Motorola solidifies its position as the meat and potatoes of Android and serves up another helping of a palatable (if predictable) smartphone.
There's not a lot about the 2015 version of the Moto X — that is, the Pure Edition, or Moto X Style if you're outside the United States — that should surprise you, if you've at all been paying attention to what Motorola's been doing the past few years. Attractive (if not innovative) design. Stock Android, with a minimum of add-ons — and what custom software there is complements the Android experience instead of piling on.
That's been Motorola's MO since it got back to business in 2013, and it's Motorola's MO with its latest flagship smartphone.
So is this the phone to get at this point of 2015? Well, it depends.
Moto X Pure Edition Video walkthrough
About this review
We're writing this review after spending more than two weeks with a retail version of the Moto X Pure Edition (SKU XT1575) that we customized and purchased from MotoMaker.com. It's a 64-gigabyte model with a natural leather back, and a white and silver front with metallic silver trim, which got us out at $524.99. It's running Android 5.1.1 Lollipop (Build LPH23.116-18, System Version 23.21-18.clark_retus.retus.en.US retus).
Our testing of the Moto X was done on T-Mobile in Pensacola, Fla., with a weekend in New Orleans (whose French Quarter is notoriously bad on radio and battery) thrown in for good measure. We've had the Moto X connected to a Huawei Watch.
Moto X Pure Edition Hardware
If we've learned anything over the past few years, it's that Motorola still knows how to make hardware. (This is, after all, the same company that brought forth the original slider Droid that kickstarted Android into the mainstream.) The first Moto X greeted us with a palm-friendly, curvaceous phone that impressed in almost every way except one — the camera. The 2014 Moto X increased the size a bit (much the chagrin of some of us, but to the delight of others), and introduced leather backs — and gave us another disappointing camera.
It's bigger, and maybe better. But definitely bigger.
In 2015 we've got the same sort of body going on. But it's grown yet again — packing in a 5.7-inch display will do that. And while it's definitely smaller than than the gargantuan Motorola Nexus 6, the Moto X is larger than the sleek LG G4, and the same size as the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 — only thicker. The display, by the way, has switched to LCD instead of AMOLED. And it's a decent enough panel (we've heard rumors that the change has something to do with a future tech in future models down the road), and the Active Display functionality works just fine even with the switch. (More on that in our software section.)
And while size and what's "too big" is definitely a subjective measurement — and manufacturers have all kinds of data that'll tell you what consumers want — we're reminded of last year's concern over the Moto X. That as it's grown in stature, it's lost a little bit of what's made it special.
The overall feel also is attenuated by the back material you choose, of course. There are 10 "soft grip" colors to choose from, four wood backs and four leather backs. (The later two materials will increase the price by $25.) Different this year is that the leather is textured. That sort of gives it a cheaper feeling than how I remember the 2014 Moto X — and certainly not as supple as the leather became over the months of use.
But where I think I've noticed the biggest difference in feel first is with the metal strip down the back. The Motorola dimple is smaller, there's less leather around it, and more often than not my finger's hitting hard metal instead of soft calfskin. And secondly is where my fingers tend to hit the phone on its edges, around the screen. Whereas the 2014 Moto X had a glass screen that curved around before hitting the metal edge (OK, there's a nearly invisible seam in my black-on-black 2014 model), the Pure Edition very much has very little curve, and a more pronounced seam between the glass and plastic.
And, really, that's all exacerbated by the fact that the phone is just too damn big for my liking. And, again, it's not that any of that is necessarily bad. The phone is still very nicely designed, it just doesn't feel as nice as we've seen from Motorola. And maybe that's to be expected given the $399 starting price.
Elsewhere, I've found that I'm hitting the bottom of the power button more often than not, and it's been sticking a little bit as it depresses. (That may well just be operator error, or maybe it's a thing given that the phone itself is larger and the power button is just a tad taller than it was before and it doesn't sit quite as low on the side of the phone.)
