Moto X (2nd gen.) full review
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We liked the original Moto X, but the Android smartphone didn't have all that much going for it. The new Moto X has had some serious upgrades and we like it even more. Here's our second-generation Moto X review.
When Motorola launched the Moto X in 2013, it had some unique features, such as the ability to wake up to voice commands without needing to touch the phone at all. However, it was fairly expensive but didn't have the top-end specs or build quality of its rivals. See also Motorola Moto 360 hands-on review and new Motorola Moto G review, and our chart of Best smartphones.
The all-new Moto X (previously thought to be called the X+1 or X2) has been "redesigned from the ground up" according to Motorola, and feels every inch the flagship Android device.
Motorola Moto X 2014 review: price
Before we get to the specs, there's the thorny issue of price. The new Moto X costs from £420. That's a lot more than the original, and more than you'll pay for rivals such as the LG G3, which has dropped in price.
However, while all of its rivals - including the Samsung Galaxy S5 - are available in just a couple of different colours, you can have a custom-built Moto X - see Moto Maker below - which will make it stand out from the crowd. But you'll pay extra for the wooden or new leather rear covers: at least £440, but more if you want extra internal storage.
Motorola Moto X 2014 review: design and build
With an aluminium chassis and premium materials, the Moto X really feels a step up from the original. It's also a huge leap up from the budget second-generation Moto G. There's no flex at all, and the smooth finish around the edges makes the new Moto X feel fantastic in the hand.
Despite an increase in screen size from 4.7 to 5.2in, the smartphone is barely larger and weighs only a few grams more. At 144g, it feels very light for its size. It's also shorter than just about every other smartphone with a screen this big thanks to minimal bezels top and bottom. Unless you have tiny hands, you should be able to use the new Moto X with one hand.
Thanks to the beautifully tapered edges which at their thinnest points measure just 3.8mm, it feels much thinner than it really is, which is 10mm at the thickest point.
Above and below, you can see the Moto X in black alongside the new Moto G, in white.
The screen now has a much needed full HD resolution (the original Moto X had only a 720p screen - one of its sore points). The pixel density of 423ppi means the new display looks lovely and sharp, and since Motorola has stuck with AMOLED technology, colours really pop.
The edges of the display are slightly curved, just like the new iPhones', which makes it feel both smooth and high quality. There are no annoying sharp edges anywhere.
If we're being picky, the resolution still lags behind the highest resolution available today of 2560x1440 as seen on the LG G3 and Galaxy Note 4.
Unfortunately, there's no expandable storage, so you're limited to the 16 or 32GB of internal memory. Beyond that, you'll have to rely on cloud storage or wireless hard drives.
Like the new Moto G, the Moto X has front-facing stereo speakers which sound great. They're loud and don't distort even at full volume. They're not brilliant for music, due to the lack of bass, but for watching YouTube or catching up on Top Gear, they're ideal.
Motorola Moto X 2014 review: hardware and performance
Although not the latest chip, the Snapdragon 801 quad-core processor is still a force to be reckoned with and, in our brief tests, the new Moto X was as fast as you'd expect. The Adreno 330 GPU is also a powerhouse, and the games we tried, including Asphalt 8, both ran smoothly and looked great.
In our benchmarks, the Moto X almost broke 30fps in GFXbench's T-Rex test. The demanding Manhattan test ran at an average of 12.7fps which isn't great, but few phones can muster more.
Geekbench tests CPU performance, and the Moto X managed 998 (single-core) and 2975 (multi-core). The latter is highly impressive, beating the Galaxy S5 (which uses the same processor), the iPhone 6 and even iPhone 6 Plus.
It couldn't match the pair of iPhones in the web browsing test, though. SunSpider 1.0.2 returned a time of exactly 800ms, which is over twice as long as the iPhone 6 Plus took.
Getting back to the hardware, the Moto X also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, GPS, and 2GB of RAM.
New IR sensors on the front - easily seen on the white version, but virtually invisible on the black - mean the new Moto X can sense more gestures than before. So, for example, you can silence the morning alarm or see the time and notifications by waving your hand over the phone.
Motorola Moto X 2014 review: Software
One of the major benefits of choosing the Moto X as opposed to another current Android flagship is that it comes with pure Android. It ships with KitKat, and a guarantee of an update to Android L, which should be released soon.
So, you don't have to put up with any annoying overlays or tweaks to Android, but you still get Motorola's useful software, including Migrate which helps you transfer contacts and other information from your existing smartphone.
Voice is one, and it's been improved with a custom voice trigger. You no longer have to say "Ok Google now" and can record any phrase you like to begin voice recognition, which works even if the phone is in sleep mode. Moto Voice is also integrated with Whatsapp, YouTube, Facebook and other apps so you can tell the phone to post a photo to Facebook, for example.
