Moto X4 Review: The Verdict
There’s a lot to like about the Moto X4 including water-resistance at an affordable price and size that’s "just right", but a slow camera and occasionally sluggish performance hurt the device’s appeal in the increasingly crowded midrange space.
What we love
- Perfect size, lovely design
- Water resistance
- 64GB of expandable storage
What could be improved
- Slow camera
- Can be a little sluggish
- Fingerprint magnet
What's the Moto X4?
The Moto X4 marks the revival of Motorola's X series, which took a brief year of absence when the company introduced its Z series modular phones. The X series used to represent Motorola's top-tier devices, but the Moto X4's place in the world is a little more confusing.
In short, the Moto X4 is essentially a midrange phone with a couple of features normally reserved for pricier phones. There's two-rear facing cameras, a Gorilla Glass front-and-back, and IP68 water-resistance (which is actually a first for Motorola).
Other key specifications include a 5.2-inch 1080p display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, and a 3000mAh battery. It runs a mostly unmodified version of Android 7.1 Nougat and should see an upgrade to Oreo before the end of the year.
What's good about the Moto X4?
The Moto X4 is a lovely little package, aesthetically and proportionally speaking. It looks slick, is great to hold, and is pretty much perfect in size.
The 5.3-inch screen feels compact without feeling too small; I found I could comfortably use the phone one handed when I needed to, but typing with two hands didn't feel cramped. The Moto X4 is the Goldilocks-esque "just right" when it comes to physical proportions.
As is the trend this year, Motorola has moved from an aluminium back to glass. While glass certainly is sleek - especially when it comes to the sterling blue model we had for review - we found it picked up fingerprints very quickly. And a glass back does of course mean there's another large surface you could potentially shatter. Despite the move to glass, the Moto X4 doesn't feature wireless charging.
The Moto X4 is Motorola's first properly water-resistant smartphone, touting an rating of IP68. This means you're able to keep it submerged for as long as half hour of depths of up to 1.5 metres. Water-resistance is becoming increasingly common on flagship devices, and it's great to see the feature trickle down to more affordable phones too. The Moto X4 is one of the few smartphones in its price-range to tout an IP rating, with Samsung's Galaxy A5 (2017) being the only other notable water-resistant device around the $600 - $700 mark.
In terms of battery life, the Moto X4 is a solid performer; I found I could comfortably get through an entire day with around 40% left. You probably won't get two full days out of the Moto X4 unless you're a very light user, but you almost certainly won't need an emergency top up to make it through a single day.
What's not so good about the Moto X4?
The Moto X4 isn't a slow phone, but it isn't fast either. It's perfectly capable of handling the basics - social media apps, web browsing, and so forth - but can start to struggle when you push it harder. I found games such as Hearthstone tended to load quite slowly, and were a little sluggish when actually running.
This slowness unfortunately extends to the camera too; the camera app is slow to load and slow to shoot. Fast moving subjects are almost impossible to capture without motion blur, and this becomes even more pronounced in lowlight. Good lighting won't always help though; I tried to nab a photo of a flower blowing in a gentle breeze, and almost every shot exhibited some motion blur.
Speed issues aside, the Moto X4's camera can take lovely photos with great colour and contrast; it's just not as reliable as it should be.
A glass back isn't the only 2017 trend Motorola has followed with the Moto X4; there's also a second rear-facing camera lens. The Moto X4's secondary camera lens can be used for a wide angle mode which essentially lets you zoom out of shots, or to simulate depth of field. The depth of field effect works well enough (although it can be a little hit and miss), while the wide angle lens adds a large amount of fisheye distortion (which admittedly could be used for artistic effect) and tends to take darker images with poorer contrast.
Oddly, Motorola seems to be moving away from its bloat-free Android ways, and has preloaded the Moto X4 with apps for Outlook and LinkedIn. What's worse is these can only be disabled, they can't be deleted entirely. I shudder at the thought of LinkedIn taking up any space whatsoever on a phone I use.
While I wouldn't call preloaded apps a deal breaker - most Android manufacturers preinstall third party software on their smartphones, and most are far more egregious - it's a nonetheless a shame to see a Motorola phone ship with even a hint of bloat, given the company's long standing "clean Android" stance.
As has been the case with pretty much every Motorola phone from the past year and a bit, the Moto X4's fingerprint reader isn't a home button. Tapping it will unlock the phone or put it back to sleep, but it won't take you to the home screen. Instead, there's another layer of on-screen buttons above it. While you get used to this, it hasn't stopped being weird.
You can configure the fingerprint reader to work as a physical home button, but it also removes the software buttons. Since the Moto X4 doesn't have any other capacitive buttons, you'll need to swipe across the fingerprint reader to bring up multitasking menu or go back to your previous app. This works well enough, it just doesn't feel like a natural gesture.
Moto X4 camera samples
Who's the Moto X4 for?
While the Moto X4 gets a little lost in the highly competitive midrange smartphone space, it's one of the best ways to get a water-resistant smartphone without springing for a flagship. Samsung's Galaxy A5 (2017) is pretty much the only comparable device in the $600 to $700 price range.
Even if you don't need water-resistance, the Moto X4 is a capable device in a great form-factor. It's fine for the day-to-day usage, but it may leave power users wanting. The same can be said for the camera; you can get great photos, but it's a little too slow to shoot to be reliable.
Nothing is explicitly bad about the Moto X4, it just doesn't quite deliver as much bang for buck as competitors from OnePlus, Huawei, and OPPO, or even Motorola's cheaper phones.
What else can I buy?
If you’re okay with forgoing water-resistance and a glass back, the OnePlus 5 is one of the best value phones around right now. The underpinning processor is the current go to for top-of-the-line smartphones so you’ll get much faster performance than on the Moto X4, and the OnePlus 5 starts at $100 less. The OnePlus 5 is however harder to buy, since you'll need to go through OnePlus' online store rather than a local retailer.
Moto G5S Plus
The Moto G5S Plus is a midyear refresh of the Moto G5 Plus - one of the best budget smartphones around. It's a little bit bigger than the Moto X4, with a 5.5-inch display, but made from aluminium rather than glass. There's no water resistance and the hardware is a little less restrained than the Moto X4, but it feels like a better value proposition on the whole, starting at $429.
Samsung Galaxy A5 (2017)
If water-resistance is one of the main reasons you're considering the Moto X4, it's worth taking a look at Samsung's Galaxy A5. The phone features a similar glass-and-metal build, is just as water-resistant, and will set you back about $100 less outright. It ships with less out of the box storage though, starting at 32GB rather than the Moto X4's 64GB. The Galaxy A5 is also available on plans, which isn't always common when it comes to midrange smartphones.