Moto X (2014) Review: Forgotten Nexus

Overview

If you were to pick any phone that offers pure, stock Android, what would it be? The monstrous Nexus 6? Maybe the more pocketable Nexus 5? Or perhaps you’d be thinking of the OnePlus One? But there’s another phone that you probably haven’t thought about which belonging to this small family of purists, a phone that has mostly gone unnoticed within Singapore shores: the Moto X.

Editor’s note: All of our reviews on Twenty First Tech, unless otherwise stated, involves the reviewer using the device as his/her daily driver for a period of 2 weeks or more. This is to ensure the most accurate and unbiased reviews possible for our readers, based on actual user experience and day-to-day performance rather than just specs and tests alone.

Pros:

  • Pure Android 5.0 out of the box
  • Excellent performance all-around
  • Full HD AMOLED screen is a joy to look at
  • Impeccable build quality and ergonomic design
  • Front-firing speaker
  • Affordable off-contract price for a flagship

Cons:

  • Camera performance is disappointing
  • Battery life is only average
  • Purchasing it is a bit of a problem

Introduction

Moto X

Singaporeans can be forgiven for their oversight of the Moto X considering the absence of Motorola from the local market. Ever since the RAZR and Atrix 2, Motorola devices have somehow vanished from the local telco stores. But if you have been following Motorola closely, you might have known that they were bought by Google. And you might have been excited over the announcement of the original Moto X in 2013, only to be disappointed that it never hit Singapore shores (until mid-2014, that is). And you might also have heard about the creation of the 2nd generation Moto X before they were eventually bought over by Lenovo.

This is the Moto X (2014), officially here in Singapore. Motorola is back, and while their re-entry to the market has gone largely unnoticed, their flagship Moto X (2014) is certainly something you should be paying attention to. But first, let’s start with the specs:

  Motorola Moto X (2014)
Display 5.2”, 1080p AMOLED display
Camera 13 MP, dual ring LED flash/2MP, 1080p front-facing
Video Recording 2160p/4K
Processor 2.5 GHz Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801
GPU Adreno 330
RAM 2 GB
Storage 16 GB, no micro-SD slot
Battery 2300 mAh, removable battery
Other Water-resistant, NFC, LTE

Hardware, Design and Build Quality

Moto X and box

While the original Moto X received praise for its ergonomic contours and economic design, many were left displeased at its choice of materials. Wrapped completely in polycarbonate, while it wasn’t exactly cheap-feeling, the 1st gen Moto X left users craving for a little more.

The Moto X (2014), however, takes the design language of the original Moto X one step further. Gone are the polycarbonate sides, replaced by shiny metal edges. The new Moto X breathes quality that every flagship of today should possess – a level of quality that Samsung seems to have just picked up.

Touring the device, you’ll find the volume rocker and textured power button right, SIM tray and headphone jack at the top, and micro USB port on the bottom. The soft-touch plastic non-removable back is home to the 13 MP camera surrounded by a dual-LED ring flash, and the iconic Motorola dimple right below.

There are a couple of things that you should note regarding the curves on this device: First of all, the device curves around the sides, meaning in a way such that the overall bulk of the phone is in the middle and the metal rims become deceptively slim. Secondly, the device curves in such a way that the top of the device is thicker than the bottom. You should take a look at the pictures to get a better understanding of this.

Moto X side

I was initially concerned that the latter curvature would mean that the device would be top-heavy, making it rather tricky to hold (like the Lumia 830). But after 2 weeks of using this device, I’ve found that this is not the case. On the contrary, handling is top-notch.

Despite being a rather thick – 10mm thick at its thickest point – phone, due to the curves of the device, it feels just as thin as any other flagship phone out there. In fact, the curved back has the added bonus of resting nicely onto your palm, and the Motorola dimple serves its purpose well as I found my index finger to be naturally resting within the dimple’s smooth metal shell when answering calls.

The iconic Motorola dimple
The iconic Motorola dimple

Suffice to say, this is one of the best-designed phones out there, not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but also from a functional one. Gently curved gorilla glass 3 up-front covering a wonderfully thinly-bezeled display; front-firing speaker at the bottom; and the curved back, all lead to a delightful user experience, and a refreshing departure from the increasingly flat and boxy designs of phones these days.

Speaking of that speaker, while it may appear that the Moto X has duo front-firing stereo speakers, the truth is that only the bottom rim functions as a speaker. A disappointment, yes, but I’d take a front-firing speaker over the bottom-firing speakers of the iPhone 6 and Galaxy S6 any day. Plus the speakers are considerably loud with little distortion of sound even at loud volumes, so I have no complaints here.

When it comes to build, the Moto X simply will not disappoint.

