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Motorola Moto X4 Review: X gonna give it to you?

4

The Good

  • Water resistant
  • Strong Moto features
  • Built-in Alexa

The Bad

  • Camera flaws
  • Limited performance

Is the resurrection of Motorola’s X series smartphones a glorious thing, or is the Moto X4 a flawed return? We’ve spent some serious time with the Motorola Moto X4 for this full review and we’ve enjoyed the experience, although it’s not quite perfect.

Motorola had seemingly killed off its X series smartphones back in 2015, when we saw the last of them launch: the Moto X Play, Force and Style, representing the more premium end of the manufacturer’s mobile devices.

However, X is well and truly back in 2017 with the UK release of the Moto X4. This £350 device sits neatly between the G series handsets such as the Moto G5 Plus and ‘special edition’ Moto G5s Plus (which are typically under £300) and the flagship-level Moto Z series, which support the nifty Moto Mods add-on accessories.

The Moto X4 offers quite similar specs to the Moto G5s Plus on paper, although this time around you get a shiny glass and metal design and an overhauled dual lens camera experience. Question is, does this Motorola mobile do enough to sway a purchase from other mid-range muscle such as the Honor 9 and Samsung’s Galaxy A5 2017?

Read next: Best Motorola phones right now

Motorola Moto X4 review: Design

Glass and metal mobiles are definitely in fashion, with many mid-range and premium devices now sporting a metallic chassis coated with a shiny surface. The Moto X4 is no different and that glass backing certainly feels more premium than the metal G series handsets. It’s a finish reminiscent of the Honor 9, although the X4 is thankfully hardier. We’ve drop tested this device and treated it quite roughly, and so far there’s no sign of cracking or other issues. Dust and fingerprints are generally well masked too, although when the light hits it just so, you’ll probably balk at the greasy marks covering the surface.

That 163g heft adds to that premium feel, although the phone is also quite chunky. Something that’s not helped at all by that jutting camera lens on the back. Still, we do like the fine detailing around the circumference of the optics, which adds a touch of style to the Moto X4. When it comes to the other dimensions, we’re also well on board with the Moto X4. Compared with all of the 5.5-inch blowers hitting UK stores, this device is reasonably easy to handle - something aided by Motorola’s gesture shortcuts. More on those later.

At first we were a little worried that the power and volume buttons were a little close together, all clustered over on the right edge of the handset. However, after a full week of constant use, this hasn’t proved a problem.

And impressively, the Moto X4 is fully IP68 water resistant; a design feature rarely seen on devices around this price point. Good news if you want something to play around with in the bath.

Sadly there’s no support for Moto Mods however, which are only available on the Z series handsets. However, you do get a handy fingerprint sensor housed beneath the display. This can be used to unlock the device and verify your identity for various accounts, using the nifty Moto Key feature. It’s not the fastest acting scanner around but only fails when your digits are wet or sticky.

You can grab the X4 in just two colours, namely ‘super’ black or ‘sterling’ blue. We prefer the more colourful blue model, even if it’s quite a subtle hue.

Check out our Moto X4 unboxing video below to see the phone up close.

What works?

The relatively compact glass and metal frame looks and feels more premium than we expected, complete with a water resistant finish.

What doesn’t?

It’s also a fairly chunky handset, with a jutting camera lens stuck on the back end.

Motorola Moto X4 review: Screen and media

That 5.2-inch IPS display at first glance seems quite similar to the cheaper G series Motorola screens. You once again have a sharp 1920x1080 pixel resolution, which means your HD movies and photos look great on the compact panel.

However, the Moto X4 also enjoys pleasingly crisp whites, while the G5 family had a slight yellow tint. Contrast levels are decent for a non-OLED display and we certainly had no complaints with viewing angles or brightness levels. Colour reproduction is quite punchy too, although the ‘vibrant’ display mode doesn’t seem to make any real difference during everyday use - at least, as far as we could tell.

You have 32GB of storage on board, although roughly half of this is used up already by the OS and other pre-installed apps. Thankfully you can plug in a microSD memory card if you want to carry around a mighty media collection. You also get a headphone jack and full Bluetooth 5 support for connecting your favourite headphones.

What works?

That Full HD screen is sharp and quite colourful, with solid brightness and contrast levels.

What doesn’t?

Most of the storage space is already used up, so it’s just as well you can expand when needed.

Motorola Moto X4 review: Features and OS

At the time of launch, the Moto X4 doesn’t deliver the latest Android Oreo OS. However, the phone will hopefully get an update to Oreo soon, as this is typically a near untouched version of Google’s Nougat OS. Motorola has simply added on a few extra features, collected together in the rather good Moto Assistant app.

This is split into different sections, each of which adds its own worthwhile functionality to the Moto X4. For instance, Moto Actions offers up a genuinely helpful range of shortcuts, including the ability to quickly load the camera with a double-twist of your wrist, or karate chop the phone to activate the flash and use it as a makeshift torch.

