What is the Moto X Style?

Sitting at the top of Motorola’s 2015 line-up, the Moto X Style (or Moto X Pure Edition if you’re in the US) manages to blend high-end specs with a sleek build and still come in at a price that won’t make your wallet cry. It isn't the flashiest or most feature-laden Android _phone_ you can buy right now, but it’s certainly one of the best.

Motorola has again made a fantastic device – following on from the equally impressive Moto G (2015) and Moto X Play – by keeping things simple, tuning all the elements so they work perfectly well together and offering buyers the chance to customise their _phone_ with Moto Maker.

If you have £360 (or £399, if you want to buy it direct from Motorola and add some of your own flare) then the Moto X Style is the best smartphone you can buy with your buck.

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Moto X Style review – Design

Motorola has stuck to a familiar design blueprint with the Moto X Style. I'd have liked to have seen a couple of new flourishes about the device, but the final look is both functional and sleek.

In many ways, the Moto X Style feels like a grown-up Moto G. Plastic is replaced with metal around the rims, the buttons are a little less loose and the rubbery plastic sits flush around the back.

Unlike the Moto G, however, this is a big phone. It doesn’t quite cross into Nexus 6 territory, and even though it has a larger 5.7-inch display it still has a smaller footprint than the iPhone 6S Plus.

If you’re coming to the Moto X Style from a smaller device then it will take some getting used to. Reaching to the corners of the display with one hand is virtually impossible – unless, you’re a basketball whizz – and there have been numerous times when I've fumbled with the phone after scooping it up off a table.

Related: Best Smartphones 2015

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The addition of a metal rim adds rigidity, but it doesn’t feel quite as solid as last year’s Moto X. This seems to be one of the minor changes made for in order for the price to come down.

Flip the phone over and it still bulges out towards the middle. It’s about as far away from the flat backs of the iPhone 6S and Samsung Galaxy S6 as you can get. Regardless, the phone is a pleasure to hold and so easy to slip into a jeans pocket.

The classic Motorola dimple remains, although its smaller size means it’s a less satisfying spot upon which to rest your finger. This area is screaming out for a fingerprint reader and I’m surprised Motorola didn’t add one in. Again, I guess it was to keep the price down.

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Like in previous years, Motorola isn’t only selling one or two versions of the Moto X Style; anyone can design their own handset using Moto Maker. You can change the accent colours, pick between a white or black front and replace the durable rubbery back with various leather or wood offerings.

My review unit was a fairly standard white device with silver accents – but being able to add some personality to make the handset your own is one of Moto’s killer features.

Which back should you opt for? Well, the rubbery finish certainly is tough – it’s like always having a case on – but bear in mind that the white model picks up marks easily. Both the leather and wood options are flashier, but how either finish will wear over time is questionable.

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Note that the front of the white model looks particularly "busy". Along with the camera and front-facing speakers, there are three, very visible sensors for the Moto Display feature (I’ll get onto this later), a duo of ambient light sensors plus the front-facing camera and flash. I understand all are necessary, but they're less obvious on the black model.

Moto X Style review – Display

Although it's been just over a year since we started seeing quad-HD panels appear on phones, they’ve already started trickling down to the cheaper devices.

What’s more impressive here is that Motorola hasn’t skimped at all on the Style's IPS LCD display. The 1440p, 1,440 x 2,560 display is predictably sharp – pixels are indistinguishable no matter how close you get – but it’s also super-bright and viewing angles are excellent.

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Colours do have a tendency to pop a bit too much and therefore look oversaturated. Unlike the Nexus 6, however, it doesn’t suffer from a dominating yellow tint. On the whole, colours are accurate – whites are bright, while red and yellows look good. If it falls down in an area it’s the black, as these pale in comparison to blacks reproduced on the Sony Xperia Z5's LCD panel.

If you have a particular dislike for vivacious hues, then colours can be made to look more realistic by switching the colour mode to normal. Head to Settings then the Display option.

As is the case with many Android phones, the auto-brightness is overly sensitive and creates a juddery, uneven movement when you move from a dark room to a light one.

Moto X Style review – Performance

The Moto X Play is a great phone, but it suffers from some odd performance issues. This left me with the impression that Motorola’s software optimisation isn’t quite as good as it should be, considering the Snapdragon 615 processor should easily be able to handle Android Lollipop.

