The Moto X name hasn't changed in 2014, but rest assured, this updated Android smartphone packs enough new specs to deserve its very own Moto X+1 or Moto X2 title.
With a larger screen, a better but not perfect camera, surprisingly useful first-party apps and, of course deeper customization, the original Moto Maker returns with a competitive price.
It's just $99 on-contract or $499 (£419.99, AU$534). Don't let Motorola's seemingly low ball price fool you either. Like its low-key name, the Moto X 2014 has a deceptive asking price.
Motorola's flagship phone is slightly bigger in every sense, enough to make it one of the best Android premium phones next to the more expensive Samsung Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8.
There's more to the Moto X 2014 now that the display literally measures up to its competition. It's 5.2 inches, the same size as the new Sony Xperia Z3 and a hair larger than the 5.1-inch Galaxy S5.
That's up half an inch from last year's 4.7-inch Moto X, a size that Motorola left to the likes of Apple and its, by comparison, pint-sized iPhone 6 display.
With a little reach and large enough fingers, the new Moto X is still a one-handed phone that almost ventures into two-handed territory. Yet it doesn't compromise much on the display when compared to a phablet.
It's again protected by Corning Gorilla Glass with the same AMOLED technology behind it, but the 1080p Full HD resolution makes for a much crisper screen with 423 pixels per inch. You won't want to go back to the original's 720p and 316 ppi display specs.
This sharper display is put to the test as soon as the new Moto X is booted up thanks to the bright and colorful default wallpapers that Motorola included with the handset. It really sets the tone for this premium smartphone experience, especially next to the still 720p Moto G 2014.
It stands bezel-to-bezel with the Samsung Galaxy S5 in this regard, though it lacks the Super AMOLED display. In a few cases, we found the Moto X screen harder to read outdoors. But keep in mind that Motorola has made its smartphone much cheaper than anything in its class.
The Moto X 2014 makes up for its direct sunlight shortcomings with a better way to conserve battery life by default. The return of the extremely efficient Motorola Active Display means that waving your hand over the phone or taking it out of your pocket brings up the current time and simple notification icons in white. The rest of the screen remains off. The popular, always-on microphone is here as well, giving you a way to cut to the chase with voice commands.
Tapping an Active Display icon reveals more information about the notification, like the gist of your latest emails or Hangout messages. It's a great use of AMOLED's ability to selectively light up individual pixels and it sure beats an ambiguous blinking status light on a phone.
An all-new aluminum metal frame means that Moto X 2014 is stronger than its predecessor, not just bigger than before. Plastic is no longer binding together Motorola's flagship device. It's closer to the build material of the iPhone 5S, sturdier than the pliable iPhone 6 Plus and, most importantly, doesn't feel as cheap as the metal-looking polycarbonate Samsung Galaxy S5.
What's surprising is that despite the Moto X's naturally larger size care of the 5.2-inch display, Motorola once again used tricks to minimize the overall dimensions, and it worked in its favor. For example, there's very little bezel around the edges and the soft buttons are on-screen, as opposed to the capacitive buttons used by Samsung devices.
This makes the Moto X 2014 roughly the same size as the Galaxy S5 and, remarkably, even the iPhone 6. Its official measurements are 2.9 in (72.4 mm) x 5.5 in (140.8 mm) with a sloped 0.2 in (3.8 mm) to 0.4 in (9.9 mm) curve.
The S5's width and height are 2.9 in (72.5 mm) x 5.5 in (142 mm) with a narrower overall depth of 0.3 in (8.1 mm). iPhone 6 is nearly as big: 2.64 in (67.0 mm) x 5.44 in (138.1 mm) x 0.27 in (6.9 mm). As much as I appreciate the iPhone's home button and Touch ID, it has half an inch less screen real estate to show for its almost-as-tall dimensions.
Moto X's premium frame thins out along the corners, but forms a fairly thick bow shape at the center for a curved back. This leaves plenty of room for a top-center 3.5mm headphone jack, an adjacent nano-SIM card slot and bottom-placed micro USB port. Along the thinned-out sides, there's just enough depth for a volume rocker that's smooth and power button that's accented with ridges. This makes it easier to tell the two stainless steel buttons apart in your pocket.
Moto Maker returns with additional customizations to match the now-premium Moto X with even more personalization. Leather, for example, is now among the choices that can back your phone in one of four colors. It joins last year's four wood options and 17 plastic colors. Black or white fronts and 10 accent colors the front-facing speaker grills and rear Motorola logo dimple round out the most pressing Moto Maker decisions.
Cradling the Moto X backed in soft leather is a delight, but it's also the most delicate material within Moto Maker. Yes, the Moto 360 smartwatch uses the same genuine leather sourced from Horween Leather Company, but the supple material bruised more easily in our pockets than on our wrists. That's what's great about Moto Maker, though. It's filled with more options than your standard one-size-fits-all smartphone in case that doesn't work for you.
