Moto X review (video)

August 23, 2013

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After months of a constant flow of Moto X rumors, Motorola finally took the red curtains off of it, revealing a pretty slick device that doesn’t need hardware to show what it’s worth. Is it impressive? Absolutely. Does it live up to the hype? Find out in our review.

Design

At the press event on New York, Motorola said they started with the shape of the phone and built everything around that from the display to the battery. They wanted to build a phone that was easy to use and comfortable to handle. Motorola was successful here, making the phone feel like a natural extension of yourself.
The Moto X has the usual buttons and ports. Power button and volume rocker can be found on the right side, while the SIM slot is on the left. Then you have your usual audio jack up top and the microUSB port at the bottom.

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The Moto X is constructed out of PET composite, a pretty durable plastic. Now, the Moto X does have a nice, rugged feel to it, which is surprising given its light weight. Nonetheless, while I wouldn’t throw it at a wall, the Moto X is likely to withstand some accidental punishment.

Display

The Moto X sports an awesome 4.7-inch AMOLED panel, which has made a lot of people upset, specifically because the Moto X does not feature a 1080p display. While 1080p displays are quickly becoming the norm, and even though I cringe at anything less, this is a very nice display nonetheless.

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70% of the phone’s surface is screen, and the display here is both very sharp and very vivid, even given the somewhat comparatively low pixel density. I’ll get into this more later, but this has a side effect of being very good for performance, and I’d say anyone who is disappointed in the Moto X should take a look at the physical device before making up their minds.

Of course, the story of the Moto X’s display lies with the new Active Display technology, which lights up only a small portion of the pixels just to show you notifications. This happens when you flip your phone over, take it out of your pocket, or even when you walk up to it, in some cases. Honestly, this is a major overhaul and improvement over the notification LED.

Hardware

The Moto X features a beautiful 4.7-inch 720p display, and under the hood we have the X8 Mobile Computing System, featuring a 1.7GHz dual core Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU, a quad core Adreno 320 GPU, and two other low power chips. Then you have your standard 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. The turn off here is that there is no microSD card slot.

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On the back, you’ll find a 10MP ClearPixel camera, and on the front we have a 2-megapixel camera. Powering all of this is an impressive 2,200 mAh battery.

In a world where the value and worth of an device is based on high clock speeds and multiple cores, it’s tough to gauge the Moto X’s performance based solely on specs. So, let’s bring out the benchmarks!

Starting with our usual weapon of choice, we ran AnTuTu a total of ten times, all yielding different results. Scores ranged from just over 18,000 to just over an impressive 19,000. Pur final average score came in at 18,676. Looking at these scores, Motorola has certainly done something impressive with the X8 system.

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The combination of the tried and true Adreno 320 GPU and the 720p resolution yielded similarly impressive performance results in Epic Citadel. Running the benchmark in all three quality modes, Ultra High Quality ran at an average frame rate of 58.8 frames per second with High Quality running at 58.9 frames per second. Finally, and unsurprisingly, the High Performance mode came in at 59.4 frames per second.

Real world use was just as impressive. Scrolling through home screens and the app drawer was always smooth, and while viewers of our first impressions pointed out that there was a little bit of lag in the Google Play Music app, others pointed out that this happens on every phone.

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Gaming performance was excellent. Testing a few titles like Real Racing 3 and Shadowgun: Dead Zone, both ran beautifully without any lag.

Battery

I was skeptical when Motorola said the Moto X’s 2,200 mAh unit could last up to 24 hours, but actually, that was playing it safe. In my experience the Moto X lasted two days without a charge. I was heavily benchmarking the device for game performance, and was generally putting the device through its paces. It really has an impressive battery.

And that’s a really good thing since it isn’t replaceable. In order to keep the side down while maintaining the rounded shape on the back of the Moto X, Motorola needed to use a specially shaped battery. Luckily, you shouldn’t have to worry about carrying a spare.

Camera

There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the Moto X’s Clear Pixel camera and the fact that it uses a RGBC sensor that adds additional light information not present in a standard RGB Bayer sensor. In practice, it’s a hit and miss.

The RGBC sensor, similar in some ways to HTC’s Ultrapixel, is supposed to improve low-light photography, and I noticed that photos taken in low-light situations were definitely better than expected. Regardless of that, there was still some noticeable visual noise in a lot of the shots I took, to the point where it looked like someone just cranked up the brightness on a dark photo.

While that is a small downside, the 10-megapixel camera on the Moto X can take some very nice photos. Many of the shots I took had very nice crisp detail without that over-sharp look that a lot of modern smartphones unfortunately use.