A few other nuggets: The microSD card is housed in the SIM tray — a nice trick we've seen other manufacturers do before. And note the selfie flash in the upper right-hand corner of the front of the phone. It sticks out very slightly — not so much that you'd notice unless you ran your finger over it. But once you do, there's no un-seeing it. And hello, front-facing stereo speakers! (Glad to see their promotion from the Moto G line, but they're only good, not great.)
The short version on the Moto X Pure Edition Hardware? It's nice. It's maybe not quite as nice as the 2014 model, but then again the phone's a little more affordable now, and something's got to give.
Moto X Pure Edition Internals
Under the hood we've got a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor with Adreno 418 GPU, plus a Natural Language Processor and Contextual Computing Processor that lend a hand for the always-on voice activation Motorola's done so well with.
Specs are as expected, and battery life is adequate, but only just so.
As far as everyday performance goes, the Moto X has been a champ. Apps launch as smoothly as you'd expect, and the only time I've felt the phone get the least bit warm was when I was in a known dead spot for cellular service — aka downtown New Orleans.
I went for a 64-gigabyte model (upping the price by a cringe-worthy $100). What you actually get is a 53-gigabyte model, and I had about 47GB of that available at first launch (and after all the pre-installed apps had updated). So that's what you're working with if you know you're going to be loading this thing up with 4K video and full-res pictures and what not, at least internally. Do remember that you've got a SD card to work with if you so choose. (And the phone had no problem accessing my 128GB SD card.)
As for battery life, the 3,000 mAh battery was adequate, but only just so. I've routinely managed to get around 13 to 14 hours of use — from the time I unplug to the time I go to bed. Sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. What stood out more was the times I'd plug in to Android Auto (it's a 1A output) even for just 20 or 30 minutes during my commute I'd end up with a good bit more juice to spare. Is that "all-day" usage? Depends on your definition, and Quick Charge can go a long way. But you'll probably be plugging in nightly.
Moto X Pure Edition Specs
|Display||5.7-inch TFT LCD, 2560x1440 resolution (520 ppi)
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
|OS||Android 5.1.1 Lollipop|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core @ 1.8GHz
Adreno 418 GPU
Natural Language Processor, Contextual Computing Processor
|Storage||16, 32 or 64GB, SD card up to 128GB|
|Rear camera||21MP f/2.0, phase detect auto-focus, dual color correlated temperature flash
4K video at 30fps, slow motion video, HDR video
|Front camera||5MP f/2.0, wide-angle lens, night mode, flash|
|Battery||3000 mAh non-removable, Turbo Charging, Micro USB port|
|Cellular (US)||GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz
HSPA+ 800, 850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100MHz
LTE Band 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/20/25/28/40/41
|Connectivity||802.11ac + MIMO Wifi, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, NFC, GPS|
|Speakers||Front-facing stereo speakers with Smartboost|
|Dimensions||153.9 x 76.2 x 11.06 mm
|Water resistant||Water repellent nano-coating|
|Colors||Black lens, dark gray frame and accents, black back
White lens, silver frame and accents, bamboo back
Moto Maker support with 18 different backs and 7 different accents available
Moto X Pure Edition Software
Vanilla Android tastes as good as it ever has.
If by now you didn't guess what you'd be getting as far as software is concerned, you haven't been paying attention. The Moto X Pure Edition is running Android 5.1.1 out of the box, and it'll almost certainly be one of the first outside of Google's Nexus line to be updated to Android 6.0 Marshmallow. (Though Moto's head of software did tell me they'd perhaps rushed just a tad in with the Lollipop update, and so maybe we'll see a little hesitation in the coming weeks?) And on top of that we've got a smattering of customizations that truly are what have separated Motorola from just about everyone else.
The "Moto" app is the heart of the action. This is where you'll find Assist, Actions, Voice and Display. And there aren't really any drastic changes here. And the best part probably is that it's all very seamless and easy to use.
