Saturday 7 July 2018

Moto X4

I'm not sure if Moto/Lenovo knew/know what they're really doing with this release - nor, really, what it has to do with Moto X Flagships going before it.

It seemed destined to be an AndroidOne project, then someone thought it would be an idea to float it across to the USA at some point and hook it up with Project Fi, but yet another version of it - in my hand - seems to have a slightly beefed up spec. and is being pushed out in some areas of Europe. Confused? Me too! It's really unlike Moto to bundle third party Apps. these days and yet, Microsoft's LinkedIn and Outlook are there. Baked in. Can only Disable them, not uninstall. But just those two. Nothing else. So something is going down here with AndroidOne, Microsoft and the USA, confusing the whole picture.

Listed at £349 on the MotoUK website, this was a long time coming, though as soon as it arrives, CPW have reduced it to £299! Against my better judgement in the meantime, so keen was I to get a device with a wide-angle camera option, I dipped my toe into the world of LG again and got a G6. And that, for me, is largely why it's here. I have sold the LG G6 and bought this instead. There's much more to the story though. Stick around.

It's clearly not a flagship device, but it's a very capable phone which will be absolutely fine for anyone who's not an UberGeek! It has a Snapdragon 630 chipset (I know from personal experience that this is just fine, being even better/faster even than the BlackBerry KEYone and Moto's own Z/2 Plays - and those don't miss a beat). It has 3GB RAM, which is still enough for Android for a good while yet. You really don't need 8GB whatever OnePlus might tell you! 32GB Storage too, with MicroSD expansion. Apparently there's a 64GB/4GB version lurking somewhere - they really can't decide on this one!

It's arrived with Android Nougat 7.1.1. and September 2017 Google Security Update. Out of the box, there were no updates - this really is fresh out of the factory! Oreo is promised any minute! It's made of glass, back and front, with aluminium round the edge. It has a 5.2" 1080p LTPS (LCD) IPS screen(!) with a 424ppi count and Gorilla glass 4. The screen is really fine, bright, cheerful and colourful.

The Pixel-style UI is in attendance, with Homescreen App. Shortcuts, Google Assistant, new style App. Tray, new style Google Now Pane (boo!), round icons and folders etc. The transition between the homescreen and Google Now Pane is like lightning! Even faster than the Pixel. It's like it's got no animation, just flicks across. Same with the Notification Panel pull-down. Amazing speed of execution.

The Moto X4 has sizeable bezels, chin and forehead, but as you can see from my picture, it's packing that 5.2" screen into the body more efficiently than HTC did with the Pixel's 5 incher. I'm OK with bezels. I'm not on that bandwagon. I like to be able to hold a device without fear of screen-touching all the time. There's a large ring round the dual-cameras on the back and a big 'M' in the middle of the rear. The metal sweeps round to the sides in a nice curve and the back is like a mirror, HTC-style. Seems to be the trend. Fingerprint magnet. Case it!

Volume and power keys on the right follow the latest Moto trend of being quite small, but not too small, quite close together but knurled on the power button. They feel good. The front chin houses the oval fingerprint scanner, which works really quickly, can be used as a screen-on-off sensor, like other Motos, and also assigned to acting as the Home key if you choose to turn off the on-screen Vanilla Navigation controls and plump for Moto's One Button Navigation, sweeping left for Back and right for Recent Apps. I choose not to. I like Vanilla. It's my favourite flavour! The on-screen controls do, of course, intelligently disappear in-apps. so all's not lost with screen space.

Down the bottom is a 3.5mm earphone socket and USB-C data/charging port. The battery is 3000mAh and there's a 15W TurboPower charger in the box which will boost things up for 6hrs use in 15 minutes. All you have to do now is make sure you carry it! Not been here long enough to assess the battery but I'm hoping for more than a day. Will report in the comments below. It certainly charged up quickly when I'd hammered it today testing. The device is IP68 rated for water/dust, it's 8mm thick and weighs a reassuring 163g.

Now to the speaker. It's a single speaker and fires out of the earpiece at the top. This will win no awards. It won't even be nominated! In a quiet room or office, it's just fine. It can be heard no problem. It's not tinny and just adequate. As soon as you take it into any other noise, however, I'm afraid you ain't going to hear it using media. Ringtones and alerts are OK of course. There are many devices costing this much which have better sounding speakers. But then maybe they don't have some of the other stuff. Especially the wide-angle camera.

