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Yes, the Nexus 6 is a great phone, but I’m buying a Moto X 2014

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Last night I returned from our Gigaom Roadmap event, traveling from San Francisco to my home office in Pennsylvania. And as soon as I got back, I started thinking about how the Nexus 6 handled the trip. The short answer is: Mostly well. But I’m not buying one. Instead, I’m opting for a new 2014 edition of the Moto X.

Traveling with the Nexus 6 was fun and enlightening

My trip this week — leaving for California on Monday and returning on Thursday — was a really good scenario to put the Nexus 6 through its paces. I had already reviewed the Nexus 6 last week and came away mostly impressed. The screen is gorgeous, I can get through a full day on a single charge and the phone has the stock or pure [company]Google[/company] Android experience that I prefer.

Nexus 6 landscape

Even better, a new software update arrived for the Nexus 6 and I’m no longer seeing the Camera app crash — during my review period, this issue annoyed me on a near daily basis. But with the latest Android build from Google, the Camera hasn’t crashed a single time.

I know I can deal with the size of the Nexus 6, because I have been. I’ve long been a two-handed phone user and previously owned the 5.5-inch Galaxy Note 2, long before the word “phablet” became acceptable (to some). Do I need a phone that big or does it really add that much more value are different questions though.

I’ll gladly give up a little on the hardware for advanced software features

It turns out, that software is trumping hardware in my personal decision-making process. Even though the Nexus 6 has a larger, higher resolution screen, dual front-facing speakers and a faster processor inside, it lacks the custom Motorola software that the Moto X has. I took the same approach last year for the same reason, buying a Moto X when other flagship devices offered better hardware. And I have no regrets with that decision.

It really hit me when I was driving to and from the airport this week. I had several calls and texts to deal with on the road and they were harder to manage on the Nexus 6 because that phone doesn’t have the Motorola Assist software. You can download that app in the Play Store on recent Motorola phones, save for the Nexus 6 — also made by Motorola — which is a disappointment.

moto e assist

So instead of my phone intelligently realizing that I was driving — without me even telling it — and then interacting with me through hands-free voice commands, I was trying to drive and communicate with a two-handed phone. That’s a recipe for disaster, not to mention illegal in some areas, so I quickly gave up.

Overall performance differences are generally negligible

Speaking of giving up, I don’t think I’m losing much by choosing the new Moto X over a Nexus 6. I’ve used review units of both and even did some side-by-side performance comparisons; as powerful as the Nexus 6 is, it’s only marginally faster all around for the tasks and apps I’ve used on both phones.

Nexus 6 gravity

The 1080p display of the Moto X looks nearly as good to my eyes as the 1440p Nexus 6 screen although I admit I’ll miss that second front-facing speaker when watching video. I can get through a full day with both phones on a charge and they each need to hit an outlet nightly, so there’s no benefit to the Nexus there. That phone comes with a Turbo Charger but I’ll purchase one for the Moto X, which also supports the fast-charging technology.

A camera conundrum

I have noticed that the Nexus 6 appears to take better images than the Moto X, particularly in low-light. I find that odd since both devices use a 13-megapixel image sensor. I’m not sure if its the same sensor or not, and the Nexus 6 does have a slightly wider f/2.0 aperture and optical image stabilization. There’s no OIS on the Moto X and it has an f/2.25 aperture so that could be the difference.

Regardless, pictures from the Moto X aren’t what I’d call bad. They could just be a little better. And there’s one more difference between the two handsets in this area that I’m going to spend some time digging into a little deeper. I did some brief A/B testing between the two phones using the Google Camera app on a Moto X instead of the native Motorola Camera app. With the HDR setting on, the Moto X images looked nearly as good as those on the Nexus 6.

Bay Bridge

I also prefer the motion sensors on the Moto X for displaying notifications on lock screen when the phone is asleep. The Nexus 6 has a similar function called Ambient Display but I like the pure Motorola implementation better: It works more consistently for me.

You can’t go wrong either way here

Both phones are a good choice for anyone who wants a solid Android handset. And both will get Android updates quickly; Motorola actually started to push Android 5.0 out to Moto phones before Google did the same for Nexus devices this year! My point is: You or I can’t go wrong with either one, but Motorola’s secret software sauce has won me over on a phone that’s $100 less expensive for a 32 GB model and just as capable for what I want in a handset these days. If it’s a little more manageable in one-hand or fits better in a pants pocket, that’s a bonus to me.

Image credit: Kevin C. Tofel/Gigaom

This post was corrected at 2:59pm as it originally stated the “OK Google” voice command doesn’t work when the Nexus 6 screen is off. It does if you enable the setting in Google Now.

