Moto X

After a late arrival in the UK and mainland Europe, how does the Moto X shape up?

After a five-month wait, European consumers finally got the Moto X this February. A significant launch for Moto’s European arm, it’s occurring as the company prepares to enter yet another period of transition following the Lenovo acquisition.

Industry drama aside, the Moto X the most high-profile Motorola smartphone to hit European shores in at least a couple of years, and undoubtedly the company’s best effort to date. For that reason, the Moto X was our favorite phone of 2013, beating competition from HTC and Samsung. But in contrast to its US launch, the European Moto X is positioned more as a mid-range companion to the Moto G, rather than a competitor to the raft of new high-end Androids appearing in the next month.

In our “casual review” of the European Moto X, we’re not going to re-hash everything we’ve already covered in our full Moto X review and six-month look-back. Instead we’re going to reflect on some general thoughts on the device after three weeks of use, and consider where it belongs in the wider Android marketplace.

So how does the Moto X fit into this new mid-range role, and is it still worth a look so long after its global debut? Let’s take a look...

Moto X

Old hardware is new again

As close to a perfectly ergonomic phone as any handset available today.

On the outside, the Moto X is as close to a perfectly ergonomic phone as any handset available today. The back, particularly on the soft-touch woven black model I’ve been using, feels comfortable but classy. The buttons are all in the right places, and the use of minimal bezels has enabled Moto to pack a 4.7-inch display into the same footprint as the 4.3-inch Xperia Z1 Compact. Other phones might look flashier, but nothing comes close to the in-hand feel and ease of use of the Moto X.

At the heart of the Moto X lies Motorola’s “X8” computing system, which is an arrangement of smoke, mirrors and marketing designed to mask the fact that it’s basically a 1.7GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro doing most of the number-crunching. (That’s backed up by an assortment of low-power components to enable the Moto X’s excellent context-sensitive features, of course.) But Motorola need not be ashamed of the CPU running its phone, as it’s managed to unleash phenomenal performance from this relatively modest chip. Thanks to optimized software, the Moto X feels just as fast to use as any Snapdragon 800 phone, with the exception of the Nexus 5. And with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 320 GPU running a 720p display, there’s plenty of power for gaming too.

Moto X

Battery-wise, the phone packs a 2200mAh cell, which is about average for this kind of device, and I found battery life to be comfortably above average, though not outstanding. With the exception of the camera, there was no regular task that seemed to take a huge toll on the Moto X’s battery, but the device did seem to use more power when idling than I expected, especially compared to more modern Snapdragon-powered phones. That’s most likely due to large number of always-on features, such as Active Display and Touchless Control, rather than any software defect. Nevertheless, I did feel somewhat oversold on the longevity of the Moto X, which Moto claims has a 24-hour battery. Using the device at Mobile World Congress recently, I could comfortably kill it in well under that time without really trying. Regardless, it compares favorably against many Android competitors like the (2013) HTC One and Nexus 5.

The Moto X's poor camera is almost a deal-breaker.

So where does the Moto X’s hardware really fall down? For me, the relatively poor camera experience is almost a deal-breaker. It’s possible to get good shots out of the Moto X’s camera with patience, a steady hand and HDR mode locked on all the time. Even then, there’s way more chroma noise than we’d consider to be acceptable. Using the camera without HDR mode is a recipe for disappointment, and using it with HDR enabled is a chore. So many other manufacturers offer a much better Android camera experience.

Ironically, the Moto X’s most innovative quick gesture is the one used to activate its worst feature. The “wiggle” gesture for quickly loading into the camera app is the fastest of any Android camera shortcut I’ve used, including phones with dedicated camera keys.

Moto X

Stock Android, plus-or-minus ...

This is almost pure 'Google' Android — but not quite.

Because it was the first product of the Moto-Google alliance, what you see on the Moto X is mostly pure Android 4.4 KitKat, just as Google intended. To the untrained eye — ignoring the phone’s wealth of value-add features, of course — it’s almost identical to what you get on the Nexus 5. And there’s still something about the darker appearance of stock Android that to me looks better on an AMOLED display like the Moto X’s.

