New 'pure Android' Moto X is 5.2 inches, $500, and clad in real metal, leather, wood (hands-on)

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Motorola is trying to make a Goldilocks phone once again.

Just like the first Motorola Moto X, 2014's version by the same name strives to be a design-it-yourself handset that hits the sweet spot in size, price, comfort, and features. This second-generation handset pretty much does the same, but with a larger, 5.2-inch screen and updated specs that can compete with today's phones.

The Moto X specs aren't at the zenith of what's technologically possible, but it also isn't the most costly, at $99 on contract and $500 or £420 unlocked (which converts to AU$535, with Australian pricing TBA). Instead, the Moto X aims to lure you in with the promise of all-around performance and the one-of-a-kind individuality. That comes from choosing your own colors and material -- including real leather and wood -- from the Moto Maker website, which is now available in the UK as well as the US.

Look and feel

Motorola's newest version of the X looks and feels a lot like it did before, but bigger. Its 5.2-inch 1080p HD AMOLED display pushes toward the larger end of the phone spectrum, while just staying on this side of the hand-friendly limits.

Despite the size, Motorola pulled off a really good in-hand feel on a curved-corner device that bows out in the back and remains balanced in the palm. New this year is a metal frame that adds heft. It isn't as easy to navigate a screen this large with just a thumb, but neither is it impossible. Those with larger mitts will certainly have an easier time operating the X one-handed.

Compared to last year's 720p resolution, this year's 1080p display (a pixel density of 423 ppi) looks far clearer and crisper, and the resolution is just right for the screen size.

The power/lock button and volume rocker share the right spine, and newly designed stereo front-firing speaker grilles rise slightly on the bottom and top, producing noticeably better sound than the typical smartphone. One thing that's still missing is an SD card slot for expandable storage, which means you'll either have to make do with 16GB (32GB if you live in Brazil) or splurge for the 32GB version through Motorola's site.

Here's another nice touch: the new Moto X may not look it, but it's also water-resistant, using nanocoating like this to seal and protect the phone's delicate internal electronics from a watery demise. Hot tub parties, here you come!

Getting personal

Once again, the Moto X's most compelling feature is the freedom to design it the way you'd like through the Moto Maker website.

You can select from an array of colors and finishes, and this year, the optional real wood backplates (in bamboo, teak, walnut, and ebony finishes) gets a premium partner in a leather choice. While the natural, cognac, black and navy colors look great, leather is also potentially more prone to scratches requiring fiddly care.

For the more typical soft-touch finishes, Motorola's refreshed palette includes newly tweaked tones culled from research into this season's trendier color styles. Shades are still divided into "cool" and "warm" for easier narrowing-down.

Pure Android, gestures, and voice

Not only does the new Moto X feature Android 4.4.4 KitKat as the latest and greatest OS version, there's no custom layer standing between you and your OS upgrade.

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Moto Maker lets you sift through 25 backplate colors. Sarah Tew/CNET

That doesn't mean that the X is without tricks. Backed by Google (and soon transitioning to Lenovo), voice-activated wake-up prompts return to the Moto X, letting you create your own wake-up commands too, such as "Wake up, phone!" Voice commands also hook into other apps like Facebook and What's App.

When you aren't speaking to the phone, gestures like waving your hand over the phone to hush your ringtone or tell your alarm to snooze.

You can also program the Moto Assist management app to lend a digital hand. Turn on the right mode and the Moto X can read texts aloud, temporarily block calls, and reset itself back to the usual profile at morning's light. A display feature keeps notifications pulsing in the background until you expand the preview with a finger press.

Camera and video

A solid step up from the first Moto X's 10-megapixel shooter, images on the new camera's 13-megapixel camera seemed pretty crisp in our initial tests. Motorola's added software tweaks include a way to snap multiple shots at once in case your intended snap misfires, with picture-reading intelligence helping pick your "best" shot. It isn't a new conceit in the phone world, but one that is new to the Moto X.

If you own a 4K TV or just like ultra HD video, Motorola has you covered with 4K video-capture capability.

Internal power and battery juice

The Moto X runs on a 2.5 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chipset, which gives us high hopes for task-processing and gaming alike. It has 2GB RAM.

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A rounded back helps keep the Moto X comfortable to hold despite its larger size. Sarah Tew/CNET

Version 2.0 of the Moto X has a 2,300mAh battery that's only a smidge more capacious than last year's 2,200mAh ticker. We're not sure how that'll affect the larger, more power-hungry screen. Meanwhile, we do like the sound of an optional Turbo charger accessory that'll supercharge your Moto X with 8 additional hours of battery life in just 15 minutes.

Outlook and availability

The Moto X has never been about topping the competition when it comes to speeds and feeds. Rather, Motorola's philosophy is to give you enough specs to stick with the pack, and then cement the bond with personalized voice commands a look and feel you can design yourself.

While the 5.2-inch size isn't as palmable as last year's model, this Moto X sequel does manage to keep the phone's comfort meter pointed in the right direction.

The new Moto X will go on sale in the US and UK at the end of September. So far, the pricing and specs seem to match up. Now we need to see how thoroughly Motorola can seed the device across carriers and retailers worldwide in the face of stiff competition that seems to favor the high end and lower end, like Motorola's also-updated Moto G, which will cost a mere $179 or £145 off-contract.

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Where to Buy

Motorola Moto X

Part Number: 2014MotoX
Pricing is currently unavailable.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 5.07 oz
  • Diagonal Size 5.2 in