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Motorola Moto X4 review: Standout midrange Android phone is even cheaper

With many midtier phones having varying reliability, the water-resistant and inexpensive Moto X4 is a lesson on how to do it right.

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Lynn La
Lynn_La2.jpg

Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

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8 min read

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When the original Moto X4 launched in December 2017, we were impressed with its reliable performance, water resistance and inexpensive price.

moto-x4-8831-008
8.0

Motorola Moto X4

The Good

The Moto X4 is water-resistant, has NFC, expandable memory and dual rear cameras. Motorola's variant comes with tons of useful software tricks. It's a worthy alternative to the Moto G6 Play.

The Bad

The phone's camera is slow to launch and snap photos. Its wide-angle camera warps straight lines too severely.

The Bottom Line

Though it can be slow at times, the Motorola Moto X4 hits all the notes for the right price, making it an even better deal now than when it launched.

Update Summer, 2018

Six months later, it remains just as competitive against other mid-range phones, if not more so given its price has dropped significantly. On Google's Project Fi, you can now nab it for $249, and Motorola currently sells it for $299, £200 and AU$599. (Unfortunately, it's out of stock at Amazon, which out of these three vendors used to sell it for the cheapest).

Those deep discounts only work towards the Moto X4's benefit, since there hasn't been a solid, widely-available alternative since the phone's launch. Sure, there's the Moto G6 -- a cheap Motorola phone that launched this year and costs $249 too (or £186 and AU$320, converted). But it has a slower processor and a camera setup that's a half-step below the X4. In addition, given that the new OnePlus 6 is more expensive than its predecessor at $529 and £469 (in Australia that converts to AU$702), the price differential between the Moto X4 and the OnePlus 6 is even greater, making the former an even bigger steal than it was before.  

Check out CNET's best smartphones for more information on competitive products.  

The original review of the Moto X4 was posted on December 20, 2017. It is mostly unchanged and follows below.


Motorola's high-end phones pack punch, but entry-level and midprice Android devices are where this phonemaker really shines. With the Moto X4, the company has another midrange winner that gives you some pretty great hardware and software tricks for a reasonable price (see below, it gets a bit complicated).

Motorola Moto X4 pricing


MotorolaGoogleAmazon
US $399 (now $349)$399 (now $324)$330 (now $279)
UK £349N/AN/A
AU AU$699N/AN/A

The Moto X4 sits a tier above the Moto G5 Plus, our favorite budget phone, and below the Moto Z2, which has magnetic attachments for accessories like an extended battery pack. (It costs about the same as the Z2 Play, which also works with the same add-ons.) What I like about the Moto X4 is its water-resistant design, dual rear cameras, expandable memory and boatload of software features at an inexpensive price. It lacks a super-fast processor and the ability to customize the phone's colors, which was one of my favorite things about Moto X phones from 2014.

You can buy the Moto X4 unlocked from Motorola.com, Google (with Project Fi service), or unlocked from Amazon with Prime ads. In the US, prices vary from $300 to $400 unlocked, but you should also keep an eye out for deals and price cuts in your area. In the UK, the Moto X4 starts at £349, and it costs AU$699 in Australia.

While it's not as fast as a Moto Z2 phone or the OnePlus 5T (another Android favorite that's a great top-tier value), it beats out other handsets in the price range. The Alcatel Idol 5S, for example, has a notably shorter battery life, and the HTC U11 Life, although strikingly beautiful and also water resistant, doesn't have a headphone jack. Fitting right between entry-level and top-tier, the Moto X4 settles into its newfound midrange home quite comfortably, and has the right specs and the right performance, for the right price.

Motorola's glossy Moto X4 shines bright

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Sleek design and water-resistant, too

Though sadly it's no longer customizable like Moto Xs of year's past, the Moto X4 is an attractive, sleek-looking phone. It comes in black and silver and it looks so glossy that it reminds me of the liquid-metal version of T-1000 in "Terminator." Speaking of liquid, the phone's rated IP68 for water-resistance, meaning it can survive in about 3 feet of water (one meter) for up to 30 minutes. I dunked it in a five-gallon bucket for 28 minutes -- three times -- and it kept working just fine.

Back to the phone's looks, that glossiness does result in a lot of fingerprint and smudges. And compared to other premium phones, the Moto X4 is on the thicker side and feels extra chunky. The bulging, watch-dial-like design around the camera lenses also adds more thickness to the back. Another gripe I have is the fingerprint reader. Though it's useful for unlocking the phone and authorizing payments with NFC and Android Pay, maddeningly,  it sits below the bezel. And while others may not have as hard of a time adjusting, it made me reflexively and repeatedly tap the sensor thinking it was the home button. It was a habit I had to unlearn.

