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Moto X vs. Google Nexus 4

The Moto X is here, and we're going to see just how well it stacks up against the Google Nexus 4! Can the Moto X rise above average in this versus? Find out in our review.
September 1, 2013
moto x vs nexus 4 aa software both

The Moto X has been one of the most rumored and hyped devices of the year. In that regard, it’s right up there with the Galaxy S4. However, it’s still an impressive device in the 4.7-inch space, but is it giving the Nexus 4 a run for its money?

No, not at all. They’re both similar devices, especially in the look and feel, along with many other aspects. The question really comes down to, do you want a premium smartphone for $200 off-contract, or do you want a smartphone for $199.99 on contract?

In this versus, we’re going to see just how well the Moto X and Nexus 4 stack up against each other, and boy, is it a close battle. Is one better than the other? Find out in our review.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa design

When it comes to design, these two devices are very similar in their philosophies. The Moto X and Nexus 4 both come with a 4-7-inch screen, making them much more easy to handle than 5-inch screens, which are seemingly becoming the standard. Of course, LG’s Nexus 4 did launch before the 5-inch screen craze, which may explain some of their design choices.

The Nexus 4 is made pretty much out of glass. That does make it a bit more breakable, but on the other hand, it’s very easy to grip and minipulate in a single hand, and the plastic spine keeps things from feeling too slippery all around.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa design n4 back design

The back is fully glass with the Nexus designation on top of LG’s Crystal Reflection patterned design. Though the glass durability might have been questioned in the past, there is no doubt that this is one of the nicest phones available. In the hand, you get what can only be described as a refreshingly easier feel due to the smaller size than most of today’s phones. It is completely flat on all sides which gives it level of a rigidity feel.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa design x design

And that flatness is exactly what Motorola wanted to alleviate when they designed the X. The Moto X’s size is very similar to the Nexus 4, but it’s actually still a little thinner, narrower, and sports that elegantly curved back that was deliberately added for overall better ergonomics. The result is a phone that is surprisingly easier to handle in a single hand. If the Nexus 4 was one of the last big releases in the 4.7-inch space, the Moto X has just gotten closer to perfecting that flat and rigidity design.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa design x back

It’s pretty much the same phone all around with the fully black front and with the patterned design on the back that this time isn’t holographic. It’s clear that Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility has given way to real Nexus inspiration for Motorola’s latest offering. And of course, the Moto X trump card is its MotoMaker platform that allows you to fully customize the look of your phone.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa design both

It goes without saying, the Nexus 4 and Moto X are very similar when it comes to design, and it’s probably the closest comparison we’ve seen yet. The Nexus 4 is still one of the best devices in its size market, but what’s interesting about the Moto X is that it takes those features that made the Nexus 4 successful, and improve upon it, ultimately making a pretty wicked device. So, when it comes downto it, it’s going back to the plastic vs. glass war, only the Moto X may have the upper hand with its MotoMaker.

The MotoMaker allows you to have a more unique and personalized phone, as opposed to the usual, and sometimes boring, white and black colors. With either way you go, you’ll still get a very similar experience , however, with the Moto X’s curved back and slightly smaller profile, you may find it to be just a tad bit more comfortable.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa display

As we’ve been saying all along, the Moto X and Nexus 4 are pretty close in comparison, and that continues with the displays. Both devices ditch the 1080p trend, instead opting for 720p displays. To be fair, the Nexus 4 does feature a 1,280 x 768 screen, so it does sport more pixels all around, and it has a slightly higher pixel density, rated at 318ppi.

This higher pixel density is basically due to a slightly thicker screen, compared to the Moto X. Being an IPS display, brightness really is the forte here, but that doesn’t mean the colors suffer one bit — the Nexus 4 does a great job with its saturation, despite not having the same level as the AMOLED found on the Moto X.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa display specs

The AMOLED screen on the Moto X was a deliberate choice for the Active Notifications feature, as it takes advantage of completely disabled pixels for battery saving. On paper, the Moto X’s screen is outclassed by the Nexus 4 by just a hair. The Moto X sports a AMOLED display capable of 1,280 x 720 resolution, rated at 312ppi. When it comes down to it, there’s really no perceivable difference in displays between the two phones.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa display colors

However, I did notice that despite having a more saturated profile when it comes to color, the AMOLED screen takes on a slightly warmer tone, compared to the colors with the Nexus 4’s IPS display. And really, that could be because of how saturated Samsung’s AMOLED screens are. It’s up to you to decide whether that’s a good thing or not, but it does join alongside the Nexus 4 as yet another great example of how 1080p screen can be really great, but perhaps not as necessary as we think.