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As for the camera UI, well, there isn’t much of one most of the time, and that’s great. You can use a gesture to launch the camera app, and if you want to take a photo, just tap anywhere on the screen. If you want to access additional, finer controls, simply swipe to the right, and to look at the gallery, just swipe to the left. It’s really nice.
Like any modern smartphone worth its salt, the Moto X shoots 1080p video. It’s usable, but both the auto-brightness and auto-focus are way too aggressive, and the artifacting present in still photos is noticeable here as well.

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Software

The Moto X runs Android 4.2.2. It’s not the latest flavor of Jelly Bean, but it’s pretty darn close, and many of our readers will be pleased to know that this is stock Android, with just a few minor interface enhancements from Motorola.

For the few interface enhancements, we have Active Display, which we talked about earlier, and then there’s Touchless Control, more commonly known as Google Now. While it’s not a big deal, bing able to say “OK, Google Now” and have your phone light up from across the room is very handy.

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With Active Display and Touchless Control, I’m already beginning to hate using the power button on so many other phones.

As for bloatware, it really depends on your carrier of choice. In my case, I have a review unit from Verizon, so there’s preloaded apps like Verizon Tones and Quickoffice. However, whichever carrier you use, the Motorola’s Assist app is included, which has modes and settings for different events, such as driving, sleeping or attending a meeting. It’s one of the few preloaded apps that doesn’t get in the way.

Video review

Price

When it comes down to it, the Moto X is a very solid device, and it’s unique in that it focuses on what it actually does than simply providing the specs and focusing on what it could do. Price wise, the handset is up there with the HTC One and Galaxy S4 at $199.99 on a new two-year contract.

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Being a mid range device, is it worth the price? Definitely. Will everyone agree? Probably not.

Brad Ward contributed to this review

Comments

  • Doug

    I have to agree. This phone is amazing. It might not have most powerful processor on the market, but it can absolutely run everything that’s available for Android at the moment. I love that it runs nearly stock Android with USEFUL features. It might not be a phone that makes its users want to flash another rom for a better experience. Props to Motorola.

    • Nathan Borup

      Not the most powerful processor on the market… it is clocked lower than the G2. The G2 has the Snapdragon 800 clocked at 2.26 GHz, much faster than 1.7 GHz

      • Doug

        My current phone runs everything available for Android perfectly and is clocked at 1.5 GHz. The Snapdragon 800 won’t even benefit from its processor for a few years. Also, the G2 runs a very bloated Android OS. The processors coming out now are overkill for the software that’s available.

        • hua

          it’s not important if it runs everything or not, many people buy phones that will run about 2 years without a major problem, a that’s were a more powerful processor maters..

        • Will Frame

          LG’s UI is anything but “bloated”. It runs much more fluidly than Samsung’s touchwiz and only includes some of the more useful features.

          I have the Optimus G Pro and it runs perfectly smooth with no lag.

    • Jonathan Franklin

      It actually still outruns the Snapdragon 800 phones pushing 1080P in the area of graphics performance.

      http://gfxbench.com/result.jsp?benchmark=gfx27&order&data-source=1&version=all&test=477&text-filter&os-Android=true&arch-ARM=true&base=device

      Adreno 330 is a beast of a GPU, but it also has to push 2.25x as many pixels in those case scenarios.

  • MSmith79

    Just can’t justify the price with that old processor. In 2 years, the thing may end up being a dinosaur, where as the LG G2 or even the S4 or One should have longer staying power. If it was $400 I’d be all over it.

  • Cody Simonson

    How was reception? Better or worse than the Verizon front runners? Used to be Motorola had the best radios, is that evident here? Any noticed benefits from the dual antennas?

    • Cody Simonson

      Thoughts? Have yet to see a review that comments on dual antennas which is one of moto x’s marketing points.

  • simpleas

    Note 3 laughs at all of you

    • answeringU

      hopefully note 3 won’t be disappointing like:

      <3500mah
      same design= bigger s4
      pentile screen which in this case has less ppi because bigger screen
      2gb of ram rather than their new 3gb ram tech
      using their old nand instead of that new 5.0 standard
      no change to spen
      same camera as s4 with same camera software and no zoom or ois
      4.2.2

      did I missed anything else?

    • Jonathan Franklin

      Note 3 lags at all of you.

      Fixed.

  • acey_zero

    I actually like most of what Moto did with this phone hardware and software wise (with the exception of the sealed battery and lack of SD slot, but that’s just me).

