Motorola Moto X4 Android Review: The Original Moto X’s True Successor

November 6, 2017 - Written By Alexander Maxham

The Moto X4 does everything a flagship does, for less

Motorola has finally brought the Moto X line back to life, and it actually features a few firsts and returns to its roots of being a “small” smartphone. The Moto X4 is here, and it actually comes in three different versions. There is the Android One model that is made for Project Fi, then the regular Moto X4 model (which is also sold on Amazon as a Prime Exclusive model with ads). This is the regular Moto X4 smartphone, which does actually have quite a few differences from the Android One version, but is it better? Let’s find out.

Specs

Motorola is using a 5.2-inch 1920×1080 resolution IPS LCD panel for the Moto X4. This gives us about 424 pixels per inch, and its covered in Corning Gorilla Glass – although Motorola has not specified which version of Gorilla Glass is on-board here. Under-the-hood, you’ll find the Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor which is an octa-core chipset clocked at 2.2GHz. That is paired with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. There is a micro SD card slot available for expanding storage, if needed. Motorola is only selling one configuration of the Moto X4, so there’s no 4GB RAM or a model with more storage.

Where things really differ with the Moto X4 is that dual camera setup on the back. Motorola has two cameras here: a 12-megapixel camera with f/2.0 aperture and then an 8-megapixel telephoto lens that has a f/2.2 aperture. There is also phase detection autofocus available here, with dual LED flash for taking photos. Other odds and ends in the spec sheet include IP68 certification, so that it is water and dust resistant in up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. It does also have Bluetooth 5.0, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, GPS (A-GPS, GLONASS, and GALILEO) and of course NFC is along for the ride here. There is a fingerprint sensor in the home button and USB-C for charging.

In the Box

Inside the box, you won’t find much with the Moto X4. But you do get the phone right on top, which is usually the case. Additionally, there is a USB-C to USB-A cable, a TurboPower wall adapter for Quick Charge 3.0 support as well as the usual assortment of paperwork and a SIM ejection tool. And that’s about it. As is usually the case these days, there’s no case in the box, nor is there a pair of headphones – the headphone jack is still here though.

Hardware

In a world where smartphones are getting larger and larger with every iteration, Motorola has seemingly done the opposite. The Moto X4 is a somewhat small device, at least by 2017 standards, with its 5.2-inch display. Since it is smaller, it fits in the hand very nicely. This is also thanks to the curved sides on the back of the Moto X4, and it being made of glass. Which helps the phone feel even smaller in the hand. Now since it is glass, normally it would be slippery, but that’s not the case with the Moto X4, surprisingly. It can be a tad slippery, but not as bad as other smartphones, like the Galaxy Note 8 or LG V30. Of course, being able to wrap your hand around it does really help.

The Moto X4 is available in two colors, we actually have both colors here. There’s the Super Black and the Sterling Blue. The Super Black one that we have is the Android One version while the Sterling Blue is the regular model that we are here to review today. Both of them have a unique look, but the Sterling Blue looks a bit more unique and looks really good when the light hits it just right. The Sterling Blue does not use a black front-plate like most phones are doing these days, however. The only real downside to having a colored face on a smartphone, is the fact that the sensors do not blend in with the bezel, as you can see on the Moto X4 here.

All of the buttons on the Moto X4 are actually located on the right side of the device. There are the volume buttons which are actually two separate buttons and not a rocker, with the power button below it. The power button has a slight rigid texture on it, which allows you to determine which is the volume buttons and which is the power button without looking at it. At the top, there is an antenna line, but on the left side of the top is the SIM card and micro SD card tray. On the bottom, you’ll find two more antenna lines, the USB-C port for charging and the 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s no speaker on the bottom of the phone, and that is because Motorola is using a single-firing speaker which is also the earpiece. This is something other companies have done with the earpiece before, but there is usually a second speaker either on the bottom of the front or at the bottom of the device. The Moto X4 simply has one speaker.

