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Moto X Review

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The Moto X is the is one of the most impressive Android phones available with a beautiful build quality, near stock version of Android and a collection of impressive features and no touch controls that allow for access to Google Now and deliver an impressive amount of voice control to the device that competitors like the iPhone cannot yet offer.

This AT&T Moto X review covers the new device which allows users to customize the phone through the Moto Maker at no extra charge to personalize the Moto X with a wide range of colors that would otherwise require a case. While you can buy a case for the Moto X, there is no need to as the personalization options are varied and the phone withstands the hazards of daily use without showing wear.

GottaBeMobile-Editors-Choice-ThumbnailFor all that is good with the Moto X, the camera remains an issue. Motorola and AT&T pushed an update that addresses some of the early issues with the camera, but it is still not possible to tap to set the exposure which makes taking photos in uneven lighting an issue. Some photos turn out amazing, while others leave shadows too dark thanks to the highly automatic process.

The Moto X earns a Gotta Be Mobile Editor’s Choice award for touchless controls that deliver fast access to Google Now’s impressive library of commands, the best notifications system we’ve seen on a smartphone, the first successful mass customization of a gadget at an affordable price and an all around excellent user experience.

Pros

  • Design is great and customizable
  • Active Display and Touchless Control pair Up for wonderful user experience.
  • Battery life and call quality are above average.
Cons

  • Camera performance is sub-par
  • 720P display is lower than Android competition.

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Moto X | $199 | AT&T

Moto X Review Guide
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Moto X Video Review

In the six minute Moto X video below you’ll get a quick overview of our Moto X review as well as the highlights from a hardware and software perspective. Check out touchless control of Google Now and the impressive active display notification system.

Moto X Design

The Moto X doesn’t use the same kevlar material as Motorola’s earlier Droid devices, but it doesn’t jump all the way to the plastic side of things either. Google and Motorola settled on a composite material that offers a soft touch premium feel that is leaps and bounds above the Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note 3 and Droid Ultra.

The Moto X design allows users to customize the looks of the AT&T Moto X.

The Moto X design allows users to customize the looks of the AT&T Moto X.

The Moto X is on par with the HTC One and the iPhone 5s when it comes to design and tactile feel. Motorola and AT&T allowed Gotta Be Mobile to test drive the Moto Maker which is currently and AT&T exclusive. This means the Moto X shown in review photos is the result of my color choices. There are enough color choices that most users can create a Moto X based on school colors, a favorite team or to match their style.

Motorola's material choice feels much better than the plastic on the Droid Ultra and the Galaxy S4.

Motorola’s material choice feels much better than the plastic on the Droid Ultra and the Galaxy S4.

Thanks to a sensibly sized 4.7-inch display, the Moto X is similar in size to the iPhone 5s even though the screen is much larger. The Moto X is slightly thicker thanks to the curved back, but is just as easy to use with one hand as the iPhone 5s. The Moto X is a heavier smartphone at 130 grams, but it feels very nice to hold and use for long periods of time.

The Moto X features a 4.7-inch display and the iPhone 5s uses a 4-inch display, but the phones are similar in size.

The Moto X features a 4.7-inch display and the iPhone 5s uses a 4-inch display, but the phones are similar in size.

Moto X Display

The Moto X Display is 4.7-inches, which is about average for an Android smartphone and clearly bigger than the iPhone 5s. Motorola skimped on resolution, opting for a 720P display instead of the 1080P displays found on devices like the Galaxy S4, HTC One and Galaxy Note 3.

The Moto X features a 4.7-inch 720P HD display.

The Moto X features a 4.7-inch 720P HD display.

While the lower resolution display is downside for some users, Motorola is no longer using pentile displays which means owners can expect a very nice display on the Moto X. The display is bright and vibrant matching the iPhone 5s and the Galaxy S4 in looks even though it uses a lower resolution panel than the S4.

While watching the Gravity trailer on YouTube in HD, the Moto X’s 720P display delivered deep blacks as the astronauts silhouetted against space and vibrant colors as parts of the space station burn up during re-entry. Reading on this display is also a great experience with no perceivable pixels on the display.

