Moto X4 review: The Moto X is back with a bang

The original Moto X was the first phone Motorola rolled out after being purchased by Google. It faced some pretty tough competition and caught some flak for not offering a true “flagship” caliber of device, but it did something different from other phones in that era. It was smaller and bucked the trend of bigger and bigger screens, offered unparalleled customization through Moto Maker, and introduced some features that we’re still seeing today, like innovative phone gestures.

The Moto X line got pretty bumpy after that, especially after Google spun off Motorola to Lenovo. There were several split-off versions and then the Moto Z happened, casting a ton of doubt on whether or not we’d ever see a Moto X again.

Well, good news for X fans; it’s taken some time, but Lenovo is ready to bring back a fan favorite in the Moto X4. They’re offering it directly, as an Amazon Prime Exclusive phone, and as an Android One device, giving customers three options to purchase and giving it a serious chance of succeeding.

For our review, we’re test driving the regular version of the phone directly through Lenovo. No Amazon apps, but it’s also not going to fully reflect the Android One experience, either. Regardless, we’ll find out if it’s a worthwhile successor to one of our favorite phones, or just another device to clog up Lenovo’s product line.

Design

The Moto X4 keeps many of Lenovo’s current design trends, like the large, circular camera lens with a big bump, but the materials stand out in a sea of Moto phones that all pretty similar.

What you’ll actually notice is that instead of the flat and sleek utilitarian look that Lenovo likes with their other phones, the Moto X4 kinda sorta looks like a Galaxy S7.

The back is made of glass, and the edges slightly curve into the sides of the phone. It feels great, but seriously, if you made the camera significantly bigger on the Galaxy S7 and slapped a Motorola logo on it, it would be this phone.

The face is pretty recognizable thanks to the main fingerprint sensor button below the adequately sized 5.2-inch display. There’s a Moto logo above the screen, plus a camera, LED flash, and speakers.

The SIM card tray that also doubles as a microSD card slot sits on the top edge of the phone, with the power button and volume buttons on the right side. The bottom houses the USB C charging port and a headphone jack, giving the Moto X4 a leg up on some of the more expensive competition.

The glass back does feel a bit slippery in hand, but the relatively compact size of the Moto X4 helps to offset that. It’s one thing to deal with a slick phone that’s hard to hold when it’s huge, but when it’s easy to grab in one hand thanks to smaller bezels, it’s not so bad.

I generally like Lenovo’s design language, and I really like many of the other Moto phones that they currently have out. With that being said, I’d love to see the Moto X4 set a new trend for upcoming Lenovorola phones. It’s that good.

Oh, it’s IP68 rated, too. I doubt that glass finish will hold up to a good drop, but at least water won’t kill it.

Hardware

 Moto Z2 Play
AnnouncedAugust 2017
ReleaseOctober 2017
Display5.2-inch (1920x1080) LTPS IPS LCD w/ Corning Gorilla Glass
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 630
RAM3GB / 4GB
Storage32GB / 64GB
Rear Camera12MP + 8MP w/ laser autofocus, phase detection, dual-LED flash
Front Camera16MP
Battery3000mAh (non-removable)
ChargingUSB Type-C w/ TurboPower
SoundFront-facing speaker
SoftwareAndroid 7.1.1 Nougat
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, NFC, GPS
SensorsAmbient, proximity, accelerometer, gyro, compass, fingerprint
Measurements148.4 x 73.4 x 8mm
Weight163g
ColorsBlack, Silver
IP68 Certified

Performance

There’s a Snapdragon 630 CPU under the hood of the Moto X4, and if you’ve read any of my other reviews for mid-range devices, you probably know that I’m pretty consistently impressed with Qualcomm’s 600-series chips. This phone is no exception.

Depending on where you’re at in the world, you’ll get either 3GB or 4GB of RAM, and as long as you’re not really stressing it, either option is going to be plenty. Newer versions of Android are getting better and better at managing background tasks, and Android Nougat 7.1 on the Moto X4 pretty efficiently handles everything.

The screen, on the other hand, is much less exciting. I’ve used some Moto phones with some downright fantastic displays, but the Moto X4 is definitely not one of those phones. It definitely feels a little lower quality, partly because it uses a traditional IPS panel instead of an OLED like what you’d get in the Moto Z2 Play. That means the blacks are much worse than another phone in this same price range, and the phone overall really suffers for it.

The only speaker on the phone is in the earpiece, which is another signature Lenovo move right now. Sound quality is decent at best, but you won’t be filling a room with sound with this little guy.

