There was a time when the Moto X was a ruler among smartphones. But as various competitors rose up through the mid-spec or sub-flagship space, its power dwindled somewhat. And then, following the Moto X Style and Moto X Play at the tail-end of 2015, things went quiet.
Now Moto X is back, with the Motorola Moto X4 looking to add some muscle to the mid-range once more. Slotting between the top-end Moto Mods-driven Moto Z2 Play and affordable Moto G5 Plus, the 2018 Moto X leverages dual cameras, plus Amazon Alexa voice control integration.
Can the fourth-gen Moto X hold a candle to the OnePlus 5 and other similar price mid-range phones?
Motorola Moto X4 review: Design
- 5.2-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) AMOLED display
- 3D contoured Gorilla Glass finish (metal subframe)
- IP68 weather-resistant construction
- Front-facing fingerprint scanner with gesture control
The 2018 Moto X follows a similar design language to other Moto devices in the range: it features the "batwing" Moto symbol pride of place on the rear, above which is the protruding circular section that contains the dual cameras. There's a subtle embedded texture that almost looks like a watch bezel surrounding this camera, revealed when catching reflective light in the right way.
What's strikingly different about the Moto X to anything else in the Moto lineup, however, is the choice of finish. Made from 3D contoured glass wrapped around an anodized aluminium sub-frame, the phone looks more like a single piece than, say, the Moto G5 Plus. However, the X can't hide its antenna lines - there are two to the bottom and one to the top which vertically cut through the edge of the frame; fortunately they don't intersect the rear.
This smoothed rear finish may be glass, but it has an almost plasticky sheen in the black finish that we saw. It's understated and fingerprints aren't going to be a huge visual issue, which is always a bonus. Plus the construction is IP68 rated, meaning it's water-resistant to depths of 1.5m for up to half an hour.
With a 5.2-inch scale we think the Moto X hits the sweet spot for scale. It's easy to hold in one hand - comfortably, too, thanks to those rounded-off edges - without feeling like it's a chore to extend fingers across the screen. The panel is AMOLED, which is great for deep blacks and battery life, but with only a Full HD resolution the X4 couldn't be accused of being a flagship contender. That's fine, though, as it fits in with the pack: the OnePlus 5 offers much the same, for example.
As with almost all current smartphones, the Moto X4 opts for a front-facing fingerprint scanner (some might call it a home button), which is responsive in use and can even be used for swipe-based gesture controls (One-Touch Nav, to give it its official title) to navigate through the system and software. If you're not into gesture control then the usual trio of Android softkeys is also available on screen.
Motorola Moto X4 review: Performance potential
- 2.2GHz Snapdragon 630, 4GB RAM
- 32GB/64GB (region dependent), microSD card slot
- 3,000mAh battery, TurboCharge fast-charge via USB-C
Beneath that glass and metal exterior the X4 isn't the most powerful of devices going, featuring the Snapdragon 630 platform and 4GB RAM. But, as we found with the Moto Z2 Play, we don't think that matters too much: that phone functions just fine, and from what we've seen on the new X it's a similar experience. Sure, you might not get the utmost performance for higher-end games, but then at the sub-£400 price point that's perfectly acceptable.
Besides, the balance of processor and middling screen resolution ought to bode well for battery life. The X4 has a 3,000mAh cell that's non-removable, which is pretty much par for the course these days. We suspect it'll be efficient enough to cut through a long day no problems. And if not, then the USB Type-C charging port supports TurboCharge for extra quick top-ups.
Storage wise, the Moto X4 will come with 32GB in the base model, with a 64GB version available in some territories (which are TBC). However, the inclusion of a microSD card slot, which is tucked away in the SIM tray to the top of the phone, means expansion by up to 256GB extra is easily solved.
Motorola Moto X4 review: Software and Alexa integration
- Alexa, Google Assistant and Moto Voice smart assistants all integrated
- Wireless Sound System - connect up to five Bluetooth devices
- Moto Key to unlock additional devices via fingerprint
The hardware driving things behind the scenes isn't the most interesting thing on the table, though, as the Moto X4 is the first Motorola phone to support Amazon Alexa voice control. It's integrated from the off, so no need to download an additional app - all you need to do is activate Alexa within the settings and allow it to learn your voice over time for the best responses. Alexa can integrate with other smart devices to action controls, show you information, and so forth.
But that's not all: with Google Assistant and Moto Voice (which is like a modded Assistant) also available, whether you say "Alexa", "Ok, Google", or simply ask a query for Moto Voice, the appropriate assistant will respond to your needs. In that regard, the X4 is the most voice-friendly phone coming to market. That could open a lot of doors for the future.
In addition to Moto Actions, Display and Voice, there's a new Wireless Sound System setting (hidden within the settings) which can connect the device to up to five Bluetooth devices simultaneously.
There's also Moto Key to unlock additional devices, such as your laptop, using the fingerprint scanner. This first appeared on the Moto Z2 Force, making the X4 the second Moto phone to receive such control. Talk about making good use of that fingerprint scanner.
Motorola Moto X4 review: Cameras
- Dual rear cameras: 12MP standard and 8MP with 120-degree wide-angle lens
- Dual Autofocus Pixel technology
- Real-time depth effect
- 16MP front-facing camera
The final considerable piece of the Moto X4 puzzle is its cameras. Yep, cameras plural: it's got two on the rear and one on the front.
Which may sound similar to the dual camera solution in many other devices, but in the X4 Moto has gone with standard wide and additional ultra-wide angle lens options. A bit like the LG G5, from a couple of years back.
Flicking between the two cameras is as easy as clicking a little button to the side of the screen within the Camera app. The difference between normal (at 12-megapixels) and 120-degrees wide (at 8-megapixels) is considerable, so you really can't miss it. There is some distortion at such a wide angle, however.
Having two cameras allows for the differening distance data from both to be used in post-processing to create a depth effect where the background becomes soft. When it works it's ok, but just as with any other manufacturer attempting this solution it's rather hit and miss in its effectiveness. But you aren't forced to use it, so that's just fine.
Other Camera app quirks include a barcode, QR code and business card reader, which is auto-entered into the device, plus landmark object recognition to gain additional insights into famous places.
The Moto X is back and it means business. But it's still not averse to stiff competition, such as the slightly pricier but more powerful OnePlus 5.
The choice that enters the equation is whether water-proofing, dual cameras and Alexa integration are key factors that you would demand from a relatively affordable smartphone. Because if the answer to any of those is yes then, at its estimated £379 price point, the Moto X4 is a savvy choice of handset indeed.
The Motorolo Moto X4 will be available from September (date TBC) with a price tag of €399.