Thankfully, the Snapdragon 808 tucked inside the Moto X Style is an admirable performer. It’s a beefy octa-core chip and currently the CPU of choice for the majority of mid-to-high-range phones. It provides the grunt for LG’s G4, Google’s new Nexus 5X and the Microsoft Lumia 950.

Paired with the processor is 3GB of RAM, more than plenty for a phone. Having used devices with 4GB of RAM, there’s isn’t a noticeable difference here.

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The Moto X Style's overall performance is fantastic. Although not a fan of the cliché phrase "buttery smooth", this really is the best way to describe it. Swiping through menus, scrolling down web pages, flicking between apps – you'll experience not even the slightest hint of lag.

Gaming is equally impressive. Asphalt 8 and Hitman: Sniper play as well on the Moto X Style as they do on any Snapdragon 810 device, without generating anywhere near as much heat.

In my usual suite of benchmark tests, the Moto X Style performed admirably. In the multi-core Geekbench 3 it scored 3,597, beating off the LG G4 (3,260) and Nexus 5X (3.543); it fell short of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+, however (5,014). It outperformed the Nexus 5X once again in AnTuTu, with a 52,333 score compared to 41,353.

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Moto X Style review – Battery

My biggest frustration with the Moto X Style is battery life. Not because it’s bad, but because I want it to be so much better.

Tucked inside the phone is a 3,000mAh cell that can just about make it from an early morning alarm call to bedtime. The important word there is just. It hasn’t managed to go much beyond a day – and if I forget to charge it at night, it will die out by lunch.

Streaming an HD episode of House of Cards from Netflix eats through 7% – which is actually pretty good; I normally expect to see a 10% drop – and a 30-minute Monument Valley gaming session took the battery from 70% to 63%. In our battery burn test, which loops an HD video with brightness set at 75% – the Moto X Style managed nine hours before it died.

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So, pretty run-of-the-mill numbers then. Having experienced two-day life from the huge 3,400mAh battery in the Moto X Play, I'd have loved to see something similar here. Obviously the move to a quad-HD display sucks up some more juice, but I’d still prefer not to have to worry about hitting the red before 10pm at night on a phone of this size.

Thankfully, when you do hit red it won’t take long to power up the Moto X Style again. Motorola has included its TurboPower tech, and when used with the included 25W wall plug, it can fully charge the phone from dead in under 60 minutes. That’s impressive. It will even give you about 25% in 15 minutes – perfect if you’ve forgotten to charge during the day and you’re off out.

Interestingly, the included wall plug is a single lead, so the USB cable can’t be removed from the plug. I assume that with such a powerful adapter it’s safer this way.

Since the Moto X Style runs an almost stock version of Android, you won't find any added battery-saver modes aside from the distinctly average Lollipop one. But, when Marshmallow hits – Motorola has announced it will be happening – you’ll be able to take advantage of the new Doze mode to extend standby time.

Moto X Style review – Camera

Cameras have always been a sore spot with the Moto X line. They’ve remained firmly in the "adequate" category, which was acceptable when Android cameras on the whole were distinctly "meh". But now they’re good, it’s a problem.

This is probably the reason Motorola is trying extra hard with the sensor on the rear of the Moto X Style. I can safely say it’s the best camera to adorn a Motorola device to date.

The 21-megapixel sensor boasts phase-detection auto-focus – as opposed to the laser-assisted systems favoured by LG and Huawei – and it captures highly detailed, accurate snaps.

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Like most phones, it performs best in daylight. The high megapixel count helps capture shots packed with detail; macro pictures especially look fantastic. Just look at the rain-drops in the samples.

The phase-detection autofocus is fast too – not to the levels of Sony’s Xperia Z5, but it tends to lock onto targets in a snap. It does struggle to focus if you're super-close to your subject, but this is a minor quibble.

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In bright light, colours pop. Rainy conditions deter this somewhat, but it still manages to pack in strong reds and yellows.

Saturation is just right, and the software doesn’t add any unnecessary sharpening effects after the fact. Huawei and Samsung phones are particularly prone to such issues, so it’s good to see Motorola forego it.