Moto X weighs in at 144 grams vs last year's 139 grams. Considering the aluminum metal frame and 5.2-inch screen, that's a worthy trade-off. Of course, there are beefier specs too.
Specs, performance and interface
Moto X 2014's specs, like its larger display size, complement the fact that it's no longer the runt of the Android litter. Its Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor is identical to the 2.5GHz quad-core chip that's found at the heart of the LTE-equipped Galaxy S5.
Motorola also answers Samsung's graphics performance with the same Adreno 330 GPU at 578 MHz and its memory with a healthy 2GB of RAM. The new Moto X isn't an also-ran when it comes to the most important specs. It's snappy performance backs this up even when all of our favorite apps, photos and video are clogging the internal storage.
There's a caveat: you can only fill up the Moto X so much because you won't find a micro SD card slot anywhere. Expandable storage isn't a part of the Moto X like it is on the Moto G 2014 and the earlier Moto G 4G model. You'll have to contend with the 16GB and Moto Maker-exclusive 32GB internal configurations.
Also missing is any sort of fingerprint sensor, heart rate monitor (not that you really need that) and waterproof seal. It doesn't measure up to the IP67 rating of many Android smartphones, so it's not water resistant up to 30 meters for an hour. Instead, it's just "splashproof." It's more than the leather back that's delicate in wet conditions.
Moto X did get the speakers right where others often fail. Its front-facing bottom grill projected music the right way - forward - not down at the ground, and its four microphones for voice calls and noise canceling reduced background noise to appropriate levels in all our test calls.
Interface and apps
Google may have sold Motorola to Lenovo, but the company is still dedicated to providing a pure Android experience that helps its phone contrast with devices from Samsung and HTC. You won't find TouchWiz or Sense changing the experience with a wonky overlay.
Moto X's Android KitKat 4.4 interface is much the same as last year save for the Google Now Launcher, a few fresh Motorola-branded apps and some carrier-loaded bloatware depending on your provider. Once again, the aforementioned Moto Display shows up when the display is off, providing a discreet and battery-saving method of peeking at notification icons.
Moto Assist takes driving seriously by reading text messages aloud while you're on the road. It also knows when to keep quiet without disruptive noises during meetings or when you're ready for bed. The next day, it wakes up when you wake up, according to your schedule.
Moto Actions takes advantage of the Moto X's IR emitters that resemble the sensor-spotted Amazon Fire Phone. The built-in app recognizes hand motions from all directions to turn on the Moto Active Display, silence calls and a snooze alarms with a simple wave. Just hop out of the shower and want to know the time? Look no further than Moto Actions. That's really convenient for a phone that's only splashproof.
Moto Voice builds upon Google Now by letting you change the always-listening voice prompt. Instead of the "Okay Google Now" command that seemed futuristic in 2013, the new Moto X lets you use custom phrases - everything from "You there Moto X?" to "Wake up buddy!" were among the Motorola-suggested examples. But I preferred the Motorola staffer / X-Men fan who used the prompt, "Okay Professor X" to get things started. And, again, unlike Siri, there's no need to hold down a button or have the phone plugged in to get the attention of Moto Voice.
Outside of the main Moto suite is Connect, a way to bridge the messaging gap between your Moto X smartphone and computer. It delivers text messages to a Chrome browser extension, though not as reliably as third-party apps like MightyText. I'm still hoping that Google one day brings SMS to Hangouts on a PC. Apple aced this with iMessages among its device owners two years ago and is further building upon it (by relaying all texts) with Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. Connect is hopefully a stopover to something broader from Google.
Everything else about Motorola's Android KitKat 4.4 setup is untouched next to the Nexus 5, and for the most part, this pure interface is really appealing. It does mean that Google's quick settings for brightness, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are buried behind one and two extra steps compared to what Samsung's pull-down menu. I really hate having to adjust the brightness outside with an swipe down, a poke at the left quick settings button, a stab in the dark at the brightness grid label and a feel for the brightness slider. Even with this, pure Android a lighter and cleaner alternative in all other cases.
Moto X 2014 can't pull off "premium" without a vastly improved camera considering last year's middling snapper. Motorola bumps up the specs to 13 megapixels, up from the 10-megapixel rear camera that proved extremely inconsistent of the original.
With a 13MP sensor that's identical to many of today's Android smartphones, the new Moto X took much sharper pictures than its predecessor. It also put the autofocus in the right place more times than not. That's not to say that its performance was flawless or as responsive as the speedier LG G3, but I walked away with higher-resolution photos and subjects in focus without the need to plead retakes for all of the time. It's a step in the right direction for Motorola.
