Years ago, like many people, I owned a Motorola Razr, and I liked it, because it was powerful, edgy, and distinguishable. But Motorola hasn't had a popular, feature-rich smartphone since then. That is, until they released the Moto X. On one hand, the Moto X is comfortable, while on the other, it's distinctive, with the option to tailor its appearance to your specific preferences. But the question is: Does the Moto X offer enough features, and in a comfortable size?
The Moto X is the same size as the iPhone 5s, making the complaints about Android phones being too big a non-issue, yet its operating software is powerful and expandable. Surprisingly, my first few hours with the phone left me unimpressed. Why should I consider switching to a Moto X if I already have the HTC One? I also wondered why any smartphone user should consider switching to the Moto X. But then I realised why.
Most phones come in the standard black, silver, or white body, without any way to personalize them. Motorola, however, changed that with its "Moto Maker" online store, which allows customisation in a number of ways. Moto Maker offers a variety of accent or trim colours, body colours, different types of materials for the backplate, and a few other nifty touches, all resulting in a unique looking personalized Moto X, you custom design. I decided to go with two custom features for my Moto X: a natural bamboo back and a signature "Touch me" engraved into the bamboo backplate.
The ability to customize the Moto X is a nice perk, but the hardware is still short of great. The side buttons are flimsy, undermining the phone's quality build, and the polycarbonate band around the side looks cheap when examined closely. Fortunately, the overall aesthetics and design of the phone offset these shortcomings.
The most notable and obvious thing about the Moto X is its size. A few months ago, I had considered getting the Moto X, after having a love affair with the iPhone 5s, but instead I committed adultery with the HTC One (M8). Now that I have the Moto X, I'm wondering if I made the wrong choice getting the HTC One back then, because it took me considerable adjustment, in terms of hand positioning, going from the 5s to the One. The Moto X feels great in my hand. I am able to reach the top left corner with my thumb, though my fingers are relatively long, so this size may not suit everyone, especially if you want one-hand functionality. Not only is the Moto X large enough to make any 5-inch phone seem cramped in comparison, but it's also small enough for single-hand maneuverability, for some people.
The curved back is a nice feature that ensures a secure, comfortable hold, while eliminating the need to reposition it, when accessing some features, or activating certain functions. I initially thought the phone might be unstable or awkward, because of the back design, but that's not the case at all. Just the opposite, in fact. I haven’t experienced this type of comfort from any other Android phone before, although the Nexus 5 comes close.
The phone feels great and looks good, but I was especially curious to check out the display. I was, however, a bit disappointed with the colour reproduction being too warm and saturated. The 720p screen, however, is AMOLED, which is fantastic. AMOLED means the screen's deep black background is actually a power-saving feature. This technology means only coloured pixels use energy.
The phone's battery lasts longer than I need for my typical work day, which is from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, leaving me with capacity of about 50%-60%, by the end of the day. My usage can vary with my schedule, having several apps constantly syncing in the background, with periodic chats and text messages, besides listening to a one-hour podcast, during my daily commute. I’m not impressed by the battery life, but it is sufficient for my needs.
The phone's camera isn’t worth a notable mention, but I have to point out that the autofocus is poor, the colours are too vibrant, and the images are as sharp as a rotting potato. The phone's price isn't in the top range of feature-rich smartphones, so I assume the camera should stack up well to similar devices in that range ($400+ for unlocked). The real problem I have with the Moto X is the easy camera access, which requires twisting the phone three times, in quick succession. This gesture bypasses having to unlock the screen, when the phone is asleep or locked, providing faster access, to snap photos on the fly, instead of opening the camera app, in the typical way, via the touchscreen. I would prefer using less twisting gestures, in quick succession, to avoid accidentally dropping or flinging the phone.
The Moto X runs a stock version of KitKat, the latest version of Android. On paper the Moto X doesn’t sound like it could smoothly run stock Android, but I'm not one to judge a phone solely by a metric sheet. I have no problem with HTC’s Android skin and Sony’s overlay, but stock Android holds a special place in my heart. The fact is, stock Android offers the purest rendition of Android you could possibly want, and Motorola added some extra features that should impress Android fans.
One of the niftier features is called “Touchless Control.” It is a voice-activated feature that is initiated by speaking, “OK Google now,” followed by your request. You can ask for directions, the latest World Cup scores, movie showtimes, your car's (parking) location, anything that can be done through Google search. Plus, of course, you can call contacts in your address book. Rather than having to tap the screen, you just use voice prompts instead. This is obviously useful when your hands are busy doing something else, or you're not able to look at or touch your phone's screen. The setup is simple: you calibrate your phone by speaking the phrase "OK Google now" three times, while in a quiet environment, and then you're set to go. The Moto X will respond to your voice commands, even when others around you are talking, or there is any kind of background noise. I also use this feature when the phone is in my pocket. Fancy.
Motorola really understands the concept of notification. Its "Active Display” lets me preview my most recent notifications, while the phone is in either sleep mode or locked, or by glancing at it while a new message comes in, or turning it upright. This works whenever I move my phone, even when locked. Unlike Touchless Control, Active Display will not activate notifications, whenever my phone is inside my pocket, or turned face down on a desk. Since I can quickly view my latest notifications without touching my phone, I question the need for a Moto 360 watch, a watch that automatically activates notifications from any smartphone it's synced with. The software enhancements in the Moto X are a welcome addition to a pure version of Android, without the bloatware.
The Moto X is an option for those wondering if there is a feature-rich Android phone with a form-factor similar to the iPhone 5s. The Moto X offers the cleanest, purest version of Android, plus several intuitive enhancements. Although it has good software in a great size, it has a lot of major shortcomings that cannot be ignored. For the price, it is somewhat reasonable, but not enough to prevent me from purchasing a similar Android device: the Nexus 5. The Moto X has the right size but not all the right features for me.
Editors note: This review was written by professional photographer and tech enthusiast Mahmoud Mfinanga, who runs his own photo blog, Emmazed Photog.