Moto X4 Review: Hands-On

The Moto X4 was released in early September 2017 at IFA/Berlin and was originally targeted at the mid-range market. The main features include a dual camera, hands-free support for Alexa voice assistant, Tempow Audio profile (TAP) a unique technology that allows to stream audio to four devices simultaneously. But what really sets the Moto X4 apart is its impressive, unique, and shiny new design!
In 2017, Motorola have five product categories: C, E, G, Z and X. Moto G5 launched at MWC in February , and we saw Moto C and C Plus emerging in May, the Moto E4 and E4 Plus in June. As for the Moto Z-series flagship, born in 2016 with its unique Moto Mods accessories, the new models the Moto Z2 Force and the Moto Z2 Play launched earlier this year. The Moto X-series, born in 2013, did not see any updates during 2016, and its last apparition was in 2015, in the form of the Moto X Force, the Moto X Style and the Moto X Play.

At publishing time, the Moto X4 is priced at 399 Euros, but it has not appeared at major e-tailers such as Amazon, yet, it will be available in Europe in September 2017.
It’s likely that it will sell at ~430 USD in the U.S. Even if this product was originally designed to address the mid-range market, the reality is that many products will change positioning as their price are pushed down over the years.

At the $ 430 price level, it will compete with the Galaxy S7 (~$ 400-$ 450), the HTC 10 ($ 400), the Sony XPERIA Z5 ($ 400) and the LG G5 ($ 300), which are the flagship devices from last year.

Looking at the  mid-range smartphones released in 2017 with similar prices, we can compare the Moto X4 to the ZTE Axon 7 ($ 440), the HTC U Ultra ($ 499) and the Moto Z2 Play ($ 499). Note: All prices as of Sept 17, 2017.

Industrial Design

Comfort

With a width of 73mm (2.87 inches) and a thickness of 8mm (0.31 inches), the smartphone feels comfortable in hand. This is comparable to a Galaxy S7 or an HTC 10 if you know these devices

We use U.S M-size gloves for male hand-size reference, so this will vary from person to person. The device weighs 163 grams (5.75 oz) and we would consider that weight level to be normal for its size. The S7 is the lightest at 152 grams (5.36 ounces) and the XPERIA Z5 is the heaviest at 180 grams (6.35 ounces).

The X4 is slightly lighter than the HTC U ultra (170 gram) and the ZTE Axon 7 (175 grams) with similar thickness (8 mm vs. 8mm and 7.9 mm), but thicker than the Moto Z2 Play (6 mm). With a volume of ~5.27 cubic inches (CI), the Moto x4 is chubbier than the LG G5 or the Galaxy S7 (4.2 CI). The HTC 10 is a little bit bigger than the Moto x4.

In the mid-range smartphones market, the HTC U Ultra is bulkier at 6.25 CI while the Axon 7 is a hair smaller at 4.84 CI, and the Z2 play is significantly lower at 4.34 CI.

Build Quality (Excellent)

The built-quality of the Moto X4 is very impressive for a mid-range smartphone, featuring a thin glass surface on top of a metal layer with a contoured back, and Gorilla Glass 4 at least on the front. Such an elegant and sleek design is usually found in pricier devices such as the Galaxy S7 (flagship more expensive at launch), S8 and Note 8.

It does look great, but its weak point is that it is more prone to breakage upon a drop onto a hard surface. Despite this fact, glass has been a favorite surface treatment for smartphones, and users can protect their handset with a thin case.

Looking at how the smartphone was built, we estimate that the risk of crack during a drop on a hard surface to be relatively high. You can refer to our general article about how phones can be designed to avoid breaking upon drops.

Durability (Excellent for the price range)

The Moto X4 smartphone has an IP-rating, which means that it is protected to some degree from dust and/or water. Here’s what the IP68 rating means: Dust tight, no dust can penetrate. Up to 3-meter immersion waterproofing. In some cases, waterproofing means that “some” water can penetrate, but without harming the device.

Among the competing devices, only the Galaxy S7 and the Xperia Z5 features the IP68 rating, all the others (LG G5, HTC 10, HTC U Ultra, ZTE Axon 7 and Moto Z2 play) are not rugged at all.

Design Ingenuity

This industrial design packs a fair amount of performance in relation to its size, but of course, it is much less powerful as high-end phones priced $ 200+ higher. From another standpoint, the amount of battery capacity the user gets is very good for a handset of this size.

