Moto X (2nd Generation) review: Improved specs and useful extras, but short on storage options

moto-x-2nd-generation-review-improved-specs-and-useful-extras-but-short-on-storage-options.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.7 Outstanding
  • $119.99

Pros

  • Pleasing design and solid construction
  • Excellent 5.2-inch AMOLED display
  • Excellent performance
  • Useful voice and gesture controls
  • Customisation options via Moto Maker

Cons

  • No MicroSD storage expansion
  • Maximum of 32GB of internal storage
  • Non-removeable battery

Last year's Moto X was a well-received Android smartphone with moderate specs (including a 4.7-inch 720p AMOLED display, 16GB of internal storage and no MicroSD expansion) but some clever voice control features and other software tweaks. It also introduced Motorola's innovative Moto Maker online customisation service - albeit in the US only. The second-generation Moto X, which was unveiled back in September, delivers a welcome upgrade to the specs (although there are still some omissions) and broadens the availability of Moto Maker, resulting in a smartphone that can stand out from the crowd.

In the UK, Moto X (2nd Generation) is available from £419.99 (inc. VAT; £349.99 ex. VAT) with 16GB of internal storage. Various extra-cost customisations are available via Moto Maker.

Motorola Mobility, of course, is now part of Lenovo . The gestation period for this product, however, was under the previous Google ownership.

moto-x-2014-thumb
The 2014 Moto X has a 5.2-inch AMOLED screen, comes with white or black fascias and a wide range of backplate options — including leather. Powering it is a considerably faster quad-core processor than the dual-core CPU in the original Moto X. Images: Motorola

Design

The second-generation Moto X is a bigger device than its predecessor, sporting a 5.2-inch screen — up from 4.7 inches in the 2013 model. Both use a bright, saturated, high-contrast AMOLED panel, but the 2014 Moto X's resolution is now 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, giving a pixel density of 424ppi (up from 312ppi). The bigger screen obviously means a bigger chassis, which now includes a sturdy aluminium frame into which the glass front curves satisfyingly: the measurements are 72.4mm wide by 140.8mm deep by 9.9mm thick (compared to 65.3mm x 129.3 x 10.4mm for the 2013 model). It's heavier, too, at 144g versus 134g.

For a large handset, the new Moto X is comfortable to hold thanks to its curved back, which goes from 3.8mm at the sides to 9.9mm in the middle; it's also relatively easy to use one-handed — although, of course, some people will still find it hard to stretch the thumb across the screen to manipulate far-flung icons.

At the back, the lens for the 13-megapixel main camera (upgraded from 10 megapixels) is surrounded by a circular dual-LED ring flash (upgraded from a single-LED flash). Beneath the camera is Motorola's 'M' logo set in a signature concave circle. The back on our review model was a rubberised black material, but there are plenty of other colours available: smoke, slate, chalk, navy, turquoise, blue, olive, purple, royal blue, dark teal, violet, crimson, red, spice and cabernet.

moto-x-2014-maker
Moto Maker lets you design your own Moto X, with choices for back colour and material, front colour, trim colour, storage (16GB or 32GB) and an engraved name or message. Image: Motorola

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For an extra £20 (inc. VAT) you can order more exotic backplate materials via the Moto Maker service: wood, in ebony, bamboo, walnut or teak; and leather, in black, natural, cognac or navy blue. Other available Moto Maker customisations include: white or black fronts; a range of trim colours for the speaker grilles and 'M' logo surround; and, for an extra £40 (inc. VAT) 32GB rather than 16GB of internal storage (worth bearing in mind given the lack of MicroSD storage expansion). Finally, you can even have your name or a short message engraved on the back of your handset.

The front of the 2014 Moto X is dominated by the Gorilla Glass 3-protected screen, since the top and bottom bezels are relatively thin at around a centimetre. There are ribbed speaker grilles in each bezel plus, in the top right corner, the front-facing 2Mpixel camera. The bezels also house a quartet of infrared sensors for gesture detection (more on this below).

The top of the handset carries the slide-out tray for the Nano-SIM card along with the 3.5mm audio jack, while the bottom houses the Micro-USB 2.0 charging/connection port. The left side is bare, while the right side has the power button, which is ribbed so you can easily locate it, and the volume rocker.

