Review: Motorola Moto X with Android 5.0 Lollipop

Android 5 devices are still relatively rare, but one device that does is the Moto X from the Google owned, Motorola. While reviewing the Moto 360, we needed an...

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Android 5 devices are still relatively rare, but one device that does is the Moto X from the Google owned, Motorola. While reviewing the Moto 360, we needed an Android phone to compliment it and the Moto X is the perfect partner device. The thin, light, slick design houses a phone that was very comfortable and actually the best Android relationship I’ve had to date and that includes the HTC One M9.

Hardware

Performance

Nobody likes to wait for your phone to complete operations and thankfully you won’t have to with to MotoX. Packed inside is a 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 chip which includes a quad-core CPU (MSM 8974-AC), Adreno 330 @ 578 MHz GPU, Natural Language Processor, Contextual Computing Processor. Those specs combined with improvements in the software means app load times, install times, animations and the camera are all fast, fluid and responsive. Unlike other devices we’ve reviewed, there Moto X didn’t slow to a crawl after installing a large number of apps.

Display

The 5.2″ AMOLED 1080p display is stunning and that’s not surprising when you realise the pixels are stacked tightly together at a massive 423 ppi. This is a huge improvement over the first generation at just 720p. Of course the display is covered in Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 which they’ll tell you is more scratch resistant than ever before, but I’ll tell you needs to be treated just as carefully as any other piece of glass. You can’t throw this thing in you’re pocket with keys, you can’t drop it without a chance it will smash, it’s glass and it feels like every version we’re told it’s better than the last, but we’ll soon be up to 15 gorillas and still smashing it.

This is less of a criticism of the Moto X and more a comment on the Gorilla Glass 3 found in so many devices. If you’re clumsy, you’ll still want to wrap this slick design in an ugly case.

Camera

One of the most important aspects of any smartphone is it’s camera. The MotoX features a 13Mp rear camera and 2MP font camera. Photography on Android has always been problematic, with no manufacturer really nailing the camera as a standout feature. Sadly the Moto X still misses the mark. While they absolutely nail the camera launch speed and repetitive snaps happen at an instant, the quality of photos isn’t great.

You can absolutely take a decent photo, but the Moto X is a mile away from the iPhone’s near guaranteed point and shoot experience to land a good shot almost every single time. This means while you can fire the virtual shutter fast, you need to stop and review the photo to see if the exposure, focus and colour is right. Some difficult tasks for the Moto X camera was closeups which often ended up blurred regardless of how much effort you put in to focus objects first.

Probably the biggest issue is the quality of photos snapped in anything less than ideal sunlight. Take this photo of sunset over a park, the clarity is just not what we expect from a leading smartphone in 2015. Compared to the Lumia 920, this camera doesn’t come close, despite the 930 shipping in July last year.  These issues are strange given the f/ 2.25 aperture lens.

Sundown

Surrounding the camera is a ring flash which is designed to provide more even lighting when shooting at night. In reality, it works better than a single point LED flash, but most of that can be attributed to the dual LEDs on either side of the camera and the ring simply acts as a reflective surface. At the end of the day, the flash still washes out photos and with better low-light abilities, it wouldn’t be needed.

One highlight of the camera is its video options, including the ability to shoot in 4K. The 2160p video is captured at 30fps and the video looks stunning. The lack of optical image stablisation means that walking with the camera will yield shaky video, but with some small post-production, you can smooth this out. If you want to get creative, there are multiple modes worth trying, including slow motion video, Burst mode, Auto HDR and Panorama.

4K video test

1080p video test

Battery life

The MotoX has a 2300 mAh battery and while that’s not the largest we’ve used, it’s impressive for the thinness of the phone. Motorola say you’ll get up to 24 hours with mixed usage and during our review, the battery performance was excellence. None of us need a phone to last 24 hours, we accept owning a smartphone means charging each night, so the real goal is to make it through a 16-18 hour day, regardless of how aggressive the usage.

Sure with an intentionally heavy usage, you can kill the battery before your head hits the pillow, but only just. While other phones give up after 6-8 hours of intensive use and struggle to make it through a office work day, the Moto X has no problems there. It’s the days where you get up for an early flight, you’re away from home so using 4G and then need to tether to your laptop. When you get to your location, you need to snap photos and video, then share them on social media. You then need to order an Uber, so you fire up the GPS, all while getting email from your 5 accounts. This is the task of a modern smart phone and when you need to fly home at the end of the day and pull up your boarding pass, you’re phone can’t be flat, thankfully the Moto X wasn’t.

If it copes with a journalist’s intensive needs, it’ll cope with your casual needs with plenty of room to spare. This also attests to the software improvements to power management in Lollipop.

Networking

At home, more routes are supporting the newer, faster, better 802.11ac standard and the Moto X supports it. It supports both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands, so how ever you’d like to structure your networked devices, Moto X will come along for the ride. To get the most out of a modern networking standard, you want to stop supporting legacy standards like 802.11 B/G and even N. You can only do that if all devices support AC and thankfully the Moto X is in that camp.

NFC

As tap to pay increases in availability, and more devices (particularly audio) support NFC, including the wireless, touchless technology is important. It’s great to see what was a selective feature is now becoming common place on the spec list.

Software

Android 5.0 is an evolution from KitKat but it feels complete, consistent and well considered in it’s design and transition animations. A new design language, Material design, means objects don’t just appear on screen, they arrive. As you move around the phone, there’s so many many subtle hints about how to use the device, suggesting interactions or allowing you to understand you’ve reached the end of a list, without requiring up front tutorials. The clean UI is one thing, but getting from app-to-app or even between screens within an app is where the UX has really had serious attention paid.

Implementing this design across the OS and Google’s own apps is one thing, but to make it feel like a cohesive end-to-end experience for users, 3rd parties needed to come on-board as well and thankfully most have.

There’s also the issue of manufacturer customisations on top of the platform. Obviously being owned by Google, Motorola wasn’t likely to stamp all over Lollipop features like others with Sense or Touchwiz, so you get stock Android here and fortunately the message is getting through, Android is great on its own, customisations aren’t needed in the same way they were back in the days of Gingerbread.

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Price and availability

The 2nd generation Motorola Moto X is available now and available in both black and white colours. The device is available on plans from the major carriers, or to buy outright for $519.00 + delivery at Kogan (grey import).

Overall

Don’t buy this phone for the camera, even though it does a decent job at 4k. Buy this phone because it’s thin, light and has great battery life. This thing makes the Lumia 930 feel like a brick and competes well with more recent phones like the HTC One M9. Android 5.0 sings on this device and it’s hardware like the Moto X that enables Google to demonstrate just how slick Android 5.0 Lollipop really is.

The software is powerful, driven by stylish, efficient hardware. It’s a real shame about the camera because if that box was ticked, it’d be the Android phone to beat right now. Let’s hope Motorola can pull some software magic in future updates to improve the still images coming from the camera.

That circular M logo in the back of the device will surely be a fingerprint reader by the time generation 3 roles around. When holding the phone, you’re index finger naturally finds its way there, but right now it serves no purpose beyond branding.

The Motorola Moto X feels great in the hand and you’d forget it’s in your pocket. If you’re looking for a solid Android experience, the Moto X running Lollipop is one of the best you can have right now. If you’re eying that Moto 360, it makes the perfect compliment.

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