The New Moto X from Motorola: Full Review

Last year, in 2013, Motorola attempted to break the mold by producing a smartphone that focused more on a better user experience and not as much on the top of the line hardware specification. It was then rated by many bloggers across the internet as the best smartphone of the year (then 2013). I personally, purchased that device to be my phone of choice. I have not looked back, not once. Even after reviewing many new devices this year. I went on to purchase the original Moto X for my wife, and I also persuaded my mom and cousin to purchase one as well. Everyone found it to be the “perfect” smartphone for their needs.
Now, in 2014, Motorola has set out to do it all over again. They learned from a few mistakes. They tweaked some hardware, and a lot of the software; all for the betterment of the New Moto X. It’ll also be referred to as the Moto X 2nd Gen across the internet. They kept the infamous website and added more options to customize the phone. They made the phone a little wider and a little taller. But still managed to pack a larger screen in a footprint smaller than the competition. Thanks to my friend’s at Verizon Wireless, after spending two weeks with Motorola’s 2nd Gen Moto X, I bring to you my full review where I discuss hardware, software, purchase options and more, in hopes to give you all the ammunition you need to determine if this phone will be the right choice for you.

Last year, after the initial release of the original Moto X, I wrote an editorial about Motorola standing up against the Spec Wars, the fight to the top of having the newest hardware available, first. Motorola choose to build a line of devices with a processor that was 1 year old, but added and tweaked a few additional stand-alone processors and called it the X8 processing system. They did this in effort to lower cost, build proprietary hardware and customize it all to meet their software needs. Also a display that was lower resolution, but also smaller than the 5 inch wave blasting through the battle field. Lastly, pure Android, no skins or tweaks on top, only software added that would improve how the user completes the same tasks they do every day, instead of suggesting to them gimmicky new tasks to work into their routine. As I said, many tech enthusiasts loved last year’s Moto X. The bar was set very high.
Something happened though. I’m only guessing but probably because it didn’t see rocketing sales, Motorola decided that breaking out of the mold, may not have been the best decision after all. When rumors of a new Moto X with a larger 5.2 inch screen erupted, those of us who owned the original Moto X were shocked and a bit afraid it would lose the luster of being a one handed device. Although the mobile world is growing in screen size every year, not everyone wants or needs a tablet sized smartphone, or dare I say it, a “phablet”. Although 5.2 inches isn’t nearly phablet size, rumors are rumors, they boil and get exaggerated. We didn’t exactly know what to expect.
The Hardware
Thanks to my friends at Verizon, I can help put rumors to rest. After spending two weeks with the new Moto X, there is definitely nothing to worry about. We fought and flustered back and forth on internet forums for nothing. The new Moto X is a very nice annual upgrade from last year’s Motorola break through. We love this new rendition just as much as we loved his littler, big brother.

Everything about this phone has grown over the past year. The screen of the 2014 Moto X 2nd Gen grew respectively from 4.7 last year inches to 5.2 inches this year. The display is also bolder with a 1080p resolution. As expected, images, games, text, and movies are nice and crisp and without any unfocused shots at all. The screen is covered with a Corning Gorilla Glass 3 coating which helps protect from the everyday scratches such as laying it face down or putting it in the same pocket as your keys or pocket change. Let us not forget though that 2 of this year’s competitors have jumped to 1440p (or QHD) resolution. The OLED display allows for truer blacks and also saves energy because when displaying “black” the LEDs are actually off. This is how Moto Display is successful. More on that in the software section.

Around back, you will find a curved contour which fits the palm perfectly, allowing it to sit comfortably in your hand. The curve of the phone is reminiscent of the original 2013 Moto X. Only this time, due to the larger screen, it’s wider and taller. Also on the back, you will find that the dimpled Motorola Logo is now much more prominent as it is no longer a dimple, but instead it is embedded circular metal. Along with the front speaker grills, the metal circle around the Motorola Logo on back can be customized to be 1 of 10 different colors. The back plate itself can be customized to be 1 of 26 different colors. That also includes 5 shades of leather or 4 types of natural wood grain. To top off the color choices, the front can be either black or white. This is all possible because Motorola continued their new phone customizing website. There you can also choose memory storage of 16GB or 32GB, a personalized welcome message on the boot animation, and a personal message engraved on the back of the phone.

The front is mostly all screen, as the Moto X dons on-screen navigation keys; there are no hardware or capacitive soft touch keys at all. The bezels on the tops and bottom are minimal. However, the bezels along the sides seem to have grown ever so slightly with the screen. They aren’t unsightly, but not as minimal as the first generation. The new speaker grills, both on the top and bottom bezel, give the new Moto X an industrial look. These are the grills that can be customized to 1 of 10 different colors. The top grill covers the speaker used for phone calls, while the bottom grill covers the only media speaker. Though they look the part, these are not dual front facing speakers for audio stereo sound. Both grills are slightly raised. This means the phone will not lay flat on its screen when you set it face down, helping to keep the glass scratch free.

