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Moto X review: Puts the smarts in the smartphone


Moto X review: Puts the smarts in the smartphone

OVERALL RATING: 4/5


Top Features

1. Touchless control makes smartphone use much easier
2. Good screen quality
3. Stock Android and overall smooth performance


Motorola is a bit late to the smartphone party in India but it seems to be enjoying the most, what with Moto G turning out to be a big hit in the country. Moto G offered what consumers really wanted — good build, quality display, fast processor and a price tag that doesn't break the bank — from a well known brand.

But while the low-cost offering was lapped up by buyers because it provided the best bang for their buck, Moto X is a different story altogether. The phone costs Rs 23,999 for the plastic variants and Rs 25,999 for the wood-panelled models.

It does not have cutting-edge hardware, only a 10 MP camera when most big league phones have a minimum 13 MP, and no big battery or premium-looking metallic body. But it comes with a unique always-on touchless control system and the latest version of Android OS.

Moto X leaves a lot of boxes unchecked, but still carries a medium range price tag of Rs 23,999. Is it worth the money? Is it a better option than Moto G at its price? Is Moto X's user experience better than that of an iPhone? We answer these questions and more in this review of Moto X...

Looks
Moto X is a pretty compact phone despite the 4.7-inch screen. According to Motorola, the display takes up 70% of the space on the front panel of Moto X. In fact, this phone is only slightly bigger than iPhone 5S (whose screen size is only 4-inch) and is actually smaller than Moto G. The back has a slight curve, which makes Moto X feel more natural when held in the palm.

Unlike the premium iPhone 5S and 5 as well as HTC One, Moto X's body is made of polycarbonate plastic. However, the plastic is of high quality and makes the device feel solid in the hand.


Though predominantly plastic, Moto X has a little bit of metal in it. The Power/Lock as well as Volume Rocker buttons (placed on the right side) are also made of metal and feel well designed and extremely easy to access. There are no other hardware buttons, as the Back, Home and Task Switcher keys are on the screen.

Talking about design, Moto X is a phone designed for single-handed usage, making it much different from the behemoths that have flooded the market in the past year. The body is characterized by curves, from the sides to the back. In terms of aesthetics, Moto X sits alongside the top-end offerings like iPhone 5S and HTC One.

However, we have a couple of issues with Moto X's design. The white coloured review unit we received has a shimmering pattern on the back. While this indeed looks good, we would have much rather chosen a textured back, like the one used in Motorola's Atrix 2 smartphone, which also lends better grip.

The white coloured unit's rear panel also gets smudged easily due to this reason. Several times, we left marks on the back panel and though they were easily cleaned, we found the fuss over keeping the back panel sparkly clean to be a bother. We suspect that units with turquoise coloured back cover will also suffer from this.

Moto X is the only smartphone in the market that comes with wood-panelled back covers. Though not available in India at the moment, these back covers should do well for anyone who wants a smartphone that stands apart from the crowd.

Hardware
Moto X has a screen resolution of 720p, lesser than the Full HD resolution (1080p) of Samsung Galaxy S4 and Google Nexus 5, which are available at Rs 29,000 today. However, do not let the numbers fool you. The screen of Moto X is very good, offering pixel density of 312ppi, making text, videos and images appear crisp.

Colours are bright and vibrant and the display looks good even under direct sunlight if you crank up the brightness to maximum. Overall, we are happy with the display quality.

Motorola has used a dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, the two-core variant of the chip that powers Nexus 4, which remains a performer even today. The two cores can hit maximum clock speed of 1.7GHz.

The graphics processing unit of the device is Adreno 320, clocked at 400MHz. It is a pretty high end graphics chip, and Moto X aced all the benchmark tests we put it through, which is amazing for a device that is priced below Rs 25,000.

Apart from these two processors, Moto X's X8 chipset consists of two more cores — a contextual computing processor and a natural language processor. Both these processors are completely new entities, leaving no reference points for users. You cannot test how well they work in real life, but not compare how well they work in other phones.

Other key hardware specifications of Moto X are 2GB RAM, 10MP camera, 2,200mAh battery, 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and microUSB 2.0. Motorola has launched the 16GB variant of Moto X in the country.

Software
If you are a bit disappointed by the specifications of Moto X, you won't be alone. But Motorola did not intend to make a phone that offers beefed up hardware. Instead, it wanted a device that delivers premium user experience, not through top-notch hardware, but via its custom software.

Here's a look at the software features offered by Moto X.

Nearly stock Android
Though not a feature per se, finding a stock Android smartphone is a rarity among the big league phones. Almost every company adds a custom skin to the phone, giving it new features and services but which also burdens the device with unnecessary bloatware that brings down the performance.

Motorola, on the other hand, has used no such skin on Moto X, giving users nearly default Android software. Though it has added a lot of its own software and a few apps, but the base remains stock Android.