But this isn’t exactly “Google” Android. You don’t get the Google Now launcher — though it’s easy to sideload onto the X, and that’s exactly what I did a few days in. Similarly, the Moto X’s dialer closely imitates the look of the Nexus’s phone app, but lacks the Google caller ID feature, and the ability to lookup nearby places. It’s stock Android, not necessarily Nexus Android. That’s not Moto’s fault — those features aren’t up for grabs by third-party manufacturers, even ones (for the moment) owned by Google. But it’s worth considering when the Nexus 5 and Moto X are so closely priced in Europe right now.

That Moto has built its own features on top of stock Android rather than diverting engineering hours into an all-singing, all-dancing “skin” is a good thing. Even when it’s developed its own applications — such as the camera or gallery apps — it’s stuck closely to the look of vanilla Android.

A few game-changing features

Active display distils the process of checking your phone down to simply pointing it at your face.

Many manufacturers claim to offer features that’ll change the way you use a smartphone. The Moto X is unique in that it actually delivers on this lofty promise. And it does so by adding features so simple yet ridiculously useful that they quickly work their way into your smartphone-using routine. For me, the best example is active display, which pulses notifications on-screen, allowing you to swipe up to jump into that specific app, or down to unlock normally. Active display isn’t just useful because it makes this stuff easier to see — it also distils the process of checking your phone down to one action: lifting it up and pointing it at your face.

That’s one action versus three (on the average Android phone), which might not sound like much, but multiply that by the number of times each day you’re turning your phone on, and it soon adds up.

Trusted Bluetooth

Trusted Bluetooth has made me less terrible at smartphone security.

At the same time the trusted Bluetooth feature, which disables lock screen security when a certain device (for example, a fitness accessory or smartwatch) is connected, has made me less terrible at smartphone security. I’m usually way too lazy to set any lock screen security on my devices, and with this ridiculously simple feature Moto makes it too easy to ignore. The fact that the device offers to walk you through trusted Bluetooth setup means average users are likely to actually use it, too.

Rounding off the trifecta of Moto magic is Touchless Control, which I’ve found myself using the least of all the manufacturer’s extra features. It’s an always listening mode that lets you tell the phone to do stuff by uttering the phrase “OK Google Now.” It works pretty well, is usually quick to respond, and the list of stuff you can do without touching the Moto X is growing all the time. Yet I just didn’t find myself using it all that much during my time with the phone. If I’m indoors, it’s always easier to reach over and check up on things — chances are what I’m looking for will be waiting for me on the active display anyway. If I’m out in public, I’m not going to talk to my phone.

Maybe it comes down to the kind of smartphone user I am, but I just didn’t use it much beyond the initial novelty phase. Your mileage may vary, I suppose.

Moto X

I want high-end Moto phone

I don't want to choose between high-end hardware and the Moto X's unique features.

The Moto X is probably the best mid-range Android phone you can buy, even seven months after its release. With the exception of the camera, even its least compelling parts are merely average rather than terrible. The 720p display isn’t stunning, but it gets the job done. And it might not be able to boast the latest quad- or octa-core chipset, but it’s got enough power to do what it needs to do. Considered from a European perspective, it’s a solid mid-level phone with plenty of unique features that are actually useful rather than superfluous fluff.

Unfortunately, the Moto X’s delayed European arrival has forced it out of the high-end category in the UK, France and Germany. And when the device was unveiled in London in mid-January there was a feeling among some journalists we spoke to that it was too little, too late. Now that I’ve used it, I have to say I disagree that the Moto X offers too little... but a six-month delay in the current smartphone market certainly is way too late.

But here’s the thing — I want a proper high-end Moto X. In the next year I’d really like to see a phone with the Moto X’s fantastic software features that also boasts an eye-popping display, a really great camera and a little more internal storage. (The 32GB Moto X is still MIA in the UK.) It’s a first world problem, but I don’t want to have to choose between active display, trusted Bluetooth and the ergonomics of the Moto X — and the top-notch hardware offered by rivals. With the Lenovo takeover looming, perhaps in time we’ll see a true high-end Motorola handset arrive on the global stage.

Until then, the choice between the Moto X and Google’s own Nexus 5 at the £300 price point is a tough one, and a decision that’s ultimately going to to come down to specs versus features. The Nexus 5 still represents unmatched value for money, with a better screen, faster performance and a superior camera. But for normal people the Moto X, with its context-sensitive features, perfect ergonomics and ease-of-use, might just win out.

More: Moto X, six months on

 

Reader comments

Moto X in Europe: The Android Central casual review

64 Comments

Midrange? The Moto X is a high end phone. Don't let the 720p screen fool you. 2GB of RAM, 8 processing cores, Touchless controls, and Active Display makes this an amazing phone high end phone and a phone you can recommend to EVERYBODY. I will continue to praise the Moto X unless the successor is better.

