You may have noticed that most of my posts on Oppo lately have been about phones. That’s because my Moto X Pure Edition, which I’ve had since September 2015, developed a wobbly micro USB port and I’ve been trying to replace it with something new. But this has been difficult! Here’s why.

Most of you are probably like, “why would someone be so enthusiastic about a phone from 2015 that never sold amazingly well and has long since been surpassed in specs by many other flashier phones?” Well I’m here to tell you, the Moto X Pure Edition is still a Very Good Phone™. Honestly, if it had a fingerprint sensor, I’d probably just get it fixed. Motorola has never really made a true follow-up to the X Pure Edition, and that makes me sad.

The Moto X Pure is the first smartphone I’ve had that I truly thought did everything great. Before that I had a few HTC Windows phones, an iPhone 3GS, a Moto Droid Razr, a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and an LG G2. But the X Pure was the best.

Things that it does awesomely

Universal Carrier Compatibility 

This is something that, outside of iPhones and Nexus/Pixel phones, Motorola did a great job with. The X Pure is SIM unlocked, and has CDMA radios for working with Verizon, Sprint and U.S. Cellular, plus GSM, HSDPA and LTE radios for all the US and many international carriers. Unlike say, LG who makes seemingly endless versions of the same phone, the X Pure had only two SKUs. The XT1575 is the US version with the CDMA radio, the XT1572 was the EU-market version with no CDMA radio, and different LTE bands, and called the Moto X Style. As LTE bands have proliferated over the years, it doesn’t have every single one, but you’re good to go with the vast majority of US carriers.

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Screen

The Moto X Pure has a 5.7” IPS LCD qHD (2560 x 1440) screen. It doesn’t have blindingly oversaturated colors and the deepest darkest blacks like AMOLED screens, but it is a very nice screen to look at. Another thing very much in its favor is it has one of the best auto brightness implementations of any phone I’ve used. Some phones, the auto brightness is just straight up wonky, even now in 2017. The X Pure, you turn on auto brightness, but the brightness slider still works. The slider sets a baseline brightness and the auto brightness adapts to the lighting, in relation to this baseline brightness. This is really how auto brightness should work but not every phone (cough, LG V20) does it this way.

Ergonomics

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Even though it has that bigass screen, the Moto X Pure is supremely easy for me to hold one-handed. I, being a human adult male with slightly above average sized hands (I wear a size 11 shoe, if that means anything). The back of the phone is curved, so while it’s 11 mm thick in the middle, at the edges it’s much skinnier, and it’s skinniest at the corners. The side bezels are extremely minimal, so it’s one of the narrowest phones with a 5.7” screen. The only 5.7” phones that are narrower are the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (by 0.1 mm), the Galaxy S6 edge+ (0.4 mm) and Galaxy Note 7 (2.3 mm). There are many 5.5” phones that are as wide or wider than the Moto X Pure. Also, the little notch on the back of the phone under the camera lens is a perfect spot to rest your index finger, especially with a case on the phone since most cases leave the Motorola logo exposed, which gives you a nice lip to grip against.

Speakers

The Moto X Pure has dual front-facing stereo speakers. I don’t watch a ton of videos on my phone, and even less without headphones, because I also have a tablet and that’s my main device for lying in bed watching videos. But when I do watch videos on this phone, hey, wow, the speakers are pretty dang decent. I didn’t think this was a particularly remarkable feature until I went shopping for new phones and found that if I wanted to keep the carrier compatibility, not go backward in specs, and add a fingerprint sensor, my only options were the Huawei Nexus 6P and ZTE Axon 7, neither of which really appealed to me. The Nexus 6P was too big, and the Axon 7 has a mediocre camera and some annoying software quirks.

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Nice Clean Software

Motorola wisely takes stock Android and doesn’t mess with it too much. Everything runs nice and smooth with minimal lag or slowdowns. It’s even smoother than even some newer phones with higher-spec CPUs. It comes with the stock Google launcher, keyboard, quick settings, dialer, contacts, calendar, etc. Motorola really only added one thing which is their Moto app which comprises ambient display, some different gestures you can launch specific functions with, and “OK Google” voice activation before Google built this feature into its main Google app for all phones.

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Ambient Display

About that Ambient Display: it’s extremely simple, and works really well. Since the screen is an LCD, it doesn’t stay on all the time, but if you leave the phone sitting with its screen up and you have notifications, it occasionally flicks the screen on with notification badges, like this:

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If you’re curious what notifications you might have and want to wake the phone up while it’s sitting on a desk, table, etc, there are sensors at each corner so you can wave your hand over it and it wakes up.

