~ Auto Buzz ~: Motorola Moto X4 Android One Review: Premium At A Non-Premium Price

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Motorola Moto X4 Android One Review: Premium At A Non-Premium Price



Moto X4’s curved glass, dual cameras, and a small form factor check all the boxes for Motorola. 

The Moto X is back, but it’s not quite the same as it once was. Back in 2013, when Motorola was still a Google-owned company, it introduced the Moto X. It was a somewhat small smartphone with a 4.7-inch display, in a world that featured mostly 5.5-inch or larger displays. It didn’t sport the highest specs, but it arguably had the best pure Android experience. It was also highly customizable through Moto Maker. Allowing customers to choose which colored back they wanted, the color trim, and some other things. Motorola began to get away from that with the next two generations, before jumping to the Moto Z as its new flagship device. The Moto X didn’t even get a refresh last year. But in 2017, the Moto X is back as the Moto X4, but it’s in a somewhat strange position.

The Moto X4 isn’t Motorola’s high-end flagship device, it also isn’t it’s mid-range device, it’s somewhere in the middle. And in the US, it is being marketed as an Android One smartphone available on Project Fi. Which is arguably a bit confusing to some people, since the experience you would get on the Moto X4 is basically the same as the Moto G5S Plus, which begs the question, why does the Moto X4 exist? That’s something we’ll try to answer in this review, and also find out whether it’s worth its asking price.

Specs

Motorola has changed the specs a tiny bit for each region, but for the most part, the specs are the same. The big differences appear to be band support. The Moto X4 sports a 5.2-inch 1920×1080 resolution IPS display. This gives us a pixel density of around 424 pixels per inch. It’s being powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 chipset, along with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. Motorola is only selling one RAM/storage configuration with the Moto X4. There is a micro SD card slot available for expanding storage, and it does support Adoptable Storage. All of this is powered by a non-removable 3000mAh battery.

For optics, there is a dual-camera setup on the rear. There’s a 12-megapixel f/2.0 aperture lens, and then a secondary 8-megapixel f/2.2 aperture lens. There is phase detection autofocus, but unfortunately no support for laser autofocus on the Moto X4. The 12-megapixel sensor is a bit bigger at 1.4um, while the 8-megapixel sensor is smaller and closer to the size of most smartphone sensors at 1.12um. When it comes to recording video, it can do 4K at 30fps, and 1080p at 30fps and 60fps. The front-facing camera is a 16-megapixel shooter with a f/2.0 aperture and is also capable of 1080p video at 30fps.

The Moto X4 does support WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, and NFC. For location tracking it uses A-GPS, GLONASS and GALILEO. Motorola has also included an FM radio in the Moto X4, one of the few manufacturers to still include this feature. Finally, the Moto X4 has a USB-C 1.0 port for charging,  a 3.5mm headphone jack and a fingerprint sensor on the front of the device.

In the Box

There’s not much in the box with the Moto X4. Inside you’ll find the Moto X4 in either Super Black or Sterling Blue. You’ll also find the TurboPower Charger for Quick Charge 3.0 charging speeds, a USB-A to USB-C cable, as well as some paperwork and a SIM ejection tool. There’s no TPU case included inside, nor any other extras.

Hardware & Build

Surprisingly, the Moto X4 is the smartphone from Motorola that has brought in some new changes to its build. The Moto X4 is the first smartphone from Motorola to not be an aluminum unibody device. Instead there is a metal frame, and then a glass back, which is slightly curved at the edges. A bit like the Galaxy Note 8 is, when it comes to the back panel. Motorola has kept the camera bump on the back, which is still an odd choice, when consumers would rather it be flush and make the device a bit thicker with a larger battery. The Moto X4 is not a thin device, though, like the Moto Z and Moto Z2 Force (sort of), it is about 8mm thick.

Going with a glass back is an interesting change for Motorola, and definitely interesting that this change started on the Moto X4 and not the next Moto Z smartphone. But it does allow the device to feel a bit better in the hand, and also allow heat to dissipate a bit easier – something a lot of manufacturers are looking at after the Galaxy Note 7 issues last year. It also makes the Moto X4 feel even better in the hand, than something like the Moto G5S Plus. Speaking of which, the Moto X4 actually feels a lot like the original Moto X in the hand. And what I mean by that is the fact that it is a somewhat small and compact device, and it feels very comfortable in the hand. Which is indeed what everyone loved so much about the Moto X back in 2013.

With Motorola going with a glass back on the Moto X4, many might think that it does have Qi Wireless Charging, and they would be wrong to think that. The Moto X4, for whatever reason, still does not support wireless charging, which is a bit of an interesting thing, seeing as most other flagship devices to do support it – and even the Moto Z2 Force and Moto Z2 Play do with a Moto Style Shell attached. But those looking for wireless charging, will want to look elsewhere. Motorola did, however, bring another feature that most other smartphones have, and that’s waterproofing. The Moto X4 is indeed rated at IP68, which means it can be submerged in up to 1.5-meters of water for up to 30 minutes without any issues.

