Moto X: Magical features aimed to please everyone – Hands on Review

Summary: Are you thinking about buying a new smartphone? The price of Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, iPhone 5 is too high for you? Now, Motorola announced a new flagship smartphone Moto X, CNET has made a hands-on review on Moto X, In reprinting it here.

With the fresh announcement of the $199.99 Moto X, Motorola, plans to rewrite history and put its rivals on the defensive. Think about it: to put it bluntly, Motorola has never created a true flagship uber-smartphone on the level of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One. While the company’s Droid handsets, including the legendary Razr Maxx, have always been solid devices and its upcoming Droids (Mini, Ultra, and Maxx) look impressive, Motorola has yet to enjoy a mega mobile hit available on multiple top-tier carriers.

Make no mistake; the Moto X is no fire-breathing mobile monster. Instead it’s a nimble, compact handset that targets ordinary phone users with advanced abilities. Backed by its corporate parent Google, the Moto X boasts many of the skills its new Verizon Droids flaunt, plus a few slick extras. Better yet they’re all crammed into a highly customizable design built for maximum comfort. Motorola will also push its new device hard, saying that its enticing gadget will be sold by five U.S. wireless providers (AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, with the fifth not yet announced) in addition to an unlocked model.

A more thoughtful design
Under the thumb of Verizon’s macho Droid brand for years, Motorola’s smartphone industrial design has been well, industrial. Ever since the original Droid device hit the scene, Motorola has cranked out flagship machines sporting sharp angles, Kevlar coatings, and hard metallic trims.

To be fair, that’s not a bad thing; those devices have been very popular. Plus the company’s fresh line of Droid mobile machines are less stark than their predecessors, featuring smoother curves and no metallic highlights. All three devices, though, the Droid Mini, the Droid Ultra, and the Droid Maxx, keep the traditionally aggressive red or sober black color scheme that’s in keeping with Verizon’s intimidating robotic franchise.


The Moto X, however, pushes this history aside and attempts to turn an all-new page and gain broader appeal. Instead of harshly chiseled lines, the Moto X is instead sculpted with softly rounded curves. Indeed, the phone’s back is gently rounded for a more comfortable grip. It’s an approach many hardware makers are taking these days, including HTC with its One and One Mini. The Galaxy S4 handset is also similarly contoured, but unlike Samsung’s runaway hit that is slippery and smudge-prone, the X opts for a textured soft-touch finish.

The Moto X takes this contoured design a step further, shaping the back of the phone with left and right edges that slope at a sharper angle than the middle of the device. Motorola claims that this careful molding fits your hand better than a simpler uniform arc. As a matter of fact, the handset uses a specially formed battery (2,200 mAh, embedded) to match the Moto X’s unique curvature.

I have to admit that when I put my mitts around Motorola’s latest creation, it felt pretty damn good, its rounded frame fitting my fingers and palm like a glove. While I experience a similar reaction when I grip the HTC One, the X’s contours and solid chassis exude just as much quality and luxury to me. I also like how the phone’s soft-touch backing wicks away moisture and fingerprints and has an almost metallic rigidity.

These colors don’t run
A huge part of the Moto X’s design story is its made-in-America (or at least designed-and-assembled-in) moniker. As Motorola has explained earlier, it will design, engineer, and construct all Moto X units in the United States (Fort Worth, Texas, to be precise).

Consumers will also have a choice of two basic colors to choose from when purchasing a new Moto X handset, white and black. Motorola, however, will offer buyers the option to personalize their phones with custom hues, patterns, and engravings crafted to order at Motorola’s new Texas factory.

Billed as the Moto Maker online studio, tweaking options include two front colors, 18 on the back, and seven accents. Motorola claims that this variety allows for thousands of permutations. There will even be custom wallpaper designs and cases to gussy up your device. And thanks to the Fort Worth plant, shoppers who order their gadget can expect it hitting their doorstep within 4 days. Be advised that Moto Maker will be exclusively available to AT&T versions of the Moto X, at least at first.

In many respects the Moto X’s display is a step down compared with the latest crop of premium smartphones. Competing products such as the Sony Xperia Z, HTC One, and Samsung Galaxy S4 all have screens of 4.7 inches or larger. These gadgets also flaunt displays with full-HD resolutions (1,920 by 1,080 pixels), translating into massive views that still manage to offer high pixel densities.

