Mobile Technology

Moto X (2014) review: There is no justice in the world

Moto X (2014) review: There is...
The Moto X may just be the most unappreciated phone going around
The Moto X may just be the most unappreciated phone going around
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The upgraded Moto X camera has a nifty ring flash (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The upgraded Moto X camera has a nifty ring flash (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The Moto X back panel can be customized via Moto Maker (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The Moto X back panel can be customized via Moto Maker (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The new Moto X (2014) and the Moto 360 smartwatch (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The new Moto X (2014) and the Moto 360 smartwatch (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The new Moto X (2014) and the Moto 360 smartwatch (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The new Moto X (2014) and the Moto 360 smartwatch (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The new Moto X and the original from 2013 in green (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The new Moto X and the original from 2013 in green (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The new Moto X is both taller and wider than its predecessor (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The new Moto X is both taller and wider than its predecessor (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The new Moto X is both taller and wider than its predecessor (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The new Moto X is both taller and wider than its predecessor (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The new Moto X is both taller and wider than its predecessor (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The new Moto X is both taller and wider than its predecessor (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The new Moto X is both taller and wider than its predecessor (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The new Moto X is both taller and wider than its predecessor (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The new Moto X display has grown to 5.2 inches (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The new Moto X display has grown to 5.2 inches (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Almost everything about the new Moto X is bigger if not better (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Almost everything about the new Moto X is bigger if not better (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The Moto X camera has received a much needed upgrade (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The Moto X camera has received a much needed upgrade (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Moto Connect manages other Motorola devices (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Moto Connect manages other Motorola devices (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The new Moto X is available for as little as US$99 on contract (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The new Moto X is available for as little as US$99 on contract (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Moto Display activates when your hand approaches the device (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Moto Display activates when your hand approaches the device (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
A wave of the hand can dismiss a call (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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A wave of the hand can dismiss a call (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Motorola's software tweaks don't get in the way of stock Android (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Motorola's software tweaks don't get in the way of stock Android (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Moto Voice still allows for touchless control (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Moto Voice still allows for touchless control (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The new Moto X is bigger in the hand (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The new Moto X is bigger in the hand (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Leather on the back (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Leather on the back (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
A capable handful (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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A capable handful (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The Moto X may be the most unappreciated phone around (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The Moto X may be the most unappreciated phone around (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Wood back panels are also available (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Wood back panels are also available (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The leather backing wears easily (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The leather backing wears easily (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The upgraded Moto X camera has a nifty ring flash (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The upgraded Moto X camera has a nifty ring flash (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The rear Motorola dimple remains (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The rear Motorola dimple remains (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The Moto X back panel can be customized via Moto Maker (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The Moto X back panel can be customized via Moto Maker (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The Moto X sports top and bottom front-facing speaker (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The Moto X sports top and bottom front-facing speaker (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The Moto X sports top and bottom front-facing speaker (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The Moto X sports top and bottom front-facing speaker (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Moto Display (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Moto Display (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The Moto X has received critical upgrades (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The Moto X has received critical upgrades (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
Moto X took this photo for me a split second before I hit the trigger myself and it turned out to be a better shot (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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Moto X took this photo for me a split second before I hit the trigger myself and it turned out to be a better shot (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
A low light shot captured with the ring flash on the Moto X (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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A low light shot captured with the ring flash on the Moto X (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
A decent shot under decent lighting (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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A decent shot under decent lighting (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The Moto X may just be the most unappreciated phone going around (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The Moto X may just be the most unappreciated phone going around (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The new Moto X is available for as little as US$99 on contract (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
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The new Moto X is available for as little as US$99 on contract (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
The Moto X may just be the most unappreciated phone going around
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The Moto X may just be the most unappreciated phone going around

If you're one of the relatively few people who comes to fully embrace Motorola's flagship Android phone, the Moto X, it will teach you things about the world – and I don't just mean that it will help you look up trivia without even having to use your hands via Google Now and Moto Voice, but that's fun too. Get to know the Moto X well and it will teach you that there is no justice in the world.

To explain, let's bring the bottom line up to the top here: The second generation of the Moto X is even better than its unappreciated predecessor from last year. Its specs and design quality are competitive with other top flight phones and it offers a few uniquely useful features and optional accessories you can't get elsewhere. It is less expensive than comparable offerings from Samsung and much less expensive than the iPhone 6. But recent history tells us that both Apple and Samsung's phones will likely outsell the Moto X by an order of magnitude (or two).

