Few electronics companies have a history as long and as storied as Motorola. The OEM just recently celebrated its 87th birthday. In 1983 the FCC approved the first commercial cell phone from Motorola: They DynaTAC 8000X. The following 30 plus years were a roller coaster of highs and lows.
Today, the former American brand is now owned by the large Chinese OEM Lenovo. How does the flagship device, the Moto X Pure Edition, fare under new ownership?
Unlike our full reviews, quick reviews are meant to give you a general perspective of the phone. We opt for quick reviews whenever we get our hands on a device over a month after launch. Our goal is to inform you on what the most relevant aspects are like on this new phone, and what you can expect out of them. This Moto X PE was personally purchased.
First, the Specs:
Dimensions: 153.9mm x 76.2mm x 6.1-11.06mm
Primary Camera: 21MP f/2.0 aperture
Front Facing Camera: 5MP
Display: 1440 x 2560 IPS LCD, 520 ppi
Chipset: Motorola Computing System – 1.8GHz Snapdragon 808 (MSM8992) with Natural Language processor and contextual computing processor
Other: NFC, Water Repellant nano-coating, Motomaker Support
Also worth mentioning is the fact that the MXPE will not be launching with any carrier partners here in the USA. This phone is only available from motorola.com and other retail partners. Motorola claims this will allow them to bypass carrier certifications and deliver faster updates to consumers. If true, this sounds like exactly the sort of model consumers should support.
After removing the device from the biggest packaging ever, the Moto X Pure Edition is instantly recognizable as a Motorola device. It is a clear evolution of the first Moto X we saw in 2013, albeit much larger. All 3 Moto X devices share a few key features: rounded design, dimple in the back, side button placement, headphone jack on top. Let’s take a look at the latest Moto X Pure Edition, beginning with the front.
The front of the new Moto X is either black or white, with dual speaker grills and a whole bunch of sensors and a front facing flash. It can look a bit busy in white – black hides all these additions much better. The front color also determines what metal rim choices are available in Motomaker: black – dark grey rim and white – silver or champagne. The side bezels are respectably slim and narrow. The Moto X has a great screen-to-body ratio (76%), and there is no branding to be found on the face of the device.
Around back is really where things get exciting. When making a Moto X Pure Edition (MXPE) there are 18 different back material and color options. Head over to Motomaker to see the full range of options. The wood and leather options remain a unique material choice for a smartphone.
The right side houses the solid and clicky volume rocker and power button. The keys have a good amount of travel and I find it easy to distinguish them from one another.
The left side is completely empty. The top houses a sim slot and headphone jack, and the bottom has a (correctly oriented) micro USB point.
Overall, the build quality of the 2015 Moto X is a lot like that of its predecessors – incredibly solid. There are no creaks or cheap feeling parts, and everything just feels well put together. It won’t be perfect for everyone; It’s hard to not mention the ballooning size of the X line. In a few short years the X phones have gone from 4.7″ diagonal devices up to the current versions 5.7″ display. The X does handle its size quite well though, with minor gymnastics I can reach the notification shade. The curved shape helps quite a lot with this.
Software – User Interface
If you’ve seen vanilla Android, then Motorola’s (lack of a) skin will seem familiar. The MXPE comes with 5.1.1 and very few changes. Really the only difference between this and a Nexus experience are the Motorola Applications included. These Motorola features are rolled up into an app appropriately called “Moto.”
The Moto app consists of:
Assist allows users to customize actions based on: driving, meeting, and sleeping profiles. Driving allows playing music, reading texts out loud, and keeping quiet. The meeting profile allows keeping quiet, and auto replying to missed calls from favorites. Sleeping allows keeping quiet and keeping the screen off from certain hours. Unfortunately Motorola recently announced they will be removing Assist from their upcoming 6.0 upgrade. Most of these features can be replicated with Stock Marshmallow so Motorola would rather not be redundant. It seems that reading texts out loud while driving is the main feature that will go missing.
Actions is where the nifty Motorola gestures are present. The following actions are present:
Approach for Motorola display – Reach for your device to trigger Moto Display
Chop twice for flashlight – Make a chopping motion to turn flashlight on/off
Lift for Moto Voice – Lift to ear, say a command, then get a reply discreetly.
Twist for Quick Capture – Twist your wrist twice quickly to open camera anytime.
Each of these gestures has a more detailed explanation showing users how to trigger them. All of Motorola’s actions wind up being incredibly useful. Some of them make it hard to go back and user other devices. The latest addition of “Lift for Moto Voice” is particularly creative and is a great differentiator.
Voice remains a useful feature, if a bit less unique these days. Since the 2013 Moto X the Moto X series has responded to voice without requiring the device to be awake. Last year, Motorola enabled setting a custom launch phrase – a feature which remains in tact for this year’s X.