One of the coolest new additions to the new Moto X would be 3 infrared sensors in the bottom two, and top right corners of the front of the phone. On the white version, as seen above, they are noticeable. But on the variant with a black front, they are completely invisible. But why are they there? They assist the phones software called Moto Display, which is the same thing (just new name) of last year’s Active Display. (Motorola decided to rename all their cool apps with Moto in front of it.) Moto Display will slowly “breath” or “pulse” the time and the three most recent unread notifications on the screen, using only white, as to take advantage of the low power OLED screen. The infrared sensors will sense when you reach for your phone and activate the pulse.
The internals of the New Moto X are a huge step up from last year’s model. While the X8 processing system in last year’s Moto X (and the line of Droid devices) was perfectly adequate, this year Motorola jumped up several iterations in processing power to a Qualcomm SnapDragon 801 which is a Quad Core processor. I have no studies to back up this next statement but I have to assume that the original Moto X’s lack of wide spread success has to be attributed its older processor choice. The 801 can be found in all the major competitor’s phones: HTC One M8, LG G3, Samsung Galaxy S5, even the OnePlus One. It actual has a leg up on 2 of those phones with the addition of 3GB of RAM. It’s built to compete this year for sure.
The battery inside the New Moto X is a 2,300 mAh rating and is…surprisingly adequate. Many people can really push their phones to the limits by watching movies and playing games and listening to non-stop music. Well, I’m one of them. I consider myself a very heavy user. When I test phones, I hold back, but only a little bit. I do always test phones on the auto-brightness for the screen. In fact, I recommend this to all users. It’s a sure easy way to still see the content on the screen and squeeze more life out of the battery. After 2 weeks of use, I get an average of 15 hours of run time from a single charge. Considering I unplug it at 7 AM and in bed by 11:30 PM, that’s a full day and it never quit on me once. I always charge my phone overnight, therefore, more juice was unnecessary. If you are a two day user between charges, you will not get that from this device. After those 15 hours were up and I was on my way to bed, I still had about 11% of battery left on average. So technically, I could have gotten about at least another 1 hour and a half from that last 10 to 11 percent.

Out of the box the New Moto X is loaded with Android 4.4.4 KitKat. However, within weeks of it’s announcement, Motorola successfully updated the New Moto X with Android 5.0 Lollipop. There are so many great things to be said about the way Motorola enhances the user’s experience on the new Moto X. Much of it functions the same as last year’s version. They did, however, create a naming scheme which is used throughout all the Moto software and fined tuned it quite a bit. Touchless Control is now called Moto Voice, where you can speak commands to the phone whether its screen is on or off. But this year, you get to name your own “wake up” command. There are a few simple requirements that make it work best such as the more syllables the better, but try to keep the command to 2-4 words. “OK, Moto X” is short and sweet. Pretty much anything can be your launch phrase. From “Wake Up Moto X” to “Hello, Computer”. My personal favorite was “Hey, BaldyPal”.

Then there is the renaming of Active Display, which is now called Moto Display. Pulling the phone out of your pocket or waving your hand over the screen, notifications will slowly blink on and off using only white pixels to save battery. Instead of a limitation of one notification to interact with, now you have up to three. And If there isn’t one, at least the unlock icon will appear. The option to pick and choose which apps breathe notifications still remains in the settings.

Next up is Moto Assist. Something about the ability for the phone to just KNOW when I am in my car and read text messages to me, allow me to dictate replies, and remain hands free. Well that’s just awesome! And it keeps my kids and me safe on the road. You can also do the same thing when you are at home, like relaxing on the couch and you don’t want to actually get up to reply to your wife’s text. Also, Moto Assist will silence your notifications and calls so that you don’t get loud interruptions while in a meeting, at least not from your phone. Your friend’s iPhone will probably still interrupt. Lastly, The sleeping mode lets you set a time to silence everything before bed and turn it back up as you wake in the morning, by itself, meaning you can set it and forget it.

Moto Actions provides three simple ways to interact with your New Moto X via gestures. This is where the infrared sensors come into play. The infrared sensors on the front act as a beacon to help Moto Display work properly. Those sensors also allow you to wave your hand over the phone to silence a call or notification if you can’t address it immediately. Lastly, Moto Actions provides a way to launch the camera app with a simple twist of your wrist. This can be done, even with the screen off, by holding your phone horizontally and twisting your wrist twice as though you are turning a doorknob or a screwdriver. You’ll feel a vibration, as feedback, to let you know the command was registered, and then the camera will open without having to unlock your phone. If you use a security lock on your phone, this will only allow the camera to be used. If you were to try to get out of the camera, you would then be prompted to enter the proper unlock code.

Moto Connect is pretty much the same thing as Motorola Connect in the original model. This app allows the phone to push notifications to your computer via a Chrome browser extension. For example if you get a text message, you will get a pop up alert on your computer screen, therefore the phone can remain in your purse or pocket and you don’t have to pull the phone out to read the message. This also allows you to reply to text messages from your computer. Most all notifications can be seen on the computer through the Motorola Connect app and browser extension, but you won’t be able to interact to each of them.