The screen display-to-body ratio of 69% is good and comparable to the XPERIA Z5’s 69.6%, but lower than the 71% and 72% of the HTC 10 and Galaxy S7. For the mid-range category, the X4 features a hair lower display-to-body ratio than the Moto Z2 play (70.3%) and the U Ultra (70%). Compared to the Axon 7 (73.6%), the X4 gets a significantly better ratio.

The Moto x4 has a relatively large body in relation to its display diagonal of 5.2”. Looking at the overall size of the phone, only the HTC 10 has a bigger overall body size for its screen. The S7, G5, Z5 all offer more screen for the size, although keep in mind that the XPERIA Z5 has a larger 5.5-inch display.

Display

Display technology (regular)

The Moto X4 display uses a 1920×1080 IPS LCD display (424 PPI). IPS LCD technology is what made mobile LCD displays so good to start with. It can reproduce more colors than plain LCD, with better color saturation and larger view angles. Within the world of IPS LCD displays there are notable differences, but in general, they are much superior to basic LCD displays.

Overall, LCD displays are not as good technologically speaking as OLED displays. While it is possible to build LCD displays that compete at the same level as OLED, they should be considered the exception, and they don’t have any of the cost-benefits that LCD might have over OLED. You can read our complete LCD vs. OLED article which goes deeper into the details.

From former flagships to recent mid-range competitors, all devices feature higher resolutions (Quad HD) for their display than the 1080p of the Moto X4 (except for the Moto Z2 Play): Galaxy S7 (2560×1440), HTC 10 (2560×1440), LG G5 (2560×1440),  Xperia Z5(2560×1440),  HTC U Ultra (2560×1440), ZTE Axon 7 (2560×1440),, Moto Z2 Play (1920×1080).

Learn moreHigh PPI displays: do you really need them?

Alexa Voice Assistant (unique feature)

Motorola implements the Alexa Voice Assistant in the X4 and users will be able to enjoy the same features as the one offered in their Echo device.  Google Assistant is still accessible, as it is built-in within the Android OS.

Honestly, I did not try Alexa at the event, as the noise level was to high, and I preferered to spend my time taking good photos and playing with the Star Wars game using the Lenovo Explorer VR headset.

Camera (good)

Smartphone cameras have become amazingly good over the years. However, it is clear that there is an enormous difference between mobile cameras, in particular between different pricing segments of the market.

It is important to understand that mobile photography has two pillars of considerable importance: Software and Hardware. The software is usually very secretive, and it is extremely difficult to gain reliable information to gage its quality through an unbiased process. Also, photography is not just science, it is also art.

OpinionWhat’s a Great Mobile Camera Experience?

The camera hardware remains an important factor which is more measurable. Camera hardware is potentially a substantial limiting factor to mobile camera performance. Even if you apply the smartest software to it, the quality of the input image data still plays a major role in the final photo.

One of the key features of the Moto X4 is its new dual-camera (backside), despite its mid-range status. Except for the LG G5, none of the similar priced competing devices feature a dual camera.

The main 12-megapixel camera is combined with an 8-megapixel wide-angle 120-degree secondary camera. Both shooters capture color images, the main one features dual-pixel autofocus, 1.4µm sensor pixels, f/2.0 aperture, while the 8-megapixel camera offers 1.2µm sensor pixels and a f/2.2 lens.

The dual camera provides the ability to perform selective focus a.k.a. Bokeh effect after you shot the picture. Additionally, it provides different shooting angle like the in the LG G5 – a feature that I really appreciate when I travel, to capture landscapes in wide-angle.

Learn more: Dual Cameras vs. Single Camera

In the Moto X4, the camera aperture of f/2.0 is good, but not impressive. At the moment, we do not know exactly which sensor is used, but the f2.0 aperture would be main factor, unless an absurdly small/bad sensor was used, which we do not think is the case, because we do know that it has large 1.4µm sensor pixels (sensels).

Unfortunately, there is no Optical Image Stabilization, unlike some of the former flagship competitive devices (Galaxy S7, HTC 10 and LG G5).

The 12 Megapixel resolution should never be used as a general proxy for photo quality. In low-light situations, the megapixel count doesn’t matter much. Keep in mind that the physical size of each sensor pixel is critical. Individually, small sensor pixels obtain less light as data inputs, and at some points, it’s better for the overall image quality to gather more light on fewer pixels than the opposite. It is a balance that needs to be struck. Today, 12 Megapixels seem to be the best sensor compromise between sharpness, low-light and auto-focus performance.