Moto Display is a low-power way to view notifications without fully waking the device. As notifications come in, the phone will “pulse” a mostly black display with a icons showing awaiting notifications. Pressing on the icon will show a more detailed view at the top of the display; still not fully waking the phone. For the 2015 MXPE the switch to an IPS display over AMOLED has made this feature behave a bit differently. The display no longer “breathes” perpetually – it waits until either a new notification comes in, or the user reaches for the device. Overall this remains a very helpful and unique feature, which is likely why Google implemented something similar in Lollipop.
Motorola also (like most OEMs) provides their own gallery app. It’s actually a fairly well designed experience with a material design feel – FAB and all. You can tag face, create highlight reels, and a quick one press shortcut to the camera.
Aside from the Moto app and Gallery there is very little here that is different than standard Android Lollipop.
The Moto X is equipped with the well known Snapdragon 808. The 808 debuted on the LG G4 this year as a “compromise” of sorts to the issues with the Snapdragon 810. It’s essentially an 810 with 2 less A57 cores and a weaker GPU, with other changes in terms of arquitecture and support for features and hardware (for example, it does not support DDR4 RAM). The 808 is clocked at 1.8 GHz with a 600MHz Adreno 418 GPU. We’ll see how this compares below.
Overall the 808 in the MXPE performs where we expect it to. Below the 810 in short workloads, and far below the Exynos 7420.
CPU & System:
The 808 seems to very much exist largely because of the issues with Qualcomm’s 810. Taking away two of the high power cores along with a less powerful GPU helps to avoid the thermal throttling the 810 exhibits. It’s not all great however, as there is a decrease in available power, at least in short workloads.
As expected, the MXPE loses out to Samsungs offerings this year in terms of sheer processing. Devices with a Snapdragon 810 can also pull ahead, until they hit a thermal limit. Obviously, having the same A57 cores allows the 808 here to match the single-core scores available in the 810; while losing out somewhat heavily in any multi-threaded workload.
GPU & Gaming:
Among the concessions made by the 808, the GPU is likely the largest. The Adreno 418 has 128 ALUs, which is actually the same number as the Adreno 420 (available in last years Snapdragon 805). The Snapdragon 810’s Adreno 430 comes equipped with 192 ALUs. Thankfully, both the 808 and the 810 are built on a 20nm process, which compares favorably to last years 28nm process, and would allow for better efficiency in terms of heat and battery. Snapdragon 810 aside, the 808 does a better job on these two particular regards, but not without flaws.
The GPU in the 808 has trouble pushing the almost 4 million pixels present in the panel. The GF Bench 3.0 on-screen Manhatten test only manages to pull off 9.3 frames per second. This is right about where we expect to see an 808 pushing a 2560 x 1440 panel. For comparison, my G4 manages 8.8 fps and seems to get quite a bit hotter running the benchmark. Offscreen shows a similar story with both the G4 and the MXPE clocking in at 15 fps.
Storage & Memory
The Moto X is available with 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB storage options. All the 2015 MXPEs come equipped with a microSD slot that rides on the backside of the nanoSIM tray. This does mean pulling the SIM card out when swapping memory. Thankfully the MXPE handles a SIM pull gracefully – no restarting needed.
My version of the X has 32GB of built-in storage. The storage here is fairly quick. It’s not quite as fast as what’s offered in the Note 5, but it performs better than the OnePlus 2. Read operations seem to have been prioritized by Motorola.
The Moto X software experience tends to make the day to day usage of the device extremely pleasant. While the 808 isn’t the fastest silicon around; the lack of a bloated skin makes for a very swift UX. Occasionally I ran into a few jitters and performance or frame rate hiccups, but that’s hardly limited to the Moto X. Any slow downs or performance issues were hardly prolific.
With 151 apps installed, my MXPE only has 44 running processes. My Note5 which has a whopping 101 running processes with 157 apps installed. I’ve even cleaned a lot of the bloat off of the Samsung device.
If I had to come up with a complaint about the UX, it would simply be asking for 4GB of ram. A few phones this year have spoiled me with the multi-tasking experience an extra gigabyte provides and I love it.
The MXPE provides the nicest UX in the Android world aside from a Nexus, full stop. I hope Lenovo continues down this path with the next devices and doesn’t change this great recipe.
Historically, Motorola hasn’t been a top contender in the camera department. Both the 2013 and 2014 Moto X did not have a great camera experience. Thankfully, this year Motorola really did step up their game.
The 2015 MXPE comes equipped with a Sony IMX230 sensor. This is a 21MP, 4:3 sensor with an f/2.0 aperture and phase-detect autofocus. There is no OIS present, which can hurt low light performance. However, the camera is easily the best Motorola has provided in a device, and considering the price-point of the Moto X it’s a big deal.
The Motorola camera app is an incredibly simple experience. Swiping from the left brings up a rotating ring full of camera settings. Swiping from the right will bring up the most recently taken shot and take the user to the gallery. By default, pressing anywhere on the screen, except for the switch camera or video button, will take a picture. The phone will do its best to focus on what you’re looking at, but it doesn’t always nail it. In the settings of the camera app, a ring focus can be brought up that is draggable. This will allow the user to pick the focus target (it defaults to the middle of the viewport) while maintaining the “click anywhere” photo taking UX.
