I have my hands on the Moto X since it was announced back in August. It’s the first byproduct of the new Google owned Motorola. Google is certainly no stranger to designing phones, but have relied on other companies to manufacture the Nexus line. This is different. Motorola is now part of Google, so there is a unique opportunity for synergy that can only come from a company that is the maker of both software and hardware. There are some inherit advantages, but have the merged companies succeeded in with this, their first effort? I’ll try to answer that question and more in our Moto X review.
The Moto X hardware features a 4.7-inch 720p display with 316 ppi. Among the current flagship devices, Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, it’s smaller than both. It’s still plenty of screen real estate. Consider one thing, the iPhone 5s still sports a 4-inch display, so this offers a screen that’s almost 20 percent larger. It’s powered by the Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System that includes a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (1.7Ghz Dual-Core Krait CPU, quald core Adreno 320 GPU), a natural language processor and a contextual computing processor. Basically, Motorola has a dedicated low-power chip that’s needed to pull of some of the software features discussed later in the review.
Motorola has done a fantastic job in cutting down the overall size of the device. The screen is the same as the Nexus 4, but it feels entirely different. There are extremely thin bezels on the left and right of the display and for the most part, it dominates the device. More importantly, it makes it easier to hold and navigate with one hand. During my briefing, Motorola indicated they had done research related to what size would be considered ‘perfect‘ for most people. Smartphones are not a one-size fits all, unless you are Apple who forces you to buy an iPhone with a 4-inch display. Still, the focus of Motorola was on finding a screen size and device size that worked for most people. I can say that for me, this size was perfect. I didn’t have to compromise on screen size, nor did I compromise on comfort.
The Moto X has a special battery which allowed for a curved back. The familiar ‘M’ logo is recessed. Not sure if it was intended, but my index finger fit nicely when gripping the phone. The back has somewhat of a matte finish. The front uses black plastic outlines the display. While I’ve enjoyed using the Droid phones, I was less than thrilled with the over-the-top use of carbon fiber. The Moto X hardware has subtle branding, that doesn’t try too hard. All in all, it’s a good looking device that feels solid.
On the software side, the Moto X runs a custom build based on Android 4.2.2. If you are a fan of stock Android, this is as close as you’re going to get, without opting for a Nexus phone. The phone is incredibly snappy. Cycling through apps in the app drawer, invoking Google Now – all of this happened at a fast clip. What I appreciate most about the Moto X was the focus on the user. Instead of pushing a number of features that aren’t typical of daily use, Google and Motorola opted to look at how we use our phones. More importantly, how can the improve how we use our phones.
User Centric Features
What I found to be an immediate useful feature on the Moto X is the active display. I get email all day along with the occasional Twitter notification. The Moto X will briefly light up to inform me of a notification. Better yet, I don’t have to pick it up, unlock it and start hunting through my apps. Pressing on the notification allows me, the user, to peek at the incoming message. If it requires action, I just swipe up to unlock and it goes directly to the app. This is all done with very little impact to the battery. It did have an immediate impact to how I use my phone. It’s a killer feature.
The Moto X has a separate chip dedicated to touchless control. When you first setup the Moto X, you have to train it to learn your voice. Your phone can be off, sitting in the passenger seat of your car and you can execute a wide array of commands. It uses a separate chip to handle the voice commands, using a low-power mode when not in use. Using the phrase, “Okay, Google Now“, the Moto X jumps into action. The speed and execution of my voice driven commands left me impressed. I could ask for the score of the Yankees, give an address to start Navigation and more. I see this is a useful feature for when driving. I’ve used Siri on the iPhone often and it can be an exercise in frustration if you don’t setup relationships that she/he can understand. I tested some of my more difficult last names with voice recognition and it worked very well. When you combine the touchless control that is a hardware feature with a software feature like voice control, it’s a clear win.
Quick Capture Camera
For most, the camera is one of the more important features of a smartphone. It’s well on its way to replacing point and shoot cameras. The old adage, the best camera is the one you have is true. The Moto X tries to improve upon camera access. Some cameras have gone the route of dedicated camera buttons. Motorola’s hardware allows the camera to turn on using a quick flick of the wrist. It’s kind of like a two twist, down and up to power on and launch the camera. It worked for me, but didn’t feel natural. It might be a case of teaching an old dog new tricks. If you are considering this phone, I’d recommend you test the feature at your local wireless carrier.
As for the camera itself, it’s a 10-megapixel shooter that uses ‘Clear Pixel’ technology. On the front, it features a 2-megapixel camera. With the Moto X, Motorola’s emphasis was clearly on front-facing consumer features, so I was anxious to try the camera. Motorola claims the 10 megapixel camera offers 75% more light using an RGBC sensor. There are a set of white pixels whose only job is to gather light. Improved exposure should improve action shots and perform better in low-light.
The camera app itself is focused on making things easier. There aren’t a staggering number of controls. Tap on your screen to set your focus point and it snaps the photo.During my tests, I didn’t find that to be the case. My results showed a camera that managed to best the Nexus 4, but that’s not a huge feat. Low-light performance was disappointing. The image below was shot inside with no lights, but a fair amount of natural light.
As you can see in the image below, the camera performs quite well in daylight. You could use flash indoors to compensate, but those can result in harsh tones that look anything but natural.
Editor’s note: Motorola has a software update to improve the quality of images produced by the camera. If provided an opportunity to test the new update, we’ll append the review as necessary.
A few particulars for those considering this device as their next Android phone. There is no removable battery or storage. Battery life was surprisingly good, given the new features. Clearly, the processor is doing its job. You can easily get a day’s use of the Moto X from the battery. On the storage front, this comes in either 16GB or 32GB.
Moto X Maker
The Moto X Maker is web based software that allows users to personalize and design a Moto X. . It allows for a choice of colors, but the guide offers efficiencies by pre-grouping colors (cool, neutral, warm) that work well together. There are also a nice selection of colors, that seem well thought out. You can customize the back, front and accent color. The software is fast and offers instant previews.
When you finish, you can choose a case, also with a preview of how the final product will appear. You can also select a startup personalization message, wallpaper and have your Google account synced during manufacturing. I haven’t had an opportunity to build my own Moto X as of yet. When it comes to personalization, the company seems to have thought of everything, including a quick ship time. Motorola builds your personalized Moto X in the US, with shipping times in the area of 3-4 days.
- Excellent build-quality, finishes and overall solid feel
- Big screen, comfortable to hold
- Touchless control is both fast and efficient
- Active display and ‘peek’ notifications are addicting
- Moto X Maker software makes it easy to personalize your phone using a nice palette of colors
- Camera was disappointing in low-light settings
If you are in the market for a new phone, there are plenty of good choices and the Moto X is one of them. Priced at $199 on contract, it’s got some stiff competition and will have trouble winning over consumers looking for the best camera. It’s evident that with the new Google-owned Motorola, there is a clear focus on bringing features that matter most to users and it’s a refreshing change not only for Motorola, but any manufacturer. Exceptional personalization choices, touchless control and active control are difference makers that help the Moto X stand out in a crowed field.