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Motorola Moto X review: Smartphone can't keep up with flagship rivals

£350 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Motorola

Our Rating: We rate this 4 out of 5

After months of being on sale in the US, Motorola has brought the Moto X to the UK. But is it worth a look? Find out in our Moto X review.

Motorola Moto X black white

Motorola Moto X: Design and build

The Moto X is a pretty standard looking phone from the front. With no logo and a chunky looking plastic bezel, it's not off to a good start. The front is also made worse, on our white model at least, by an obvious camera, sensors and a drilled hole for the microphone below the screen.

However, turn the Moto X over and things improve dramatically. The handset features a nice curved back that fits your hand and a nice woven effect. At 10.4mm at its thickest point, the Moto X isn't the thinnest of phones but that curve offsets this and the device has a nicely balanced weight.

Its construction is a 'composite blend' which Motorola denies is plastic, but you could have fooled us. The Moto X doesn't feel particularly premium and we found the back of our white sample got consistently grubby, needing to be cleaned daily.

We imagine the problems we encountered with our white model would be less so with the black alternative. Unfortunately, these are the only two options in the UK because the Moto Maker which allows customers to build their own phone is not available at launch. See also: Moto X: Can customisation take on the big guns?

If you're willing to wait and see if the Moto Maker does arrive soon, you'll be able to choose from various rear cover colours and accent colours for the camera ring and buttons. There are also wooden options which look stunning. So please bring it the UK, Motorola. Motorola Moto X release date, price and specs: The phone designed by you.

Motorola Moto X

Motorola Moto X: Hardware and performance

Unlike most flagship smartphones, Android or otherwise, the Moto X doesn't come with a quad-core processor. Instead, it wields a 1.7GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 chip backed up by 2GB RAM. You may sniff at this spec but the firm has done plenty of software optimisation and it shows.

It doesn't show in our benchmark results, but more importantly it does when you actually use the Moto X. It feels just as nippy as its quad-core rivals, navigating back to the homescreen and opening apps happens without hesitation. Games also run smoothly, proving you don't need a quad-core processor to gain top performance.

Here are the benchmarks if you must feed yourself with numbers. The Moto X scored 1263 in Geekbench 3, 25fps in GFX 2.7 and 1037ms in SunSpider.

A 4.7in screen means the Moto X sits at a happy medium for smarthphone sizes – big enough to carry out tasks comfortably, but not so big that's its unwieldy. AMOLED technology means that colours are rich and punchy and viewing angles are great. However, it's a shame that Motorola has opted for a standard HD resolution of 720 x 1280. The screen does look good, don't get us wrong, but it's a little way off the leaders here. A pixel density of 312ppi means that graphics and text on the screen isn't as crisp compared to the Full HD smartphones out there.

Things are a bit limited when it comes to storage. The 16GB edition is standard and although Motorola's UK website lists the 32GB model as 'available online', we can't find it anywhere. Neither model has a microSD card slot so you're stuck with the internal capacity. Our 16GB model has around 12GB available which is fairly standard.

It's good to see some of the latest wireless standards on-board including 11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 LE (low energy), but the Moto X doesn't come with features like an infrared transmitter or wireless charging which some other smartphones offer. However, it is packed with sensors which Motorola's software utilises (see below).

Motorola Moto X: Cameras

The Moto X is armed with a 10Mp and although the quality is clearly better than mid-range handsets, it's not quite as good as the number suggests. It's also behind other flagship smartphones in the area. Indoor shots look okay, but are sometimes overexposed. Meanwhile, head outdoors and you'll get sharper results, if you've got good lighting conditions.

Its main camera has an RGBC sensor, which features a fourth, clear pixel. This is supposed to help out in low-light situations but we weren't very impressed with the performance in this area. Like a lot of smartphones, the Moto X has HDR, burst and panoramic modes plus it offers slow motion video.

Luckily the HDR mode is particularly good and has an unusual auto mode so it only uses it when it thinks it will improve the shot. You can see the difference below, particularly in the sky.

Motorola Moto X test shotRear camera test shot

Motorola Moto X test shot with HDRRear camera test shot with HDR

Strangely, there's no way to adjust the photo or video quality so you're stuck and 10Mp and 1080p. The front facing camera offers excellent quality at 2Mp and 1080p video.

