The Samsung Galaxy S4 is a top tier device — it’s very high spec’d, and it’s easily one of the best 5-inch handling phones available. It’s great for work and play, and media consumption is just outstanding. But then we have the Moto X — a device that reminds what we really want out of a device.
The Moto X may not be the Galaxy S4 in that it has one of the fastest processing packages available, but Motorola certainly was able to optimize that Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU to make a very silk and fast experience.
So, what do we end up with? Two very powerful performers. Is there one that can best the other? Is there one ultimate winner in this battle? Find out in our review.
As you probably know, when it comes to design, the Moto X’s trump card is obviously the MotoMaker. It really lets you put your own personality into your Moto X, allowing for mixed colors and even your own personal signature. Not only that, but more cosmetic changes will be available in the future.
The Galaxy S4 just doesn’t have this luxury, though it does come in a handful of different colors. The Galaxy S4’s main advantage comes from its 5-inch screen, as it is absolutely one of the easiest five inch handling devices out there.
As for the general design, it’s classic Samsung. You’ve got your glossy plastic, which can admittedly be a bit slippery. However, it’s a material that a lot of people are getting tired of. Lately, you can’t go to an Android blog and leave the comments section without seeing a commenter request that Samsung makes a metal phone. Still, this design is pretty tried and true for Samsung.
You have your usual button layout, too — on the right side, you have the power button, and on the left, you’ve got your volume rocket. The thin back cover is removable, allowing access to the batter and a microSD card slot for expansion. The Galaxy S4 might be a bit more difficult to manipulate than the Moto X, but not by much.
Going back to the Moto X, I must say that I really missed being able to reach the top opposite corner with a single hand. The Moto X does feature a smaller, 4.7-inch display that affords it a smaller, all around form factor. Motorola’s design choice of having a very curved back also payed off quite well, as the ergonomics are very high.
There are no tactile buttons up front, and the actual button layout is on the right side. And instead of opting for a glossy plastic, the Moto X sports a soft touch plastic that isn’t as slippery, and you can’t see as nearly as many fingerprints as you can with Samsung’s glossy plastic material. It might be somewhat thicker at the peak of the curve around the back, but then again, that curve is supposed to alleviate that.
We might complain about Samsung’s material choice, but the Galaxy S4 does deserve a lot of credit. After all, it’s one of the best 5-inch screens out there that is extremely easy to handle. And when you want a bigger device with a bigger screen, the Galaxy S4 is really hard to beat. Everything about it is just great, but then again, the Moto X reminds us that we have to know what we really want — a device with such easy and simple handling is something we take for granted these days.
When you want to keep things simple, the Moto X is probably the most accessible smartphone currently available.
But of course, it’s because of the smaller screen that the Moto X has been able to achieve that. Interestingly enough, the Moto X decided to not follow the 1080p trend, instead opting for a 720p display. So, we have a fight between 720p and 1080p resolutions here. With the Moto X, we have plenty of spec hungry people lamenting this device, so the 720p screen, rated at 312ppi, may not be optimal for some. However, don’t disregard this performer just yet.
The Moto X is a great device, and its AMOLED screen just adds to that. For the most part, you won’t even be able to tell you’re looking at a lower resolution screen — unless you go searching for it.
Side by side with the Galaxy S4’s higher spec’d Super AMOLED 1080p resolution display, rated at 441ppi, the Moto X is definitely able to hold its own ground here. However, the Galaxy S4 opts for a bit of a larger screen, following that 5-inch display trend. And that’s not a bad thing because, well, it’s easily one of the best out there.
When you want a bigger display experience for gaming and general media consumption, such as YouTube videos or movies, the Galaxy S4’s Super AMOLED performer is just amazing. Having that super saturated color profile does lend itself to more vivid colors than the Moto X, but the X does take advantage of the AMOLED technology with the Active Notifications.
Ultimately it comes down to size — if your eyes are really that good at finding the quality difference, then perhaps you’d go for the S4. But in their respective sizes, both of these screens achieve absolutely great results.
Sure, you can look at this as last year’s specs vs current specs, but that would just be hindsight at best. I have a better metaphor that I’ll get into in a bit.