As I said, this is largely my reason for buying. I love that wide-angle camera view and this does it just as well as the LG G6. There's a button on the UI which can be tapped to switch it from wide to ordinary and yet again, it makes a huge difference for me. I'm much more likely to be using it rather than taking a stand-alone compact camera out with me. The resulting photos are very average for pixel-peepers and again, this'll win no awards for low-light stuff, but that's not the point really. It does what it does well enough for me, and I suspect, most.

There's a 12MP Dual Autofocus Pixel sensor (f2) and 8MP ultra-wide angle with 120° field of view sensor (f2.2) on the rear with a 16MP f2 Selfie camera on the front (with an LED flash) with a 4MP 'adaptive low-light mode' (which I can only guess is automatic as I see no switch)! It has a smart Depth mode which, although is now becoming common and relies on trickery, not glass and aperture, executes the desired effect perfectly for those who wish to use it. Spot Colour (mono with colour on object, live) works brilliantly for that 'Schindler's List' photo(!) and is rather fun, full Manual mode with Nokia-style slider-bars in Professional Mode, some stupid Face mode for children, some other stuff still in Beta which I can't even find(!) like Selective Black and White and Background replacement modes. More usefully, it would seem, the Landmark/Object recognition.

Landmark/Object Recognition will, when you point it at a monument, detect where you are and open a Wikipedia page to provide more information. It will also recognise goods - I tried it on a few things around the house and more often than not, it got it spot on and offered me Amazon pages to buy one or other pages for more information. You can scan barcodes/QR codes/Business cards too, none of which is new, some of this been around for years, but still handy.

There is lots of fun to be had with the camera, especially the Selfie one. It seems that more and more attention is being given to front-facing cameras these days and in some cases are usurping the quality and functionality of the main rear-facing one/s. Selfie panorama, Face filters, Beautification mode. The list goes on.

The other specific trick this Moto X4 has up its sleeve is the Alexa integration. If you fancy switching it on and using it instead of, or as well as, the Google one, it can be invoked (or set to rule the roost). Amazon's lady has got a nice soft voice. You can also set it to work with screen off. Testing here proved that it's very efficient but I haven't tried a blow-by-blow show-down with Google. I'm sure people have done/will be doing YouTube videos of that. But it's interesting that this has been included. With Moto themselves releasing a Moto Mod for the Z Series with a speaker and Alexa, they're obviously casting their net wide and scooping up deals left, right and centre with other service providers.

So, to round up the rest, it's got a recordable FM Radio, bluetooth 4.2 with 5 on the way, guaranteed with Oreo sometime soon, so sending audio out to multiple devices is around the corner. The usual raft of Moto extensions are included: Moto experiences; Moto display - wave your hand over the screen for info. (remains fiendish but unique), glows on arrival of info. and allows interaction with messages/music control; Moto voice; Moto actions; Moto key.

Moto Key seems like a step to far, from what I can see, for the person who's already baked into Chrome and their Google account. I set it up so that my Windows laptop could be unlocked by touching the fingerprint sensor on the Moto X4. Installed software both ends, Chrome Extension, turned on bluetooth on both devices (and one must leave them on!) then tested it out and it seems to work. Then I realised that I have a fingerprint reader in my laptop's trackpad! D'oh! It could be useful I guess. Call me old fashioned thinking about battery, but I don't want bluetooth on all the time. And if it's not, then you have to fiddle to put it on each time. Not worth it! The system goes beyond this, though, clocking all your passwords for websites visited etc. and account logins. I just don't know what happens then with all that I already have set up with Google/Chrome or which system wins a punch-up! Maybe they both work in tandem. And another company holds your data, increasing the risk of disaster! More testing needed.

Anyway, this unit is supposed to be Sterling Blue. I can't see any blue in it! It looks silver to me. Sterling silver maybe. If I'd have known, I'd have got the black one, but no matter! It's a cracking little device. I like it a lot. It's not a flagship. It's not all things to all men who want the latest and greatest, but it's near-stock, has enough USPs about it to make it interesting and different to The Pack, it's made very well, looks and feels fabulous in the hand, really premium, and it's a perfect size for me. The Pixel was just a tad too small and the XL too big. The devices which fall between (as well as those with an interesting and USP) are certainly getting my attention of late.

I really recommend this very much. More on PSC at the weekend with +Steve Litchfield as I leave you with a much recurring thought these days... How on earth anyone can justify charging for/spending £900 that does 5% more stuff than something so nice, costing £300!

Let me know in the comments below if you have any specific questions or things for me to test - short of taking a photo of the Taj Mahal ;-)

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