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Motorola Moto X (2014) review: style over substance

Kris Carlon
5

The first Moto X was a groundbreaking device because it brought near-stock Android to a third-party manufacturer device that subsequently meant it got Android updates faster than even some of Google’s own Nexus devices.  The Moto X also ushered in the era of hands-free control, “breathing” lock screen notifications and the brilliant Moto Maker program for endless personalization. The new Moto X (2nd gen.) is now here. So is the Moto X (2014) another game changer like the original, or does it just improve on an already near-perfect recipe? Read our Moto X (2014) review to find out.

moto x camera
© ANDROIDPIT
4 ★★★★

Rating

Good👍
  • Excellent build quality
  • Endless customizations with Moto Maker
  • Very fast stock Android interface
  • Rapid updates, no bloatware
  • Excellent hands-free voice controls
Bad👎
  • Weak battery
  • Mediocre camera
  • Screen is just OK
  • No stereo speakers or microSD

Test video

Design & Build Quality

This is easily the biggest standout of the new Moto X (2014). This thing looks great. The curved back of the original is back, but now you can add an awesome leather back plate or opt for a wood panel. We’ve got the black leather Moto X (2nd gen.) and it is a thing of beauty, more so than perhaps any other phone I’ve seen this year.

moto x 2014 1
The new Moto X (2014) is easily the best looking Android I've seen this year. © ANDROIDPIT

The edges of the Moto X (2014) are a gorgeous metal with sectioned corners for the antennas and that same great curve for a sexy feel in the hand. The sides are actually a little slippery though and the leather doesn’t exactly help in that regard either. I repeatedly found myself almost dropping the new Moto X. In the heat too, the leather would get a little moist, if you know what I mean. It will, of course, also scuff up after a while, which may be cool or may be awful.

moto x 2014 power button closeup
The metallic design of the Moto X is beautiful and feels great in the hand. © ANDROIDPIT

The little Motorola logo on the back of the original moto X has festered into a rather ridiculously large indentation that you might think is a button but is actually nothing more than a finger groove (which is actually nicely positioned) and a visual counterbalance to the large LED ring flash surrounding the camera lens.

moto x sim
The curved back and smooth aluminum frame feel great in the hand. © ANDROIDPIT

Everything is nicely centered on the new Moto X, with a top-mounted headphone port and microUSB port at the bottom. Speaker grills sit above and below the screen (and are strangely raised), but only the bottom one emits any sound – there’s no stereo speaker action here, unlike in the new Moto G (2014). The power button has a nice texture and you can tell that design was at the forefront of Motorola’s mind with the new Moto X. You can further customize your Moto X with the Moto Maker program to include custom trim colors, engraving, front panel color choices and more.

Display

The original Moto X suffered a bit from its HD display. Sure, it was decent enough, but it didn’t exactly floor you. The new Moto X (2nd gen.) has upped the ante by packing a Full HD display, bringing a very respectable 424 pixels per inch to its 5.2-inch AMOLED screen. Colors are bright and saturated with great contrast. The screen brightness doesn’t really ramp up though and our test unit had a rather dull blue tint to whites. The screen offers a satisfactory balance of size, resolution and output to deliver what you want from your smartphone screen without destroying your battery but it’s not exceptional.

moto x 2014 5
A look at the front and back of the bamboo Moto X (2014). / © ANDROIDPIT

The AMOLED display technology also means the great “breathing” notifications are back, and the various motion sensors will activate your notifications from a screen-off state simply by reaching for your phone.  This is, of course, a much more battery-friendly way to get notifications than to turn the entire display on. AMOLED also means on-screen blacks are pitch black but outside readability is not quite as great as on an LCD screen. However, the notification benefits brought to the Moto X by AMOLED clearly outweigh readability in direct sunlight or the minor failings of the screen itself. You can also set the screen to dim more quickly if you stop looking at it with Attentive Display.

AndroidPIT Moto X 2014 Homescreen Quick Settings
The Moto X (2014) runs a slightly tweaked version of stock Android. © ANDROIDPIT

Software

The Moto X (2104) comes with near-stock Android, with a light sprinkling of Motorola features on top. The basic interface is pure stock, so you won’t get any flashy interface elements, just bare bones Android 4.4.4. This of course, means that the Moto X gets Android updates insanely quickly and is also one of the fastest interfaces around because it is not bogged down in a manufacturer skin.

