(Pocket-lint) - The Motorola Moto X has been reformed for its second generation model, with a brand new handset for 2014. It carries the Moto X name, and offers the same customisation options that the original offered. Originally launching off the back of the "made in the USA" premise, it now offers the Moto Maker options to those in the UK, meaning you can choose the leather back, or different colours to suit your style.
The Moto X also sticks to one of the ideals that Motorola has pushed of late: offering good value for money. Starting at £420, this handset undercuts its rivals by about £100 (if you're buying SIM-free), making it a solid rival to the HTC, Samsung or Sony flagships.
But does this Motorola have the X factor?
The Motorola Moto X is an appealing proposition. It offers great value for money as a flagship handset and even if you opt to customise with a leather or other finish using Moto Maker, you'll still be getting something more affordable than rivals - and something personal to you.
Offering a near-stock Android experience, those who want to avoid the bloatware of many manufacturers will love the Moto X's offering. It lets you decide what's important, without thrusting a whole heap of unnecessary apps and widgets in your face. It'll also be near the front of the line when it comes to upgrades and we can already hear Android Lollipop calling. Whether that is more appealing that an enhanced out-of-the-box experience you find in rivals will be down to personal preference.
The camera is the major frustration with the Moto X. It just takes more effort than it should to get a good shot in various conditions. The lack of the microSD card slot is also a downside compared to many of its rivals.
Overall, if you're looking for "the next Nexus 5" or are falling out of love with the likes of Samsung's cartoony TouchWiz and other manufacturers' heavy Android re-skins, then the Moto X could be the flagship phone for you.
Motorola Moto X (2014)
Moto Maker for personalisation
Before buying the Moto X, fire up Moto Maker on your computer and you'll see the array of colour options available. Impressively this isn't just about applying different colour finishes to the aluminium frame, or changing the colour of the plastic back, but giving you material choices too.
We're particularly taken with the leather finish, we think it's retro and distinctive - a nod to an older world on a device that's decidedly contemporary. Then there are wooden finishes too, bringing a touch of nature to our digital lives. Nowhere else do you get this level of personalisation.
There are costs associated with making some changes - leather and wood both cost you £20 extra - and there's the option to take a 32GB storage options over the default 16GB, which will add another £40. Even so, the top price for the Moto X is then still only £480 which is a far cry less than some of its flagship competitors.
Of course, if you're buying on contract, you lose these options, so this is perhaps another prompt to go SIM-only and stump up the cash.
Not only do you get those customisation options, but there's a lot to like about the Moto X design. There's a curved back that sits nicely in the hand, a little like the HTC One (M8). That effect is carried over by the metal frame that Moto uses which gives it a premium feel.
READ: HTC One (M8) review
It's not the most compact device, however, measuring 140.8 x 72.4 x 9.9mm. With a 5.2-inch display, it was always going to be a big phone, and while it's shorter than the Sony Xperia Z3, it's the curve design which makes the Moto thicker.
There's also a smooth curve at the very edges of the display to make it less harsh. It's not as pronounced as the iPhone 6, but it's a detail that makes the Moto X a nice device to use.
The front is also relatively free of clutter - there's no branding - with just the two front-facing speaker bars in place. There's a central Micro-USB on the bottom, matching the central 3.5mm on the top and volume and standby button on the right-hand side, all conveniently placed.
The rear also finds itself clean and clear thanks to the flash unit incorporated into the camera surround. It save the mess of having another break in the rear design, so in this sense it's cleaner than the likes of the HTC One M8 or LG G3. There is some branding on the back, though, with the Moto logo sitting in the rear button - an interesting detail common across its devices.
READ: LG G3 review
It's an overall design win for the Motorola Moto X. With its offer of plenty of options, it's considerately designed, feels solid and we've nothing to complain about in those regards.
Hardware and performance
With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 quad-core chipset and 2GB of RAM, the Moto X is speedy, offering its near-raw Android experience with efficiency.
If you're a fan of games then you'll want to get yourself the 32GB Moto X, as the 16GB version will quickly fill up and there's no microSD card slot - a downside compared to most major Android rivals.
We've seen plenty of flagship models with this sort of hardware loadout this year and haven't been disappointed. It's the same deal in the Moto X too: everything is slick and fast and there's no sign of lag moving around the user interface (UI) or using the latest apps and games.
The Sony Xperia Z3 might be a touch faster when it comes to opening big games, like Real Racing 3, but the gaming experience is then very much the same. That's the takeaway message: the experience from the Moto X matches flagship models elsewhere.
READ: Sony Xperia Z3 review
The handset will get a little warm under use, but that's something common to all devices and doesn't seem to cause any sort of problem. It's not frying-pan hot.
There's a 5.2-inch display on the Moto X with a 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution, delivering a 423ppi pixel density. It's topped with Gorilla Glass 3 and, as we've mentioned, we like the way it curves off at the edges.
It's an AMOLED panel, carrying the traits of that technology. That means deep blacks and vibrancy in the colours, something you'll notice when you're playing games or browsing pictures. There's real punch to reds, a vibrancy that's not wholly realistic, but by now we're sure you know what your display preference is.
There are displays that look more natural, like the HTC One, and displays that give you more tweaking options. In the case of the Moto X, due in part to the stock Android-ish nature, there's nothing to let you change the vibrancy or colour tone.
The Moto X does offer great viewing angles, as well as being friendly to polarised sunglasses: in both portrait and landscape the display is perfectly visible, so likely to be a popular choice for those who like to live behind polarised specs. Shame it's coming into winter in the UK now then.
There's also Attentive Display, a feature which aims to keep the display on when you're looking at it. It's not something we've ever found hugely successful - neither here nor on Samsung's devices - and we're happy to leave it switched off.