A camera feature we like is Quick Capture. Switch this on in the camera app and you can launch the camera by flicking your wrist (with Moto X in hand) twice. It's cool but we'd rather have a dedicated shutter button which can also launch the app.

Moto X: Software

For us, software is the main reason to buy the Moto X over other smartphones. This handset has a few tricks up its sleeve which might just win you over - ones you don't get with the budget Moto G. The phone ships with Android 4.4 KitKat in the UK so it's on the latest version unlike many other devices. See also: Group test: what's the best Android phone?

Those sensors we mentioned earlier help the Moto X to know what you're doing so it can give you relevant and useful information. For example, the time is automatically displayed when you pick up the phone – no more having to push a button. This is not only convenient but helps save some battery because only a small number of pixels are used.

Active Display

Active Display interesting feature which means the Moto X give you notifications without the use of a typical flashing LED. Instead, all your notifications show up on the lock screen, pulsing softly while icons show what's happening whether it be an email or a missed call – it's a little like the Windows Phone 8 lockscreen. More information, such as the beginning of an email, can be brought up by tapping the middle of the screen. Active Display works any Android apps which give you a notification, but luckily you can select which apps use the feature to avoid being overloaded.

Moto X

Moto Assist

We've always loved Motorola's SmartActions, but that has been replaced by Moto Assist. Instead of letting you automate the phone with a wide range of actions, Moto Assist offers basic settings for when you're driving, sleeping, or in a meeting. Why the functionality went backwards, we don't know.

It's a little easier to get to grips with and a neat feature is that the Moto X knows when you're driving so can read out text messages, inform you who is calling and let you select music – keeping your hands nice and free for driving. You can also keep the phone quiet when you're in meetings or at night but the older SmartActions app was a lot better. It's still in the Google Play store but can't be installed on the Moto X.

Touchless Control

Enable Touchless Control and you can control the Moto X with your voice, avoiding having to interact with physically – even if the screen is turned off. The feature is built on top of Google Now, and is triggered by saying "Okay Google Now". Then you can speak your command in a very Siri-like manner. You won't get jokes and stories like you do with Siri, but I've often found Google Now to be better and faster at processing my speech than Apple's virtual assistant.

On first use, you'll have to say "Ok Google Now" three times so the Moto X can recognise your voice. Other people tried to access the phone this way but with no luck making it quite a cool feature, either to impress your mates or for when you're driving.

Motorola Connect

Last but not least is a piece of software which lets you send and receive text messages and pick up other notifications on your computer. It's an extension for the Chrome browser. It's pretty easy to setup and use.  

Motorola Moto X: Battery life

Motorola touts 24 hours of mixed use from the Moto X's no-removable 2200mAh battery. This makes it sound like you'll have to charge it most nights and in our experience, that is exactly the case. Using the phone during the day for calls, texts, web browsing and other apps will no deplete the battery but use enough for you to require some juice topping up time while you sleep.

If you use your phone more sparingly and not so bothered about completing the next few levels of Cut the Rope 2 while you're eating your breakfast then you could well get a couple of days from the Moto X.

Motorola Moto X Expert Verdict »
Motorola Moto X 16GB Scores 9.3 out of 10 based on 3 reviews
OS: Android 4.4 KitKat
CPU: 1.7 GHz dual-core Krait Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon Pro
GPU: Adreno 320
Nano-SIM
65.3x129.3x10.4mm, 130g
Display: 4.7in AMOLED 720x1280, 312 ppi
Internal storage: 16/32GB, 2 years 50GB of Google Drive free
Memory: 2GB RAM
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth 4.0 LE
NFC
Main Camera: 10Mp, autofocus, LED flash
Camera Features 1.4µm pixel size, geo-tagging, touch focus, face detection, panorama, HDR
Front Camera: 2Mp
Battery: 2200mAh
  • Build Quality: We give this item 7 of 10 for build quality
  • Features: We give this item 7 of 10 for features
  • Value for Money: We give this item 8 of 10 for value for money
  • Performance: We give this item 8 of 10 for performance
  • Overall: We give this item 8 of 10 overall

For a flagship phone the Moto X comes in at a very reasonable price. Performance and software are both excellent but the device is lacking that premium feel and is a little way behind the leaders in some areas. Unfortunately, Motorola spent too long bringing it to the UK and without the Moto Maker, so the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact and Nexus 5 are better alternatives.

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