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

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.