If you’re anything like me, owning a flagship smartphone whilst continually feeding your insatiable appetite for more holy-grail type devices is a true test of self-control. If money were no object, I’d be very inclined to purchase the newest flagship from every manufacturer every two months. Even when money is an object, my resolve in maintaining a relationship with my current phone for at least a year is pushed to its limits, let alone the standard two-year contract cycle most networks employ (hence my pre-emptive action in purchasing new phones off-contract and unlocked). With the impending arrivals of the Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge and HTC One M9, is my Moto X 2014 nearly resigned to its inevitable fate or does Motorola’s current flagship still prove its worth six months after its initial release? Read on for my review of Motorola's Moto X 2014 edition, six months on.
The Moto X is a near exemplary lesson in ergonomics and how a smartphone ‘should’ feel in the hand. From the slimmed bezels curving elegantly to meet the sides to the contoured lines of the phone’s posterior, constantly picking up the phone is a joyously tactile experience. If you focused only on a purely premium look and feel though, it cannot compete with the aluminium bodies of iPhones and HTC Ones nor the beautiful glass and aluminium construction of the Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge. Those phones feel more expensive in the hand with the S6/S6 Edge especially a beautiful work of art and engineering. The Moto X though has its own unique draw and allure, its ergonomic footprint providing an incredibly comfortable and natural fit in the hand. The phone can feel slightly chunky (9.9mm at its thickest point) and when compared directly to an iPhone 6, this protrusion is exaggerated further. Despite this I never found the depth cumbersome or awkward; it provides a pleasant, weighty grip feeling secure and solid in the hand.
Some of this weight (144g) can be attributed to the new addition of aluminium to the phone’s frame, creating a sense of quality, both in terms of aesthetics and feel, providing an added robustness to the overall sturdiness of the phone. Over the past six months, my Moto X has attempted breaks for freedom from my trouser pockets, becoming acquainted with hardwood floors, car foot wells and pebble dash driveways and yet, with the exception of a full-stop sized indentation on the frame and slight scuffing on one corner, it has endured remarkably well. The same durability holds true for the screen, which is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass 3 and only exhibits the odd light graze under intense scrutiny. One annoyance with the curved back is that it doesn't sit flat on a surface: when tapping the screen, the phone rocks left and right and the rear material produces a soft, 'squelching' sound.
|3mm thicker than the iPhone 6 at its widest point, but it never feels chunky.|
Speaking of the material, I opted for the Horween leather in navy blue after a lengthy decision-making process; the concern over wear and tear, especially when exposed to water, was credible but eventually I was too enamoured with the idea of a more luxurious feel and exclusive look. The phone is never kept in the same pocket as keys and this has helped with its longevity. There are small pockmarks scattered here and there and several light scratches but I’m very impressed with how the leather has maintained its overall sheen and nature (plus, leather is meant to 'age' with time). Of course, with Motorola’s excellent Moto Maker software allowing for a multitude of materials and customisation options (including bamboo, walnut and teak), you need not select leather and instead create your own unique Moto X.
|Leather, meet leather. Exclusive look. Exclusive feel.|
Many tech commentators bemoaned Motorola’s decision to stretch the X’s DNA from it’s 4.7” origins found in the Moto X 2013. As a previous owner of the 2013 model, its smaller footprint provided a more comfortable one-handed experience and meant I never had to carry out any ‘hand-gymnastics’. The increased dimensions of the newer Moto X (129.3mm vs 140.8mm height) has raised my pulse a few times when attempting to manoeuvre the phone to access more vertically challenging elements of the operating system, usually the notification shade. At times the phone is unwieldy and the slightly glossy finish of the leather does not aid the situation. Thankfully I’ve never dropped it. This is in part due to the appropriate positioning of the power and volume controls, which are both on the right side (the power button has a textured surface to help differentiate the two) and located high enough where your right thumb naturally rests. The aforementioned curved back and its excellent ergonomics have also helped the Moto X resist a drop from several feet.
The larger screen has its benefits: video viewing, scrutinising your photos, web browsing, they’re all given a useful boost, the larger screen real estate allowing for a more immersive video experience and increased volume of text on a single page. This is due to the higher resolution (1920x1080) AMOLED display which reveals a smorgasbord of colours and viewing angles. Colours are bright and vivid, saturated but not overly so, a strong and accurate representation of reality from a brevity of viewing positions. Maximum screen brightness is high and as such, outdoor visibility in direct sunlight is good (yes, British citizens do catch rare glimpses of that glaring fireball in the sky); I always have it set to 50% and it's never been an issue for me.