The Moto X4, in Sterling Blue, is a stunning smartphone from Motorola. Its size is something that not everyone will like – since it is obvious that most people want a larger device – but for those looking for a smaller smartphone, it’s hard to go wrong with the Moto X4. It looks great, fits in the hand nicely and has a pretty good looking display.

Display

Motorola is using an LTPS LCD display here on the Moto X4. Unfortunately, that means it is not an AMOLED display, which is something it uses on the higher-end Moto Z2 lineup. That could be to keep the two lineups from competing with each other. But the display panel here actually looks pretty good. It’s vibrant, but not as saturated as a display you’d find on a Samsung device, it also doesn’t get as bright as Samsung’s latest panels. But that’s not entirely bad, as it is still fairly usable outdoors in direct sunlight, which is what really matters.

Many will look at the resolution on this device and think that it is mid-range, and well it is. But 1080p, especially at this size, is actually more than enough. A Quad HD display that is only 5.2-inches is actually going to cause more issues with battery life as well as performance. Not to mention a Full HD panel will help keep the price down, which is also important.

Performance

This is the first device, that is commercially available, with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 630 chipset. This is the successor to the Snapdragon 625 which Motorola used quite a bit in its Moto G smartphones for the past couple of years. It is still a mid-range chipset, but it is really good with battery life and performance. It’s an octa-core 2.2GHz Cortex-A53 chipset, which provides plenty of speed while sipping on power. And that was our experience in using the Moto X4. We found that it zipped around the interface pretty quickly and smoothly. We didn’t notice a single stutter or any lag while using the Moto X4, and the battery life was still superb, which we’ll talk about a bit later.

Now the area where people may really question Motorola’s specs, is in the RAM department. Motorola has just 3GB of RAM in the Moto X4. In 2017, that seems like a pretty small amount, especially when smartphones are coming with 6GB and 8GB of RAM these days. But it’s important to remember that Android is made to run well on devices with less than 1GB of RAM. So needless to say, Android 7.1 Nougat runs very well on the Moto X4, even with just 3GB of RAM. Throughout the review process, we never found ourselves running out of RAM, with apps needing to redraw themselves at all. Of course 4GB of RAM would have been ideal, but 3GB of RAM is still more than enough for Android Nougat, and it will also be for Android Oreo when that lands on the Moto X4 in a few months.

Sound Quality

Despite having just one speaker, which is located in the earpiece, the Moto X4 actually has a pretty good speaker that outputs some great sound. Motorola hasn’t gone as far as LG, and put a quad DAC in the Moto X4, but for most people the audio will sound pretty good from the speaker. It gets loud with the lows still being full of bass and the mids and highs being crystal clear and not distorted. Now when it comes to headphones, you actually get the choice of using the 3.5mm headphone jack or Bluetooth. Wired headphones still sounded pretty good. There were really no complaints here, and Bluetooth audio also sounded really good.

Fingerprint Sensor

This should be no surprise to anyone really, but the fingerprint sensor was accurate and fast on the Moto X4. Motorola, like most smartphone makers now, have been using fingerprint sensors for a few years, so the majority of smartphones have very accurate sensors that are lightning quick. On the Moto X4, the fingerprint sensor is on the front and sometimes will be confused with being a home button. It can be if you enable one-button nav in the Moto app though. Those are the only fingerprint sensor shortcuts available on the Moto X4 though. So no swiping to bring down the notification shade, of course, that wouldn’t be as user intuitive as if the sensor was on the back of the device.

Phone Calls & Network

The Moto X4 is an unlocked smartphone, and it has support for all four US carriers. During the review phase, we used it on both Verizon and T-Mobile’s networks. We got the same experience we would if we used carrier branded devices on those networks, in terms of speeds and phone calls. Of course, speeds will always vary depending on where you are, and when you do your speed test. But Verizon says around 10Mbps download and 8Mbps upload, with T-Mobile being a bit faster, around 30Mbps download and 25Mbps upload, which is about the norm in my area.