The bottom of the Moto X4 is where you’ll find the USB-C port, and the headphone jack on the right-hand side. There’s no speaker down there, and that is because Motorola has decided to only use the earpiece as a speaker. Which makes the bottom look a bit cleaner, but many would rather Motorola have a bottom-firing speaker and then use the earpiece as a second speaker. You’ll find a microphone at the top along with the SIM/micro SD card tray, and the second microphone is found on the back, just below the Android One logo. Finally, the right side is where you’ll find the volume and power buttons. Instead of going with a rocker for the volume buttons, these are two distinct buttons, which gives it a cleaner look.

Display

Motorola is once again, sticking with a full HD panel on the Moto X4. Which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. A full HD panel is better for battery life and performance, and on top of that, Quad HD is a bit much for a display size that is so small. 424 pixels per inch is still plenty dense for most people, and the Moto X4 display does look great. It’s an IPS panel, but it looks a bit more vivid than other IPS displays we’ve seen in recent months. So it is clear that Motorola has done some calibration of its own here to make it look a bit better.

The panel here does seem to run on the cool side, but as is usually the case, most people won’t even notice the difference here. Unfortunately, Motorola doesn’t leave the user with many options for adjusting the temperature of the display. If you go under Settings and then Display, you’ll see there is a Color Mode option that you can choose from, but you are limited to standard or Vibrant. We left it on Vibrant for the review period and it looked great. But if Motorola allowed the user to make granular changes to the display, it would be even better. Now the Moto X4 does have Adaptive Brightness, as do most stock Android devices, which appeared to work fairly well. It turned pretty dim when using in dark situations, but turned all the way up when using outside and such. Speaking of outdoors, the display was bright enough to be used outdoors, but not quite as bright as some of its competitors.

Performance

The Moto X4 is one of the first smartphones to run on Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 630 chipset that was announced over the summer (it was announced with the Snapdragon 660, which also hasn’t been seen to much). The Snapdragon 630 is a slight upgrade over the Snapdragon 625, which Motorola has used in a number of its devices this year. The Snapdragon 630 does allow for better dual-camera support, which is likely why we got a better experience on the Moto X4 versus the Moto G5S Plus we just reviewed not to long before this. It also has a slightly faster clock speed of 2.2GHz versus 2.0GHz on the Moto G5S Plus, which led to a bit snappier performance. Now these are things that the everyday user likely won’t notice, but they are good upgrades and makes the Moto X4 experience all that much better.

With Motorola going with the Snapdragon 630 here, a lot of people may look at this as a mid-range device, since it doesn’t have a Snapdragon 800-series chipset inside, but it can definitely compete with those running on the Snapdragon 820, 821, and 835. Obviously the Snapdragon 835 will outperform it, as expected. But it still works just fine. The only place where there is room for improvement and to call the Moto X4 a mid-ranger is in the RAM department. Motorola is sticking with just 3GB of RAM in the Moto X4. Now yes, Android can run on as little as 512MB of RAM, but that won’t always be the case – and that also doesn’t take into account the apps you have running on your device. In 2017, 3GB of RAM is still enough, but if you’re buying this device and planning on keeping it for a couple of years or longer, you may want to look elsewhere.

Otherwise, performance on the Moto X4 was nice and snappy. We didn’t experience any slowdowns on the Moto X4 at all. It performed all of the tasks we threw at it, with ease. The Moto X4’s 32GB of storage is definitely on the lighter side, but the good thing here is that you do have a micro SD card slot that supports up to 256GB of additional storage. And on top of that, the Moto X4 (and all of Motorola’s smartphones) support Adoptable Storage, which means it can format that micro SD card to act as internal storage instead of just being a regular micro SD card for pictures, videos and music.

Fingerprint Sensor

When it comes to the fingerprint sensor, there’s really no surprise here. It’s still a front-facing fingerprint sensor, but surprisingly enough, it doesn’t act as a home button on the Moto X4. While there is still Moto Display and Moto Actions on the Moto X4, one of the actions that is missing in action here (pun intended) is the ability to use the fingerprint sensor for navigation. Which has been present on all of Motorola’s 2017 smartphones so far. So you’re stuck with using on-screen buttons, which is probably fine for most people, but having that option was definitely nice. Otherwise, the fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate, as one would expect. It almost never failed to recognize my finger when trying to unlock the Moto X4. And let’s face it, that is definitely not a surprise at this point in 2017.

