Moto X Pure Edition vs. 2014 Moto X: Worth the upgrade?

To upgrade or not to upgrade? This detailed guide, based on months of real-world usage, will help you decide.

Moto X Pure Edition vs 2014 Moto X
JR Raphael, IDG

If I didn't know any better, I'd think Motorola had developed a serious steroid problem.

You know what I'm talking about, right? The company's flagship Moto X phone has been bulking up big time from year to year -- and this summer's new Moto X Pure Edition is the beefiest version yet.

But as I learned while getting to know the device over the past several days, size isn't the only thing that sets the phone apart from its predecessor. The new Moto X features a number of significant changes -- some positive and some, well, kind of puzzling. So all combined, is it a significant enough step forward to be worth the upgrade from the 2014 model?

I just finished reviewing the new Moto X, and I've lived with the 2014 Moto X as my own personal phone for the past year. From the perspective of someone who knows the Moto X well, here's a detailed look at how the new phone compares with the previous version -- and some food for thought on whether it's worth your while.

1. The size

Let's start with the biggest change (quite literally) -- because no two ways about it, the new Moto X is meaningfully bigger than the 2014 model. And that may be a make-or-break factor for a lot of folks thinking about upgrading.

The Moto X Pure Edition takes Motorola's flagship firmly into "plus-sized" terrain, with a 5.7-in. display and a frame that's basically the same size as Samsung's Galaxy Note 5. In other words, this ain't no compact device.

More than ever these days, though, smartphone size is a relative thing. While the Moto X Pure Edition looks like a giant compared to the original 2013 Moto X, its footprint is less of a leap from last year's model. And in the grand scheme of the current smartphone spectrum, its dimensions really don't seem that unusual.

Moto X Pure Edition vs 2014 vs 2013

Small, bigger, biggest: The 2013 Moto X, the 2014 Moto X (in wood), and the Moto X Pure Edition

What's interesting is that despite its substantial boost in screen size -- 5.7 in. compared to last year's 5.2-in. display -- the Moto X Pure Edition is actually only about a tenth of an inch wider than the 2014 model. Believe it or not, that means a lot: As I've learned while using various big-screened phones over the years, the width is what tends to make a larger device especially uncomfortable to hold. With manufacturers getting better at slimming down bezels and keeping that measurement in check, today's plus-sized smartphones feel far less unwieldy than their ancestors did.

But hold the phone: The width isn't the whole story. While the waistline hasn't expanded by as much as you might expect, the new Moto X is significantly taller than the 2014 model -- 6.1 in. in height compared to last year's 5.5-in. span. That's more than half an inch in difference, which is no small amount.

Moto X Pure Edition vs 2014 Moto X: Size

Size matters: The Moto X Pure Edition alongside the 2014 Moto X

And in day-to-day usage, all those extra decimals add up. As I said in my review:

I do find that the extra smidgen of width combined with the added height makes a phone of this size somewhat awkward to use single-handedly -- you just can't reach everything on the screen without fumbling around and doing a lot of shifting. The height also makes it a touch too large to carry comfortably; even in my decidedly untrendy loose-fitting pants and shorts, I'm always acutely aware of its presence. I often find myself having to move it around in my pocket to keep it from falling out in places like the car or the gym.

(Insert wildly inappropriate double-entendre joke here.)

Some people love the idea of a bigger phone; some people loathe it. Personally, I'd sum it up like this: I'm able to get used to the size of the new Moto X easily enough, and I usually don't mind carrying it -- but at the same time, I feel a sense of relief when I switch back to my smaller and more ergonomic 2014 model. Your mileage may or may not vary.

2. The screen

Big phone, big display. That much is obvious -- and as you'd expect, there are certain advantages to having more screen real estate in your pocket. With most apps, you end up seeing more content on the screen at any given time. And with full-screen apps like video players, the content itself appears larger.

But the Moto X's display evolution isn't limited to its size. The new Pure Edition switches from an AMOLED to an LCD panel -- and that makes a noticeable difference in how the screen looks and performs.

As I mentioned in my review, a lot of this is nitpicky. For all practical purposes, the new Moto X's screen is certainly fine, and most average users aren't going to give it an ounce of thought. If you're coming from a previous-gen Moto X, though -- and/or if you're a techie or Android enthusiast -- you may notice a few eye-catching things.