67 Responses to “Yes, the Nexus 6 is a great phone, but I’m buying a Moto X 2014”

  1. The Moto Maxx XT1225 is what the Moto X should have been, as well as what the Nexus 6 should have been!

    It’s based on the 5.2″ Nexus 6 prototype Google was testing as late as mid-August. Has almost identical specs to the Nexus 6, except 5.2″ 1440p display instead of 5.96″. Also has bigger battery. YES, the 5.2″ Moto Maxx has a 3900 mAh battery.

    5.2″, 1440p, Snapdragon 805, 3GB RAM, turbo charging, Qi wireless charging, 64GB internal storage, Kevlar backing with ballistic nylon overlay.

    Google should have “pulled an Apple” and released BOTH sizes they were testing. No matter, the Moto Maxx is MY Nexus 6. Unlockable bootloader, rooted, custom recovery installed. Running with Xposed/Gravity Box.

  2. Craig Gunderson

    As always, thanks for your insights, Kevin. I have a Moto X on the way havingtaken advantage of their Cyber Monday deal of $140 off!

    No more hitting F5 on the Play Store on Wednesdays for this guy!

  3. Jermaine Walker

    Great, great article. Really feels like exactly how I view the situation. Up until now the scale was ever so slightly tipped in favor of the N6, but this is just the comparison I needed to sway back to the Moto X.

    One minor issue for some people might be financing. Since the Moto X is not available on contact through T-Mobile, the N6 is a less complicated option. But there is financing available through the Moto website, so it’s not a dealbreaker.

  4. While I agree with some of what you wrote, my 1st. gen Moto X is still stuck on 4.4.2 and probably will be due to my carrier. So for me the Nexus 6 is a better deal just for the updates. Will I get 5.0 I doubt it, but who knows?

  5. Great article. One of the things I am looking for here is a comparison of Moto apps and the comparable feature in Nexus 6 or Playstore. Someone mentioned the commander app. Haven’t heard of that. Also does Moto assist only work with native messaging apps like Hangout or Whatsapp and similar ones as well. Similarly Gmail only or native email apps.

  6. One of the things that is holding me back from the Moto X 2014 is that chromecast screen mirroring functionality still doesn’t appear to be enabled, which doesn’t make sense to me, as it works with many other devices.

  7. Pam oakes

    My Nexus 6 does respond to OK google with the screen off, takes better pics, has 2 speakers as well as better quality speakers, faster processor, better battery life and ambient display works well. You can use the commandr app for Google now to have your phone read out text messages and emails, even the last email from a particular person. I’ll stick with Google.

    • I’m a Moto X 2014 user, but if you think the Nexus 6 camera is the best on any current smartphone you’re deluded. The iPhone 6 for example makes the N6 camera look dated, as does the Note 4 camera.

      • Actually, that’s incorrect. The blind poll of about 3,500 people on phone arena showed that the nexus 6 makes the iPhone’s camera look extremely dated.

  8. I have the Moto X 2014 PE. I’ve had numerous phones including the Galaxy, Nexus and Note and for me the well thought out and integrated Motorola signature features like Assist, Actions and Display continue to please. They make this smartphone smart.

  9. Would the fact that Motorola is no longer a Google owned entity (now Lenovo) mean future delays in OS updates? Would that be a factor to consider in comparing the Nexus 6 to the Moto X 2014?

  10. I opted for the LG G3 over the Nexus 5 due to many similar issues. Nexus is a gorgeous phone but lacks some of the smarts other phones have. I think Google is too focused on beating out the iPhone .. They should filocus on what consumers are really looking for. I’ve found that iPhones can not compete in the Business realm the way Android can.

  11. Kevin your question about the camera sensors between the two phones is valid. Even though they are both 13mp, they are completely different sensors. The Moro 2014 uses the Sony imx135 (a new flagship really shouldn’t be using that anymore) and the Nexus uses the new Sony imx214. Sadly for a $650 phone I’m not sure why they didn’t go all the way and use the Sony imx240 (used in the galaxy note 4). The 214 is a 1/3″ sensor while the 240 is a 1/2.6″ sensor … 15% larger. It explains why the Nexus takes better pictures than the Moto but they both still suck for low light relative to the Note 4 due to sensor size.

  12. cheerios1

    I agree, Kevin. I feel like the Moto software doesn’t get the props it deserves. That I can do everything hands free on my gen 1 Moto X still impresses me. Almost every day I’m texting with my wife on my evening commute without ever taking my hands off the wheel.

    I’m probably locked into Motorola now until they license the technology to other phone companies.

