Motorola Moto X (2014) review: Motorola's new Moto X far surpasses the original

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.3
  • Design: 9.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0

Average User Rating

5 stars 1 user review
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Motorola Moto X has a sharp 1080p screen, a swift quad-core processor, nifty software and gesture features, and customizable design options that'll fit anyone's style.

The Bad A minimalist camera, combined with no expandable memory, are the handset's only drawbacks.

The Bottom Line The Motorola Moto X hits all the right notes, delivering stock Android inside a powerful high-end handset that you can customize yourself.

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Personally, it's been a long time since I've been excited about a phone. I'm not sure if it's because I'm a sucker for stock Android, or because I crave something aesthetically unique, but the last time I remember something really piqued my interest was the red-hot Google Nexus 5.

That being said, the next-gen Motorola Moto X is my next handset. Why? Because it's fast. Because the screen is gorgeous. Because it can come in wood and leather and (some would say an "artless") pink. Because even though I've seen cameras with more features, its 13-megapixel shooter is still solid. Because I get a kick out of talking with it like it's a human who knows a lot of facts even though she's slow to respond. Because it's all this combined.

True, we were already fans of the original Moto, even though it wasn't designed to equally match up against other flagships at the time. The same is true here, except this new model closes the gap between it and its rivals. And though it only sits a mere half-step behind top-tier phones, the new Moto X makes up for it in spades with its price, build quality, and reliable performance.

Availability

In the US, the device starts at $100 on contract from AT&T and Verizon, or for $500 unlocked, plus $25 for optional wood or leather backs, and another $50 for 16GB of extra storage. UK users can nab it for £420 unlocked, plus £20 for the premium finishes, and £40 for the extra storage. Unfortunately, Australia just got its hands on the first Moto X six months ago in March 2014, so this updated variant isn't available there yet. It is however scheduled for a release by the end of October or early November. No additional pricing or availability details have been supplied by Motorola at this stage.

Design

Similar to its predecessor, the Moto X sports curved backing, which renders it incredibly comfortable to hold. It's more ergonomically accommodating than the straight-edge Samsung Galaxy S5 and its arc bends deeper at the center than the HTC One M8, making it fit cozier in the hand. Even with my petite grip, I didn't run into much trouble flicking through and maneuvering this device with my thumb.

With its larger 5.2-inch display, the phone now measures 5.54 inches tall, 2.85 inches wide, and 0.39 inches thick at its deepest (140.8 by 72.4 by 9.9mm). And at 5.08 ounces (144 grams), it's a tad heavier than its predecessor. I don't consider these design flaws, however, since you gain more screen real estate.

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The signature M-dimple comes in handy as an anchor for your finger. Josh Miller/CNET

Besides, the new Moto X looks a whole lot sexier than before. For one thing, its trimmings have been upgraded from plastic to metal, so the device has a more premium aesthetic. The fact that the display curves smoothly over the edges (which is reminiscent of the Google Nexus 4) instead of being hugged by the bezels adds to the sleek, luxurious feel. Motorola also tacked on another front-facing speaker grille at the bottom, and textured the power button with ridges to make it easier to discern by touch. The signature M-dimple on the rear is bigger too, and I found it useful as an anchor for my finger while holding the handset.

Of course, one of the phone's main draws is the fact that you can customize it through Motorola's Moto Maker website. (This is now available in the UK too, though sadly, once again, those living in Australia don't have a chance to partake in this -- Aussies will get a choice of the black resin or bamboo finish and that's it.)

There are only two color options for the front side (black or white), but for the back, you can choose between 17 colors, four types of wood grain, and four leather dyes. Wood and leather finishes add $25 or £20 to the final price, however. Your speaker grilles and the ring around the M-dimple are known as "trim" and that comes in 10 more colors. Other options include memory capacity (either 16GB or 32GB, with the latter being $50 or £40 more), cases, and personal engravings.

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The Moto X's natural finish in bamboo is attractive and unique. James Martin/CNET

My AT&T review unit had a black leather backing, which looked sophisticated and austere. But while the material is unique and staves off fingerprints, it does accumulate small indentations here and there from daily use that you can see. This is a natural occurrence with leather, so it isn't a huge deal, but it's something to keep in mind. The Verizon model I received had a bamboo backing, which I prefer. The smooth, natural material feels great in the hand and its earthy look stands out from your usual sea of black slab handsets.

Display

The Moto X's 5.2-inch OLED screen features Corning Gorilla Glass 3, a 1080p resolution, and 423 pixels per inch. It's much sharper than last year's 720p AMOLED screen, and is on par with the 5.1-inch Galaxy S5 and the 5.0-inch One M8 in terms of clarity and richness. (The LG G3 still edges out all these devices with its quad-HD technology, 538ppi, and bigger 5.5-inch size, however.)

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The 1080p display falls smoothly over the edge, which is reminiscent of the Google Nexus 4. Josh Miller/CNET

In general, this handset's display looks vibrant and brilliant. Images, videos, and games are vivid, the screen has a wide viewing angle, and it's easily readable in sunlight given that the brightness is cranked to its maximum level. When I checked specific swatches of black and white, the former looked deep, while the latter appeared pure and bright. The display's also responsive to the touch, and the way it contours down to the edge as mentioned before keeps my swiping and flicking smooth.

Software features

Compared to Google-branded devices like the Nexus and special Play Edition handsets, the Moto X doesn't run the "purist" form of Android, but it comes pretty darn close. It has Android 4.4.4 KitKat, and Motorola noted that the phone will be able to update to Android L the moment the new version rolls out. As expected, the device also includes your usual bundle of Google apps like Drive, Gmail, the Chrome Browser, Maps, and Quickoffice.

Similar to its predecessor, the Moto X has a bevy of convenient software tricks. The digital and search assistant, Moto Voice, works similar to Google Now, and you can activate it without touching the device. Just set up a personal greeting (in my case, I went with the informal, "Hey yo, Moto X") to perk up its ears. Then, say a command -- you can look up the current weather forecast, ask when the next game is on, look up a song title if it's playing in real-time, and more. Moto Voice also launches other apps. If you ask it to take a selfie, the front-facing camera will open up and begin to countdown for a picture. You can also ask the handset to peck out a text, post to Facebook and Twitter, set an alarm, or navigate to a destination.

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The four main software features in the Moto X (left), with Moto Voice being activated (right) to listen to your commands. Lynn La/CNET

For the most part, the feature works well, but there are some caveats. You'll need to be in a relatively quiet room, and speak in clear, distinct manner that can sound a bit unnatural. You also need to give Moto Voice enough time to register you command, which can take several seconds to kickstart.

Moto Display shows any missed notifications you have, even while the phone's sleeping. Just wave your hand over the screen's front sensors, see what pops up, and if you want more information on a specific notification, tap the individual app icon. There's also Moto Assist, which adjusts your device's settings depending where you are (in a meeting, at home, driving, or trying to catch up on sleep, for example). Lastly, Moto Actions incorporates gesture control, such as waving your hand over your Moto X to silence it in case it receives an incoming call.

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To check your notifications with Moto Display, wave your hand over the device's front-facing sensors. Josh Miller/CNET

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