In the paragraphs that follow, I will lay out all the reasons why the most popular phones in my home over the past month have been (in order):

  1. Moto X (2014)
  • Moto X (2013)
  • iPhone 6
  • Samsung Galaxy S4
  • Yet, millions of people continue to ignore Motorola's offerings in favor of iPhones and devices from the Samsung Galaxy series.

    The new Moto X and the original from 2013 in green (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
    The new Moto X and the original from 2013 in green (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)

    So the question is, if you build one of the best phones ever and nobody notices, do you blame the marketing muscle of Samsung and cult of Apple? Maybe. Or maybe the world is irreparably unjust.

    For now let's put aside the depressing existential quandaries and just consider the evidence that I've been gathering over the past month that I've spent with the 2014 Moto X since picking one up at Motorola's Chicago headquarters.

    Upsized and upgraded

    First, let's look at what's new in the second iteration of the Moto X. Essentially, Motorola has addressed all the main shortcomings of the original: particularly its underpowered specs and lackluster display and camera.

    The Snapdragon 801 quad-core 2.5 GHz CPU in the new version is a big step up from the S4 Pro processor that already felt outdated when the first Moto X was unveiled last August. The 801 also powers almost all of the year's top new Android phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S5, HTC One M8 and LG G3. That's an important bit of parity for the new Moto X to establish.

    While I've found that the original Moto X actually performs pretty well with its last generation CPU, it can get bogged down or laggy on occasion. The new, more powerful Moto X, however, has handled all apps I've thrown at it over the past month like a champ, although I haven't yet attempted to run any virtual reality or other resource-hogging applications on it.

    The display on the new Moto X has also been brought up to snuff with a 5.2-inch AMOLED 1080p retina blaster capable of 423 pixels per inch, a nice bump from the 316 ppi, 720p display on the original. You might find slightly better displays on other big name phones like the iPhone 6 or Galaxy S5 that are a bit easier on the eyes under direct sunlight or offer superior color accuracy, but the new Moto X is competitive enough in this area that most consumers shouldn't notice the difference.

    The new Moto X display has grown to 5.2 inches (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
    The new Moto X display has grown to 5.2 inches (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)

    But what about that new, larger size? Plenty of Android fans I talk to see it as a key selling point, and I'm typically a fan of phones that approach the increasingly common phablet size. But even as I was talking about my affinity for the bulky Galaxy Mega last year, I was also becoming quite accustomed to the feel of the original 4.7-inch Moto X.

    In terms of how it feels in your hand, I've come to believe that 4.7 inches is actually the perfect fit for me, and the original Moto X's rounded back and that little dimple on its rear have made it my favorite phone to hold ... ever, even more so than the iPhone 6 with its remarkably thin profile. However, there are plenty of other advantages to a larger screen that must also be acknowledged. The new 5.2-inch Moto X does somehow feel like a more capable device with that extra half-inch of screen space delivering more pixels and more room for fat fingers to fly around the display.

    The death of "clear pixel"

    At the original Moto X reveal event in New York in 2013, Motorola's team put a lot of emphasis on something they called "clear pixel" technology that would be the key to making what was basically middling photography hardware great. There was no mention of clear pixel at this year's revealing of the successor, as the original Moto X camera has come to be seen as one of the most notable weaknesses on an otherwise notable device.

    Instead, Motorola has finally given its flagship phone the top line camera it deserves. The new Moto X shooter is capable of taking 13-megapixel pictures with the help of a nifty ring flash. It also captures video with resolution up to 4K, which makes it seem as though the company is actually overcompensating a bit for the original shortcomings of the previous generation.

    Here are a few samples of what it can do:

    Moto X took this photo for me a split second before I hit the trigger myself and it turned out to be a better shot (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
    Moto X took this photo for me a split second before I hit the trigger myself and it turned out to be a better shot (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)

    This was a very dark shot that utilized the flash on the Moto X:

    A low light shot captured with the ring flash on the Moto X (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
    A low light shot captured with the ring flash on the Moto X (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)

    A soft(ware) touch

    What really sets the Moto X apart from other Android phones is that it takes the best approach out there to adding software features. It starts with what is essentially vanilla stock Android and then manages to refrain from adding most of the bloatware seen on Samsung devices.

    Instead, Motorola has cooked up a handful of truly unique and useful added features, including voice control with Moto Voice, limited and simple but handy gesture controls, and Moto Assist, which tries to determine your current environment and help out by reading text messages while driving or silencing notifications at night and during meetings.