First, whites on the new Pure Edition are less yellowy than they appear on the 2014 Moto X -- a good change. At the same time, however, colors are noticeably less bold and sometimes even a little washed-out in comparison to how they look on the 2014 phone. And it's not just photos where the difference is evident: You can see it in everything down to elements of the UI. Areas filled with deep, bold colors on most AMOLED screens look almost pastel-like on the Pure Edition.

Truthfully, even the most astute Android fanatics might not pick up on these differences without looking at the phones side by side. But they're quite apparent when you go from one device directly to the other.

And then there's the effect the LCD screen has on Moto Display -- one of my favorite features of a Moto X phone. I went into a lot of detail about it in my review, so I'll refer you there for the full discussion. In short, though, LCD just doesn't play well with Moto Display, and while the feature is still useful on the new Moto X, its implementation feels like a real step down from how it's worked in the past.

3. The style

One area that's stayed mostly the same from the 2014 Moto X to the new Pure Edition is the general style and design. This year's updated model really just looks like a blown-up version of the previous phone, with the same curved shape, metal frame, and various plastic, leather, and real-wood backs.

There are some areas where the form has evolved -- a new metallic strip replacing the Moto "dimple" on the back, a different finish on the plastic and leather backs, and a new white-colored flash module that sits alongside the front-facing camera in case you want to light yourself up while taking selfies. (I wouldn't recommend doing so, incidentally, unless you enjoy being blinded and then seeing spots for 10 to 12 minutes.)

Moto X Pure Edition vs 2014 Moto X: Backs

Details, details: The 2014 Moto X (left) and the new Pure Edition (right) have similar designs with some subtle differences

But all in all, if you like the style of last year's phone, you're probably going to like the style of this one. Easy enough.

4. The stamina

The Moto X Pure Edition is generally fine in the realm of stamina -- nothing extraordinary, but well within the acceptably average and should-be-sufficient-for-most-folks range.

Interestingly, its battery life is pretty close to (and maybe just a bit above) what I experienced when I first reviewed and then purchased the 2014 Moto X. My phone's stamina took a major hit after the Android 5.1 upgrade, though -- which is a shame, as that upgrade went a long way in smoothing out the Lollipop experience and improving most other areas. A factory reset helped a little, but not much.

So the new Pure Edition is definitely a step forward in that regard, but -- in my experience, at least -- it's not a huge difference from where the 2014 Moto X started back when it launched.

5. The camera

Motorola and cameras sure do have a checkered past, eh? But let's be honest: While the 2014 Moto X tends to get a pretty bad rap in the imaging department, the phone truly doesn't have a horrible camera. It has a pretty good camera that's just not entirely consistent or well-suited for low-light photography.

The new Moto X Pure Edition is kind of in the same boat, only at a somewhat higher level -- better detail, better color reproduction, and less loss of fine detail. It's a bit better in low light, too, though still not great. It's a step up, to be sure, but the improvement really isn't as dramatic as you might think -- especially in most normal (i.e. not zoomed into full resolution and studying closely) viewing situations.

Once again, we're talking generally good but not exceptional -- perfectly suited for most on-the-go photo-snapping purposes but not at the level of a top-notch smartphone camera like the one on the Galaxy Note 5. (Reality check: If the new Moto X had a camera as good as the Galaxy Note's, it probably wouldn't cost $400.)

You can see for yourself in my Moto X Pure Edition vs. 2014 Moto X camera gallery -- and, for perspective, my Galaxy Note 5 vs. Moto X Pure Edition head-to-head gallery.

6. The bells and whistles

A few other generational differences worth mentioning:

  • Storage. The new Moto X Pure Edition has a microSD card slot; the 2014 model does not.
  • Audio. The new Moto X has dual front-facing speakers; the 2014 model has just a single front-facing speaker.
  • Charging. The new Moto X has an even faster Turbo Charge (aka Quick Charge) system than the previous model. Nothing transformational, but it's definitely fast. The phone also comes with the charger you need to take advantage of that feature, whereas the 2014 device required you to purchase one separately.
  • Compatibility. This year's Moto X is a single model that works with any U.S. carrier -- so if you ever want to change your service, all you have to do is swap out the SIM. No need to change phones or let the carriers get involved with your hardware.