The leap from the 720p display of the 2013 edition is noticeable and certainly a welcome increase. Although QHD displays seem to be the future (with the S6's display the current flagbearer) I do question its usefulness in today’s age when such content is still minimal (plus the additional hit on battery life). A QHD display will of course trump 1080p but unless viewed side by side, it's incredibly difficult to tell the difference; I’m definitely happy and pleased with this screen. What is annoying though is the monumental fingerprint magnet that this phone is. The screen constantly looks smeary, requiring frequent polishes from my shirt before inevitably becoming caked in fingerprints again. The white fascia will hide them better than the black but the screen on both can't resist an oily beating.
|Media consumption is immersive with the 5.2" AMOLED display and front-facing speaker. Video source: MKBHD|
The placement of the phone's speaker, from the rear to the front is a welcome change. The front sports two identical looking grilles though only the bottom one acts as the speaker, so unfortunately no stereo sound. Still, at least the sound is being fired at your face and there is a reduced likelihood of muffling the speaker with your hand. Listening to Bones by Editors, the speaker is powerful and fairly rich, conducting a performance which reveals much of the soundstage. Bass is decent and has some punch whilst trebles display a good level of clarity. However both exhibit slight signs of distortion at higher volumes but for a quick dance session with friends or talking on speakerphone, it handles both pretty well, just don't expect HTC One BoomSound levels of quality. An additional benefit of respositioning the speaker is the ability to now listen to your music clearly whilst interacting with your phone, something practically impossible with the Moto X 2013, as you had to lay the phone face down to avoid the speaker becoming muffled.
Most importantly (it has to receive calls after all), connectivity is strong and consistent with rare occurrences of network, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth outages. Call quality is excellent with my callers’ voices sounding clear and defined and the four microphones ably assist in cancelling out background noise and making me sound less mumbled than I usually am.
|The leather back has aged surprisingly well with only the odd pockmark or light scratch.|
It seems like almost all Android OEMs these days are scaling back their skins to some degree or another to adopt a more fluid and minimalist experience. Motorola, on the other hand, has never really traversed such a route as they’ve tended to opt for a more similar interpretation to stock Android anyway; it was this reason that proved to be the most prominent factor in my smartphone of choice six months ago (I had frequent flirtations with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4). My concern over excessive software bogging down performance over time as well as the belief that a sleeker skin would mean that their line-up of phones would be one of the first in line to receive new updates, were my deciding factors and, luckily, I proved to be correct. Following Android Lollipop’s official release in November, the Moto X was one of the first handsets to receive Google’s newest and sweetest confectionary update – after six weeks of tapping ‘Check for System Update’, I finally received my sweet, sweet candy in late December. This bodes well for the future with the forthcoming releases of Android Lollipop 5.0.1/2 and 5.1 so if, like me, you must get the latest updates as soon as possible, Motorola's got you covered.
The performance picture however is somewhat impaired and difficult to judge as a result of Lollipop's introduction. Its arrival was meant to improve software performance through optimisations (such as the switch to ART to manage the processing of apps) but in reality has negated some theoretical benefits with a memory leak bug. Once Lollipop was installed I found delays surfacing more frequently in a few areas including unlocking my phone and app switching and loading. These new pauses are infrequent, not significant (half a second at most) and can be resolved with a quick phone reboot, but they certainly were not there before.
Thankfully, Motorola’s adoption of a slimmer skin, coupled with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 at 2.5Ghz and 2GB of RAM, has managed to compensate for this, providing me with a phone that manages to churn through tasks with relative ease, nothing compared to what I’ve been seeing from the new S6 or M9 but still very respectable in its own right. Operating the phone with a comprehensive catalogue of apps open does little to impact overall performance; opening new apps is usually pain-free and swift whilst switching between them is relatively quick. Playing Asphalt 8: Airborne is a near buttery-smooth experience (with extremely rare moments of stutter), the phone managing the 8 on-screen racers and intense graphics masterfully. After 30 minutes of play-time, the Moto X barely heated up, exhibiting a minor increase in temperature from the leather back, perceptible only because I was looking out for it.
On the whole the Moto X has aged well, being responsive and agile and enabling an experience that is wholly seamless, fulfilling and usable. There are times when transitions and actions are not interpreted instaneously, but that's more of an indictment against Android Lollipop than the phone beginning to show its age. With Google’s recent release of Android 5.1 apparently fixing the aforementioned bug (and Motorola's ability to release timely updates), along with the Moto X’s innate power in tow, I still possess a phone that is perfectly capable at processing everything I throw at it.
|Android Lollipop has slightly hindered rather than helped performance but relief is near.|
I’ve always been a big fan of the look and feel of stock Android, it’s colour palette, iconography and ease of use amongst other things. The Moto X possesses a near stock experience, which I know is not to everyone’s taste but is definitely to mine. The clean, uncluttered and unadulterated interface provides an attractive, consistent and functional involvement; rarely did I experience any idiosyncrasies – things are incorporated purposefully and where you would expect, it does exactly what I need it to do and quickly (although an option to close all open apps would be nice!).