Let's break it down:
Think of this as an automator, wherein the phone will do specific things based on where you are or what you're doing. If you're at home, it can silence itself or read text messages and incoming callers aloud. Same goes for when you're at work. And new this year is the ability to set custom locations. (My only real complaint about any of this is that you end up with a persistent notification in your nav bar, but that's a small thing.)
Moto Assist also is where you'll want to set your do-not-disturb mode, which is noted here as just "Sleeping." This is still separate from the built in "Interruptions" and "Downtime" inherent to Android, but the two no longer conflict with each other. (In fact, just ignore that previous sentence even exists and just use the "Sleeping" mode.)
Gestures and the like aren't exactly new for smartphones (we've been flipping them over to silence them forever, right?), but Motorola quickly became an innovator. And that continues in the new Moto X, albeit incrementally this year. Here's how it shakes out. (Pun in tended.)
- Approach for Moto Display: This uses the sensors on the front of the phone — they're clearly visible on white fronts, and invisible on black fronts — to tell when you're coming at the phone and pops up information on the darkened screen. One of the most useful things you'll find on a smartphone today. Just wave your hand over the phone to see what time it is and whether you have any notifications waiting.
- Chop twice for flashlight: You move your hand in a chopping motion to turn the flashlight off and on. I can't get it to work 100 percent of the time. But when it does work, it's handy as hell. The phone vibrates twice to tell you the flashlight is turned on, which seems superfluous because if it's dark and the flashlight turns out, you'll definitely know it.
- Lift for Moto Voice: This may be the coolest new addition. Raise the phone to your ear like you're talking to someone, then whisper sweet nothings to the phone, just like you'd do to issue commands if it were sitting on a desk or table. Only now you don't look and sound like a crazy person barking orders at a phone. Plus you'll keep everyone else from hearing the reply. "Did the Bears lose again?" ... "Yes, Phil, you know they did."
- Twist for quick capture: One of my favorite features from the original Moto X. Twist your wrist twice like you're unlocking a door to launch the camera app. I usually can do this between taking the phone out of my pocket and raising it up to snap a picture. It's allowed me to kill the camera icon off my home screen. And I love saving space.
Another tried and true feature from Motorola, wherein you tell your phone what to do. Google's all about the voice actions, too, of course, but the BIG DEAL here is that the Moto X is ready for you to do it whenever, wherever. And you can set a custom launch phrase as well. So if "OK Moto X" doesn't do it for you, you can make it a bit more ... personal.
Just remember your surroundings is all we're saying.
This, of course, is the other BIG DEAL for Motorola, and it's what allows information to peek through on the display long before you've even hit the power button. And it's still pretty smart about it. If the phone recognizes that it's been laying around for a while and maybe there's no one around to see any notifications, it'll just stay dark and wait for you to stumble up to it. (Thanks, Approach for Moto Display!)
And as always you've got complete control over this, so your notifications are still private. You can choose whether to use it at all, or which apps can send notifications through, or how much detail they can show.
It might not change your life, but it'll get close.
As with just about every other phone out there, Motorola's got its own custom gallery app. And it's a nice enough gallery app, showing your on-device pics (nicely listed by month and year), and it'll create highlight reels from your pics and videos based on time and location.
Of course, Google Photos, which is preloaded on the Moto X, also does this.
The one ace up Motorola's sleeve here is that you can tell the Gallery app to feature more of a specific person in the highlight videos, which is a neat trick if you feel like doing it. But I haven't bothered.
Preloaded apps actually are worth a mention here, because things have gotten interesting. The Moto X is, unsurprisingly, free of bloatware. That in and of itself should be applauded. But it's also interesting to see which Google Apps no longer make the cut.
Basically things line up the same as when we broke the news in August. No Google+. No Google Play Books, or Games, or Newsstand, or Earth, or Keep. Street View made it on, however, as did Slides and Sheets and Docs — because you never know just how quickly you'll need to bang out a spreadsheet or presentation, I guess. So while we only started with 47GB available on a "64GB" phone, it's relatively bloat-free.
