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Motorola’s Moto X Pure Edition hits all the right notes

It’s hard to remember a time when Android users had it so good. This year consumers opting to upgrade their smartphones have a variety of devices available to them. Samsung’s Note 5 and S6 Edge+ are phenomenal, the OnePlus 2 is a respectable option, the Axon Pro is an ambitious device on all fronts, and now Motorola’s $399 Moto X Pure Edition is entering the mix.

Motorola’s customizable device is available for pre-order through the company’s website, with availability currently scheduled for mid-September.

Alongside Motorola’s site, Amazon and Best Buy will also field orders, but most will likely want to order the device directly from Motorola, since it’s the only way to take advantage of the company’s Moto Maker customization. On the site, consumers will be able to customize the look and feel of the device’s housing with wood, leather, or coated silicone rubber (CSR) in various colors and textures, along with accent colors (including either a black or white front).

Motorola first announced its new Moto X, also called the Moto X Style outside of the U.S., at a July event. Alongside the smartphone, Motorola also released the insanely cheap and equally impressive Moto G.

The device unveiling comes shortly after Motorola’s parent company, Lenovo (LNVGY), announced it was putting Motorola in charge of its mobile products, which means insiders will be keen to see if new management can make the Moto X a huge success. Not only does Motorola have a lot to prove to Lenovo by taking over an entire division, but also that its new sales plan—one devoid of carriers— will work since it has yet to gain universal acceptance.

Over the last couple of days I tested out the Moto X (which featured a black front, and walnut finish on the back). I was initially hesitant about using a device that came with wood backing, because I was afraid the material would scratch or show blemishes all too easily. After my (albeit) limited time with the phone, I’ve grown rather fond of it, and so far it’s holding up to daily use without showing any wear and tear.

The overall design of the Moto X is a carryover from the company’s previous generations, only this time more refined. The back is more rounded, while the dimple is smaller and sits just below the camera. The bezels surrounding the 5.7-inch quad-HD display are slimmer; an obvious attempt by Motorola to make the device feel as small as possible despite its massive screen. Admittedly, I prefer the size of last year’s Moto X and its 5.2-inch screen to this year’s offering, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

The SIM card slot is found atop the device, pulling double duty as a microSD card slot. That’s right everyone, while Samsung is getting rid of expandable storage, Motorola is embracing it. The new Moto X will accept microSD cards up to 128 gigabytes. Internal storage ranges from 16-, 32-, and 64-gigabytes.

However, don’t get too excited Samsung defectors, Motorola doesn’t let you replace the 3,000 milliamp-hour battery. The company claims the Moto X has enough power to get through a full day of use, and I found in my case that to be true.

The Moto X runs a nearly stock version of Android. The most notable changes are found in various shortcuts and enhancements, such as a quick double-twist of your wrist to launch the camera app or an Assist mode that detects when you’re driving and will read out loud any incoming messages.

A positive side effect of its updated operating system, combined with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 808 processor and 3 gigabytes of memory, is that the Moto X’s overall performance is fast and responsive.

However, from the very beginning, the Moto X lineup’s Achilles heel has always been its camera. With each release, Motorola claimed to have improved the camera’s performance, only in the end to disappoint consumers and critics. This year, things are different: The 21-megapixel rear-facing camera does show improved performance, although there’s still work to be done for low-light shots and the amount of time it takes to focus. All in all, however, the camera on this year’s Moto X is the real deal.

In every practical sense, Motorola has a device that can stand on its own next to Samsung’s latest and greatest, and it’s more polished than other devices in its price range (I’m looking at you, OnePlus) — especially when you take into account price.

Unfortunately, though, you won’t find this device on your wireless carriers’ shelves—Best Buy is the only retail store that will carry it—and that’s a potential problem. The Moto X Pure Edition is a device specifically geared at educated smartphone shoppers, not those who prefer to walk into a wireless carrier retail store and buy whatever’s on the shelf.

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