Tech Reviews

Phone Review: Moto X Style Gives Users Exactly What They Want

With an improved camera, a big screen, great battery life, and a low price, it's hard to argue against Motorola’s latest offering

Review: Moto X Style Is Big, Powerful and Affordable

The Moto X Style is the first flagship phone produced by Chicago's Motorola since Lenovo purchased the company from Google in October 2014. Its little brother, the 2015 Moto G, is Motorola's fastest-selling smartphone ever, and the company is hoping the Moto X Style can keep pace. It's a big phone with a unique design, and it's packing a 21 megapixel camera that Motorola says is best in class. Even with top-of-the-line specs, the price starts at $399, around half the price of competitors.

So should you buy one?

A Different Kind of Flagship

First things first: What is this phone actually called? After the new Moto X was first announced a few weeks ago, there was some confusion, because Motorola opted to split the Moto X into two separate lines and even gave a single phone two names. First there's the Moto X Play, a 5.5-inch, midrange phone that won't be sold in the U.S. Then there's the Moto X Style, which is the phone we have here. It's being sold in the U.S. as the "Moto X Pure Edition" because it runs a nearly stock version of Android and won't be tied to any carriers, but it's essentially the exact same phone as the Moto X Style sold in other countries around the world. 

The Moto X Style is larger and a lot more powerful than the budget Moto G.
The Moto X Style is larger and a lot more powerful than the budget Moto G.

With that out of the way, we can get into the phone itself. On paper, it goes toe-to-toe with the best phones from Samsung Electronics and LG. There's a 5.7-inch Quad HD display, a hexa-core processor, 3 GB of RAM, and a 21 megapixel camera. So far, so good. I won't bore you with the full specs, but the only major omission is a fingerprint sensor, which Moto left off to keep the price down and the design clean. It means having to unlock the phone with a password or passcode and could cause some friction when Android Pay is launched, but I don't think it's a deal breaker by any means. 

The design of the phone is definitely different from what the competitors are offering. Its screen stretches almost completely to the edges of its broad face, which means more real estate and less wasted space. The back is also curved across both axes, which helps keep the phone from naturally tipping back out of your hands. If you saw "Moto" and "5.7 inches" and instantly had fears of this phone being as unwieldy as the Motorola-made Google Nexus 6, I would understand. But after using the phone for the better part of a week, I haven't had any problems (even with my child-size hands). 

The curved design of the Moto X Style makes it easier to hold than other large phones.
The curved design of the Moto X Style makes it easier to hold than other large phones.
Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

Another big selling point for Motorola is the Moto Maker program, which lets you mix and match colors and finishes in an online tool and order the exact phone you want. Since this phone is being sold entirely unlocked without any carrier involvement, Moto can go directly to consumers like this (stock configurations of the Moto X Style will also be available from Best Buy and Amazon.com). You can select from a handful of rubber silicone, wood, and leather backs, a white or black front panel, and different metallic accent colors, along with a few small software customizations and engraving, too. In a world where most phones are predominantly a single color, and most often some combination of silver and black or white, a little variety is a nice way to get customers' attention.

The phone starts at $399 with 16 GB of storage and a rubber silicone back. This is a bit more than half the starting price of the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (from $696) and Apple iPhone 6 Plus (from $749). For an additional $25, you can upgrade to one of the wood or leather backs, and you can bump storage up to either 32 GB or 64 GB for $50 and $100, respectively. Totally maxed out, the phone would set you back $524. The premium backs are nice (especially the bamboo and saffiano leather), but my favorites are the basic-colored rubber ones, which are textured and make the phone a little easier to hold. And since the Moto X Style accepts microSD cards up to 128 GB for addition storage, the imperative to horde gigabytes evaporates. For the vast majority of customers, the $399 Moto X Style is the one to get.

The Big Three

At the end of the day, three things matter most on any smartphone: the camera, performance, and battery life. The Moto X Style scores well in all three categories. 

While Moto's cameras have lagged in the past, this 21 megapixel shooter is excellent in most conditions.
While Moto's cameras have lagged in the past, this 21 megapixel shooter is excellent in most conditions.

For most people, their smartphone is their primary camera. So if you're going to be capturing memories of romantic dinners, special trips, or your family, you want to know that you're not going to end up with blurry, subpar shots. A bad camera is a great reason to pass on a phone these days, even if everything else is amazing. In the past, Moto's cameras have left a lot to be desired, but for the Moto X Style, the company claims "best in class" performance, and it's not far off. In daylight, the camera (which you can open by twisting the phone twice) focuses quickly and has accurate color representation, and the shutter speed is fast enough that you don't get any blur. Both hardware and software are great here. As the light dims, though, some troubles did emerge. I occasionally found the camera hunting for focus, and blacks were full of noise. The camera is still toward the top of the pile, but I do have to give the edge to Samsung's latest crop of Galaxy phones. 

Colors and dynamic range are both great in daylight, while blacks show some noise in low-light shooting.
Colors and dynamic range are both great in daylight, while blacks show some noise in low-light shooting.
Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

Overall performance was great. Menus were snappy, apps opened quickly, and the only time I found myself staring at the screen impatiently waiting for something to happen was when the phone was booting up. The Snapdragon 808 processor and abundant RAM deliver, though they do make the phone run warm if you've got a lot of apps open at once or are playing a game. Moto adds only a few things on top of Google's stock operating system, which both improves speed and means you should get software updates much faster. The voice assist and quick notifications features can be toggled in a dedicated app, and I find them generally helpful. One small hiccup I found was a problem getting my unit to connect to Bluetooth headphones, an annoyance amplified by the awkwardly placed headphone jack at the top center. Otherwise, everything was smooth sailing.

If your battery is dead, your phone is useless. It's that simple. I didn't have a single day using the Moto X Style when I ran out of juice before getting home for the night. Even when shooting the video review above, I got nearly six hours with the screen on the entire time. When you do run low, though, Moto has added a feature called Turbo Charging, which it claims is the fastest phone charging technology on the market right now. Bold claim aside, just 10 minutes plugged into the special adaptor, and I could get between five and 10 more hours of use. Since battery capacity is a problem, that's not going away soon, and solutions like this become more and more important.

Small software additions such as voice assist and quick notifications actually improve on Android.
Small software additions such as voice assist and quick notifications actually improve on Android.
Photographer: Stephen Pulvirent/Bloomberg

Conclusion

There's no shortage of good Android phones right now. For the first time I can remember, it might be hard to choose which high-end handset to go for. But even in the crowded marketplace, the Moto X Style sets itself apart by giving users exactly what they want—a big screen, a sharp camera, and an all-day battery. Even if it's not the absolute top performer in every category, it's a well-rounded device that will serve most people very well. Add the personalization options, the much lower price, and the easy of ordering one without involving your carrier, and the Moto X Style starts to look even more attractive. 

Customers and competitors should both being paying attention.

The Moto X Style is a phone that gives consumers the things that matter without any extras.
The Moto X Style is a phone that gives consumers the things that matter without any extras.
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