Three things help make the Pure a great point-and-shoot: the interface is dead-simple; HDR is set to automatic by default; and the sensor is a pro at sucking up light. My sample shots were always crips and generally well saturated (though the HDR mode is a little heavy-handed sometimes). The thing is, it isn't always great at capturing the finer details of a scene, especially when things get dim. When snapping a shot of some graffiti, the Galaxy Note 5 produced subtler colors and was better at picking up the divots and texture of the concrete wall under the paint. The Moto X, on the other hand, delivered punchy colors (even without HDR) while missing some of that extra detail. It's an unfortunate trade-off, though in most situations the X is great. The occasional subpar photo only helps emphasize how well it normally performs. Even the wide-angle, 5-megapixel selfie camera does well, which is good news for terminally vain folks like me.
Ironically, I think Motorola's idiot-proof camera interface might do as much bad as good. The feeling of firing off a photo in no time flat is powerful, but the sparseness of the app is starting to feel too simplistic. Photos shot from the hip still look pretty good, but I suspect users would benefit from having just a few more controls available from the start. The camera sure is fast, though. And speaking of controls, there still aren't all that many to play with at all; besides HDR, you've got a low-light mode that's only mildly helpful, flash settings, tap-to-focus and a video mode toggle. Video, by the way, is nicely detailed (especially at 4K) and the camera is adept at switching focus when objects drift in and out of view. All told, Motorola put together a lovely camera that's leagues better than what its previous phones had to offer. Too bad the competition is so stiff.
Performance and battery life
Part of building a good cheap phone is knowing what compromises to make. In this case, Motorola chose the Snapdragon 808 chip over the faster Snapdragon 810. The benchmarks spell out what we all sort of knew in the first place: The Moto X just isn't as powerful as some of its rivals. This slight deficit manifests in a few ways, some more notable than others. The Pure Edition isn't as strong a performer at graphically intense tasks like playing games, although it'll still get you through a few laps in Asphalt 8 at the highest quality level without any trouble.
You'll also notice a hint of lag when doing typical Android system stuff; swiping into Google Now, launching apps and sifting through your running software can sometimes take a hair longer than you'd hope. An extra gig of RAM really would have helped, but make no mistake: The Pure Edition is in no way a slowpoke. It's a speed machine in its own right, just not as crazy-fast as the Galaxy Note 5 or the OnePlus 2. In fact, the distinction is often slight enough that most people might not even notice.
The X's 3,000mAh battery generally does a good job holding out throughout the day. My slightly ridiculous workdays are well-documented in these reviews, and the Moto X usually survived a 14-hour onslaught of Slack messages and YouTube videos with about 30 percent still left in the tank. I've never had an issue with the battery dying prematurely on me, but it didn't fare nearly as well in our standard Engadget rundown test: It only lasted about nine hours looping a 720p video with WiFi on and screen brightness set to 50 percent. In comparison, the LG G4 managed nearly 11 hours with similar specs. I'm still trying to figure out what's causing this gap, and I'll update this review with any new findings. On the plus side, with the included Turbo Charger, it only took around 25 minutes to go from bone-dry to 50 percent full. The last half of the charging process takes a little longer, so expect to sit around for about an hour and 10 minutes for a full 0-to-100 percent charge.
You're not going to get the Moto X Pure Edition straight from a US wireless carrier, which means you're not going to see subsidies or price breaks for long-term ownership. That makes it tough to find direct rivals, but we can still think of some other options. If you're fine with having to go through an invite system, the OnePlus 2 might well be the Pure Edition's biggest rival. It offers plenty of horsepower and smooth performance, along with a handsome (if slightly clunky) design. Be aware, though, that the basic $329 model only has 16GB of storage and there's no NFC -- a bummer if you were hoping to get on the Android Pay bandwagon. LG's G4 is a great option too, and shares many of the same specs as the Pure Edition. Throw in a great camera, a removable battery and expandable memory and you've got a hell of a Moto X alternative... if you don't mind LG's extensive software changes.
You might also consider the Axon, another contract-free powerhouse from ZTE. It squeezes most of the same components as the OnePlus 2 into a chubby metallic body, and it's got some of the best audio you'll find on a cheap phone, too. Just beware of its memory limitations: You only get 32GB or 64GB of storage and there's no memory card slot. Then you've got the Galaxy Note 5, which has longer battery life and a more impressive screen despite having the same dimensions and pixel density as the Moto X Pure. The signature S Pen has finally made the leap from gimmick to truly helpful tool, but the steep price and skinned software will make it a bitter pill for some.
The last two years have seen Motorola take huge leaps in the quality of its flagships, so it's no shock that the Pure Edition is the best phone the company has ever made. Sure, it might not be the most technically powerful device out there, but it makes up for it with a comfortable, customizable chassis, and truly useful software additions. Expandable memory? Fast and frequent Android updates? All just icing on the cake. Its mixed performance in our battery tests was slightly concerning, and it would've been nice to see the company whip out a Samsung-level camera, but Motorola's got a first-rate contender here -- and you don't even need an invite to buy one.