Remember how awesome it was just a few years back when you could look forward to a stock Android phone that didn’t cost an arm and a leg? We anticipated the annual Nexus release because it brought about a benchmark experience that ran the latest in Android.
While the Nexus phones never really sold themselves as a best-in-class device, it signaled to consumers what Google expected from phone makers. It was almost like a pacesetter for the industry, giving us an idea as to what handsets should have under the hood.
When the Pixel launched in late 2016 one of the loudest complaints we heard was that it was far too expensive. Not that it didn’t justify its price tag, mind you, but that it was a few hundred dollars higher than what we had become conditioned to spending. Gone were the days of $400 phones in favor of models that run $650 or higher.
This year was the same; the Pixel 2 starts at $650 with the larger Pixel XL 2 coming in at $850 or more. In short, you had to spend flagship money if you wanted a solid stock Android phone with the release.
Somewhere over the last few years Motorola began offering its own higher end phones with a nearly pure and untouched version of Android. The only touches we saw to the experience were in the name of user delight and actually added to its features. The best part? These phones were around $400.
Sadly, Motorola’s flagship phones began to inch up higher and higher in the last couple of generations. Indeed, the Moto Z line replaced the Moto X line, bringing with it a more premium experience with modular capabilities. Oh, and a price tag that was inflated by a few hundred bucks.
This year saw Motorola return to its X line with the Moto X4. It’s a solid package of hardware and performance that doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. Not only that, but it’s right back in the price range that we were starting to appreciate.
Google announced this fall that it was going to offer Android One devices in the United States. The lucky first model? The Moto X4. Yes, this is a stock, and current Android experience with the right pacesetting hardware. In other words, this could be the start of the Nexus line all over again.
“The Android One Moto X4 is everything we miss in the Nexus family of phones.”
We’ve had a chance to review the Android One Moto X4; Google supplied us with a sample unit that we’ve used over the last few weeks. How does it stack up? Well, if you don’t want to read on, I’ll spoil it for you. The Android One Moto X4 is everything we miss in the Nexus family of phones.
If you’re looking to get into the Android ecosystem and want a great jumping off point, it makes all the sense in the world to start here. This goes double if you’re open to switching mobile operators. See, this version of the Moto X4 is sold through Google’s Project Fi. That means you’re not only getting (almost) the best of Android, but also a great hardware experience backed by a revolutionary and inexpensive wireless provider.
The X4 is somewhat of a perfect device for someone looking to purchase a “Goldilocks” phone. In other words, it’s not too big, not too small, not too cheap, and not too expensive. The hardware borders on the upper end and it features details that we come to expect in a quality phone. Available in Sterling Blue or Super Black, the handset retails for $400.
Running Android 7.1.1 Nougat, the Moto X4 offers up a 5.2-inch display with a 1,920 x 1,080 pixel resolution. The 2.2GHz octa-core (Snapdragon 630) processor is strong and complimented nicely by the 3GB RAM and 32GB of storage space. All of these are a shade or two below what the top of line devices deliver but that somewhat echoes the Nexus family.
To me, the 5.2-inch display is the perfect size of for a smartphone, especially when you don’t have edge-to-edge screens. Even with a slight bezel, this is enough to feel substantial in hand, with a picture plenty big enough for all needs.
To be clear, the resolution isn’t as sharp as what you’ll find in some other mid-range and upper tier models. Text and images look fine; the color is vibrant and accurate. Where it does fall short, though, would be in the area of virtual reality. If that’s a key factor or field that interests you, a phone with 2,560 x 1,440 resolution is where you should look.
Other noteworthy specifications include a pair of cameras on the back (12-megapixel/8-megapixel), a front-facing 16-megapixel shooter, and a 3,000mAh battery. The
phone is water-resistant, includes a microSD card (up to 2TB), fingerprint reader, NFC (Android Pay), and built-in support for Amazon Alexa.
The last detail is an interesting distinction as it’s Motorola’s first phone to get the smarts. In short, it turns the X4 into a voice-activated or voice-triggered device that handles Amazon’s increasing list of skills. It’s not every single thing that comes in an Echo, but you can wake the phone up with a command or launch it from the lock screen.
Fear not, Google lovers, you still have access to the Google Assistant and its ever-smarter AI tools. It’s the best of both worlds so, if you have a preference or rely on one particular ecosystem, you’re covered.
Much like it does for its portfolio of phones, Motorola also sprinkles its own custom enhancements here, too. Users can open apps using particular phrases (Show me…), save passwords with the fingerprint (Moto Key), and unlock a PC using the Bluetooth connection.
All of these extra features are done in the name of user experience but should not impact a timely software Android update. Aside from those options, the X4 is stock Android through and through.
We were immediately taken in by the look and feel of the Moto X4. The solid metal unibody design is something that is much sexier than it needs be. It’s great to hold in the hand with the right amount of curves and sharp lines.
