Fans of Motorola, or just Android in general, typically look back on the Moto X series of phones fondly. Despite their issues, the few iterations of Moto X (the first two, in particular) still feel like the perfect example of what Motorola could bring to the Android world. "Moto X" was synonymous with being greater than the sum of its parts, and offering an experience that was wonderful despite not having the absolute latest specs and piles of features.
When rumors started to swirl of a return of the Moto X line, the hype was instantly ignited. For all of the success of the Moto G line and the ambition of the Moto Z line, Motorola fans just wanted a new Moto X — and hopefully, one that was a true continuation of what made its predecessors so intriguing.
So now, closing in quickly on the end of 2017, we have it: the Moto X4.
Moto X4 Hands-on video
For a quick live look at the Moto X4, be sure to watch our hands-on video above. We have the phone in-hand and in both colors, so it's worth a look! After that, read on for the rest of our impressions in the complete hands-on preview.
Moto X4 Hardware and features
Think of a Moto Z2 Play. Now add a curved glass back and a huge camera apparatus at the top — you now have a Moto X4. Sure that's a little reductionist, but not far off. Whether it's the increasingly iterative releases of Moto G devices, the lower-end Moto E line or even the top-end Moto Z2 Force, all of Motorola's phones look very similar visually. Particularly on the front, where you would be hard-pressed to differentiate at a glance between any Moto phone released in the last two years.
Even with a new curved glass back, the Moto X4 looks like any other modern Motorola phone.
With that front-on similarity across the lineup, the back is where the Moto X4 actually manages to stand out, if only a little bit. The pane of Gorilla Glass 3 coats the entirety of the back, curving off of the long edges just like most other glass-backed phones today. That curve isn't super dramatic in how much it cuts into the metal frame of the phone, but still provides much-improved ergonomics over your typical flat-backed Moto Z. The quality of the combination of glass and metal is far beyond what you'd expect considering this phone's €399 price — it felt indistinguishable from what Motorola is charging $720 for in the Moto Z2 Force.
The proper way to separate a Moto X4 from the crowd is to find one in this super-cool "Sterling Blue" color. The light textured pattern underneath the glass (present on both colors) really pops in blue, and it's matched up with a blue-tinted frame and blue surrounding the front of the phone. It's a fingerprint magnet and is honestly a little distracting on the front, but the way the colors shift and change from dark blue to a lighter shade and even to a light grey in some cases is very interesting.
With just a 5.2-inch display up front — a 1080p LCD, by the way — the Moto X4 certainly harkens back to its predecessors in terms of keeping compact and easy to manage in one hand. Coming in even smaller than the Moto G5 series, it's refreshing to have a phone you can easily swipe around and reach all corners without contorting your hand in some crazy way. At 165 grams it's heavy for the size, too, so you really get a feeling of a well-balanced and properly crafted phone.
Perhaps surprisingly, this lower-end phone also has two features the just-announced high-end Moto Z2 Force doesn't: a headphone jack, and compete IP68 water resistance. It also has a larger battery at 3000mAh — though it of course comes at the cost of being nearly two millimeters thicker than its high-end counterpart. That's a trade-off many people will be willing to take, particularly those who enjoyed a previous Moto X.
Moto X4 Software, specs and cameras
The software is what truly differentiated the first Moto X from the rest of the industry, bringing new features and a fresh take with a "less is more" strategy that we just didn't see back in 2013 and 2014. But now, Motorola has turned those core tenets into something you get from every phone it makes — and that means it just isn't all that special anymore.
But just because we're so used to Motorola's software experience doesn't mean it isn't still fantastic and a critical selling point of the Moto X4. It's clean, simple and includes just a few tweaks and additions that are useful without ever getting in your way. Motorola has fantastic ambient lock screen, a handful of gestures you will use every single day and a distinct lack of unnecessary or duplicate apps. It's just great, and it just works.
In my brief time (roughly an hour) using the Moto X4 in a demo environment, it seems like the Snapdragon 630 and 3GB of RAM will be more than capable of running Motorola's software on a 1080p display. And considering how well the Moto Z2 Play performs with very similar specs, I don't have any worries about the Moto X4 offering a great daily software experience — by mid-range or even flagship standards.
The Moto X4 also supports the exact same Amazon Alexa experience that debuted on the HTC U11 earlier this year. That is to say it's a software-only virtualized Echo on your phone — it can do just about everything the hardware can, including always listening for your voice commands. Amazon fans, rejoice. Everyone else, keep using Google Assistant.
Forgive me for choosing to be bearish on a Motorola camera.
For as good as Motorola's software is, its cameras have consistently been mediocre. The Moto X4 is doing something new, taking a page out of LG's playbook to go with a pair of cameras: one standard, one wide-angle. The secondary camera even has the same field of view as LG's last few wide-angle cameras: 120 degrees. It's in front of an 8MP sensor (1-micron pixels, f/2.2 aperture), while the main camera has much better specs: 12MP, 1.4-micron pixels, f/2.0 aperture and dual pixel auto focus. No optical image stabilization (OIS), though.
Testing a camera takes far more time than I was offered with the Moto X4, but it seems to have the components necessary to be a capable shooter. And seeing how little the secondary camera (and its associated blur effects) added to the Moto Z2 Force's cause, I'm happy to see the secondary wide-angle shooter here to give us a fun new way to shoot. But you'll have to forgive me for choosing to be bearish on a Motorola camera — it's lost the benefit of the doubt at this point.
Moto X4 Hands-on preview
If Motorola rolled out this exact phone with a different name, like "Moto G5 Premium" or something, nobody would blink. From front to back, inside and out, the Moto X4 just feels like Yet Another Modern Motorola Phone™. That doesn't mean it's a bad device, or not worth the money Motorola is charging here. To the contrary, actually — it looks like the Moto X4 is a really solid mid-range package with great hardware, most of the specs and features people want in this price range and a pair of cameras that may even be above-average. And it still offers that tried-and-true Motorola software that we all hold in such high regard.
The Moto X4 is arguably the best Moto X yet — but it sure isn't exciting.
But what the Moto X4 doesn't have is anything unique, intriguing or differentiating in the same way the Moto X lineage so often offered. In many ways that's the story of Motorola over the past couple years, but it just hits home a little heavier when we're talking about a Moto X. The Moto X4 is clearly a better phone, and better value proposition compared to the competition of the time, than any previous Moto X ever was. But that doesn't mean it'll go down in history as game-changing or industry-defining in any way.
I think we'll get over that desire for nostalgia, and just enjoy the Moto X4 for what it is: a really good phone at a compelling price, €399, with no clear shortcomings or issues. We can applaud that.