The Moto X has arrived on Sprint, going up against the biggest names in the smartphone arena. But instead of trying to go tit-for-tat with specs and over-the-top features, Motorola keeps things simple and intuitive, focusing on touchless voice controls and the ability to preview notifications without having to unlock the phone. There's also the impending launch of Moto Maker studio, which will let users trick out their devices with multiple colors. At $99, the Moto X has the same price on Sprint as the iPhone 5s, HTC One and Galaxy S4. Do you get enough for your money?
The Moto X has an understatedly handsome design. The white rear panel, made from a sturdy composite material, sports an interesting weave pattern. We noticed that when light hits the panel at certain angles, the pattern gives off an almost holographic effect. A 10-megapixel camera sits near the top of the panel, along with a thumb-size divot holding the Motorola logo. We continue to be fans of the rounded panel that fits comfortably in our hand, ensuring a better grip.
The pair of thick white bands that wrap around the sides look a little cheap and are a guaranteed dirt trap. Silver buttons for power and volume sit on the right side of the device with a SIM card slot on the left. The buttons are unusually slim, but we didn't encounter any problems using them. A headphone jack lines the top of the device with a microUSB port along the bottom.
The front of the Moto X sports an edge-to-edge screen and very thin side bezels. The thicker top and bottom bezels help to accent the 4.7-inch display. A 2-MP camera sits in the upper right corner.
Weighing 4.8 ounces and measuring 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.22-0.4 inches, thGalaxy S4is slightly thicker and heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S4 (4.7 ounces, 5.31 x 2.69 x 0.25 inches), the iPhone 5s (3.95 ounces, 4.87 x 2.31 x 0.3 inches) aHTC OneiPhone 5c (4.65 ounces 4.9 x 2.33 x 0.35 inches). However, the Motorola is lighter and slimmer than the HTC One, which weighs 5.1 ounces and measures 5.4 x 2.7 x 0.37 inches.
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Moto Maker Customization
The Moto X's biggest claim to fame is the Moto Maker website. Using Moto Maker, consumers can customize their phone to their hearts' content, creating something truly unique. (That is, until the build-your-own-phone experience comes to Sprint in a few months.) AT&T is currently the only carrier that allows users to get creative.
When Moto Maker lands on Sprint, users will be able to choose from 18 back covers, seven accent colors for the buttons and rear camera, and a pair of front colors (white or black). The covers are bright and colorful -- we're particularly fond of the Royal Blue rear panel with the black front and metallic purple accents.
You can also preselect the device's wallpaper and have a custom message appear when the phone is powered on. Motorola was also etching custom inscriptions into the rear panel, but the company has temporarily suspended this feature to tweak the quality.
Once users have picked out their color scheme, they can also order clear cases and SOL Republic headphones. Motorola claims that the phone will arrive within four days of placing the order, shipped from Texas where it's assembled.
It's not 1080p, but the Moto X's 4.7-inch, 1280 x 720p AMOLED display is stunning nonetheless. The phone uses a subpixel structure that gives each pixel its own red, green and blue subpixels, resulting in bright, rich color and sharp detail.
For example, during the HD trailer of "Hunger Games: Catching Fire," we could see the fine spate of freckles running the length of Katniss' face as well as her rosy cheeks and lips and wisps of flyaway hair. The flames along the hem over her dress were undulating shades of red and orange, accentuated the subtle transformation to purple and black throughout the rest of the outfit.
In side-by-side comparisons with the 1080p display-laden Galaxy S4 and HTC One, we found that the GS4 had the dimmest display with the fuzziest detail. The Moto X had richer color, particularly on shades of red, but the HTC One's screen offered an excellent balance of display brightness, color and sharpness.
The Moto X's display averaged 460 lux on our light meter. That's brighter than the 400 lux smartphone average, and was enough to hold off the GS4 (446 lux) and the HTC One (459 lux). The iPhone 5s delivered a dazzling 500 lux.
The Moto X's rear speaker impressed with big audio-- enough to fill our small test space. The bombastic bass guitar, crisp snares and rich keyboard in Janelle Monae's "Q.U.E.E.N." blanketed the space. Monae's high-energy vocal was the highlight of the track, but the phone managed to deliver balanced audio, allowing each piece of the track to shine.
OS and Interface
If you're not a fan of Android skins such as Samsung's TouchWiz and HTC's Sense, you'll like Motorola's fairly clean build of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Everything from the lock screen and app menu to the notification drawer looks and feels Nexus-like.
