With the Moto X, Motorola gives a whole new meaning to the term "smartphone." While many competitors focus on specs and features you might not use, Motorola is emphasizing touchless voice controls and the ability to preview notifications without having to unlock the phone. Not to mention, AT&T subscribers can use Motorola's Moto Maker to trick out the design in a wide range of colors. The Moto X could be the gadget Google called for when it criticized Motorola's lack of innovation earlier this year, but at $199.99, is it enough to compete with today's heavy hitters?
Motorola spent some time studying the human hand to make its Moto X exactly the right size while squeezing the biggest possible screen into its frame. The handset sports a 4.7-inch display, just as the larger and heavier HTC One does, but the Moto X feels much more compact. The back is also slightly rounded to fit your palm, which allows Motorola to include a "stepped battery" inside to fill out the space.
There's no doubt that the first thing you'll notice about the AT&T version of the Moto X is its handpicked combination of colors. While the standard edition that's available through other carriers features a white or black weave-patterned back, our Moto Maker-crafted Moto X came with a deep-crimson, soft rear shell. The rear camera lens was outlined in the thin, golden trim of our choosing that we selected via the online Moto Maker studio. The power button and volume keys shared this same honey-yellow shade, while the device's face donned a simpler black front plate.
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The Moto X's front features an edge-to-edge display with a very slim side, and attractive side bezels. The unusually thin volume rocker and power button felt strange to use at first, be we got used to them after using the phone for a few hours.
Weighing 4.8 ounces and measuring 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.22-0.4 inches, the Moto X is shorter, narrower and lighter than the aluminum-clad HTC One (5.4 x 2.7 x 0.37 inches, 5 ounces). This makes using the Moto X with one hand much easier, though we prefer the premium-looking aluminum build of the HTC One to the plasticlike Moto X.
Moto Maker Customization
If you've ever felt limited by smartphone color options, Motorola has you covered. One of the phone's main selling points, Motorola's Moto Maker studio for AT&T subscribers, lets you customize nearly every facet of your Moto X. From the color of its rear shell to its accent shades, the online studio lets you mix and match various color options. This includes 18 back-cover choices, seven accent colors and two front colors, including white or black. We especially preferred the lime and crimson rear-shell options, and soon enough, AT&T shoppers will have wooden back covers to choose from as well.
Motorola had previously announced that Moto X owners would be able to brand their device with their own personal message via Moto Maker. However, the company has temporarily pulled this inscription feature to improve the quality.
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The customization doesn't stop there. In addition to personalizing your phone's external appearance, you can also choose from 16 preselected wallpapers and set a custom message to appear when you fire up your phone. In addition, Moto X buyers can purchase color-matched clear cases to pair with their device and Sol Republic earphones. Motorola promises that your phone will arrive within four days, shipped directly from Texas, where it's assembled.
Right now, Moto Maker studio is available exclusively to AT&T customers. Verizon, Sprint, U.S. Cellular and T-Mobile will have to wait until later this year.
The Moto X doesn't boast a full-1080p display as its flagship rivals do, but its 1280 x 720p, 4.7-inch AMOLED screen was more than enough to offer bright and rich images. The Moto X uses RGB subpixel structure, which means each pixel has its own red, green and blue subpixels.
As a result, photos, movies and games delivered a good balance of detail and color. When watching the trailer for "Kick-Ass 2," we were impressed by the Moto X's ability to render bold and lively colors. We especially loved the deep-purple shade of Hit Girl's wig, and the color balance during outdoor scenes made the clip look crisp and sharp. By comparison, the same trailer looked dull when played on the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Averaging 458 lux on our light meter, the Moto X's display is brighter than the average smartphone (387 lux), and also beat the HTC One (433 lux) and Galaxy S4 (446 lux). When outdoors, we could read the Moto X's screen, but the iPhone 5's display shined brighter (535 lux).