AndroidPIT Moto X 2014 Settings App Drawer
It's all stock Android with a few Moto additions like Connect, Migrate and Moto. © ANDROIDPIT

The Motorola additions are minimal but useful. The settings menu gets a Motorola Privacy section and Moto ID for syncing across devices or with the cloud and you can set Trusted Devices (like a smartwatch) that will keep your phone unlocked when they are connected. Everything else is contained in a section called Moto which holds the four cornerstones of the Moto X’s uniqueness: Assist, which handles profiles that can apply themselves automatically, like when, for example, you are driving. Actions let you manage the Moto X’s gesture based controls including the camera shortcut wrist flick and wave to silence.

AndroidPIT Moto X 2014 Hands Free
Hands-free controls are the strongest point of the Moto X (2014). © ANDROIDPIT

The two major software features of the Moto X (2014) are voice commands and the intelligent display. Display options include “breathing” notifications, blocking notification content for specific apps and app blocking. Voice commands on the Moto X (2014) are like Google Now on speed. You can now name your Moto X anything you like so you don’t have to endlessly say “Ok Google” too. This allows for some pretty unique and also hilarious hotword phrases. 

AndroidPIT Moto X 2014 Voice Commands
There's an amazing amount you can do with just your voice on the Moto X (2014). © ANDROIDPIT

Getting used to the Moto X’s voice commands takes a little while, and between hotword detection, voice command recognition and spoken results, it’s not the fastest process on the block, but for controlling your phone from across the room it’s incredibly useful. You can touchlessly send WhatsApp messages, listen to emails, perform web searches, have your Moto X read out new notifications to you, make calls and check voicemail when your phone is locked, take a photo, dictate text messages, set reminders, activate profiles, post to Facebook and more. It will completely change the way you think about using your phone.

AndroidPIT Moto X 2014 Attentive Display
There's a few nice little additions in the new Moto X (2014) like Attentive Display. © ANDROIDPIT

Motorola made a conscious decision to keep the Moto range minimal, with near-stock Android and very little bloatware, if you can even call it that. Motorola Connect syncs your devices in the cloud via your Motorola ID, Moto Migrate helps you transition from one device to another, Spotlight Stories are a lovely 360-degree immersive experience from Motorola (you may already know Windy Day), and Moto Assist (now called Help) gives you 24-7 access to help from Motorola Customer Support as well as handy tips and tricks for your Moto X.

AndroidPIT Moto X 2014 Help
Motorola Help is always ready to assist you, either through FAQs, chat or on the phone. © ANDROIDPIT

The greatest part of it all is that Motorola simply uploads updates to the core Moto X features to the Play Store, so as new sensor services, Moto Display options or Moto Actions controls are made available they can be updated via the Play Store rather than through waiting for a slow OTA firmware update. This is one of the great lessons Motorola learned under the tutelage of Google (the same thing happens with Google Play Services these days). 

AndroidPIT Moto X 2014 AnTuTu
Thanks to great specs and stock Android, the Moto X (2014) is blisteringly fast. © ANDROIDPIT

Performance

The Moto X (2014) is packs very standard internals for a device in its class: a quad-core Snapdragon 801 chipset clocked at 2.5 GHz with Adreno 330 GPU.  There’s a 16 GB or 32 GB model available but there’s no option for microSD expansion. The new Moto X has 2 GB of RAM and of course runs the latest version of Android: Android 4.4.4 with an imminent update to the Android L release. Due to the stock interface and very few system apps, the Moto X is super-fast and responsive and stands up well to any other flagships around right now, outperforming both the Galaxy S5 and HTC One (M8) in benchmarks and feel. 

moto x back close
The Moto X (2014) has a 13 MP camera with dual-LED ring flash, but it's not a standout. © ANDROIDPIT

Camera

The new Moto X gets a slight increase in the camera stakes: to a 13 MP camera with 4K video, slow-motion capture, panorama and HDR. You can tap anywhere to shoot a picture and launch the camera app through the slightly gimmicky wrist flick, which works quite well and delivers a satisfying buzz as it launches. Not sure why, but I like it. It’s one of the fastest ways to launch and shoot I’ve seen.