When you tap and hold on one of these notifications, you get more information about it, like this:

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And if you swipe up from here, you can enter the app which sent you the notification. Nice, slick, and simple.

Do Not Disturb

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This is what Do Not Disturb looks like when you tap it on the quick settings menu. This is the stock Android Marshmallow (and higher) Do Not Disturb quick settings function, and it works great, but many phone makers decide to fuck it up. Motorola very wisely kept it. I personally love this Do Not Disturb implementation. I set mine to Priority so calls and alarms can get through, but no app notifications. I set it to expire a little earlier than I plan to wake up the next day. The auto-expire option remembers the length of time from the last time I set it, so during the week, if I go to bed at a roughly similar time, I don’t have to change it at all. I have no idea why other Android phone companies don’t totally implement this DND functionality in their phones, but neither Samsung nor LG does, and it’s minorly infuriating, especially because I’m reminded of Motorola’s (and Google’s) wonderful way of doing it by my wife’s Moto G5 Plus. Curse you, Android phone makers tweaking things and making them worse!

Things that are mixed

Camera

The camera is 21 megapixels, but with a small sensor it’s obviously not capturing the same level of detail as a “real” camera of similar resolution. It doesn’t hold a candle to my 16 mp Olympus mirrorless camera, for example. But for a phone camera, in good light, it does a good job. It’s nice to have a large image file from which to crop things if desired. The only negative in good light is some purple fringing on high-contrast elements. But in low light, it’s not so good. There’s no image stabilization to help use slow shutter speeds with non-moving subjects, and the high resolution but small sensor means lots of noise as the camera bumps up the ISO. The selfie camera has a flash, which is nice.

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Battery

The battery is 3000 mAh which is a decent, if not overly large, capacity. The problem is powering that big, high resolution screen eats up a lot of power. Standby power usage is thankfully low, even with the ambient display. I can usually get through a whole day at work where I’m not on my phone too much, but if I’m messing with it for extended periods it can drain quickly. On the plus side, it has Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0, which Motorola calls TurboCharge, and it’s super fast. Even on my main home charger which is a 5-port “smart” but not Quick Charge enabled charger, the battery tops itself up nice and quickly

Things that aren’t so good

Software Updates

Even before Motorola was bought by Google, they had already been only putting a light skin on their Android phones. Under Google ownership, Motorola moved towards becoming even more Google-y in their phones, and basically sold stock Android phones, even their carrier-branded ones. They got quick software updates, and all was well in the Moto-verse. Google sold Motorola to Lenovo in the beginning of 2014. At the beginning of Lenovo ownership, Motorola still did relatively prompt updates. My phone got several security updates, and was updated to Marshmallow pretty soon after it released. But as Motorola struggled to make a profit, Lenovo laid off lots of people from Motorola, and this impacted the frequency of software updates. In spring of 2017, Motorola tested a Nougat update for the X Pure, but for some reason never released it. So it’s still on Marshmallow. Dang.

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No Fingerprint Sensor

At the time I bought the X Pure, it was really seen as an almost-Nexus type phone, and significantly cheaper than the Nexus 6P. The only significant differences between the X Pure and the Nexus 6P were the Snapdragon 808 in the X Pure vs. the 810 in the Nexus 6P, and the fingerprint sensor in the 6P. Some people actually think the 808 is a better chip because the performance is about 90% of the 810 but it’s much better on battery life. I have the 16 GB version of the X Pure which originally cost $399. The base 32 GB Nexus 6P was $549. I made the 16 GB work because unlike the Nexus 6P, it has a microSD slot. At the time, I thought the fingerprint sensor wasn’t a big deal, because I was one of those people who left their phone unlocked all the time.

But after having the phone for a while, I changed jobs where to access my email through the Outlook Android app, my companies had security policies that required some kind of screen lock on the phone. Besides, keeping some kind of security on your phone is just a good idea. With Google Smart Lock, I was able to set up a PIN lock where the phone stayed unlocked at home, at work, and while connected to bluetooth in my car. The only time it was really annoying to not have a fingerprint sensor was at the grocery store. I use an app called Our Groceries to sync grocery lists with my wife, so I’m constantly checking my phone while grocery shopping. I added my main grocery store as a trusted location in Google Smart Lock, but still, kinda annoying, and you figure maybe that’s a place where you do want the phone to be locked.

