There’s no question Motorola has a lot riding on the Moto X. As Motorola’s latest flagship (available today on AT&T and soon to hit all major carriers in the US) the Moto X is the first handset born out the Google/Motorola marriage and highlights a departure from the masculine Droid line Motorola has long been known for.
You don’t need a microscope to see that Google’s DNA went into the making of the X. Unlike similar offerings from rival handset makers, the Moto X chooses a more modest approach, focusing instead on features to help set it apart from the competition, and not a gaudy high-end specs or ocho-cinco cores. Now that you’ve gotten the full spiel, let’s find out if the Moto X is able to deliver on these promises, or if the device’s mid-range specs will ultimately hold it back.
Design & Build Quality
Much like a first date, the first 2 areas you’ll notice on the X are its design and build quality. The new Motorola put a lot of thought into the looks of the Moto X. As the first Googorola device, the Moto X shared more in common with Nexus devices than Motorola’s current, overly masculine, line of “Droids”. Soft rounded corners, a convex back, and colored accents — the Moto X is definitely easy on the eyes.
For many, the Moto X’s best feature is it’s petite size. Small bezels along the front make for a device with a healthy screen-to-bezel ratio, packing in maximum display size, while keeping the overall form factor small and comfortable for one handed use. Measuring 129.3 x 65.3 mm and gradually sloping from 5.6 mm at its thinnest point, to 10.4 mm at its thickest, the Moto X occupies a segment of the market only upcoming “Mini” devices can compete in. This makes the X the perfect Android device for converting on-the-fence iPhone buyers. It’s also the same weight as the Samsung Galaxy S4, at 130 g, so it wont weigh you down.
While the Moto X is covered in plastic materials, the matte back with sliver carbon fiber pattern provides for an almost 3D look, keeping the device from feeling “Galaxy cheap”. Unfortunately, the plastic rim around the display doesn’t always sit completely flush with the back plate, leaving a sharp lip around some of the corners and making the device feel a little more entry level than I would have liked (but only to those with a keen eye).
Also the back, while solid around the mid-section, has some slight give around the top portion (around the camera). Couple this with buttons that rattle considerably when the haptic feedback is engaged and things start to feel a little less than solid. The plastic trim around the display is soft, making is susceptible to scrapes and dents. After close inspection, I just can’t say I was too impressed with the build quality, but for many, it likely wont be an issue.
In a smartphone industry first, Motorola gives customers the ability to hop onto their all new Motomaker website and design their own special Moto X. After they’ve customized the device according to their tastes, their personalized Moto X will ship to them within 4 days straight from Motorola’s newly built Texas facility. An AT&T exclusive for now (more carriers will be added later), we’re sure you’ve already seen our hands-on of Motomaker where potential buyers can customize the color palette of their Moto X.
Options include either a white or black faceplate, 18 different colored back covers (with more colors and finishes being added in the future). You can even change the color of the buttons and trim around the camera along with accessories. For those keeping count, that’s a whopping 504 different color combinations, a number we’re sure will grow as more colors are added into the mix.
This gives customers the chance to design a Moto X that will look unlike others they may run across on the street, adding a very personal touch and something only the Moto X can offer. While custom etching wont be available at launch, customers will soon be able to further personalize their Moto X with phrases or
gang names along the back of the device. Wood finish back covers are also being tested, but no word on when we can expect those to hit Motomaker.
Hardware and Performance
When Google finally revealed the Moto X’s official specs, many were upset to find that on paper, the X was equipped with “last year’s hardware”. What do we mean by that? Well, namely the 4.7-inch 720p display, dual-core processor, and limited 16GB/32GB internal storage options — all trumped by high-end offerings from HTC and Samsung.
But in a smartphone arms race where manufacturers are using bigger numbers as a way of declaring their handset’s dominance over one another, high-end hardware does not always a good phone make. Don’t get me wrong, as a bleeding edge techie myself, I love high-end specs as much as the next nerd, but I would argue that many of these cutting edge specs would be lost on mainstream consumers simply looking for a handsome smartphone with responsive software and a clear display. In those areas, the Moto X delivers.
In real world usage, the 1.7GHz Qualcomm MSM8960 Snapdragon Pro (also known as Motorola’s X8 chip) is snappy and quick to open up apps and webpages. I found no discernible difference in speed between the Moto X and quad-core equipped devices like the Nexus 4, HTC One, or Samsung Galaxy S4 (okay, it did feel quicker on its feet than the S4 with TouchWiz). Also, even when running benchmarks, the phone rarely, if ever, reached a warm temperature, staying cool during normal usage.
While the X may not be packing a “quad-core” processor like many other devices on the market, it does however feature a quad-core Adreno 320 GPU (same as found in the “higher-end” HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4). This means when it comes to graphic intensive gaming, the X will be able to keep up with the best of them — even better in most cases thanks to a lower-resolution display that makes graphics easier to render.