EDIT: Smoke and mirrors on the extra processors? Wut?

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The problem is the definition of high end today means "best possible specs available." I don't agree with it, but to people that get new phones as soon as they come out, I could see why someone would say the moto x is not high end.

via N7

How is it marketing if it is true? Not much marketing for the Moto X in the first place I'm afraid.

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How about you do a little google search and find out for yourself before you try "educating" people who've owned, reviewed, and loved the Moto X for months. It's midrange...and sweet.

Well, technically, there aren't 8 processing "cores"; at least they can't all work together as they seem to imply. There ARE 2 general computing CPU cores, 4 compute units in the GPU (which are not heterogeneous, so they can't help the CPU), and 2 ultra-low power DSPs (1 sensor hub, 1 contextual processing chip).

However, there are a TON of misconceptions about the Snapdragon S4 Pro in the Moto X. It's NOT the same S4 Pro as you'd find in 2012, so it is 2013 hardware and has been updated. Technically, it's not mid-range, but you could call it upper-mid compared to the power of the S800 now. But at release time, it was certainly high-end as other phones were shipping with the S600, which the Moto X mostly has albeit minus 2 general processing cores.

Here's what it packs:
2 Krait 300 CPU cores (same Krait architecture as the S600)
24 ALU (1 compute unit has 6 ALUs, 6x4CU), 2nd generation 86.4GFLOPs Adreno 320 (also from the S600); this is an upgrade from the 16 ALU Adreno 320 found in the Nexus 4's S4 Pro
2GB low-latency Hynix LPDDR2 RAM (so it's not an S600 die as that has LPDDR3)
F2FS file system on user data partition
+
2 companion DSPs that help offload work from the CPU (sensor functions and always listening voice controls)

So aside from not having quad cores and LPDDR3, this "S4 Pro" is actually more like an S600. The GS4 uses the APQ8064AB, which is speed enhanced (1.9GHz max, 450MHz GPU). The nearest equal is the 2013 HTC One which uses the same 1.7GHz max and 400MHz GPU Snapdragon 600.

So, if you want to be a spec whore, at least make an effort to know what the MSM8960DT (or MSM8960Pro) really is. It's basically a dual-core Snapdragon 600.

I just read an article about GPUs.. They raised the question on what exactly a "core" really is. The author seemed to lean towards a core being able to "execute"on it's own.. which many of the "cores" in this Tegra chip cannot do. I'm no expert. I rely on others to tell me what's what in this area but what the author said, made sense. Obviously, that was his interpretation. I'm sure if this thing performs, it'll make the definition clear on what a core is. At least to me.

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all 192 cores from the tegra k1 have the capability to "execute" on its own. it has 192 fully programmable Cuda cores.

Its mid ranged because its priced at mid range, this phone in the UK is far cheaper than what the latest samsung, HTC and Iphone is

I use touch less control mostly to set alarms and reminders for stuff. Every once in a while I use it to search.

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I consider it midrange, but it is still my daily driver. As mentioned by several people before, I have yet to find a phone that feels better in my hand. It's also plenty fast for the tasks I throw at it. Although it's true, for European consumers, way to late too create the buzz it did in the states.

Unfortunately, not really. It didn't sell well in America and it will sell even less here. It's a shame but it's the truth

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It arrived half a year late, without Moto Maker and cost £380. Where is the attraction when, for example, the Nexus 5 arrived months earlier and cost significantly less for the 32GB version let alone the 16GB one?

Maybe midrange specs, but it's the best smartphone you can buy in my opinion

Sent from my Galaxy S4 running SlimKat 4.4.2

I have both, the nexus 5 and moto x, i use the moto x as my work phone, couldnt be happier with it! except i didnt realise it didnt have the caller ID, i get alot of people ringing me sell me stuff for work so when i had my nexus 4 it was nice knowing who was ringing and what company they rang from. I hope this gets added at some point

I sold my nexus 5 and switched to the Moto X. Once moto X got to the Nexus 5 price point it became the best bang for buck. The dual core processor is fast and feels like its running on a high end processor.

There is no lag at all and the screen has more vibrant colors than the nexus 5. The size of the moto X also beats the Nexus 5 in ergonomics and one hand use. The features absolutely rocks. Moto X beats all the high end smart phones as of today.

