Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen) review: Raising the bar

From left field comes Motorola as it sets the new standard in smartphone flagships

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Motorola Moto X
  • Motorola Moto X
  • Motorola Moto X
  • Motorola Moto X
  • Expert Rating

    4.75 / 5

Pros

  • Striking design that incorporates metal, and exotic materials such as leather or wood
  • True hands-free Voice Search
  • Stock Android Lollipop backed by powerful hardware
  • Water-resistant coating
  • A 5.2-inch AMOLED display with front speaker

Cons

  • No microSD memory slot
  • Scarce stock

Would you buy this?

Motorola’s recipe of combining powerful hardware with stock Android is a winning formula for its second generation Moto X. The company has forged a desirable identity — not by defacing the Android Lollipop software with a cumbersome overlay — but by becoming absolute masters of design.

Not much separates the front of the second generation Moto X from its predecessor. It remains inconspicuous, a uniform shade of black intended to camouflage the screen with the bezel. Differentiating the new smartphone from the old are patterned speaker grilles alone located at the top and bottom.

The front is left understated so that the screen always steals your attention. It’s a beautiful 5.2-inch Full HD display, with each inch of the AMOLED panel packing 423 pixels. The colours, resolution and viewing angles are all sublime, but we’re taken by the way the screen works when you get a notification.

The entire face of the smartphone directs your attention to a white-on-black notification icon, whether it a pressing missed call or a trivial Snapchat notification, and it does this in the least obtrusive way. The original Moto X pulled the same invisibility trick and we’re pleased to see this strand of DNA trickling down to its successor.

The smartphone is built on a metal chassis. It savagely curves up top and does so with subtlety on the sides. It feels slender, taut and slick in the hand. Such premium materials impress on their own merits, negating the need for ostentatious design.

Coating the back are materials previously foreign to a smartphone. Sustainable timber is one option, another is the Horween leather as seen on our review unit. It feels supple and has an increased resistance against nicks and scratches. The dark brown colour contrasts strikingly with the shimmering steel frame. This two-tone theme is prevalent throughout the design of the Moto X.

The back is a flawless exercise in symmetry. The flash wraps around the rear camera, in a circle, as to not break the balance. The beauty really is in the details.

Read more: Xiaomi Mi4 review: Xiaomi's best yet

Even in this tough climate, with rivals like the HTC One (M8) and the LG G3, we think the Moto X is one of the best designed smartphones on the market. Its features simply solidify its standing as a leading smartphone.

It is possible to view notifications and perform a multitude of tasks without ever touching the Moto X. Waving a hand over the smartphone's screen, roughly 10 centimetres or thereabouts above, will enable glanceable notifications. Alternatively, it has enough smarts to know when it is being spoken to.

In addition to reputable computing guts are two extra processors, one dedicated to language and another to context, which attentively listen for a search prompt. We set our prompt to “Hello Jervis”.

1. Hands-free Voice Search 2. Dialler 3. SMS app 4. Application manager 5. Settings in the notification blind 6. The camera UI
1. Hands-free Voice Search 2. Dialler 3. SMS app 4. Application manager 5. Settings in the notification blind 6. The camera UI

Saying the term launches Google’s Voice Search, a personal assistant smart enough to intelligently recognise words like ‘melange’, ‘bilious’, ‘iridescent’ and ‘arcana’, all of which I asked it to define during an afternoon spent reading. The assistant displayed enough intuition to note these words down in Google Keep when cued as a reminder for this review.

The smartphone, with its ever-attentive ear and large AMOLED screen, continues to deliver commendable battery life. Tucked inside the curvy body is a 2300 milliamp-hour battery which, although it is noticeably smaller than its rivals, will last just as long.

We used the Motorola Moto X as our primary phone over a two week period to make calls, send texts and receive emails; to listen to music, stream videos and capture photos; for social networking; and to play games. Good Gear Guide found the Moto X would last 18 hours under heavy use, and it would exceed a day at 26 hours with lighter use. These are figures smaller phones with bigger batteries struggle to achieve, such as the recently reviewed Xiaomi Mi4 or the LG G3.

The secret to the Moto X — and a string of recent Motorola smartphones — is the culmination of efficient software and powerful hardware. The Moto flagship runs Android 5.0 Lollipop and it is naked, sans for a couple of proprietary Motorola apps. No overlay nor third-party software weighs this smartphone down: it is Android at its quickest and lightest, as it should be.

Read more: Oppo breaks into Australian retail stores

Processing is handled by a 2.5GHz quad-core CPU, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage. The smartphone bristles in connectivity with support for 4G, dual-band Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC, though it is let down by not offering an expandable microSD memory slot. This omission hurts the otherwise impeccable flagship, particularly because the Moto X, with its quality display, front speaker and proficient cameras, would have had the makings of a superb multimedia machine.

The rear camera captures photos at 13 megapixels and records video in Ultra high definition. Image noise is scarce under ideal, natural lighting, though it is present under the flicker of fluorescent bulbs. The dual-flash, cosmetically arranged as a ring, does serve the camera well when it comes to mid-range portraits as the lighting appears even and more organic. The same goes for videos recorded at night.

Motorola’s rear camera is not the best in the industry as it trails that of Sony’s Xperia Z3, though between its imaging prowess and the simple interface, it earns its place among esteemed flagships.

Captured with the Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen.)
Captured with the Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen.)

A crop of the photo above at 100 per cent - Captured with the Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen.)
A crop of the photo above at 100 per cent - Captured with the Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen.)

At night with the dual flash enabled - Captured with the Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen.)
At night with the dual flash enabled - Captured with the Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen.)

Captured with the Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen.)
Captured with the Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen.)

The camera can't be used underwater — a perk primarily reserved for Sony smartphones, but Motorola has coated the Moto X with a water-resistant coating. Wet hands won't bother the metal- and leather clad smartphone, but submerging it below a water-line will.

Final thought

Each aspect of the Moto X gives the impression the tech at work is being pushed to its absolute limit. Take the screen for instance, a 5.2-inch AMOLED monster that is crammed into a body no taller than Apple’s 4.7-inch iPhone 6. The smartphone is riddled with a multitude of such glowing examples.

Then there’s its design, a bold step forward with the introduction of tricky metal, exotic leather or timber, and an innovative ring flash. Motorola has gone from playing catch up to raising the bar.

A sour lining frames the Moto X’s story. Motorola has an atrocious go-to market strategy in Australia. The company’s fantastic products are hampered by the kind of manufacturing problems that plague small start-ups, and this means its stellar products can’t find their way into customers’ hands. It gets worse.

Telcos and Motorola have a complex relationship. The fact Motorola’s smartphones aren’t on the store shelves of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone continues to hinder its local adoption. Inexpensive Moto Gs might not need carriers’ stamp of approval, but a high end flagship like the Moto X sure could. And it’s a downright shame because this is easily one of the top three smartphones on sale now in Australia.

Update, 4:57pm An earlier version of this article reported the Moto X would come with a fast-charger in the first quarter of 2015 as claimed by a representative. The company representative has since been in contact with GGG and has retracted the claim.

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