Moto X4 review: An affordable rock solid dual-camera, water resistant, mid-ranger

  • Editors' rating
    8.2 Excellent

Pros

  • Snappy performance with pure Android OS experience
  • Best standby screen of all Androids
  • Productive multi-function home button/fingerprint scanner
  • 3.5 mm headset jack
  • IP68 dust and water resistance
  • Handy Moto Actions support
  • Alexa and Google Assistant hands-free support

Cons

  • Battery life is average
  • Wide-angle lens has some edge distortion
  • Depth effects struggle to look good

Four years ago, my primary device was the fantastic Moto X in navy blue with orange highlights. Four years later, we have the Moto X4 that doesn't have the same unique look and feel, but offers a lot of value at a third to a half the price of the flagship options.

CNET: Moto X4 has dual cameras, Amazon Alexa and extra smarts

I've spent the last week with a Moto X4 with SIM cards from Project Fi and T-Mobile. It's an appealing phone that is being offered direct from Motorola or from Project Fi as an Android One phone. Understand that there are indeed differences between the Motorola and Android One variants, explained below, and that this review is for the Motorala model that is SIM unlocked.

Specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 2.2 GHz octa-core
  • Display: 5.2 inch 1920 x 1080 pixels resolution IPS, 424 ppi
  • Operating system: Android 7.1 Nougat
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage: 32GB internal with microSD expansion card slot
  • Cameras: Dual 12 megapixel rear f/2.0 and 8 megapixel f/2.2 ultra-wide angle cameras with depth editing software. Front 16 megapixel f/2.0 camera.
  • Water resistance: IP68 rating
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.2 (5.0 after Android O upgrade), GPS, GLONASS, FM radio
  • Battery: 3000 mAh non-removable with Turbo Power 15W charger
  • Dimensions: 148.35 x 73.4 x 7.99 (9.45 at the camera) mm and 163 grams

The Moto X4 retains a 3.5mm headset jack and a front-facing oblong fingerprint scanner that can be set up to service as a single function button.

Hardware

The Moto X4 has an aluminum frame with glass back and front. The glass black is good at repelling fingerprints which was quite a surprise given my Note 8 and other glass-backed phones look terrible. This phone does not support Moto Mods and is designed as a mid-range stand-alone device.

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The Moto X4 is available in Super Black and Sterling Blue. The Sterling Blue one looks like a silver phone in photos, but I haven't seen it in person. The Super Black one arrived for testing.

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The 5.2 inch 1080p display on the Moto X4 is constructed of Gorilla Glass 4. Similar to what we are seeing on other Moto phones, you will find the home button performs as a fast fingerprint scanner and home button. We saw Motorola implement this on the latest Z phone, the Moto Z2 Force, after having an odd button on older Moto Z devices. Even better, there is an available Moto Actions setting where you can use the fingerprint sensor for navigation. Simply enable it and then swipe left to go back and swipe right to view recent apps. My productivity has improved significantly with this one button navigation feature and I would love to see this on other devices.

There is a USB Type-C port and standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. The SIM card and microSD card tray is found on the top. The power and volume buttons are on the middle and upper right side. There is nothing on the left side. The mono speaker plays out of the headset speaker above the display, which is nice when you are using your phone in a face up position as audio sounds towards you rather than the back or bottom.

The rear cameras and flash are positioned at the center of the upper back with a rather large protrusion that extends out the back. This dual rear camera design is similar to what we see on other Moto phones, but most of those have Moto Mods support that justifies the large round camera design. It seems this helps Motorola distinguish its phones from others, but I'm not sure it is necessary. There is a Motorola logo below the camera, but it is not indented as we have seen in the past.

Feel free to check out a few sample full resolution comparison photos in my Flickr album. The Moto X4 does well, but the bokeh effect shows artifacts we are not seeing in high end phones like the Google Pixel 2, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, and iPhone 8 Plus.

The dual camera setup on the Moto X4 is different than we have seen on other recent Moto dual camera devices. It does not have a color and monochrome lens, but instead implements a 12 megapixel main camera paired with an 8 megapixel wide-angle secondary camera. The wide-angle camera provides a 120-degree field of view.

The 16 megapixel front-facing camera has an adaptive low-light mode for improved performance in poorly lit environments.

Unlike many other Moto phones with nano-coating, the Moto X4 has proper IP68 dust and water resistance so you can use it wherever you want without much worry.

I was expecting better performance from the battery given the Snapdragon 630 processor and 1080 display, but could barely make it through a full day of my typical usage. It charges up very fast with the included Turbo Power charger though.

Software

The Moto X4 launches with Android 7.1.1 Nougat and the evaluation device I have in hand has the September 2017 Android security update. The UI is stock with a few Moto widgets and the Moto app.

