Motorola's chief competition might not be Samsung or Apple. It might not be LG, HTC, or even Huawei. In all probability, it's Motorola itself. Back in July, the company unveiled two phones at an internationally simulcast event.

The previous iteration of one of the pair, the Moto G, had already earned the distinction of becoming the company's best-selling handset of all time (take that, the Razr), and this year's model has been met with similarly hyperbolic enthusiasm, crowned the best budget smartphone on the market by a number of reviews, present company included.

So, where does all that put this lovely confluence of glass and plastic? With a starting price of $400 unlocked, the Moto X Pure Edition isn't exactly a budget handset (and besides, the G has that key demo all sewn up for the company), nor can it claim to be the biggest, baddest smartphone on the market.

But Motorola long ago abandoned its champagne wishes and caviar dreams. And while the X may not be a premium device in the truest sense, it strives - and succeeds - in being the best mid-range device it can possibly be.


The addition of Moto Maker in 2013 was a genius bit of marketing on Motorola's part. Sure smartphones are fun, but buying them isn't. As we were all handily reminded this weekend when iPhone 6s lines rivaled what Pope Francis was turning out in on his visit to the States, picking up a handset in person is a bit of a slog - and buying one online isn't really all that much better.

Moto Maker injects some energy into the process with online customization that lets the user swap between different colors, materials, and engravings. Tapping on a different selection brings up a preview, and I spent more time than I care to mention trying out various combinations.

I can only imagine how long I would have spent, if I had planned on making this my primary handset for the next two or so years. Odds are pretty good I would have shelled out the extra $25 for that lovely signature wood paneling. As is, I'm pretty happy with the gray and blue combo I landed on.

Once finished, click "Buy" and you can watch your little personalized handset make its brave journey from Hong Kong factory to your doorstep, with frequent updates from Motorola that alert you to every step in the process. And once it does and you open the box, there's a little thrill knowing that this Moto X, your Moto X, is a little different than the millions of others the company will no doubt move in the coming months.


No doubt about it, the Moto X is a good looking phone - and not good looking in that Samsung/Apple everyone converging into the same basic industrial design sort of way. The company has been taking great pains to create a sense of aesthetic consistency across its Moto line, something that unites its different handsets while setting them apart from the competition.

The result, in the Moto X Pure Edition is a terrific combination of premium build and signature style. The differences in construction between the G and X is immediately apparent when you hold them both in your hand. That's not to say that the G doesn't feel like a reasonably nice handset, between that handset's plasticky backing and weight, it just doesn't have the high quality feel of its pricier sibling.

From the front, the Moto X is particularly remarkable looking. It's a large slab with rounded corners that brings to mind past Samsung Galaxy builds. The company has done a good job limiting the left and right bezel to a hardly noticeable millimeter or so.

There's a fair bit more bezel at the bottom and top, which house the odd front-facing five-megapixel and flash combo, stereo speaker grills and a smattering of sensors for motion detection, so users flip on the screen with a wave of a hand, like some tech-savvy Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The phone's body is encased in the fairly standard metal frame, broken up at various spots by the antenna bands and a slew of ports - your mic jack, your SIM slot, your microUSB, what have you. The right side of the handset also contains the phone's only two physical buttons: the volume rock and power, which has a nice textured feel (one of those little extra touches the company likes to imbue its handsets with).

But it's the rear that really sets the handset's design apart - in more ways than one. For starters, there's really where most of the customization comes into play - both in terms of color and material. As mentioned above, I went for the standard material, which, while not as cool as the wood and other unique backings, is still a solid way to go. It's a sort of rubberized soft touch material with a textured feel making it easier to hold on to.

The distinctly Morotola rounding helps too, so, like the Moto G, the handset conforms much more nicely to the user's hand than the standard flat smartphone backing. And indeed, it's an extremely easy phone to hold, something that ought not be taken for granted in these days of 5.7-inch displays.

The downside of the rounded back is the few extra fractions of an inch that it adds to the phone's girth. If sheer thinness is a deciding factor in the phone you want to spend the next two years of your life with, the Moto X isn't for you. There are certainly skinnier handsets out there, but Motorola's philosophy on the matter has long been that real smartphones have curves.

Smack dab in the middle of all of this is a little metal landing strip housing the significantly upgraded 21 megapixel camera, the flash and a small, indented circle sporting the familiar Motorola M. One gets the impression that the company imagined the spot as a place to comfortably rest a finger, but its placement doesn't really accommodate such things.