The phone wants to be looked over and appreciated. Even the camera bump on the back, which is prominent, has fine details which draw in the eye. It feels like a much more expensive, or even powerful, phone on the outside.
The glass is slick, though, and it picks up fingerprints and smudges much easier than we’d like. With that said, a quick wipe against the shirt or pants cleans it up.
Playing with the camera and utilizing the dual-sensor setup on the back is a fun experience. You’ll want to spend some time learning the features as well as its limitations. Toggling from the standard angle to the wide angle lens delivers sometimes vastly different results and I suspect you’ll figure out which you’ll want or need for various situations.
The default settings work well in most instances and is where we spent most of our time. If you like to break out a phone to capture selfies or a few key moments, the auto settings in the Moto X4 camera will do the trick. But, we invite you to familiarize yourself with the different modes and options. A couple minutes here and there could take your portrait shots to new levels.
Embedded Samples (Flickr Gallery)
As you’ll see in the gallery here, sometimes the tools worked to our advantage while other times it delivered messy results. Again, it’s a matter of figuring out what you can and cannot do with it. Autofocus, color select, and a few other details like switching between standard and wide angle, need some of your time before you get the best results. Generally speaking, however, we liked what Motorola gives us in terms of settings and final product.
As a daily driver, the Moto X4 performs quite well. The 3GB RAM and mid-range processor won’t hold a candle to the $800 phones on the market, but you have to ask yourself whether that’s what you’re buying. Do you want a device that handles your emails, tasks, messaging, and basic gaming? Or, do you want something that chews through benchmarks and devours first-person shooters?
Performance is aided by the fact that it’s running clean Android 7.1. On one side of this coin we find there’s optimization and battery enhancement at a platform level. On the other side we see there’s no extra skinning or UI junk that stays running in the background. This not only leads to a smooth and generally problem-free experience, but one that also treats the battery with care.
Speaking of batteries, the X4 comes with a non-removable 3,000mAh power supply. A basic smartphone user can expect a single day of use without batting an eye. Those with jobs or lifestyles that necessitate keeping phones tucked away, or people who aren’t always on social media and Reddit might look to get two days. Motorola touts six hours of use from only 15 minutes of charging.
Wireless Sound System
Another cool feature that comes in the phone, but one which may not apply to everyone, is the Wireless Sound System. Powered by French outfit Tempow, it lets you listen to music on up to four Bluetooth-powered devices at once. Built in at the system level, it connects and streams to any Bluetooth device just so long as it offers A2DP music profile or equivalent support.
This is somewhat of a stop-gap measure for those of you who might want a connected home stereo. Whether its SONOS, Google, or somebody else, the idea of playing music through multiple rooms and speakers (or headphones) is alluring. We liked that the X4 allowed for us to utilize some of the Bluetooth speakers we had sitting around going unused.
There’s nothing in the Android One Moto X4 that’s any different from what you’d find in other Project Fi devices. It is noteworthy, though, in that it gives buyers a lower price point to choose from. Up until now the selection was relegated to a pretty select, and somewhat expensive, list of phones.
We love the package that is the Android One Moto X4 (with Project Fi). As a longtime and heavy Google user we’ve come to appreciate it when things mesh together. That’s exactly what happens with this phone.
The specs are just right for nearly all users and should be strong enough to last a year or two. Further, the price is justifiable here. In fact, when you look and feel this phone, and browse the list of features, you almost feel like you’re getting away with something.
It’s not a step up from the Pixel or Pixel XL so you’re likely not replacing your Project Fi phone. But, if you were on the fence about signing up for the service, this should help sway you in that direction.
It’s hard to tell whether Google plans to release more Android One models in the US throughout the year or if they will just stick to annual models. Regardless of the future, we like where things are today and think this is an excellent stepping off point. Six months from now we might recommend a different phone for Project Fi (or Android One) over this but it will have to be a very compelling device.
“In fact… you almost feel like you’re getting away with something.”
Sure, you can get away with more hardware for less money when dealing with different, or lesser known phone makers. The rub, though, is that you’ll give up Project Fi support, Wireless Sound System, and probably IP68 water resistance.
Motorola no longer considers the Moto X its premium phone series but you’d have a hard time convincing us otherwise. The MotoMod stuff is really cool, and downright compelling in some cases, but it’s not for everyone. If you would have asked us to forecast what the Moto X (Third Gen) successor would have looked like a year back, this is definitely not it. It’s much classier and more feature rich than its predecessors.
If you left the Nexus line for pricier pastures, we invite you to consider the Android One Moto X4. It’s somewhat of a perfect storm for the mid-range. Reflecting for a moment, it’s bittersweet — as much as we love what Lenovo has done here, it makes us curious for what Google might have done if it kept Motorola in house.