- Clean Android KitKat
- Useful set of features
- Accurate voice recognition
- Decent battery life
- Stingy on-board storage
- Screen lacks 1080p bite
- Rivals boast more power
Now it's finally hit the UK, we review the Motorola Moto X, and ask how it compares with the Moto G and the Nexus 5 from Google...
Motorola launched its snazzy Moto X handset States-side last year, but us Brits had to make do with the cut-price Moto G (whch at £135 offers tremendous value), until just a few days ago. Finally the Moto X has landed in the UK, and at £380 it costs a big chunk of change more than its budget sibling. But is it worth the extra cash, and how does it hold up against the similarly-priced Google Nexus 5?
Motorola Moto X design: Soft touch
Put the Moto X and the Moto G side-by-side, and you’ll instantly know they’re related. In fact, there’s so little difference when it comes to design that they could almost be twins. The Moto X is a tad bigger than the 4.5-inch Moto G at 4.7-inches, and the back is non-removeable, so you can’t swap for different colours. Besides that, it’s all very familiar.
The Moto X sports the same tapered frame as the Moto G, which feels pleasingly cozy in the hand. It’s also comfortably light at 130g without coming off as flimsy. In fact, there’s only a touch of flex when you push and pull on the body, and we’re confident that the solid construction can soak up some abuse when you’re on the move. The rear is soft-touch, which helps a little with grip, so hopefully you won’t have to prove that ruggedness with accidental drop tests.
Buttons are suitably streamlined, with the home, back and app buttons appearing on-screen, and just power and volume lining the edges. Your nano SIM card slot is tucked away in a pin-operated drawer on the left side.
As a side-note, we’re hoping that Motorola’s Moto-Maker service, which allows you to customise the look and feel of your Moto X, makes it over to the UK soon. Until then, you’re stuck with whatever models are in stock.
Motorola Moto X usability: Simple set-up
Motorola has made upgrading to the Moto X simple with Motorola Migrate, a handy app that copies your media, apps and even text messages from your old phone. Just download and install the Migrate app on your current handset, and you’ll be guided through the process in a number of easy little steps. The fact that you can copy texts across is a great bonus, as we hate losing our old messages when we move phone.
Android KitKat 4.4 comes installed, so you’re immediately set up with the latest version of Google’s OS, and Motorola has done little to mess with the look and feel. The result is a streamlined experience, similar to the Nexus 5’s interface. However, dive under the surface and you’ll find some cool features that are actually genuinely useful.
Motorola Moto X features: OK, Google Now
Voice assistants haven’t been our fondest friends to date. Siri struggled with our Northern accent (speak like the Queen and you seem to do alright), while Samsung’s S-Voice was madder than a box of squirrels. But the Moto X’s voice assistant somehow managed to learn our voice and understand our requests after just a minute of knowing us.
You can wake the phone by saying ‘OK, Google Now’, even when it’s hibernating - handy if your hands are busy, when driving for instance. Then you simply speak your command. In almost every instance, the Moto X understood what we said, even when we sounded a little more croaky than normal. Very impressive stuff.
It’ll take a little while to work out the best way to word your requests, of course, with the Moto X resorting to Google searches in most instances. For example, we found ourselves craving a slice, so we tried a variety of “where can I eat pizza” commands. Even with Google Maps open already, the phone simply Googled our phrase, which brought up pizza recipes and joints in Italy. Not ideal. We amended this to “where around here can I eat pizza”, until finally we were victorious with “are there any good pizza restaurants around here”. The Moto X did ignore the ‘good’ bit sadly, as Pizza Hut was first choice.
Motorola Assist is also a handy addition that changes the Moto X’s behaviour depending on your situation. For instance, when activated it can tell when you’re driving using GPS and any noise detected on the mic, and automatically reads out who’s calling or texting you. We aren’t drivers so we couldn’t test it out properly, but we did approve of the sleeping mode, which silences your phones during set hours unless specific people call, and the meeting mode which does the same if your calendar says you’re busy.
You can download a huge collection of other apps and tools from the Google Play store, although our Moto X only had roughly 11GB of free space for apps and media. There’s no memory card slot either, so we soon used that space up. As some form of compensation, you get 65GB of free online storage with Google Drive instead of the usual 15GB, and we used that to back up our photos and clear some space on the phone. Of course, it’s a far from perfect solution when you’ve got a limited data contract and can’t always rely on Wi-Fi.
