The Sony Xperia Z3 earlier, and now the Moto X 2nd gen. These two smartphones this year, have been the best ones for me, if we are talking of the Tier-1 brands and their flagship smartphones. Of course there are some like OnePlus One that came in with killer features, and faded away with the same pace, as we look into the availability and after-sales support and thus, the smartphones from established brands are what we choose and recommend. The Motorola Moto X 2014 is a killer, for the price it is selling and for the intuitive interface, a brilliant design and a great display.
It was just last year when Motorola started the new X series, and the Moto X was loved by even those who are always critical about the high-end devices. Why? it is the user experience that was given more importance than the specs. But now, Motorola isn’t holding onto the same formula as the new Moto X is loaded with much horsepower to run the device with ease. This could go straight into the top three recommended smartphones this year, based on the user experience. There are a few reasons for that, and I’ll walk you through my thoughts about this piece of beauty.
Back then, there was the Droid series from Motorola that the users boasted about, because that was one of the early premium smartphone series in the Android market. Later, the company found it hard to do much against the big rivals Samsung, LG, Sony and HTC as these climbed up the charts with numerous devices. Finally, Motorola jumped back in, with the Moto X last year, and things just got better with the new Moto X.
Hardware – Design, Form Factor
Let’s talk about the Black variant first – except for the back, nothing in the new Moto X is going to disappoint. It is as comfortable as it can be, although the larger size than the last year’s Moto X, and a major reason is still the ergonomic design with the curved back. But how dramatic is it this time? the Moto X is more curvy than its predecessor, and thus it is even more cozier and comfortable in the hand.
While giving it more screen real estate compared to the predecessor, Motorola has managed to keep the weight in good control, as the new Moto X is just 5 gram heavier. I do remember talking about “little details” when reviewing the OnePlus One, and the same thought comes to mind with the Moto X, which has such little noticeable design modifications that make the device far better to hold – 1. The curvature, which goes from just under 10mm at the center, to about 4mm towards the corner, 2. The aluminum band that runs all around the phone (adding to the beauty, working as an antenna), 3. The screen curving down to join the band on the side, rather than having a sharper cutting edge, which again adds to the comfort.
The Bamboo Back Moto X
The curvy backplate on the black Moto X has only one disadvantage. It retains the fingermarks and any rubs with moist finger, are clearly visible. Although a simple rubbing with a dry cloth or even with the t-shirt (which we always use to do so) removes those marks with ease, we expect more than this when everything is perfect in the design aspect. And this issue is with only the black variant, as the material on the wooden and black leather variants is not this.
The physical buttons are kept on the right, with the power button having a texture that makes it easier for the user to judge before pressing. The backplate cannot be removed, and thus the SIM card slot with the tray is on the top, beside the headset jack, and in the bottom, the Moto X has the MicroUSB port. On the back, the clearly different larger camera with 13-megapixel lens is present with a ring standing out around it. Motorola calls it the ring flash, but it was nothing special for our experience as there are just two LED flash lights within the ring and they do the same job as a Dual LED flash would do on any smartphone. But, the ring flash does add to the aesthetics. Just below the camera, is the M-dimple (branding) that can be used to anchor the finger when making a call.
The Black Back Moto X
Two major changes from the previous Moto X, include the speaker placement, and the sensors. Very important both, and very rightly placed by Motorola. There is one speaker on the front, below the display and that is quite a big change as it was beside the camera in the previous Moto X. Though we felt that Motorola did more justice to the new Moto G with two speakers, the compromises were necessary to fit everything into this curvy device. The speaker is sort of a thin metallic strip that raises itself above the screen area, and the earpiece looks exactly the same above the display. There are sensors towards the bottom and these are always active, ready for your gestures and commands. We’ll talk about them under the “OS” part. For those concerned about the colors, these sensors and front camera alongside the speaker and earpiece will make the front look much filled, but in the black variant, most of it looks hidden.
The internal hardware is as you already know, from the specs sheet – a Snapdragon 801 chipset with 2GB RAM and Adreno 330 GPU, and the Moto X has a 2300 mAh battery, which one might feel like a little less when numbers are taken into account.
OS – Interface, Apps, Specials
The not the best but still-keeping-you-busy part about the Moto X, is the interface. One reason why we liked the Moto X last year, was the neat stock ROM with every possibility of customization to any extent, and it was an interface that had no vibrant colored stuff, but the user experience was still the best because the end user could do whatever he wished for. Motorola has taken that to the next level now, with the additional IR sensors that actively look for gestures and the phone listens to every command of yours.
