Don’t I know you from somewhere?
The Moto X used to be the best phone you could get with a Motorola badge on the back, but since Lenovo took charge and introduced the mod-tactic Moto Z, the X has been all but abandoned.
That changed at IFA this week, when Moto revealed the X4 - a modern, mid-range twist on the old X formula, with hardware and design choices inspired by both the more expensive Moto Z, and the more wallet-friendly Moto G.
So is it the just-right porridge of Goldilocks’ dreams? Or does a few years away mean Lenovo has let the recipe go cold? Here’s what I think after a short play with the X4 at Berlin’s premier tech trade show.
DESIGN & BUILD: HEART OF GLASS
It feels like Moto has only just started embracing metal in its cheaper phones, but the X4 adds glass into the mix too. The whole back panel is one piece of 3D contoured glass, bonded into an aluminium frame. It looks seriously slick, and a step above what you’d normally find at this price.
Or at least it does before you pick it up - the glossy finish is a real fingerprint magnet. Be prepared to polish. A lot.
On the plus side, the whole thing is IP68 dust and water resistant. There aren’t many other sub-£400 phones that manage this, which could make it a good choice for action heroes or the accident prone.
Moto’s oversized camera module still sticks out the back of the phone, even though there are no Moto Mods to accommodate. It’s stylised to look a bit like a watch face here, with a textured finish all around the bezel. It’s subtle, and not nearly as much of a contrast as the Z2’s bulky setup.
The fingerprint sensor beneath the screen can double up as a one-button nav, replacing Android’s on-screen buttons for a series of swipes and taps - but it still takes some practice before you’ll be used to it.
SCREEN & SOUND: LOOKS FAMILIAR
What’s this? A modern Motorola phone with a 5.2in, 1080p LCD screen? Yeah, the X4 won’t win any prizes for originality.
It might pick up a few for picture quality, though - I thought I was looking at an AMOLED when I first picked up the phone. Colours are vibrant and contrast really is very good. You won’t notice the individual pixels with the panel stretched over 5.2in, and you won’t need giant hands to hold it comfortably either. Win win.
CAMERA: A DIFFERENT KIND OF DOUBLE VISION
You’d think the Moto X4 would follow the same camera setup as the Z2 Force, with a monochrome sensor backing up a main RGB snapper - but you’d be wrong.
Instead, you get a 12MP main camera with a regular field of view, and a second 8MP cam with a 120° wide-angle FOV. There’s a noticeable quality difference between the regular and wide FOV, a bit like there was on the LG G5 a few years ago.
You toggle between the two with a button on the side of the screen, although the distorted view is impossible to miss in wide-angle mode. Moto uses the two sensors together to create depth blur effects - something LG hasn’t tried with its dual cam setup. From what I saw, results can be mixed: sometimes your snaps look right, and other times you can tell the effect isn’t real.
I can’t speak for image quality just yet, but Moto usually punches above its weight at every price point, so hopefully that’ll be true here as well. I’ll find out when I get one in for a full review.
OS & SOFTWARE: HELLO MOTO
The X4 marks the first time Amazon’s AI assistant has come baked in to a Moto phone. No need to download an app - just teach her your voice through the Settings menus and she’ll be there whenever you shout for her.
Alexa sits alongside Google Assistant and Motorola’s own Moto Voice, so you’ve got your choice of three virtual voices to run your life for you. They all work on trigger words, too, so you don’t have to hold a button or tap an icon to get started.
Motorola’s usual suite of small Android tweaks are here, of course., including Moto Display and Moto Actions for checking notifications without waking the main screen. Moto Key is new, letting you unlock a second device like a laptop with the fingerprint sensor.
The other addition, and something you won’t find anywhere else? Wireless Sound System, an option that lets you hook up five different Bluetooth devices at once. No more sharing headphones with your mates, basically.
PERFORMANCE & BATTERY: NO SURPRISES
The X4 isn’t going to break any benchmark records, but a Snapdragon 630 and 3GB of RAM (4GB if you’re in the right countries) make Android Nougat feel positively sprightly.
It’s a sensible pairing with the 1080p screen, where only more demanding games will drop frame rates. By not making pixel count a priority, battery life should be pretty decent too. The 3000mAh cell will probably survive a full day of use, but it can Turbo Charge over USB-C if you’re running short.
32GB of on-board storage is also par for the course in a mid-ranger right now, but at least you get a microSD card slot for adding more space later, should you find yourself short.
MOTO X4 INITIAL VERDICT
If you’re not keen on a modular Moto, the X4 looks like the ideal mid-ranger. It’s cheaper than the Moto Z2 Play, but brings a gorgeous glass build and waterproofing into the equation. OK, you can’t clamp fancy extra bits onto the back, but it’s probably a fair trade-off.
At £349 SIM-free, it also undercuts the mighty OnePlus 5 by a significant wedge of cash, too. Sure, you’re not getting crazy power here, but dual cameras and tricks like Alexa integration could still give it an edge. Moto’s distraction-free version of Android is as good as ever, and that Snapdragon CPU should mean decent battery life.
That’s all in theory, of course - I’ll have to wait until a full review to see if the Moto X can return as a mid-range champ, or if it’s more of a mid-range chump.