When it comes to phone calls, you can make and receive phone calls like usual. But, carrier-specific features like VoLTE, or HD Voice are not available. So you’re stuck with just old-fashioned phone calls on the Moto X4. This likely won’t bother anyone at all, but it is still worth noting for those thinking of buying the Moto X4.

Benchmarks

For benchmarks, we ran AnTuTu, 3D Mark and Geekbench 4 on the Moto X4 and found that the scores were really close with the Android One version of this smartphone. The AnTuTu benchmark actually had the biggest difference, of around 3,000 points between the two devices. But don’t read to much into the differences in scores, as you won’t notice any difference in everyday usage or even in gaming. You can check out the full benchmark scores for all three down below.

Battery Life

The 3000mAh battery on the Moto X4 actually performs a lot better than you would think. Going into this review, we expected battery life similar to the Moto G5 Plus and Moto G5S Plus, which sport mostly the same specs and battery size, but the main difference with the Moto X4 is the newer Snapdragon 630 chipset, which Qualcomm says it insane when it comes to saving battery life. And we now have proof of that. The Moto X4 will last you a full day, and still have around 50-60% left, depending on your usage.

When we would go to plug in the Moto X4 at night, it almost never had below 50% battery left. And this was with brightness at 50% or higher all the time. This included watching plenty of video, surfing on apps like Instagram and Snapchat which are known for chewing up batteries, and it still lasted and lasted. It was one of the very few smartphone batteries that we could not kill. For most people, you should get at least 6 hours of on screen time out of this phone, which, in context, is kind of insane.

Now, if you do use your phone pretty hard and can’t get a full day or two use like we have, that’s still okay. Motorola does have Quick Charge 3.0 available on the Moto X4, and the included charger does support it. That means you can get about 80% charge in about 35 minutes. A full charge will take around 90 minutes, which is still rather impressive. Now despite Motorola going away from a metal back on the Moto X4, that does not mean wireless charging. Unfortunately, there is no wireless charging here, but most people would prefer fast charging over wireless.

Software

At the time of writing this review, the Moto X4 was running Android 7.1.1 Nougat, and has the September 1st, 2017 security patch. We did not receive any updates during the review process, but that is not unexpected from Motorola. The company usually pushes out an update every 2-3 months instead of several times a month. The Moto X4 will be getting Android Oreo, but Motorola has not yet mentioned when that might be.

It’s hard to talk about the software on the Moto X4 and not compare it to the Moto X4 Android One version’s software, as they are a tad bit different. The biggest differences are the Moto features and optimizations. The standard Moto X4 has far more Motorola optimizations than the Android One version, which makes sense as the Android One model is meant to be more of a stock Android device that can get updates faster.

On the Moto X4 Android One, you only get Moto Display and some Moto Actions. But with the regular Moto X4, you get all of the Moto Actions, as well as Moto Display, and Moto Voice. So you can talk to Google without picking up your phone. This really works the same as Google Assistant on just about every device these days, anyways so it’s not a needed feature anymore. But the most interesting feature on the Moto X4 is actually Moto Key. It adds far more functionality to the fingerprint sensor, allowing you to authenticate yourself on different websites and apps that have support for it. It also works with Windows PC’s for logging in – unfortunately since I don’t use a Windows PC, I wasn’t able to test out that function. Otherwise, all of the usual Moto optimizations are available on the Moto X4, just as you would expect.

The Moto X4 software feels very speedy, and the reasoning for this is it appears that Motorola has either slowed down or taken out most animations. Which means when you see the refresh or loading icon not moving, it’s not actually stuck, but actually loading. It was a bit of a weird experience at first, but it does give you that effect of the device being super speedy, which is actually pretty nice. But don’t let it trick you into believing that the Moto X4 is much faster than it actually is, in navigating through Android and such. All in all, the software is exactly what you would expect from Motorola, but there is one surprise tucked away on the Moto X4, and that is Alexa.