Fist of all, we have the Samsung Galaxy S4, featuring an impressive Snapdragon 600 quad-core processor, clocked in at 1.9GHz. It’s backed by the Adreno 320 GPU and 2GB of RAM. There’s no doubt that phones sporting this processing package are among some of the fastest out there, and this isn’t even mentioning the Snapdragon 800 package that is beginning to pop up.
There might be the occasional bit of stutter here and there, but it doesn’t hinder tasks whatsoever. Performance on the Galaxy S4 has remained reliable and its scores in benchmarks support this. If you go with the Galaxy S4, there’s no doubt you’ll be getting one of the fastest and slickest packages available.
And that’s why so many are so quick to disregard the Moto X. In reality, though, the jokes on them, as Motorola knew exactly what it was doing. Sure, you get the Snapdragon S4 Pro of yesteryear. It’s clocked at 1.7GHz, and it’s backed the Adreno 320 and 2GB of RAM; there are also a couple of extra cores put in charge of specific tasks, such as voice recognition, to lighten the Snapdragon’s load.
When you put all that together, you get the Motorola X8 Computing System. Sure, it doesn’t seem that high end, but it’s actually blazing fast, and most of all, it really does get the job done. Lower scores on AnTuTu don’t adequately show just how fast this phone can go. This is likely due to the operating system being pretty darn close to stock Android, but also because of optimizations — after all, we’ve had over a year to get the S4 Pro just right. And you know what? I think Motorola is pretty close to perfecting it.
Anyway, here goes my metaphor. Think like you would with cars — a performance package we might have already seen gets tinkered with over time and eventually optimized to peak performance. That’s the Moto X. On the other hand, we can be early adopters of newer engines with more power put in and they still work perfectly fine. That’s the Galaxy S4. So, if that helps you put these two phones more on a level playing field, then great – just take this as a lesson not to be so spec hungry and disregard something like the Moto X just because it isn’t sporting the latest.
When it comes to hardware, this battle can be summarized in a single word — practicality. Either you’ll use the features Motorola put into the Moto X or the myriad of extras Samsung put into the Galaxy S4. When it comes to the Moto X, Motorola and Google really wanted to make your Google Now experience something special.
That said, voice recognition is always on and always listening due to those two extra cores in the phone. And when you say “OK, Google Now”, it comes right up to the forefront, ready to take any and all commands. Honestly, it’s incredible handy, and coupled with the wicked Active Notifications feature, they are quite practical, especially if you’re already a frequent Google Now user. In other specs, the Moto X comes with 16 or 32GB of storage, and there’s no microSD card slot. Aside from that, you get your usual bevy of connectivity tools — Bluetooth, GPS, and NFC.
Looking at the Galaxy S4, it comes with either 16, 32, or 64GB of onboard storage, which can be expanded upon with that handy microSD card slot, however, it is in all of the other sensors that Samsung wanted to keep their focus. My full review gives the full rundown on all of these extra features, but a few worthy of mention are motion sensors, barometers, and thermometers for measuring your surrounding, and of course, let’s not forget the IR Blaster that is seemingly in every big name device.
There are a lot of new ways of navigating your phone and it’s clear the Galaxy S4 wanted to be more than just a smartphone. The Moto X, on the othe r hand, seems like it wants to perfect your smartphone experience. It’s quality vs quantity here — but it’s up to you which word accurately depicts either phone’s capabilities.
The Samsung Galaxy S4 does have a bit of an edge on the Moto X in terms of battery power. After all, the Galaxy S4 does have that replaceable battery that most feel is a requirement when buying a smartphone. Of course, it goes without saying, having an extra 2,600 mAh battery on hand is always helpful.
That being said, the Moto X’s 2,200 mAh battery can get you through the day and more. After all, this phone is full of crazy optimizations. Battery saving features on both devices perform very well, and the way the Moto X takes advantage of that AMOLED display keeps things steadily powered, but without sucking too much life out of your device.
By the end of a long day, I consistently have 20 to 30% battery live available by bedtime on either device. So, it comes down to the spare, but you’ll get a standard level of longevity in both phones.
