Image Quality and Performance

The new Moto X comes with all-around high-end specs and, as usual on Motorola smartphones, the installed version of the Android operating system is very close to Google's "pure" version, with only a few select pieces of Motorola software added. This means the new Moto X feels very snappy and responsive in general use. There is no dedicated camera button but a left swipe of the camera icon on the lock screen will get you ready for a shot in around two seconds. Tapping the camera icon on the home screen opens the app in approximately one second and as before you can also open the camera by holding the phone and quickly twisting your wrist twice. This works surprisingly well after a few trial runs.

A Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 system chip is making sure the new Moto X always feels snappy and smooth in operation.

Shot-to-shot times are pretty fast at approximately 2.5 frames per second. If you need more speed there is also a 5 frames per second continuous shooting mode. Simply keep your finger pressed on the screen as you tap on the shutter button. The AF is not as fast as we have seen on the Samsung Galaxy S5 or the new iPhones with their on-chip phase detection systems but does a decent job and locks on reliably in most situations. It takes under half a second in good light and slows down to around one second in dimmer conditions.

Unfortunately battery life is one of the Motorola's weak points. In normal use the Moto X's 2300 mAh battery would just about get us through the day but heavy users will have to find themselves a charger sometime in the evening.

Daylight, Low ISO

In good light the Moto X images show pretty strong saturation and contrast, giving them a “punchy” look which is in line with most competitors. Auto white balance works reliably. The metering system is generally doing a good job as well but in very bright conditions has a tendency to capture images that are just a touch too bright, which can lead to slightly higher than usual highlight clipping. This can usually be avoided by moving the exposure target. 

The lens of our test unit is sharp pretty much across the frame, with only some very minor softness toward the edges. Some minor blurring of low-contrast detail, caused by noise reduction, is noticeable at base ISO. However, it is well within acceptable limits and in line with the closest competitors in the 13MP class.

At 100% magnification some luminance noise is visible in areas of plain color, such as a blue sky, but it is finely grained and in terms of low ISO noise the Motorola is better than many of its rivals. The Moto X image output is also free of chromatic aberrations, moire patterns and other artifacts. Sharpening is quite strong but within acceptable limits and gives edges a crisp look at 100% viewing size.

ISO 50, 1/1428 s
Decent detail and finely grained noise in areas of plain color
100% crop
ISO 50, 1/1067 s
Minor highlight clipping in bright scenes is visible.
100% crop
ISO 50, 1/1428 s
Good detail and natural skin tones
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ISO 50, 1/1629 s
No chromatic aberrations on high-contrast edges
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ISO 50, 1/1428 s
The metering system deals well with this sunset scene.
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ISO 50, 1/523 s, HDR
This HDR shot shows good detail and exposure.
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Low Light, High ISO

In low light conditions the Moto X maintains good exposure and color throughout the ISO range, until the scene gets too dark for the combination of the maximum ISO setting of 1000 and the slowest shutter speed of 1/15 sec. As the light gets dimmer the camera uses slower shutter speeds in order to keep the ISO setting low. Since the Moto X has to make do without an optical image stabilization system this can result in slight softness caused by camera-shake. In low light, taking a series of shots increases your chances of having at least one totally sharp image.

When zooming in to a 100% view we can see that traces of chroma noise are starting to creep into the shadows from around ISO 250 upwards. However, overall color noise is well controlled up to the highest sensitivities. Luminance noise levels increase as soon as you go up on the ISO scale but gets more intrusive and smeared by noise reduction at ISO 500 and higher. At the highest settings 800 and 1000 fine detail suffers heavily but edge detail and color are well maintained and images are still usable at smaller output sizes, for example for sharing in social media. 

Overall the new Moto X is doing a very decent job in low light but very slow shutter speeds at higher sensitivities mean that there is an increased danger of image blur through camera shake and/or subject motion.

ISO 64, 1/119 s
At ISO 64 the image is still clean and shows good detail.
100% crop
ISO 200, 1/30 s
Luminance noise is starting to get more intrusive at ISO 200.
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ISO 250, 1/33 s
Auto WB is dealing well with mixed indoor light.
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ISO 320, 1/30 s
Fine detail is starting to suffer.
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ISO 500, 1/30 s
Images are getting softer at a 100% view.
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ISO 800, 1/24 s
Still good edge definition at ISO 800
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ISO 1000, 1/15 s
This scene is too dark for the Moto X's maximum exposure settings.
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Flash

The new Motorola Moto X's dual-LED ring flash produces illumination that is a touch softer, with less harsh shadows, than what we have seen on other smartphone cameras in this class. However, the camera tends to pick very high ISO settings when shooting with flash. This results in some background detail, even in dark shooting environments, but can also occasionally lead to slightly overexposed subjects.

The exposure system is opting for slow shutter speeds when using the flash and like pretty much all smartphone LED flashes the Moto X unit is not powerful enough to freeze motion which means there is an increased danger of image blur through subject motion. White balance can be a little unstable when flash is mixed with ambient light but red-eye effect is very well under control.

ISO 800, 1/25 s
Slight overexposure on the subjects' skin tones.
100% crop
ISO 800, 1/27 s
Slight softness caused by subject motion.
100% crop