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Moto X – A Unique Take On The Phone

Late last year saw a slew of rumours about an upcoming product, the X-Phone. The first device from the new Motorola, a Google company, a phone that was set to be a game changer. Then, as it is with many of these crazy thoughts, the more we heard the more we had a slow decline in overall appeal. We even had a Google executive claiming that they were not too impressed with anything in the Motorola pipeline.

After what felt like an eternity Motorola sent out a press release for a new device. Dubbed the Moto X.

Released in late August/early September on all four of the major US telecoms networks the Moto X brought with it a myriad of improvements to Android.

Given the specification you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a run of the mill, middling level product. In all fairness you would be correct, if of course, you are basing your opinion purely on numbers and lists. I will explain why that is shortly.

The Moto X has a 4.7” 1280×720 pixel display, of the AMOLED variety. While it cannot match the HTC One for pixel density, it most certainly bests it with the richest, deepest and most inky blacks I have seen on a mobile device. Unless you hold it directly in the sun, you would be hard pressed, in most instances, to see where the screen ends and the front fascia begins. The rest of the front is broken only by a slender earpiece at the top and small microphone hole near the bottom of the device, one of three on the Moto X. The front facing camera sits top right. Moving to the right hand side of the phone, you are presented with the sleep/wake button and a volume rocker. These buttons have a really reassuring click when pressed. I had worried that these would get a bit gooey after more use, but thankfully three months later they are as solid as the day I bought it.

Metallic orange accents.

Metallic orange accents.

The cement grey back.

The cement grey back.

The back of the slab is adorned with the camera, a larger than usual lens covers that. Below is the camera flash, which, sadly is nothing more than a very bright LED, not the Xenon flash we see on some Nokia models. To the right of the camera is a very finely drilled mesh of holes, under which you will find the speaker. It is not the best speaker, at full volume you encounter some distortion, but it is loud enough that you don’t need to cup your hand around it. Sat right under the flash is a concave Motorola M logo. At first appearance you could be forgiven for thinking that this is purely visual and adds nothing to the device at all. In actuality this very small dimple is perfectly placed for a supporting finger to rest. Near the bottom of the back sits a moderately sized AT&T logo, this is a) Due to me importing the phone from the US, and b) A result of choosing the Moto Maker option, which at the time was AT&T exclusive.

The LemonLime variant - image courtesy of The Verge.

The LemonLime variant – image courtesy of The Verge.

The left side of the phone is all but sparse, with merely the nano-SIM tray. Up top we have a central 3.5mm audio output, one of the three microphones and nothing else. The base of the device is home to the micro-USB port.

Hidden within the device is Motorola’s custom silicon, the X8. Tying together a Dual-Core Snapdragon S4 (Krait architecture); Quad-Core Adreno 320 GPU and two dedicated low-power processors, one for contextual movement, the other an always listening language chip, the X8 is often confused for something that is less than the sum of it’s parts. Rounding out the internals we find a 2330mAh battery and the usual array of sensors and connectivity. Lacking are the required frequency bands for LTE in the United Kingdom. Although that is acceptable as this is purely a United States model.

Out of pocket, instant wake.

Out of pocket, instant wake.

Moto Maker is Motorola’s newest idea – a central online store with the ability to customise the physical appearance of your Moto X. Touted with the ability to choose from over 2,000 unique combinations the Moto X has the chameleon like tendency to fit it’s surroundings, or it’s user. As soon as announced I began working out my perfect colour scheme. For the front you have two options, white or black. You are able to select an accent colour, this will be present on the buttons and a ring around the camera, here you have seven options all of which have a slight metallic tinge; Black, Silver, Yellow, Orange, Purple, Red and Blue. Now for the main attraction, the back portion of the chassis has a considerably larger colour palette. I could list them all here, but that would just be adding extra words. So, I shall leave this link for you to use Moto Maker yourself and have a play with the options.

As for my choice, I went with a black front, metallic orange accents and a cement back. Despite some concerns, three months later I have a device that I look at everyday happy in the knowledge that I chose well. Though if I were to get a second Moto X I would definitely go for a more adventurous colour scheme.