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Well that makes two of you...it pales in comarison to the Nexus 5 in every single way besides opinion based things like form factor and some hands free uses. It's fair to compare it to a Nexus 4...yes I have had both. It's a joke for a gamer and/or superuser/tinkerer.

Another thing to note, when the X got the 4.4.2 upgrade, the camera did improve... Significantly, in my opinion. The noise has been decreased (especially in low light), the contrast is much better, and the sharpness also got a boost. A much more useful camera now (night and day from the 4.4 processing). Hopefully Europe will see the update soon as well.

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And it still is the second worst camera released last year on a flagship phone

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You really should see the crap I don't post. Sorry if honesty offends you

I took pics at the beach in Laguna Beach, Ca and they were spectacular. Color and contrast were amazing. Bullshit about the camera.

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I don't see the point in buying the moto X. It's out too late for it to make a splash here in Europe. I'm more interested if Motorola makes a moto X 2 or something similar.

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What would that be? It's a has been phone with mediocre specs at best that Motorola are trying to hype. It kinda feels like a emperor with his new clothes. There is far more value in buying a moto g.

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The point is that specs do not make a phone. I had a Note 2, S4, HTC One, LG G2 and none of those compare to my Moto X. Touchless controls, active and read-aloud notifications greeted by your name, trusted bluetooth, NFC unlock, what phone does all that now aside from the Moto X? None! I use my phone for work and pleasure and it performs perfectly.

If you want specs then get the latest and greatest. To each it's own.

Yeah, if you want to be one of those morons that talk to their phone in public places. I liked it driving but you Moto X guys REALLY overstate it's usefulness...in my opinion. So you think the Moto X couldn't have everything you've just stated AND significantly higher specs? It most certainly could have. Please don't give me the price point, it was released as a very expensive device and didn't sell for shiite so they had to do a fire sale.

Spoken like someone who thinks everyone who participates deserves a medal at the end, just for participating.

The point is the cost is too high for what you actually get and, as most people get it on contract, it is futile to opt for middle of the road hardware that is already behind the current curve particularly with the next wave of smart phones arriving imminently. The uncertainty regarding the Lenovo deal is another nail in the coffin.

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How long do you think contracts are going to last here? Smart Phones are becoming commodity and the manufactures aren't going to be able to prop up the price behind contracts withe carriers much longer.
You are correct with Moto X being price too high initially however now it is hovering right around 300 to 400 USD.

I'd say this is only the beginning for Moto. They basically made a cheap proof-of-concept with comparatively low specs and internals, but charged a premium for it. Maybe it didn't sell well, but their 'mid-range' phone has all the functionality and speed of the best the competition has to offer. Plus they put out a few really useful apps that nobody else has and have basically revolutionized smartphone use. Case in point, AC naming it the best smartphone of 2013 up against the Nexus 5, GS4, HTC One and LG G2.

Now, hopefully Moto will take this experience and put out a phone with the same ergonomics, same small bezels to fit a 5" screen in a tiny body, continue to use Active Notifications and Touchless control, but put big specs in it to blow away the competition. Because obviously having the highest numbers in every category (screen size, resolution, storage, RAM, etc) is the only way to win mass approval.

No, you need to have the money to throw at marketing the device. Google always said Moto would be a completely separate entity, and they didn't open their wallet. Hopefully Lenovo will as the Moto X could definitely be a "for everyone" type of device.

As it was objectively not the best phone your 'case in point' is rendered irrelevant. I will equally discard your ridiculous 'revolutionized smartphone use' hyperbole.

Do you have an X? I'll guess no. Guys that exclusively review phones for a living named it the best phone, but I guess you're opinion matters more than theirs, eh? Plus if you haven't used active notifications, you have no idea how much it improves phone use. Think about it next time you pull your phone out of your pocket, push the power button, swipe to unlock, then swipe to see your notifications.

A single useful software feature does not a best phone make. Particularly when said phone has numerous clear flaws. I have no doubt the 'Made in the USA' campaign, it being a Google owned product and the newness of it in relation to rivals influenced the vote. By any objective measure it is not the best phone.

Please point out these clear flaws. And not having top of the line specs doesn't count. 720p screen? Still looks every bit as good as any 1080p screen I've seen. Old processor? Still as fast or faster than anything with a Snap 800 or whatever.