Moto Assist is back, and also improved. Using the phone's array of sensors it knows if you're sleeping or in the office or driving. This means the Moto X can automatically enable silent mode when you're in meeting, and read out text messages in the car.
Motorola Moto X 2014 review: Moto Maker
Finally, Moto Maker is available in the UK. This customising service was only available to US residents for the original Moto X. When you got to Motorola's website and click on the Moto X there's a 'Build yours' link that takes you to Moto Maker where you can choose between wood (ebony, bamboo, walnut or teak), leather and plastic rear inserts, as well as either a black or white front colour. It's also possible to change the colour of the speaker grilles on the front.
A 3D model shows your changes in real-time so you can see how your Moto X will look before you hit the Buy button.
It's also possible to engrave a message and add a custom start-up greeting. Moto Maker can suggest a wallpaper which will best match the other customisations you've made, and the phone can be shipped with your Google ID, ready for you to enter your password when you take it out of the box.
The turnaround time from receiving your order to actually having your shiny new Moto X in your hand is currently seven working days. Leather and wood pushes the price up to £440, and upping the storage from 16 to 32GB will increase the price by another £40.
Motorola Moto X 2014 review: cameras
Cameras are an important component in any smartphone, and can often be one of the main priorities when choosing one.
Around the back of the Moto X the design has remained symmetrical, just like its predecessor, with a centrally placed rear camera. The dual LED flash sits in a ring around the camera, and looks great.
The camera now has a 13Mp sensor, up from 10Mp. It's also capable of shooting 4K video. Disappointingly, it doesn't have optical image stabilisation, a feature which the new Nexus 6 (built by Motorola) does have.
The front camera has a 2Mp sensor and takes pretty decent selfies - in good light, that is.
The back camera also works at its best in good light. No surprises there, then. It generally takes great photos, but the colours aren't always as natural as you might like. They tend to be very saturated, which works in your favour when the weather's bad, but it can make photos look unreal in some situations.
In the HDR photo below, the red bricks of St Pancras are much more orange than they are in real life, and simply oversaturated. (Click the image to enlarge it).
Here's a 100 percent crop of the photo above. You can see the focus is quite soft, and could do with a little post-processing.
Here's another 100 crop from the photo showing the extra detail you get from a 13Mp photo as opposed to the many phones with 8Mp cameras (including the new iPhones). Here, you can almost read the Midland Road sign, which is typically a blurry mess in 8Mp photos.
You can use the Quick Capture gesture - two flicks of the wrist - to launch the camera app, and it works well. The camera app has been updated and starts taking images immediately on launch. The Best Shot feature analyses photos it has taken and will offer one if it's better than one you've taken yourself. Clever stuff. As with the Moto G, you'd do well to change the default aspect ratio of 16:9 to 4:3. Otherwise you won't be taking photos at the full 13Mp resolution. (The images above were taken in 13Mp mode.)
Like HTC's Zoe software, the Moto X will automatically stitch together a collage of photos and video to create a highlights reel based on time or location.
Motorola Moto X 2014 review: battery life
The non-removable 2300mAh battery is 100mAh more capacious than the old Moto X, but it's still nowhere near the biggest-capacity cell in a smartphone. Oddly, there's no battery-saving mode but that's most likely because the Moto X employs some clever power-saving techniques all the time.
One is Moto Display (which used to be called Active Display). When you wave your hand (or hover your face) over the display, it will light up only the necessary pixels to show the time and whether you've got any notifications - you can choose from which apps you receive them. There are now three notifications instead of one, and you can tap and swipe upwards to see what they are, or downwards to unlock. Moto Display automatically disables if your phone is in a bag, face down or when you're making a phone call.
However, even with this and other features, you'll probably struggle to go more than a day between recharges. As ever, it depends on what you're doing, so those that like to have the screen at full brightness and play lots of games will get the shortest battery life while others who can live with the conservative auto brightness and don't use the processor's full power all the time will see considerably longer life.
Motorola Moto X 2014 review: bottom line
The standard, non-customised Moto X is a desirable smartphone, but it's a little overpriced especially if you compare it with the Nexus 5. So Google's phone may lack the premium build quality and hi-res camera, but in most other respects it's a match for the Motorola at a significantly lower price.
What makes the new Moto X really attractive is Moto Maker, as it's unlikely anyone else will choose your combination of customisations. (But it may also make it harder to resell when it's time to upgrade.) It's just a shame that Motorola decided not to add a microSD slot: there's no such thing as too much storage.
We'll reserve final judgment for when we've had time to properly test out the Moto X, and see if it's worth £100 more than the old model.
Moto X (2nd gen.): Specs
- Android 4.4 KitKat OS
- 5.2in display (1080x1920), 423ppi
- 2.5GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU
- Adreno 330 GPU
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB/32B internal storage
- 13Mp rear camera with dual LED Flash
- 2Mp front camera
- Video recording at up to 4K
- Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n/ac
- Bluetooth 4.0 LE
- non-removable battery