Motorola Moto X (2014) review

£420
Price when reviewed

The first Moto X received critical acclaim in the US, but by the time it reached the UK, it had already been surpassed by a number of rivals. With the second generation Moto X, Motorola is making more of a unilateral effort, releasing the phone in the UK at the roughly the same time as the US. See also: what’s the best smartphone of 2014?

The appeal of the Moto X (2nd Gen) is similar to the first. It runs a clean, unadulterated version of Android 4.4.4 (KitKat) with a guaranteed upgrade to Lollipop (although Motorola hasn’t confirmed when that might be yet), and it makes a refreshing change from the feature overload you get from a Samsung or LG handset. Visit: the best Android phones of 2014 too.

Motorola Moto X 2014 review: gesture control

That’s not to say the Moto X 2014 is lacking on the features front, however, just that it’s less in-your-face. In fact, just like its predecessor, this new Moto X is packed with clever touches that help make life with the handset a little easier.

Motorola Moto X+1

Top of the list for us is the ability to twist the phone twice to launch the camera app. This may sound trivial, but it’s a real boon when you want to fire off a snap quickly: on other phones you have to switch on and drag an onscreen control, or fumble around to find the camera button, then hold it down. With the Moto X, however, two flicks of the wrist and you’re in.

It’s also good to see the camera options aren’t over-complicated: tap anywhere on the screen to shoot; drag a thumb from the left to change settings; drag from the right to view recent photographs and videos.

That feature was part of the first Moto X’s repertoire, but this one adds a few tricks of its own. It now has four front-facing sensors, one in each corner, which are designed to respond to a number of non-touch gestures.

Wave your hand in front of the screen with the phone in standby and the phone will display the time and recent notifications, which can be viewed directly with a quick drag of the finger.

When a call comes in it can be silenced with another manual waft and, to save fumbling around in the dark, alarms can be snoozed with a half-asleep gesticulation.

Motorola Moto X 2014 review: customisations

The Moto X’s Attentive Display feature apes Samsung’s Smart Stay to keep the screen on when you’re looking at it, and off when you’re not, and there’s customisable version of Google’s voice-control system, too. Instead of the rather daft “OK Google”, it’s possible to wake up the phone and issue commands using your own key phrase. This works fine, but doesn’t play nicely when you have a security PIN, requesting you enter your code by either saying it (which isn’t very secure) or tapping it in before you continue.

Other nice touches include a haptic-feedback engine that’s about as sophisticated as they come. Rather than buzzing at the same strength no matter what, the Moto X adjusts the strength according to the situations: a heavy buzz when a call comes in, a light buzz for touchscreen keyboard feedback.

Motorola Moto X 2014 - Motorola Assist

Then there’s Motorola Assist, which intelligently sets the phone up depending on the time of day, where you are and what you’re doing. The Drive mode is especially clever: it can detect when you’re driving by sensing how fast you’re travelling, and it also works when you’re in the car by learning about contextually appropriate Bluetooth devices – your car stereo, for instance, or hands-free kit.

Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen) review: design

It’s great to review a phone that doesn’t make a song and dance about such extra features, instead packaging them in such a way that they feel naturally part of the overall experience. It’s also nice to find them all wrapped in top-class chassis.

At first glance, it appears that the Moto X doesn’t deviate much from what has become the classic Motorola smartphone design of late. With a gently curved rear, rounded corners and centre-mounted camera and logo on the back, it cuts a familiar figure.

It’s only when you pick it up that the luxury touches become apparent: it’s surrounded with a matte-finish metal frame, the edges of the Gorilla Glass 3 display are slightly rounded off, and the whole thing has a dense solidity to it that makes it feel like it’s been hewn from a single block of titanium. It isn’t heavy, though: despite having a larger 5.2in, 1080p display, it’s only 5g weightier than last year’s 4.7in Moto X.

Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen.) review: Display

The technology behind that display is the same, though, with an AMOLED panel delivering super-saturated colours and perfect contrast. The image on this screen really jumps out at you; it’s a joy to behold.

In terms of brightness, it’s pretty good too. Intially, with a full-white screen, we measured it pumping out only 254cd/m[sup]2[/sup] at maximum brightness, which isn’t that great. However, the screen is set up to adapt itself automatically to onscreen content, which means it’s actually capable of going far brighter than this. Thus, when we reduced the amount of bright tones displayed on the screen we saw overall brightness shoot up. At the maximum settings we were able to record, it hit 356cd/m[sup]2[/sup], which is as bright as AMOLED screens get, and bodes well for readability in bright sunlight.

