.