With its awesome display, improved camera and plethora of new features (like a fingerprint reader and heart rate monitor), the Samsung Galaxy S5 is one of the year's best smartphones. However, Motorola is ready to take on the camp with a flagship of its own. With a customizable rear panel, updated voice and gesture controls, and a larger higher-res display, the second-generation Motorola Moto X is a very compelling challenger. Plus, at $99, the Moto X costs $100 less than the S5. So which is the better smartphone? We put both through a nine-round competition to find out.
While the original Moto X allowed consumers to create a custom look with Moto Maker — choosing different engravings and alternate colors for the backs — the second Moto X takes it a step further. Now, you can opt for one of four leather or wood rear panels, as well as a multitude of plastic backs and accent colors.
The Samsung Galaxy S5, by comparison, is all plastic and comes in either white or black. At least it has a soft-touch, dimpled finish, making it easy to grasp.
However, the S5 is slightly more resilient than the Moto X, as Samsung's device can remain submerged in 1 meter (3.3 feet) of water for up to 30 minutes. The Moto X can only take a splash or two. Just remember to keep the S5's USB cover on.
Winner: Moto X. Its aluminum chassis and multitude of design options give it a classier look than the S5.
On paper, the Moto X and the S5 seem pretty evenly matched when it comes to their displays. The former has a 5.2-inch AMOLED screen, and the latter has a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED panel; both have a resolution of 1920 x 1080. And, when looking at the same content on both displays, it was hard to pick a winner.
However, our benchmark tests paint a more conclusive picture. The Moto X's brightness of 268 nits is not only lower than the smartphone average of 353 nits, but it's also below that of the S5's 373 nits.
Both displays oversaturate colors; the Moto X displays 164.7 percent of the sRGB color gamut, and the S5 displays 158 percent. But Samsung's display proved more accurate. Its Delta-E score of 0.9 (numbers closer to 0 are better) surpassed the Moto X's 2.5 score.
Winner: Galaxy S5. While it's close, the S5's display is brighter and its colors are more accurate.
While not as rich as the HTC One's BoomSound speakers, the Moto X's dual front-facing speakers state their case with verve, pumping out 83 decibels of sound. The S5's lone rear-facing speaker does an admirable job, delivering a quality 73 decibels, but it just can't keep up.
Winner: Moto X. Two speakers are better than one.
Motorola and Samsung take very different approaches to the interfaces on their smartphones. Not surprisingly, the Google-owned Motorola has a very clean implementation of Android 4.4 KitKat.
Meanwhile, Samsung has its own TouchWiz interface that, while toned down from previous versions, still presents a multitude of options. This includes a Quick Settings menu with up to 20 shortcuts. Other features include My Magazine, a Flipboard-powered news reader and Multi Window, which lets you run two apps on the screen at once.
Winner: Galaxy S5. While cluttered at times, TouchWiz puts more controls and features at your fingertips.
The Moto X is one of the most feature-laden smartphones yet, letting you do more with just your voice.Moto Voice lets you wake up the phone by talking to it, set reminders and interact with third-party apps. You can even rename your phone. Moto Display can show you notifications without fully waking the phone, saving battery life.
Moto Assist lets you create rules for how the phone acts in certain situations, such as at night or while driving. Moto Actions lets you wave your hand to silence the ringer, and Moto Migrate lets you transfer contacts, even from feature phones.
Not to be outdone, the Samsung S5 has a built-in heart-rate monitor, and the S Health app can also track your activity and diet, hopefully leading to a healthier life. A fingerprint reader not only lets you unlock the phone, but also lets you make payments via PayPal.
Winner: Moto X. Its voice- and motion-controlled features ultimately proved more practical in everyday use than did the S5's amenities.
Both the Moto X and the S5 pack 2.5-GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processors and 2GB of RAM, but on both real-world and synthetic benchmarks, the Moto X consistently came out ahead.
The Moto X launched the resource-intensive N.O.V.A. 3 in 12.5 seconds, nearly 7 seconds faster than the Galaxy S5. Next, the Moto X took 4 minutes and 15 seconds to transcode a 204MB, 1080p video to 480p, nearly half a minute faster than the S5 (4:42). On Geekbench, the Moto X's score of 2,903 also edged out the S5's mark of 2,897.
You can purchase both the Moto X and the S5 can with either 16GB or 32GB of built-in storage, but only the S5 has a microSD card slot, which you can use to expand the memory up to 128GB.
Winner: Moto X. Although it lacks expandable storage, it outperformed the S5 on every test we threw at these devices.
The Moto X has a 13-MP camera, while the S5 has a 16-MP rear shooter. And while megapixels aren't everything, Samsung's phone consistently took better photos than the Moto X in a variety of circumstances.
Feature-wise, the Moto X boasts Best Shot, which helps you get the highest-quality image, and Highlight Reel, which combines a number of photos from a single event into a music-backed montage.
MORE: Best Smartphone Cameras
Samsung also has a number of sharp editing tools, including Eraser Mode for getting rid of photobombers, Selective Focus and Real Time HDR.
Winner: Galaxy S5. Although it's slower to shoot, the Galaxy S5 took much better photos, and lets you do more with them afterwards.
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing at 150 nits over 4G LTE), the Moto X's 2,300 mAh battery lasted 7 hours and 33 minutes.
That's a few minutes longer than the smartphone average, but an hour less than the average smartphone (8:30), and more than two hours less than the Samsung Galaxy S5's time of 9:42.
Winner: Galaxy S5. Samsung's handset simply lasts longer on a charge.
Regardless of which phone you buy, you're going to end up spending nearly $2,000 for a two-year contract. However, at $99, the upfront cost of the Moto X is $100 less than that of the Samsung Galaxy S5.
Winner: Moto X. Its $99 purchase price is half that of the S5.
Overall Winner: Moto X
With a more stylish — and far more customizable — design, better performance, more-useful features and a lower price, the Moto X just edges out the Samsung Galaxy S5 in this nine-round competition. The S5 kept things competitive, though, winning many crucial rounds, including display, interface, camera and battery life. So, regardless of which phone you choose, you'll end up a winner.
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Michael A. Prospero is the U.S. Editor-in-Chief for Tom’s Guide. He oversees all evergreen content and oversees the Homes, Smart Home, and Fitness/Wearables categories for the site. In his spare time, he also tests out the latest drones, electric scooters, and smart home gadgets, such as video doorbells. Before his tenure at Tom's Guide, he was the Reviews Editor for Laptop Magazine, a reporter at Fast Company, the Times of Trenton, and, many eons back, an intern at George magazine. He received his undergraduate degree from Boston College, where he worked on the campus newspaper The Heights, and then attended the Columbia University school of Journalism. When he’s not testing out the latest running watch, electric scooter, or skiing or training for a marathon, he’s probably using the latest sous vide machine, smoker, or pizza oven, to the delight — or chagrin — of his family.