Moto X vs. Droid Turbo: Which one's right for you?

Some practical guidance on two of the year's most interesting phones -- based on weeks of living with them and comparing them side by side.

Moto X vs Droid Turbo

Two sibling phones. One is sleek and sophisticated -- beautiful to the eye and a treat to hold. The other is more industrial -- far less refined but super rugged and oozing with power. So which is the better device? 

With Motorola's 2014 Moto X and Droid Turbo now on store shelves, that's the question many a smartphone shopper will soon be facing. The Moto X and Droid Turbo share lots of DNA and are incredibly similar -- yet at the same time, they're very different types of devices.

The real question, then, isn't which is better but rather which is right for you. And after living with both phones for a fair amount of time, I think I can help you sort that out.

Let's start by breaking down the key differences -- practically speaking -- between the two phones:

1. Style and design

This is a big one. The Moto X is by far the nicer phone in terms of form, with its subtle curves and customizable selection of wooden, leather, and soft-touch plastic materials. It's one of the most elegant and ergonomic smartphones you can get your hands on today. 

The Droid Turbo, on the other hand, is unapologetically utilitarian. It's a hair taller and wider than the X and meaningfully thicker and heavier. And instead of the gently curved and comfortable-feeling back, it has a roughly textured "ballistic nylon" or loudly patterned "metalized glass fiber" casing with a layer of Kevlar beneath it.

Moto X vs Droid Turbo (side)

A Moto sandwich: The Moto X (top) comes face to face with the Droid Turbo (bottom)

The industrial makeover extends all the way to the Motorola "dimple" on the back of the phone. While the X has a smooth, metallic indentation on which you can rest your finger while holding the device, the Turbo has a roughly textured black circle that reminds me of an emery board. No exaggeration: It actually sends shivers down my spine every time I rub my finger over it.

Moto X vs Droid Turbo (back)

Do you like it rough? The Moto X (left) and Droid Turbo (right)

Suffice it to say, we're talking two wildly different vibes here -- and you know what? They're different by design. The Turbo's industrial and in-your-face style is very much in line with the Droid family tradition. It's likely to appeal to a different type of shopper than someone who'd be attracted to the X's more refined styling.

So ask yourself: Do you prefer beauty or brawn? Mull it over as we move onward.

2. Stamina

Form aside, the most meaningful difference between the Moto X and the Droid Turbo is in the realm of battery life. The Turbo's bulked-up form allows it to have a beefier battery, which means it can last considerably longer on a single charge. 

The real question is how much power you normally need. During my time with the Moto X, I've had no trouble making it through a full day even with moderate to heavy use -- as much as three to four hours of mixed-use screen-on time. For most people most of the time, that'll probably be enough.

If you use your phone a lot, though, and want to be sure you'll never run out of juice, the Droid Turbo is practically bulletproof: With that same level of use, I've consistently ended days with 40 to 50 percent of that phone's charge remaining.

The Turbo supports wireless charging as well, while the Moto X does not. Both phones support Motorola's speedy-charging Turbo Charger accessory, though you'll have to pony up an extra 35 bucks to get it with the X while it's included with the Turbo (but wait till we get to item #8 before passing any judgment on that...).

3. Camera

Ready for a surprise? The Moto X actually has the better camera of the two phones -- though we're talking a fairly small difference.

Yes, the Droid Turbo has a 21-megapixel shooter compared to the X's 13MP setup. But numbers only mean so much; the megapixel count alone just indicates that the Turbo's images are going to be bigger, which isn't especially important. 

When it comes to actual image quality, the Moto X's auto-HDR mode seems to work more aggressively and reliably than the Turbo's, which often allows it to capture more vivid and realistic-looking photos without any effort on your behalf. And even when HDR isn't active on either device, the X's images frequently look a bit sharper and more well-balanced to my eye.

Moto X Camera Sample
Droid Turbo Camera Sample

In the same exact environment, the Moto X -- at top -- often activates HDR on its own while the Droid Turbo -- at bottom -- does not (click either image to view at full resolution)

The one exception is in low-light environments, where the Turbo pulls ahead and delivers superior results -- but that aside, I'd give the slight edge to the Moto X in the imaging department.

Also of note, the Turbo is consistently slower at capturing photos than the X: Side by side with all things equal, it always seems to take about a second longer from the time I tap the screen to the time the photo is taken and I'm able to move on. A second may not sound like much, but it's enough to make things feel considerably less snappy -- especially when a photogenic moment is passing by.

