The Moto X is Motorola’s second handset to hit the UK since the company was bought by Google. The first, the Moto G, was a roaring success, and set a high bar for other budget handset makers. The Moto X is pitched at an altogether different segment of the smartphone buying public.
With a price of £380 sim-free, this is quite a high-end phone. It runs the very latest version of Android, is being presented as a handset you can command with your voice, sports a Chrome plugin that gives you access to calls and SMS, and has a neat camera trick too.
So, do these features combine with the rest of what’s on offer here to make the Moto X a compelling proposition – and can you really control it just by talking?
Well, starting with basic ergonomics and usability, the Moto X is a neatly thought through phone. Your nano-sim fits into a slot on the left edge of the chassis while the volume and power buttons are both on the right. MicroUSB is on the bottom, and the headset slot is on top. It’s a safe, standard arrangement that’s unproblematic in everyday use.
There’s a curvature to the rear which helps the handset sit neatly in the palm, and the soft-touch finish on the back helps with grip. At the fattest part of that curve, right down the centre, the phone is 10.4mm thick, but it reaches a minimum of 5.7mm. That’s thinner than the world’s thinnest handset – the Huawei Ascend P6 – though its 6.18mm is an all-round measure and for me Huawei still takes the uber-thin accolade.
The Moto X screen measures 4.7in. It is large enough to deliver web pages at a readable size and just about big enough for watching a bit of video. I read eBooks with ease, and yet it doesn’t make for an oversized phone. There really is a near-zero bezel on the long edges of the chassis, and that makes the phone relatively neat considering that screen size. The Moto X sat nicely in my – quite small – hand, and I could reach all the way across the screen one-handed while being jostled on a bus. I reckon this handset hits a sweet spot (not a phrase I particularly like) that allows comfortable user ergonomics while also offering good viewing.
However, Motorola has not gone overboard with the screen’s specification. It delivers 1,280 x 720 pixels, somewhat lower than, for example, the similarly priced LG G2 with its 5.2in screen boasting 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. Or indeed the considerably less expensive Nexus 5 which has a 4.95in screen with the same pixel count. There’s some healthy discussion going on at the moment about how many pixels a handset needs, but the Moto X’s display is good enough for me.
In terms of the other specs, Motorola has exercised a certain amount of restraint when kitting out the Moto X. No, a 1.7GHz dual-core processor isn’t earth shattering, but it has been paired with 2GB of RAM which certainly helps it zip along. It’ll be good enough for most people, and I found swiping responsive, and in terms of general performance everything nipped along just fine. 4G support helps with downloading data, of course, including web pages.
There’s 16GB of built in storage, with promise of a 32GB option to come. Of that 16GB, just 10.5GB is free for your own use, and there’s no microSD card slot for boosting that. You do get 50GB of Google Drive storage though. Near Field Communications is nice to see here, though it’s hardly a novelty these days.
No doubt thanks to its close association with Google (well, it’s a very close association as Google owns Motorola), the Moto X runs Android 4.4. Skinning is pretty much non-existent, and instead Motorola has concentrated on those extras that make this handset really stand out from the crowd.
One of the simplest of these is a double wrist flick that starts the 10-megapixel camera app running even when the screen is off. Unlike many gesture-based controls this one just works – in fact, it worked for me first time and every time. It’s great not to have to rely on a side or software button to get to the camera. And then when you are in the camera software, you use on-screen controls like tap and hold for continuous shooting, dragging a finger vertically to zoom, and sweeping in from the left for settings and from the right for the gallery. It’s all very easy and lends itself to one-handed use and fast snapping. Photos themselves are not bad quality, either.
The feature you probably really want to know about, though, is what Motorola is calling “touchless control.” Basically this lets you perform functions via voice commands even if the Moto X is in standby. There’s a natural language processor that helps the phone understand what you are saying.
First, you have to train the phone which just involves it recording you saying ‘OK Google Now’ three times. That’s the code-phrase you have to use (just the once) to let the Moto X know you are about to speak an instruction. Thereafter you can say that phrase and do a bunch of stuff. You can do lots of things, including getting directions, sending an SMS, setting reminders and alarms, scheduling meetings, playing music and more, as well as carrying out Google searches.
The speech recognition engine is quite quick, and I found it to be pretty accurate with my voice. There are of course the inevitable “buts”…
How much you’ll want to say “OK Google Now” in real life is another question. For stuff like Google searches I found it quicker than using the keyboard to tap out queries – but I’m not sure I’d talk to my phone in public places.
I’m a big fan of the active display. The lock screen shows notifications, and you can tap any one for a bit more detail, then sweep it to open up. Different kinds of notifications have their own icons – missed calls, texts etc. It’s an intelligent feature that saves you from all those interminable occasions when you check a notification to find it’s something completely unimportant. Another smart extra is the Motorola Connect Chrome extension which lets you see notifications and reply to SMS messages from the desktop. Very neat.
Meanwhile Motorola Assist, which also features on the Moto G, is on hand to do things like set the handset to be silent overnight – letting only favourites and persistent callers through.
If battery life bothers you, my limited time with this handset indicates that the 2,200mAh battery is a good one. I exceeded a day of average usage, and I’d say battery life is above the average.
Although the Moto X isn’t built with top notch specifications, it performs well, and its battery life is strong. It’s a nice size for one-handed use, and its extra features seem to have potential. Okay, the voice control won’t always be a substitute for touching the screen, but in some cases you can complete whole tasks with voice alone, and in others you can do things more quickly than you can by screen-tapping alone.
Also, the camera features will really appeal to anyone who likes to take a lot of shots. Makers of top tier handsets might want to look at what Motorola has done here and wonder if the company might be pulling the features rug from under their feet.
Manufacturer and Model
Motorola Moto X
1.7GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro
4.7in, 1,280 x 720 pixels
65.3 x 10.4–5.7 x 129.4mm (WxDxH)