Sep 01 AT 2:53 PM David Beren 38 Comments

Review: Moto X, The “First” Google-Motorola Phone

Moto X (9)

It’s been a challenge to find an Android smartphone that packs the perfect combination of size and specs. For me, the Moto X very well may be that balanced device. While the Moto X may hold up on paper to the Galaxy S 4 and HTC One, it has been just as good in my real-world experience.

1. Hardware

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The Moto X’s hardware is easily my favorite thing about the device. There’s no question that Motorola can produce top-notch hardware, but the Moto X is exceptional. It feels positively great in the hand. The design itself is inconspicuous. But, once Moto Maker is available to all carriers, it won’t be hard to make the phone feel uniquely yours.

Motorola hasn’t revealed exactly what materials comprise the Moto X body, which means it’s probably adamantium. Jokes aside, the construction of the phone felt great. It wasn’t the solid aluminum build of the HTC One, but it didn’t feel as plasticky as the Samsung Galaxy S 4, either.

The Moto X measures 10.4mm at its thickest point and slims to 5.6mm at the edges. The 4.7in 720p display comes in a package that feels and is far smaller than the same size display on the HTC One. The 2-megapixel camera, earpiece and ambient sensors take up the rest of the front, with absolutely no branding. (Hooray for that last part).

The rear of the device houses the 10MP ClearPixel camera sensor, speaker and dimpled “M” Motorola logo. For whatever reason Motorola decided to include the dimple, it serves as a natural place to rest your index finger when holding the phone.

The only thing that detracts from the hardware, for me at least, is the placement of the headphone jack. In my opinion, the most natural position for a headphone jack is at the bottom of the device, but the Moto X jack is on the top. I find this rather irritating, but it’s not a make it or break it for me.

Several people have drawn attention to the fact that the Moto X includes a 720p display instead of 1080p.  Sure, 1080p is the new standard in flagship devices, but the AMOLED 720p display on the Moto X looks great with 316ppi. Viewing angles are solid, and colors really pop. As far a I’m concerned, the average consumer will never notice a difference. Something they might notice is improved battery life, however. A 1080p display can put a hurtin’ on battery longevity, especially for power users.

2. Software


The Moto X software is innovative and, yet, still nearly identical to stock Android. But there is one glaring downside. Out of the box, the Moto X sports Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Motorola is now a Google company, so logic would dictate that the Moto X should come with the latest and greatest.

While the software on the device is 99 percent stock Android, it’s the few Motorola additions that set the phone apart. In fact, other manufacturers have already tried to duplicate some of these features. The big four Motorola additions that I’d like to mention are Active Display, Touchless Control, Migrate and Assist

Active Display

This is how Motorola describes Active Display:

Knowledge is power, and Moto X gives you just that — at a glance. It always displays what you need to know, when you need to know it. Information quietly appears on the screen, so you don’t have to wake it up to look at the time or see your messages. Before you know it, that itch to check your phone will be gone forever.

And that’s what it is, in a nutshell. Active Display uses “battery-friendly notifications,” so you can see what’s going on in your world without unlocking your device. You can manage which and when icons appear, or you can turn them off entirely. Plus, Active Display won’t appear if the phone is in your pocket or purse, face down or while on a call.

Touchless Control

Touchless Control is the feature that kicks in whenever you say, “Okay, Google Now.” Some have already lambasted the feature as finicky and gimmicky, but it’s a sure look at what’s to come from Android. I would be downright shocked if we don’t see this incorporated into more and more smartphones in the near future.

If you can survive the set-up process for Touchless Control, the technology will allow you to make calls, launch apps, send messages, set alarms and reminders, find directions and more with voice commands. Coupled with Assist, which I’ll discuss below, Touchless Control could be an excellent tool for hands-free driving.


Migrate installs on your previous smartphone and allows you “transfer media, call and text history, as well as SIM contacts, from this Android phone to your new one.” I had previously been using an HTC One, and Assist worked very well. Of course, I’d like it transfer everything, including my home screen setup. But that’s just my Android dream. There are already some apps that do this, like Helium, but a built-in application would be excellent.


