Review: Moto X Style (Pure Edition)

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The Moto X Style/Pure Edition tries to hit the perfect balance of specs and price(Credit: David Nield/Gizmag)

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Motorola's flagship phone for 2015, the Moto X Style (called the Moto X Pure Edition in the U.S.) has an appealing set of specs, a stylish design and all the customization benefits of Moto Maker. In the cutthroat Android handset market, though, making a good phone isn't always good enough.

This is the third generation Moto X, and Motorola has now settled into a reassuringly predictable annual pattern with both its flagship phones and the more wallet-friendly Moto G and Moto E handsets. At first glance, not much has changed design-wise, but the whole phone is significantly bigger than the 2014 edition.

There's now 5.7 inches of screen to enjoy, as opposed to the 5.2 inches on last year's Moto X (based on area, that's a 20 percent increase). The new phone's body is smaller than that of the 5.96-inch Nexus 6, and it's smaller than the iPhone 6s Plus too, even though Apple's phone has a smaller 5.5-inch screen – thanks to Motorola's impressively svelte bezels. Though the Moto X Style/Pure isn't the biggest phone out there right now, but it's still among the bigger handsets you'll see today.

Under the hood, the Snapdragon 808 1.8 GHz CPU and 3 GB of RAM don't represent the very highest specs you can get in a smartphone today, but it isn't too far off the mark – putting the Moto X Style right behind the front-runners. This is a phone capable of some serious performance, and we noticed no slowing down or lag during our time with it (time that included a few plays of Modern Combat 5).

As we've said, there are no surprises in terms of the look of the phone, so you'll already know whether the aesthetics are to your tastes – it's a design we quite like, though it's chunkier than most, and doesn't have a premium all-metal finish like you'll get from Apple's and HTC's current phones (though the Moto X does have metal edges). But at least it isn't trying to ape everything Apple is doing with the iPhone, something we've grown increasingly accustomed to in the smartphone space.

And let's not forget Moto Maker, now a well-established part of the Motorola package: you can order this phone in over 100 color, accent and backing combinations, leaving you with a handset that feels like your own. Again it's a tick in the positives column for Motorola, and you can choose from plastic, wood and leather materials for the back of your smartphone (the frame will always be aluminum).

The camera is an important consideration for just about anyone considering a smartphone these days, and the 21-megapixel snapper on the Moto X Style performed well without blowing us away – as long as you have decent lighting. It feels as snappy in use and as sensitive as the iPhone's camera, but when you're in the dark it begins to struggle.

We tried a few shots with the Moto X Style and a 2014 iPhone 6 in a darkened room with no flash, and while both managed to make the scene visible, the Moto X Style's camera introduced a lot more noise. This isn't a bad camera, and it's capable of getting some fantastic photos, but whatever magic Apple does with its optics as far as low-light performance goes seems beyond Motorola. If you want a really great camera on a Google-powered phone, this isn't it, but we did notice a step up in quality from a Nexus 6 we compared it with.

Here are some sample shots. Once we get to the bottom photo, note that the Moto X Style is doing all it can to show anything at all without the flash – it was a very dark scene – but you can see some noise has crept in as a result. All these samples are unedited, but have been downscaled for the web to 1,060 pixels wide.

Sample shot one: Flowers close up(Credit: David Nield/Gizmag)

Sample shot two: Canal in daylight(Credit: David Nield/Gizmag)

Sample shot three: Dark corner indoors(Credit: David Nield/Gizmag)

Battery life is another factor that can make or break a phone, and fortunately the Moto X Style holds up well here too. The hefty 3,000 mAh battery easily lasts a day (and often beyond) depending on what you're up to, though as usual it's worth noting that brand new smartphone batteries often flatter to deceive. If you're doing nothing at all with the phone it appears to hold its charge very well.

In our battery test (an hour of video streaming over Wi-Fi, with brightness measured at 25 lux from a distance of 10 inches) we saw a drop from 100 percent to a respectable 85 percent. That puts it on a par with the HTC A9, just ahead of the Galaxy S6 and just behind the iPhones 6s and 6s Plus.

In terms of storage there's something for everyone: 16 GB, 32 GB or 64 GB are your choices, with the option of expanding it via microSD. That expandable storage is an increasingly rare feature, and another little factor that might sway you towards this phone instead of the very top-end handsets.

As far as the software goes, as is tradition Motorola treats Android Lollipop (5.1.1) with a light touch. There's virtually no skinning, but as with previous handsets you do get some useful extra Motorola apps for displaying notifications on the lock screen and using the phone more easily with your voice.

You can also launch the camera or switch between the front and rear cameras with a flick of your wrist. We find these additions to actually be useful, so Motorola deserves credit for that. The lack of customization also means Android updates should be fairly swift (though you should note that Motorola has broken some update promises of late, and this handset doesn't yet run the latest version).

Having used the Moto X Style for a week, we're pleased to report it's a dependable, powerful handset which looks the part and has very little in the way of negatives that would be enough to stop someone from buying it.

There are better Android phones out there, but they're not that much better – and the low price of the Moto X Style makes it worthy of consideration. It's also important to note that, at full retail, the iPhone 6s Plus costs almost twice as much as the Moto X Style at the 16GB storage level, which forces you to question the importance of details like a slightly inferior camera.

If you want the very best that smartphone technology can offer in 2015, the Moto X Style isn't it. But on the other hand, if you have a limit of $400 to spend, then nothing else on sale at the moment is likely to give you as much bang for your buck. Motorola looks to be aiming for the top of the mid-range (or perhaps the budget end of the high-end), and it largely hits its target.

Product page: Motorola

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