There was a time when the Moto X was a ruler among smartphones. But as various competitors have risen 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. Slotting between the top-end Moto Mods-driven Moto Z2 Play and affordable Moto G5 Plus, the 2018 Moto X leverages dual cameras and an all-new design.

But there's a problem: it's as if Moto hasn't taken note of the surrounding competition during its brief hiatus and, as a result, this £400 handset fails to elevate the mid-range sector. It's not us being nostalgic either, the X4 just finds itself in a tough spot against the likes of the OnePlus 5 and other similar price mid-range phones.

  • 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. And it looks, well, just kind of weird - and not in a good way.

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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 fundamentally looks like plastic, giving off a sheen in the black finish that we have on review. At least ingerprints aren't a huge visual issue, like they are on the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, which is a bonus. Plus the X4's construction is IP68 rated, meaning it's water-resistant to depths of 1.5m for up to half an hour (we suspect longer won't be a problem, that's just how the rating system works).

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.

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What's more notable with this phone is the top and bottom bezels seem almost extended - especially in a world of increasingly popular bezel-free devices. Sure, the X4 isn't a true flagship, but to standout in this sector it really needed to do something a little more, we feel.

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.

  • 2.2GHz Snapdragon 630, 4GB RAM
  • 32GB storage, 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. In some areas this isn't a problem, but if you're expecting flagship performance then think again. The phone functions just fine, it's just a little slow to, say, load the camera app or some games.

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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. 

Even when switching into the phone on day one - which is heavy going, as it downloads around 150 apps for us - it still muscled through 14 hours before sitting at 15 per cent battery. The following days of use, which have been less demanding on our front, have seen us make it to bedtime with 40 to 50 per cent battery life. It's good innings.

And when it comes to charging the USB Type-C charging port supports TurboCharge for extra quick top-ups - handy if you just need a little extra in little time.

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Storage wise, the Moto X4 comes with 32GB in the base model (64GB in some territories, but not the UK). 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. It's a single SIM device, not dual.

  • Moto Key to unlock additional devices via fingerprint
  • Moto Actions to perform features by physical actions
  • Moto Display for night vision and always-on
  • Moto Voice for voice assistant (no Alexa at launch, as planned)
  • Wireless Sound System - connect up to five Bluetooth devices
  • Android 7.1 Nougat at launch

When we first saw the Moto X4 in the States it had Alexa voice control integrated from the off. In the UK review sample of the phone, however, this isn't the case, with Moto Voice instead being available. We've not found it to function particularly well - multiple attempts at phrases in a quiet room have failed - so it's not been something we've used frequently.

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Software-wise, the phone arrives with Android 7.1 Nougat (not the latest Oreo version), which is largely unaltered by Motorola. That's something the company does rather well: its four pillars of additions - Moto Key (use the device to unlock other devices, such as your Windows PC), Moto Actions (physical actions to perform tasks, such as torch/camera launch), Moto Display (night mode and always-on display) and Moto Voice (as above, voice assistant) - are all housed in a single point umbrella app, called Moto. It's clear to navigate and understand what each of these settings do.

There's one other addition that's a Moto first: the Wireless Sound System setting, which can be used to connect the device to up to five Bluetooth devices simultaneously. If you fancy having a bit of a party with a stack of speakers.

  • 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.

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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 standard (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, but that's part and parcel of what to expect.

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 object and landmark object recognition to gain additional insights into famous places. The last of these, while an interesting concept, is slow and gets in the way of taking a picture - it feels unnecessary at the point of capture.

Moto X4 software screengrabs image 4

The main issue with the camera is two fold: the circular design on the rear looks downright bizarre; while the app is too slow to launch and a little slow to focus.

That's not to work against the actual images, however, which are of a fine quality when taken in good light. Lower lighting conditions does of course result in more image noise - shown as a mottled pattern and lack of detail when looking up-close - but it's not overbearing.

Verdict

There was a time when the Moto X was the business. In the here and now, however, the Moto X4 simply doesn't live up to its predecessors' high-ranking abilities. For times have changed and, as it stands, the X4 is outshone by the not-much-pricier OnePlus 5 to a considerable degree.

That's not to say the X4 is a bad phone, though. There are some great features - weatherproofing, comfortable one-handed use, an effective fingerprint scanner, OLED screen, and long-lasting battery life - but the plastic appearance of the design, odd cameras integration and slightly slow performance just holds it back from the once high position the X brand held.

On the one hand we welcome the X back to the fold, on the other it needed to be pushing the flagship stakes as the non-Moto Mod device. When it hits that form, it could once again be the business.

Pocket-lintOneplus 5 image 1

The go-to mid-price device of choice, the OnePlus delivers more power and performance for a mere £50 more than the Moto. We think it looks better, too.

Read the full article: OnePlus 5 review

Pocket-lintmoto g5 plus review image 1

A step down in the Moto range, but the G5 Plus offers a whole lot - including similar performance to the X4 - for its smaller price tag. On balance, we think it's devices such as this one that better represent the Motorola brand.

Read the full article: Moto G5 Plus review