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Although night-time and low-light snaps aren't as impressive, they’re perfectly acceptable. Noise is common around detailed areas and the camera has a tendency to overblow lights. If you stick with it, however, the high megapixel count helps churn out some pretty pleasant-looking shots.

Low-light seriously hampers the speed of the auto-focus, though, which means that you may end up shooting numerous times in order to capture something that isn't blurry. The lack of optical image stabilisation is probably to blame for this.

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Strong low-light cameras on phones are still rare. And the only model capable of shooting well after dark and in this price-range that comes to mind is the LG G4.

Nightclub selfies are aided by the ugly front-facing flash, although the bright LED tends to make me look like a pale ghost. Regular selfies taken with the 5-megapixel sensor are adequate – with adequate detail and brightness – but they’re nothing special.

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While I can forgive Motorola its shortcomings with low-light performance, its native camera app is downright awful. Granted, it’s fast to load up, but aside from that it isn't up to scratch. Instead of tap-to-focus, it takes a picture when you tap, so you’re completely reliant on the auto-focus. The options are also hidden with a swipe in from the side, which always results in me accidentally zooming in, plus there are no manual modes.

Combined, all these issues make taking pictures a chore. When you’re forced to switch to Google’s own camera app, you know things are bad.

Moto X Style review – Software

Motorola just knows how to do software on Android phones. This is pretty much because the company sticks to the version created by Google. It doesn’t skin it, make it clunky or add any unnecessary bloatware. Google’s version of Android is the best, and it makes Motorola’s version equally as good.

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Lollipop was a turning point for Android. It moved the OS from being an ugly yet functional beast into a true iOS rival.

It’s even more impressive on Motorola’s part is that the software tweaks it's made actually improve the experience further. Bundled inside the Moto app you'll find Assist, Actions, Voice and Display – each of which have some pretty neat functionality.

Display is the best; it lights up the screen with any incoming notifications. Voice lets you chat to your phone after you've taught it a phrase – "Hello, Moto", for example. Assist will automatically silence the phone during certain times – when it knows you’re in a meeting, for example – and, last but not least, Actions integrates some nifty gestures.

The most useful is a quick double-shake to boot up the camera from anywhere – although the karate-chop to turn on the torch comes in handy too.

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As it’s pretty much stock Android, Motorola is quick off the bat when it comes to pushing out the latest version. It has already announced Marshmallow is coming – although there's no specific date as yet – so it won’t be too long until the Moto X Style is bang up to date.

Moto X Style review – Storage, speaker quality and connectivity

Speaking of Marshmallow, the sixth major version of Android brings a revamp to how microSD cards are treated. This is great, since the Moto X Style boasts a handy expansion slot in the SIM tray.

Instead of silo-ing off internal and expandable storage, Marshmallow combines the two. If you add a 64GB to the base 32GB storage on the Moto X Style – a 64GB version is available too – you’ll have more than 70GB for use in games, apps, media and more.

Flanking the display are two excellent-sounding, front-firing speakers that pump out loud, yet distortion-free audio. Although the majority of folk harp on about the greatness of HTC’s BoomSound speakers, those here are equally as good.

LTE/4G is supported on all major bands, and call quality and data speeds are what I expect on 3’s UK network.

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Should you buy the Moto X Style?

If you want a well priced, super-fast phone benefiting from a slick design and sharp display, I can thoroughly recommend the Moto X Style. It doesn’t confuse with a bucket-load of added features, but it does, it does well.

There’s a lot to say for Motorola’s approach to Android too. It’s clean, simple, fast – and as Google intended. With Marshmallow on the way, this is even more important.

And then there’s the camera. Once Motorola’s weakest point, the sensor on the Moto X Style captures highly detailed shots. It’s low-light results may not be perfect, but they're on a par with pretty much every high-end Android phone aside from, say, the Galaxy Note 5 and LG G4.

I'd have liked to have seen a fingerprint sensor baked in somewhere, and the battery isn’t going to set the world alight – but these are my only minor reservations on an otherwise fantastic device.

Related: 10 Best Android Phones 2015

Verdict

Motorola’s best high-end phone in some time comes in at an affordable price, without sacrificing features. It’s up there with the top Android phones of 2015.

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