Hands-on with the impressive new Moto X and Moto G

moto x angle
Credit: Andrew Hayward

The Moto X and Moto G have both played a crucial role in Motorola’s big rebranding over the last year, with the former delivering a sleek and customizable upper mid-range handset and the latter redefining what a value smartphone should be. Can you really blame Motorola for sticking with the same names?

Contrary to reports, the company’s new handsets are not the Moto X+1 and the G2. They’re simply the Moto X and Moto G2, referred by representatives as “the new Moto X” and “new Moto G” during an event at its Chicago home base earlier today. While the names haven’t changed, the components certainly have—both phones are bigger and undoubtedly better.

moto x front dynamic

The new Moto X features a larger, sharper display, more powerful processor, and an array of new hardware and software features.

In the case of the Moto X, the phone has vaulted into flagship territory with a terrific 5.2-inch full HD display, plenty of power, and a sleek and refined build. I went hands-on with both new handsets to discover what makes them worthy successors.

Flagship upgrade

What a difference a year makes. While the new Moto X shares the same overall shape as its predecessor, the build quality feels dramatically enhanced—and with both in hand, the new device’s design looks a lot more refined and labored-over.

moto x comparison Andrew Hayward

The new Moto X is larger than the original, but also looks a lot more refined.

Much of that is due the loss of the original’s plastic-heavy build, now replaced with a slimmer aluminum frame. Additionally, where there was previously a visible separation between the front panel and the frame, now the face feels smooth all the way to the edges. The two front-facing speakers (which sounded quite good when Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” was demoed) and four new infrared sensors also add a nice symmetrical sense to the face.

Granted, the new Moto X is much larger than its predecessor, now sporting a 5.2-inch AMOLED 1080p display running at 423 pixels per inch (PPI)—a significant upgrade from the 4.7-inch 720p component of the past. And it’s a beauty, with rich, vivid coloring and crisp detail. The trade-off, of course, is that the handset itself is much larger in the hand, but despite featuring a larger display than the Samsung Galaxy S5, the width of the handset remains about equal due to the thin bezel.

Despite the bevy of upgrades, the phone didn’t pack on much weight: It weights only 144 grams, compared to the original Moto X’s 139 grams. It’s very nearly the size and weight of the Galaxy S5.

Flip the Moto X over and you’ll notice that the Motorola logo-emblazoned dimple remains, but the previously small and separate LED flash has been replaced with a ring flash surrounding the back camera, which itself is now bumped up to 13 megapixels (from 10). The quick-capture functionality returns, in which you can simply rotate your wrist twice to pull up the plain camera interface and tap anywhere to snap a photo, and the initial results looked quite solid—but we’ll have much more in-depth impressions once the full review hits.

moto x leather Andrew Hayward

Leather backings are a new option with Moto Maker, along with bamboo and various colors.

Additionally, Motorola’s Moto Maker creation platform returns, allowing you to customize a Moto X with distinctive colors and back panel textures, such as bamboo wood and a four new leather options. You’ll be able to customize a phone via Moto Maker through both Verizon and AT&T, plus if you want an unlocked, carrier-free Moto X, you can order that exclusively through Moto Maker.

moto x moto maker palatte

The Moto Maker program is back, with even more colors, textures, and materials to choose from.

The new Moto X runs pure Android 4.4 KitKat with some familiar additions expanded from the earlier model, such as Moto Voice, which now works with third-party apps like Facebook and What’s App, as well as Moto Display, which pops up to three notifications on your screen, letting you quickly glance and see what an email or text message contains without fully waking the device. New to the device are Moto Actions, which use the four infrared sensors on the phone’s face to detect your nearby hand, letting you swipe to mute an incoming call, virtually hit the snooze button on an alarm, or wake up Moto Display without a touch.

We should add: The Moto X has received Android OS updates much more rapidly than almost any phone outside of a Nexus. Motorola is committed to continuing this practice.

moto x front Andrew Hayward

The new Moto X comes in white and black variants, but can do quite a bit with the backings and accents via Moto Maker.