If there is something worth appreciating about the touch-free experience, it is in this Moto X. Not the purest Android OS but close to it, the Moto X runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat and the big advantage over the other OEM based devices, is the saved storage because there is no bloatware, except if you have got a Moto X through one of the carriers in the U.S. Still, you cannot expect the pure Android OS that exists without any bloatware at all, only in the Nexus branded smartphones from Google.
With touchless controls, one can use the assistant Moto Voice feature, and also activate the screen showing the notifications on lock screen when the hand is waved over the device about 6 inches above the sensors. You can set up a personal greeting message, which can be said to activate the device to be ready to accept your commands. If this isn’t cool enough, you can even ask the Moto X to capture a selfie, and it would automatically open the camera app, switch to front camera and start a countdown to capture the selfie. The Moto Voice can also set alarms, open applications and do a lot more than that.
The sensors located below the display, are for the Moto Display feature. Here, when the screen is turned off, Moto Display shows the missed notifications, and that is even when the phone is sleeping. The best part is, you don’t need some light around for the sensors to catch the movement over them. But, is that the only thing about those IR sensors? It indeed isn’t, because those sensors help in some other ways as well. More useful part here, is when you get a call or when the alarm starts ringing in the device, and you just need to wave your hand over the sensors to silence them. It can look funny when you always keep waving your hand over the device, but that would become a habit some day. And a very useful one where you don’t have to lift the device for checking notifications or turning an alarm off.
In the last year’s Moto X, there were some limitations with the “Ok Google” function, but this time there is much more personalization added. For example, you can define your own phrase to call for a command. And once the phone starts listening, you can ask the Moto X to do a lot of stuff.
Apart from the specials, the Moto X has all the standard options and the entire list of essential Google apps pre-installed. The extras include Motorola Migrate, which help in transferring content from your previous phone if you are shifting to Moto X, and an app called Moto that has the smart functions – Assist, Actions, Voice and Display.
For the battery saving, the Moto X has a few options such as Attentive Display, which turns the screen off faster than usual if you are not looking at it, but that uses the front camera. Can’t understand whether this will really save the battery, but still a pretty useful feature if you are someone who doesn’t manually lock the screen always and the phone has to keep the screen active for a few seconds before locking itself on the set time.
Some functions, i.e. listening to command on any screen, are limited to English (US) language, thus if you are looking to take advantage of it, make sure the language is set to U.S. English. Talk of voice recognition, the Google Now could understand the accent pretty well, a big plus against Siri (Apple iOS’s personal voice assistance feature). To be frank, the accuracy or even picking up of words is not 100% because many a times, the background noise can also bring up unusual combination for words and the output result would be something you did not want.
It doesn’t end here, because the Moto X has got several hidden features that you don’t notice working in the background and helping in enhancing the user experience. Firstly, the switching between the devices was easiest for me, from the Gionee Elife E7 to Moto X, as Motorola Migrate helped transfer all contacts, photos, videos, call logs and messages within minutes. Then, came in several notifications, each of which was for setting up the functions such as Motorola Connect, Assist, etc.
The first disappointment is with the camera, because although the 13-megapixel camera on the new Moto X takes good photos on bright light, it is not any better than the competitor flagship devices. It is quite an upgrade from the 10-megapixel shooter in the first gen. Moto X, but that doesn’t impress me much, after having used the Gionee Elife E7 with a much better camera for months.
If we are to compare with the best competitor to this, the HTC One E8 (for the similar pricing), here’s what we had said:
For a quick comparison, the camera on Moto X is quite better than the 13MP shooter on HTC One E, especially in the low light conditions. But we aren’t happy with the captures from both the cameras in low light.
If we keep things limited to the quality of this device’s captures, there is a lot to say. The HDR mode works perfectly, giving it more natural colors and especially the green on leaves, blue for sky were standing out, unlike the normal capture where the color reproduction was not so good. Also, don’t go with the autofocus, because that way you might end up with grainy photos sometimes. Take the control in your hand, set the exposure from your side and then you will see better captures.
Motorola has included two LED flash lights in the Moto X, but this time, there is an aesthetic appeal added to it. It’s called Ring Flash and there is no special function, as these two flash lights stay inside a ring about the camera lens and doing nothing other than just throwing the light as a regular smartphone flash does.
The better side, is the video recording capability on the Moto X, with color retention and shake control on both 1080p as well as on 2160p (yes, the 4K recording is possible). Recording is great, but don’t expect much difference in the preview on your Moto X, because you will have to check that on some higher resolution displays to see what magic does the Moto X’s camera does with the 4K recording. The Slo-mo recording came out to be pretty cool as well.
