Love it or hate it, the Moto X will probably go down as the most controversial phone of 2013. It had as much hype as the Galaxy S 4, and although just about every bit of information about the device was leaked before the event, there was still one major surprise that left a lot of people shaking their head: the price. How can a phone with specs from last year be priced the same as a phone with up-to-date specs? The Moto X isn’t about the specs, it’s about the overall performance and user experience. But is Motorola really doing anything different here? While HTC, LG, Samsung, and Sony try to outdo one another with specs, they still offer features they feel differentiate themselves and provide a fantastic user experience for their customers. After much R&D, Motorola thinks they have the recipe for success: A phone that responds to you, is made for you, and is designed by you. Not to mention it’s assembled in the good ole USA. Is this a recipe for a disaster or is Motorola on to something? Hit the break to find out.
If there is anything that has been consistent with Motorola smartphones over the years, it’s their solid build quality. Lately, they have been more known for their industrial look with the DROIDs, but the Moto X is more simplified. The Moto X doesn’t scream high quality like the HTC One, but it’s far from the platicy feel that you get with the Galaxy S 4. Probably the greatest asset with the Moto X in terms of design is its size. It has a 4.7-inch display and the body has a width of 2.57 inches and a height of 5.09 inches. You won’t find another phone with a 4.7-inch display as small as the Moto X. As an example, the HTC One also has a 4.7-inch display, but it’s much bigger, at 2.69 x 5.41. The Moto X is the perfect size for one handed operation and it also happens to be the sweet spot that consumers want. Motorola did extensive surveys to figure out what device size (not necessarily display) people felt comfortable with. After they came to the conclusion on size, they set out to get as much screen real estate as they could within the chosen device size. The end result is that it’s compact yet satisfying to those that want larger displays, but don’t want to feel like they are carrying around a tablet.
Another major change is the rounded back that is similar to what HTC has been implementing on the One and DROID DNA (Butterfly) along with LG’s upcoming G2. The rounded back serves three purposes. It’s a lot more comfortable in the hand, it allows you to get a larger battery into the device by using a pyramid-like shape, and it gives the impression the device is thinner than it actually is. As far as battery goes, the Moto X has 2,200mAh, which is pretty darn good when you consider its size. It’s only slightly smaller than the HTC One’s 2,300mAh. As far as thickness goes, the Moto X is pretty high at it’s thickest part. It peaks at 10.4mm, but the sides are at 5.6mm. 10.4mm is so 2011, but you wouldn’t know it because your fingers are holding the device where it’s at 5.6mm.
Motorola has used Kevlar quite extensively on the DROID line, but not on the Moto X. The black and white versions sport a Kevlar-like composite material that has a soft touch, while the other custom colors (more on that in a bit) sport polycarbonate. My black review unit has a similar feel to the soft touch backing on the DROID DNA. I actually prefer these materials over the glossy plastics on the Galaxy S 4 and the metal on the HTC One. The soft touch gives you a better overall grip and is less slippery.
What separates the Moto X from any other smartphone available today is the ability to customize. You can certainly buy a black or white version at your local carrier store, but if you want to make your Moto X more unique, you can opt to design it the way you want using the motomaker website, and it will be delivered to your doorstep within 4 days. You can choose either white or black for the front and one of 18 colors for the back. There are even 7 accent colors to choose from. The accents are the ring around the camera lens, the power button, and the volume button (all three need to be the same color). Motorola found that males like the idea of accent colors so they can customize their phone around their favorite team colors. There will also be two choices of back patterns for only the black and white colors. Last but not least, you can also create a custom message for the back of the device. It can be your name or maybe even a business name. Unfortunately, the motomaker service is only going to be available for AT&T models at the time of launch. This is a big downer, but I suspect the reason behind this is that Motorola wants to work out production issues before opening it to all carriers. Eventually it will be open to all U.S. carriers.
As far as buttons and ports go, you will find the microphone jack at the top center. Along the right side is the power button towards the top and the volume rocker below that just above the middle. The left side has the SIM slot right smack in the middle, and the bottom has the microUSB port. The front of the phone has no buttons as they are on-screen just like it’s supposed to be. The backside has the lens at the top center along with the flash below that. Just a little lower, you will find the Motorola logo that is slightly indented. It’s very unique, and interestingly enough, your will probably find your index finger resting on it when you are holding the phone. It just so happens to be the perfect spot for volume and power controls, but LG already thought of that.
The Moto X features a 4.7-inch 720p (1280 x 720) AMOLED display at 316 ppi, the Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System, 2GB of RAM, 16GB/32GB of storage, 10MP Clear Pixel (RGBC) rear camera with f/2.4 lens and 1.4 micrometers pixels, 2MP front camera, 2,200mAh battery, Bluetooth 4.0 LE+EDR, WiFi 802.11 a/g/b/n and ac modes, GPS, and NFC.