AnTuTu – 18977
GFXBench (GLBenchmark 2.7) – T-Rex: 26 fps, Egypt: 54 fps
Quadrant – 8855
Vellamo – HTML5: 2442, Metal: 770
We briefly mentioned the device’s 4.7-inch display which I found high-def enough thanks to an adequate 312 ppi, but the AMOLED’s over-saturation of colors, yellow-ish white balance, and strong gamma had me longing for SLCD3 (or at least the Galaxy S4′s saturation controls). Don’t even bother trying to edit a photo on this thing, it wont come out looking anything like you’d expect when viewed on your computer.
Other specs include dual-band WiFi b/g/n/ac, a 2,200 mAh battery, Bluetooth 4.0 with LE + EDR, nano SIM card (even smaller than your micro SIM) and NFC. The Moto X is also only available in 16GB or 32GB storage options, with Google offering a whopping 50GB of free Google Drive storage for 2 years.
Accessible with a handy quick launch gesture (double twist of the wrist, even while the phone is sleeping), the Motorola Moto X’s 10MP “Clear Pixel” rear facing camera is easily the device’s weakest area. What’s strange is how it was billed to perform better than previous hardware, with better low-light results and all this technical mumbo jumbo to back it up. In the end, you’ll be hard pressed to shoot a single decent picture with the Moto X’s camera.
All images suffer from an extreme amount of muddiness, devoid of any detail. I have a suspicion the softness in images has more to do with the a horribly aggressive noise filter, something that could be fixed in a future software update (like with the HTC One), though you probably shouldn’t hold your breath.
Low light is where the camera really freaks out. The image above was taken with the the Moto X and HTC One GPe in extremely low lighting conditions — no flash, no HDR, stock camera settings — and it’s easy to see which device came out on top. Images on the Moto X have purple edges when the ISO jumps up and so much noise and filtering, there’s no way anyone will find themselves pleased with the end result. Flat out: this is one of the worst smartphone cameras I’ve ever used in my life (yes, even worse than the Nexus 4).
In a strange twist, the 2MP front facing camera suffers from none of the aforementioned issues. Images come out sharp (almost too sharp), with a nice amount of exposure and contrast. It’s so odd Motorola couldn’t get the rear camera to perform like front, but if you become really desperate, you could always use the front camera as your primary shooter (great for selfies).
While an average 2,200mAh battery might not sound like much, don’t let it fool you — it takes the Moto X a long way. That’s not to say you’ll get a full 24 hours worth of usage (no matter what you’ve read), but the Moto X should get you through your day, until you make it home at night.
According to Motorola, the Moto X is capable of 13 hours of straight talk time, and around 24 with mixed usage. My results varied but on average, I’d get around 14 hours of “normal” usage (checking Twitter every so often, making a few phones calls, checking a few texts, watching a YouTube video or 2), but with very light usage, I could often hit that 20 hour mark. In fact, standby mode is where the Moto X truly shines.
During transit, the Moto X managed to go a full 4 days (that’s 96 hours) while powered on and once it finally arrived at my house, still had 10% of its battery to spare. Pretty damn impressive if you ask me. Because the Moto X uses such little battery life when sleeping, there were many days I didn’t even bother plugging it in at night, knowing it would still be alive to sound my alarm in the morning. There’s a certain amount of peace of mind that comes with knowing that.
With mobile hardware hitting a plateau of sorts, it’s the software and features therein that will ultimately be the deciding factor for consumers. You might not be able to tell the difference between a 720p display and a 1080p one, a dual-core processor and octa-core one — heck, even Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and Android 18.104.22.168.3.459083 Jelly Nuts.
Something tells us Motorola knows this and it’s why they’ve added a handful of new software features, a few that consumers can only find from their line of smartphones and nowhere else. Because the Moto X offers a near stock Android 4.2.2 experience, we’ll focus on Motorola’s unique software features and not everything Android 4.2 Jelly Bean entails.
One of the coolest Moto X features is something Motorola is calling “Active Notifications”. Essentially, this is lockscreen that is enabled whenever the X receives a notification. In olden times, you’d have to pick up your phone, press the power button and swipe down the notification area to check your notifications — not on the Moto X. Active Notifications makes the process easier with a black and white lockscreen (provides for minimal impact on battery life) that pulses with, not only the time, but shows you when you have unread notifications.
Pressing on the center of the display — without picking the device up, or press the physical unlock button — lets you peek at the most recent notification, while previous ones are also shown. From there, you can decide to full unlock your device and address them, or continue watching a movie, eating dinner, or playing your video game. Easily the most handy feature we’ve seen from Android OEM’s in quite sometime.