Despite the subtle differences, it really comes down to the Moto X taking advantage of that beautiful AMOLED display. By having the ability to active only some pixels, the screen allowed for Motorola to create the Active Notification feature that, honestly, is pretty great! While the Moto X has some really cool features the Nexus 4 just doesn’t have, both screens provide for a really good experience. No matter which device you go with, there’s plenty to enjoy here.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa display active notifications

Despite their subtle differences, it really comes down to the Moto X taking advantage of that AMOLED screen. By having the ability to activate only some pixels, the screen allowed for Motorola to create the peaking Active Notification feature that, honestly, is pretty damn great. In the end both screens provide the same kind of performance in easy to manipulate sizes, so there’s plenty to enjoy.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa performance

Both devices basically have the same processing packages, but it was Motorola that found a way of optimizing the Snapdragon S4 Pro in a way that it’s still holding up even today. Backing the S4 Pro in the Moto X is the Adreno 320, and then a dedicated pair of processor that focus on voice recognition.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa performance x specs

The Moto X doesn’t please spec hungry people, however, it’s a crime to disregard the Moto X just because of the processor it uses. Motorola has done some insane optimization with the S4 Pro. This thing is blazing fast.

Sure, the graphics processing might get bogged down by the future demands of mobile, but by today’s standards, this is one one the most slick and snappiest experiences available.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa performance n4 specs

Despite not sporting the additions and crazy optimizations put in by Motorola, the standalone S4 Pro and Adreno 320 packaged in the Nexus 4 is still nothing to scoff at. While it does have a slight pause and delay in comparison to the Moto X, the Nexus 4 remains very smooth, and it goes without saying, it’s one of the most reliable experiences out there.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa performance scores

When it comes down to it, the Moto X is just overall faster than the Moto X, but that doesn’t mean the more affordable Nexus 4 should be put on the back burner. In fact, for $200, the Nexus 4 shouldn’t be easily disregarded. $200 gets you a really, really impressive device.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa hardware

Hardware is another area where these two phones are relatively simple. As you might expect, you get the usual bevy of connectivity tools in both devices — GPS, Bluetooth, and NFC. The Moto X does come with more storage at stock, with 16GB over the 8GB of the base model Nexus 4.

There’s also a pretty noticeable difference in speakers. The speaker on the Moto X is much louder than the Nexus 4, and it’s sound is a little fuller and richer, too.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa hardware x google now

The voice recognition enhancements by Motorola called for more microphones all around. One up top, one on the bottom front, and one on the bottom back. And all are always working, waiting for your voice and your voice only to tell it what to do. In sheer hardware, it’s mostly a storage war as both of these phones offer much of the same things under the hood.

After all, Motorola didn’t really need to one up the Nexus 4; they just needed to improve upon it.

Looking at the battery, we’re in another neck to neck race, as the Moto X sports a mere 100 mAh more than the 2,100 mAh unit in the Nexus 4. Where things start changing up is the battery saving features in the Moto X. This involves a simple battery saving option in the settings, but also the additional cores that govern specific functions and the AMOLED powered Active Notifications.