    I am just pretty disappointed though because I thought Moto was going to follow Google’s lead and actually stand up to the carriers by offering the Moto X unlocked at a reasonable price. Instead the opposite appears to be true, and Moto is continuing to be perhaps the biggest sellout of all major manufacturers with their Verizon Droid exclusives and now their AT&T Moto Maker exclusive and not even offering an unlocked version of the X at all.

    • thedosbox

      You haven’t been paying attention. Developer editions are coming, and Moto Maker is going to become more widely available in a few months.

      • acey_zero

        Yes, I am aware of that but there is no ETA on the developer edition, and it is not expected to be cheap.

        • thedosbox

          That’s somewhat different from “not even offering an unlocked version”. As for not being cheap, HTC don’t sell a cheaper Developer Edition, so why the higher standard for Motorola?

          • acey_zero

            Because Motorola is owned by Google now. Google has clearly shown interest in trying to break the carriers strangle hold on the smartphone market. Multiple rumors were also pointing this direction before the release which got my hopes up.

  • simpleQuestion

    I thought pocketnow did an extensive look at the camera and they said that the color from photos and videos were muted and ghastly looking compared to any other smartphones?

  • EvenInTheDarkestHour

    So, the pictures look good, but the time from pressing the screen to taking the picture seems a bit long, maybe a second and a half to two. The shooter on my phone takes a picture just about instantaneously as I push the shutter button. It may not seem like a huge difference, but I have kids, 1.5 seconds is an eternity.

  • Ryan Castle

    Does the Moto X have an IR blaster?

  • SOMFW

    Yet another worthless review of the Moto x. I know you people are paid to say good things, but do you have to make it so obvious?
    Actual screen on time! Telling us anything else relating to the battery life is useless and dishonest. You are a reviewer, you should know this and how to get that info. “Luckily, you shouldn’t have to worry about carrying a spare.
    But there was this gem, “Luckily, you shouldn’t have to worry about carrying a spare”
    which left me wondering if you actually reviewed the unit or were the person who wrote it.
    Sloppy and unprofessional.

    • Guest

      Show us your review. . . I’ll wait!

  • Praveen S. Kumar

    When it will be going to come on play store

  • blowntoaster

    in my opinion this is a much better phone than the G2. the G2 is just, well…bloated and boring. the touch-less features on an S4 or Note 3 or even a Nexus 4/5/ HTC One would be awesome.

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  • Bob

    The intangible benefits that aren’t out-rightly visible just keep tumbling out. This device is supreme considering any and every age group. It is absolutely worth the price. Agreed! Hell, I want a SIM-free at whatever price so I can use X on GSM networks while traveling abroad.

  • Darth

    I’m re-posting this comment to try catch the attention of Android Authority! :)

    Sorry this is off-topic, but i would like to request that you guys do a review of the Sony Xperia ZR!
    I’m anxiously waiting for your take on the device. I won’t buy it without hearing your opinions first! ;)

  • Jillxz

    Too bad. No 16 GB phones for me.

  • Firehawk kerosene

    Does anyone know the GPU frequency? I bet they clocked it really high to give it great graphics performance

  • hihihii

    The camera was supposed to be a real “game changer”, they said last spring. Doesn’t sound that anymore…
    Also, another big smartphone site didn’t have great results with their standard battery life tests.

  • Andrea Rossi

    “The Moto X features a beautiful **4.7-inch 720p display**, and under the hood we have the X8 Mobile Computing System, featuring a **1.7GHz dual core Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU**, a **quad core Adreno 320 GPU**, and two other low power chips. Then you have your standard **2GB of RAM** and 16GB of internal storage”
    ….
    “Being a **mid range** device…”

    What have I missed??

  • The ‘Claimer

    Nobody is even talking about maybe the best feature of this phone, the use of a new file system specifically designed for flash. It’s the ONLY smartphone on the market that offers this. It blows away everything out there in I/O performance, even when full.

    Know how you get a phone that feels snappy, then turns to a lagfest later on? That won’t happen with the Moto X, and that’s why I’m buying one.

  • bklm1234

    This is the most exciting phone but I’m not getting it yet. The always-on voice and screen is a game changer, the most natural, sensible direction where all hand held devices should be trending toward (Google knows it. I just hope they keep it up and/or speed up expansion in this area. This will put iOS in the grave when people finally understand that’s how a smartphone should work). I just think it needs to mature a little more, i.e. more or ideally complete set of common voice commands supported. I also think it’s a little weak in the specs. At least put a snapdragon 600 in it for God’s sake. If not replacement battery, give us a microSD slot. Also a optical stablized camera like the LG G2′s.