Motorola Moto X Pure Edition (unlocked) review:

Customization champ, but middle-of-the-pack phablet overall

As for video, both front and rear cameras can record 1,080p HD footage and slow-mo videos in 720p (a change from the predecessor's better 1,080p slow-mo capabilities). While shooting video, you can also take pictures and pause recording.

The rear camera in particular can also take panoramic photos and scan QR codes and bar codes to look up via Google or copy onto the clipboard. And on top of already shooting 1,080p video, it can also record ultra-HD 4K video, which -- at 3,840x2,160p -- offers four times the resolution of 1,080p. That's state of the art -- albeit of dubious value, however.

Say cheese! The front-facing camera comes with its own flash. Josh Miller/CNET
In this well-lit indoor photo, objects are still clear and easy to make out, and lighting is evenly exposed. Lynn La/CNET

As for picture quality, photos looked decent, and the camera does well for everyday informal shots. Though they didn't manage to blow me away, it's still adequate enough to post online or print out a small photo.

Pictures taken outdoors or in amply-lit indoor environments looked great: colors were accurate, objects were clear with defined outlines and you can still see a lot of details retained at full resolution. There were a few times when the phone took a couple of tries to focus on an object up close, but eventually it'd lock on and snap a clear picture. Photos taken in low-light environments didn't fare as well, which is a common occurrence in smartphone photography. Though night mode improved exposure somewhat, I still saw a noticeable amount of digital noise, graininess and muted colors.

Because the front-facing camera has a wide-angle lens, my photos captured more content and space into the frame. As such, however, do expect to get some elongated angles near the corners of your pictures. For more information on camera quality, click the photos below to view them at their full resolution.

Video quality was solid. Nearby and distant audio was picked up well without any noticeable noise distortion, and both moving and still objects looked smooth and sharp. There was no discernible lag between my moving of the camera and what I saw in the viewfinder, and the camera was able to swiftly shift focus and exposure as I moved it around.

Night mode brightened up this dimly lit bar a tad -- but the photo is still not so great.

Lynn La/CNET

In our standard studio shot, these items look clear and defined, and the flash didn't leave any harsh reflections against the background.

Lynn La/CNET

This photo taken on a sunny day shows true-to-life colors and images that are sharp and in focus.

Lynn La/CNET

Though the stems and leaves on the right are clear, the right pomegranate gets blurry around the edges.

Lynn La/CNET

With its wide-angle front-facing camera, you can capture more content with your selfies (or groupies if you have friends).

Lynn La/CNET

Hardware performance

  • 1.8GHz 6-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
  • 600MHz Adreno 418 graphics processing unit
  • 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage with up to 128GB of expandable memory
  • 3GB of RAM
  • 3,000mAh nonremovable battery

Though the Moto X Pure Edition's processor has a lower clock speed than its predecessor (from 2.5 to 1.8GHz), its Snapdragon 808 processor still operates swiftly and smoothly. For one thing, the CPU is no slacker (it's the same one featured in the LG G4 ) and the RAM has been bumped up to 3GB. In general, I didn't notice any stuttering issues or lag while executing a number of everyday tasks like calling up the app drawer, opening the camera and switching between apps. Images for graphics-intensive games like Riptide GP 2 and Kill Shot were rendered fast and smooth, and the overall gaming experience was solid. It took about 37 seconds to power off and restart the device and 1.38 seconds to launch the camera.

Also, unlike the previous two versions of the Moto X, Motorola added a MicroSD card slot that can hold up to 128GB of extra memory -- giving you more breathing room for your photos and files.

But while the handset provides plenty of power to satisfy your daily smartphone needs, its benchmark scores falls behind its competitors. That's not surprising since the Galaxy Note 5 belongs to a more premium caliber, and both the OnePlus 2 and the ZTE Axon Pro sport the 8-core Snapdragon 810 processor. In that sense, the Moto X Pure Edition performed well for itself, but aside from having the second-highest single-core Geekbench 3 result among the latter two, it altogether fell a bit short of the other devices.

Benchmark test comparison

Motorola Moto X Pure Edition
19,725
1,271
3,528
Samsung Galaxy Note 5
24,589
1,488
4,939
OnePlus 2
22,645
1,142
4,461
ZTE Axon Pro
25,742
868
3,958

Legend:

3DMark Ice Storm (unlimited)
Geekbench 3 (single-core)
Geekbench 3 (multi-core)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Call quality and data speeds

  • GSM/GPRS/EDGE: (850/900/1800/1900 MHz)
  • CDMA: (800/850/1900MHz)
  • UMTS/HSPA+: (850/900/1700(AWS)/1900/2100MHz)
  • LTE B1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/25/26/38/41
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/g/b/n/ac + MIMO
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/g/b/n/ac + MIMO

For US customers, Motorola's handset is unique because it works for carriers that operate on either GSM or CDMA technology. Meaning, for example, the phone can make calls and surf the Internet on AT&T and T-Mobile's network (which uses the GSM standard) and do the same on Verizon and Sprint (which uses CDMA). This isn't a huge deal if you don't plan on leaving your carrier, but for those switching from a GSM to CDMA carrier or vice versa, or already have two devices on these different platforms, know that you can use the same Moto X no matter what network you go with.