Speaker & Sound

Motorola is using the earpiece on the Moto X4 as the only speaker here. Which could be a good thing, but it could also be a bad thing. It does free up the bottom of the phone to be a bit cleaner, and actually Motorola was able to hide all of the FCC information on the bottom of the phone instead of having it on the back, which is a neat change. The speaker on the Moto X4 actually sounds pretty good. It gets loud without sounding distorted and the actual quality is pretty good. The lows aren’t quite as low as what you’d get from a pair of headphones – which luckily you can still plug into the Moto X4 – but the mids and highs are nice and crisp. Now on the headphone front, there is a headphone jack here so you can plug in your headphones and use them as you would with your current phone which is nice. But unlike the LG V30, there’s no DAC included, which for those that aren’t audiophiles, that’s not an issue at all.

Phone Calls & Network

The model of the Moto X4 that we have here is a Project Fi model, which does work on Sprint, US Cellular and T-Mobile (and actually switches between them automatically). So there are both CDMA and GSM bands included on this phone as you’ll see below. It’s currently unclear if this will be available as an unlocked smartphone for any carrier, but it likely will be.

GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900

CDMA2000 1xEV-DO

HSDPA 850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100

LTE Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 25, 26, 38, 41, 66

Now our experience using this on Project Fi was the same as using any other smartphone on Project Fi. It seamlessly switched to the best network at any given time. Whether that was on Sprint, US Cellular, T-Mobile, or WiFi. And with WiFi Hotspots, it would automatically connect to the Google VPN so that your data is encrypted on open networks. There was no issues there. Speeds on Project Fi were pretty good, about what you’d expect on these networks without Project Fi. Now with calling, things were still pretty good. Remember that calls are made over data with Project Fi and not using the voice network, so of course VoLTE is included here, as well as WiFi Calling, as those are two technologies that Project Fi heavily relies on.

Benchmarks

For benchmarks, we were able to run Geekbench 4, AnTuTu and 3D Mark on the Moto X4. For Geekbench 4, it picked up a single-core score of 871, and a multi-core score of 4108. Over on AnTuTu, it picked up a score of 66,819, and finally on 3D Mark it picked up a score of 832. These are all in-line with other similarly specced devices. And they are marginally higher than what the Moto G5S Plus picked up, which shows the upgrade in processor and GPU are definitely worth it. As always, you can see the full results of these benchmarks in the gallery below.

Battery Life

The Moto X4 has relatively the same specs as the Moto G5S Plus that we reviewed just before this. The only major change was the slightly smaller display and a newer processor in the Snapdragon 630. Now the Snapdragon 600-series has always been really good with battery optimization, and that appears to be the case here. The Moto X4 has some incredible battery life. We’re talking about 6+ hours of on screen time over a 24-hour period if not longer. There was one day in particular where we hit 4 hours on screen before we hit the 50% left mark on the battery. Which is very impressive for a smartphone with just a 3000mAh battery.

As you’d expect, battery life results are going to vary for many people, as it will depend on what you use the phone for, what apps are installed and other factors. So some may not get the same numbers that we achieved here, but the good thing is that you can top up the battery pretty quickly thanks to Quick Charge 3.0. You can go from 0 to 80% full in about 35 minutes and a full charge in a little over an hour (that last 20% is typically slower to charge, to protect the battery and its life cycle). Which is great if you’ve been using the phone pretty heavy and want to get a bit more juice before heading out to hang out with friends at night and such.

Software

During the review period, we used the Moto X4 on Android 7.1.1 Nougat, with the September 1st, 2017 security patch. Now that isn’t the absolute latest version of Android, which would be Android Oreo, but it was the latest version of the security patch, when the device landed on our doorstep. So at least there’s that. The Moto X4 will get Android Oreo, although there is no word on when specifically that will happen.

On the software-front, the Moto X4 is almost like a Nexus and a Moto X forged together into one device. You see more aspects of stock Android here, versus what you get on another Motorola device, and with fewer Motorola features. For instance, the launcher is now more in-line with the Pixel Launcher, with the white background in the app drawer, instead of the clear/transparent background you see on most Motorola smartphones. Another area where you see more stock Android is in the Moto App. Instead of filling it with features that Motorola has developed, it is actually pretty bare. Offering only Moto Actions and Moto Display, and in fact some of the Moto Actions are missing here, like the one-button navigation action that we talked about earlier in this review. But things like chopping twice for the flashlight, or twisting to open the camera are all there. Moto Display is much the same as it is on the Moto Z2 Force, where you can wave your hand over the phone and see if you have notifications. It will also “breathe” when you do have notifications. Moto Display does also show the time, battery percentage and the date.