Getting around the device feels super smooth and lag-free, thanks to the quad-core 2.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor inside, while the slightly larger 2300mAh battery should allow it similar all-day life as seen in the Moto X.

The new Moto X debuts in late September in North America, Europe, Latin America, and Asia for $100 with a two-year contract—only AT&T and Verizon are confirmed thus far as carriers here—while the unlocked version can be purchased through Moto Maker on motorola.com for $500. That’s about $100 cheaper than comparable flagship devices.

The new Moto G

You won’t have to wait to get your hands on the incredibly affordable new Moto G, however, which is available today for just $180 unlocked and off-contract. In nearly every way, it appears to be an enhanced take on the original budget device, with a new build that looks like a hybrid of the old Moto X and the new one, albeit still with a plastic body.

moto g front

The new Moto G seems to take visual cues from both versions of the Moto X.

It’s definitely larger, due to the new 5-inch display replacing the previous 4.5-inch one. However, with the same 1280x720 resolution on its IPS LCD, the pixel density takes a small hit here, dropping to 294 PPI from 329. It’s still a very clear, effective display, just not quite as crisp as its predecessor. The processor remains unchanged, with a quad-core 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 inside, and with pure Android 4.4 (an eventual upgrade to Android L is guaranteed) installed, performance initially seems quite stellar for the specs.

Otherwise, the new Moto G makes a lot of small but appreciated tweaks to the hardware, such as the addition of microSD (up to 32GB) support and a dual-SIM option. The back camera is 8 megapixels (up from 5) with the volume rocker usable as a physical shutter button this time around. Also, like the new Moto X, the Moto G now features two speakers up front. And with a 2070 mAh battery inside, it should give most users a full day of action.

moto g angle Andrew Hayward

It’s plastic and feels a little slippery, but the new Moto G seems very solid and sturdy in build.

The bigger, plastic build does feel a little slippery in the hand; it’s a shame that there’s no Moto Maker support here to toss on something a little more textured, such as a leather backing. Beyond that, it looks great, seems to perform well, and feels sturdy despite the budget price. All of those new features and additions with the same price tag as before? It seems like a pretty stellar value for the mid-range set.

Killer accessories

Both the new Moto X and Moto G were flanked by a couple of rather neat accessories that could be hugely helpful. The Moto Hint is an absolutely tiny Bluetooth earpiece—like in the movie, Her—that will work with any phone (Android, iPhone, etc.) but has special Moto Voice functionality built in when used with Moto phones. The Hint is remarkably small, barely jutting out from your ear at all, and weighs about the same as a quarter. It also lacks physical buttons, instead featuring a capacitive touch surface that responds to taps.

moto hint Andrew Hayward

Tiny, but powerful? The Moto Hint is Motorola’s very intriguing new Bluetooth earbud. Scarlett Johansson not included.

It’ll come with four different earpiece options; the one I tried wasn’t a perfect fit for my ears, but employees wearing the Hint around the event didn’t seem to have any trouble keeping it in. It’ll give you about 3.5 hours of talk time on a full charge, but it comes with a portable charge case that can fully charge the Hint two additional times for a grand total of about 10 hours of talk time. The release is still a little ways off, however, with a fall debut planned for $150.

moto g charger Andrew Hayward

The Power Pack Micro promises up to an eight-hour charge on the Moto X in just 15 minutes.

Available immediately, however, is the Power Pack Micro—a $40 box that you can affix to your keyring and plug into any micro-USB device as needed for a rapid charge. Motorola says it’ll give your Moto X up to eight hours of battery life on just a 15-minute charge, while the Galaxy S5 gets about 10 hours and the HTC One (M8) likewise pulls an additional eight hours. It can also help you find your phone via a notification, and likewise, your paired phone can find your attached keys when lost.

Motorola’s new handsets and accessories all impress from the outset, but we’ll have a better sense of their respective worth following more extensive real-world testing. Stay tuned for review coverage in the coming days.

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