Motorola Moto X+1

Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen.) review: Moto Maker

As standard, the Moto X (2nd Gen) will be offered in three flavours: black, leather and bamboo – that’s real bamboo, not a printed finish – and all look and feel fabulous. But it’s the arrival of Motorola’s Moto Maker service that really interests us.

Motorola Moto X+1

Moto Maker allows you to customise the colour and finish of the phone, and not just the front and rear panels: you can also jazz up the the ring around the logo, the speaker inserts on the front, and even have the phone engraved.

With plain colours, wood and leather finishes for each part to choose from, there are thousands of potential combinations, and the good news is that it doesn’t need to cost much more. Currently, the standard Moto X 2014 (16GB) can be had for around £420 inc VAT; those customised with plain colours are the same price; and it’s only if you want custom leather or wood finishes that the price climbs to £440 inc VAT.

Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen) review: specification, performance and features

As far as smart features and design goes, the Moto X 2014 has most other handsets well-beaten, then, but how about its specification and performance?

As you’d expect, the hardware is quick. You get a quad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC with Adreno 330 graphics. That combination delivers Samsung Galaxy S5-rivalling levels of performance, with scores of 979 and 2,902 in Geekbench 3’s single- and multi-core tests and 29.5fps in the GFXBench T-Tex HD test. If anything it’s slightly quicker, and it certainly feels slick and responsive: in everyday use, we never found we were desperate for more power.

The camera also receives an upgrade, up from 10 megapixels to 13 megapixels, and from an aperture of f/2.4 to a wider one of f/2.25. It should be good; alas, it’s the most disappointing aspect of the new Moto X. In low light, both video and photos are grainy and lacking in detail. We found the autofocus struggled to lock on much of the time, resulting in fuzzy photographs.

Motorola Moto X 2014 - low light camera sample

And in tricky conditions, where HDR comes in useful – a dark foreground against a bright sky, for example – photographs exhibited an obvious glow around high-contrast edges. It’s well behind the iPhone 6, Sony Xperia Z3 Compact and Samsung Galaxy S5 for overall quality. Only the dual LED flash impresses, casting an even, flattering light over your indoor portrait and group photos.

The front-facing stereo speakers are much more impressive. They reach loud volumes without distorting and are perfect for listening to radio and podcasts alike. Call quality is beyond reproach, too.

Alas, it’s back to disappointment with battery life, which is considerably less impressive than other smartphones in its category. In our tests, battery capacity fell at a rate of 8.9% while playing a 720p video in flight mode, and brightness set as close to 120cd/m[sup]2[/sup] as we could get it. That’s okay, but lower than average.

Motorola Moto X+1

In the GFXBench gaming battery test, its projected runtime was a mere 2hrs 15mins, a result worse than every phone we’ve run this test on aside from the iPhone 5s. In our 3G audio-streaming test, which is designed to simulate data consumption over time, its results fell similarly behind the curve, with battery capacity falling at a rate of 3.8% per hour. The final letdown is the lack of a microSD slot.

Motorola Moto X (2nd Gen) review: verdict

Despite this, there’s so much to like about the new Motorola Moto X. It’s refreshing to come across a device packed with so many quirky, yet genuinely useful features that doesn’t neglect the essentials. Not only is it clever, but the screen is fantastic and the design truly beautiful. Plus the price isn’t overwhelmingly expensive either, starting at £420 SIM-free.

The underwhelming camera is disappointing, as is the below-average battery life and lack of microSD expansion, and these issues put a dent in the Moto X’s overall appeal. If you want something different, however, it’s certainly worth considering.

Details

Cheapest price on contractFree
Contract monthly charge£30.00
Contract period24 months
Contract providermobilephonesdirect.co.uk

Physical

Dimensions73 x 10.2 x 140.5mm (WDH)
Weight144g
Touchscreenyes
Primary keyboardOn-screen

Core Specifications

RAM capacity2.00GB
Camera megapixel rating13.0mp
Front-facing camera?yes
Video capture?yes

Display

Screen size5.2in
Resolution1080 x 1920
Landscape mode?yes

Other wireless standards

Bluetooth supportyes
Integrated GPSyes

Software

OS familyAndroid

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