Moto X is one of the very few smartphone that come with Android 4.4 (KitKat) and is expected to get quick software updates in the future.

Touchless Control
The highlighting feature of Moto X is Touchless Control, which lets you perform several tasks just by speaking aloud the command. All you need to do here is say "OK Google Now," followed by the action you want to perform. For example, say "OK Google Now, set an alarm for 9am" and the phone will set the alarm for you. It's that simple!



What can you do with this feature: Search anything on the internet, look up locations on Google Maps, play songs, send text messages, make calls and open apps without looking for them in the phone, among others.

Basically, you can do whatever Google Now does on any phone, but without moving a finger here. And it's always turned on. So even if you are not using the phone and it is lying on your desk, you just need to say "OK Google Now" and it will start listening for your command.

Web-based tasks, such as looking up something online, need an active data connection, but localized tasks like opening apps, playing music, setting reminders etc work even if mobile internet and Wi-Fi are turned off.

How well does the Moto X's Touchless Control work?

In our experience, Touchless Control understood most commands we threw at it without hiccups. It performed all the tasks smoothly, playing the songs we asked it to, setting reminders, opening apps and placing calls, among several others.

We put this feature through the paces in two environments — first in an area with low ambient noise (like the office or home), and then outdoors.

The always-on Touchless Control of Moto X heard us correctly about 80% of the time when we were in the office, making it easier for us to complete the tasks we wanted to do on the phone even as we kept working.

However, its performance is extremely patchy in outdoor environments. In such cases, when Moto X 'hears' you, it prompts you with the message, "It's pretty noisy. Please speak up?" Perhaps the feature could be perked up for the noisy Indian cities a bit.

Outdoors, the feature worked about half the time for us, depending on how noisy the area was. We were able to easily find directions while visiting a new area using Moto X just as we stepped out on the street. This showed the perfect case scenario of what Moto X can do — you don't have to fiddle with your phone, or type while you walk in traffic; just ask Moto X to do the task for you and you will get the same result.

The accuracy rate of Touchless Control was not high in noisy environments early during the review period, but as we spent more time with it, the performance got better. It was able to catch our voice even in heavy traffic after a few days. We expect the performance to only get better over time.

But one question that some users might want to ask is: "Do you really need to ask your phone to do everything?"

The answer to this really depends on the kind of user you are. If you just want a smartphone that does not hang, then Moto X will suffice. For that, you really don't need to shell out Rs 24,000 and you can just buy a cheaper smartphone like Samsung Galaxy Grand 2 or even Moto G.

But if you consider yourself to be an early tech adopter, someone who is always at the leading edge of consumer technology, then Moto X is a must-have device. Moto X gives us the first taste of a future where humans interact with machines as part of their day-to-day lives. And the taste is sweet.

And just so it wasn't clear: iPhones, other Android phones and Windows Phone handsets cannot match this user experience. The ease of getting so many tasks done without ever lifting a finger is simply unmatched.

Active Display
Another cool Moto X feature is Active Display, which shows you all the notifications when you are not actively operating the phone. Similar to Nokia's Glance Screen, Moto X's Active Display shows you missed calls, active downloads, unread messages and emails, new social media updates etc in a low-energy mode.



The feature comes into action automatically as soon as you take the handset out of your pocket or pick it up if it is face-down. It is a simple and effective way of showing you notifications, but it is not really something the world has never seen.

Trusted Devices
If you plan to or have the habit of keeping a PIN or pattern lock on your phone, then you would appreciate Trusted Devices. Motorola's new phone has a feature that disables the lock code when it comes in contact with devices that you have paired it with.

For example, you can start playing your phone's music on your Bluetooth speaker, headset or in-car infotainment system as soon as you come in range. It works with smartwatches and fitness trackers too.

However, Moto X shows in Notification Menu that it is unlocked and gives the option of locking it, in case you are around others and do not want them going through it.

Motorola Connect
Connect is a service that allows you to send and receive text messages on Chrome browser's window (after downloading a plug-in). You will also be notified about callers, so that you can decide whether you want to bother reaching for the phone or not.

Motorola Assist
Motorola Assist is a preloaded app that tries to make the user experience more intuitive.

It uses GPS to track if you are on the move and automatically reads aloud text messages as well as caller IDs and plays music over Bluetooth headsets.

The app also has sleep mode, wherein it keeps the phone silent during a preset time bracket. Of course, you can set exceptions, so that you can get notifications if starred contacts in your phone book message you or someone calls you twice in a span of five minutes.

Motorola Migrate
This is an app that helps you move messages, call records, contacts, videos and music from your old phone to Moto X. However, it works only on phones powered by Android 4.2 and newer versions. Considering the small number of Android 4.2 phones in India, it is unlikely to be of much help for most users.