In my tests, I’ve been able to get the Moto X all the way to bedtime with 30 percent battery life to spare. And the same goes for the Nexus 4, but far less consistently. When it comes down to it, it really depends how you use it, but for moderate to somewhat heavy usage, you’ll be able to get a whole day’s worth of work easily, no matter which phone you go with.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa camera

The Nexus 4 has 8-megapixel optics, and the Moto X has a few more, bolstering its camera up to 13-megapixels. As for the camera apps themselves, they remain pretty much the same either way with their different offerings, as Google usually keeps things pretty simple.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa camera n4 app

The Nexus 4’s app interface uses an arched touch and swipe, and while it is very minimalistic, it does include HDR and Photo Sphere. As for picture quality, it’s usable, but photos certainly don’t pop out like today’s cameras. Shutter to file speeds are also really good, so you can pile up a lot of photos in a short amount of time.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa camera x app

When we get to the Moto X, though, it unfortunately isn’t as good as today’s best 13-megapixel performers. Much like the Nexus 4’s camera app, it’s also very simple on this end, utilizing swipes to access menus, and it includes a slow motion video option as a replacement for Photo Sphere.

Shot with the Nexus 4.
Shot with the Nexus 4.


Shot with the Moto X.
Shot with the Moto X.

Accessing the camera is fairly easy with Motorola’s Quick Capture feature. Simply flicking the phone a few times will open up the camera app. Looking at picture quality, well, it’s actually the main detractor here — colors are pretty muted and don’t accurately reproduce the vibrancy of a scene. Given its 13-megapixel camera optics, it’s actually pretty disappointing, but I will say that photos and videos come out much sharper than those that you would see from a Nexus 4.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa camera both

When it comes to cameras, it really is a toss up. You’re getting about the same thing either way, aside from the sharper photos on the Moto X, but beyond that, you really aren’t getting anything special.


moto x vs nexus 4 aa software

And here, we arrive at the software. Since Motorola joined Google, their software has naturally become more and more like stock Android, and Motorola’s few additions didn’t change the general feel much, if at all. However, the Nexus 4 does get the advantage of getting updates before the Moto X, but it goes without saying, the Moto X isn’t that far behind being on Android 4.2.2.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa software n4 jelly bean

You get your standard functions with Jelly Bean — homescreens, notification dropdown and shade, and, of course, Google Now. Then, this is where Motorola’s additions come in. They’ve added in their own voice activated feature, which you can use by simply saying “OK, Google Now.” If you were already used to launching Google Now and saying ‘Google’, this is a more streamlined process of that. It’s more efficient, and overall, it works wonderfully.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa software x jelly bean

Then you have Active Notifications, and honestly, they’re a huge enhancement over your standard notification light. It’s also great at giving you a quick glimpse at the notifications you need to see. When it comes down to it, you get the stock Android experience we all know and love, and at the same time, Motorola’s done a great job by adding more practical features to sweet the deal, and even get your money’s worth.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa price

While the Moto X is being touted as Motorola’s flagship device, the Nexus 4 was the reference for many of the future smartphones that came after it. The Moto X costs $199.99 on a new two-year contract and it can be purchased unlocked for upwards $500.

Interestingly enough, the 8GB Nexus 4 just got a $100 price cut, bringing it’s price tag to a mere $200. That’s a really impressive price for a smartphone, especially considering that it does much of what the Moto X already offers.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa prices

The Nexus 4 looks really attractive on paper when you find out you’re paying the standard $200 for a premium device, only, there’s no contract with the Nexus 4 like there is with the Moto X.

moto x vs nexus 4 aa conclusion

And so, there you have it. I can see why people took a single look at the Moto X’s specs and wondered how this modest performer could even consider itself a top tier device. It’s an easy answer, though. And that is because of the Nexus 4. Both of these phones feature the same tools and specs to achieve plenty of the same functions, so the lower price of the Nexus 4 is what makes it the same attractive package it has always been.

But it’s been a year since the Nexus 4’s arrival. So, Motorola has taken what made the Nexus 4 so special, improve upon it, and make it a really appealing package. It really is closer to perfecting what Google set out to do with the original Nexus, and it achieves it with flying colors.

You’ll get your money’s worth taking advantage of all the cool new features Motorola put into the Moto X, but when it comes down to price, it really is hard to beat the Nexus 4, especially with that recent price cut. Look at it this way — $200 for the Nexus 4, a smartphone with no legal agreements, and then you have the Moto X — $199.99 on a new two-year contract, along with all of the hidden and crazy fees in the contract. The Nexus 4 definitely sounds more attractive on paper, in that regard. That said, this is probably better considered a tie than anything else.

Brad Ward contributed to this review.