Ok, so the camera isn't the best one ever put in a phone. Good enough for FB posts.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, to each his own. But there are a few things that will mislead the average user if they stumble across this review: (1) I've found Touchless Control to be very useful (and have it trained to respond to "OK Moto" rather than "OK Google Now"). I use it a lot. (2) The camera is much improved over the last couple of updates and takes very good pictures in many conditions. (3) I have never experienced a performance lag. Never. With that in mind, what does the CPU clock speed matter? (4) What's the big deal about Google Now Launcher? If I want Google Now, I simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen. There must be more to the Google Now Launcher than I realize. (5) Active Display does drain the battery some. My solution it to simply turn the phone over if I don't need it, like at night.

Good points about the ergonomic shape and the wealth of value-added features. To me, this is a near-perfect phone.

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On it's release the Moto X was the phone I really wanted to get my hands on and it might have tempted me away from my family of Nexus phones, but alas here in the UK we were not considered worthy and we missed out. But good things comes to those that wait....

Nooooo not the Moto X, but the Nexus 5 silly!!!

Not only the superior specs, but larger storage and available off the shelves here.

I too believe this phone was just a little too late to the European party, please learn this lesson for the future Motorola (Lenova!)

I've been thinking about what really makes a device top end or mid range.. You can throw price and specs into it but in the end, it's which device someone chooses. I have the N5, G2.. This years flagship's. I prefer the X. Over high resolutions, Snapdragon 800 and 5in+ screens. Don't get me wrong, I love my G2 and N5.. even my S4 (even with TW oh my!), but I prefer the X. I'm still a spec junky and jump back and forth between my devices but if I had only one choice, you know what it'd be. Now, this is where Motorola hurt themselves. They had to know, despite the experience the X offers, it wouldn't be considered top end by many. Also, because of all the reviews saying "despite the specs, it's an awesome phone" , the average person would see this and would rather take their chances on a device that a reviewer or sales person DIDN'T and some point, take time to defend the specs. No, most users don't care about specs but if they've just come off a 2 year contract, they know what a slow device feels like. They may not know what those specs mean but they know that a lack of, will give them the experience they are trying to get away from. Just think how it may have turned out if Moto had incorporated the Snap 600 into their chip instead. Not the best but at least they could say it was the same processor the S4 has but with extra cores!

The end.

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The architecture of the Moto X soc is very close to the Sbapdragon 600 except a few changes, albeit dual core.
Also when it come to stock android and KitKat, and today's specs, the concern of a "slow" phone isn't an issue anymore. It will be more than adequate to run any future version of Android. The concern now are other things like GPU for very highend games, camera, storage, display. The cpu performance isn't a concern anymore unless people are beginning to do professional video editing and mine for bitcoins using their cellphones.

Of course, when you add LG UI or Touchwiz to the factor, you might need a faster CPU.

Haha. The funny thing is the Moto X is priced about 12.000.000VND (~600USD) in Vietnam. How the heck it could be ? :))

I don't know about you all, but I'm still pretty hyped about Moto's Ara Project (you know, that project with modules to ultra customize your phone). We're still far from that but it's still pretty interesting. Whenever that day comes, I'll buy it, making it the first Moto phone I have since the day I got rid of my old flip phone years back...

In the same way Sony seem to ignore the US (For whatever reason), Moto seem to ignore Europe. I hope that their new owners do not do so in the same way and continue to roll out Trusted Bluetooth and Active Notifications on more devices. Particularly phones such as Moto X 2 or 2014 or whatever they choose to call it.

Personally I am seriously considering the X as my daily driver to last me the 6 months or so till we're likely to see the Moto X 2014, and then have it as my spare. If Moto do not release the X 2014 in Europe in a reasonable timeframe after the US (IE within a month) then I think a lot of tech savvy people within EU will turn their backs on Moto, superb features or not. Which will be a real shame.

Picked up black and white Moto Xs for £250 each on eBay. They're great, love the size, battery life and active notifications. And that's coming from a Nexus 5 owner.

Haha... You Android guys are so funny. Getting all caught up in the minutia of what chip is best, 8 cores vs a gazillion cores. The guys at Snapdragon, Arm, and Intel are all laughing their way to the bank with their planned obsoletence schemes.

The truth is what matters is the user experience. Alex already said it's as fast as any SD800 phone. Done.

Engineers doing more with less should be applauded. So I applause you Moto engineers.