The New Moto X: A Lousy Battery Kills a Decent Phone
I really wanted to love the new Moto X. Last year’s model is still one of my favorite Android phones. Motorola really struck gold with the design, which felt just right in one hand even though it had a relatively large 4.7-inch screen. It was light, pretty and it did some things no other phone could, such as always listening for your voice to wake it up.
The new Moto X ($99.99 with a two-year contract from AT&T or Verizon, $499.99 unlocked) carries over many of those same ideas, but the execution just isn’t as good. The screen is larger at 5.2 inches, which makes it nice and big, but it’s also harder to use with one hand. It added leather as a design choice for the customizable back, but it creases easily. And parts of the experience — the camera UI in particular — aren’t fully thought through.
At least Motorola gets a lot of the hardware design right. The curved back and edged-off sides make the phone a bit easier to grip than, say, the iPhone 6, and the aluminum frame conveys a good build quality. Moto also took the opportunity to put some real speakers in this thing — highlighted by the thin design ornaments above and below the display. And they can play LOUD, comparable to the HTC One M8.
The new Moto X also once again lets you take advantage of Moto Maker, the web app that customizes the look of your phone before you buy. It’s a nice perk, and the company even added leather to the mix this time. After occupying my pocket (along with keys and a wallet) for a couple of weeks, however, a leather-backed phone gets marked-up pretty easily.
For the 2014 Moto X, Motorola bumped up its specs to flagship-level with a 1,920 x 1,080 AMOLED display, 2GB of RAM and the ability to shoot 4K video. The chip is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 with a separate quad-core graphics processor. It runs Android 4.4.4 KitKat, includes dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and is compatible with Bluetooth 4.0 (AKA Bluetooth Smart) products. You can buy devices with better specs, but this is a powerful phone.
The (lack of) power of X
It’s perhaps too powerful. If there’s a major complaint I have about the Moto X, it’s the battery. At 2,300 milliamp-hours (just slightly bigger than last year’s model), it barely gets through a day of normal use, and if you go anything beyond that, you’ll be down to fumes by 6 p.m. I would have preferred a slightly heftier phone with a battery I can actually rely on instead of a 5-ounce device that craps out well before it should.
At least it’s putting the energy to (mostly) good use. One of the things the Moto X has always gotten right is convenience: Thanks to a low-power core in the processor, it’s always listening for a passphrase that you can use to unlock the phone and get information without even needing to pick up the phone.
Last year the phone was limited to the vanilla phrase, “OK, Google Now,” but now you can customize it to something more personal. There are limits — go too long or too short and you’ll have to redo it — but that still gives you a lot to work with. I indulged my inner Trekkie with the phrase, “Kirk to Enterprise.”
Motorola also added more context-based actions this time around, like being able to activate the screen by holding your hand up to it, and the ability to dismiss calls by waving your hand over the display. Very nice, although those may be part of the reason the battery winds down so quickly.
The Moto X has a technically sophisticated camera. It shoots excellent 13-megapixel photos, and it has lots of bells and whistles, including a burst mode, slow-motion video and a “ring” flash that uses a pair of bright LEDs.
The 13-megapixel camera on the 2014 Moto X takes great photos, but it’s hampered by a lousy UI.
Image: Mashable, Elizabeth Pierson
Unfortunately, Motorola offers up a relatively lousy user interface. It’s very simple, but it’s actually too stripped down. It’s not obvious where your settings are, which icons do what, or how to change some of them. I actually never figured out how to turn off the “tap anywhere to capture” setting, which I personally found annoying.
I also don’t care for the gesture-based navigation. Slide your finger in from the left and you find settings; slide in from the right and you go to your Gallery. The problem with the latter is that if you try it while in landscape mode you’ll instead launch Google Now, since that’s also gesture-activated from the same place. It’s all supposed to make moving around easier, but it instead does the opposite.
One of the things the Moto X does extremely well is work with the Moto 360 smartwatch (shocker). Although the watch works with other phones, only a Motorola phone can download and use the Moto Connect app. There’s not much there — just watch faces and a “wellness profile” — so I have no idea why there even is a separate app, but at least you can get the full experience.
Motorola likes to take pride in giving users a “pure” Android experience, meaning they don’t do much in the way of skinning or pre-loading useless apps, which is somewhat true. However, it can’t stop AT&T and Verizon from loading up your phone with tons of junk. Only Apple, it seems, has access to the get-out-of-bloatware-free card.
In design, overall power and convenience, the Moto X is a step forward. Its feeble battery, unfortunately, moves it two steps back. Even putting that aside, the Moto X may not be as dull or as poorly thought through as the Samsung Galaxy S5, but it’s also not as well-made as the HTC One M8 or as just plain gorgeous as the LG G3.
In short, you can do better.
Moto X (2014)
Pretty design • Powerful specs • Improved voice control
Inadequate battery • Too large to operate comfortably with one hand
The Bottom Line
Designed more for the market than for users, the 2014 Moto X is a step up from the original in many ways, but its large screen and poor battery life make it less usable.
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