If you’re on the hunt for a new smartphone then you’re probably aware of the numerous new features phone makers are packing into our pockets. There’s fingerprint scanners, heart rate monitors, dual-camera lenses, Infrared remote blasters.
You’ll find none of these things in the Motorola Moto X, and in many ways, the phone is better for it.
If you’re looking at one of the standard colour options, like our black review unit, the Moto X is a very unassuming smartphone. There are flairs of design here, but you need to look closely to spot them. The tight cross-pattern design across the battery cover adds style, but is impossible to see from a distance.
Of course, if you’re living in the US or UK, you needed put up with some a bland design. By taking advantage of Motorola’s Moto Maker service you can choose from over 200 different colour combinations, with loads of neons and fluoro colours to choose from.
What you will notice is just how small the Moto X feels next to other phones with similarly sized screens. Motorola choose a 4.7-inch display size, but the handset has almost the same footprint as an Apple iPhone 5s. That’s 0.7-inches more screen (diagonally) for the same space taken in your pocket.
Motorola curve the back of the phone gently for a more comfortable feel in your hands, but it is also useful while sitting on a flat surface as it lets you rock your phone and activate the ‘Adaptive Display’ feature to check the time and notifications — but more on this later.
The 4.7-inch screen features an AMOLED colour panel and, as AMOLED tends to, this screen looks fantastic. With almost no bezel around the edge of the screen, it feels like the whole device comes to life when you switch it on. Blacks and colours are both richly displayed, and text onscreen is crisp and clear.
Motorola opt for a 720p resolution screen, which is a fair few pixels less than the 1080p screen on the Samsung Galaxy S5, but we challenge you to spot the difference here. This screen is smaller, so the pixels are more densely packed together, making for an equally pleasant viewing experience.
Outdoor viewing of the screen can be a bit trickier though, and we did find we had to shield the screen from direct sunlight to use it on our morning commute. This is a common problem for electronics, but it is something we are seeing overcome in some of the newer smartphone models, like the Galaxy S5.
Between the screen and the phone’s design, the Motorola Moto X looks and feels like a solid, if unexceptional smartphone. It’s not until you dive into the user experience that you really discover what this phone has to offer.
Rather than packing techy gimmicks into the Moto X, Motorola has chosen to focus on a few key pain points that users tend to moan about with their phones. These small innovations build largely on the work of Motorola’s parent company Google, and really feel like they make the most of what the Android platform has the offer.
The ‘Adaptive Display’ is one of the best examples. When the phone is in standby, the Adaptive Display kicks in and displays key information with white icons on a black background. When you have an unread message, the screen appears to breath, slowly flashing the information on and off. You can interact with this screen; pressing on the message icon with show you a substantial section of the message (text or email) — enough to decide whether you need to turn the phone on and reply.
By implementing this system, Motorola believes it cuts down on the number of times we light up our smartphone screens by up to 100-times per day. This, by the company’s own estimations, equates to an extra hour of battery life each day — a power saving not to be sneezed at.
OK Google Now
The Moto X also includes Motorola’s ‘Always listening’ technology, so that you can fire up the phone with the sound of your voice at any time. Just say’ OK Google Now’ and then speak your command. Saying ‘Read Notifications’ kicks off a special process where the phone will read you the time and all unread messages.
This may sound like a small feature, but you’d be surprised at how useful it is. Moreover, you’ll be surprised at how often you might use it. I’ve gotten into to the habit of speaking to my phone while driving — asking it silly questions and listening to the answers. You can also give it quick commands like, “Start recording video” or you can say the name of apps installed on your phone to launch them hands-free.
More than the features in any other phone we’ve seen in recent memory, these are features which actually make a difference to how you might use your phone. They are difficult selling points to splash across a billboard, but I’d argue they are far more important than the majority of features than we’ve been seeing in smartphones lately.
If there’s one area where Motorola could definitely stand to put in a bit more work, it is the camera. On paper, the camera in the Moto X is just fine. It features a 10-megapixel image sensor, an LED flash and a few of Google’s software tricks like HDR photos and PhotoSphere 360-degree panoramas.
When this camera works, it works extremely well. Even after transferring our photos to a PC for a closer look, the photos taken by the Moto X stand up very well.
The trouble is, a majority of the photos we’ve taken with the Moto X haven’t turned out well at all. Most are out of focus, and it seems to take a very steady hand a several moments to take a good shot with the Moto X. It’s definitely something you can master, but it would be nice if the camera were as easy to use as the rest of the phone.
One element of the camera we love is the Quick Launch feature. Like the Adaptive Display, you can launch the camera without turning the power on. To do this you twist the phone in your hands twice. You don’t need to be in standby mode either, the same gesture will launch the camera app regardless of what you are doing.
You may have picked up on a pattern emerging in this review; something about how Motorola making small, but significant changes to the way most of the other Android phone makers go about their business. It’s no different when looking at the processor in the Moto X.
Rather than buying off-the-shelve Qualcomm processors for this phone, Motorola has designed a special chipset called ‘X8’, comprised of a dual-core Snapdragon S4 CPU clocked at 1.7GHz, a graphics processor and a number of other chips with dedicated functions, like one for language recognition.
The resulting performance might not stand up well in synthetic benchmarks (the Moto X scores 1/3 lower than the S5 in an AnTuTu test) but it is more than sufficient for whatever you might want to do with your phone. This doesn’t feel like a phone at a disadvantage to any of competitors. It feels like a phone with a quad-core processor, but it doesn’t cost as much.
Battery life is solid, but not exceptional, the handset needing a daily recharge. It is more than enough power to get through a busy workday, and we found it often could get through the night as well, but you will not enjoy multiple days without a power supply.
There are a few important things to remember about the Motorola Moto X. Firstly, it is a fair bit cheaper than other top-tier smartphones. At the time of writing, a new Samsung Galaxy S5 retails for AU$929, while the RRP of the Moto X is AU$549. That’s not half the price, but it is pretty close.
Despite this difference in price, the Moto X is capable of all the things you’d expect from a smartphone. It’s well built, it has a great screen, solid performance and decent battery life.
It doesn’t have a 1080p resolution screen or a fingerprint scanner or a heart rate monitor or a stylus or a 3D camera. But then, you really have to ask yourself whether you want these things in a phone, and if so, whether you’re happy to pay the extra for them.
Those who choose the Moto X get a lot of phone for their money, along with a few neat software tweaks which, not only make it easier to use, but make using a phone fun again, too.