Features

The 2014 Moto X is powered by a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 running at 2.5GHz — a significant step up from the original Moto X's dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro running at 1.7GHz. The memory complement remains unchanged at 2GB, while the OS is Android 4.4.4 (KitKat) — upgradeable to 5.0 (Lollipop) very shortly.

moto-x-2014-camera
You swipe from the right to access the camera settings, which include toggling the double-wrist-shake to fire up the camera. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

As noted above, the standard internal storage capacity is just 16GB, with 32GB available for £40 extra via Moto Maker. There's no MicroSD expansion, and the 64GB option available on the original Moto X is gone. This combination of limited internal storage capacity and lack of expandability may be a deal-breaker for many potential buyers.

Wi-fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth (4.0), NFC, GPS, 3G (HSPA+) and LTE support remain the same as before, while the (non-removable) battery gets a little more capacity at 2,300mAh (up from 2,200mAh). The roster of sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity, compass, barometer and temperature) is also unchanged from last year's Moto X.

The original Moto X had a moderate-quality 10-megapixel rear camera, but the 2014 model's 13-megapixel camera with dual-LED ring flash is a big improvement. Supported camera features include touch-focus, burst mode, geo-tagging, panoramas and HDR. You can shoot Ultra HD (2160p) video at 30fps, and slow-motion video is also supported. The 2-megapixel front camera remains the same as before, and can record 1080p video at 30fps. As with the original Moto X, you can activate the camera at any time with a double wrist-flick — something that, once you've got used to it, is pretty useful.

Motorola prides itself on delivering a near-'stock' Android OS with timely updates, but there are some significant Moto 'experiences'. These include Moto Voice (formerly Touchless Control), which lets you create a personalised greeting that will open the voice control software, which can then respond to a variety of commands. For example, if you say "What's new?" the phone will advise you of any current notifications; you can also ask for a weather forecast, launch apps, and even start up the front camera and a countdown timer by saying, "Take a selfie". This functionality works pretty well, although we didn't find much use for it during the day in ZDNet's busy open-plan office.

moto-x-2014-voice
The Moto 'experiences' include voice and gesture controls, different phone behaviour depending on what you're doing, and standby-screen notifications. Images: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

The other Moto experiences are: Moto Assist, which modifies the phone's behaviour depending on whether you're sleeping, driving, in a meeting or at home; Moto Actions, which supports IR-sensed gestures such as waving your hand above the screen to silence a call or an alarm, or accelerometer-sensed moves like the double wrist-shake that activates the main camera; and Moto Display (formerly Active Notifications), which controls the display of up to three notifications when the screen is in standby mode.

Performance & battery life

Powered by a 2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 SoC with an Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM, the 2014 Moto X is a high-performance handset. It beats Samsung's Galaxy S5 on the Geekbench 3 CPU test by a small margin, and far outstrips the original Moto X:

moto-x-2014-geekbench

The new Moto X is also capable of handling graphically demanding apps, as demonstrated by Futuremark's 3DMark test. Again, it nudges ahead of the Galaxy S5 and leaves last year's model standing:

moto-x-2014-3dmark

Even though it runs a more powerful processor and drives a larger AMOLED screen than last year's model, the 2014 Moto X has a very similar-capacity battery (2,300mAh versus 2,200mAh). The result is that, with normal usage, you're likely to have to recharge the handset every night. If you're a power user, you might find yourself running low on battery charge earlier in the day.

Conclusion

Overall, we're impressed with the second-generation Moto X. It's nicely designed and solidly built, has a great 5.2-inch AMOLED screen, performs superbly and delivers a range of useful Moto 'experiences' on top of an otherwise uncluttered Android OS. Our prime concern is storage, which maxes out at 32GB internally and cannot be expanded via a MicroSD slot. Battery life may also prove to be an issue, especially for power users.

Specifications

Cellular
Type Smartphone
Operating System Android 4.4 (KitKat)
Processor
Clock Speed 2.5 GHz
Manufacturer Qualcomm
Processor Core Qty Quad Core
Display
Diagonal Size 5.2 in

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