Motorola Moto X Style review: A no compromise flagship
Catering to all multimedia whims and going on further with its near stock version of Android
Smartphones are annoying. The sole purpose of a smartphone is to interrupt those moments that are meant to be lived. They masquerade under the pretence people need them in the case of an emergency, all the while delivering an endless parade of notifications about some friend liking a cat video. Smartphones are annoying, but the Moto X Style is significantly less so.
Motorola has designed its flagship to be invisible. The uniformly black face marries an IPS LCD display with fine side bezels and discrete speaker grilles. It slips into the background unnoticed when it is not used, and tenderly enters the foreground by presenting the silhouette of an icon. No notification light competes for your attention, no screen back-light blinds you.
There’s a humanity to the design of this smartphone. It measures 6mm at its thinnest point and 11mm at its thickest. Its body curves in an attempt to conform to the contoured shape of a palm, while fingers wrap around the welcomed texture of rubber and metal. Marking its back is the customary Motorola dimple where your finger naturally rests; an indentation where man and machine meet.
A smartphone the size of the X Style shouldn’t be this comfortable to hold. Its display spans 5.7-inches, which makes it a phablet the same size as Samsung’s famed Note5. Only the curve of its physique makes it less intrusive to hold. Its size will only test patience when it sticks out of jeans pockets or it fails to fit in a car’s centre console.
Our gripe with the Note5 has to do with its tunnel vision. The phablet focusses squarely on productivity to a point where it comes at the expense of multimedia. It is here the Moto X Style scores points.
Motorola has kitted its flagship with a screen that competes against Samsung’s in terms of its panel and its size. Each inch of the 1440p display packs together 520 pixels. For context, Apple’s flagship 6s Plus has a 401 pixel-per-inch density. The X Style’s throws together all of the ingredients needed — strong brightness, healthy blacks and bold colours — to serve content justice.
Then the Lenovo-owned company goes one further by flanking it with front-firing stereo speakers. Videos and games are altogether more involving because sound particles are firing towards ears and not away from them. Go to a concert and the stereo speakers face the crowd — not the side or the back — so that attendees can feel the vibrating tunes. This is the logic behind front-firing speakers, which try to recreate a similar experience, albeit scaled down to an audience of one.
Another point of difference edges this smartphone ahead of its Samsung and Apple competition. Carved into the metal chassis uptop is a SIM-tray that cleverly holds a microSD memory card. The smartphone ships with 32GB of internal storage, but it can be expanded by a further 128-gigabytes, suited to hold your photos, music, videos, games and files. Consider that the Note5 ships with a fixed 32GB of memory and the prospect of buying a Moto X grows more attractive.
Nowadays playing back multimedia isn’t enough: a good flagship has to create stunning photos and videos. Motorola has gone to great lengths to ensure the X Style’s cameras uphold the standard set by the rest of the phone.
Punctuating the otherwise understated front of the X Style is a well-performing 5-megapixel camera. It can record videos at 1080p or in slow motion at 720p. Self photos taken in low-light fare well enough with an aperture of f/2.0, but Motorola uncharacteristically couples the front camera with an LED flash. The flash ends up blinding people taking a selfie, leaves photos awkwardly lit and often results in a bad case of red eyes.
The beauty of Motorola smartphones is that they have no excess fat. Even the version of Android running on the smartphone is stock, sans for two or three applications. The addition of a front flash isn’t necessary, and worse yet, the white light distils the smartphone’s black face. A software flash would’ve served night selfies well and preserved the smartphone’s aesthetics.
Photos taken with the front camera will be right at home on social networks, such as Facebook and Instagram, and can be viewed mostly in clarity on the screen of a 13-inch notebook.
The rear camera is more impressive as it takes photos at 21 megapixels and records videos in 4K resolution. It has an aperture of f/2.0 and, although the ring flash of yesteryear has been ditched, dual-LED flashes still remain.
Overall camera performance for the flagship Moto X is commendable. A photo taken of Sydney Harbour on an overcast day managed to capture both the darkened details under the Harbour Bridge and the paint chipping off white poles alongside the wharf. Luna Park’s ferris wheel was crystallised in bold shades of red, green and blue. Blowing the photo up to its native resolution — this picture was captured at 16-megapixels — reveals enough detail to see people clinging onto the ride’s bars.
Less image noise and artifacts characterise the photos taken with the X Style as it tends to sacrifice fine details for a consistent texture. The resulting photos look good enough to be shared with family or friends on the large screen of a television.
Manufacturers often augment the Android operating system with custom overlays, most of which make the software less desirable. Motorola differs by keeping the software stock, only adding two or three applications which are updated using Google Play. Customers who buy a Motorola smartphone will likely receive software quicker as a result.
Not bogging the smartphone down with additional software improves its performance. The Moto X Style is equipped with a Snapdragon 808 System-on-Chip, a processor that is composed of a 1.8GHz dual-core CPU and a 1.4GHz quad-core CPU. It works with an Adreno 418 GPU and 3GB of RAM, in a setup reminiscent of LG’s G4
Also featured are dedicated processors for language and context, which make it possible to enable the personal assistant without handling the smartphone whatsoever.
3DMark’s ice storm unlimited benchmarking test awarded the Moto X Style a score of 19,509. Its outperforms LG’s G4’s (18,862) and Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus (17,462), but it still trails Samsung’s Galaxy S6 Edge (22,248).
Vodafone is currently the only carrier in Australia offering the Moto X Style on a postpaid plan. The smartphone supports Cat6 LTE networks for a theoretical download speed of 300Mbps. Vodafone’s core network though has a theoretical top speed of 150Mbps
A speed test conducted using a Vodafone SIM in our North Sydney offices returned a maximum download speed of 46.7Mbps and upload speeds of 40.5Mbps.
Integrated into the Moto X Style’s body is a 3000 milliamp-hour battery. The large battery is needed if the phablet is to make it through a full work day. Testing yielded skewed results. Heavy smartphone usage over the weekend drained the battery in 18 hours, while using the smartphone during a work day returned a prolonged time of 28-and-a-half hours. In this respect, the X Style trails the 26 hour average set by Samsung’s Galaxy Note5.
Heavy users will find respite from the smartphone’s fast charger, which replenished more than 60 per cent of the its battery in approximately forty minutes.
Some smartphone users might be deterred by the Moto X Style's integrated battery, although it should be said it reaps one fantastic reward. Its solid body is doused in a coating that makes it repellent to droplets of water. Let's be clear: the smartphone can't be submerged, but it can be used with wet hands or in the rain, and that's more than most flagships.
Motorola's Moto X Style is a 'No Compromise' smartphone. Every part of it is honed, nurtured by engineers and designers, so that it won't leave you wanting. You won't want for a better screen, louder speakers or a better camera. Nor will you want for more powerful hardware or software updates. As far as consumer electronics go, this smartphone will be your everything.
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