The long-awaited Moto X is finally on sale in the US, and it’s something of a landmark smartphone.
Designed and built to reinvigorate the Motorola brand, it's also bringing to bear the fruits of the company’s relationship with Google, which now owns Motorola Mobility outright. Sporting a clean(ish) version of Android 4.2.2 and Google Now-powered touch-free voice control, it seems as much a Google device as a Motorola one.
But let’s get this out of the way right now: the Moto X isn’t coming to the UK. Ever, it seems. It’s an odd decision given that it’s billed as the phone that best represents the “new” Motorola, and you can’t help but question what it means for Motorola’s attitude towards the UK and European market as a whole. And as you’ll see, it’s a shame, because the X is a lovely phone.
Small and sturdy
The Moto X is highly customisable. The Moto Maker site allows you to order a personalised handset, selecting from one of two front colours, 18 back colours and seven accent colours. You’ll also be able to have a custom message printed on the back of the phone, and choose between 16GB and 32GB storage capacities. The handset will be built for you in the US and shipped for free in less than four days.
Buying in-store restricts you to one of two colours (white or black) and a 16GB capacity. We were sent a standard white 16GB AT&T model to review, which is a shame, of course, but who are we to complain?
It’s a sturdily-built phone with a solid two-piece construction and an HTC One-style curved back (made of Kevlar) that fits snugly and comfortably in your hand. The Gorilla Glass-fronted screen runs almost edge-to-edge, making the X smaller than other 4.7in phones such as the Google Nexus 4. Basically, this is a phone designed for all hand sizes, and you won’t need giant goalkeeper meatplates to hold it comfortably. It weighs a fairly average 130g.
As with most higher-end Android phones, the only physical controls are a power/home button and a volume rocker, both located on the right edge.
The Moto X rocks a 4.7in AMOLED screen with a resolution of 1280 x 720 and pixel density of 312ppi. That’s a little less than the 326ppi offered by the iPhone 5’s Retina display, but it’s plenty sharp: you can’t pick out individual pixels without bringing your eyeballs stupidly close to the screen.
The screen is the same size and almost the same resolution as the Google Nexus 4’s display, but when put side-by-side there are notable differences. The X’s AMOLED tech gives colours a richer, more saturated look and contrast is punchier. On the downside, whites aren’t as pure and bright as on the Nexus 4 and we found it difficult to pick out details in bright sunlight.
Videos, games and photos all look gorgeous here. It might not be the sharpest or largest of displays, but it fits into Motorola’s plan to keep the X friendly: the lower resolution helps prolong battery life and the size ensures the phone doesn’t become unwieldy.
The X sports a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon Pro chipset clocked at 1.7GHz, plus 2GB of RAM. It might not sound like the most muscular of specs on paper, and compared to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One that might be the case – but it’s well above average for a smartphone. There’s NFC and 4G LTE support too.
Benchmarking with AnTuTu, the X garnered a rating of just over 18,000, making it comparable in processing and graphics power to the Google Nexus 4, Sony Xperia Z and Samsung Galaxy S3. And in practice it’s a zippy performer, allowing you to flick through photo galleries and menus and play most games with nary a stutter. Just don't expect it to run the next generation of power-hungry games.
The “standard” edition of the Moto X comes with 16GB of space, and around 4GB of that is already accounted for when you take the phone out of the box. You do however get 50GB of Google Drive cloud storage.
Using our standard battery drain test (playing a 720p video on loop with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and notifications on and screen brightness set to 50 percent) saw the Moto X last around 14 hours. That’s very impressive indeed, and ties in with Motorola’s claimed talk time of 13 hours.
Camera action with a twist
Motorola makes some bold claims about the 10MP camera, which can be set to a “quick access” mode. With this turned on, twisting your wrist twice brings up the camera app no matter what you’re doing, and touching anywhere on the screen takes a photo (holding your finger down will take continuous shots). Hitting the movie button starts capturing 1080p video straight away.
It’s a lovely idea but not without issues. First, the wrist-twisting thing doesn’t always work, which kind of negates the whole point of it. Second, the touch-to-shoot mode turns off touch-to-focus, so shots often come out too bright or (more often) too dark.
Actual camera performance is decent but fairly unremarkable. The larger pixels in the sensor work better in low light than some rival cameras, and the addition of a slow-motion video mode is fun, but images won't knock you down with clarity or contrast. They’re just good. There’s also a 2MP front-facing camera able to capture 1080p video.
For more Moto X pics taken during testing (and in full resolution) head to our Flickr set here.
While Motorola hasn’t fussed too heavily with the standard Android 4.2.2 interface (in fact at first glance you might think it’s the same version used on the Google Nexus 4), there are a number of additions, all of them pretty useful.
Active Display shows off important notifications and the clock even when the phone is in standby – these fade in and out regularly – with the idea being to discourage you from constantly checking the phone. It’s not life-changing but it works well enough.
Motorola Connect lets you send and receive texts and even calls using your computer’s Chrome web browser (an extension is required). It’s simple and effective, and makes us wonder why more manufacturers don’t do the same.
There’s also Motorola Migrate, which you’ll find essential if you already use an Android phone. This wirelessly moves photos, videos, SIM contacts, call and text history from any mobile running Android 2.2 and above.
Siri can’t touch this
But the headlining Moto X feature is Touchless Control, which basically gives you Google Now voice controls without having to first turn on or even pick up the phone.
After a two-minute “voice training” session in a quiet room, we found the system worked brilliantly: all you need do is say, “OK, Google Now” followed by a question and the phone will spring to life and seek out an answer. You can ask it to call friends, set a reminder, open an app, navigate to a location or, well, pretty much anything else. It's certainly as effective as Siri on this front, and while Apple’s tech perhaps “talks back” to you more naturally, the ability to fire off questions without touching the handset is a real step forward. More of this, please.
We’re disappointed that the Moto X isn’t making its way to the UK, because it’s one of the best phones Motorola has ever produced. While it doesn’t push the boundaries for processing performance, photographic skills or screen size, it’s a phone that’s designed to be easy to live with and easy to use – and it hits its marks perfectly. The long battery life, sturdy build, pocket-friendly size and various user-orientated interface tweaks and apps make the X one of the friendliest smartphones around.
Motorola Moto X
One of the friendliest phones out there, packed with great design touches and features - if only it would come to the UK