  13. mferrara91

    It amazes me how many stupid there are in this forum. The author gave his OPINION on what works best for him. If you don’t agree with his opinion, either say it nicely or don’t say anything at all. I appreciate the comparison he made as I just bought a 2014 Moto X Pure Edition over the Nexus 6 because I prefer a device that is easily operated with one hand, and I like the Moto Assist features for when I’m driving. I only wish Motorola was clearer on when Lollipop will be released. They made it sound like it was going to be immediate for the Pure Edition and now it seems there isn’t a solid timeframe for the release.

    • Thanks for that common sense comment! You get it: I didn’t suggest others do what I do; I was simply explaining my purchase decision. If others have similar needs & requirements to me, then this should help them decide. If not and they buy something else, super! :)

      • I have been bouncing my decision around between a custom Moto X 2014 ed and the Nexus 6. The Motorola Assist software I was not aware of and appreciate your explanation of your decision based partly on this option as I also drive a lot. Size was not a issue as I have larger hands but the back of the Nexus 6 is not as grippy as some of the materials available for the Moto X 2014 ed. Which option do you recommend for the Moto X back cover for a gripper experience?

        • mferrara91

          I went with the plastic back. It’s the same material as the N6. I would never get the leather back as I know it would scratch easily and not wear well. I’ve heard the wood back is grippy too, but I’m not a fan of the wood.

  14. Gorav Seth

    New motoX is great but do not make my mistake of buying the 16 GB version. Its a joke. I’ve never needed a larger-than-default storage on any device before, so didn’t think twice when purchasing. I ran out of storage in 3 weeks. My 3 year old galaxy nexus came w 32 GB as base. That’s the only complaint I have about an otherwise great phone.

  15. Lol this guy seems a big idiot… Shitty review.. My eyes literally bled after reading this ! Its like saying “Yeah that Porsche is great, but I’d rather take a moped.”

    • I’m honestly not sure which is worse: That you don’t see that there’s a minimal difference between the two phones or that you actually compared a sports car to a moped. ;)

      In any case, if you think the Nexus 6 is that much better for you, buy it and be happy. I essentially said that in the post because you really can’t go wrong if these are your only two choices.

      • philip658

        Glad you didn’t take that response seriously… you know your time is being wasted when you hit things like “eyes literally bled”, but if you stop there you miss the Porsche/moped gem.
        I enjoyed your review and found it quite informative; you approached the comparison the way I would, as an actual phone user and not as a technology critic who gets all their gear for free. I find the latter to be less useful as the comparisons are often based on esoterica that normally don’t/won’t matter to the end user. Thanks again for the write-up.

  16. Like Apple offering 2 sizes for the iPhone 6 I’m surprised Google didn’t do the same!
    The Moto X 2014 should have been the dirrect competition from Google as a Nexus variant (Nexus 5 2014) and the Nexus 6 as we now know could have gone up against the iPhone 6 plus.

  17. Why wouldn’t the Moto X 2014 have Image Stabilization? I find very disappointing but yet the Nexus 6 has it? Heck even the Nexus 5 had OIS. Can this be fixed with a software update?

  18. labonasaturday

    As bummed as I am, I’m returning my N6 for a lot of the reasons you stated. The phone is beautiful, but cumbersome to manipulate during my commute. During my drive home today, the OK Google command wasn’t as sensitive in activating the phone as it was on my 2013 X. It was even too difficult to drive and change the music on Play Music because of the size. I tried to create many different reasons to justify keeping the phone, but after a week I just kept wishing the phone was more like my 2013 X. This just points to the 2014 X as the one that would suit me better.

    • I waited for the nexus 6, but decided it was just to big, plus it lacked the moto software. Having come from a note 2_size did factor into my decision. I bought the moto x (pe), and it’s been the best phone I’ve ever had. Moto assist is what really makes it so much better than any other device. It knows when I’m driving, and offers to read and reply to texts and calls workout having to touch the phone. I can talk to it, for searches or making calls. Screen is all that it needs to be. I was reluctant to get caught up in the quad hd phones, mainly because why do I want a battery hog, when 1080p is excellent already?

  19. Kevin, thanks for the informative posts. One question about MotoX: I know that Motorola sells its own version and a pure edition (PE). If we buy the PE, can Motorola Assist be added to it? If yes, then what precisely would be the difference between the two versions? Thanks.

      • Not only that but looking through XDA posts and including my own experience with a carrier sold Moto X, they are all pure stock android without carrier bloat. The Pure Edition is model xt1095. North American carrier editions are xt1097 and Europe unlocked edition is xt1092. All of them only vary by their radios and modem files.

  20. Axion, I saw a post earlier today that there actually is a notification light hidden in the top speaker grill that will work with the app lightflow. At least if you want a light you will have the option.

  21. MinnesotaWT

    You forget to mention that Motorola rarely updates the operating system in comparison to Motorola. My last Motorola phone was a good device that never received an update.