Moto X Performance

The Moto X may not sport the same specs as the HTC One and the Galaxy S4, but a coprocessor similar to what Apple unveiled in the iPhone 5s is on board to help handle the natural language recognition that is key to the anytime voice control.

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While using the Moto X app switching and taps are very responsive. Prospective buyers should not be turned off by the spec sheet as the Moto X delivers a fluid and respectable performance. While playing games like EA’s Real Racing 3, the processor is able to deliver a good experience to gamers.

Moto X Battery Life

Motorola delivers a in the battery department with a device that can last all day even with heavy use that includes some time as a hotspot. The Moto X battery life consistently lasted from the early morning to the late evening during our use.

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Motorola includes a Battery Saver option that limits mobile data and updates while the battery is low, but overall I did not need to resort to battery saving tricks to keep the Moto X going all day long.

Moto X Call Quality and Audio

Motorola is known for call quality and with the Moto X we hear the results of Motorola’s time spent on this front. Calls are clear and sound very good while in good coverage. We enjoy making calls and surfing the web at the same time using AT&T’s growing 4G LTE network.

As for audio quality, Motorola delivers respectable sound but overall it is not up to par with the HTC One’s BoomSound front-facing speakers that deliver clearer, louder music and audio for movies.

Moto X Camera

Motorola makes a big deal about the camera in the Moto X, and there is no question that it can produce stunning images, like the HDR shot of a downtown scene shown below, but the camera relies on automatic detection of exposure and focus too much in many cases.

There are alternative photo apps that can return some of this control to users, but they will not allow users to quickly launch the camera with the flick of a wrist like the stock camera app does.

Some Moto X photos look amazing.

Some Moto X photos look amazing.

Motorola pushed out an update that provided some fixes to the Moto X camera, but the gallery below shows how the camera will often show a bright sky instead of allowing a user to tap on a spot of the screen to set the exposure. The iPhone 5s and many other Android phones allow users to tap on the screen to make the building show up better. Turning HDR to ON, instead of AUTO delivers better results with the current version of the software.

Still the performance of the camera is fairly good in even lighting or when users can move to a position where the lighting is in their favor. The gallery below includes sample images taken indoors and out with the Moto X.

The Moto X records in 1080P and includes an option to record in slow motion. The slow motion option is easy to get to, but it doesn’t offer an easy way to selectively switch between slow motion and regular speed and share the result.

Moto X Software and Apps

The Moto X software and apps make the device standout and consistently earn it a place in our best Android smartphone roundups. We’ve already touched on the gesture to open the camera, but that’s just the start.

Active Display is by far the best way to deliver notifications.

Active Display is by far the best way to deliver notifications.

Active DIsplay is the best notification system on any smartphone, period. Instead of flashing an LED that tells you nothing like most Android phones or showing notification banners that require a swipe and app launch to read more like the iPhone, the Moto X shows multi-line previews on the lock screen so it is incredibly easy to see notifications. These notifications are built around the Android Notification panel so most Android apps with notifications work. Check out the Active Display in action in the commercial below and see what this looks like above. Simply picking up the phone, taking it out of a pocket or receiving a new notification will trigger the display to show what notifications are waiting. Tap on the center to see the notifications and swipe up to open the app.

The Moto X is always listening for users to say, “Ok Google Now.” When you say this phrase the Moto X will automatically launch Google Now and take your command to search the web, get directions, play music or more. This feature is incredibly useful while driving or if the phone is across the room. I initially thought this would be a gimmick, but found myself using it several times a day to control the Moto X and get directions. The Moto X ad below highlights how this works.

Of course the one roadblock to this is that the touchless control will not work until you unlock the phone. Motorola addresses this with Moto Skip, a small accessory that unlocks the Moto X when you take it out of your pocket. This is perhaps the best use of NFC we’ve seen, but it’s not perfect. The clip attaches to a pocket with magnets and within a few hours of using it the Skip fell off in public never to be seen again. Motorola includes 3 skip stickers for your desk, car and nightstand which perform the same function and are harder to lose. The phone can also be set to remain unlocked when paired with specific Bluetooth devices such as a headset or a car, adding to the convenience of touchless control.