In addition, one of our Moto X4s managed to get two long scratches on the front-top bezel, which was a real bummer. I didn't drop the phone, but it likely got scratched in my bag. This is nothing a screen cover can't handle, but if you like to go au natural, be warned that I've tossed many phones into my bag without any issue, yet the Moto X4 ended up getting nicked.

moto-x4-8778-002

The glistening Moto X4 is water-resistant and comes in two colors.

Josh Miller/CNET

Lots of software goodies, lots of assistants

If you buy the Moto X4 from Motorola and Amazon, you'll get a cool new feature called Moto Key (unfortunately, this doesn't come in the Google Fi version). This lets you use your fingerprint to unlock third-party apps and devices like Twitter, Facebook and your PC laptop. If you sign out of your accounts all the time, you'll definitely this useful. It does take a beat to unlock, but it's more convenient than typing out your username and password each time. You can also connect up to four Bluetooth devices at once, so you can hook up a stereo setup or listen to music on wireless headphones with another friend.

An onboard Alexa app (also missing from the Google Fi version) will launch Amazon's digital assistant. To ask about the latest news, sports score or weather, you can launch Alexa from the lockscreen by saying the "Alexa" wake word. If you have an Alexa smart home speaker, you can control it with the Moto X4 as well. If you don't like Alexa, you can use Moto's own voice-control feature (which can launch apps and open the weather or your calendar) or Google Assistant, which also comes on the phone. I suggest sticking to just one to give your head a break.

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Asking for the weather via all three digital assistants: Moto Voice, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Lynn La/CNET

Although Google's Moto X4 doesn't have those two features, every Moto X4 includes gestures called Moto Actions, including flicking your wrist twice to launch the camera, and Moto Display, which lets you customize and set lockscreen notifications.

Google's Moto X4 brings you software updates like security patches, as they roll out from Google. Google Assistant is its only voice app, which I prefer anyway since it's so well integrated with the Google ecosystem.

Selfie camera flash and a side of AI

Like a lot of flagship phones these days, the Moto X4 flaunts two rear-cameras: a standard 12-megapixel camera and a wide-angle 8-megapixel camera. In general, pictures taken in environments with ample lighting, like outdoor on a sunny patio or inside a well-lit restaurant, looked evenly exposed, vibrant and sharp. The camera didn't fare as well with low light, however, and I saw a notable amount of grain, digital artifacts and motion blur with dimmer environments.

The front-facing camera has a 16-megapixel lens and its own flash, which is handy for brightening up selfies in low light. You can also take a "selfie panorama," which stitches together one additional image to the left and right of your face. This is useful for when you're taking a selfie with a big group or you want to capture more of the scene around you.

While I find the wide-angle camera useful whenever I want to fit more scenery within a single frame, the image distortion around the corners is too severe. The Moto X4 bends and warps straight lines so much that my photos look like a funhouse mirror at times. The LG V30, in comparison, also has a second 120-degree wide-angle camera, and its lines do not bend as harshly.

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With ample lighting, this plate of oysters looks sharp, bright and appetizing.

Lynn La/CNET
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The camera struggles with low-light, as you can see from the motion blur and graininess in this image.

Lynn La/CNET
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The wide-angle lens harshly bends angles and lines in the corners, making images look like a funhouse mirror.

Lynn La/CNET

Other camera features

  • Portraits shots: Like many dual-camera phones, the camera can take bokeh-style shots that give photos a short depth of field for a dramatic, blurred look. The effect works well enough, but the blurriness can look patchy and uneven at times. It especially doesn't look as smooth as the Pixel 2 or iPhone 8 Plus

  • motorola-moto-x4-depth-focus
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    With Depth editor, you can adjust the amount of blur in your portrait photos.

    Lynn La/CNET
  • Depth editor: With the depth editor, you can adjust the amount of blur you want in your portrait shots or where the focus is, after you take the photo. You can also single out one color in the photo to highlight, which turns all the other shades black, white and gray for a dramatic (albeit cheesy) artsy look. Lastly, you can replace the background altogether, after highlighting which part of the photo to keep. This is some elementary Photoshop-level of editing here that's more silly than anything, but it's fun to play around with. Note that the last two tools (selective color and replacing the background) are in their beta stages when I tested the phone. 
  • Object recognition: Available on the Motorola's Moto X4, you can take a photo of objects and the phone will call up more information about it. I used it on fruits, books and random desk objects. It doesn't arework as fast or reliably as say, Google Lens on the Pixel 2, and I don't see myself using it very often, but it's a neat party trick to use once in awhile.
  • Landmark detection: Based on your GPS location, the camera can identify landmarks. This is also similar to Google Lens on the Pixel 2.

