Moto X Reaches Beyond the Droid Series [Review]

Sporting a very different vibe than the Droid series, and being offered available across all 4 major carriers, the new Moto X is undoubtedly an attempt by Motorola to appeal to a more mainstream audience that reaches beyond their Verizon-only Droid series.

This new smartphone packs in a 4.7″ AMOLED 720P 316 ppi display, it measures 65.3mm wide by 1293mm high, and it weighs 130G. Thanks to its curved back with a soft touch finish. The form factor offers a great grip and the 4.7″ display hits the sweet-spot in terms of display size. Overall the display is excellent, with sharp visuals, vibrant colors, and it gets nice and bright. However its 720p resolution holds it back from being a leading smartphone display. That said, in a 4.7″ form factor, 720p is totally adequate.

Quick Capture

We’re loving the simplified camera controls on the Moto X 8. All you have to do is twist your wrist twice and the camera app is loaded up and ready to shoot. This is a neat trick, but it can be hit or miss when you try it. Motorola has also improved the camera app by making it more simpler to use with a less cluttered interface. To that effect, they have tucked away the camera settings to be out of sight, but easily accessible by swiping to the left. Furthermore, you can quickly snap a picture just by touching anywhere on the screen. You can also easily zoom in by swiping up, or zoom out, by swiping down. Overall, operating the camera feels intuitive and very efficient.

As advertised, when it comes to the camera’s actual photo quality, the 10MP Clear Pixel camera with an LED Flash does perform quite well in low light, but it’s also a bit hit or miss. Sometimes low light photos look great and sometimes they produce a lot of blur. And pretty much all of the time, they have a lot of noise. That said, the camera can produce sharp photos with lots of detail. Unfortunately the colors it produces lack vibrancy and feel a bit washed out. However, we do appreciate that the camera takes pics very snappily and also sports a burst mode. Overall, this is the best camera we have seen from Motorola yet, but it still has lots of room for improvement.

Touchless Control

Google Now is essentially Google’s answer to Siri. You can use it to check the weather, get directions, call a contact, and even asking for sports scores or trivia questions. Privacy nuts probably won’t like that the phone is always “listening”, waiting for you to say “Ok, Google Now”, but this touchless control feature works really well. Even if the display is off, you just need to say “Ok, Google Now” and the phone display will go active and wait for your query. Generally, Google Now understood us, but there were many times when the system misheard us and returned the wrong query. At the moment, Google Now stills feels like a work in progress, but Google is committed to the service and since it’s cloud based, as it improves, the service will improve for you.

Active Display

Aside from Touchless Control and the Quick Capture features of the camera, the Moto X more or less offers a stock Android experience, and many users will appreciate that. But personally, we would like to have seen some unique widgets included. That said, a stand-out addition to Android 4.2 on the Moto X is the Active Display feature. Active Display lets you quickly view notifications on your phone’s lock screen, such as new messages and social network updates – all without having to hit the power button to open an app. Instead, when a notification comes through, all you have to do is hold your finger on the icon at the center of lockscreen for as long as you want to glance at the new notifications that have just come through. This is a super convenient feature that feels very natural, after all, most of us frequently check our phone for messages throughout the day. Active Display also features a digital clock that will automatically flash when you pull your phone out of your pocket, or when you turn your phone over from having been face down.

Performance

Performance on the Moto X is great thanks to its Motorola X8 architecture and 2GB of RAM. The system earned an excellent benchmark score of 8849 in Quadrant. But the phone’s peppy performance is also due in part to the fact that its using a relatively clean build of Android.

Customization

Color us superficial, but we’re crazy excited about Moto Maker, which lets you go online and design your own phone – for not an penny extra. In total there will be 16 colors to choose for the back of the device, and white or black for the front. You can also choose an accent color for the power key, volume key and camera ring, you can customize the device with unique wallpapers, and even have it power on with a special message that you have created. The phone will then be assembled for you in the U.S. and promises to be delivered to you in 4 days or less. This whole process is a a far cry from spending money to colorize your device from the likes of ColorWare. To that effect, Motorola isn’t planning to charge customers extra for using Moto Maker. That said, there is no word on whether or not the wood finishes will cost extra.

Battery

With a 2200mAh battery, battery life is healthy, if not amazing, and it will get you through almost a full day of moderate use.

Accessories

Motorola is also committed to pushing out lots of accessories for the Moto X, including a clear case that will protect the phone while still allowing you to show off its neat custom colors. They have also strategically partnered with Sol Republic to offer the matching DECK Wireless Speaker, as well as both in-ear and on-ear headphones that match the selection of available Moto X colors to a T.

Developer edition

Motorola reached out to us to tells that the Moto X on Sprint, US Cellular and T-Mobile networks will have unlockable bootloaders, and Motorola is also offering Verizon Wireless Developer Edition and a general North America Developer Edition. Each of the developer editions will be available on Motorola.com. You will need to go through a series of steps to unlock the bootloader on these developer editions and this process does void the phone’s warranty.

Verdict

Instead of focusing on flashy over the top features, Motorola chose to focus on implementing features into the Moto X that make your day to day smartphone use that much more convenient, and we appreciate this chosen path a lot. All in all, Motorola has totally stepped it up with the Moto X. We think that between Moto Maker and their partnership with Sol Republic, Moto X has the potential to help Motorola break into a younger and more mainstream demographic. The Moto X retails for $199 on contract for the 16GB model and $249 for the 32GB model. It will be available across all 4 major carriers.

The Good:
Touchless control, simplified camera controls with fast snaps, very comfortable to grip, Active Display feature is really neat, Moto Maker lets you design your own phone online, great performance, comes with 50GB of Google Drive storage for 2 years, partnership with Sol Republic means lots of neat audio accessories, assembled in the U.S., pretty good battery life, and neat gesture actions.

The Bad:
Moto Maker is an AT&T exclusive – at least for the immediate future and camera’s photos are disappointing.