On a sunny day or in very bright light, Megapixel is a useful metric for photographic detail and sharpness. For example, on a sunny day, a nature photo with a higher megapixel count can reproduce finer details of nature scenes. Between 12 MP, 16 MP and 21 MP differences in small details can be quite noticeable, if printed or viewed on a large and/or high-PPI display.

Camera experience hands-on at IFA

During the launch event at IFA, I briefly tried the Moto X4 camera and shot two photos, side by side with my Galaxy S8, which is the new flagship device from Samsung (the newest is the Galaxy Note 8).

We cannot compare apples to oranges knowing that the S8 is way more expensive than the Moto X4, however, it gives a reference point.

The X4 camera is a little slower than the S8 and delivers images with higher contrast than the S8, and the background in the dark gets less details with the X4.
The performance in low light is good, I shot a backpack on the floor that was quite in a dark spot and the performance was equivalent than the S8, although the contrast and color rendering are different.

See the sample images:

Front camera

The front camera offers a surprising 16 megapixel resolution that only the HTC U Ultra provides as well, all the other comparably priced smartphones feature between 5 and 8 megapixels. Additionally, The front shooter features a quite bright f/2.0 aperture to deliver good performance in low light, given the fact that a lot of selfies are done in dark restaurants, nightclubs, or evening events.

Battery Life

The battery capacity of Moto X4 is 3000 mAh, which is great in general, and it matches the primary competitors offering, with three of out four phones having the same capacity.

Battery life is one of the most important features of a smartphone. The most important factor is obviously the battery capacity — especially within the same ecosystem (Android, iOS or other). Battery life can be affected by a great deal of factors, but the main ones are main processor, display, and radios (broadband, wifi, the location of the cell towers and much more). It is impossible to accurately predict through benchmarks how much energy drain your unique usage pattern will induce. However, two things are undeniably always good:

  • A higher battery capacity
  • Faster charging

This product does NOT have a removable battery, which is more or less the norm for smartphones nowadays. Closed batteries cannot be swapped or easily exchanged, but they do allow for smaller designs and slightly higher capacity batteries within the same product size.

Performance

You can look at detailed benchmarks below, but in our estimation, this smartphone’s performance places it in the high-end class of products.

Before you look at more benchmarks, it’s important to understand that most benchmarks are only indicators for system or graphics performance. It is possible to perceive sharp performance differences between different device classes (mid-range vs. high-end), but much more difficult to do so within the same class. Benchmarks alone should NOT drive a smartphone purchase decision.

Gaming performance applies only to very complex games using 3D graphics. Casual games such as puzzles and 2D games do not require this kind of power, and can run virtually on any modern device.

The Moto x4 is powered by a Snapdragon 630 SoC (main processor), along with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. All our competitors are powered by a Snapdragon 820 or 810 chip with 3GB or 4GB of RAM.

Learn morewhat is a SoC or System On a Chip?
OpinionAre benchmarks important? What do they mean?
Learn more: Are more CPU cores always better?

Against the competitors, we have listed (Galaxy S7, HTC 10 and XPERIA Z5), the new Moto x4 finds itself in a slightly disadvantageous position because these phones have more powerful hardware originally designed to compete at the high-end in 2016. This is not an uncommon position for the mid-range phones because former top phones now compete in the same price range.

The main difference between 2016 phones and 2017 ones tend to be the newer 4G LTE modem quality, and improved software, depending on firmware updates of older models. Many competitors were launched with Android 6.x or even 5.x (XPERIA Z5).

Value proposition

Looking at the different qualities of a device through the lens of pricing tells you how much technology you are getting for your money. That said, you need to keep in mind that things like design, user experience, and customer service cannot always be measured.

The Moto X4 loses performance against top older phones that are currently offered at similar prices. However, the built-quality is on par with flagships. There is a dual-camera, an IP68 rating and unique features such as Alexa voice assistant and Tempow Audio Profile.

Conclusion

The Moto X4 delivers an impressive built-quality packaged in a stylish and IP68 rugged design, all that for quite a good price. On the features side, the key highlight is the dual-camera with a secondary 8 mega-pixel wide angle (120 degrees) camera, which is great to shoot landscapes while travelling or perform nice Bokeh effect.

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews. Read more about Lenovo, Motorola, smartphone reviews and Smartphones.

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