Display

Moto X display

Nearly the entire front of the phone is taken up by its 5.2” 1080p AMOLED display. AMOLED is a rather rare technology on Android devices other than those belonging to Samsung (since Samsung owns the technology), with most manufacturers opting for more conventional IPS LCD displays. Some might prefer the more vivid colours and deeper blacks of AMOLED panels, while others my find them a tad too oversaturated; it’s really up to personal preference.

In any case, an AMOLED panel makes sense for the Moto X, simply because of Motorola’s Moto Display feature, which is similar to Nokia’s Glance Screen, just infinitely more useful. AMOLEDs work such that individual pixels – only the ones that are needed – light up, while the rest remain turned off, saving power. Since Moto Display is mostly black, an AMOLED panel should save more power than an LCD one when using this feature. More on Moto Display later under the Software section.

One of the reasons why the Moto X looks so good is because of its ultra-thin bezels. This also contributes to its surprisingly good handling despite its large 5.2” screen. The screen itself is also beautiful. Viewing angles are great, the 1080p panel is pleasantly sharp, and AMOLED really make the colourful Lollipop UI pop.

My only gripe with this display is that it seems to suffer from the same issue that the Nexus 6 has: when set to minimum brightness the whites tend to have a pinkish hue. This isn’t exactly a deal breaker, and frankly it hasn’t bothered me much, but it’s there. And noticeably so.

Performance

Powering the Moto X is a Snapdragon 801 chipset, the standard for 2014 flagships. It’s no 805 or 810, but the 801 is able to hold its own pretty well as a member of the 800 series. In my 2 weeks of using the device, the Moto X held out well in most situations, performing even in the most demanding scenarios.

There was the occasional stutter and lag, such as the long time it takes for YouTube to open, but those are likely issues with Android Lollipop or the individual apps than anything else. Android Lollipop is fluid as ever, and the animations just fly on the Moto X. It’s safe to say that this is one of the best performing Android devices I’ve reviewed to date. The Snapdragon 801 isn’t 64 bit though, so it is unable to fully take advantage of Lollipop.

Check out the benchmark scores below:

AnTuTu

In AnTuTu, an extremely comprehensive benchmark software, the Moto X performs extremely strongly, beating out all of 2014’s flagships save the Xperia Z3.

BrowserMark 2.1

In BrowserMark 2.1, a test for web-browsing, the Moto X (2014) is simply unbeatable, posting a strong score to go top.

Vellamo

The story is the same in Vellamo, where the Moto X is far ahead of the 2014 flagships indicating that Motorola gave no quarter in maximising the performance of the device.

The synthetic benchmarks back up what we’ve seen in real-world usage – with this chipset and stock-as-it-gets Lollipop, you’re hardly going to see lag on this smartphone.

Motorola’s Software

Although the Moto X is largely pure Android 5.0 Lollipop, Motorola has added some of its own software features to enhance the user experience.

Moto Display
Moto Display

The first major feature is Moto Display, which I’ve found to be extremely useful. Just like Nokia’s Glance feature, you can wave your hand over the phone to bring up Moto Display, which shows you the time, plus any notifications that you might have. If you do not have any notifications, you can tap on the lock icon and swipe down to unlock the phone. If you do have a notification, the icon of the app will appear. Tapping and holding the icon will display more information about the notification. For example, here I have a Facebook message from Roscoe, who sent me a link. If I want to reply to him, I simply swipe up and Facebook Messenger will open.

Moto Display action
Actionable notifications on Moto Display

Moto Display is great, but there is one major issue: on hot and humid days (which is effectively every single day in Singapore), the sweat in your pocket can and will unlock the phone via Moto Display. This has happened to me thrice in a span of two days, and it has proven to be extremely annoying. On one occasion, the phone ended up sending a pitch black image to my father on whatsapp, after taking 33 photos and 5 videos of my pocket, Google searching random phrases, and opening up a bunch of apps. I only figured out that something was amiss when the phone went extremely hot in my pocket, straining from both the intense heat of the equatorial sun as well as the processing torture that my pocket had put it through.

If you disable Moto Display, the phone will certainly not unlock in your pocket. But Moto Display is such a useful feature that toggling it off every time you go out into the sun and on again every time you’re indoors is a huge burden.

Moto Voice

The second best feature is Moto Voice. Unlike Google’s voice activation feature where you can search simply by saying “OK Google” when the screen is on, you can customise your Moto X to respond to anything, such as “OK Moto X” or “What’s up Bro?” And the Moto X will respond even when the device is sleeping and lying several metres away from you. It’ll then bring up Google Now for most of your requests, including setting reminders. In my two weeks I haven’t actually used the feature, other than to show it off to my friends. So I guess it doesn’t really have much practical use in most situations. But hey, it’s cool to have.

Other than this, Motorola has promised a fast track of updates to the almost pure Android software. While it’s not as fast as the Nexus line, it shouldn’t be too far off. You’ll be assured that the Moto X will be updated promptly when the next version of Android is released.