As for the cameras, well, if it does seem more in Samsung’s favorite here. After all, the Galaxy S line has featured some really great optics, and not only that, but the camera app is loaded with a plethora of features. I’ve gone through all of them in my review, but a few of them included are Drama and Eraser modes, along with a dual recording mode.
The 13-megapixel picture quality is where the Galaxy S4’s strengths lies, as the color reproduction makes nearly any picture have a high level of vibrancy. It goes without saying, the Galaxy S4 is one of the top performers when it comes to camera phones.
As you can see, the Galaxy S4 is a pretty impressive camera, but on the other hand, Motorola’s new flagship, the Moto X, is actually very disappointing. You get 13-megapixels and a much more simplistic app. Of course, the simple app is to be expected, as this is basically stock Android.
The interface uses touch and swipe navigation, and as you might expect, it only comes with a few features, such as HDR and slow motion video. The camera app can be easily accessed by simply flicking the phone about, so quickly getting the shot you want is very possible.
Yeah, there’s a few nice things about the Moto X’s camera app, but it’s color reproduction isn’t one of those nice things. In fact, they seem very muted compared to the real life counterpart. However, I must say that there is an impressive amount of sharpness, as pictures have a great amount of detail and are very crisp, but it really is a disappointment of just how much the color suffers.
For those looking for the utmost in quality, there is no doubt that the S4 takes it here as its pictures are just objectively better. The Moto X camera interface is easier to use and its pictures are very sharp, though for some that might not be enough.
The Moto X is about as stock Android as it gets — it’s really what us Android enthusiasts pine over. Motorola’s various enhancements don’t change the aesthetic that much, but it sure does add quite a bit of useful functionality. Google Now users will enjoy the voice recognition service that brings Google Now to the forefront — simply say “OK, Google Now”, and it’s immediately ready to take commands.
After that you get the Google-esque homescreens, notification dropdown with shade, and general aesthetic in this 4.2.2 version.
On the other hand, we have the Galaxy S4, which employs Samsung’s TouchWiz interface that we all either love or hate. As you know, it’s much more bloated than most phones out there, and uber colorful elements make a return with Samsung’s sensor enhancements for navigation.
You can see in the notification shade just how much you’re able to do with this 4.2.2 version of TouchWiz. Hand gestures for moving about, air view for zooming into things, and even tracking your diet and exercise are all possible. Samsung really packed in everything they possibly could and thus it gives you a ton of options.
It goes without saying, Android enthusiasts will probably move towards to the more stock Android option — the Moto X. Its interface is much more minimalist than the Galaxy S4, and the benefits of that is the super fast fast performance packed in the device. There’s not much bloatware bogging it down.
Samsung tried to think outside the box and bring even more options to the original blueprint. If you feel the new ways of navigating will prove useful, the S4 is loaded with them. Otherwise, the Moto X is about as accessibly simple as it gets.
Whichever phone you go with — the Galaxy S4 or the Moto X — you’re looking at the same on-contract $199 price point. Sure, the price may seem a bit steep for the Moto X. After all, it’s usually the premium, high spec’d devices that cost upwards $199 on a new two-year contract. However, after this comparison, just keep in mind that these two devices are on a closer level than you may think.
Unlocked, both of these devices come out at around the same $600 price point. The Galaxy S4 is hitting just a little bit above that, and the Moto X is slated to be closer to $550.
In wrapping up this comparison, it may have been if we were dealing with just any average midrange smartphone, but as the Moto X is proving, optimization can go a really long way, and i can be just as good as throwing all new hardware in a device.
Since both devices around the same price, it’s really about knowing what you want to get out of your smartphone. With the Moto X, you get a really slick experience, some really awesome software features, and you can even put a little bit of your own personality in the phone using the MotoMaker.
As for the Galaxy S4, you get a really high spec’d device with a bunch of new options added to the system itself, though that may be just a little too overwhelming for some people. Either way, we’ve got two smartphones that have risen above your average device, and whichever one you go with, you will get your money’s worth.
Brad Ward contributed to this review.