The Camera
The New Moto X sports a 13 MP camera on the back and a 2 MP camera on the front. There is a minimal settings menu, so you will not get overwhelmed as I think one would by using a Samsung camera for instance. It incorporates a tap anywhere to capture function, records in slow mo, and in 1080p resolution for both video and pictures. There is a burst mode, featured by holding down in the center of the screen, and you are allowed to record video and snap pictures at the same time. All these functions are also allowed on the front 2 MP camera as well.

The camera housing and LED flash is a bit more interesting than last year. Instead of the dual LED flash being off to the side like most, these are on either side and surround by a ring which will help  diffuse and disperse the flash, providing better lighting.

The pictures on this year’s Moto X are clean and clear, but not very crisp. They still lack that something that you can get from LG or Samsung. The colors are flat and not vivid at all. When zooming in to capture a shot they quickly turn grainy. An unsteady hand will cause blur and it doesn’t do very well to capture action or other motions. It’s pretty good for taking organized group shots or selfies. It worked well when going through a museum with static objects, but not as well going through a zoo where animals won’t stand still. The HD video capture is impressive. Again, an unsteady hand can make a bouncy video.

Low light performance is not the best. Although I’m not one to go clubbing and take lots of rave pictures, I did attempt to capture pics and vids of the kids as they dance around the living room enjoying some music with strobes and colored LEDs.

Here are a few sample shots from adequate lighting to low lighting, from stills to motion. You can help be the judge.

The New Moto X originally launched in September 2014 for $449 for the 16GB variant and $499 for the 32GB variant. This is significantly lower than the competitors which are around $600 for the smallest variant. When signing a 2yr contract at various carriers it will cost you $199. However, over the past few months the 2yr contract price has already begun to drop. You can pick it up today from Verizon for $49 or AT&T for $99. You will not be able to use the New Moto X on Sprint at all, and T-Mobile no longer has contracts, so you are looking at the full retail value from them. Other smaller carriers are also offering it. It’s currently 1 penny at US Cellular for the 16GB model and Republic Wireless also has the 16GB model for $399 (no contract). Don’t forget that each of the three major carriers have their own monthly payment plans as well if you choose not to sign a contract.

The website is the best place to start where you can pick and choose the color of the back, front and accents, as well as engrave your name on the back. Motorola is also selling a “Pure Edition” of the New Moto X. This version comes free of any carrier apps and is available with GSM radios, which means it will not work on CDMA carriers such as Verizon. It will, however, work on AT&T or T-Mobile and it supports their LTE frequency bands for faster (than 3G) LTE data. If you are a developer or one who likes to really enjoy the power of Android, the Pure Edition has an unlockable bootloader and it’s said to expect faster Android updates than the rest of the Motorola family.

Pros and Cons
Motorola has really paid close attention to how we use our phone and made software to improve upon that. As opposed to coming up with new ways and gimmicks to make us use a smartphone for other things. I really enjoy the Moto apps. The Moto Assist is my favorite, and then Moto Display is a very close 2nd place. Those two alone are so much help. There are no other apps out there from any other smartphone manufacturer that compare to Moto Assist and Moto Display. They keep us safe and show works of innovation towards a future where smartphones truly are becoming smarter. In addition, the website helps your stand out in a crowd (if you want to) with a gorgeous array of colors to customize your phone. The addition of leather to the mix makes for a very classy and tasteful piece of hardware. Motorola has two very cool accessories to go with the new Moto X, the Moto Hint and the Moto 360. A Bluetooth earpiece and a smartwatch, both of which will enhance the New Moto X experience to the fullest. Which, I’m sure is exactly what Motorola is trying to do. I beleive they’ve succeeded. Again they all help you use the phone the way you already do today, they don’t try to sale you on using it in new ways and become a gimmick or a waste if you can’t adapt to it. You adapt easily and quickly to all these Motorola perks and then when you don’t have them, you miss them.

The screen is beautiful. The increase in screen size didn’t drastically increase the size of the phone overall. That is a big win for those who fell in love with the original Moto X and were scared of the rumors of the new one with a larger screen. It still feels good to hold. The dimple on the back helps to do so.

Sadly, I must say the camera is a downer this year. You would think that with the increase in megapixels it would be better than last year, but I’m thinking the more MP’s and the same software only enhanced any issues last year’s camera had. The battery life is respectable, but it’s no 24 hour battery. My wife can go a day and half on a full charge, she us a texter and Facebooker. But I could only make it 15-16 hours tops. I’m a medium to heavy user.

Overall, I am happy with the way the New Moto X turned out. I’m not a huge picture buff because I have a DSLR for those memorable moments. My smartphone pics are social media quality only. But tell me what you think. I’d like to hear your comments and feedback on the new Moto X and let me know if I left any questions unanswered.