AndroidPIT Moto X 2014 Camera interface
Despite being super fast to access and shoot, the camera interface is a little clumsy. © ANDROIDPIT

The results of the camera are less impressive, however. There’s no manual mode on the new Moto X and the camera doesn’t quite live up to the premium look of the phone as a whole. It performs acceptably, but not brilliantly, which, when compared to many of the other flagships around, is just not good enough. It struggles to focus up close and doesn’t produce particularly rich colors. There are only two resolution options, no timer, no manual mode, no optical image stabilization and a slightly awkward camera interface. Definitely the weakest part of the Moto X so far.

Battery

Perhaps I spoke too soon. The Moto X (2014) comes with a very mediocre 2,300 mAh battery, which is a lot lower capacity than many competitors, which tend to sit around the 3,000 mAh mark with a similarly sized screen and resolution. While part of this decision is clearly due to the battery saving possibilities of active notifications on the AMOLED screen, the reliance on voice commands still demands more power and the increase in screen size and display resolution really required a larger bump (the original Moto X had a 2,200 mAh battery that was equally weak).

moto x 2014 2
Motorola has delivered some useful gesture controls with its new Moto X. / © ANDROIDPIT

Technical Specifications

  Motorola Moto X
System Android 4.4.4 KitKat
Display

5.2 inches, Full HD AMOLED (1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 423 ppi)

CPU Quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor (MSM8974-AC), 2.5 GHz
GPU Adreno 330 GPU (578 MHz)
RAM 2 GB
Internal storage

16/32 GB 

Battery 2,300 mAh (8 hours of battery charge in 15 minutess with turbo charging)
Camera 13 MP (f/2.25) with dual-LED Ring Flash, HDR, UHD (4K) video capture, 4X digital zoom
Connectivity GSM, HSDPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band
Dimensions 

72.4 x 140.8 x 3.8-9.9 mm

Weight 144 grams
Extras Aluminum metal frame, optional wood or leather battery cover, custom voice prompt

Final Verdict

After starting out so well, and making such a great impression based on the new Moto X’s stylish appearance and lightning quick interface, the two critical elements of camera and battery burst the bubble (not to mention minor screen issues and that odd speaker decision). Is this a case of putting style before substance? Maybe. The battery may be a big letdown, but the camera is still an improvement over the original Moto X. The issue is that the original Moto X introduced so many innovative features they made up for it and the new Moto X doesn’t.

The Moto X (2014) updates a successful recipe but doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table. Unless metal edges or naming your phone is the one feature you’ve been waiting for, it seems clear that Motorola could have done more. Not necessarily in terms of tons of new software features or gimmicky add-ons, but perhaps a little of the budget reserved for making the new Moto X look so great would have been more wisely invested in a larger battery or better camera software.

Still, these are things that can be tweaked by software updates, so if you’re looking for a great looking phone (that can be custom built via Moto Maker) with a fast interface, barely-there bloatware, speedy updates and fantastic hands-free capabilities then the Moto X is a great choice. Especially when you consider it only costs 499 USD for the 16 GB version: the new Moto X is easily the best looking, best feeling, and most premium-styled device in its price range. But if a better-than-average camera and all day battery life are key factors you may just have to wait for the next one.

Comments

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  • Bojan M. 1 month ago Link

    Now, while G is nothing, this one is quite interesting. What really turns me off though, is that triangular shape. It may lie well in the hand, but I don't care about that. To me, it's downright ugly.

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      Admin
      Scott Adam Gordon 1 month ago Link

      It's not the best looking device, true. But for the price and the specs I'm not arguing.

      Also, the Moto G is nothing? NOTHING?? Harsh :/

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      • Bojan M. 3 weeks ago Link

        Ha ha, sorry, I went overboard :D. I tend to be harsh when criticizing, not the best trait of mine. Sure, Motorolas, all of them, are very refreshing devices and very much needed as well, since it seems that everyone only cares about releasing overpriced flagships. Anyway, Moto devices are very nice, nice looking, nice specs, early updates. Not my cup of tea, but otherwise very interesting. In the end, it's all good for us customers.

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  • CalypsoSir 4 weeks ago Link

    I'm a fan of Motorola, but the poor cameras are just no longer acceptable. At least my Droid MAXX had a great battery. With a poor camera and weak battery, I guess I won't be going back to Moto from my LG G2 any time soon. Too bad.

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      Kris Carlon 3 weeks ago Link

      Let's just hope Moto learned from Google's efforts to fix the Nexus 5 camera. It went from barely usable to a very decent shooter after only a few firmware updates. Still, that was a pretty extreme case. Let's cross our fingers Moto can make better use of the Sony sensor with better software.

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