Motorola’s big union with Google has resulted in Moto X, a phone that looks to end the burgeoning specs war in Android and one that the company says will finally deliver a smart experience to mobile users. Why is Motorola making such tall claims and is there reason to be excited? Let’s break the Moto X down for a better picture.
4.7-inch 720p display
OS – Nearly stock Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
In a way, the Moto X is the first smartphone produced by Google. No wonder the company is talking it up in the press so much. But what that also means is that users will be getting a largely customisation-free version of Android 4.2.2 (surprisingly, no 4.3). And we say largely because there are some changes from stock Android but nothing as dramatic as Sense or TouchWiz or even Sony’s UI. In fact, the most obvious change is the way in which Moto X delivers notifications. A few pixels of the AMOLED display light up to indicate an incoming text or message and users can tap on them to enter the app directly or swipe them away and the display goes back to sleep. Motorola says this Active Display functionality helps in conserving battery life. The Camera app’s UI is also different from stock and can take pictures with just a tap and burst images with a tap-and-hold. So even though it may look and feel like stock, there’s a hint of Motorola in the OS.
Cellular connectivity - LTE
Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the Moto X is a US-only affair right now. It does have Cat3 LTE (50 Mbps UL, 100 Mbps DL) support in addition to HSPA+ (42.2 Mbps DL and 5.76 Mbps UL) and EV-DO Rev. A for CDMA networks. So you are covered for all budgets and needs.
The Active Display notification system
Display – 4.7-inch AMOLED, 720p resolution
While most Android manufacturers have moved to 1080p displays, Google and Motorola have remained steadfast on the 720p resolution while keeping the display a manageable size. The pixel density of around 312 PPI is still very good despite phones breaking past the 400 PPI number. The AMOLED display might seem a disappointment given the sunlight legibility of that particular panel, however early reports speak of a bright and vivid display where colours pop and it’s also said to have good viewing angles.
Form factor – Go crazy with colours
At 129.3 x 65.3 x 10.4 mm, the Moto X is not the thinnest handset in the world, but its dimensions make it more manageable than the phablets and the near-tablets we are seeing these days. At a fraction over 5-inches tall, the height should not be an issue for most users and at just over 2.5 inches wide, it shouldn’t pose any real problems. The phone is certainly thicker than the iPhone or any of the 2013 Android flagships, but it seems to have a good balance on paper.
The big USP of the Moto X from a consumer point of view is Moto Maker, which lets buyers personalise the phone with different colour options for the front, back, buttons and accents. You can choose between white and black for the front panel and a total of 18 colours for the back panel (from Cool, Neutral and Warm categories). Plus there are seven colour options for the side-mounted buttons and the ring around the camera lens. That’s a total of 504 possible Moto X colour variants. Users can also have personalised engravings on the back plate.
An array of shades
Design-wise, Google and Motorola have gone the elegant way. Unlike cold aluminium and metal or glossy plastic, the matte colour options for the back panels give off a warm vibe. The camera lens, the flash and the Motorola batwing logo are centred on the back, which has a curved cut-out that contrasts the otherwise straight lines. The end result is certainly pleasing to the eye.
Wi-Fi – Cutting edge
The wireless module of the Moto X has support for Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac. There’s dual-band and DLNA support as well as Wi-Fi hotspot, as is standard for Android phones. It doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to wireless connectivity.
SoC - Qualcomm MSM8960Pro Snapdragon
This is technically the dual-core Snapdragon S4, which was seen in one of the HTC One S variants last year. The chipset consists of dual Krait cores clocked at 1.7GHz and the Adreno 320 GPU, in addition to two proprietary cores. Motorola has added two more processors for natural language processing and contextual computing. These cores handle the Moto X’s always-on voice recognition or ‘Touchless Controls’ and gesture controls. They also handle the low-power Active Display notification system. This is Motorola’s new X8 chipset, which is also in use in Verizon’s Motorola Droid phones.
Internal storage – Buyers’ choice
Along with the colour and engraving options, buyers will be able to choose from two storage configurations for the Moto X. It’s either 16 or 32GB, but choose wisely as there is no microSD card slot.
Interested in a wooden Moto X? It's coming soon
Primary camera – 10.5-megapixel camera with Clear Pixel sensor
Motorola has been talking up the 10.5-megapixel Clear Pixel sensor of the Moto X’s camera. It’s an OmniVision OV10820 sensor, a 1/2.6-inch sensor with a video-friendly 16:9 aspect ratio and large 1.4-micron pixels. Motorola says this camera offers a much-improved low-light performance and this is thanks to a two-chip approach. The sensor captures RAW images using a sensitive RGBC (red / green / blue / clear) colour filter, and a secondary chip converts the resulting shots into the Bayer format that most imaging processors expect. The camera can record full HD video at 30fps and has HDR and panorama mode for stills.
Front camera – Two-megapixel
The 2-megapixel camera on the front of the Moto X is also capable of shooting 1080p videos, but it will most likely be helping you on Hangouts sessions, video calls and selfie sprees. For those tasks, it sounds more than adequate.
Sensors – A few extras
Besides the usual accelerometer, gyroscope, proximity sensor, and the compass, Moto X has a barometer and a temperature gauge. We are not sure in what situations these two kick in, but it lends itself very well to the phone’s much-touted contextual awareness, where it can switch modes based on the user’s position (to car mode, for example, when you are driving).
NFC – But, of course
Google has been pushing for NFC support for a long time now and there was no doubt that the Moto X will be getting this chip. NFC adoption is increasing at points-of-sale and it also ties in well with Google Wallet.
Battery – Li-Ion 2200 mAh battery
Motorola says the phone will easily last 24 hours of regular usage. While we have our doubts about this, the relatively non-demanding hardware and the extra low-power processors should ideally not tax the battery too much. We’ll have to wait for the first real world numbers to see if Google and Motorola’s tall claims match up.
GPS – With GLONASS
Besides the usual GPS chip, GLONASS support is present along with Assisted GPS. Expect location lock times to be drastically lower thanks to the GLONASS support.
Here's a closer look at the Moto X:
The bottom line
We can’t help but shake the feeling that the Moto X is more Google and less Motorola. That’s because the hardware approach, the design and the crazy colour options all fit the Google scheme of things. It’s definitely a great alternative to the Nexus 4 or last year’s Galaxy S3 and HTC One X. What’s great about the Moto X is that it brings new functionality (innovation in power management, voice and gesture controls, enhanced Google Now) without dumping a bunch of proprietary apps. This means the user experience does not suffer at the hands of bloatware.
However, the fact that it’s only US-bound at the moment is an impediment. In our opinion, the lucrative price and the personalisation possibilities, make it a sleeper hit in Asia, but at the moment there’s no announcement of a possible Asia or even Europe launch.
The Moto X is a breath of fresh air - perhaps, even a welcome change - in a market, which lays too much importance on hardware specs and less on the experience. It does not have the best octa-core processor or the largest, most dense display, but it champions good sense and adds a bit of fun while at it, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Main image: The Verge