The majority of phones launched this year have a quad-core processor, but you won’t find one on the Moto X. However, it has the same amount of cores as those phones. Most of the flagships today feature 4 cores for apps and 4 cores for graphics for a total of 8. The Moto X features Motorola’s own X8 Mobile Computing System, which includes a software-optimized 1.7GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro for apps, a quad-core Adreno 320 GPU, a natural language processor, and a contextual computing processor. That is a total of 8 cores folks, it’s just spread out differently. The natural language processor is dedicated to Touchless Control and the contextual processor is for the Active Display.
The Moto X isn’t going to perform as well as other flagship phones in regards to benchmarks, but it’s going to be able to provide unique features (more in a bit) and better battery life. I found the Moto X to be as snappy as any phone out there, however I will say that just about every phone is snappy out of the box. The real question is how snappy will it be 6 months or a year from now? If you have read any of my past reviews, you know I am not a benchmark fan whatsoever, but I always run an AnTuTu just for the heck of it and as a guide. The Moto X came in at 18,351, which is well below the Galaxy S 4 (24,722) and the HTC One (23,538), but it’s also much higher than the Nexus 4 (15,348) and on par with the LG Optimus G Pro (19,204). The bottomline is that if you can see a difference between all of these phones than God Bless you. The average person won’t and that’s all that matters.
Moto X decided to go with a 720p (1280 x 720) display as opposed to the 1080p displays that are on every flagship phone. The reason is that 1080p is more of a want than a need. Motorola feels that 1080p is an overkill and it hurts battery life. Battery life is a growing concern among consumers, and the little that is sacrificed going from 1080p to 720p will more than be worth it when it comes to how long you can use your phone between charges. So how does Motorola’s AMOLED display perform? In a nutshell, Motorola is right. Unless you are a display expert, you aren’t going to have an issue with the Moto X. I always say people never realize how good or bad their display is unless they put it right up next to another device. Other than the resolution, the colors are on par with the Galaxy S 4 where the white balance is slightly off. The HTC One’s Super LCD 3 has a better color representation, but again, you have to be looking for these differences.
Motorola has always kicked butt when it comes to sound and the Moto X is no exception. No, it’s not going to sound as good as HTC’s BoomSound, but Motorola did a fantastic job. I would have preferred stereo speakers, but that kind of performance on a smartphone might be a bit of an overkill as well. What matters is how it sounds using the speakerphone and other mundane tasks. The Moto X succeeds in both of these categories thanks to the fact that the speaker gets 5 times more power than other smartphones because the temperature and movement of the speaker membrane is constantly monitored.
Battery life has to be one of the biggest assets of the Moto X. Motorola is promising 24 hours between charges. For starters, I ran my usual rundown test in which I run continuous video with the display turned up to 2/3′s while connected to 4G LTE. I also leave WiFi (not connected), Bluetooth (not connected), and GPS turned on. I was able to get 10 1/2 hours out of it, which is comparable with the DROID RAZR HD (10 hours). In contrast, the Galaxy S 4 powered down at 9 hours, while the HTC one lasted only 7 hours. How does it perform in an average day with normal use? I am getting 22 to 24 hours with what I consider normal to heavy use.
The software is where the Moto X really shines. For starters, it is pretty much stock Android 4.2.2. There is no UI overlay whatsoever, just enhancements that should hopefully make you more efficient in your daily life. A lot has been said about Motorola and their previous UI called Blur, but to be honest, if you look at all their Android phones starting with the original DROID, they have normally provided a mostly stock experience. Blur in itself didn’t change Android all that much, it was more of an overkill of social implementation. Even their Gingerbread builds looked and felt just like stock Android.
It has always been about the add ons for Motorola, good or bad. In previous years, they offered features such as MotoCast and Smart Actions, but Motorola came up with some cool new stuff for the Moto X. Features such as Touchless Control, Active Display, Motorola Assist, Motorola Connect, and Motorola Migrate are features that can be quite useful. As I mentioned, the Moto X isn’t about the specs, but it really isn’t about the specs for other manufacturers either. Sure, they try to give you everything they can give you in terms of specs, but at the end of the day, it’s the software features that differentiate one phone from another. We wrote about this right after the Galaxy S 4 event. Samsung spent about 4 minutes talking about the specs and about 45 minutes talking about the software features. The only problem with most of the features offered today is they are usually more “cool” than they are useful. The Moto X aims at offering features that are not only cool, but useful as well. Lets see how they did.