As is the case with all Android OEMs, Motorola has seen fit to incorporate its own features and here they demonstrate their wisdom and sensibility. The Moto X’s refined suite of bespoke features enhances the practicality of the phone: Ambient Display allows for a swift glance and quick interaction with new notifications; Assist identifies when I am driving and enables interaction with new calls and messages; Voice allows for quick, hands-free functions, even when the screen is off or when it’s not charging. The functionality of these features will vary from person to person (I’ll admit, voice control is not a major component of my everyday life) but the fact that they are well implemented and that Motorola has not rammed it with every gimmicky feature under the Sun is laudable. If I were offered any Android software offering, I would choose the one on the Moto X without hesitation, every time, even over stock Android.
(You may have noticed that I made no mention of Android vs iOS. Judging both operating systems requires a breadth and depth deserving of its own blog post for another time. Choosing between the two is very subjective and comes down to which one works better in your life, for your workflow. Other considerations include how invested you are in each ecosystem and which phones those in your social circles are possessing.)
|Ambient Display makes checking new notifications quick and convenient.|
The camera on the Moto X 2013 was average. The camera on the Moto X 2014 is only slightly better. In an attempt to deliver a competitive price the camera was drawn the short straw (again). It’s a 13-megapixel f/2.25 Sony sensor, a welcome bump up from the 10-megapixel shooter found in last year’s model, and in good lighting it produces fairly pleasing, detailed shots. When zoomed in, sharpness is still present, details largely intact and colours fairly rich and accurate with the auto white-balance and exposure doing a reasonable job. However, when focusing on a light source, for example a laptop screen, the camera is incapable of exposing the scene correctly, underexposing the areas around the light source and casting an orange hue across the whole image.
The camera interface is clean making it is easy to use and includes some nice features including HDR mode and 4K video recording (not a big deal for me as I do not possess a 4K monitor). I would like more ‘pro’ options such as manual controls over focus, exposure and white balance but overall it’s decent and performing two swift twisting actions (like turning a screwdriver) to quickly open the camera app gives me a greater chance to capture that candid moment.
Unfortunately, there is a fall-off in sharpness and colour reproduction when compared to other flagships and it's deficiencies become more pronounced when a lack of lighting enters the equation. Decent colour reproduction is still there but noise as well as loss of detail manifest themselves. I could accept noise if it meant faster shutter speeds and a clearer image, but when I have to deal with both murky and fuzzy shots frustration begins to percolate. The camera is certainly usable in low light (see the concert shot below) and enough for your social media needs but the lack of OIS really hurts so don’t expect anything worthy for larger screen consumption or closer inspection. Motion also proves problematic for the Moto X with the camera proving largely incapable of achieving faster shutter speeds to track movements. Inevitably, you’ll end up with blurry subjects and, for the most part, a useless image. HDR mode works in good lighting but you'll need a secure holding to ensure photos aren't blurry when indoors. Similar comments can be made of the 2-megapixel front facing camera. It is serviceable in decent lighting but sharpness and detail are lacking and things become blurry in lowlight with white balance issues thrown in for good measure.
Video recording at 1080p is decent with autofocus being generally quick and smooth in moving between near and far subjects. Focus hunting is exhibited although not nearly as bad as the HTC One M9 (which constantly hunts even when there is a clear, defined subject). Colours do tend to err on the warmer side, casting a slight orange hue when recording my sky blue walls but overall colour accuracy is strong. Despite the lack of OIS and my notoriously shaky hands, video is smooth and there are no rolling shutter issues. Audio capture, helped by the multitude of microphones, is clear and accurate; it leans slightly more towards a tinny capture, but nothing egregious; a soft hissing sound is present though when cranking up the volume. 1080p SloMo and 4K video modes are also included if they take your fancy but it goes without saying that a 4K monitor is required to view your Ultra HD content. However, in what is now becoming a recurring theme with this camera, the video quality declines in reduced lighting conditions. It was unable to adjust exposure to extract details from shadows even though I could see these details perfectly with my own eyes.
In good lighting, the rear facing camera will generally please you (movement aside) and I’ve been happy with some of the images it’s produced. Yet, when dark and/or indoors and matched up against an iPhone, S5/S6, M9 or LG G3, it (sometimes literally) pales in comparison.