Swiping down from the top of the screen with one finger reveals the notification drawer, while using two fingers provides instant access to various settings shortcuts. These include Brightness, Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Data Usage, Battery Status and Bluetooth. You can also drill down further into other settings.
You'll find five home screens out of the box that automatically populate with apps as you download them, and three persistent software buttons at the bottom of the display: Back, Home and Recent Apps (for switching and closing apps).
The Moto X includes Google's latest keyboard, which features swipe typing and next-word prediction. The one pleasant surprise is that the haptic feedback is strong without slowing you down.
There are some trade-offs to this purer Android experience. For instance, you can't launch any app you want from the lockscreen, as you can with the Galaxy S4 and the HTC One. We also like how Samsung integrates quick settings and notifications on one screen, complete with a brightness slider. On the Moto X, settings and alerts are separate.
We continue to be impressed by the Moto X's Touchless Control feature. The automated assistant certainly gives Siri a run for its money, allowing us to wake the phone from sleep with the phrase "Okay Google Now." It's much faster than long-pressing a button to launch Siri.
The phone has a natural language processor, which means that it can better understand your questions and natural manner of speaking. The device is also equipped with a trio of microphones to make sure the phone captures your voice even in noisier environments.
Setup was quick and painless. After launching Google Nowe, we were prompted to say "Okay, Google Now," three times to train the Moto X to recognize our voice. The voice recognition is very accurate, thwarting other Laptopmag staffers' best attempts to impersonate our voice.
Once we successfully trained the assistant, we fired off a series of queries. For instance, we asked, "Where can I find a dog walker in the Bronx?" and the voice answered that it had compiled a list of candidates. Google Now also correctly identified the capital of Mozambique and gave us directions to the Throgs Neck Bridge. You can also call a contact without ever touching the handset, set reminders, check the weather and navigate to a specific address. (You can always say "Help" to see what kinds of things you can do.)
Thanks to its dedicated contextual computing processor, the Moto X can detect when it's been moved from your pocket to your hand or the table. The phone gives you a peek at the time and displays your latest notification when you whip it out of your pocket -- and you don't even need to press the power button.
When you receive a new notification, the alert will have its own icon, such as the Gmail logo. Simply press the alert to view the notification, which will be displayed at the top of the screen. From there, you can swipe up to launch the notification's accompanying app.
Active Display works on a last-come, first-served basis, so only the most recent notification will show. You can just swipe up to unlock the device to whichever app you were last using. You can also handpick which apps show notifications in the Settings menu. You can't view all of your alerts at once as you can on the Galaxy S4, but there's a Zen-like charm and focus to Motorola's offering.
Motorola includes a few special apps that can make your life easier. One is Motorola Assist, which builds on the work Motorola did with its Smart Actions and simplifies it. You can check off rules that will allow you to drive, go to meetings and sleep uninterrupted. For instance, when you check Silence, and the Moto X will keep your phone quiet when you're in meetings.
The Moto X also supports Motorola Connect, a Chrome extension that lets you send text messages and see incoming calls right on your desktop. After downloading the extension and signing into our account, we were up and running in no time. We especially liked that we could respond to incoming calls with texts.
The phone also has a few Sprint-branded apps. For instance, MobileZone serves as a dashboard for all things Sprint-related, including carrier news, account information and promotions. Sprint TV & Movies lets you stream television shows and movies, while Sprint Music Plus lets you purchase and download music. We'd skip these options.
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Performance and X8 Mobile Computing System
The Moto X's 1.7-dual Core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 CPU with a quad-core Adreno 320 GPU seem behind the curve on paper, but offer plenty of punch. Plus, Motorola's X8 Mobile Computing System boasts additional processors for contextual computing and natural language.
The device is plenty fast when it comes to everyday use. For example, the Moto X launched the camera app in 1.3 seconds compared with the 2.1 seconds on the Samsung Galaxy S4. During the App Load Time Test, where we clock the time it takes to launch "N.O.V.A. 3," the Moto X took 12 seconds to load. The GS4 was a couple of seconds behind at 14 seconds. The iPhone 5s' Apple A7 processor loaded the game in a blistering 4 seconds.
To further test the Moto X, we timed how long it took to transcode a 204MB 1080p video file to 480p using VidTrim. The Moto X finished this task in just 6 minutes and 41 seconds, which was faster than the Galaxy S4 (7:27), the HTC One (7:34) and the smartphone category average (7:26).