So-so processing speeds and decent battery life

Equipped with a Snapdragon 630 processor, the Moto X4 isn't the fastest phone around. The Snapdragon 835 holds that title, though Qualcomm actually just announced its next-gen processor for 2018. On paper, the Moto X4 hits squarely with other midrange phones like the Moto G5 Plus or Alcatel Idol 5S, which sport the Snapdragon 635 and 625 processors, respectively. Go a bit more premium and you can get a much faster phone. The OnePlus 5T, for example, sports a Snapdragon 835 chipset and costs $100 more and it blazed right by the Moto X4 on 3DMark's Ice Storm Unlimited benchmark.

3D Mark Ice Storm (Unlimited)

Motorola Moto X4 16,796Motorola G5 Plus 13,382Alcatel Idol 5S 13,817HTC U11 Life 15,838
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 (single-core)

Motorola Moto X4 869Motorola G5 Plus 830Alcatel Idol 5S 869HTC U11 Life 850
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 4.0 (multi-core)

Motorola Moto X4 4,114Motorola G5 Plus 4,138Alcatel Idol 5S 4,276HTC U11 Life 4,017
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Anecdotally, the phone can be laggy at times. Though it's not slow enough to be extremely frustrating -- you can still browse the web, peck out emails, and download and launch apps with relative ease -- the camera can feel like a real drag. Not only does opening up the camera app take a tad too long, but firing the shutter takes a noticeable beat every time I tap to take a picture. When I leave my finger on the shutter to capture images continuously (known as "burst mode" shooting), the count is slow. In the five seconds it takes the Moto X4 to capture 10 pictures in burst mode, other phones will normally take 20 shots or more.

During CNET's battery test for continuous video playback on Airplane mode, the Moto X4 lasted an average of 12 hours and 33 minutes. That's a solid time for a phone of this caliber. The HTC U11 Life, for example, lasted the same time, while the Alcatel Idol 5S failed to impress us with 7 hours and 48 minutes.

The Moto X4 can definitely last through a workday without a charge. With medium to light usage, I was able to use the Moto X4 over the weekend without a charge. Like many Motorola phones, the Moto X4 has Turbo Charge technology for rapid top-ups.

Motorola Moto X4 spec comparison


Motorola Moto X4Motorola Moto G5 PlusAlcatel Idol 5SHTC U11 Life
Display size, resolution 5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 424ppi424ppi424ppi424ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 5.8x2.9x0.31 in.5.9x2.9x0.3 in.5.9x2.79x0.29 in.5.9x2.9x0.32 in.
Dimensions (Millimeters) 148.4x73.4x8mm 150.2x74x7.7mm148.6x70.8x7.4mm149.1x72.9x8.1mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.7 oz; 163g 5.5 oz; 155g5.25 oz; 149g5 oz; 142g
Mobile software Android 7.1.1 NougatAndroid 7.0 NougatAndroid 7.1 NougatAndroid 7.1 Nougat
Camera Dual 12-megapixel, 8-megapixel12-megapixel12-megapixel16-megapixel
Front-facing camera 16-megapixel 5-megapixel8-megapixel16-megapixel
Video capture 4K4K1,080p4K
Processor 2.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6302GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6252GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6252.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 630
Storage 32GB, 64GB32GB (UK & US), 64GB (US only)32GB32GB
RAM 3GB or 4GB2GB on 32 GB (US model), 3GB on 32GB (UK model) or 4GB on 64GB (US model)3GB3GB
Expandable storage Up to 2TBUp to 128GBUp to 512GBUp to 2TB
Battery 3,000mAh3,000mAh2,620mAh2,600mAh
Fingerprint sensor Beneath screenBeneath screenBack coverBeneath screen
Connector USB-CMicro-USBUSB-CUSB-C
Headphone jack YesYesYesNo
Special features Water-resistant (IP68), selfie-flash, dual rear camerasDual-SIM, splash-proofDual 3.6-watt speakersWater-resistant (IP67)
Price off-contract (USD) $399 (Motorola and Google); $330 (Amazon with Prime ads)$229 (32GB); $299 (64GB)$280$349 (HTC)
Price (GBP) £349£249 (32GB)Converts to £212Converts to £263
Price (AUD) AU$699Converts to AU$300 (32GB) and AU$390 (64GB)Converts to AU$350Converts to AU$456
moto-x4-8831-008
8.0

Motorola Moto X4

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Camera 8Battery 8