Nearly every flagship smartphone suffers from battery life, or lack thereof. The Moto X is unfortunately no exception. Motorola is not immune to the smartphone industry’s inability to produce a battery that will last at least two days of medium to heavy usage, Motorola Droid Turbo aside. My phone will begin the day at 6:45am with 90-100% at 50% brightness, be constantly connected to Wi-Fi or network data (sometimes both), Bluetooth (to my Moto 360), be pushing two email accounts with 15+ emails a day, receive numerous WhatsApp/Hangout messages and be used frequently for web browsing, searching the HotUKDeals app, Play Store, Instagram and Facebook amongst other apps. By day’s end, at roughly 7pm, battery life will have fallen to approximately 30%. It’s certainly not terrible and how I view notifications (either through my Moto 360 or using Ambient Display, which only lights up the necessary pixels on the AMOLED display) aids battery life. Still, if I were to go out in the evening or attempt to survive a second day, I would absolutely need to retrieve the charging cable. One could turn on the battery saver (which throttles performance and limits syncing capabilities) to extend its longevity but it's a feature I've never used - I want my phone unrestricted please.
Quick charging is supported but is a £24.99 accessory sold separately (Motorola's marketing speech plugs it at a 15 minute charge for 8 hours of battery life). Using the standard charger, the phone charged from 33% to 70% in 40 minutes (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth were connected but I did not interact with the phone in any way). To reach 100% would take an additional 35 minutes; this isn't bad but certainly something to take into consideration if you were to head out again in the evening.
Alas, the Moto X is not the phone to recommend if long battery life is a necessity; perhaps the Moto X 2015 will be my answer. Still, for one-day usage (two days on a power-saving diet), it does the job as well as most flagships (iPhone 6 Plus/Galaxy Note 4 aside), but that's saying something.
|With medium usage, two days is pretty much out of reach.|
The Moto X comes in 16GB and 32GB flavours - I have the 16GB variant with the 32GB version costing an additional £40 on Moto Maker. Despite a slimmed down Android skin, available storage out of the box is just 10.17GB, which is frankly pathetic. There are approximately 50 downloaded apps, 80 photos and 26 music albums stored on my phone and I'm down to 626MB (I always have at least 500MB to enable the OS to move things around smoothly). I wouldn't say I'm an app hoarder or someone who takes hundreds of photos (clearly) but even I've had to resort to uninstalling apps and moving photos from my camera roll onto Google Drive. This issue is compounded by the lack of microSD expansion, which would alleviate storage issues by allowing me to transfer some app data onto it as well as be the home for my media content (interestingly, long-time proponents of the microSD, Samsung, have dropped it from the S6/S6 Edge whilst the HTC One M9 has kept it). If you don't think 32GB will suit your needs, what with the lack of expandable storage, you're going to have to look elsewhere.
|With the 16GB model, I have to manage storage frequently.|
The Moto X 2014 has been a faithful servant these past six months. I’ve not always been the most caring master, subjecting it to numerous scraps and bumps, intense processor and battery-hitting sessions and demanding camera conditions but it has persevered and most tellingly, shone in most situations. But by no means is it perfect. The 1080p screen, although strong, is not class-leading and its speaker cannot compete with HTC BoomSound for pure quality. A mediocre camera will not satisfy photo/selfie lovers: I'd point you towards the iPhone 6/6 Plus, Samsung Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy S6/S6 Edge or Nokia Lumia 930. Road warriors will be frustrated by its subpar battery and storage hunters will scoff at the maximum 32GB offering and no microSD card slot. These are all (major?) areas that Motorola needs to work on for its third edition.
As a result, you could argue that this is probably not the best smartphone available right now. The Samsung Galaxy S6 offers a more technologically impressive package with its 2K screen, wireless charging capabilities and premium glass and aluminium construction. Nevertheless, what separates it from similar competitors is the philosophy that Motorola has adopted with this phone. They have clearly put the user front and centre, providing a combined hardware and software experience which they believe consumers actually want, not what they think consumers need. The streamlined software that emphasises quality with ease of use and practicality, married with a well engineered aluminium framework wrapped in premium leather and a vibrant display, results in a phone that exhibits both fashion and function.
Factor in the issue of price and you have a flagship that is £145 cheaper than a comparable iPhone 6 (16GB) and £165 cheaper than the equivalent Samsung Galaxy S6 (32GB). But what if money wasn't an issue, would I swap my Moto X for any phone out right now? No. It may be six months old and other high-profile devices are certainly worth your consideration but my experience with the Moto X 2014 has been genuinely enjoyable, one not easily replicated and thus it gets my very strong recommendation. And it's now available in red leather.
What do you think of the Moto X 2014?
What would you like to see improved?
If you have any questions about my review or the device, please leave a comment down below :)
What would you like to see improved?
If you have any questions about my review or the device, please leave a comment down below :)