Motorola’s goal with Assist is to help you be a better driver. With Assist, the Moto X knows when you are driving by using GPS settings. The device responds by announcing incoming calls and texts, as well as who is trying to contact you. The phone will also read out any text messages or automatically place calls on speakerphone. On the whole, it was useful, but there’s still some tweaking Motorola could do.

3. Performance

Can we start caring about more than cores, already? When you get right down to it, performance is more important than one aspect of the device’s makeup. That said, the X8 architecture is a unique combination of a dual-core Snapdrage S 4 Pro clocked at 1.7GHz, quad-core Adreno 320 GPU and two additional specialized cores. That second set of special cores has a two-fold purpose. The first is used to process natural language and the second is for contextual computing. This is designed to prolong battery life while enhancing real-world performance. And with 2GB of RAM, everything runs buttery smooth. Not only that, but I really didn’t notice a difference between the HTC One, the device I had put down to use the Moto X.

4. Camera

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Motorola really hyped the ClearPixel experience, claiming that ClearPixel tech “collects more light and snaps pictures up to twice as fast as other phone’s cameras. So it can capture the darkest scenes or stop motion blur in bright light.”  From that, I expected more out of the camera. Early reviews panned the experience, however, so I had low expectations going in. In short, the camera isn’t horrible; it is better than the Nexus 4. But if a smartphone camera is your top priority, look elsewhere.

The best thing that can be said for the Moto X camera is that the app is unique and simplified. The shutter button is gone; the entire screen is now the shutter button. You are left with two on-screen buttons: one to shoot video and one to switch to the front-facing camera. Swiping from the left will bring out the circular menu, which features HDR, flash, tap to focus, slow-motion video, panorama mode, location-tagging, shutter sound toggling and “Quick Capture.” This menu is very well thought out, and I hope it’s something we see more manufacturers adopting in the future. (Looking at you, Samsung).

Here’s the silver lining: Most of the issues seem to be related to software, and that’s something Motorola can improve down the line. If Motorola can fix the issues, this could be a top performer. The Moto X certainly has the goods. But right now, I’d put the Moto X firmly in the middle-of-the-road for smartphone shooters.

5. Battery Life

With a 2200 mAh battery, you might expect the Moto X to be just another smartphone with so-so battery life. But Motorola claims users will get 24 hours of all-day-use. This is supposedly supported by their X8 architecture. Still, for most power users, that sounds completely impractical.

I consider myself a power user. Tweeting, browsing, emailing and messaging all day still allowed me to push through 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. without burning through the battery. If you start messing with signal or you have the chance to play on WiFi most days, that will affect your battery for better or worse. (A phone struggling for signal or bouncing between HSPA+ and LTE all day will surely drain faster).

Motorola’s Active Display is designed to save you battery by allowing you to get information without actually jumping into the phone. You can check the time and see notifications without actually powering up the display, and that’s useful for extending battery life. However, the DROID MAXX this is not. Twenty-four hours of real-world use won’t happen, but I found it to be much better than either the Galaxy S 4 or HTC One.

6. Extras


With Motorola Connect your computer is tied to a Chrome extension. You can see incoming calls, missed calls, voicemails and text messages all from your computer. There’s also “Motorola Skip,” a clip that attaches to your clothing. When you pull your phone out of your pocket, you can “unlock your phone with a single tap.” Without any real-world experience with the Skip, it seems like more novelty than necessity.

And then there’s MotoMaker. MotoMaker is one of the coolest options we’ve seen from a smartphone OEM in some time. Want to make a uniquely styled smartphone? Buy the Moto X and use MotoMaker to design it the way you want. Unfortunately, this is exclusive to AT&T right now, but it will be coming to other carriers “soon.” It’s an awesome way to personalize the style of your device. Customize the front color, back color and accent colors, as well as preset your background image. Personally, I’d go with a turquoise back and white front. What can I say? I live in South Florida, so turquoise and white would fit right in with the art deco style. Motorola says there are 2,000 possibilities for you to create by mixing and matching all the accents, front and back colors, wallpaper, memory and matching accessories. Will designing the phone with a unique color scheme be enough to convince you to purchase it? Maybe. It’s something we haven’t really seen much of in the industry. It’s cool, but not a “must have.”

