Moto X 2014: Bigger and better than ever before
The original Moto X was one of the best Android smartphones around and now Motorola is back with a bigger and more powerful successor.
The new Moto X (2014) leaves behind the mid-range offering of its predecessor as the company shifts its focus to address the high end smartphone market. Moto X (2014) certainly has the powerful internals and attractive chassis to match its premium price tag of $749, but can it stand out in a crowded market?
Slick hardware without the customisation
Motorola has brought across the excellent ergonomics of the original Moto X including the curved back and signature M-dimple, which is now bigger and acts as a useful anchor for your finger while holding the handset. It has also added some other thoughtful touches, such as texturing the power button with ridges to make it easier to discern by touch.
The chassis is slightly bigger in dimensions from its predecessor to accommodate the larger 5.2-inch display, however, Motorola has kept the bezels razor thin and the handset tapers down to extremely skinny edges to help offset the extra half-inch of real estate. For context, the Moto X is even smaller in dimensions than Samsung’s Galaxy S5 despite having a larger screen.
Motorola has amped up the build quality with a stylish aluminium frame construction that melds seamlessly into the protective layer of Gorilla Glass 3.
Unfortunately, the Moto Maker customisation service, that allows customers to personalise the front and back of the phone from 25 different finishes (ranging from colourful hues to deep wood grains and genuine leathers in addition to different metal accents), remains USA exclusive.
While we understand the logistical nightmare in bringing such a service cross borders, Motorola could have provided a larger range of default options. As it stands, Australian customers will only have two options to pick from - straight black or a wood finish for an extra $40.
Motorola has upped the screen size and resolution to a 5.2-inch 1080p display, bringing it in line with most other Android flagships. As an AMOLED display, it looks better than most LCD equipped smartphones with deeper blacks, a punchier colour spectrum and excellent viewing angles. The panel isn’t quite as well calibrated as the AMOLED displays seen in recent Samsung smartphones and it’s not nearly as bright, but it’s a significant improvement over the previous model.
Under the hood sits Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 chipset clocked at 2.5GHz - the same piece of silicon that powers nearly every flagship Android smartphone released in 2014.
Android 5.0 Lollipop shines
The Moto X runs a pure unadulterated version of Android, free from unnecessary software skins that can slow down performance, while also ensuring quick access to the latest Android OS updates. It is the first Android smartphone outside of Google’s own Nexus 6 to receive the latest Android 5.0 Lollipop software update.
Lollipop brings about a significant facelift in the design aesthetic of the OS that is refreshing without straying too far from the familiar Android experience. From the onscreen buttons, setup menu, notification shade and app drawer to icons and animations, everything has been redesigned to make Android feel cleaner and more cohesive.
Usability cues such as how a transparent grey shading appears onscreen when you scroll to the end of a menu or how button presses trigger a shading that radiates outward, are all subtle but welcome additions.
Other than design related changes, Android 5.0 brings about some new features such as the ability to display notifications directly on your device’s lock screen, battery saver mode that promises to squeeze 90 extra minutes of juice and the ability to search within the settings menu. The most useful new feature, however, is the ability to create multiple user profiles directly from your smartphone which keeps your personal apps, contacts and photos separate. There is also a guest mode for temporary users that can also act as a handy kid mode for parents.
Motorola’s intelligently crafted software features that made the original such a joy to use makes a return with slight improvements.
For example, the handset’s ability to quietly listen for your voice commands even when the screen is off is back but this time you have the option to change the command phrase from ‘Okay Moto X’ to practically anything you like. From here you can use any of the commands that work with Google Now such as looking up the weather forecast, ask when the next meeting is, add reminders, set an alarm, open apps and navigate to a destination. Some new voice commands have been added as well such as saying ‘take a selfie’ will fire up the front-facing camera and start a countdown timer for a picture.
It works well for the most part but using voice commands in any kind of background noise renders it practically unusable.
You also can now view notifications at a glance from the lock screen by hovering your hand over the phone. Alarms and calls can be silenced with a wave of the hand as well.
And finally, Moto Assist, which adjusts your smartphone’s settings depending on where you are, still works brilliantly well. For example, Moto X will check your calendar to determine whether you are in a meeting and switch your phone into silent mode and reply to missed calls so that you remain uninterrupted during the meeting. When you’re driving, which the phone automatically determines by using the onboard GPS and accelerometer, the smartphone will automatically play music and divert incoming calls to your in-car Bluetooth or headset, read text messages and tell you who’s calling.
The 13MP camera on the new Moto X is a big improvement over the previous model but it still falls short of matching the best top-tier Android smartphones.
Most notably, the camera hardware lacks Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) resulting in average low light performance. Exposure can be hit and miss and autofocus is slow especially when compared to the blisteringly fast benchmark set by last year’s flagship smartphones like the HTC One M8, Galaxy S5 and LG G3.
That said, the Moto X is still capable of taking clear, detailed shots in good light and reproduces colour accurately. Video can be shot in resolutions of up to 4K although with only 16GB of internal storage and no microSD slot for expansion, we would suggest sticking with 1080p recording.
Battery life and call quality
At 2,300mAh, the Moto X surprisingly packs a substantially smaller battery than most other Android flagships. As a result, the Moto X didn’t measure up to the impressive two day battery life of the Sony Xperia Z3 or Samsung Galaxy Note 4 but thankfully, it did at least get through a full day of use. It’s also worth noting that call quality was outstanding. Motorola has incorporated 4 microphones into the Moto X, resulting in much more effective noise cancellation. Callers said they couldn’t hear any background noise and could hear us clearly even with booming trucks and motorbikes passing by in the background.
There is a lot to love about the Moto X.
The hardware is extremely well-built, the call quality is incomparable, as is the Android experience which is devoid of any obnoxious overlays or gaudy third-party widgets. In fact, the Android experience is fast enough and has enough features to give Google’s Nexus smartphones a run for its money.
But there are some faults. The camera is disappointingly average and the battery life is unremarkable when stacked up against its Android rivals. It’s also hamstrung when it comes to storage with only 16GB onboard and no support for expandable memory whatsoever. It’s a shame that Motorola didn’t see it fit to bring larger storage options to the Australian market as they have in the United States and in the UK. Australians also miss out on the opportunity to customise the front and back of the phone.
Having said that, the new Moto X is still a worthy successor to one of our favourite Android smartphones from last year.