Motorola worked with Amazon to get Alexa onto the Moto X4 – this is not on the Android One version. You’ll see the app “Moto Alexa” in the app drawer on the Moto X4, which is going to ask you to sign in to Amazon to get started. From there you’ll need to give Moto Alexa a few permissions and then you’re all set. The app basically works like an Echo or Amazon Tap device. Where you can say “Alexa, what’s the weather?” or ask Alexa to adjust the lights in your home or something else. It can be always listening, but it does need to learn your voice first, which you can skip – which if you do, you’ll need to open the app to talk to Alexa. It works pretty well and it’s actually super easy to set up.

Camera

Like with the software here, the cameras will be heavily compared to the Moto X4 Android One version of this phone. Simply because the regular Moto X4 actually produces better pictures for some reason. That could be due to the fact that it has had a few more software updates, or due to some other things being done under-the-hood. But it is a better camera, slightly, but where it matters, in low light.

The Moto X4 here has a dual-camera setup. So there’s a 12-megapixel sensor and then an 8-megapixel telephoto lens. This setup allows users to get 2X zoom on their smartphone’s camera, and Motorola has a button available for you to switch between the two lenses. It actually works rather fluidly, which can be a bit surprising. All of the usual modes are found in this camera, Professional Mode, Face Filters, Depth Enabled, Panorama, Spot Color, and Auto. The Face Filters mode is actually not available on the Android one version of the Moto X4, but it basically brings the AR filters from Snapchat into your camera app. This is something that Samsung actually did earlier this year with the Galaxy S8 and then the Galaxy Note 8 – so it’s likely to become a popular trend moving forward. In professional mode, you can adjust everything you’d expect to be able to, including the ISO, exposure, shutter speed and more. Using professional mode, you can actually get some really good images in weird lighting situations, like at a club, or a restaurant at night, or even outside at night.

With the Bokeh mode here, it’s actually rather similar to the Pixel 2, where it doesn’t actually show you the Bokeh until after the picture is taken. But it does allow you to adjust the effect after the shot. So you can decide to make the foreground blurry instead, you can also adjust how blurry it gets. There are also a few other options available, like making the background black and white the foreground colored (or vice versa) you can even replace the background, which is good for cropping out those photo bombers out there. It’s a pretty fun mode to play around with, and Motorola has already improved it quite a bit compared to the Android One Moto X4, which is impressive.

Image quality out of the Moto X4 is actually pretty good as well. The device has given me quite a few great images during my time with it. HDR was good most of the time, although there were some times when the HDR did fail a bit. In low light it was pretty bad, when using auto, but moving over to professional or manual mode and lowering the shutter really helped to bring out some great looking low light images on the Moto X4. The Moto X4 won’t win an award for being the best camera on a smartphone, but it does do its job pretty well and will provide you with some great shots.

The Good

Headphone jack

IP68 – Water and Dust Resistant

Camera – Better Bokeh mode

Build quality

The Bad

No Wireless Charging

No Slow-motion video recording, out of the box

Huge camera bump on the back, which is not needed.

Wrap Up

Despite offering the Moto X4 in a ton of different models, the Moto X4 is still a great phone to pick up. It has a rather unique design, and is also one of the very few “small” smartphones out there. Really the only other small smartphone available is the Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact, which is a few hundred more than the Moto X4 (and doesn’t work on all four carriers). The Moto X4 is also still a powerhouse while keeping battery life pretty good. There’s very little to complain about with the Moto X4, and that is definitely a good thing in 2017.

Should you Buy the Moto X4?

The Moto X4 makes the question “Which smartphone should I buy?” even tougher. There were already a ton of great options out there at just about every price point, and Motorola just made that a bit harder with the Moto X4. If you are in need of a small smartphone, or one that does the basics and has a good camera, and also lasts all day long, then yes the Moto X4 is definitely worth purchasing. Even if you just want a good smartphone, the Moto X4 is still worth purchasing. If you purchase it, you likely won’t regret it. The Moto X4 seemingly does everything well.

Buy the Moto X4 Buy the Moto X4 (Motorola.com)