It’s been a while since we did our last reviews roundup, but since the Moto X is a special smartphone, and not simply because we have waited so much for it to make an appearance on the market. So many were hoping that Moto X would be the device that would “save” Motorola and bring it again in the Premier League of smartphones. Google didn’t release the Moto X smartphone with the best tech specifications you can get right now, but it remains a device that you simply have to know more about.
When it was announced, the Moto X impressed everybody with its color customization options, but, in the same time, disappointed many with the fact that some of its drawbacks that can’t be overlooked. But now the first reviews of the Moto X are in and we can finally make a sound judgment on this phone’s capabilities and promises.
Moto X Reviews are in
The Moto X is a phone made in the United States and just like I was saying before, Google might score some nice sales if they will know how to promote this. Not so many people know that the Moto X is designed and assembled in the USA, so Google needs to promote that if they want to get more sales.
The Moto X is a phone that allows for some heavy customization, but that is currently limited. It also comes with an interesting combination between Motorola’s proprietary processor architecture and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4. Now let’s see how the Moto X behaves in “reality”, and not only on the paper.
Hardware & Display
The Moto X’s unique selling proposition resides in the broad and awesome choice of colors that its back plate can have. I can already expect HTC, Samsung or somebody else to come up in the future with a smartphone that would also allow for such cool customization. For now, only AT&T subcribers will benefit of this sweet features, but Google is probably testing the waters here, to see what will be the response of consumers.
Joseph Volpe with Engadget expresses his views on the Moto X:
Quality craftsmanship isn’t the first association that springs to mind when looking at the Moto X. The glossy white plastic that frames the device looks chintzy and the precious woven white backplate, however, will get messy. I know because within one hour of owning the device, an innocuous rubber stand we’d used as a photo prop managed to scuff the backplate.
The volume rocker and power button are loosely secured and flimsy. They actually make a slight noise when you jiggle them in their sockets. I don’t know about you, but when I plunk down $199 and sign away two years of my life to a carrier, I want to know that the two buttons used most on a phone will be sturdy and everlasting. Which doesn’t appear to be the case here.
The Moto X is anonymous , all branding has been stripped from it, thankfully. We don’t need to be constantly reminded of the manufacturer and carrier when staring at our phones. Kudos to Motorola for avoiding that stamp of corporate insecurity.
Joseph goes on to mention that while the 720 display panel is not the brightest display and it will have difficulties with the summer sunlight, it has a good enough quality, especially on a 4.7-inch screen.
The Moto X’s AMOLED display comes with a pixel density of 316 pixels-per-inch and it looks great from almost any angle. Joshua Topolsky with The Verge also finds the display quality at good levels and he is pleased by the speakers. However, brightness control seems to be an issue with the Moto X:
I was more annoyed by the fact that I needed to install a brightness control app to moderate dimming on this display. In an attempt to conserve every possible drop of battery life in these new phones, the system-software brightness control seems to be over-attenuated to the point of making the screen unreadable at times.
The speakers on the Moto X are excellent. They’re loud enough to use in the car hands-free and generally clear for speakerphone use and even a little YouTube or music playback. I did notice some mild distortion at higher levels, but overall their performance puts them in a favorable light, especially compared to the speakers on Samsung’s latest flagship phone.
To remind you – the Moto X doesn’t have metal used in its “outside shell”, relying on plastic, perhaps to decrease production costs but also to contribute to the light weight. When it comes to its form, it seems that the curved back has pleased most of the reviewers. Joshua assesses Moto X’s build quality – “The Moto X is fantastic from a purely hardware-facing perspective. It’s a beautifully made phone, with the unique advantage of being highly cosmetically customizable“.
Sascha Segan with PCMag stresses out how well the Moto X feels in your hand:
Motorola got one important thing very, very right here: The Moto X is the narrowest flagship Android phone available today. Only Verizon’s Motorola Droid Mini, which we haven’t tested yet, will be narrower—and not coincidentally, the Droid Mini is the Moto X’s primary competitor on Verizon Wireless.
The width of a phone, more than anything else, defines how comfortable it is to use one-handed. The X is 2.57 inches wide, as compared to 2.69″ for the HTC One and 2.75″ for the Samsung Galaxy S 4, which makes it noticeably easier to use in one hand. It’s also shorter than those two, at 5.09″ tall, but a little bit thicker, at .42″ thick, and it’s between them in weight at 4.6 ounces.
Software & Camera
The Moto X doesn’t come with the latest, Android 4.3, but instead it will pack Android 4.2.2. But the good news is that the Moto X comes with an Android version that’s nearly Vanilla Android, meaning it’s almost a stock Android version, like Google S4 Play Edition. Besides Android’s own features, the Moto X comes with a few interesting software options.