Moreover, if contacts are stored in your Google account, you will get them all automatically when you set up your new Moto X. SMSs can be backed up using apps on Play Store and music and videos can be transferred via a computer easily. So this feature is a help, but something we can do without.

The app also works with iPhones too, so you can transfer all your key data if you are switching from an Apple smartphone to Moto X. However, considering that the entry-level iPhone 4 costs nearly as much as Moto X, we don't see many people migrating to the new Motorola phone after buying iPhone 4.

Advance Support
Motorola has also given a security feature in Moto X, called Advance Support. It lets you remotely locate, lock and wipe the phone in case it is stolen. But since Google already has the Android Device Manager app that does the same things, this feature is pretty much redundant.

Spotlight Stories
This is ad-free content delivered by Motorola on Moto X. It shows a video where the characters are constantly moving around the screen and sometime even move off it. You need to keep moving your phone around to keep track of the story.

Though these immersive stories (the only two current offerings are Windy Day and Buggy Night) are fun to watch, these do not affect long-term user experience.

Performance
Having discussed the software features of Moto X and how they perform, let us take a look at how it does when hardware is the only key factor.

Running a dual-core 1.7GHz processor, Moto X delivered a great performance in almost every task we put it through. All apps we used ran smoothly without any hiccups and there were no instances of apps closing automatically or running out of memory. The combination of stock Android and 2GB RAM has helped the dual-core processor deliver a decent performance.

But, while Moto X's performance is good, it still can't match the likes of Google Nexus 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4.

Graphics performance is very good too, considering the high-end GPU. Games like Angry Birds, Temple Run 2, Subway Surfer and Jetpack Joyride, unsurprisingly ran without any problems. Moto X's performance while running high-end games like Real Racing 3 and Dead Trigger 2 was also better than we expected, giving us no trouble at all.



Audio output of Moto X is also worth a mention here. The speaker, placed on the back, is pretty loud. It is actually louder than most phones in its range and the sound quality is also pretty good.

Moto X has seemed like a pretty good deal until now, offering decent hardware and a great user experience at an acceptable price. But where it falters is battery life, a crucial aspect for any buyer.

With 3G internet turned on at all times and all the software features active, Moto X lasts around 11 hours in one go. This is below average, requiring us to charge the phone twice a day to keep going.

Knowing that our smartphone usage tends to be quite aggressive, we eased up on our mobile computing to reach a little moderate level. Even then, we did not get more than 13 hours from the phone on a single charge.

Camera
Camera is another critical smartphone feature where Moto X fails to deliver as promised. At the phone's launch, Motorola promised excellent camera performance, but reality is far from the truth.

The 10MP camera of Moto X delivers okay photos at best and lacks the details that make an image stand out. Even as daylight photos look good, the object in focus is never as sharp as it should be when you zoom in for a phone priced this high. Colours, though, are balanced and true.



Motorola has used a special ClearPixel filter in the camera sensor, making the setup RGBC (red, green, blue, clear) instead of the standard (RGB). Technical jargon aside, this filter is supposed to ensure better lowlight images by capturing more light through the 'clear' layer.

However, this feature does not work as advertised. The low-light photos we took look were hardly better than the ones taken by any other camera. The noise and lack of detail show that Motorola's attempt at making the camera better has failed.

Having said that, let us look at two other innovations Motorola has done with the camera. First is how you open the Camera app. Instead of a hardware key for faster access, Motorola has added a software feature that allows you to open the app by just twisting your wrist twice. The shake-shake feature works perfectly and did not fail even once. Whether you are watching a video or reading something on the web, just twirl the wrist twice and you get to the Camera app.

Second is the Camera app's interface. Instead of using the camera app of stock Android, Motorola has customized it and done a pretty good job. The app is completely clutter-free and the whole screen is the Capture button. You can click anywhere on the screen and the phone will capture the photo, just like in Lumia phones.

All the controls are also hidden away, but can be accessed by a simple left-to-right swipe from the left side. If you want to zoom in or out, then just swipe up or down. The volume rocker does not work as zoom key, but can be used to capture photos.

Competition
There's no real competition for Moto X, a phone that aims to please with its user experience, not the hardware configuration. However, if you are looking at just a phone and not too concerned with all the software innovations, then you can go for the slightly cheaper Samsung Galaxy Grand 2 (Rs 21,000) or the higher-priced Google Nexus 4 (Rs 28,000). These phones are at two ends of the spectrum and offer good value for money.

Verdict
Moto X is the perfect reply to those who complain about how an iPhone's user experience is much better than an Android phone's. The smartphone delivers on the smarts and makes the user experience extremely enjoyable.

You won't even have to pick up the phone to do many of the usual tasks. It is a precursor to what the future of technology looks like and we are very happy with the first step. Though battery life and camera quality are a concern, the overall user experience is simply unmatched.

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