Moto X review: Looking Back At One Of 2013’s Finest

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The Moto X was the first and last premium handset produced by Google and Motorola before the former sold-off the latter to Chinese PC-giant Lenovo. The Moto X, therefore, represented Google’s one stab at turning around the fortunes of one of mobile’s oldest brands. And, boy, did The Big G hit the nail on the head with the Moto X…

The handset itself is a fairly unassuming smartphone with a decent-sized 4.7in display. The design, while conservative, exudes class and attention to detail. When you pick up the Moto X it becomes abundantly clear A LOT of time was spent figuring out the best possible proportions, display, size and weight.

Google and Moto knew it’d never directly compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung right away, so instead they focused on setting a precedent by crafting a useful, intelligent phone with minimal bloatware, sensible specs and an all-but stock implementation of Android. 

There were a couple of USPs too; things like Moto Maker created a huge buzz around the phone, as did the break-neck speed with which new versions of Android were brought to the handset. In a time of heady one-upmanship, the Moto X positioned itself as the thinking man’s phone… a device that did everything you wanted and at a price that wouldn’t require a remortgaging of your home. 

It is, however, worth noting that Motorola will soon introduce the follow-up to 2013’s Moto X. Dubbed the Moto X+1, the handset is expected to pick up where the Moto X left off and add in a bunch on hardware and design refinements. Oh, and it’ll be launching alongside the AWESOME Moto 360 too. 

So… what’s the Moto X like? Read on to find out. 

Moto X review: Design

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The Moto X is made from plastic and Kevlar, and it feels great in the hand – the pictures really don’t do this handset justice. The two-piece body construction is robust, and it doesn’t feel like a protective case is absolutely necessary, which isn’t something one can say about most high-end handsets.

It’s comfortable in the hand too, thanks to the curved back and the phone’s overall compactness. The screen (covered in tough Gorilla Glass) runs almost edge-to-edge on the front, making the phone slightly smaller than most 4.7-inch handsets. It’s 10.4mm thick and 130g in weight, which is about average by current standards.

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Buy the phone in-store and you have a choice between white or black finishes, but head over to the Moto Maker website and you can customise the design to a dizzying degree: there are two front colours, 18 back colours and seven accent colours to choose from, as well as the option to have a personalised message printed on the back, and the choice of either 16GB or 32GB of storage space (the in-store version is 16GB only, with no card for expansion).

The phone will then be made in Motorola’s US factory and shipped to you in four days or less.

Moto X review: Screen

Motorola has managed to exercise restraint when it comes to the screen, opting for a 4.7-inch AMOLED with 1280 x 720 pixels. It’s not the biggest or sharpest display on the market, but in daily use you’re unlikely to feel short-changed.

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The AMOLED tech delivers a rich, highly saturated picture that’s noticeably warmer than, say, the LCD screen on the similarly sized Google Nexus 4. Some might prefer the cooler tones of an LCD, but videos, photos and games all look fantastically vibrant here.

Moto X review: User interface

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The X doesn’t use the native Android user interface as seen on the Nexus 4, but unlike Samsung, HTC and LG, Motorola hasn’t given the whole thing a huge (and mostly unnecessary) overhaul. In fact at first glance, you might think the phone’s Android 4.4 KitKat OS hasn’t been touched at all – but changes, however subtle, are there, mostly in the form of exclusive apps and services.

Active Display, for instance, shows off notifications and the clock even when the phone is asleep, by fading them in and out periodically on the screen. It’s so low power that battery life is almost unaffected, and does go a little way towards curbing compulsive phone checking.

Motorola Connect lets you send and receive texts and take calls from your computer (at no extra cost) via a Chrome web browser extension, while Motorola Migrate allows you to wirelessly transfer photos, videos, call and text history, and SIM contacts from any Android phone.

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The biggest UI feather in the Moto X’s cap, however, is Touchless Control, which essentially takes Google Now’s voice assistant and makes it available to you, hands-free, 24/7. Just say, “OK, Google Now,” and it’ll start listening to whatever question or command you have.

It strikes us as more accurate, effective and natural than Apple’s Siri, and the fact you can use it without having to lift a finger, not even to bring the X out of sleep, is quite amazing.

Moto X review: Performance

Compared to quad-core Android powerhouses like the HTC One, LG G2 and Samsung Galaxy S4, the Moto X might seem a tad disappointing: it’s more on a par with the Nexus 4, Galaxy S3 and Sony Xperia Z. But while its dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro CPU isn’t pushing any boundaries, it’s more than capable enough of dealing with any app or game you might throw at it. In a year or two that might change. But for now it’s fine.

A more significant drawback could be the lack of space. On our 16GB version, 4GB of space was already taken up with essential software and the OS. You do get 50GB of cloud storage through Google Drive, but that’s not quite the same as on-board space. 

The 2200mAh battery is a highlight, providing around 13 hours of talk time in our tests.

Moto X review: Camera

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The Moto X’s 10-megapixel main camera has fairly large pixels, giving slightly better low light performance than some rivals, but we frequently found photos to be merely good rather than stunning. Colour reproduction can come across as a little dull at times. There’s also 1080p video and the option to shoot 120fps slow motion footage.

The camera software is another area where Motorola has attempted to make things more user-friendly. The “quick access” mode means you can open the app at any time by twisting your wrist twice, then touching the screen to take a shot or tapping the video button to start filming. You lose touch-to-focus with this switched on, but it does speed up the photo-taking process and could help capture things that you might otherwise miss.

Moto X review: Conclusion

The Moto X isn’t the fastest phone, or the one with the best camera, biggest screen or highest pixel density. It does however feature some of the most user-friendly features we’ve encountered on a current-gen smartphone, solid build quality and impressive battery life, and we found it a more than capable performer in all the major areas. And it’s not particularly pricy either.

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