Sep 01 AT 2:53 PM David Beren 38 Comments

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

Moto X (9)
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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

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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

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.

Assist

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

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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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