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New Smartphone Heavyweight: The Moto X Matches Up to the Galaxy S4

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New Smartphone Heavyweight: The Moto X Matches Up to the Galaxy S4

Despite the Moto X’s shortcomings, it’s able to do more with less, hanging with the best smartphones on the market.

Ever since the official Moto X announcement, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding this new device. Many gadget enthusiasts have labeled this handset a “mid-range” smartphone with the price tag of a high-end device. Since we feel that Motorola’s upcoming smartphone isn’t getting enough credit, we’ve decided the best thing to do is to explain the capabilities of the Moto X. You can then make up your own mind in regards to whether or not the X makes sense.

Since we’re going to take a closer look at a brand new smartphone, it’s evidently a good idea to have a term of comparison. And what device would better fit this role than the best-selling Samsung Galaxy S4?

Moto X vs. Samsung Galaxy S4 – Is the Moto X a Mid-Range?

One of the biggest concerns regarding the Moto X is whether or not it has enough processing power to compete with the big players. The X packs a dual-core processor clocked at 1.7 GHz, which, at first glance, has led people to believe that this particular SoC is none other than last year’s Snapdragon S4 Pro. However, that isn’t entirely the case.

Although at Moto X’s core beats the heart of a Snapdragon S4 Pro chip, the chipset has been heavily modified, resulting in what Motorola calls the “X8 Mobile Computing System.” In total, the system-on-chip is actually comprised of eight cores. Two of them form the dual-core 1.7 GHz CPU, four of these cores represent the Adreno 320 GPU and the other two handle tasks like contextual computing and natural language processing.

In other words, smartphones nowadays rely heavily on the GPU. The graphics chip of a handset is more important in our day-to-day lives than the CPU and this is where the Moto X delivers performance that is up to par with the Samsung Galaxy S4 (which also features an Adreno 320 GPU).

I know what many may be thinking “OK, so the X has the same GPU as the S4, but a weaker CPU. How does that matter?” The answer is that, in reality, due to the fact that the Moto X features a smaller display with a lower resolution (720 x 1280 vs. 1080 x 1920), the same Adreno 320 GPU performs better on the X. Evidently, that is because on Moto X’s display there are fewer pixels to account for.

Benchmark test results stand as proof of the aforementioned claims. To give you a few numbers, the Moto X scores 54 FPS in GFXBench 2.7 “onscreen,” while the Samsung Galaxy S4 (Snapdragon 600) scores 41 FPS in the same test. Interestingly enough, Motorola’s X8 architecture delivers better results “offscreen” as well, scoring 43 FPS vs. 41 FPS. (The offscreen test stresses the GPU’s capabilities off-screen, at a resolution of 1080 x 1920 regardless of the actual screen resolution of the device.)

Similar results occur in other benchmark tests as well, including Sunspider and Kraken, where the Moto X outperformed the Snapdragon 600-powered SGS4. The only benchmark where the Moto X fell short is Geekbench 2, where raw CPU power (integer, floating point) is taken into account. In Google Octane, the S4 has taken the cake as well, but only by 55 points (2,400 vs 2,455).

big.LITTLE or Motorola’s X8

As mentioned above, Moto X’s SoC arrives with two additional cores. One of these cores handles contextual computing, while the other deals with natural language processing. In short, this means that all of the sensors on the Moto X, as well as the task of recognizing dictation and voice commands, are handled only by these cores. In other words, the dual-core 1.7 GHz is never going to have to deal with these tasks, meaning that all the processing power of the dual-core chip will be directed to other, arguably more important tasks.

This sounds quite similar to what Samsung has done with its Exynos quad-core and the big.LITTLE technology (where two quad-core processors form an octa-core chipset). However, the primary difference between the big.LITTLE technology and Motorola’s X8 is that the two different CPUs constituting the Exynos chip will never work simultaneously. It’s either the Cortex A15 or the Cortex A7 that handles one given task, depending on how demanding it is.

In contrast, the two extra cores on the Moto X are always active (even in sleep mode) and have clearly designated tasks, regardless of what the main dual-core 1.7 GHz chip is doing. This may actually explain some of the off-screen results seen in the aforementioned benchmarks.

Moto X vs Samsung Galaxy S4 – Conclusion

The range separation on today’s mobile market is mainly determined by numbers. The number of cores, the CPU frequency, the amount of pixels and resolution; all of these factors are taken into account by nearly everyone. However, Moto X might be the first Android smartphone to show us that optimization and attention to detail goes a long way.

Should you buy the Moto X instead of a Galaxy S4 or the HTC One? As always, that’s up to you to decide. Is the X a mid-range device? We sincerely don’t think so, despite its “on-paper” shortcomings. Results speak for themselves. From our point of view, the Moto X is able to do more with less and that’s something to admire.

But what are your thoughts on the Moto X? Do you think that it’s an overpriced mid-range device with a few tricks up its sleeve? Should other Android manufacturers adopt this way of thinking? Let us know in the comments section.

Vlad Andrici is editor for and writes about technology issues. Follow Vlad on Google Plus.