The Moto X's rear-mounted speakers pumped out tons of volume -- enough to fill a medium-size office with music. When listening to "Will Do" by TV on the Radio," we found that both high-pitched synthesizers and deeper bass tracks sounded full and vibrant. The same song sounded a bit shallow and dull when played on the Samsung Galaxy S4. While we love the clarity and volume of the Moto X's speakers, the sound was slightly grating when blasted.
OS and Interface
Those seeking a clean Android experience will be pleased with the Moto X's relatively pure Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean interface. Unlike the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4, which come with their respective Sense and TouchWiz skins, most facets of the Moto X's UI look and feel like those on a Nexus device. For instance, the lock screen, app drawer and notification menu look exactly like the stock version of Android, with little changes.
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 and shortcuts. These include Brightness, Airplane Mode, Wi-Fi, Data Usage, Battery Status and Bluetooth. You can also drill down further into other settings.
Out of the box, you'll find five home screens 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.
As you might expect, the Moto X includes Google's latest keyboard, which features Swype-like typing and next-word prediction. The one pleasant surprise is that the haptic feedback is strong enough and doesn't slow you down.
Voice controls can be frustrating and unreliable at times, but Motorola has made some notable advancements in this field with the Moto X. The device contains a natural language processor, which means that it can better understand your questions and natural manner of speaking.
You can wake up the Moto X by simply saying, "OK Google Now," and ask the phone to do a wide range of things. For instance, we asked, "How tall is the Empire State Building?", and the phone instantly responded by telling us that the building is 1,454 feet tall. If you ask a more complex question, such as, "What's the difference between an iceberg and a glacier?", the handset will input your query into Google search and pull up the results. You can also call a contact without lifting a finger, set reminders, check the weather and navigate to a specific address.
Simply saying the phrase, "OK Google Now" -- whether the phone is awake or asleep -- will launch the Moto X's automated assistant, whereas you must long-press the Home button on an iPhone to activate Siri. The phone can also hear you from several feet away. Before you use the phone, you'll have to quickly train it to recognize your voice, but once you do, the handset won't respond to other voices. Plus, the Moto X can recognize you in an environment with moderate ambient noise because it uses three microphones.
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. For instance, 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 also just swipe up to unlock the device to whichever app you were using last.
It's clear that Motorola really thought this feature through, seeing as users can handpick which apps can present notifications via a dedicated 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.
Performance and X8 Mobile Computing System
The Moto X doesn't boast the speediest processor on the market, with its 1.7-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 CPU augmented by an Adreno 320 GPU. But although the processor isn't the quad-core powerhouse you'll find in the Samsung Galaxy S4, Motorola attempts to make up for this with its X8 Mobile Computing System. This architecture boasts additional processors for contextual computing and natural language.
Most important, though, is that the Moto X is blazingly fast when it comes to everyday use. We switched between apps and exited back to the home screen with ease, and launched the camera app in a quick 1.4 seconds. The Galaxy S4 launched its camera app from the home screen in 2.2 seconds.
The Moto X also had Samsung's flagship phone beat when it came to opening the "Minion Rush" game (18.2 seconds vs. 22 seconds), and handled the graphics-intensive "Riptide GP 2" without breaking a sweat.
To further test the Moto X, we monitored 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 59 seconds, which was faster than the Galaxy S4 (7:27) the HTC One (7:34) and smartphone category average (7:26).
The Moto X delivered mixed results on synthetic benchmark tests. For example, on Quadrant -- which measures CPU, graphics and overall I/O -- the AT&T Moto X notched a score of 8,864, versus the Galaxy S4's 11,962 and the HTC One's 12,706. Regardless, the Moto X breezed past the smartphone category average of 5,557.
The Moto X fared much better on the 3DMark Ice Storm graphics benchmark, beating both the S4 (10,371) and HTC One (9,231) with a score of 11,568. This score also blows past the 8,547 smartphone category average.
Quick Launch Camera
The Moto X's 10-MP camera starts with two flicks of your wrist -- a gesture that launches the app in about 2.2 seconds -- whether you have the screen off or on. This gesture worked well in our testing, but you'll have to guard against the phone slipping from your hand.