The Moto X has a 2300mAh battery, making it one of the smallest capacities in a device of this type. The HTC One has 2600mAh, the Z3 is 3100mAh, the Samsung Galaxy S5 is 2800mAh.
READ: Samsung Galaxy S5 review
There also isn't the sort of control that you get offered from the likes of Sony Xperia, so you're very much left to let it run as-is, minus any ultra power-saving modes.
Motorola says it will give 24-hours of use and on light days that's true enough. On more intensive days, however, we noticed that it didn't have the staying power of something like the Z3, which we'd choose if stamina was top priority.
For most we suspect that the Moto X will perform well enough and not raise too many concerns, and we've found it to be similar to the HTC One M8's longevity.
Those front-facing speakers are an interesting detail we've seen appearing more widely on various smartphones of late. The Moto X offers a lot of volume and there's plenty of depth, so using it without headphones for YouTube and gaming is a real pleasure. It offers better sound than the Sony Xperia Z3, but we think the HTC One is still a touch ahead.
About the only negative of the Moto X's speakers is they can distort a little at high volumes and become a little shrill. We suspect they're pumping out a little more volume than they actually should: knock it down a notch and things sound sweet.
There isn't the same attention to audio detail that you get on the Xperia Z3, but you can tweak the headphones and speakers using the equaliser in the Play Music app. We found the headphone performance to be good, but it defaults towards heavy bass - not something that bothers us.
Callers sound good too and we had no problems hearing or being heard with the phone to the ear or in conference calls.
Android, say Hello Moto
We've mentioned a couple of times that the software experience of the Moto X is pretty much stock Android. That's one of the appealing things about Motorola's handsets and in recent times they've proven to be the first run of devices behind the Nexus or GPE handsets to get the latest from Android.
If you're an Android purist, then that's certainly an appeal. With the Nexus 6 potentially being too big for many, this Moto X becomes the logical choice, and we'd pick it over the Nexus 5 without hesitation.
Motorola's additions are few, but they aim to target the essentials. There's Motorola Migrate to help you move content over, there's Connect to manage your connected devices - including your Moto 360 if you have one - and finally the Moto app.
This Moto app brings some of the clever stuff out, including the lockscreen glance notifications, the extension of voice control, some gesture control and automatic status changing.
It's a nice simple suite of options, but it's worth playing around and seeing what works for you. For example, we found that Assist wanted to silence our phone for each meeting, but took that meeting from a team calendar, which is almost always filled with appointments. We missed a lot of calls before we disabled the feature. So that needs updating.
Motorola leverages Google's voice control functions to give you a range of options that we really like. You have a wake-up phrase, one that you can personalise, which then gives you voice control whether your device is locked or not.
You get all the sorts of commands you expect, which are then routed through the Google Search app, and actions taken. The thing we especially like is being able to speak your PIN. Yes, that's not something you want to do in public, but if your phone is docked in your car it's really handy. "Hello Moto X, navigate to Buckingham Palace," and you're pretty much done.
The Moto Display lockscreen notifications are a great touch, presenting icons for the apps that have notifications. You can then touch that icon to glance at the notification and open it if you need to see more. It works really well with the approach gesture, which illuminates the display as you reach for it.
Some of what Motorola is doing leverages the Google Now experience, although we found Google Now was switched off by default. It's easily enabled in the Google Settings, however, so you can swipe to Now from the homescreen, for an experience that's pretty much the same as a Nexus device.
Aside from a tweak to the camera - more about that in a moment - the Moto X is otherwise free from clutter. For some, that will be a welcome relief considering the sort of thing that Samsung, HTC or even Huawei do to their respective devices.
But modern devices often build on Android and in many areas the out-of-the-box experience can be bettered. The dialler and contacts are rather bland on the Moto X, the Gallery isn't a patch on what you'll find elsewhere and you don't get any of the sort of clever connected entertainment functions like DLNA that you might want. All those additions will need to come from Google Play.
There's a 13-megapixel camera on the rear and a 2-megapixel camera on the front of the Moto X. The rear camera has the unique arrangement of putting the flash LEDs into the ring around the camera's lens, which makes for a tidy design.
Motorola's premise with the camera is all about simplicity, giving you an interface that, just like its user interface, is free from clutter. There's no dedicated shutter button, per se, so you just touch to capture or can use the volume buttons instead. A longer press gives you burst capture.
You can manually opt for focus and exposure control, letting you drag the reticule to where you want the photo to be metered and focused. This it will do, then letting you tap again to take the picture. This is the better option for accurate focus, as all too often we've ended up with pictures being out of focus, especially in low-light conditions. Things need to be still, or you'll get a blurred subject.
The Moto X doesn't especially like highlights and we've found overexposure to be commonplace. We've seen faces with blown-out highlights, especially on those highpoints like the brow ridge and forehead. We also found some bright clothing looked more neon, so there's some strange stuff going on, as you'll see below. For reference, that photo was taken together with the photo above and serves as a good example of the sort of inconsistency you can expect.
In too many ways, perhaps, the Moto X reminds us of phone cameras of the past. For all of Moto's aims to make it simpler, we've had to retake shots, use the manual reticule or recompose frequently to get the shot we actually want.
Low-light performance is pretty average too. As we've mentioned it struggles to focus and image noise is quick to appear. The flash is reasonable to try and counter low-light's limitations, but lacks the dual tone skills you'll find elsewhere (to make for more flattering portraits), making for a camera that overall falls short of rivals.
On the positive side, however, you get 4K video capture, so you're ready for the future, alongside regular Full HD 1080p video.