Motorola Moto X Pure Edition average data speeds

4G LTE download rate 11.7Mbps
4G LTE upload rate 15.82Mbps
CNET mobile site load 4 seconds
CNET desktop site load 4 seconds
Temple Run 2 app download (44.52MB) 34 seconds
"Gravity" movie download (1.7GB) 24 minutes and 31 seconds

As for call quality, I tested the unlocked handset using AT&T's cellular network. Call quality was great. Volume range was appropriate (with the maximum volume being satisfyingly loud), my calling partner was clear and easy to understand and I didn't pick up any extraneous buzzing or static. Audio speaker was also reliable. As I mentioned before, speaker calls only comes out from the bottom grille, but that's still enough to hear my partner well, even when I was outdoors nearby noisy traffic. Likewise, I was told that I sounded good too, and when I stepped outdoors, my partner did not pick up any background sounds from the surrounding environment.

The phone's fast-charging Turbo Charger.

Josh Miller/CNET

Data speeds on AT&T's 4G LTE network were fast. According to Ookla's speed test, it had an average download rate of 11.7Mbps and upload rate of 15.82Mbps. It took about 4 seconds to load each of CNET's mobile and desktop site and 34 seconds to download and install the 44.52MB game Temple Run 2. One attempt to download the 1.7GB, high-definition movie "Gravity" took 24 minutes and 31 seconds.

Battery Life

With heavy usage, the Motorola X Pure Edition's non-removable battery can deplete quickly. After spending a workday surfing the Web, downloading apps and making calls, I hit 30 percent by late afternoon. To last the rest of the evening, I had to plug in the device for a charge.

During our battery drain test for continuous video playback, the handset lasted an average of 8 hours and 46 minutes. Although last year's Moto X had a smaller screen, its lower-capacity 2,300mAh battery lasted over 10 hours. And compared to its rivals, the OnePlus 2's 3,300mAh battery lasted 9 hours and 46 minutes (though we weren't very impressed with that performance either), and the Axon Pro's 3,000mAh battery lasted shorter at 8 hours and 8 minutes (again, not the best from all parties). I you want to know what does impress us, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 -- while admittedly a higher-tiered phone and expensive than all these devices -- lasted a whopping 15 hours of continuous playback on its 3,000mAh battery.

Motorola's handset, however, does come with a 25-watt Turbo Power charger, which promises to juice up your battery quickly. It does, in fact, charge the phone in a jiffy. When completely drained, it took only about an hour and 15 minutes to charge to 100 percent. And if you need to charge in a pinch, shutting it off and plugging it in for 10 minutes will gain about 20 percent battery life.

Conclusion

The Motorola Moto X Pure Edition is a great device for specific users. Google Android fans who can't wait until late September for the next Nexus reveal will enjoy the handset's nearly unsullied Android experience. The $400 phone bucks the current trend by offering external storage, and loops in support for the world's most prevalent network technologies -- CDMA and GSM -- so it should work with almost every carrier.

And with its numerous choices of color accents, engravings and materials, having a Moto X Pure Edition means having a device that reflects your own style. Heavily consider this handset if that's an important asset for you.

If it's not, however, there are lots of viable alternatives. If money isn't an issue, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is the reigning Android supersize phone: It's powerful, stylish and has a long-lasting battery.

The Moto X Pure Edition is witnessing a far more competitive landscape for unlocked handsets than its predecessor.

Josh Miller/CNET

In addition, the mobile landscape for unlocked phones has changed a lot since last year's Moto X came out. They are getting more powerful at a lower cost.

For US customers, the $500 ZTE Axon Pro costs $100 more but has a 8-core Snapdragon 810 processor, 4GB of RAM and tons of native camera features. Globally, you can try and nab the OnePlus 2 . Due to its limited availability it can be hard to get, but if you do, it starts at the very competitive price of $330 (£215 or AU$450, converted). It's also equipped with the 810 CPU and if you're keen on wood backings like the ones that come with the Moto Xs, the OnePlus 2 has that as well.

All in all, the Moto X Pure Edition is a reliable and quality-built device, but if you have the previous model, don't feel like you're missing out on anything. The competition is fierce these days, and while the Moto X may be partially to blame for setting my expectations too high, the X Pure Edition just doesn't deliver that winning combination of style, power and value that I've come to expect.

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