Touchless control allows you to get directions, set a reminder, set an alarm, call someone, find out who won the big game last night, and so much more, all without touching your phone. It’s not the commands that make Touchless Control great, it’s the fact that it works. These commands are part of Google Now and available to anyone with Android 4.1 or higher. The difference is that with the Moto X, you don’t have to pick up your phone, unlock it, find the Google search microphone, and tap it. Instead, you just say “OK Google Now” and the Moto X is ready for your next command. It’s most useful in the car when you want to keep your hands on the steering wheel. Is this cool and useful or just cool? I am kind of in the middle on this one. When I first got my review unit, I used it a lot and was so impressed because it worked so well. However, I have never been a big voice actions guy so I found that I used it a lot less as the days went by. Will I use it in front of Apple fanboys? Absolutely, but it’s not a must have for me. With that said, if you like voice actions, you will love this feature. It’s amazing how fast and responsive it is, and it’s due to the fact that they have the dedicated natural language processor. Yes, it can sometimes respond to someone else’s voice, but overall I have nothing to complain about. Click here for more info and/or check out this video on how it works.
Active Display is Motorola’s way of revolutionizing how you know there are notifications on your phone by getting rid of the archaic notification light found on most phones today. To me, the notification light is useless since there is no way to tell what types of notifications are pending. With Active Display, you will be able to easily see what apps have notifications, and you can even read relevant info (ie a text message) without turning on the entire display of the phone. It’s not only efficient, but it saves on the battery. This came about because Motorola found that people turn on/off their display an average of 60 times per day. Many of these times, it isn’t to do anything all that important. It could be just to see what notifications are pending or even as simple as checking the time. Turning the display on regularly takes it’s toll on the battery and that is where Active Display comes in. It only lights up a small portion of your display with the relevant info, including the time. You can file this one into cool and useful. Click here for more info and/or check out this video on how it works.
If you owned a DROID RAZR device, then you might be familiar with Smart Actions. Smart Actions allowed you to automate actions based on certain specifications such as silencing the phone between midnight and 7:00 am everyday. Well Motorola simplified things with the Moto X and renamed it Assist. Motorola probably found that consumers had a hard time with Smart Actions since there were so many settings. You will only find the essentials in Assist: Driving, Meeting, and Sleeping. The Driving section lets you customize certain settings to help you keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. Meeting and Sleeping will eliminate interruptions unless it’s an emergency. I would say this can go into both the cool and useful categories. By far the most useful is the settings for Driving. It takes Touchless Control up a notch with the ability to answer or ignore calls and hear text messages so you can concentrate on driving. The Meeting and Sleeping features work great too. Click here for more info and/or check out this video on how it works.
This is not only very cool, but also very useful. If you like to put a security PIN or pattern on your lock screen (highly recommended), then you are going to love Trusted Devices. It allows you to set paired Bluetooth devices as “Trusted”, which means your lock screen will be disabled when your Moto X is connected to any one of them. This is perfect for the car and any headsets. The idea is that if your Moto X is connected to your car’s Bluetooth, then it’s obviously with you and safe. Once your Moto X gets disconnected from the Bluetooth device, the lock screen will go back into effect. This not only makes things easier for you in not having to constantly go through your security lock when it’s not necessary, but it also makes Touchless Control a better experience since it won’t be limited by the security. Why they didn’t include WiFi settings is a mystery to me. It would be nice to not have to fiddle with the security lock screen when connected to your home WiFi. For more information, check out our guide on Motorola Assist and see our video on Touchless Control (above).
Motorola Connect is yet again another cool and useful feature. It allows you to see who is calling you as well as read and reply to your texts via the Chrome Browser on your desktop, notebook, or Chromebook. There are other apps that do this as well, but to have something built in makes the most sense. It’s just a matter of downloading and installing the Motorola Connect extension for Chrome. Once you start using it, you will wonder how you lived without it for so long. Click here for more info and/or check out this video on how it works.
Getting a new phone is cool, but trying to move stuff over can be a chore for some people. This is where Motorola Migrate comes in. The app comes pre-installed on your Moto X, but you need to download and install the free app from the Play Store on your old phone. It’s quite simple, which is probably it’s biggest negative. The only settings are if you would like to connect the devices via QR code or NFC and which phone is the receiver/sender. After you pair the devices, it will transfer photos, videos, SIM contacts, music, and call/text history from your old phone to your Moto X. You can still do other things while the migration is happening, which is a good thing since it can take some time. The only negative is that you can’t choose what you want to be transferred. It just transfers everything from the categories I mentioned whether you want it or not. I think this is a cool feature, but I would have to say it’s somewhat useful, since you can’t control what you want transferred. Click here for more info and/or check out this video on how it works.
This is Motorola’s version of Google’s recently announced Android Device Manager. In the event your Moto X is lost or stolen, you will be able to locate where it is, wipe it, or make it ring. I couldn’t get it to work, and frankly, I don’t think it matters so much. Use the recently announced Android Device Manager from Google since it works on all Android phones. I would put this under not cool and not useful.