Overall it works very well… when it works. Often times I’ve found my Moto X display is blank, and I begin finger jabbing my phone trying to get the Active Notifications lockscreen to appear so I can peek at my notifications. By that time, I could have picked up my phone and checked the normal way. I also noticed Active Notifications felt a bit “hacky”, with the normal Android lockscreen showing for a split second upon unlock (instead of unlocking straight to the homescreen). Not a huge deal, but it makes Active Notifications feel like some 3rd party app from the Play Store.
Similar to the “Ok Glass” voice actions found on Google Glass, the Moto X features what Motorola calls their “Touchless Control” voice actions. Essentially, Touchless Controls allow you to quickly access Google Now (found on all Android devices running Jelly Bean) without ever having to physically pick up your phone. It’s always listening, at the ready, waiting on your every command.
But first you’ll have to set it up and after recording yourself saying “OK Google Now” 3 times, the Moto X will learn your voice patterns. From there you can simply say “OK Google Now”, and the Moto X will perform a Google voice search of whatever you like. Since the Google Now also features voice actions, any of those actions can be spoken. Things like setting alarms, posting status updates, figuring out math problems, checking weather, translating something into another language, sending an SMS message, placing calls, etc.. Sky’s the limit.
Like Active Notifications, when Touchless Control works, it works well. Unfortunately, more than often I found myself screaming at my Moto X, trying to hit the same pitch I used during the setup process. In a crowded room or at a restaurant, Touchless Control never picked up my voice, possibly because my yelling voice was different than what was programmed.
Unless I was Liam Neeson, hog tied upside down with my X just out of reach, Touchless Control just seemed a tad bit gimmicky. Still a very cool feature and one that I expect will sell a few Moto X’s in carrier retail stores.
Assist is one of Motorola’s bigger apps that automates tasks like enabling hands-free communications while driving or keeping your phone quiet during meetings and/or evening hours. Definitely cool, and definitely many users will find helpful.
The driving option helps Moto X users “stay focused on the road” by measuring your speed to detect when you might be driving. Once enabled, you can have your X read text messages aloud, or the name of a caller.
Meeting checks your calendar for meetings or events and can mute calls. While I imagine most folks aren’t regularly engaged in weekly meetings, you can create a calendar event for something like church every Sunday, so you never have to worry about interrupting a service. Settings include the option to set ringtones to silence or vibrate, with the option to whitelist calls from Favorites or when someone calls twice within 5 min, usually signifying an emergency (or crazy ex). You can also have our phone auto reply to missed calls via SMS.
If you absolutely hate being interrupted in your sleep by emails, SMS messages from friends with no job, or calls from creditors, you can also set your phone’s own quiet hours under the Sleeping option. Like Meetings, you can still enable calls from those in your Favorites or whenever someone calls twice within 5 minutes.
Assist’s user interface makes the app a joy to use. Where you’d expect something of this nature to look like Android’s boring ‘ol Settings app, you’re instead greeted by a UI that’s clean with Google Now-like cards and the familiar “No, maybe later” or “Yes, I’m in” Google Now options that appear at launch. Everything is clear and concise. You can definitely see Google’s fingerprints in the design.
Other Motorola Apps and Services
Call it bloatware or whatever you like, but Motorola also sprinkled the Moto X with a little more of their specialty software. Motorola Device ID ties to your Gmail account and allows you to access Motorola specific services like Motorola Connect (a Chrome extension for sending/receiving SMS messages and calls from your computer), Moto Care tips (an app with FAQ and options to auto-enable suggested tips), and Lost Phone Web Portal (to help track down a misplaced or stolen Moto X). One handy security feature is something Motorola calls Trusted Devices that will disable a pattern, pin, or other screen locks whenever the device is paired to a “trusted” Bluetooth device. Pretty damn awesome.
There’s also Migrate to help with transferring media, call, SMS, and contacts to a new device (either wirelessly, or using NFC). Motorola Privacy (found in the Settings app) disables or enables Moto Care tips or opting in/out of usage statistics. The Moto X also tweaks the stock Android software by adding their own Battery saving mode that will turn off background data during low battery (until the device is charging), and audio EQ tweaks found in the sound settings.
In the end, the Moto X was made to provide Motorola with a mainstream success of iPhone-level proportions. Motorola made a very strategic move in not focusing on specs, but on what the X could offer that was unlike the millions of other Android devices on the market. Something personal, something convenient, something that would change the way people interact with their smartphone. There’s a value in that and it’s why the Moto X — while it might not pack the higher spec numbers — at $200 on contract, it’s priced on the same level as high-end handsets offered by Samsung, HTC, and LG.
If you’re buying what Motorola is selling, than the Moto X might be the phone for you. For bleeding edge tech enthusiast, the Moto X wasn’t built for you and you might want to continue waiting for the next big thing.
- Great design
- Stock Android software
- Front facing camera performance
- Battery life
- Customization options
- Always on voice actions “Touchless Controls”
- Availability on all major US carriers (AT&T for now)
- 10MP “Clear Pixel” camera
- Build quality
- Subsidized pricing (subject to change)
Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5