By contrast the Moto X’s 4.7-inch 720p (1,280 by 720 pixels) OLED screen, while no doubt large, doesn’t serve up quite the same level of sharpness as HTC’s and Samsung’s mobile hot rods. I must stress, though, that unless you’ve had bionic eye implants (or carry a jeweler’s loupe), you probably won’t pick up on any lack of detail. Additionally, the Moto X’s OLED screen technology produces vivid colors, deep blacks, and wide viewing angles.

Of course a display’s impact isn’t based on just resolution, brightness, and color quality. Case in point: the Moto X’s screen has an extremely thin bezel that lovingly hugs the front edges of the handset. Similar to those found on last year’s Droid Razr M and the company’s newly announced Droids, this helps the X’s display appear larger than life and command your attention.

Core components
The engine that propels the new Moto X is what the company calls its X8 Mobile Computing System, the same electronics under the hood of its new Droids. Claimed to include eight distinct processing cores, the system sure sounds impressive. When you break it all down, though, the X8 essentially is really just a souped-up 1.7GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4 Pro processor paired with quad-core Adreno 320 graphics.

To bring the core count up to eight, Motorola also throws in two additional low-power processing centers, one for contextual computing and another for analyzing spoken language. OK, so this may help the Moto X’s total “core” tally reach the magic number, but I’m sure I’m not alone to cry foul.

When I think of numerous CPU cores, I envision multiple electronic brains of equal power and speed working in unison to tackle every smartphone task. Since not all of the X8 system cores are created equal and are relegated to specific tasks (all but two outside of general number crunching), the Moto X is no true octa-core phone in my book.

That said, its power is nothing to sneeze at, either. The question remains how it’ll compare with handsets with faster quad-core Snapdragon 600 chips. Hopefully the Moto X’s 2GB allotment of RAM will help narrow the performance gap.

Software and interface
Given that the Moto X was born of the union between Motorola and Google, I was surprised to learn that it doesn’t come with the freshest flavor of Android Jelly Bean (version 4.3). Rather, the phone runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean. That said, Motorola has teamed up with Google to add plenty of neat tricks, the most notable of which is contextual computing, which the company refers to as “Touchless Control.”

That’s really a fancy way of saying that the phone runs a low-power microphone in the background with an ear continually trained on your voice. Just like the new Motorola Droid Mini, Ultra, and Maxx, speaking a magic phrase at your X tells the device to fire up the Google Now information app.

In the Moto X’s case you say, “OK, Google,” to begin. From there you can ask a number of questions to find your current location, the weather, sports scores, and other queries. You can also tell the Moto X to set up reminders in your calendar, initiate calls, texts, and e-mails a la Siri — except you don’t have to press a button.

Aside from these slick voice capabilities, the Moto X’s interface essentially remains the same as stock Jelly Bean. The five home screens, application tray, and widgets are pretty much identical to what you’d see on Google-approved machines such as the LG Nexus 4, and Google Play Editions of the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4.

There are some slight yet important differences, though. The Moto X will softly pulse important notifications and alerts on the screen, even when asleep, as they occur. Motorola says this will help users conserve battery life since they won’t have to power up the display each time the notification light flashes. Holding your finger on the center of the screen (and notification) causes the X to display additional details for the alert. Dragging your finger upward takes you directly to the corresponding message if you decide more action is required.

Apparently Motorola has finally taken camera abilities seriously. Imaging has been an ongoing weakness of the company’s handsets, but it’s clear the Moto X aims to address this deficiency. Equipped with a 10-megapixel “Clear Pixel” RGBC sensor and LED flash, Motorola says its new device can snap pictures with speed. It goes on to tout the Moto X’s ability to grab 75 percent more light than competing smartphone cameras. That should result in lower shutter times and clearer images under dark conditions.

The camera app, called Quick Capture, has also been revamped to be cleaner and more efficient. With it, the Moto X will go from pocket to image capture in under 3 seconds. Just grab the phone, turn it twice in your hand horizontally, and the camera launches without pressing a button.

Motorola really needed to make a big splash — or at least a cunning maneuver — with the Moto X, and that it did. Instead of the traditional tactic of beating potential customers over the head with powerful components and every feature under the sun, Motorola decided to cater to shoppers’ softer side — how they most use their phone every day .

Don’t get me wrong; the handset certainly packs in plenty of interesting abilities and functionality. When you add up the specs, though, this really is a midrange phone. Hard-core Android enthusiasts likely won’t find the Moto X awe-inspiring. The key to the Moto X’s fate, as with any new device, is whether its unique blend of capabilities and design will prove valuable to ordinary consumers. Expect the device to hit stores in late August/early September for a suggested price of $199.99.



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