Last but not least: This isn't exactly a bell or whistle, but it's worth noting that as of now, the new Pure Edition phone has some strange though relatively minor performance-related issues -- some jerkiness in system animations, to be precise. The 2014 phone actually feels noticeably smoother in day-to-day use (as does the original 2013 model), which is weird. As I mentioned in my review, I can only hope this is something an upcoming software update will address.

And that's about it: You're looking at the same excellent near-stock Android Lollipop software, the same superb Motorola feature additions (with one nifty new gesture thrown into the mix), and the same outstanding overall user experience. The areas mentioned above are the main places where things differ.

So -- to upgrade or not to upgrade?

I'll be honest: The answer to this question isn't nearly as clear as I expected it to be going into this review. Like a lot of people, I figured the Moto X Pure Edition would be a bigger and better Moto X, period. But it turns out there's a lot more to it than that.

The first and most significant thing to consider, of course, is if you really want to move up to a phone of this size. It's a personal choice, and there is no universal right answer: For some people, going bigger might be an improvement; for others, it's a compromise. Either way, it's going to be the change you notice the most in moving from the 2014 model to this new edition.

While you're noodling over that hefty matzo ball, ask yourself how much the difference in display matters to you -- both the saturation issue I described above and the way the LCD panel negatively impacts the Moto Display feature. Ironically, even though the Pure Edition's screen has Quad HD resolution while the 2014 model's is "only" 1080p, the new Moto X feels like a step down in display quality in many regards. (I've said it before and I'll say it again: Resolution only means so much once you reach a certain point.)

Then think carefully about whether some stuttering in system animations is gonna drive you crazy. I'm optimistic that'll be resolved sooner than later, but as we've learned many times before, you can't judge a phone based on what "might be"; you have to look at it for what it is right now.

Finally, mull over how much the Moto X Pure Edition's main improvements mean to you: the bumps in stamina and camera quality, the addition of external storage, the addition of a second front-facing speaker, and the ability to use the phone on any carrier.

Once you've got your noggin wrapped around all that, it's just a matter of weighing the pros with the cons and deciding if the net total makes it a worthwhile upgrade for you.

Still not sure? Allow me to provide some general guidance and perspective: The new Moto X Pure Edition is a standout smartphone with a lot of compelling features and a top-notch user experience. At $400 unlocked, it provides an insane level of value that makes it difficult to justify spending twice as much on another flagship -- even if that other flagship does have a better camera and a nicer display. Plain and simple, "good enough" has gotten pretty darn good these days, and the huge gap in price between this level and the next is enough to make anyone think twice.

For those reasons, I'd easily recommend the new Moto X to any smartphone shopper who wants a lovely all-around experience and can live with the device's limitations. And truth be told, I think the majority of smartphone users fall into that category.

But for someone who already owns the 2014 Moto X? I'll be blunt: I'm just not sure the total package of the Pure Edition is enough of a net-positive move forward to be worth the upgrade for most people. It's a respectable phone in and of itself, especially for the price, but it's tougher to justify as an advisable purchase for those who already have the 2014 edition. (Remember, too: The new Pure Edition is selling for $100 less than the 2014 model cost at the time of its launch. That should tell you something. The strategy behind this phone is shifting -- subtly, but meaningfully nevertheless.)

Broadly speaking, we're reaching a point where even the best phone upgrades are fairly incremental from year to year -- much like we saw with laptops some time ago, and like we inevitably see with every type of technology sooner or later. If some part of an upgrade strikes your fancy or you come across a new phone that moves you in some way, hey, go wild. But otherwise, hanging onto a device for a while really isn't that big of a deal anymore. It's not like a few years ago, when doing so would cause you to miss out on something incredible.

If the new Moto X's camera or stamina improvements mean a lot to you or if you just like the idea of having a bigger phone, by all means, get the phone and get it with gusto. But for most Moto X 2014 owners, I think those improvements are too incremental to warrant an upgrade -- and especially with the negatives that accompany them, it's a difficult move to recommend.

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