The camera app from Motorola hasn’t much impressed anytime, giving little for the user to control the functions. I’ve done most of the camera captures later using Google Camera, at least because the manual focus is possible with ease in it. Overall, the rear camera is good as an upgrade from the one in predecessor, and does some pretty cool capturing, but not the best when we talk of competition.
None of the big brands have kept themselves away from the selfie craze, and each of them have been coming up with devices having a good front facing camera. Motorola chose to ignore that aspect, and I’m pretty much disappointed, as the grainy photos with the front camera are no good at all, even for sharing on the social networks. If you are a selfie lover, deal with it, you won’t be able to take good selfies on the Moto X.
So, Motorola didn’t keep itself to the low-key processor (although the Snapdragon S4 Pro wasn’t bad on the predecessor), and thus the new Moto X has the powerful Snapdragon 801 processor and it keeps the new Moto X at par with most of the flagships this year, namely the Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G3, HTC One M8, Sony Xperia Z2 and Xperia Z3. But does the performance scream and vouch to say that it is not just the numbers that one should talk about?
In the benchmarks, the Moto X holds a supremacy over its competition, but the performance is no exception as well. The Moto X is one of the best performing smartphones for this year, keeping it at par with Sony Xperia Z3 when it comes to app opening speed, multitasking, and playing large graphics in games with such ease that you never have to think whether a particular game will work well on this device.
The shifting between pages, opening large web pages is fluid and games such as Grand Theft Auto, Asphalt 8 as well as FIFA 15 played flawlessly. Heating issues are there, on both the wooden back and the black one. That doesn’t hurt the performance in any way at all.
Plethora of options. Motorola smartphones are actually smart, in this particular case. The smartphone has all the connectivity options, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4G LTE data network, NFC (with Android Beam too), and the phone wins pretty well against the flagships such as Samsung Galaxy S5 and LG G3 in Wi-Fi reception.
But, the only issue we noticed was with the fluctuation in the networks that was very frequent, because the other smartphones held on to the faster networks (3G) even on low network, but the Moto X swiftly shifted to 2G, and that was quite annoying, for 2 reasons – the change does take the phone out of network for some time, and the data speeds are slow even on full network.
The problem was only with the data network, as the calls were great with both the networks. Sadly, we could not test the 4G network speeds on the Moto X, which works pretty great in the US, as suggested by the users there.
The actual negative feedback from users was given about the battery, because most of them reported that the battery didn’t last even for an average day’s usage. For me, it was all good and the phone could stay till the end of the day on a single charge, but yes, this isn’t a smartphone with a great battery life.
As shared in the screenshots above, on a very normal usage, the battery lasted for over a day, where the usage was limited to mostly Wi-Fi, very limited data network connectivity and regular calls and some internet browsing. That’s how most of us use a smartphone on daily basis, except when traveling (relying mostly on Data network for Internet connectivity).
But yes, that is quite an issue when you are navigating using Google Maps, where the data network, GPS (on high accuracy) and the screen are turned on at the same time. There was a quick battery drain noticed, and the heating up worsened it. If you are someone gaming a lot, and choosing the Moto X particularly for the good internal power it has got for high-end gaming, do keep in mind that you will see the phone not lasting for long.
The speaker on the front is placed at the right spot, and I do miss the dual stereo speakers that are given in the Moto G 2nd gen, because here, it is a single one on the top (under the same grill where earpiece is located). The sound output, though, is awesome. That is what makes me miss the dual stereo speakers on this. But yes, compromises were to happen to keep the device slim enough, and although the front has similar raised grill both above and below the display, there is only the microphone under the bottom grill.
It indeed didn’t produce the sound quality of BoomSound speakers that are packed into the HTC devices, but still, we aren’t talking about any compromises. It is good enough to give a good experience, with crisp and clear sound output.
One other issue to notice with the Moto X bamboo back, is that the back panel has started coming out (about 1 mm though), and although I am assured this is not anything to worry about, it doesn’t happen on the black back one, but is seen with only the bamboo back cover.
I started the review saying how much I love the design of the new Moto X, and the ending would be on the same time. This is one of the best looking smartphones, from every angle. The Bamboo back is very good to feel, smooth and very much better than the Black variant.
The performance is swift, the phone never broke a sweat and that is what you love on a flagship smartphone. Moreover, the polished Android with no huge bloatware, keeping things clean. That is what we see from Motorola always, and that is what makes the Moto series a good choice against the others. Those sensors on the front add up to the great experience.
For the price it is selling at, the Moto X is the best choice. But, the storage of 16GB can be an issue for most in India, because the Bamboo back version has only one storage variant, and no option of expansion. And the camera on the new Moto X isn’t the best to compare with the flagships.
But for those looking for a smartphone with great Android experience, look no where around. This simply enters the list of best smartphones of 2014.