Motorola Moto X7.5 / 10

Ah, the Moto X. You are a mystery wrapped in a riddle. I want to love you, and I do love your form factor. But I just can’t get behind your camera. Hardware-wise the Moto X is my ideal Android device, even if it doesn’t play the pound-for-pound spec game against the likes of the Galaxy S 4, HTC One and Xperia Z. And then, the MotoMaker personalization option will be fantastic; it certainly adds a little intrinsic value.

The bottom line is that the Moto X runs everything as well as other top-notch Android devices out there. It’s hard not to compare the device to the Galaxy S 4 and HTC One, thanks to its $199 price point. However, if this phone were priced at $99 or even $149, it would be a ridiculously good deal.

The real problem with the Moto X is how it compares on paper. It’s unfortunate that many who might otherwise enjoy the phone will be moved toward other devices because of that. Specs don’t and shouldn’t matter anymore, and emphasis on quad-core, dual-core, Snapdragon, NVIDIA and all of that is just nonsense these days. There is far too much emphasis on specs in a world where most Android devices (barring the entry-level) will be more than adequate for daily tasks.

The end of the discussion is that Motorola has a perfectly capable smartphone on its hands. Plus, you can buy a wood-back variant sometime later this year when MotoMaker is open to all. Seriously, a phone with a wood back? How can you say no to that?

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  • Andre

    I sure would like to know if and when Sprint will offer MotoMaker! I hate that Sprint seems to be last for just about everything.

    • Cookiecoffee

      You look stupid with Moto X.
      Garbage over priced with yesteryear spec.

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  • James King

    I would buy the heck out of a wooden-backed phone.

  • Ed

    The Moto X will apparently be dropped to $100 on contract this winter.

    • Priscila

      Just another unconfirmed non-sense to have people disappointed if it doesn’t happen. I wouldn’t doubt if someone said those rumors are coming from their competition.

      • clocinnorcal

        Unconfirmed non-sense or not, common sense would say that the device would certainly drop in price by winter time; furthermore, $100 seems quite logical.

        • donger

          Would be good for black friday.

      • breckdroid

        You can already get it on VZW for $139.99 with that code mentioned in a previous article. So its not a far stretch to assume that come the holidays it will drop to around $100.

  • redraider133

    I hope this catches on and causes others to refine their skins rather than throw everything into it and hope that catches people’s eyes. Its super smooth even with “mid range” specs. Hope they can enhance the camera too with a future update

  • Stelios Philippou

    Yeah … Beautiful phone. A plain shame that it’s not available in Europe !! In the market for a new phone and would love to have this as my new phone !!! Give us a good phone Google/motto and not a crappy phone when you release it over here pretty please

  • Denny Crane

    Let’s have a reality check here Compared to the top offerings from HTC and Samsung… the phone is far thicker, the screen is much smaller, the display resolution far lower, smaller camera, NO memory card slot (SERIOUS:Y?), the processor gives very slow performance. And it’s fitting the Moto X only runs Android 4.2… it’s an OS from 2012 and the Moto X can only compete with last year’s phones.

    This is very disappointing. Motorola used to have the most cutting edge phones. You’d think with Google purchasing Motorola Mobility, the phones would have shot far ahead of competition. As it is, this phone is obsolete before it even hit the shelves.

    As for the review? The most blatant, subjective shilling I have ever seen outside the writings of some iPhone fanboi.

    • clocinnorcal

      Have you used one? Seems like you are judging purely from a specification point of view. BTW 4.2.2 was released in 2013 :\

      • Anonymous

        And Samsung doesnt have latest OS version either. And not everyone wants a larger screen. 4and half is big enough. I wouldn’t buy 5 inch phone. And regular people don’t care about all those specs or gimmicky features. They want simplicity and a device that does what they need to do. Don’t care if the screen is a bit different most people are happy with what they have… And if it takes decent photos, that’s enough. Its only the fanatics and root ers & power users that care about all those specs

    • ihatefanboys

      Agreed. Im going to upvote you every day to blank out the minus votes.

    • redraider133

      Same screen size as the htc one. Larger camera than HTC one. HTC also doesn’t have an SD card. And its running the same OS version as those “high end phones”


    Hey, this is the same review from TMO News. Can we get a remixed version?

    • Anonymous

      Get used to it. Theyre owned by the same company so you see same writers and articles on multiple of their sites.