    Motorola's software tweaks don't get in the way of stock Android (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
    Motorola's software tweaks don't get in the way of stock Android (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)

    Thanks to its few years as a Google company and its minimalist approach to software, the Moto X has been able to receive the latest Android updates quickly. This is something that Motorola promises will continue with the new Moto X, but it remains to be seen how this will play out once Lenovo takes ownership of the company in the coming months.

    For now, though, I like to think of the Moto experience as "Nexus plus." It comes with the feel of pure, unsullied Android but with key extras that have become more powerful and customizable over the past year.

    What was called "touchless control" in the original is now "Moto Voice," providing the same access to Google Now using only your voice, but you're no longer forced to use "Ok, Google Now" as the trigger phrase. You can set it to awaken when it hears something like "Ok. Moto X" or "Watson, come here, I need you." The functionality of voice control is also expanded and the new Moto X now allows you to interact with certain apps like Facebook and Whatsapp without ever touching your device.

    Moto Voice still allows for touchless control (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
    Moto Voice still allows for touchless control (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)

    Other phones offer similar voice control, but while it isn't perfect, Moto Voice is the best execution I've seen. The new Moto X sports four microphones, adding an extra listening point over the original. Even Siri doesn't listen for your commands at all times: she only does so when your iPhone 6 is plugged in.

    Another Motorola software tweak that's hard to live without once you've grown accustomed to it is Moto Display (previously called "active display"). As with the original Moto X, the display pulses on and off when locked and at rest, showing you the time and the three latest notification icons (the original Moto X just showed the single most recent notification). Touch any of the icons and you'll get more details without having to unlock the phone.

    The new Moto X also uses new IR sensors on its front face to get even smarter about when to display that information – simply move your hand towards the screen and Moto Display will activate. The same system also silences incoming calls or alarms with a simple wave of a hand over the screen. In the past I've downloaded third party apps that add this function to Android phones, but they tended to drain the battery or affect performance in other ways, neither of which are a problem with the integrated "Moto Actions" on the Moto X.

    A wave of the hand can dismiss a call (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
    A wave of the hand can dismiss a call (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)

    Oh, and yes, you can still do that cool twist of the wrist gesture to load the camera app on demand, which was one of my favorite shortcuts on the original.

    Sealing the deal

    So, the Moto X provides competitive hardware with a delightful yet unappreciated design and just the right amount of cool software features to grab the interest of your friends at a dinner party. But what really makes it a device deserving of much more attention is the fact that all this comes at literally half the price of other, more popular phones that start with the letter "i" and rhyme with "tone tricks."

    On a contract on the major American carriers, the new Moto X is available for just US$99, and it can be had unlocked for as little as $499. And of course, this comes with the ability to customize your phone's back panel and color scheme through Moto Maker, and even upgrade to unique materials like leather or wood. I've been using a leather-backed Moto X for the past few weeks and it certainly has a nice premium feel to it, although it seems weird to go for a jog holding a piece of leather in my sweaty palm.

    The new Moto X (2014) and the Moto 360 smartwatch (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)
    The new Moto X (2014) and the Moto 360 smartwatch (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)

    In conclusion, the Moto X should be considered alongside the iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S5 as one of the top smartphone options available today. And I haven't even mentioned the fact that it pairs nicely with the best smartwatch around, the Moto 360, or the upcoming Moto Hint smart Bluetooth earbud that we're still waiting to try out.

    So if you believe in creating a more just and equitable world for devices from companies without the marketing budgets of certain Korean behemoths or the cultish following of those with fruit in their logos, please give the Moto X a long, hard look.

