Once the giant of the cell phone industry, Motorola’s hold on the market has slipped as the years have gone by. With the rise of Android, Motorola drew headlines with its DROID devices and prominent advertising, but lost ground to competitors like Samsung and LG. Now, in 2017, the company has bounced from Google to Lenovo, and its heritage is preserved only by name, as the company becomes increasingly integrated into the Chinese tech giant. Under new ownership, does Lenovo have a chance to resurge in the market?
The strategy undertaken by Lenovo involves four distinct classes of smartphones: the flagship Moto Z, the high-end Moto X, the mid-range Moto G, and the budget-friendly Moto E. The company has also partnered with Amazon to create exclusive editions of Moto G and Moto X devices, sold only through Amazon.
Most recently, Lenovo released the Moto X4, a high-end smartphone that isn’t a flagship, but boasts more features than the average smartphone. Lenovo’s partnerships are paying off in the result, as the Moto X4 remains one of only a handful of devices on the market that has Amazon’s Alexa assistant built in. But with a competitive market facing Lenovo, small features may not be enough.
One area where Lenovo has tried to distinguish itself is in the design of the Moto X4. A glass and metal body aims to encompass modernity, but instead presents a functional challenge. Slippery surfaces surround the Moto X4, while the large body makes it a tad uncomfortable to hold. While using the phone with bare hands is tolerable, god help the individual that tries to use the Moto X4 in gloves. Even setting the X4 on a couch is a waiting game, as the device will slowly slide towards the edge and onto the floor.
Functional issues may pose a problem, but from an aesthetic standpoint, the Moto X4 isn’t an unattractive device. The combination of glass and metal is clean and stays true to the slab form of modern smartphones. The step away from ordinary design is the dual camera setup, which resides under a circular, protruding lens cover. Though I didn’t encounter issues while reviewing, the extra exposure should be a red flag for individuals prone to damaging their devices, as rough surfaces, grit, and drops could easily crack or scratch the lens cover.
The display is bright and fairly colorful, with crisp whites. Blacks aren’t inky, but the display renders blacks at an acceptable level for an IPS display. Lenovo opted for a 1080p resolution on the 5.2-inch display, which provides excellent sharpness in everyday usage. Though innovation is lacking, Lenovo’s created a display that performs well, without getting caught in the specs race that dominates the flagship smartphone market.
The thread of “satisfying, but not exceptional,” carries throughout the X4′s hardware. Major qualms are hard to come by and the X4 performs without issue. A Snapdragon 630 processor sits beneath the hood, paired with 3GB of RAM to keep things running smoothly. Lenovo has opted for 32GB of storage, without a higher option available. Though the built-in storage is a tad low, a microSD card slot should alleviate concerns for many.
Powering the device is a 3000mAh battery which underperforms in comparison to competitors. With normal usage, it’s possible to make it through an 18-hour day, but don’t expect to stretch the battery to a second day. Fortunately, the issue is mitigated by Motorola’s Turbo Power fast charging, which works exceptionally well on the Moto X4.
With a 12-megapixel Dual Pixel sensor and an 8-megapixel wide-angle camera, the Moto X4 offers two distinct hardware options for photos. Though usable and very effective for landscape shots, the wide-angle camera does offer a light fisheye effect to photos. But the 12-megapixel sensor is impressive for low-light shooting, picking up copious light in dim scenarios, albeit too much light at times. Though the X4′s results won’t dethrone flagships like the Google Pixel, it stands its ground against the competition.
For shutterbugs and social butterflies, the Moto X4 excels. Motorola led the pack in creating a fast camera and the legacy continues as the X4′s camera hums to life with a simple tap or motion gesture. Focusing is instantaneous, light adjustment is a breeze, and snapping pictures takes no time at all. With speed and low-light prowess, the X4 will capture every joke, every memorable line, and every perfect Boomerang from your night out with friends. With the X4, you won’t miss a beat.
The camera software, while speedy, isn’t intuitive for some smartphone users. When placed in front of friends, many were unsure of what functions the graphical elements indicated. While Lenovo has sought to keep the interface simple, the minimalist result can be confusing for novice users.
Quirky software is nothing new for Lenovo, and the company has created several devices with abhorrent software laid atop Android. Motorola, however, has focused on staying true to stock Android since the launch of the original Moto X. While elements of the tradition are in place, Lenovo has taken regretful liberties to customize the software.
Perhaps the most noticeable change is the lack of basic animations. Button presses, app closes, and more are all lacking smooth animations, creating a jarring experience that makes the X4 perpetually feel like it’s in battery saving mode. The removal of animations is a baffling choice on Lenovo’s part, as Google has spent years crafting smooth, speedy transitions for Android. Without them, the X4′s software seems primitive in comparison to its competitors.
In another bizarre twist, Lenovo has created circular icons for pre-installed apps. Installing new apps, however, doesn’t force a circular design, leading to an unsavory blend of designs. Though a minor issue, it’s another move that is a step backward, rather than utilizing the high-quality standards that Google has created.
Though design may not be in Lenovo’s wheelhouse, the company is using its clout to forge partnerships for its products. With the X4, Lenovo partnered with Amazon to integrate Alexa directly into the device. Though only available in the US, UK, and Germany for now, plans are in place to expand the service to more countries.
If you’ve used an Echo device, then you know what to expect with Alexa. Amazon’s voice assistant is excellent at pairing with other apps and devices, and if you have smart home products, then Alexa will prove useful. For complex search and natural language processing, however, you may want to stick with the Google Assistant, which is also built-in. With both services, you can choose which assistant meshes best with your connected apps and devices.
After a long fall from grace, the Moto brand is struggling to revive itself. But the Moto X4 isn’t the phone to accomplish that goal. While good, it’s not great. While satisfying, it’s not exceptional. The software is adequate, the performance is fine, and the camera is great for quick snappers, but the Moto X4 doesn’t stand out.
Perhaps Lenovo is banking on the inclusion of Amazon Alexa to sell the device. Or maybe it’s hoping to score extra sales with the Android One edition, which is latest device to join Project Fi. But confusing software choices, functional design issues, and a lack of wow factor holds the Moto X4 back. Though this may not be the year, Lenovo has created a strong smartphone base. Now it needs to refine the formula.