NFC and 4G support round off the features, both expected at this price point.
Motorola Moto X screen: Rise to the surface
The Moto X’s 4.7-inch screen stretches almost edge-to-edge, with thinner bezels than the Moto G’s 4.5-inch display. Like the budget brother, it seems like the Moto X’s picture is floating on the surface thanks to the thin layer of Gorilla glass, giving a good first impression.
Motorola has settled for a 720 x 1280 resolution - giving 316 pixels-per-inch (ppi) - rather than going for Full HD 1080p visuals. Unfortunately that means it isn’t as crisp as rivals such as the Xperia Z1 Compact (342ppi), the Nexus 5 (445ppi) and the iPhone 5s (326ppi). In fact, it’s not even as sharp as the budget Moto G’s screen (329ppi) even though this phone costs almost three times as much.
Of course, a screen’s quality isn’t judged simply by numbers, and we found the AMOLED display was still sharp enough to reproduce all but the tiniest of text. HD video looks good - you’ll struggle to pick out individual pixels, just like with the Moto G, and viewing angles are just as strong. Colours are rich and deep, and contrast levels are also excellent, with really black blacks even on top brightness levels. The panel could do with being brighter, however, to better counter glare.
So, movie fans are going to get a satisfying experience, but the Moto X isn’t the best out there for video and there are cheaper handsets that do a better job. Given the choice, we’d opt for something like the Nexus 5 for enjoying movies, thanks to its larger 1080p screen which gives a more comfortable viewing experience.
Motorola Moto X performance: Oh, SnapDragon
A 1.7GHz dual-core SnapDragon S4 Pro runs the show, and it’s a surprise choice, looking a little creaky beside the competition. We’re not talking decrepit here, as the Moto X still glides through Android’s menus and can run fast-paced games with only the occasional stammer, but the fact that we still saw some stutters is a serious eyebrow-raiser. It’s a step back from the Nexus 5’s SnapDragon 800 processor, and we’d expect more at this price point.
The 2,200mAh battery thankfully restores some Moto X pride, giving you easily enough power to make it through the day, even with regular web browsing and message swapping. If you up your game and start streaming video, you’ll still enjoy almost eight hours of life, one of the better efforts we’ve seen lately.
Motorola Moto X cameras: No dancin' in the dark
Motorola has come up with a unique ‘wrist-twist’ method for waking the Moto X straight into the camera app - with the phone hibernating, simply jerk it twice and hey presto. You might look slightly mental doing it, but at least it seems to work every time, unlike LG’s ‘knock knock’ feature on the LG G2.
The Moto X’s 10-megapixel snapper follows the same ethos as the Moto G’s, namely keep it simple. You’ll see there’s only two on-screen buttons - switch to video mode, and switch to front-facing camera. There’s no shutter button, so just tap the screen anywhere to snap a pic.
One problem with this method is the occasional blurry photo, especially when you try and take it too fast. To manually focus you’ll need to swipe right across the screen and select the reticule option, which you then have to drag around the display to focus on specific areas. It’s a little messy and we definitely prefer the standard tap-to-focus method, although it’s easier to take selfies with the Moto X using the rear cam, if the 2-megapixel front-facer isn’t sharp enough for your gorgeous mug.
As for the photos themselves, we found that daylight photos packed plenty of detail, but low-light shots lacked any kind of pop, with colours fading fast. Dim the lights right down and you’re left with a murky, grainy mess, while rivals such as the Xperia Z1 Compact and HTC One managed to pick up a lot more detail and produce brighter, more attractive shots.
Motorola Moto X verdict: Has it got the X-Factor?
Some aspects of the Moto X’s hardware are undeniably a disappointment given that high price, with cheaper rivals such as the Google Nexus 5 packing a more capable processor and Full HD screen. It’s something that’s all the more surprising given the smaller Moto G’s awesome value for money.
That said, we still enjoyed our time with the Moto X. It’s a well-crafted little handset, the stripped-down Android KitKat interface is bliss, and the features - including that formidable voice recognition - are smart and seriously user-friendly.