Please join me in welcoming the Moto X to the land of quad-HD displays. The 2560 x 1440 screen packs a respectable 515 pixels pixels into each of those 5.7-inches. It's a big step up for Motorola, but here's one of those spots where the device falls short of fully living up to that premium tag.

It's a good screen, don't me wrong. This is really one of those instances in which the majority of consumers won't likely know what they're missing. It's bright and sharp on its own, but placed next to higher-res handsets, things get a little more glaring. If you happen to list screen definition as one of or the biggest factors in picking up a handset, Samsung's got a couple of Galaxies it would love to sell you.

Motorola has thoughtfully placed its speakers up front, above and below the screen.The company is happy to alert you to this fact with a little colored accenting, just in case you missed it at first glance. Other manufacturers have their technical and (likely more frequently) aesthetic reasons for putting speakers where they do, but as anyone who's ever attempted to listen to music or watch a movie without headphones connected can no doubt tell you, front and center is where speakers belong.

Execution, on the other hand, is another story. The Moto X's speakers are just okay. They get reasonably loud, sure, but turning them up makes everything tinny and muddy. As is the case on just about every phone out there, make sure you pack a pair of headphones.


Cameras have, for the most part, been something of a blindspot for Motorola of late. While much of the competition has focused on battling it out in the megapixel race, the company has mostly kept a distance, choosing instead to invest energy into other aspects like durability and pricing.

In fact, the camera was, by most accounts, the weakest link on last year's model. Motorola has, thankfully, changed course. The 13-megapixel lens has been bumped up to a full 21 (blackjack), and things are just better all around. Things are bright, sharper, and generally more colorful than last year's lackluster affair.

The Moto X still struggles a bit when it comes to low light conditions, with images showing up grainy and out of focus. It's not perfect by any means, but it's unquestionably a big step in the right direction. It's also a step up from most of the other offerings in similar price points.

As with the rest of the software experience, Motorola's taken a less is more approach. There's a just not a heck of a lot happening on the screen when you flip over to camera mode - in fact, there isn't event a shutter button. Hit the screen, take a picture and that's it. Oh, and you can zoom in and out with a pinch if you want, too.

It's kind of refreshing, really. After all, this is a smartphone, not an SLR, and as such, I suspect most users are just searching for the patch of least resistance to shoot a photo. Of course, the options are there if you want them.

Swipe left and the settings will appear. You can toggle HDR, shooting modes, flash, and brightness. But that's really it - if you're looking for the full suite of camera adjustments, this isn't your phone.


Here's where the budget cuts really start to show. There's nothing make or break with these specs, but the Moto X's guts are far from the cream of the smartphone crop. Take, for instance, the hexa-core Snapdragon 808 process.

Good, but not the top of the line. As with the display, most users won't pick up on much a difference with most tasks, save for a momentary lag. Should you want to run some manner of graphically intense processes, on the other hand, the difference will be a lot more apparent. At 3GB of RAM, the Moto X is right in the middle, topping the iPhone's 2GB, but falling short of the similarly price OnePlus 2.

The 3,000mAh is a bit of a disappointment, as well. Not because it's particularly egregious as far as industry standards go, so far as the fact that it strays from one of the things that's set Motorola apart in the past. I was able to get through a standard day's use without much issue, but binging on Netflix might be pushing it without a charge.

Rather than jamming a bigger batter inside, Motorola does offer a creative solution, a big, beefy "quick charger" capable of refilling the battery in no time. Of course that's no use when you're out and about, but it's a handy feature nonetheless.


Here's where that whole "pure" thing comes in. The name references the extremely light touch the company took with regards to software - mostly relying on stock Android, with a few nice touches sprinkled in here and there.

For starters, there's the aforementioned motion detection, which brings up a quick glance of the time and notifications with the simple wave of a hand. And then there are the gestures. Shake the phone to access the camera and do a double karate chop to turn on the flash light. It's taken several years, but Motorola seems to have fine tuned its Android experience in a way that adds some lovely idiosyncratic features while not overwhelming the users.

The Motorola app experience also plays nicely with Google Now voice commands, adding to the seemingly limitless options for interacting with the handset.


So, then, what, precisely is the Moto X? A high-end budget phone? An affordable luxury model? The truth is somewhere in between. It's a high-quality mid-tier handset at a reasonable price. It's not bleeding edge in any respect, but Motorola's packed it with enough nice touches to make it an extremely compelling proposition for among a sea of likeminded Android phones.

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