4. Speaker

The Droid Turbo's speaker is on the top of its face; the Moto X's is on the bottom. They're both front-facing, so the differences in placement aren't terribly significant -- but the Moto X's definitely sounds better. Louder, fuller, and with zero distortion even when music's being played at full blast. 

The Turbo's speaker is still decent -- better than what you'll get on most other phones, HTC One (M8) aside -- but it's just okay. Not as exceptional as the X's.

5. Software

This one's not necessarily a huge deal, but there's enough of a difference to make it worth mentioning: While both devices have the same basic software setup, with a nearly stock Google Android user interface and Motorola's excellent set of feature additions, the Droid Turbo has a bit of UI meddling that isn't present on the Moto X.

As I noted in my review, it's all relatively subtle and easy enough to avoid or ignore -- a few tweaked icons, some "Verizon Cloud" silliness integrated in here and there, a strangely modified version of the Google Now Launcher in which the Google Now panel is M.I.A. -- but most of us would just as soon have a phone that doesn't have that kind of stuff present, given the choice.

The other thing to consider is the effect that could have on upgrades: With their less standard software, Droid devices have been a bit behind the regular Moto-branded phones when it comes to OS upgrades in the recent past. And with the Android 5.0 Lollipop release right around the corner, the possibility of having to wait an extra month or two might be significant for some people.

6. Buttons

The Moto X has the standard Android on-screen buttons for Back, Home, and Recent Apps while the Droid Turbo for some reason goes back in time to the era of capacitive keys for those same functions. 

Should you care? Maybe: While the capacitive keys do make the screen seem slightly bigger, they also introduce some awkward downsides. You can see my review for the full scoop, but it's absolutely something you'll want to take into consideration -- especially with Lollipop on the horizon.

7. Carrier

The Moto X is available unlocked and compatible with any carrier; the Droid Turbo is configured to work only with Verizon. (Motorola did announce a slightly modified version of the phone called the Moto Maxx today, but it's currently being offered only in Brazil, Mexico, and other Latin American countries. In the U.S., the device is likely to remain limited to Verizon for the foreseeable future.)

8. Cost

This one's pretty black and white: The Turbo starts at $200 on contract or $600 unsubsidized while the Moto X starts at $100 on contract or $500 unsubsidized. That may or may not matter to you, but it has to be mentioned.

Hey, what about the other stuff?!

Yeah, yeah -- I know: The Droid Turbo has a Quad HD display while the Moto X has a 1080p screen and the Turbo has a 2.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor with 3GB of RAM while the X has a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB of RAM. If specs alone excite you, by all means factor that into your decision.

For most of us, though, those numbers really don't matter. After living with both devices individually and then studying them closely side by side, I can tell you that there's no real discernible difference between the phones when it comes to performance or display quality. Higher numbers don't automatically equal a superior experience, and in real-world terms, these changes don't amount to much.

Putting it all together...

All right -- so which phone's right for you? If you still aren't sure, I'd say this:

• If you're committed to Verizon and need a durable phone and/or exceptional stamina -- and don't mind paying a bit more for it -- the Droid Turbo is a great choice to consider. It gives you a lot of the standout qualities of the Moto X in a more rugged body and with battery life that'll support even the most extreme usage habits.

• If you value specs above all else and want the most cutting-edge hardware regardless of its practical impact -- and are committed to Verizon -- go with the Droid Turbo. It's got what you want.

• If you just prefer the rugged and industrial vibe -- and (you guessed it) are okay with using Verizon -- get the Turbo. Easy enough, right?

If those conditions don't apply to you, I'd recommend the Moto X. From its physical form and design to its speaker, software, and button setup, it's generally just the nicer and more pleasant-to-use device -- not to mention the cheaper option and the more versatile phone in terms of carrier compatibility. True, its stamina isn't at the exceptionally high level of the Turbo's, but the majority of smartphone users also don't typically need battery life quite that strong.

It all comes down to your own priorities and what tradeoffs you're willing to make to get them. Think of it like this: The Droid Turbo is a specialty phone for folks who need extreme stamina and/or an extra-rugged device -- and are willing to sacrifice things like sleekness and design in exchange for those qualities. The Moto X is the more mainstream phone that strikes a balance to provide the best all-around experience for most people.

Our ever-expanding array of options can get a little overwhelming, but that's why I'm here to help. At the end of the day, choice is a wonderful thing -- and boy, oh boy, do we have a lot of it.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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