The Moto X camera app has a bare-bones UI. 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.
This phone doesn't offer very many settings or modes; it sticks with 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.
Motorola claims the Clear Pixel technology inside the Moto X can capture up to 75 percent more light than a traditional sensor can. That ability, combined with an f2.4 aperture, is supposed to allow the phone to snap photos up to twice as fast in bright light while also taking brighter images in low light.
In our testing, the Moto X's camera took some great-looking shots. The camera's HDR mode was able to get the correct exposure of both a dark church and the brighter sky behind it. Colors, such as the gold dome of a building, were spot-on, too. In one close-up photo of flowers, we could easily see individual water droplets when we zoomed in on the red petals.
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.
Motorola includes a few apps aimed at making everyday tasks easier. For instance, Motorola Assist offers a checklist that enables you to drive, sleep or attend meetings without being interrupted by your smartphone. But you can also check the Talk to Me box to tell the Moto X to automatically read text messages out loud when you're in your car.
The Moto X also supports Motorola Connect, which is a Chrome extension that lets you send text messages and see incoming calls on your desktop. After downloading the extension and signing in to our account, we were up and running in no time. We especially liked that we could respond to incoming calls with texts.
We were pleased to see that AT&T didn't overload the Moto X with excess bloatware. The only carrier-branded apps in the Moto X's app drawer were myAT&T and Visual Voicemail. MyAT&T lets you manage your AT&T account information directly from the device, while AT&T Visual Voicemail simply lists the messages in your voicemail box. The Verizon edition of the Moto X, however, brings a slew of self-branded apps that can't be deleted, such as NFL Mobile, Mobile Hotspot, My Verizon Mobile, Verizon Tones and VZ Navigator.
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The AT&T Moto X offered quick data speeds in our New York City office, with the average download speed reaching 13.3 Mbps and uploads averaging 1.7 Mbps.
The Moto X comes with Motorola's CrystalTalk dual-mic technology, which is supposed to help cancel out background noise. We called a co-worker in our office from a busy street in New York City with a fire truck running its noisy engine right next to us. The co-worker said we sounded loud and clear and didn't notice the fire truck during the conversation. At the same time, the co-worker we called sounded crisp and clear during the conversation, despite the bustling traffic and rumbling fire engine.
Motorola claims that the Moto X offers 24 hours of usage time on a single charge, but our LAPTOP Battery Test provided different results. During the test, which consists of continuously surfing the Web with the display brightness set to 40 percent, the 2,200-mAh battery inside the AT&T Moto X lasted 6 hours and 34 minutes.
This is still higher than the 6:07 smartphone category average and beats the Verizon Moto X (6:13) by about 20 minutes. The Moto X also outlasted the AT&T Galaxy S4 in both standard (5:13) and power-saving modes (5:54), and the HTC One in both regular and energy-efficient modes (5:56 and 6:20, respectively).
The Moto X adds more meaning to the term "smartphone" by adding components that help the phone better understand you. We loved asking Google Now various questions without lifting a finger, and simply twisting our wrist to fire up the camera. The Moto Maker studio makes the Moto X the most customizable smartphone out there, but right now, it's available only to AT&T customers. The handset's 10-MP camera is sharp enough to get the job done, but it's still overshadowed by the cameras offered on higher-end devices.
Some may criticize the Moto X for its lack of a 1080p screen, but its rich and bright AMOLED display rendered more captivating colors than the Galaxy S4's full-HD 1080p display. And although the Moto X runs on a dual-core CPU rather than on a quad-core chip as other flagships do, it still managed to outperform allegedly faster phones, such as the S4, in everyday use.
The S4 brings more features and robust camera capabilities than the Moto X, and we prefer the HTC One's more premium metal design and better speakers. Overall, though, the Moto X is an excellent smartphone that delivers a great mix of personalization and convenience.