I hope the Moto X signals the start of a trend where specifications aren’t the be-all and end-all. Let me explain. The Moto X does not have top-end specs and yet, it performs just like a top-end phone. In part this is due to Motorola using the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) as the base for their software. You do not get a bogged down, code heavy implementation here. Instead, the small number of, but wholly value adding elements provide the nicest implementation of Android I have ever used. Did I mention that the Moto X received the 4.4 update merely days after the Google Nexus devices? No? Well I should have.

Active Notifications.

Active Notifications.

How active notifications work.

How active notifications work.

Active Notifications are something that is best used in conjunction with an AMOLED (Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display – unlike traditional LED panels, an AMOLED screen can light up individual pixels rather then the entire display. When the phone receives a notification the screen slowly breathes. On every in-breath you see the app associated with the newest information. Touching the icon allows you to read a sentence or two of the content and see who it is from. Dragging the icon up will take you directly to it, while dragging down unlocks the phone to wherever you were. It is a devilishly simple idea and one that I have found indispensable – for me, it’s much better than a flashing LED. Active Notifications also allow you to pull the phone from a pocket or pick it up off of a desk and have the screen, almost instantly, display the time. Handy for those without a (smart)watch.

With Touchless Control, you can leave the device metres away and yet still have it provide useful information, set alarms or reminders and reply to text messages. Once you have repeated the phrase ‘OK, Google Now’ three times during setup, the phone will listen to your voice and yours alone, unless someone else sounds like you. This is the feature that you can show off about. It is awesome to leave you phone somewhere and start asking random questions, to which a not too synthetic voice will reply with the answer, in most cases anyway. It is not 100% accurate, but when it works, it really is like living in the future.

The third Motorola addition comes in the form of a twist to wake the camera. Performing the motion as if you were turning a key in a car ignition twice is greeted with a vibration from the phone and the camera app launches. I will be honest here and say that this is my least used feature. I do not usually find myself wanting to use the camera straight from a pocket or desk. If I do I normally find the situation has enough time for me to awake the phone and select the camera. I would guess this is just a force of habit thing. Other people may have a better experience here. Sadly the camera is lacking. The colour balance is not too bad, but the images lack fidelity. With that said, I do not use it much, thus it is not a deal breaker for me, but for some it could be.

Touchless Controls - "Ok Google Now"

Touchless Controls – “Ok Google Now”

Returned search results - "Everest is 8848 metres high".

Returned search results – “Everest is 8848 metres high”.

The overall feel of the device in hand is the best that I have used. Size and weight are a deciding factor when it comes to an item you will carry with you most of the time – here the Moto X excels. On paper it is much larger than an iPhone 5s, in reality it barely feels bigger and it sits more comfortably in hand with a perfectly distributed weight. An almost seamless front glass to plastic transition means fingers glide over it effortlessly, especially with the various side swipes and gestures that Android now incorporates. With minimal bezels the Moto X does a great job of being considerably smaller than a device with a similarly sized display.

With the 2330mAh battery you might expect that the always listening, always ready to be picked up portions would deplete it quicker than you can say ‘OK, Google Now’. Brilliantly this is not so. The X can easily see me through a day, more often than not I can eek two full days from it. This is with around four hours of screen-on time too and you will get much longer if the predominate colour on-screen is black.

The Motorola Moto X, a device currently only available in North America and some South American countries. A device that can be colour coded to your favourite outfit, or sports team, or even made into a garish ‘look at me’ phone. A phone that I love so much that I would happily purchase another one in different colours just because. A mini computer that sadly I cannot recommend to anyone outside of a small populace of Earth. Fret not, that is where the Motorola Moto G comes in.

Update

January ’14 – Motorola have announced that the Moto X will be coming to the UK and mainland Europe, although plans are currently for Spain, France, Italy and Germany.

Albeit without Moto Maker for a few months, you will be able to buy the Moto X for £380/€399, or at various prices if buying it on contract. Phones4U have an exclusive offer for three months on the white model.


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