A couple of years ago, Motorola’s premium phones in Australia were the Moto X range, but this year, the company has shaken up its smartphone lineup, and now there’s a few more Moto letters in the roost. Moto Z is the brand’s flagship line today, which leaves the Moto X line in a bit of a curious spot.
I think it’s best to describe the Moto X4 as a mid-range phone with a couple of features you’d more typically find in premium phones. For example, in the $600-ish price-range, the Moto X4 features a double rear camera module which is rather good, Gorilla Glass front and back, and IP68 water resistance, which is a first for Motorola in any of its smartphone lines.
These standout features are matched with a fairly typical mid-range setup, including Qualcomm’s second-tier Snapdragon 630 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of on-board storage (which you can expand) and a sizeable 3,000 mAh battery. Running Android 7.1 Android out of the box (with an upgrade to Oreo promised soon) the Moto X4 promises much.
In my opinion, it delivers, too.
What’s good about the Moto X4?
Pretty much all of it, really. The Moto X4 package is top notch inside and out. It looks great, is great to stick in your hand, and is the ideal size; not so large that smaller hands can’t hold it, and not so small that those with meaty paws can’t comfortably use it.
Speaking of that in-hand feel, this represents a bit of a change for Motorola, and part of that facilitates the Moto X4’s water resistance – a move to glass front and back. While it’s a sleek feel, and it looks amazing, it does add a few concerns. First, it is a bit too sleek, and even on a flat desk, it might slide around a bit too easily. Secondly, if you drop it on a hard surface, glass isn’t very forgiving and, despite its strength, the Moto X4 may break.
That water resistance – at IP68 – allows the Moto X4 to take a dip for up to half an hour, in water up to 1.5 metres deep. While this doesn’t mean you should take it for a swim at your local pool, it does mean that if you threw the phone in to your wife or husband to take a photo of the kids, you could do so quite safely. Just give it a rinse under the tap afterwards and let it dry out. What’s most remarkable is that this feature is included in a phone under $700; there’s not many others.
The other stand-out performer is the battery; while two days of usage is a touch unlikely, a full day is easily achievable with 30-40% charge remaining after a full day of fairly ordinary use. Obviously, usage patterns vary, but the Moto X4 battery does last a good amount. Fortunately, it charges via USB-C so if you need to charge it up, it’ll power up fairly quickly.
I couldn’t talk about a Motorola handset without making mention of the software. Moto doesn’t change much when it comes to Android, and the Moto X4 is no exception. Android is fast, slim and sleek, and not unlike the Android experience you might find on a Pixel or Pixel 2 phone which costs twice as much. However, Motorola have made a couple of odd choices with the Moto X4, including both Microsoft Outlook and LinkedIn apps by default. While I quite like Outlook, LinkedIn I don’t, and you can’t get rid of it – all you can do is disable it.
Fortunately, these are not major issues (and neither pre-installed app takes up much room) so you can enjoy a stock Android experience at a very affordable price. The only thing that would make it better is Moto licensing the Pixel Launcher, which is far better than the stock Android option they’ve gone with. Fortunately, you can side-load it, and it makes everything better.
Which areas are a bit less good with Moto X4?
It took a while to notice, but there are some elements of the Moto X4 experience which aren’t as fast and responsive as they could be. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 630 is quick, to be sure, but it isn’t Snapdragon 830 quick. Handling the basic functions – web browsing, social media use, email and the like – is perfectly fine, but if you’re into more demanding games, you might be looking elsewhere.
The other area where slowness can be witnessed is, sadly, with the camera. The camera itself is fantastic, and takes some wonderfully clear, vivid photos — the kind you’d expect from a far more expensive phone, or from a standalone camera. It’s the software side that lets it down a little; the app is a bit sluggish to start up, and a bit slow to shoot sometimes. Fast moving subjects are not so easily captured, and if you’re in low-light, be prepared to walk away.
What Moto X4 proves is that while most smartphones are reasonable cameras, few are excellent, and the excellent ones are generally found in rather expensive phones. The Moto X4 does a reasonable job in most scenes, but a professional-level camera it simply isn’t (and shouldn’t be compared with).
Dual cameras are all the rage now, and Moto X4 has this setup too. The secondary camera can be used for wide-angle photography, which lets you zoom out a bit, or it can be used to simulate depth-of-field (DOF). While the latter feature is perfectly serviceable, the wide-angle lens necessarily adds a bit of fisheye distortion and it just doesn’t feel as bright/fast as the standard lens.
The last thing I’ll note, which isn’t really a gripe, is that the fingerprint sensor on the front can be a bit deceptive. For those who might be more familiar with Apple’s technology, the fingerprint sensor on the front is just that; it isn’t a home button too. It’s a very quick fingerprint sensor, and very accurate, but it’s just a sensor. If you have anything on your chosen fingerprint though – e.g. some water on your hands – it won’t recognise your print. It is very finicky, but I guess you want it to be more discerning rather than less.
You can configure it to work like a multi-function button if you like, but you then lose your on-screen keys. My advice? Keep it as just a fingerprint sensor.
Should you buy the Moto X4?
The mid-range is increasingly competitive, and though it’s sharply priced at $599, there is a bit of competition around that price-point which makes the Moto X4 a bit hard to declare a clear must-buy. It is worth noting, though, that it’s one of exceptionally few devices (perhaps as few as two) that come with IP68 water resistance at this price point.
If you don’t care so much about water resistance, then you might be able to do better for the price, or get the same features for a bit less. Moto X4 is an incredibly capable device and it is a joy to use. So much so, in fact, that I used it for a good many days as my primary phone and enjoyed it immensely.
Motorola’s own G5S Plus was released mid-year, and it’s a bit cheaper at $429 with a slightly larger display and a more traditional aluminium-backed design. The only other water resistant option around this price is Samsung’s Galaxy A5 (2017) and though it’s a little cheaper ($499-ish) you can grab it on a plan, which might be a good deal if you don’t have the up-front money sitting around.
All this said, for $599, the Moto X4 is a premium looking phone with mostly premium inclusions. With USB-C, water resistance, stock Android, a fairly good dual-lens camera with wide-angle lens and an in-hand feel that’s hard to beat in phones at twice the price, the Moto X4 is easy to recommend. Sure, there are some brands offering more inclusions for the same price, but you can’t readily buy those phones here – Moto X4 you can grab at any JB HiFi.
I’ve also decided to use it as my daily phone for a few weeks post-review, and so far I’m not missing anything from the Pixel 2 which costs easily twice as much. Perhaps I’m missing squeeze for Assistant (which I’ve come to like), but beyond that, this phone is simply excellent.
Moto X4 is available with $100 discount for $599 at JB HiFi, or $699 at Motorola Online.