Camera

Moto x camera

The Moto X has a 13MP shooter with a dual LED ring flash. Image quality is decent in bright sunlight, though focusing is an issue no matter how bright it is. There are times where shots are just completely out of focus, making shooting with this device a frustrating experience. On the bright side, when you do get the focus to work, image quality is good. At night though, the photos taken have plenty of noise, so I wouldn’t exactly count on this for good low-light shots. Optical image stabilisation is also lacking, which probably partially accounts for the blurry photos.

Perhaps the greatest feature of the Moto X’s camera is its motion gestures: a simple double flick of your wrist at any time will launch the camera, even if it’s asleep. Another double flick while you’re in the camera interface will activate the front facing camera. I’ve found this to be extremely useful for snapping photos.

Here are some shots that did turn out well:

You can opt for both a 4:3 aspect ratio (13MP) or 16:9 aspect ratio (9.7MP). 4:3 shots have plenty of detail in those 13 megapixels (when they’re in focus that is), and HDR works well.

4K video is present on the device, and video quality is generally good. Once again though, the lack of optical image stabilisation might mean that the videos won’t be the smoothest. Check out the video samples below:

Day (2160p/4K):

Day (1080p):

Night (2160p/4K):

Night (1080p):

All in all, the camera is definitely an area of improvement for Motorola. Given the availability of the Camera2 API in Lollipop for RAW images, and Samsung’s superb choice of image sensor, there is no reason for the next Moto X to be disappointing in this area.

Battery Life

Battery life is an important aspect of every phone. For the Moto X, the battery life was somewhat of a question mark. The smaller than usual battery plus an AMOLED panel (which, through experience, I’ve found to be more power-hungry in most cases) meant that the Moto X had a real threat of being a poor performer in the battery department.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the Moto X’s battery life is decent. It’s neither good, nor bad; just average for a smartphone. If you use your phone a lot like me, with constant WhatsApping, video watching, web browsing and gaming, you’ll typically find yourself with 20% or less at the end of the day after around 4 hours of screen-on time. Like I said, it’s not terrible like the Nokia Lumia 925 or Nexus 5, but there’s certainly room for improvement.

GSMarena gave the phone an endurance rating of 53 hours after the Lollipop update. As a rough gauge, I typically consider 60 hours and higher as “good”, and anything below 50 hours as bad. So GSMarena’s scoring pretty much confirms the Moto X’s battery as “average”.

If you do need to go the extra mile, Android’s built-in battery saver is available to help squeeze out more juice from the device by disabling all of lollipop’s animations, dimming the screen, and restricting background apps.

Pricing and Conclusion

Moto X box

The Moto X (2014) is a brilliant device, with an impeccable build and great software straight out of the box, unfortunately let down by a poor camera and “meh” battery life. That’s really all there is to it. The Moto X’s official price is $765, but you can get it for as low as $550. The big question though, is this: Where can I buy one?? A Google search won’t yield any results, especially since you can’t get it from any of the three telcos or from retailers like Challenger and Harvey Norman. We’ve compiled a list of stores that officially sell the Moto X below, including some of their prices. Most of these shops are selling them at prices lower than the SRP, and I’ve found a couple of them which sell it for $550. They even throw in a 1 year official Motorola warranty and some free gifts.

DEALERS ADDRESS
Digivue Pte Ltd 109 North Bridge Road #02-04 Funan Centre
HiTec Mobile ($550) 109 North Bridge Road  #04-37 Funan Digitalife SG 179097
IT 3 Concepts 304 Orchard Road #B1-63, Lucky Plaza SG 238863
Kosttel Pte Ltd/MSSTATION 2 Serangoon Road # 01-03 , The Verge (S)218227
Red White Mobile ($550) 2 Handy Road #04-11 The Cathay SG 229233
Remo Comm Pte Ltd No 65, Ubi Road 1 #02-92 Oxley Bizhub
T2 Electronics 304 Orchard Road B1-159 SG
redwhite Mobile #04-11, 2 Handy Road, Singapore 229233

Would I buy this phone? The short answer is yes, I probably would. The Moto X sits at the top of my list of Android phones to get, alongside the Xperia Z3 and OnePlus One. It’s a great device for an affordable off-contract price of slightly over $500 at certain stores, and it comes with an official 1 year Motorola warranty. There are only a few phones that offer such a great pure Android experience, namely the Nexus line and the OnePlus One. But the OnePlus One doesn’t have warranty, so that’s a risk you’ll have to take. This isn’t the U.S. so you can’t use Moto Maker to customise your phone in wooden or leather backs, but the black soft touch plastic feels premium enough for me.

There’s a reason why the Nexus 6 is modelled after the Moto X.

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