Similar to the HTC U11, the Moto X4 launches with Amazon Alexa support through the Moto Alexa app. You can choose to say the proper phrase to launch Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or Moto Voice. The Android One version does not support Moto Voice. What's interesting about this is that the HTC U11 has the Snapdragon 835 processor that supports multiple wake words while the Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 only supports one. If you recall, Moto has always led the industry on wake word support so once again they are distinguishing themselves from other mid-range Snapdragon 630 phones with support for multiple wake words.

For the Android One version of the Moto X4, there is a blended software experience that provides users experiences from both Google/Android and Motorola, but not necessarily all software experiences from both companies in an attempt to offer focused experiences. Motorola experiences offer more in my opinion, but users have a choice with the Moto X4. It may be a bit confusing to the consumer, but I believe Android One versions will only be available online so may be limited to those with a deeper understanding of the mobile marketplace.

The Moto utility gives you access to toggles for the various functions and display settings available on the Moto X4. Functions include:

  • One button nav to swipe for back and recent apps
  • Chop twice to turn on the flashlight (don't drop the phone)
  • Flip the phone face down to silence notifications and calls
  • Pick up the phone when it rings to switch to vibrate
  • Twist your wrist twice to launch the camera
  • Swipe to shrink the screen

Display options let you toggle on notifications that appear while the display is off. You can choose to block apps from the display, set how much detail is shown, dictate when the display should remain dark, and toggle on touch vibration.

The standby notification screen on Moto devices is better than on any other smartphone. You can see notifications from many of your apps and then hold the notification to see more details without ever unlocking or turning on your display. You can now also reply to text messages right on the lock screen, without ever unlocking the phone and turning on the display. Over the course of a day, you can save yourself a considerable amount of time and also save on some battery life.

The Moto Key lets you save and access your website logins and manage your trusted devices.

The camera app is easy to use and supports auto photo, spot color, panorama, depth enabled, face filters, and professional modes. You will see auto video, slow motion, and face filter options in video mode. Tap the three dot menu icon in the lower right to switch between the various modes. Swipe in from the left to access settings and in from the right to quickly view photos in the gallery.

The spot color mode gives you the option to tap on the image to show all of the selected color while the rest of the image is switched into monochrome. It's an interesting effect, but for some reason every time I take one of these pictures it does not get saved properly in Google Photos and I end up with a standard full color image.

The depth-enabled mode is something we are now seeing on all Moto dual cameras. When depth enabled mode is turned on you can take photos with a subject near you to add different effects. After taking the photo, tap it to open in the depth editor. The depth editor gives you options on the bottom of the display for original, selective focus, selective B&W, and replace background. The selective focus mode lets you change the level of background blur.

The selective B&W and replace background modes are labeled beta. The selective B&W option lets you turn your photo into black and white with the ability to tap on the photo to have that part of the photo appear in color. It's a fun effect to use, but has limits on color too. The replace background option lets you selective part of your photo and then place that selected piece on an image from your gallery as a different background.

Face filters is a new function for Motorola. It is similar to adding masks and such in Snapchat so I suppose it appeals to younger smartphone owners as I have no desire to put whiskers on my face.

You can see a few comparison photos of the Moto X4 with the dual camera setup on the Note 8 and Apple iPhone 7 Plus in my Flickr gallery showing full resolution images.

The Moto X4 phone app integrates visual voicemail, which is a personal pet peeve of mine where high end devices like the HTC U11 and LG V30 require a separate app just to add visual voicemail functionality. Google provides this in Android and even though it is a minor detail, all manufacturers should enable this by default.

The rest of the software is typical Android Nougat, including the ability to customize your Quick Actions buttons and see important information at a glance in settings.

Price and competition

The Moto X4 is available from Motorola as a pre-order now for $399.99. You can also purchase it from Google Project Fi with the Android One experience. Lastly, you can purchase the Moto X4 as an Amazon Prime Exclusive for just $329.99 with lockscreen offers and ads.

The Moto X4 is available in Sterling Blue and Super Black with support for all US GSM and CDMA carriers.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

Moto Mods are interesting, but they are not essential and can even be a bit of a pain to carry around. The Moto X4 offers up a very well constructed device without Moto Mods support and I find it very appealing. The back glass looks and feels great, the fingerprint scanner multi-purpose button is handy, and you cannot beat the software enhancements provided by Motorola.

I personally prefer the dual Moto rear cameras with color and monochrome lenses. I like taking monochrome photos and do not find average wide-angle performance to offer anything of value.

The mid-range market is growing as we see flagships in the $1,000 price range. Motorola has a few products available in this $300 to $500 range and while I have always been a fan of the Moto X line, I would probably look to the Moto G5S Plus before I picked the Moto X4. The Moto X4 does have USB Type C and NFC though so if those are important to you, then the X4 may be the better choice.

Specifications

Cellular
Type Smartphone
Operating System Android 7.1 Nougat
Display
Diagonal Size 5.2 in
Processor
Clock Speed 2.2 GHz
Manufacturer Qualcomm
Processor Core Qty Octa-core

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