The default camera app is simple and straightforward like last year, offering a tap-to-snap touchscreen shutter button, Auto HDR and Panorama. The controls are hidden to the left, while swiping right explores the gallery. What's interesting here is that Motorola's software tries to pick out the best pictures via its Highlight Reel functionality. It's not always perfect, but it does weed out blurry shots and handily group images for a quick comparison.
Keep in mind that Moto X's stripped-down manual focus and exposure options may make you leap for third-party alternatives in the Google Play Store, but Motorola's camera app is the only one that opens with two twists of a the wrist. Even if you don't use the default app all of the time, this shortcut makes for easy to touch and capture in a minimal amount of time.
The 13-megapixel camera is accompanied by a unique-sounding ring flash, which essentially means the lens is flanked by two LED flash bulbs. The right and left lights do an admirable job brightening up subjects to balance shots, but approaching subjects too closely still results in overblown pictures. When the Moto X gets things right colors temperature are oversaturated and pushed to the extreme on the equally saturated AMOLED. It's vibrate-looking, though not true to life in all cases. Selfies are best shot with the front-facing camera that's grainier 2 megapixels and doesn't have a flash even if you want one.
Both cameras can shoot 1080p HD video, but only the rear-facing camera is capable of slow motion video at 120fps and Ultra HD video quality at 30fps. The pixels extend to 2160p, which means Motorola is now welcomed into the 4K smartphone capture club. Whether or not you really want to use up your limited internal storage for such video files is up to you.
The new Moto X has ￼￼￼￼￼￼a 2300 mAh battery backing up its larger screen, which is bigger than the 2200mAh battery found in last year's model. That seems better on paper until you realize that the 5.2-inch screen requires more power throughout the day. Throughout our testing the new Moto X lasted us 24 hours with mixed use.
That's enough to plug it in at night without fail, but not as long-lasting as something like the Galaxy S5 with a 2800mAh battery. Motorola does benefit from the AMOLED Active Display because checking the time and notifications doesn't light up the entire screen. It also doesn't accidentally light up in this mode when face down or in a pocket.
The company's Moto 360 smartwatch has a significantly shorter battery life of less than a day and it's yet another thing to charge. However, also shored up our notification-checking addiction on the Moto X 2014 and ultimately helped the battery last even longer than 24 hours some days.
When battery life is critical, though, it's Samsung that swoops in with its Ultra Power Saving mode. It can be a real battery life-saver. Motorola's 10% is the same as its 90%. You also won't find a backward compatible micro USB 3.0 connection on the Moto X for faster charging and transfers, as seen in the Note 3 and S5.
Motorola does sell a Turbo Charger that can add an impressive eight hours of battery life in just 15 minutes thanks to Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 technology. Its ideal for juicing up during work breaks in the day and layovers at the airport, but it's not something you'll get out of the box. It's $35 (about £21, AU$40) through Motorola's Moto Maker store.
Moto X 2014's display size jumped half an inch, but the overall quality leapt a full foot from its also-ran origins. That's not to say that it was a terrible mid-range device the first time around. Motorola has just updated the design and specs enough to make it a high-end contender in 12 short months.
It takes on the "premium" label without sacrificing the low price point in most regions. In fact, the US price is actually a lot cheaper: $99 on contract, making it half the price of its leading competitors. SIM-free it's still a deal: $499 (£419.99, AU$534).
The 5.2-inch display gives us more screen real estate without verging on phablet territory. It's still a one-handed device for people with large enough fingers and coupled with the AMOLED Moto Active Display that we wish all smartphone manufacturers would blatantly copy already.
A metal frame makes it feel as good as the screen looks, while Moto Maker combinations now total in the thousands. The pure Android OS is thankfully only supplemented by Motorola's useful apps and the price makes it Android's hidden treasure. X truely does mark the spot.
It's premium, but it's not without pitfalls. Moto X 2014 doesn't have a micro SD card slot, so you're either stuck with 16GB or 32GB of internal storage. You can also forget about taking it in any sort of water. It's not IP67 waterproof like many other Androids so hold onto it tight.
Wait, don't hold onto it too tightly. That all-new premium leather back cost more, but bruised on us rather easily. The 13-megapixel rear camera takes better photos than before - not much of an accomplishment. We're still not convinced it'll ever take the shot we want every time.
Don't think that just because the Moto X 2014 name didn't get much of a change that the phone is just a basic specs bump. Motorola's new flagship smartphone proves that the reinvented company is listening to customer feedback with a bigger screen and aluminum metal frame, all for a price that's better than its competition. It only half-listened the requests for a superior camera and didn't pay attention to anyone plea for a micro SD slot.
The good news is that Motorola continuing with its popular Moto Maker customization policies. That means personalized backs including new soft leather and trim accents on the front and around the camera lense. And yet the firm doesn't tinker with the pure Android experience set forth by Google. The specs are more robust while the software stays minimal, the opposite of other Android phones out there. That's just the way Motorola rolls, and we rather enjoy it.