The Moto X is not a "mid-range" device, it's top-shelf

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
The Moto X is not a
Throughout the rumor phase of the Motorola Moto X, the device got the reputation of being a "mid-range" device, or being a phone that uses "last year's hardware", because people would see that the phone was rumored to have a Snapdragon S4 Pro, and simply assume the worst. It's time we all put away that misconception, because the Moto X is not a "mid-range" device, and it isn't using "last year's hardware". The Moto X is a top-tier device that can hang with any flagship on the market right now.

Let's be clear though. I'm not trying to argue that the Moto X has "cutting edge" specs or performance, because that's not the point. There are only a few devices on the market around the world that are using the Snapdragon 800, which is the "cutting edge". The point is that the current "top-of-the-line" smartphones are the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, which each run the Snapdragon 600. And, on that front, the Moto X can go toe-to-toe with either. Simply because a device isn't "cutting edge" doesn't relegate it to the "mid-tier" status unless we're prepared to drop all current flagships down a notch.

The truth behind the Motorola X8 SoC and display

We have covered Motorola's X8 processor before (twice actually), but it is worth running through it again, because some people have chosen to ignore what the chip is and what it can do, and focus on the misleading label that it has just a "dual-core CPU". Yes, the CPU of the X8 is basically what you might find in the Nexus 4, but that alone tells just a fraction of the story. As Apple has been trying to hammer home for the last couple years: the CPU of a mobile device is nowhere near as important as the GPU. And, in the GPU department, the X8 has the quad-core Adreno 320, which you would find on a Snapdragon 600 (which is the same chip that you'd find in the U.S. variant of the Samsung Galaxy S4, and the HTC One). Sure, the Snapdragon 800 has begun shipping in a few devices around the world, but it has nowhere near the widespread release needed to consider the 600 a "mid-range" SoC just yet.

Then, you can't talk about the X8 without talking about the two companion cores: one for contextual computing, and one for natural language processing. These two cores are designed to offload a fair amount of the ancillary workload from the main CPU, mostly to help with battery life. The "contextual computing core" handles all of the info from the device sensors, as well as anything run while the device is in standby mode; and, the natural language core which does exactly what it sounds like and handles voice commands, dictation, etc. 

The result is a chipset that sounds quite a bit like Samsung's much-hyped Exynos Octa with the ARM big.LITTLE design. With big.LITTLE, you have four A15 cores that can do the heavy lifting, and four A7 cores for lighter work. The limitation of the big.LITTLE design is that there is no way to mix-and-match the workload between the core clusters. This means that you either have to have the A15 cores running or the A7s, and you can't have low-priority tasks running on the A7 while doing bigger stuff with the A15s

On the other hand, the X8 is designed for multitasking, because the companion cores are always ready to go in the background. In the commercials for the Moto X, Motorola shows how you can launch Google Now without touching the device with the activation phrase, but the thing is that you can do that at any time, even if you're using the device. So, even if you're doing something on the phone that requires a lot of power, and you say "OK Google Now", that companion core will still be ready and start up when you need it. In this way, the X8 is much more sophisticated than it usually gets credit for. 

The other feature of the Moto X that is often pointed to as proof that the device is "mid-range" is the 720p display. I'll just be blunt right now: this is utter B.S. The truth is two-fold here. First, unless you have a 720p device and a 1080p device side-by-side, and you are carefully studying the displays, it is nearly impossible to see the difference between a 720p display and 1080p on a smartphone. The vast majority of users cannot, and will not notice any difference in clarity between 720p and 1080p in normal usage. However, you may notice the difference in performance, because the second truth is that the Adredo 320 in the Moto X will perform better than on the Galaxy S4 or HTC One, because it doesn't have to push as many pixels

The benchmarks

That's as good a spot as any to switch into the benchmarks side of the story, because I know that benchmarks are really the only thing that some peopel care to understand. And, here's the breakdown: the Moto X beats the Samsung Galaxy S4 in every GPU test, beats the S4 in SunSpider testing and Kraken, and scored just below the S4 in Google's Octane test. The only benchmark where the Moto X scored significantly less than the Galaxy S4 is in Geekbench, which of course is the test that you're least likely to see translate into real world performance differences. The differences in some of the GPU tests are pretty stark, and might be enough to prove that Motorola's decision to choose a less battery-hungry, and less GPU intensive 720p display was a good choice. 


The Moto X is a flagship device with a sophisticated SoC that is more like the "high-end" flagships than it is the "mid-tier" devices. The display is crisp, and has the punchy, absorbing colors that you would expect from an AMOLED display. The performance is top-notch, and as I talked about yesterday, Motorola has been careful to add value through useful feature additions, and not just loading up the device with as much bloat as possible. Add in the benchmarks, which prove that the Moto X is a legit device, and we're back at the original idea of this column: the Moto X isn't a "mid-tier" device, and it isn't using "last year's hardware". 

