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

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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.

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 ($800 at Walmart), in comparison, also has a second 120-degree wide-angle camera, and its lines do not bend as harshly.

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

Lynn La/CNET

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

Lynn La/CNET

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 ($460 at Walmart) or iPhone 8 Plus ($699 at Amazon)
  • 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)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 (single-core)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 4.0 (multi-core)

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 X4 Motorola Moto G5 Plus Alcatel Idol 5S HTC U11 Life
Display size, resolution 5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels 5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels 5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels 5.2-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 424ppi 424ppi 424ppi 424ppi
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 150.2x74x7.7mm 148.6x70.8x7.4mm 149.1x72.9x8.1mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.7 oz; 163g 5.5 oz; 155g 5.25 oz; 149g 5 oz; 142g
Mobile software Android 7.1.1 Nougat Android 7.0 Nougat Android 7.1 Nougat Android 7.1 Nougat
Camera Dual 12-megapixel, 8-megapixel 12-megapixel 12-megapixel 16-megapixel
Front-facing camera 16-megapixel 5-megapixel 8-megapixel 16-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 1,080p 4K
Processor 2.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 2.2GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 630
Storage 32GB, 64GB 32GB (UK & US), 64GB (US only) 32GB 32GB
RAM 3GB or 4GB 2GB on 32 GB (US model), 3GB on 32GB (UK model) or 4GB on 64GB (US model) 3GB 3GB
Expandable storage Up to 2TB Up to 128GB Up to 512GB Up to 2TB
Battery 3,000mAh 3,000mAh 2,620mAh 2,600mAh
Fingerprint sensor Beneath screen Beneath screen Back cover Beneath screen
Connector USB-C Micro-USB USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack Yes Yes Yes No
Special features Water-resistant (IP68), selfie-flash, dual rear cameras Dual-SIM, splash-proof Dual 3.6-watt speakers Water-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 £212 Converts to £263
Price (AUD) AU$699 Converts to AU$300 (32GB) and AU$390 (64GB) Converts to AU$350 Converts to AU$456

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