Below are some sample shots:
The MXPE does 1080P video at 30 fps. It also does 4K video @ 30 frames per second. Below is a sample of 4K video.
The display is another area which has seen a significant change for Motorola. Previous Moto Xs have all used an AMOLED display, likely an older generation panel from Samsung. It seems Motorola either needed to save some money on the bill of materials or they were tired of using old tech – maybe both. At any rate, the new MXPE has a 2560 x 1440 IPS display. I’m actually quite impressed with the panel provided in the Moto X. Colors are accurate without being blown out. Viewing angles are satisfactory. Brightness is very impressive as well – in terms of both maximum and minimum levels. On my MXPE there are no signs of backlight bleed or non-uniform spots. The display reminds me of a better LG G4. My LG G4 is slightly cooler and has a lower maximum brightness than the Moto X.
Below are some comparison photos of the G4 and the MXPE. The Moto X is on the right in all of the photos.
The fact that it has an IPS panel does seem odd for Moto Display however. At night, it’s possible to notice the full panel lighting up to show a mostly black screen. In most situations this isn’t a big deal at all and seems to have no impact to battery life.
Battery Life & Charging
With the previous Moto X phones, battery life was a common and valid criticism. This year’s new device brings the largest battery yet seen in a Moto X. At 3Ah, it last longer than the 2014 and 2013 versions.
The MXPE manages a PCMark score (Medium brightness) just shy of 6 hours. This puts it slightly higher than a Galaxy S6 and right in line with the Note 4 we tested. The inference one could extrapolate seemingly matches up with reality: the effiency of the Moto X’s components put it where one would expect it to, slightly below the LG G4
Subjectively, my MXPE doesn’t last as long as my Note 5, but I am able to get through a day of use with 3-4 hours of screen on time. Of course, this is my usage and carry vary wildly from user to user. I leave location services on, bluetooth with Android wear, take lots of pictures and get a ton of hangouts messages.
Worth mentioning is the included Turbo Charger and the ridiculously fast charging rates available on the X. Motorola claims that 15 minutes of charging will net a user 10 hours of use. The truth is that the Moto X does charge extremely fast, particularly when below 40% or so. When the MXPE is in “quick charging” mode (a toast saying TurboPower Connected will pop up) the phone will draw 12.3 W of power at around 9.2 Volts. Overall the fast charging is incredible, and I wouldn’t want a phone without it.
The Moto X speaker situation has changed with every release:
Moto X 2013: One speaker on the back next to the camera.
Moto X 2014: Two speaker grills on the front – one speaker on the bottom grill
MXPE 2015: Finally dual stereo speakers up front.
Much like the Nexus 6, the MXPE has two incredibly loud and great stereo speakers up front. It’s a great change and I’m totally satisfied with the quality provided by the two speakers.
Quality through the headphone jack is good. I experience sound just as expected from other Snapdragon 8XX devices. Volume output is loud, even uncomfortable so at max levels.
Seeing as this is a mostly stock device, Motorola hasn’t added many fancy equalizers apps or sound tweaks. An “Audio Effects” section is present in the Settings app however, allowing for custom and predefined equalizer options.
Call quality has been great. Callers come through loud and clear. I don’t have any complaints in that department and callers haven’t had any issues with hearing me either.
I think it’s important to have a couple sections here in the final thoughts are. One regarding Motorola (now Lenovo) and another for the device itself.
First, the device. I’m a huge fan of almost every aspect of this phone. Motomaker is still an absolutely awesome differentiator. It’s refreshing to have a phone that’s very unique in a sea of iPhones and Samsung devices. There are a ton of options and it’s easy to whip up a great looking (or hideous) MXPE to suit your Style. The display, speakers, and finally camera are all good to great, and the 808 is “fine.” Battery life could be a bit better, but finally a Moto X can actually compete in that area. If I were asked to find my biggest gripe with the device, it would be hard. I guess I’d go with the lack of a fingerprint reader. The best part is, any time something bugs you about the MXPE, all one needs to do is go look at the suggested price-point. This thing still starts at $399. Compared to a Galaxy S6 or even an HTC M9 you’re saving hundreds of dollars. Overall I’m a huge fan of the Moto X Pure Edition, and would recommend it without reservation.
The other, less certain side, is Lenovo. Motorola has a new owner this year, and frankly lots of things are still a big question mark. We’ve had staff let go from Motorola in Chicago, and we’ve had some questions on which Motorola devices will receive 6.0. I’m not one to quickly scream “abandon ship!” regarding the future of Motorola. Lenovo needs to be very careful what they do with the brand though. So far the 2015 Moto fleet (Style, Play, 360 v2, Hint v2) is right where we expected. However, most of these offerings were in the works before Lenovo became the owner. 2016 and on is where we’ll really get to see how they operate under new ownership, and they already need to shake off some disappointments. Motorola would be wise to update as many of their devices in as timely a manner as they can. I’m holding out cautious hope personally. Having the “Google-ish” Motorola around is only a good thing for the Android landscape, but every day that ish part sounds more like a free.