Review: Motorola Moto X, More Than Window Dressing

Another Nexus in disguise

Our score: 4/5
Reviewed: March 20, 2014 2:36 PM
Published: March 20, 2014 2:36 PM
By Sofian Nouira
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
With Morgane Alzieu
Guillaume Letoupin
The Moto X has been on sale in the States since last summer, but it took all the way until January to make it to the UK. Back in August 2013, it was hailed as the sign of a reinvigorated Motorola following its 2011 buyout by Google, but by the time it hit British stores, the landscape had changed. A lot has happened since August—the major brands have already moved on to their 2014 models—but the UK version of the Moto X is the same beast it was in 2013, save for recognition of UK accents in the voice command function.

Now, as then, it sports a 4.7" AMOLED display with HD resolution and runs on an X8 architecture-based system with a 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (MSM8960) dual-core processor, 2 GB of RAM and an Adreno 320 GPU. It has a 10 Mpx "Clear Pixel" camera that shoots Full HD 1080p video and is replete with 4G connectivity (100 Mbps), NFC, Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and GLONASS. In the box you'll find the classic accessories, except for the charger, which has two USB ports instead of one.
 
Test du Motorola Moto X

The Motorola Moto X sells for as low as £320 SIM-free from Phones4U, a price we find a bit steep considering its components. All the same, you can find it for free with contracts starting at £21 per month.
 

Design & Handling4/5



We immediately liked the Moto X's quality build. There are no fancy materials in it, but it's good plastic that exudes reliability. At just 130 grams and with relatively compact dimensions, it offers great handling, and few people will have trouble using it one-handed. The design is discreet, yet stylish, with a uniquely curved back that gives it a dose of personality. The Moto X comes in a choice of white or black.
 
Test du Motorola Moto X

Test du Motorola Moto X
 

Display4/5



All the competing high-end smartphones use Full HD 1080p resolution, but Motorola went with HD 720p for its AMOLED display. That said, with a 4.7" diagonal, that makes for a respectable 316 dpi pixel density (in other words, it's practically as detailed as the iPhone 5s). Only if you're looking at web pages with particularly small fonts will you feel the need to zoom in or hold the phone in landscape mode.
 
Test du Motorola Moto X

The screen tests we put the Moto X through showed some good, some average results. Being an AMOLED display, it has excellent contrast with ultra-deep black. The brightness is fine for this technology, at 314 cd/m². It has a nice colour temperature of 6,584 K, but somewhat unnatural tones with a Delta E of 5.6. We measured a touch response time of 105 ms. These are all good measurements, but they aren't the best on the market either.


Interface & Navigation5/5



Before being bought out, Motorola had developed a rather disastrous reputation for not always making good on Android updates, especially on this side of the Atlantic. But things seem to have changed now that Google is running things. The Moto G and Moto X were both released with Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, but very quickly received updates to 4.4 KitKat (the version we're reviewing). Naturally, Motorola didn't add any software overlays to adulterate Google's operating system, but it did add a few of its own apps. In other words, this is pretty much Android at its most Android, with an interface very close to the Nexuses and Google Play Edition phones.

Some of the Moto X's own tricks include a revamped camera app, voice command (several UK accents welcome!) and gesture control. Without touching the phone, you can wake it up by just saying "OK Google Now". Then state a command or request, and the Moto X executes. You can do this to set the alarm, perform a Google search, get a travel route, write a memo, make a call, text a friend, and more. The system isn't picture-perfect, but it ended up becoming a habit once we had figured out what tasks it can and can't do. It's a promising start, although the whole could still use some work. Not all applications will launch this way, and certain interactions can only go so far for now.

But there's also gesture control, which for us was a boon to everyday life. To see detailed notifications on the lock screen, you can just touch the phone or move it, or to open the camera function while it's asleep, you just twist the phone as though you were unscrewing the cap off a soda bottle. The gestures all worked perfectly for us, and they really came in handy.
 
Test du Motorola Moto X


As for the hardware, when Motorola first presented the Moto X they said it uses an octa-core X8 architecture. However, if you take a closer look, you see this is a bit of a smoke screen. In reality, it's run by a chipset that houses a dual-core CPU and a quad-core GPU, plus two coprocessors that handle the voice and gesture control without sapping too much of the battery.

Dual-core CPU notwithstanding, the Moto X runs quite smoothly. It was fluid and responsive throughout the time we used it, just like a Nexus. It can hold its head high alongside any number of quad-core-equipped phones we've used. The Adreno 320 GPU isn't the latest generation, but it can run any 3D game on Google Play. In sum, the Moto X may not have the brawn to still be impressive three years from now, but in the current landscape, it's just right.


Multimedia5/5



It may not look it, but the Moto X is a speedy little devil when it comes to multimedia. The large screen and satisfying picture quality make for great video watching and the player supports most of the popular file formats. But perhaps the best thing is the sound quality. The headphone output is clean and has high volume without any notable degradations. Great stuff.


Camera4/5



Before we get to the camera's picture quality, let's talk about the components. There are a few unique things about the Clear Pixel camera. First off, it has a 10-Megapixel sensor, which is pretty rare on a smartphone. Also, Motorola says the pixels are larger than usual, 1.4 µm, and that it opted for an RGBC matrix instead of the usual RGBG, which allows it to capture 75% more light than most sensors. That's for the theory. In practice, it does indeed give good results in low lighting, but the relative lack of noise is counterbalanced by heavy smoothing, which in turn lowers the amount of detail in your shots.
 
Test du Motorola Moto X

Naturally, the picture is much better when you have good lighting conditions. Pictures come out much more richly detailed with natural colours and good contrast. Overall, the Moto X is a very good camera phone. It can't spar with the best, but it comes in a close second. Add to that a rather minimalist, yet effective interface, plus the handy ability to open the camera app with the twisting gesture and then snap a shot by tapping anywhere on the screen, and you'll understand why this is a fun camera to use. It shoots Full HD 1080p video, but suffers somewhat from the lack of image stabilisation, so to get the best videos possible you really have to hold the phone steady and avoid shaky jitters.
 
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Battery Life3/5



With a score of 48615 in Battery Benchmark, the Moto X has satisfactory—not amazing—battery life that lets it last for a good day's worth. You can actually get it to last a good deal longer than that if you watch how you use it. But if you don't charge it at the end of every day, it may very well die on you halfway through the next.
4/5 Motorola Moto X (2013) DigitalVersus 2014-03-20 15:36:00

Pros

  • Gesture controls come in handy
  • Quality build
  • Camera
  • Sound quality
  • Good screen
  • OS is fluid, responsive
  • Voice control works well (although it has its limits)

Cons

  • We'd like to see even more voice control possibilities
  • Non-expandable memory
  • Moto Maker customisation service not yet available in UK (coming soon)

Conclusion

The Moto X may not boast hardware as impressive as its high-end counterparts, but it's still a choice buy. For one thing, it doesn't really have any major, deal-breaking flaws (that's rare on a mid-range phone); instead it has tons of advantages. Plus, Motorola's added features, like voice and gesture control, hit their mark and are more than just gimmicky window dressing.

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