You also get a decent one-handed feature, which shrinks your app or desktops towards the bottom of the display, to make them easier to poke and swipe around. Sadly this can prove quite tricky to activate, unless you nail the awkward swiping action.

There’s also an option to use the fingerprint sensor as a replacement for the on-screen back, home and recent apps controls. This works using gesture controls, with a swipe left to go back, a swipe right to open your apps menu and a simple tap to go home at any point. It’s not an original feature but it works perfectly well on the Moto X4, for those who want it.

Moto Display delivers a night screen mode, which filters blue light for a more comfortable viewing experience in the dark. You can also briefly wake the screen with any new notifications, so you don’t miss anything important.

Moto Key allows you to sign into your apps and websites simply by scanning your digit with the Moto X4’s fingerprint sensor, rather than typing in a complex password every time. This works for quite a few apps, including most popular chat apps and the likes of Spotify and Netflix. You can also sign into any account via the Chrome browser and replace that login with your print, which is a lot more useful - after all, most apps only require an initial login and then remember you every time after.

Finally in the Moto app you’ll find Moto Voice, which is a simple hands-free voice assistant. This flashes up a brief view of your coming day or a full list of appointments when you simply say ‘show me my day’ or ‘show me my events’, just as one example. You can also have Moto Voice read out incoming messages when you’re driving or a headset is paired up to the Moto X4. In fact, anyone who spends a lot of time behind the wheel should find this feature particularly useful.

In addition to Moto Voice, you also get Amazon’s Alexa AI on the Moto X4. This is a more complex and complete solution than Moto Voice, offering control over your smart home goodies as well as all kinds of handy features. Check out our Alexa tips and tricks guide to see what she’s capable of.

What works?

Vanilla Android, topped with lots of useful Moto bonus features to help with everyday use.

What doesn’t?

We’re not quite sure why Oreo isn’t already on board, although we shouldn’t have long to wait before Motorola updates the OS.

Motorola Moto X4 review: Performance and battery life

Performance is one of the few Achilles Heel areas of the Moto X4, sadly. While the Honor 9 boasts a premium Kirin 960 processor for a nippy experience no matter what you’re up to, this Moto handset makes do with a more basic Snapdragon 630 processor. You do get 3GB of RAM at least, yet you’ll still notice some stutter and slowdown here and there.

All the same, this smartphone rarely frustrates and can happily blast through the latest fast-paced games without complaint.

As for battery life, we can’t grumble there. The 3000mAh cell keeps you going all day even with quite a lot of use, while we often made it through the morning commute the following day before the battery was finally drained.

Even better, Motorola’s TurboPower charging tech means you’ll get close to full power with just an hour at the plug. You charge the Moto X4 back up using a Type-C USB cable, which is fully reversible and offers pleasingly nippy data transfer when connected to a computer.

What works?

Dependable battery life and quick recharge times means you shouldn’t be left with a dead phone at any point.

What doesn’t?

Sadly the Moto X4’s performance isn’t too hot, with the occasional stutter and stumble to drag down the overall experience.

Motorola Moto X4 review: Cameras

Although the Moto G5s Plus was Motorola’s first dual lens smartphone camera, the X4 serves up a very different double snapper. On the G5s Plus that secondary shooter seemed rather superfluous, simply offering a bit of depth perception to help your subject stand out against the background. However, the Moto X4 changes things up and you now have an 8-megapixel wide-angle lens that offers a very different viewpoint.

You also get lots more bonus camera modes with this X series handset, including the now almost obligatory AR masks mode. This can morph you into a unicorn, astronaut or cat, if that’s your bag. More useful is the 4K video recording, while you can also use that wide-angle lens to shoot up to 60 frames-per-second Full HD footage.

Sadly the Moto X4 camera isn’t quite as good as we’d hoped. The video capture is flawed, while imperfect conditions can pose a problem. For all you need to know, including full photo and video samples, check out our in-depth Moto X4 camera review.

What works?

Up to 4K video recording and a choice of standard or wide-angle views makes for some solid mid-range optics.

What doesn’t?

Video recording sadly iffy at 60 frames-per-second, while low light performance suffers.

Motorola Moto X4 review: Verdict

Motorola’s X series smartphones are back, with enough of a bang to make us glad for their return.

While the Moto G5s and G5s Plus offer strong value for money, the Moto X4 delivers plenty of worthy extras - including full water resistance and some useful software features - to make an upgrade worth considering. That said, the Moto Z2 Play is only a little more expensive, and boasts full support for those lovely Moto Mods accessories.

Key Specs

  • 5.2-inches
  • 1920x1080
  • 152g
  • Android 7.1.1
  • 12MP + 8MP wide angle
  • 16MP + LED flash
  • Snapdragon 630
  • 3GB
  • 32GB + microSD
  • Yes
  • Fingerprint sensor, Alexa

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