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Bluetooth glitches with GM infotainment

For some reason, the X Pure had all kinds of trouble staying connected to bluetooth in GM rental cars. Sometimes I would start a call on the phone and it would transfer the call to the car but I couldn’t hear anything. Sometimes I would play music and even though the music showed on the car’s screen, the sound played out of the phone. They just didn’t play nice with each other. I don’t rent a ton of cars, but it got to the point where if I got a GM car I would ask for something else so I wouldn’t have to deal with the bluetooth glitches.

So if I liked the X Pure so much, why didn’t I just buy a newer Motorola phone?

The simple answer is, Motorola has never made a true successor to the X Pure.

My wife has a Moto G5 Plus which is by far the best budget phone out there, in my opinion. But it has a Snapdragon 625, a 5.2” 1080p screen, and a camera that’s just halfway decent. While it adds a fingerprint sensor, it doesn’t have NFC, so it wouldn’t get me into Android Pay. The new G5S Plus steps up to a 5.5” 1080p screen and improved camera, but still no NFC.

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The new Moto X4 has a nice premium build and dual cameras, but it has a mid-range Snapdragon 630 and is only a 5.2” screen.

The Z Play and the Z2 Play have Snapdragon 625 and 626 chips, respectively.

While the mid-level Snapdragon 65x and 66x chips are approaching the performance of the older 808/810, the 62x and 63x are still a noticeable step down.

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The Moto Z and Z Force have a Snapdragon 820, 4 GB of RAM, and 5.5” screens. The Force adds a better camera, bigger battery, and Motorola’s infuriating ShatterShield built-in screen protector that gets scratched up way too easily. But I’d still consider a Z and make the tradeoff in screen size because of the higher specs, smaller size, and AMOLED screen. Except...

It comes in Verizon, and unlocked GSM/global versions. The Verizon version is SIM locked, and doesn’t even have enough LTE bands to work properly on T-Mobile, let alone outside the US. Which sucks.

The new Z2 Force comes in 3 different versions in the US: Verizon/US Cellular, AT&T/T-Mobile, and Sprint. The Verizon/US Cellular version does have enough LTE bands for T-Mobile and global use, but it’s SIM locked to Verizon and US Cellular. I use Total Wireless, a Verizon MVNO, so if I bought this version, I wouldn’t be able to get Verizon or US Cellular to SIM unlock it unless I switch to their service. My only solution would be one of those third party SIM unlock code services of questionable legality.

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Aside from this problem, the Z2 Force combines the small battery of the original Z with the ShatterShield of the Z Force, which to me, is the worst of both. And it’s friggin $720. Carriers and Best Buy have started discounting it down to the $500 range but that’s all tied to signing up for new service, and I’d want to use it on my existing Total Wireless service.

Where to go from here?

I tried and failed to like an unlocked LG V20, which I got for $350. I returned it.

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Now I have an unlocked Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which I got for $475, and I’m probably going to keep it because it addresses most of the issues with the X Pure. It has a much better battery, it has an always-on display (but you can’t interact with it), it has a CDMA radio and even more LTE bands. The camera is a step up in low light but in good light the 12 megapixel resolution doesn’t allow for as much cropping. It’s very pretty to look at and smaller than the X Pure. It adds wireless charging, which might be kinda cool, although I never bothered to try it back when I had an LG G2 which also supported it. I was able to remove/replace most of the Samsung annoyances, but there are a couple that remain, namely there’s no auto-expire for Do Not Disturb, and for some unknown reason Samsung makes you swipe down multiple times on a lock screen notification to open the app, instead of just double tapping the damn thing like every other Android phone. And no stereo speakers. Boo hoo.

The obvious choice for someone like me who wants a nice clean Android experience is the Pixel, but without the microSD slot, I hesitate to pick the 32 GB version. My S7 Edge has 32 GB and after installing my apps there are 17 GB available, but I just got the thing, and apps keep growing over time. But unlike the Pixel, it has a microSD slot, so no worries. So far the best price on a new Pixel XL 128 GB was a Newegg flash sale for $650, which has now ended. Maybe when the Pixel XL 2 comes out, the price could drop to that level or a little lower, but probably not by much. I don’t think I’d be able to buy one for $475 anytime soon. I already got side eye from my wife for spending $475 on a phone. Sure we can afford it but she doesn’t have to like it.

So here I am with a fancy new (last year’s) flagship phone, and I should like it a lot, but there are some things I miss from my previous phone. Which is an interesting position to be in, since my last phone, after I got it, I was just in love with the thing. It was, indeed, a Very Good Phone™.