The Moto X didn't perform as well on some synthetic benchmarks. It notched 1,251 on Geekbench, falling short of the 1,811 smartphone average. The iPhone 5s scored 2,556 while the HTC One and its 1.7-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 CPU achieved 2,869. The Samsung Galaxy S4 and its 1.9-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor scored 3,234.
During the Quadrant benchmark (which measures CPU, graphics and I/O), the Moto X hit 8,873, beating the 6,270 average. The GS4 notched 11,308 while the HTC One delivered 12,378. On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited (graphics test), the Moto X scored 10,841, surpassing the 9,624 category average. The HTC One notched 10,325 while the iPhone 5s achieved a whopping 13,795.
Web Browsing and 4G LTE
The Motorola Moto X is the latest device to ride on Sprint's growing 4G LTE network. Currently available in 151 markets, the carrier still has a long way to go before it competes with Verizon or AT&T.
Editors' Note:Sprint's 4G LTE network is now available in 185 markets (updated September 27, 2013).
We tested the Moto X in one pocket of LTE coverage on the east side of New York City. Using the SpeedTest.net app, the Moto X's download speeds averaged 6.94 Mbps with an average 3.77 Mbps upload speed. Compare that against the AT&T version of the device, which clocked 13.3 Mbps down and 1.7 Mbps up.
Quick Launch Camera
The Moto X's Quick Launch feature enables users to open the camera app via a couple of wrist flicks. However, you have to be very deliberate with this action for it to work. Assuming you perform the gesture correctly, the app launches in under a second.
The app itself has a rather sparse presentation, skimping on the settings and modes. There's HDR, Flash, Tap to Focus, Panorama, Slow Motion Video and Geo-Tag. You can also turn Quick Capture on and off. You won't find special features such as an Eraser Mode or Sequence Shot, which both Samsung and HTC offer.
Despite the skimpy feature set, we appreciate the ease of navigation. You can touch anywhere on the screen to fire off a shot, and you can swipe in from the left side to reveal a settings wheel. Swiping in from the right brings up the gallery.
As evidenced by our 2013 Smartphone Camera Shootout, Motorola isn't known for its camera quality. The company is looking to mend its ways by adding Clear Pixel technology, which it says can capture up to 75 percent more light than a traditional sensor. Combined with an f2.4 aperture lens, the Moto X is supposed to snap photos up to twice as fast in bright light while also taking better images in low light.
The Moto X put its money where its mouth was during our test shots. Our photos of a nearby flower stand yielded vibrant pinks and reds with bold purples and blues. We could easily make out the brown markings on a bouquet of tiger lilies.
The camera performed well in a low-light setting, capturing our test subject's orange sweater. However, it wasn't the best on the sharpness, resulting in a very fuzzy image.
The Moto X's 1080p videos delivered smooth motion when we recorded New York traffic, and adjusted the lighting fairly quickly when we panned from a brighter sky to the darker street.
The Motorola Moto X's 2200 mAH battery lasted 6 hours and 58 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over 4G LTE), enough to outlast the 6:16 smartphone average. The Samsung Galaxy S4 scored 5:49 in Standard Mode and 6:05 in Power Saver Mode. The HTC One clocked in at 5:17 while the Apple iPhone 5s (AT&T) lasted 5:46.
The Moto X comes with Motorola's CrystalTalk dual-mic technology, which is supposed to help cancel out background noise. We made a call from our bus stop in the Bronx next to a construction site to our tester in Washington, D.C. Our caller said we sounded loud and clear, but could hear the jackhammer in the background. However, our caller sounded crisp and clear during the conversation, despite the surrounding din.
It's tempting to write off the Moto X for its midrange specs when compared with heavy-hitters such as the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4. Don't. We love having a personal assistant that answers to our voice without touching the phone, as well as the ability to glance notifications with no effort. When Moto Maker studio launches on Sprint in a few months, the Moto X will be the most customizable phone on the carrier.
For sure, the Moto X faces stiff competition on Sprint. The HTC One has a more premium aluminum design, great audio and 1080p display; the Samsung Galaxy S4 is crammed with features and has a removable battery; and the iPhone 5s boasts a more powerful processor, better camera and a unique fingerprint sensor.
If you're looking for a smartphone that delivers a great mix of personalization and convenience -- along with an uncluttered Android experience -- the Moto X is a very good choice. But you may want to wait until Moto Maker is live on Sprint and the carrier's LTE network is more widespread.