I could have made this a much shorter column, and simply written "When I first picked up the Moto X last night, I realized that this was not the mid-spec device that we thought it would be." And, that would have been 100% accurate. The Moto X is fast, responsive, and noticeably quicker than my Nexus 4, which really is a mid-tier device at this point. The Moto X may be eclipsed this fall as more and more devices launch with Snapdragon 800s, but right now, it is definitely a top-shelf device. 

reference: Moto X Performance testing (Ars Technica)

Related phones

Moto X
  • Display 4.7" 720 x 1280 pixels
  • Camera 10 MP / 2 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, Dual-core, 1700 MHz
  • Storage 16 GB
  • Battery 2200 mAh(13h talk time)



1. Birds

Posts: 1172; Member since: Nov 21, 2011

We all did it for the iPhone and the Z10 not even taking into consideration that the OS for both didn't call for some extremely high powered specs. In all honesty we have a false sense what is "high end" because certain OEMs believe in the idea of a specs race.

11. androidfanboy

Posts: 162; Member since: Jun 24, 2013

The iphone is low end

21. Twashbush

Posts: 47; Member since: Jun 08, 2011

AFB. I agree but only because of it's limited OS, as much as I hate apple products for their crap OS's they run very smoothly.

33. Shatter

Posts: 2036; Member since: May 29, 2013

It runs so smooth because its so limited. They didn't even have real multitasking till IOS 7.

74. bigstrudel

Posts: 621; Member since: Aug 20, 2012

And with real multitasking...IOS 7 is still completely smooth on the iPhone 5. Youre really underestimating how much work Apple put into their Custom A6 SoC which still performs up to par with ANYTHING on the market. For gods sake I can pull a 626ms Sunspider score with a 1.3ghz Dual Core. Software Optimization > Pure Hardware Muscle. Motorola is doing it right.

80. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

Multitasking on iOS 7 isn't completely smooth so stop pulling random facts from your ass. I have used a iPhone 5 for a full day, and while it's fast, it still stutters and struggles with multitasking. Given, it's still in beta, and I hope performance does get better because I'm at a 50/50 on getting the iPhone 5S.

190. Sesameopen

Posts: 109; Member since: Aug 02, 2013

No, multitasking is becoming a pain on older devices like the iPhone 4.

88. Googler

Posts: 813; Member since: Jun 10, 2013

iOS7 hasn't even been released yet, and tons of forums on the beta point to it being buggy. Stop making things up or at least wait for the official version to roll out.

262. Angelface77

Posts: 32; Member since: Sep 10, 2012

could not agree with you more, These geeks are clueless.

210. Trex95

Posts: 2383; Member since: Mar 03, 2013

Low end and based on Unix and written with an advanced and developed C++?!

78. TheLolGuy

Posts: 483; Member since: Mar 05, 2013

In terms of raw power, it's basically using a half year-old dual core S4 Pro clocked at 1.7GHz but there is a key difference as to why it performs better. It's not entirely a half year old, because it's using the new Krait 400 architecture unlike the original S4 Pro, so from what I understand it's kind of a weird fusion of new and old. Also, they made the Adreno 320 beefier too. All in all, it's a somewhat custom SoC that is definitely not low end, but not offering crowning performance in benchmarks. The reason for the higher price is simple: American manufacturing and assembly. A few days ago PA had an article showing that the American people were willing to pay more for products made in the USA. Now its time to see if you guys are the vocal minority, or if America truly doesn't want to give up those Chinese sweatshops...

219. Victor.H

Posts: 1098; Member since: May 27, 2011

A couple of points. First, it's not Krait 400, it's Krait 300. Phone Arena is a place of different authors and opinions, and this article is a good illustration. For me, the Moto X clearly features a mid-range platform that is the S4 Pro and with Snapdragon 800 devices coming in a couple of months it will grow old quickly. Moreover, all initial opinions agree that its screen and camera are not all that impressive. The problem here is not in 720p (that's a factor too) and in megapixels alone. While I disagree with Michael's opinions, I think this article makes an important point in underlining the good GPU of the Moto X. We may have different opinions, but having this discussion is important.

227. AppleHateBoy unregistered

Here's my take on the situation. 1. Moto X has a 720p display. a) 1080p over 720 display:- Higher sharpness b) 720p display over 1080p display:- Lower Power Consumption. Higher performance in Games. 2. Moto X has a dual core CPU. a) Quad Core over Dual Core:- Higher Performance b) Dual Core over Quad Core:- NO ADVANTAGE. When you don't need the extra performance, quad cores consume that same amount of power as dual cores. HOWEVER, if you need more performance the Quad Core Chip will have the extra headroom, but dual core won't. That's why having a 720p Super AMOLED Plus display isn't midrange. BUT having a dual core IS MID-RANGE.

244. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

1) You can't really see the difference between 720p and 1080p unless you are specifically looking for the differences. 2) Moto X has a dual core CPU, with 2 companion cores that deal with other aspects of the phone. If you're looking for an advantage of the Moto X's "dual core" over a quad core, just look at battery life. You'd never be able to have a quad-core CPU constantly monitoring for voice commands and still offer a full day's worth of battery.

247. AppleHateBoy unregistered

1) I don't have a 1080p phone. I only said that based on the what I have read on 15 or so review websites. It's obvious that the difference is not significant as the numbers might say. But for a lot of people, it matters. They don't want to see the pixels even if they are like 3 cm from the screen and concentrating really hard on the screen. It really satisfies their ego. You have to keep that in mind. 2) Sorry if I am being rude bud did you take note of what I said. I said "more performance". I never said that extra features like standby voice commands or the notifications turning on when you pickup the device are useless. I can bet that for some people these features are just what they needed. But you have to consider that there more countries on the planet other than USA or UK. My android phone doesn't catch my accent as good it does as for Americans or British people. Even if I specifically select the Voice-to-text pack for my country, it doesn't work as well as it should. So, for me and my country-mates (not sure if that's a word), it's just plain useless. But I admit that the notifications turning on when I pick-up the device is really cool.

257. KingKurogiii

Posts: 5713; Member since: Oct 23, 2011

so you're not really giving your take on the situation, just your take on how the Moto X stacks up to your personal needs and preferences... clearly the X8 offers advantages that the S600 simply does not...hell, the Moto X offers advantages that other Smartphones do not and could not offer unless they were using hardware with the same principals as the Moto X.

259. AppleHateBoy unregistered

+1. P.S. It was me who gave you the thumbs up.

252. itreday

Posts: 68; Member since: May 24, 2012

Dual core over quad - LESS BATTERY CONSUMPTION..

258. KingKurogiii

Posts: 5713; Member since: Oct 23, 2011

not necessarily. it would depend on how it's configured.

228. TheLolGuy

Posts: 483; Member since: Mar 05, 2013

Yeah it was too late to edit when I re-checked. But yeah, noted.

229. TheLolGuy

Posts: 483; Member since: Mar 05, 2013

I think generally most people understand that it's a great phone. Just not at the price that it is currently at. Still, at the same time, Motorola is a hardware maker, and amidst concerns, Google wanted to make clear that Motorola wouldn't get any special favors. LG, HTC, Sony etc. are all having a hard time breaking 5% of the Android marketshare, and if Motorola who was behind all of them all of a sudden vaults over them, they will disown Android and go with Windows Phone. With a little more, Samsung could get a sour taste in their mouth. It's arguable how much of the userbase will follow Samsung to Tizen, but it won't be trivial. This means that Google can't give Motorola an unfair advantage and start subsidizing the phones like crazy. They also made huge investments in American assembling and customizations never before seen for a smartphone yet. People only seem to care about the low price, but if Motorola starts matching Samsung's Android share, Motorola will become too powerful and I think its foolish for people to think that they won't act any differently than if Samsung and Apple if they got to that point...

169. akki20892

Posts: 3902; Member since: Feb 04, 2013

183. garz_pa

Posts: 154; Member since: Nov 03, 2011

You have to look beyond the cores of the CPU.

187. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2487; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

It has better specifications than the device pictured in your icon, so if you are willing to admit that a Lumia device is mid range as well then we may be on the same page.

206. whysoserious

Posts: 318; Member since: Jul 20, 2012

Agreed. This article also made me realize that it's not always about the number of cores, but how smartphone utilize these cores effectively. With that being said, it makes me think that Samsung is just using the cpu cores as a marketing strategy, so that people will think more cores is equal to better performance. But that's not the case since a lot of people are reporting about how the S4 lags, inspite of it having 1.9 ghz snap600.

266. medicci37

Posts: 1361; Member since: Nov 19, 2011

This paid article is bs. If you can't tell the difference between 720 & 1080p you need glasses. Also screen is 2 small for high end device. & if part of battery life is such a issue, they should have used the 600. Much better battery life with 600 even though it's clocked higher

2. karim77

Posts: 70; Member since: Dec 10, 2012

Nope,still a mid range device in my opinion

5. kozza3

Posts: 778; Member since: Oct 17, 2012

if it had a modified S600 with a 1080p screen would you have been happy?

19. WHoyton1

Posts: 1635; Member since: Feb 21, 2013

yes, i would have been....

272. lola99

Posts: 33; Member since: Aug 03, 2013

and if it had worse battery life as a result of that, would you have been happy?

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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