The “touchless controls” on the Moto X is somehow similar to how Google Glass works, letting you always wake up and start “commanding” your device by saying – “Okay, Google Now”. There’s a trick here – during the initial setup, the phone will memorize how you have pronounced that small phrase and will listen only to your voice. I’m still not convinced this will always work, but it’s a nice feature to have around. But there’s a cacth, as Joshua puts it:
The touchless controls are rendered nearly useless if you have any kind of security lock on your phone. You can still use it to make calls, but everything else requires that you unlock your phone, which requires that you pick it up and interact with it… meaning you just defeated the whole idea of “touchless controls.” If the voice recognition was as good and as personalized as Motorola would like it to be, this wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s an issue right now, and a bit of a bummer if you care at all about your phone’s security (and let’s face it, you should).
Motorola’s new killer Android feature should be considered Active Display. This is, in a sense, what makes the Moto X smarter than your average smartphone and one of the reasons Motorola developed that specialized contextual computing core. Pull the phone out of your pocket and a portion of the display immediately illuminates with the time, any new notifications and an unlock icon. You can even preview those lingering notifications by tapping the blinking icon onscreen and then fully access them by sliding your finger upwards.Not to worry, you can manage which notifications show up, when they do or even prevent them from displaying altogether when using password protection in this sleep mode — called a “breathing cycle,” since it fades on and off once triggered. Active Display can also be initiated by flipping the phone over, specifically if it’s been face-down on a table while you’re at a meeting or eating out with friends.
Vincent Nguyen with SlashGear finds the preloaded apps on the Moto X as much needed:
The company’s own preloaded apps and services are more interesting than Verizon’s. Back when Motorola was first teasing the Moto X, it described the phone as contextually-aware in a way other smartphones aren’t; that’s down to Motorola Assist. Recognizing that your phone has, courtesy of all its sensors, a potentially huge insight into where you are and what you’re doing, Assist promises to automatically switch the Moto X between various usability modes depending on its environment.
Initially, the two key modes are Driving and Meetings. In Driving, the Moto X uses its GPS and accelerometer to figure out you’re in motion, and automatically offers to read out incoming text messages and switch incoming calls into speakerphone straight away. A voice prompt guides you through each, announcing callers in the process, meaning no need to look at or touch the display. It’s a slick system, especially since you never need to actively remember to turn it on or off.
But Joshua has even nicer words about the Motorola Assist:
Assist senses when you’ve begun driving in your car, and immediately switches into an almost conversational, hands-free experience. I took a trip and forgot all about the feature, only to be shocked and pleasantly surprised when my phone told me I had an incoming message from my wife.That was the moment with the Moto X when I started to seriously consider the phone. I’m not sure what impressed me more: the ease of this function, or the fact that I didn’t have to think about where I was and what mode I was in.
Also, let’s not forget that the Moto X has some more nice software features for you, as John with PhoneArena doesn’t fail to remind us:
- Motorola Connect: view and reply to text messages and incoming calls list from the Moto X on our computer
- Google Drive: exclusive 50GB of free storage
- Wireless Display: Moto X’s Wireless Display streams what you’re doing on the phone to the big screen (needs to be Miracast-enabled)
The camera on the Moto X also comes with a few suprises to make the most of the 10 MP sensor. Tim Carmody with Technology Review:
The Quick Capture Camera has its own learning curve to master. It’s an ingenious use of gestures: two quick twists of the wrist activate the camera application from off or locked without having to press a button. Once in the camera app is running, touching anywhere on the screen takes a picture. The goal is to go from having the camera in your pocket to taking a picture in less than two seconds. Learning the gesture is easy.
But it only activates if the camera is asleep or locked. Once you unlock the phone, it doesn’t work. But it means the two habits—a touch gesture to unlock the phone, a twist gesture to take a picture—actually work against each other. It’s one or the other. Also, once the camera app is activated, it stays activated. On Sunday, I took a quick picture, then kept the phone in my hand while walking, anticipating that I’d take more. At the end of the day, I’d taken a half-dozen pictures of my own thigh, one for every incidental touch of the screen.
Brian Bennett with Cnet, who always put a special focus on camera abilities, share their impressions with the Moto X:
Apparently Motorola has finally taken camera capabilities seriously. Imaging has been an ongoing weakness of the company’s handsets, but it’s clear the Moto X is intended to address this deficiency. The Moto X’s camera app is pared-down but simple to operate. After taking it for a few spins, I can certainly say I’m pleasantly surprised by the Moto X’s camera, which is nimble enough to snap photos of my restless toddlers without missing a beat.