This is just a simple gesture that Motorola created for opening the camera fast. Just two flicks of the wrist and the camera app will open. This works whether the display is on or off. It even works if your security lock screen is in place. I found it worked about 90% of the time, which is damn good. I’m not sure if it’s the coolest thing in the world, but it is useful, and that is all that matters.
In looking at my grading, most of the features came in as “useful” or “somewhat useful” which means Motorola succeeded in getting rid of the gimmick that we find on a lot of smartphones today. They deserve an applause for this.
If you look at any of my past Motorola phone reviews, the camera seems to be the area that I’m most disappointed in. Motorola never seemed to figure that one out, but I was hopeful things would change when I heard the Moto X is using Clear Pixel technology, which allows it to perform better in low light and increases the speed of the shutter. Unfortunately I was disappointed again, but I am thinking it’s just a software issue.
Let’s start with the interface. It’s as simple as could be, and in some ways, too simple. The settings only consist of toggling the flash, auto focus, panorama, HDR, Geo tagging, and Quick Launch (on or off). For focus, your choices are auto or focus on touch. For HDR, it’s either on or off, but they have an auto mode (on by default). There are no other settings such as exposure or white balance. For video, you can set it to slow motion. The settings menu can be accessed by sliding your finger from the left side to the right. Just like the stock Android camera, you can access the gallery by sliding your finger from the right side to the left. Most consumers don’t fool around with the settings, so I can understand why Motorola took out a lot of options, but it would have been nice if they included some features for the more experienced users.
Snapping shots is very easy since you can touch anywhere on the display. Holding your finger down will give you burst shots along with a counter telling you how many you have taken. You can also zoom in or zoom out by sliding your finger up or down on the display. The shutter is really quick and can handle my fast-moving 4-year old with no issues.
Now we get to the quality of the images. Unfortunately the photos tend to have a lower contrast and many times looks bland when comparing it to the Galaxy S 4 and the DROID DNA. I am hopeful this can be fixed with their post processing software. On the plus side, there is virtually no blur when motion is involved since the shutter is so fast. It also performs very well in low light and does a better job with shadows and highlights. It’s like it’s almost there, but something is just a little off. If Motorola can tweak the post processing software, this camera could be one of the best.
Here are examples shots which include daylight, low light, and action.
Very Low Light
And here are some comparison shots putting the Moto X head to head with the Galaxy S 4 and DROID DNA. Unfortunately I didn’t have an HTC One on me at the time of this review. Click on the individual images for full resolution versions
Galaxy S 4
HTC DROID DNA
Now it’s time to get to the nitty gritty. Is this the phone that you should buy? I think the Moto X is a solid all around phone, but I am having a hard time with the price of $199 on contract when other phones with slightly higher specs are priced exactly the same. Now if you work for Motorola, you’re thinking that I don’t get it, but I do get it. It’s not about the specs for Motorola, it’s about the user experience of the phone. It’s the fact that Motorola is reinventing what “smart” is in a smartphone. However, as I mentioned, Motorola isn’t doing anything different here. Each manufacturer is offering their own set of software features, of which, they believe make a great user experience for their customers. Who offers better features can still be debated.
In terms of cost and specs versus other phones, you may have noticed, I said other phones had “slightly” better specs. I know the perception is the CPU and the display is the big difference, but I’m willing to call the CPU a wash since the Moto X includes 8 cores just like other devices that include a quad-core CPU and a quad-core GPU. It’s just that the 8 cores are used differently. One might argue about performance differences, but the cost might be relatively the same. Now let’s talk about display. The Moto X features 720p, while competing flagships (priced the same) sport 1080p. Motorola argues that we don’t need 1080p, and by using 720p, it will allow the battery to last longer. I agree, but shouldn’t there be a discount for the 720p display? Most people don’t need a 6 cylinder car so they can opt for the 4 cylinder and get better gas mileage. However. do they pay the same price as the 6 cylinder?
Now with all that said, we must not forget that Motorola opened a new plant in the U.S.A (Forth Worth, TX) to assemble the Moto X and they are able to deliver a phone to you within 4 days customized the way you want. There has to be a cost to that, but why not offer the generic black/white versions at a cheaper price and charge a higher price for those that want the customization? However, it doesn’t appear that the U.S plant or the customization offerings really increased the overall cost of the device. According to Goldman Sachs, each device costs Motorola $214 and they are selling the device to carriers for $350. Why on earth is it being sold for $199 on contract? That is only a $150 subsidy. Is this the carriers overpricing the phone or does Motorola have a hand in this?
Putting the price aside, I wouldn’t purchase the Moto X because of the camera. It’s just not good enough and it’s my biggest disappointment. If the camera software is fixed, I might look the other way and pay the $200 because it’s a phone that’s basically stock Android, assembled in America, you can design it the way you want, and it has features that are actually useful. I think Motorola is definitely onto something with the Moto X, but I would wait for the price to drop, which could take place around the holidays.