  • Graham Steffaniak

    I got one. Using it now. Its fantastic. Blazing fast, Battery life is average but still good (14 hours since plugged in and it has 15% left with 3.5h screen time), and the form factor is delightful. Camera is not bad but I wish it had tap to focus with a shutter button as an option. No regrets so far!

  • Igaal

    Very poor review when the only stand out was this stupid customization, if you really want this stupid wooden look I can buy you a bunch of it for $5 from eBay, otherwise it’s a mediocre phone with last year’s specs and this year top of the range price! HTC One for me baby;-)

  • Mark Washington

    Hard decision with price when the DROID DNA is a more the comparable device with same price range!

    • gorden

      It’s price is on par with all the 1080p beauties.
      It’s hell of a mid range phone but in terms of display,processing power(no matter how smooth it runs android maybe) but for future updates which will need more power hungry graphics as 4.3 now have openGL support.

      • mau

        The GPU is the same as a GS4 or HTC One, so that should help.

  • Eben1277

    Anyone shitting on this phone who hasn’t used it is basically shouting to the world how ignorant they are. Now I can’t say how good or bad it is (as I haven’t used it), but it takes a big set of balls for someone who hasn’t used a device to not only shit on the device, but shit on the reviewer for giving it a good review after having used it himself. Last years specs, mid range phone, yadda yadda yadda. I’ve not seen a single reviewer from what I would consider to be a reputable source smack a bad review on this phone. I believe I heard one say he switched to it from an S4 because it was smoother and a better experience. Specs aren’t everything, even if they are last years. People who are skeptical of this thing who get to use it end up saying it would be the perfect phone with an update to the camera software. No one says, ” this would be so much better with snapdragon 800.”. It seems pretty silly to me to dismiss something out of hand based on some preconceived notion of”MORE IS ALWAYS BETTER!!!!”

    • Eben1277

      “Dual core S4 Pro, and a 720p display? This phone wouldn’t be fit to wipe my ass with past June of 2012 bro. Like, throw it into a Blendtec with an iCrapphone and see if it blends!”

      • clocinnorcal

        I assume that was one of the comments you were talking about? Not sure why you got down ranked.

        • Eben1277

          Because people have no eye for details.

      • highspecjunkie123

        you sound like a moron

  • Bill Sincavage

    Gotta love the haters. Sorry if your S4 or HTC “superphone” can’t keep up. All that un-optimized horsepower got you no place.

    Side by side with my daughters HTC One the MX kicks its butt and the battery just keeps going and going.

    It’s kind of like a Top Fuel dragster against an Alchohol dragster where the TF dragster keeps spinning it’s tires. All that power, no traction.

    • donger

      Most people don’t see it like that. People want the “next”, “new”, “big” phone.

  • jamal adam

    I think that those who are complaining about mid-level specs of the Moto X clearly proves Davids point that we are too heavily invested in the specs of a smartphone rather than what it offers and how it performs in real world us. The Moto X from all the reviews out there, shows that there is more to it than mere specs and that one can build a smartphone that competes with the likes of the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4 without needing to be just like them. I personally think we need to leave judgement until we have actually used the phone itself.

  • donger

    It is based on specs and features that people go and buy new phones. If the Moto X was priced right, it wouldn’t matter as much to some.

  • bill

    i just got a moto x with sprint and i cant get to the internet even with my wifi on any suggestions

  • shreyas

    wn will the phone be marketed in INDIA

  • ihatefanboys

    When a person likes something its easy to look at it favorably instead of objectively. The phone is mid level at best. Really sad if you believe this is really a union of Google and Motorolla. I think they can do better. I hope they can do better. Ill wait for something better. But then again I do have the best Android phone right now. The HTC ONE.

  • clocinnorcal

    It IS easy to look at something favorably instead of objectively, and while it may be “mid-level at best” many are praising its fluid design and UX. So what I can’t understand is why are all the objective commentators so harsh towards a device that performs as well as the HTC ONE or the S4? Maybe people like the device because they actually enjoyed using it despite the lack of bleeding edge technology. If I were one of these “objective” people I would be demanding my OEM of choice to “optimize” their flagship devices since this seemingly mid-level device is keeping pace with their flagships.