Moto X4 Review: Hello, Brilliantly Simple Moto!
Moto gets back the X factor
The Moto X has had a rather odd place in the Motorola pantheon of phones. It started off as a device that was supposed to show how you could get a phone that performed brilliantly and was customized to your requirements at a relatively affordable price and without worrying about the spec sheet. Somewhere along the path, it morphed into a spec-oriented flagship, and at one stage, even had a more affordable, lower-priced sidekick (remember the Moto X Play, the cousin of the strangely named Moto X Style?). Then it sort of disappeared, skipping out on its annual launch cycle, seemingly supplanted by the mod-oriented Z series.
And then it returned in the latter half of 2017, in an avatar that seemed to hark back to its roots. Once again the stress seemed to be on design – albeit a more flashy one, although still compact as compared to the competition – and while the customization option had disappeared, the stress on simplicity and speed rather than specs seemed to be back. It was not super affordable in the way of a Redmi Note 4 but at its starting price of Rs 20,999, it was the second most affordable Moto X ever released in the Indian market (after the X Play, which was a stripped down version of the X Style). And as we write, it has received a 6 GB RAM edition, which at Rs 24,999, is again on the affordable side for what it offers.
A classy, glassy smooth operator
Which of course brings us to the matter of what the Moto X4 offers. The answer is surprisingly, a fair bit. There are some who might find its 5.2-inch display out of sync with the 18:9 aspect ratio trend, but there is no denying that the phone itself looks brilliant (check our first cut at https://techpp.com/2017/11/15/moto-x4-hands-on/) – we have seen both the black and blue (an unfortunately bruising sounding combination in terms of how it sounds) editions of the device, and both have turned heads. The curved glass back might pick up smudges, but it gets glanced at too, especially when lights overhead make curving patterns on it. And it is water and dust resistant (IP68) too as well as being rather tough – it did not feel as fragile as the iPhone X did in spite of being a “glass front and back” affair like its Cupertino namesake. It has taken a few tosses already, and we have no damage to report. That circular dual camera unit might protrude, but it does give the phone a very distinct identity and sticks to the Moto design language of late.
It turns in a very good performance too. With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 chip paired with 3 GB/ 4 GB/ 6 GB RAM (depending on your version), the X4 is not specced to take on the OnePluses of the world, but then it is fighting its battle well below that price point, and there it proves to be significantly better than most comers. Is this because of the near-untouched version of Stock Android on the device? Or just some hardware-software magic conjured up by the company that was once a part of Google? We do not know for sure, but what cannot be doubted is that regarding sheer smoothness of operation, the Moto X4 is very much in a zone of its own. Its compactness makes it very easy to handle, and although Moto does give you the option to make the display area smaller (just swipe from the center of the display to the lower right or left corner), we never found the need to do so.
An intriguing part of the interface is the option to do away with the on-screen navigation buttons and get more space by transferring their functionality to the oval fingerprint scanner below the display, using tap, press and swipe gestures. It takes some getting used to. For instance, a tap can get you back to the home screen, a slightly longer press can lock the display and an even longer press can invoke Google Assistant – we still end up accidentally locking our displays when we just want to get back to the home screen. But once you get the hang of it and also the Moto touches to the interface (the Moto Display which lights up when a notification comes, the gestures like twist to open a camera and so on), it does work very well and we must confess that we love looking at that very good full HD display (some people have mistaken it for an AMOLED one, thanks to the Moto Display which shows notifications on a darkened display, even when the display is off) without navigation buttons on it.
A Moto with a good camera…at long last!
Cameras used to be the Achilles Heel of the Moto range for a while and while we would not say that the 12- and 8- megapixel combination on the rear of the X put it out there with the best, they certainly allow you to take some very good photographs, albeit with a little coaxing and effort. The dull greys and bluish tints of older Motos are history now and although colors can sometimes a little too “punchy” (bordering on the oversaturated)for purists, we can safely say that most mainstream users will not be disappointed with the shooters on the Moto X in terms of results. A reason for this is also the camera app of the device, which while not being the easiest to navigate – you have to spot a tiny trio of dots in a corner to see different options – does let you a fair bit from fiddling with the bokeh (depth mode) to taking panoramas and in a backhanded tribute to Snapchat, there are also some face filters (available with the Oreo update).
The X4 also features a relatively large 16.0-megapixel front-facing shooter, and once again, it does the job without being exceptional and can do a little extra thanks to multiple modes. Finally, there is object and landmark recognition, which can identify objects that you point the camera at – you just tap on an icon on the screen and wait for the object to be identified, a process which takes around 15 seconds. The app also digs out web links to the identified object, which is a nice touch in our opinion. There are still some niggles – the screen goes blank for a brief when you launch the camera (something we noticed with a few other stock Android devices) and there is the odd lag, especially in depth mode (which nevertheless is faster than what we have seen on the Moto G5s Plus).
Ticking off most boxes
Sound quality is decent on loudspeakers and very good on headphones, as is call quality (hey, this is a Moto, remember). While on the subject of audio, the X4 is perhaps the first device in the country that can be paired with up to four Bluetooth devices (thanks to something called the Tempow Audio Profile or TAP), so you can stream music from your X4 to four headsets or speakers – you do not need to install any additional software and the facility works with just about any Bluetooth headphone or speaker. So those who love loud music can just ask their friends to bring their portable speakers along.
Battery life is a pleasant surprise as well- the 3000 mAh battery saw off a day of normal use quite easily and more careful use will see you get through more than that. And yes, there is quick charging, courtesy Moto’s TurboPower feature. In terms of general functionality, we did not have much to complain. The phone handled pretty much everything we threw at it without too many hassles – just do not expect high-end gaming at the levels of the Honor View 10 and the OnePlus 5T, as there will be frame drops as you move up the gaming ladder. The display and sound quality, however, make this a great device for watching films and any multimedia.
Truth be told, there was nothing major to fault the Moto X with, which kind of sums up the device – it blends in the smooth performance that we have seen in the Moto G with a significantly better design and better hardware. We just hope Moto gets its Android update act right – at the time of writing, the 6 GB RAM edition of the device came with Oreo with the other editions on Nougat, although they are expected to receive their updates soon.
A big fish in a now-shallow pond
So comes the big question: should you consider investing in the Moto X4? If your budget is in the region of Rs 25,000, our answer is an unequivocal “yes”! The Moto X4 hits the sweet spot on many counts – design, interface, ease of use and perhaps for the first time in its history in India, price as well – yes, the X Play was more affordable but unlike the X4, it felt like an affordable, watered down clone of the real thing. At a time when there seems a marked paucity of devices in the Rs 20,000-25,000 band (ironically the very one which triggered the budget flagship revolution with the likes of the OnePlus One, OnePlus 2, Xiaomi Mi 4 and Mi 5), the Moto X4 is the closest you can get to a device that looks like a flagship and for the most part, performs like one. The only real competition that we could think of came in the form of the now distinctly old seeming Honor 8 Pro, which has got a price cut (it is available at Rs 25,999 at the time of writing) and is gently as much on the way out as the X4 is on the way in. We do think it scores over the X4 in terms of battery life and display, but the X4 lords it over in terms of UI and design. Benchmark busters might prefer the high-end Kirin chip on the 8 Pro, but then as many people have pointed out, those considering a Moto X seldom are the benchmark worrying types.
Which is why we could say this is the first Moto X that seems designed to fulfill the destiny of the very first of its kind: proving that you do not need to have high-end specs and packed wallets to get a great smartphone experience. Oh them Nexus 4 and 5 feels.