So yes, Motorola made a new phone. But it's not just any phone. It's one of the most-hyped devices we've seen in a long time, the result of Google's $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola. The pressure is on for Motorola to sell a lot of these things.
That's why Motorola designed the Moto X to be the everyman phone, one that hits the middle ground and appeals to as many people as possible like the iPhone does. Motorola succeeded, but the result is a device that isn't nearly as revolutionary as its teasers over the summer may have led you to believe. The Moto X goes on sale later this month and starts at $199 with a two-year contract from your carrier.
Perhaps the smartest thing Motorola did with the Moto X was keep Android largely untouched from the original version Google gives away for free. Too many Android phone makers like Samsung bog down their devices with heavy customizations, bonus features, and extra apps that do nothing but take up space and frustrate users. Motorola's approach is to keep Android as clean as possible in the Moto X and only add features it thinks most people would find useful.
It's a refreshing take on Android, and it works brilliantly. Still, there are three distinguishing features in the Moto X that you won't find in other Android phones.
The first is the notifications system. The Moto X's screen pulses every few seconds with a glimpse of your incoming notifications like texts, missed calls, tweets, Facebook messages, and Candy Crush alerts. You can tap the notification to get a "peek" at what it says. From there, you can swipe up to jump into the app and respond, or just ignore everything. I found it to be a nice, unobtrusive way to get your notifications, and it's a lot better than having to flip on the screen the way you have to with the iPhone and some other devices.
Next, is the camera app. While the camera itself doesn't take the best photos, the way you use it is very handy. Giving the phone a quick twist, even when the screen is off, automatically launches the camera app. From there, you can tap anywhere on the screen to snap a photo. (There's no on-screen shutter button.) The whole process only takes about three seconds, something you can appreciate if you've ever missed a good photo because you had to fiddle with your phone to switch it on and launch the camera app.
But the biggest wow factor comes from the Moto X's touchless controls. The phone's microphone is always on, listening for the magic trigger, "OK, Google Now." You have teach the Moto X your voice, which theoretically stops others from controlling your phone.
The command launches Android's Google Now app, a voice assistant that is more robust and powerful than Siri on the iPhone. From there, you can ask Google to do just about anything: set a reminder, look up sports scores, get the weather forecast, make a call to someone in your contacts list, etc. The "OK, Google Now" trigger worked perfectly for me every time, but like Siri, Google Now can't do everything. I was still able to stump it a few times.
Ultimately, the touchless controls are neat, but not something you need to use. No one has perfected giving verbal commands to your smartphone, and until they do, you're better off just typing stuff in the old fashioned way.
Hardware And Design
The Moto X is an unassuming device. It's not ugly, but it's definitely not as beautiful as the HTC One or iPhone 5. It has a 4.7-inch display that's crammed onto a body that's not much larger than the iPhone 5. That, plus its curved, rubbery backing make the phone pleasant to hold and perfectly easy to use with just one hand.
Tech geeks have already pointed out that the Moto X's specs are relatively weak compared to other phones in its price range. For example, the display can't play full 1080p HD video and it has less RAM and processing power than beasts like Samsung's Galaxy S4.
But at the end of the day, none of that matters. Most people just want a phone that works well and is easy to use. The Moto X accomplishes that, and it all plays into the theme of making this a phone for your average Joe Sixpack.
As far as battery goes, Motorola claims you can get 24 hours out of the battery with normal use, and I found that to be mostly true. I was able to get through every day with power to spare, and charged the device back up at night.
Not good enough for you? There's one more thing.
You'll also have the option to customize your Moto X through a special website called Moto Maker. You can change the back and front covers, trim, and add a laser engraving. After you build your phone virtually, Motorola will put it all together at its factory in Fort Worth, Texas and have it shipped to you within four days. At first, only AT&T customers will be able to use Moto Maker, but Verizon has said it'll be on board later this year. Eventually, Motorola will give you the option to add a wooden cover if you're willing to pay extra.
All that design customization is a nice bonus for those who want their phone to stand out, but like the rest of Moto X's exclusive features, there's nothing game-changing or revolutionary here.
The Moto X is a good phone. Despite all the marketing hype, it's not going to knock your socks off, but it is the most accessible and easy-to-use Android phone I've ever tested. The extra software features may not be revolutionary, but they do give us a glimpse at a future where our mobile devices truly do become an intelligent companion.