The software is a bit lighter than what you’d get on other Motorola smartphones, which was already pretty lightweight. But this means that it can move more fluidly on the hardware that is inside of the Moto X4. It also makes it easier to update the phone a bit quicker, since the majority of the features are either in AOSP or in the Moto App which is updated via the Google Play Store. Android 7.1.1 Nougat does run really smooth on the Moto X4, which is exactly what you’d expect from Motorola in the first place. There are very few pre-installed apps, in fact the only one we could find was the Project Fi app, but that kind of needs to be there for activation and taking care of your account, so it makes sense that the Project Fi app is pre-installed here.

About Android One

So there’s a bit of confusion when it comes to Android One smartphones. Many believe that Android One smartphones are updated directly by Google, but that is not the case. Google works closer with the manufacturer to make sure that the updates go out quicker, but it is ultimately the OEM that pushes these updates out. This is why you will still see elements of the manufacturers own software in these devices. Like the Moto Actions and Moto Display here in the Moto X4, and back with the Xiaomi Mi A1, you would see that the camera app from MIUI was present. With these devices running stock Android, they are able to push out updates faster, but it is not Google that pushes them out. Motorola is still responsible for updating the Moto X4, and updates should be fairly quickly, around 60 to 90 days, barring any issues with the update.

Camera

The dual camera setup on the Moto X4 is surprisingly similar to what you’d find on the LG G6 or V30. There’s the main camera, then a lower megapixel-count wide-angle camera. The main camera is a 12-megapixel f/2.0 aperture lens, with the secondary lens being a 8-megapixel f/2.2 aperture one. The 8-megapixel sensor is an ultra-wide angle lens which has a 120-degree field of view, and can get some great pictures, at least on paper. There are a couple of new modes on the Moto X4 camera, when compared to the previous Moto X and even the Moto Z2 Play from earlier this year. Which includes depth-enabled (basically bokeh), spot color, and then the ability to switch between normal and wide angle shots.

The wide-angle camera can be used in any mode, but it works the best in auto or professional/manual. It doesn’t work real well in the depth-enabled mode since it is already using both lenses with the 8-megapixel camera gathering information to give you that bokeh effect. But the wide-angle camera is good for taking group shots, or getting an entire building in the shot. When it comes to bokeh or depth-enabled mode, it actually works better than what we found on the Moto G5S Plus. For instance, it’s faster, but you also have the ability to adjust the bokeh effect after the photo is taken.

When viewing photos that were taken in depth-enabled, you have the choice of going to the normal photo editor or the depth editor. The depth editor is where all of the goodies are. From here you can adjust the blur or bokeh effect and also choose which subject is in focus. There’s also selective black and white. So you can make the background black and white and have the subject in color, or replace the background with something else. These are all features that are similar to what you’d find in the new iPhone’s camera, so it’s nice to see it here on a mid-range Android smartphone. Now it’s important to remember that these are all in beta, and could throw out some issues, like not getting the entire subject, like what happened during our usage. But it will get better, and it’ll be exciting to see how it works in the Moto Z3 series next year.

Motorola’s strong suite has not been cameras, for quite some time. And this was especially the case on the Moto X lineup. The original Moto X did not have a good camera, in fact some would say it was a downright terrible camera. Motorola has gotten better over the years, and the Moto X4 is a much improved camera, but it’s still hard to say it’s the best camera around. We were able to get some great shots with this camera, some of which were in manual mode, especially those in low-light situations. But the colors here were vibrant, they weren’t warmer than they should be, they were actually fairly accurate (read: not saturated like a Samsung camera would make them). If you’re not satisfied with the Moto X4’s camera, you should definitely play around in manual mode, and adjust the shutter speed. Some of the best pictures that I got with the Moto X4 came from manual mode. Of course, you can see them all in the Flickr gallery linked below.

The Good 

Vivid Display

Great Build Quality

Water and dustproof – IP68 rated

Headphone jack

Good Camera

The Bad

No wireless charging, despite glass back

No Slow-motion recording capability on the camera

Not running Android Oreo out of the box

Big camera bump on back

Wrap Up

Many were disappointed to see that the Moto X4 did get away from its roots this year, but many are also glad to see the line making a comeback, after a year off. Although it’s a bit confusing as to what the Moto X lineup means to Motorola and Lenovo, since it’s not really a mid-ranger, since that is the Moto G5 Plus, but it’s also not quite a flagship, as that is where the Moto Z2 Play and Moto Z2 Force sit. But one thing is for sure, the Moto X4 is a great smartphone, and perhaps one of the best that Motorola has put out in 2017.

Should I Buy the Moto X4?

Yes, definitely. The Moto X4 shows all of the strengths of Motorola as a company. Giving us a great, sturdy build, which is what we’ve come to expect from Motorola even before it was sold to Google and then Lenovo. It also provides us with a great software experience. Now, whether or not this holds up after six months or a year is yet to be known, but it’s starting out right.

Buy The Moto X4 Android One

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