Moto X Pure Edition Camera
Let's not beat around the bush here: The Moto X Pure Edition camera is much improved over its predecessors. (And it should be, given that it's a year later since our last disappointment.) Is it a great camera? Let's maybe not go that far. Samsung still beats it. LG does, too, I think.
Finally, Motorola impresses us out of the box — especially given this phone's low price.
But I've gotten many an impressive shot out of the Moto X Pure Edition. By default it does still images at 16.1 megapixels, and a 16:9 aspect ratio, so images take up the whole screen. (That's not unusual.) Or you can change it to a 4:3 aspect ratio and the full 21 megapixels. Your call. As for video, the camera defaults (and reverts to) 1080p HD, but you can hop into the settings to shoot at 2160p 4K video. But if you do that, we really do recommend a tripod, or using a video editor for some stabilization.
My biggest complaint is that I'm still not a big fan of the camera app itself. Being able to tap anywhere on the screen means I tend to get a lot of misfires while I'm setting up a shot. (Though I recommend turning on the tap to focus feature anyway.) The microphone is pretty disappointing for video, too.
Shots generally should be good enough for the social medias the kids are all into these days. It struggled a little (as so many do) balancing extreme brightness with shadows (welcome to the South!), but tap to focus definitely helped with that some. Outdoors should be pretty good. Indoors? Depends on the lighting.
But the proof is in the pudding, so ...
Other odds and ends
- No problems with GPS on the Moto X.
- Or with Bluetooth.
- Or with phone calls. (And I still think Google makes the best dialer app.)
- Android Auto worked fine. I did have some problems with the overview screen (think Google Now for Android Auto) flickering, but that seems to have sorted itself out.
- Android Pay works how it should. Tap, unlock, pay.
- Remember, no wireless charging, folks.
Moto X Pure Edition The Bottom Line
Here's the thing you have to remember about the new Moto X. At its base level it costs $200 less than last year's model. And you don't get something for nothing. Trade-offs have to happen when you shave that much off the price of a smartphone.
There's nothing really exciting about the new Moto X, except maybe the price. Other than that, it's a rock-solid bet.
But what did we really lose here? My biggest gripe probably is the overall feel of the phone. Never mind that it's a little larger than I'd like (and I've said that so many times about so many phones I have a hard time taking myself seriously, even if I completely mean it). Never mind that in a blind taste test it could pass for a larger Moto G. (Erm, that is the feel of the phone. Don't lick it. Especially if you have leather.) On the other hand, maybe it's the pattern on the leather that's doing that, and you'll be much happier with wood.
But if you'll excuse yet another utterance of the existential P Word, it just doesn't feel as premium as maybe the 2014 Moto X did. But, again, it doesn't command as premium a price. So there's something to be said for that. A lot, actually.
What you get in the Moto X is what you've always gotten in the Moto X. Very well-done hardware. Performance unencumbered by useless software — and what customizations there are truly are useful.
Should you buy it? Yes!
Motorola has done a lot of good for Android the past few years, and the new Moto X isn't a huge departure from last year. The camera's better — a good bit better, I'd say — but even then it's not necessarily leaps and bounds better. But for a camera in a $400 smartphone? I'd take it any day of the week, especially given what most of us do with our pictures anyway. Facebook doesn't need perfect. It needs good enough, and it needs easy.
Performance of the new Moto X is more than adequate. The Snapdragon 808 processor and 3GB of RAM handle things as they should, and without heat concerns. "All-day" battery life depends on your day. It's mostly been OK for me — not spectacular. But Quick Charge makes up for that, for me, anyway. The software stays out of the way. And what it does add continues to enhance the experience.
And maybe that's truly the legacy of the Moto X line. It's mostly meat and potatoes. And that's good enough for a whole lot of folks.