Battery

Mid-range Moto phones are known for excellent battery life, and once again, the Moto X4 delivers. The 3,000mAh battery paired with an efficient Snapdragon 630 and the standard 1080p display means you’ll easily be able to squeeze a full day’s worth of usage out of the device. Moderate users can very realistically get into a second day away from the charger, but if you do need to juice up, you’ll still get Quick Charge here.

This is all pretty standard stuff and almost sounds like a broken record with how many Moto phones this applies to, but battery life is a seriously important metric and it’s nice that the Moto X4 didn’t miss that mark.

Software

Speaking of broken records, the software on the Moto X4 is identical to every other Moto phone in the past couple of years. There’s still no software overlay, barely any additional features, and it mimics stock Android as closely as possible. It’s definitely a good thing if you like Google’s Android vision and not a heavily skinned device, but that does make it harder for the device to stand out.

You can read up on some of our other Motorola device reviews to see more of what Lenovo offers, including things like Moto actions, the always-on display, and the single button navigation with the fingerprint sensor. Otherwise, you know the drill and you know what you’re getting.

There’s one key difference with the Moto X4 compared to other similar phones, though, and that’s Amazon’s Alexa. Yep, even on the version you buy directly from Motorola’s website, you can still pop up Alexa as your preferred assistant, skipping Google Assistant. I’m honestly a little shocked so many companies are going with Alexa over Google and even more surprised that Google hasn’t tied Google Assistant integration into the requirements for Play Services, but hey, at least we’re seeing some competition.

Camera

The Moto G5S Plus was rightfully panned for some quirky camera problems, including a slow shutter lag that made that inclusion of a dual camera system a curious addition. Lenovo didn’t really learn their lesson, and you’ll find that the Moto X4 ultimately has a very similar camera to the G5S Plus, for better or worse.

The camera does a lot well, and if you’re in good lighting, you’ll be seriously impressed with the quality of shots you can get from the Moto X4. The HDR mode works extremely well.

Once the lights go down, it still holds up pretty well, and while it doesn’t end up competing with phones well above its weight class, it definitely takes good shots for a $400 piece of hardware.

The dual camera system allows you to capture depth information with the Moto X4’s cameras, which means you can apply selective focus, selective coloring, or even completely remove the background from your photos. It’s great when it works, but it comes with some painful drawbacks.

It’s not a flagship phone, which means sometimes the depth capture just doesn’t work that well. Google’s Pixel line has some incredibly robust camera software to pull this stuff off, and even Apple’s extremely high-end cameras screw the pooch every once in awhile, and you really can’t even expect those levels of accuracy with a device half the price. The Moto X4 whiffed on a few photos, and actually shooting the photo was a slow experience. Don’t try to use depth mode for anything that moves around or you’re in for a huge disappointment.

When it works, it’s cool. You can get some incredibly snazzy shots if the lighting and subject are all perfect that honestly do like a Google Pixel 2 picture. Unfortunately, most pictures aren’t in perfect situations and with how mediocre it is in those non-perfect situations, it’s really not that useful.

Closing

The Moto X4 is a successor to previous Moto X phones, but honestly, it’s in name only. It doesn’t really feel like an old Moto X aside from the price point, and there’s pretty much no customization options from the manufacturer, just two color options.

With that being said, the Moto X4 is still a really, really good phone with just a few quirks. Yeah, the camera could use a little work, and that screen’s not quite where we want it to be, but for $400, it’s a really great device with a premium design that’s well above its price point. Unfortunately for Lenovo, the Moto Z2 Play is also a really great device with a pretty good design, a better camera, and Moto Mod support, and it’s very close in price. So, uh, why would you buy the Moto X4?

Honestly, I don’t know. I could see myself going for it just because of how much I like the design and size, but for most people, I can’t imagine that’s worth giving up Moto Mods and some other better features. It doesn’t really do anything special, it’s just a well-rounded phone that’s worth the money in a complete vacuum.

However, you can get an Android One variant on Project Fi, which stands to be a big selling point for those customers, and Amazon is offering the phone at a nice discount if you don’t mind a few extra ads and Amazon’s ecosystem. The regular Moto X4 feels like a device that doesn’t really know why it exists, but the other two models hit a niche of the market that makes a ton of sense.

If you have a $400 budget and like the design as much as I do, you really can’t go wrong with the Moto X4. In any other situation, I think it’s best to just see this phone for what it is; the start of a rebranding of the Moto X line that’s a stepping stone to (hopefully) bigger things in the future.

Buy it now: Motorola, Amazon, Project Fi


About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid, but the tech enthusiasm currently covers just about everything. He likes PC gaming, Lenovo's Moto Z line, and a good productivity app.