The vaunted imaging system also appears to take the dim lighting of my cavelike apartment in stride. Indoors detail was crisp and images exposed properly. The phone took clear images of our studio still life, with both crisp detail and proper exposure. Colors looked accurate as well but I did run into one annoyance: the tight field of vision. Because the Moto X’s field of view was noticeably small, it was difficult to capture the entire still-life scene in the frame.
Outdoors, the Moto X performed admirably as well. I saw plenty of detail and vibrant colors evident in flowers, leaves, and the clothing of strolling pedestrians. Moto X Details were sharp and colors bright in sunlight. The camera app, called Quick Capture, has been revamped to be cleaner and more efficient.
Joshua, however, has a different opinion about Moto X’s camera, saying that “ the Moto X camera is great, but also terrible“. He lauds the quality and speed at which the Moto X takes pictures, but things the post-processing of images “is so aggressive and so ubiquitous that it ruins as many shots as it saves“.
Performance & Battery Life
Battery life – this is another feature where Google wanted to score high, promising a 24-hours of mixed usage. Sascha obtained the following results:
14 hours, 15 minutes of CDMA talk time, which is definitely a great showing for the 2200mAh battery. That beat our result on the CDMA HTC One, which marked 11 hours, 25 minutes on a larger 2300mAh battery. The Moto X’s 8 hours, 21 minutes of video streaming time over Wi-Fi also beat the HTC One’s 5 hours, 48 minutes. But Motorola’s boldest claims are reserved for standby and “average use” time, a weasely, nigh-undefinable term that will have to play out as more people use the phone.
Joshua used the Moto X heavily for 15 hours before it died and it lasted for 7 hours and 14 minutes on the Verge Battery Test (loads popular websites and high-res images with brightness at 65 percent). According to that, the Moto X actually managed to beat HTC One and SGS4’s results, but is still behind the Maxx or the Galaxy Note II. Joseph has had an even better result, especially if we take into consideration his heavy usage of the battery:
Spotify is nearly always running on my phone when I’m in transit, which, here in New York City, means almost any time I’m not sitting. When I’m idling, I usually launch Pocket to catch up on news, voraciously refresh and scan Twitter (set to sync every 15 minutes), have constant emails pouring in and out that I read and respond to, Hangouts that I periodically indulge in, Maps for rushing off to various meetings around town and Chrome for the 20-plus links I have open at any given time.
It’s sad, but I am that person at dinner or drinks who’s always staring at his phone. And that sort of behavior nets you a 28 percent charge on the Moto X after one day, two hours, 12 minutes and three seconds without battery saver enabled. That result bests even Motorola’s own conservative claim of 24-hour battery life.
The good results in battery life tests are also thanks to the X8 custom architecture. The combination of a dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro clocked at 1.7GHz, a quad-core Adreno 320 GPU and two specialized cores plus 2GB of RAM seems to have pulled it off. Those two separate processors are meant for contextual computing and natural language processing, which translates into the following features: Active Display, Quick Capture and Touchless Control. Have a look below at some benchmarks (lower scores are better on SunSpider).
Joseph explains the results:
Its $199 on-contract price is the sole commonality between it and current Android kings: the Galaxy S 4 and HTC One — Google’s Nexus 4 is the lone outlier. Pitted against those two top-tier smartphones and their Snapdragon 600 hearts, the Moto X just can’t keep up. It is, by virtue of that X8, comparatively slower, although graphics performance seems to run rings around its rivals, despite all four sharing an Adreno 320 GPU. Contrast it with the Nexus 4’s Snapdragon S4 Pro and you’re looking at a fairer fight, but, again, graphic testing outpaces Google’s reference device.
Joshua on the performance capabalities of the Moto X: “For now, our phone hardware is clearly more capable than it needs to be; mid-range seems to be just fine in this case“. Overall, most of the reviewers have found the performance of the Moto X more than satisfactory, being given the fact that, despite its ingenious chip architecture, it is still labelled as a dual-core smartphone.
Wrap-up: the good and the bad
- Wide range of colors
- Comfortable to hold
- Good camera
- Reliable battery life
- Assist, Touchless Control, and Active Display features
- Almost pure Android
- Exclusive customization for the moment
- No microSD slot
- Standout features are also present in other Droid smartphones
- Big price
Nothing compares to really seeing the device in action, right? If you don’t like reading or you just want to get the essentials, have a look at the videos below with the first reviews of the Moto X.
photo credits: Digital Trends, TheVerge, Engadget, SlashGear