    24 comments
    Anne Ominous
    I don't think that's entirely fair. Motorola is an American company name nearly 100 years old. It did very well for a very long time. It has suffered since from what I see as rather selfish outsourcing by a giant corp. or two which I won't bother to mention. It's hardly a "lame duck", except to the extent that its recent acquisitions forced it to be. Motorola had a very big lock on some of the very early cell phone market, and then went crazy with its StarTac and then Razr. It might have kept doing so if it had not been for the wars for cell-phone space from giant companies that were neither historically involved, or innovators in that space (like Google). It just goes to show how oligopoly-type power distorts markets and can send even good historical brands under. Motorola is not dead. But neither is it anything like it used to be. Maybe that will change again. Who knows?
    hkmk23
    And of course the really important stuff is as usual not relevant to this article....... What is the maximum sd card size? Has it even got an sd card slot? Has it got dual sim slots? (Some of us travel to different countries you know)...... Has it got GPS? Has it got a compass?(Chinese clone recently bought had no compass).
    Bam Bear
    Best part of this article is when the author hits you in the face with "In conclusion" was this written by a 7th grader? The Moto X has nothing to offer hardware wise than the M8 or S5 any really any Nokia on the market at present excluding its entry level phones. How the author failed to mention GPS, Compass, SIM slots or even type, SD card compatibility and still make it to print show's gizmag editing is getting sloppy. Come on gizmag you're better than this.
    Ryan Mason
    lmao he explains the reasons this phone is great @hkmk23 and your issue with the review is no sd card slot info? first off it dosent have one and its not really needed to be honest the average user talks about how much of a big deal it is but in all honesty most people i know who add all the extra memory dont even use it they just want the security of having that extra memory. also not sure what phone in that last few years dosent include gps.. its an android phone i dont think any phone hasnt had gps in a flagship device. but to answer your question yes it has gps. oh and yes there is a compass as well, not sure why people by clone phones and compare the features as if its the same phone. the moto x is an amazing device it works and it works well and when offered up with the moto hint and 360 its the best phone on the market as far as i can see in terms of overall value and performance.
    rdunning0823
    What about the phone part itself? How is the audio? How good is the speaker phone? That's a critical differentiator for most buyers of a smart phone.
    HighPockets
    Eric - I chided you for being slow with this review and now wish to apologize. Given the specs and possibilities, I don't doubt it took time to complete your analysis. I have the original Moto X with which I am mightily pleased. (I do my homework,) Having finished your review, I am off to the Verizon store to upgrade ahead of schedule. I wholly agree with Mr. Mason and hope Moto X and its very helpful characteristics become more widely known and accepted.
    patrick874
    Oh my the all mighty moto x. In 2014 finally they managed to release a vanilla android for $500 about time. This article is so Biased for starters what is the compariso group here? Specs compared? Where r the awesome features that make moto x stand out(voice commands is nothing new even bb has it nowdays)? If there is nothing why not just pick up Opo for $300 and get better os.
    James Kirk
    I'm sure the Moto X is a truly great phone but for some of us $499. is too much to pay for even a great piece of technology. I got my Moto E for $129. shortly after it came out and am perfectly happy with it. Sure, it doesn't have the size or specs of its larger and stronger sibling, but it doesn't break the bank either. For less than a fourth of the cost of an unlocked Moto X I've got a good Android phone and don't have to feel like I'm engaging in conspicuous consumption. And I'm not jealous of you Moto X owners. At least, not more than a little.
    Go Faster
    The new Moto X is AWESOME. I had an iPhone 6 for a week but I went into the store to take care of some contract issues and while waiting started playing with the new Moto X and was amazed. Siri cant touch the Moto Voice and it's always on. I get around 13-16 hours and that's checking emails, talk and text and youtube videos. SOUND quality is superb and it's louder that the M8. No dropped calls and no lag. Almost Pure Android and the features thay added are not intrusive. If you dont want them the turn them off. Easy
    Daishi
    I think the reason phones like Moto X avoid using an SD card is because it requires royalty payments to Microsoft to use the FAT filesystem that is part of the MicroSD standard. Apparently the Motorola FRAND patents aren't worth anything because they are standards-required but the same standard doesn't apply to the FAT filesystem required to meet MicroSD spec. There are other patents involved but I read a report recently that Samsung was giving Microsoft close to a $ 1 billion/year in patent licensing and they receive $5 - $15 and FAT patents are definitely part of that. To Samsungs credit there are many people who have a shopping list with checkboxes that look like Flagship phone, MicroSD support, and removable battery that rules out a lot of possible contenders. Samsung certainly didn't get as popular as they are because people loved TouchWiz so much. Honestly though, if Google is going to leave out MicroSD support I would have liked to see larger native storage options than either 16 or 32GB. I don't know anyone in a first world country who is sweating the cost difference between paying $100 on contract or $200 on contract for a phone every 2 years. $100 over 2 years is a cost savings of $4/month. When iPhone sells 20 million phones in a week and you have people sleeping on the streets for days to get one, and people selling them in China for $1,500 a month early /someone/ at Motorola has to be scratching their head saying to themselves "do people even want cheaper phones?" When there is that much demand for most expensive phones on the market is it really worth taking that huge of a hit to sales figures just to save people $100 over 2 years? Moto X, G, and E are technical marvels that largely fail to understand the market.