Automatically unlock the Moto X when you place it on one of these stickers.

Automatically unlock the Moto X when you place it on one of these stickers.

Motorola also includes an Assist App that can help customize the Moto X to your usage. This app can automatically read messages out while it detects you are driving and there is an option to automatically resume music playback when you get back in a car. The software can also recognize when you are in a meeting based on the calendar and can silence alerts as well as send a pre-determined message to favorite contacts. This app also includes a Sleeping mode which is similar to Do Not Disturb that automatically silences the phone during preset hours, but will let favorites or repeat calls through.

Is the Moto X Worth It?

The Moto X is one of the best Android smartphones on the market and the combination of customizations, touchless controls, savvy software and great build quality deliver a smartphone experience. At $199 for the base model with customization, the Moto X is well worth the price of admission.

The Moto X camera is capable of taking great looking photos, but the current software does limit the camera in certain situations. Even with this limitation and a lower than average resolution display the Moto X is worth buying.

Moto X Gallery

Josh Smith is Editor of GottaBeMobile and Notebooks.com. He's always looking for ways to help you get the most of your gear and loves to talk about tech on radio and TV. Josh uses an iOS and Android devices as well as Mac and Windows Computers. Josh Smith on Google+ Email: [email protected]

14 Comments

  1. Chris Newman

    10/10/2013 at 11:29 pm

    Sorry to do this to your wonderful review but there’s some incorrectness, shall we say in it:

    “Of course the one roadblock to this is that the touchless control will not work until you unlock the phone.”

    It’s called touchless control because you “don’t” have to unlock your phone to use that. I own one and when I use that function, it automatically unlocks your phone for you and answers whatever you ask it.

    Also:

    “Motorola addresses this with Moto Skip, a small accessory that unlocks the Moto X when you take it out of your pocket.”

    The purpose wasn’t to address that because it’s not an issue. :) They made the skip to make it more convenient to unlock your phone easily yet still have it secured with your password or swipe pattern.

    Other than those small discrepancies, excellent round robin job on all of the phones features and quality design. I’ve always lover Motorola’s build quality and reliability myself and with this model, they “take the cake!” Again, “great” job on the review. Cheers!

  2. Chris Waters

    10/11/2013 at 1:32 pm

    It’s my understanding that many of the convenience features of the Moto X don’t work when the device is locked; in fact, I’ve read a number of reviews that state that very thing. Perhaps it has something to do with the lock method and/or administrator controls pushed down by users’ employers.

    That said, I’m still looking forward to getting a Moto X.

    • Chris Newman

      10/11/2013 at 2:35 pm

      Sorry to contradict you as well, Chris but this incorrect. I’m not sure what others are experiencing but as I said, I own the phone and no matter which type of lock screen security I choose the touchless control works. Sometimes I have to say it 2-3 times for it to recognize me while it’s locked because I didn’t say it close enough to how I set it up with the “wizard” but it does work while locked, I can assure you that. It’s how they designed it and intend it to work so you don’t have to worry about not looking forward to having to unlock something that’s not supposed to unlocked by design. :) I’d like to see those reviews and if you mean that an employee has this phone as a work phone and the employer put a block on that feature somehow, then I can understand that. Cheers to you, fellow Chris and enjoy your new phone when you get it. I know you’ll love it, I do. :]

  3. Chris Waters

    10/11/2013 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks for the information, Chris. Note this comment in a review on The Verge (http://www.theverge.com/2013/8/5/4588922/moto-x-review):

    “…. The touchless controls are rendered nearly useless if you have any kind of security lock on your phone. You can still use it to make calls, but everything else requires that you unlock your phone, which requires that you pick it up and interact with it… meaning you just defeated the whole idea of “touchless controls.” If the voice recognition was as good and as personalized as Motorola would like it to be, this wouldn’t be an issue. But it’s an issue right now, and a bit of a bummer if you care at all about your phone’s security (and let’s face it, you should)…. “

    • Chris Newman

      10/11/2013 at 4:07 pm

      You’re welcome. Ah I see…I used the touchless control with all the security settings like I said but I didn’t actually say anything for it to search, I was just thinking since it came on that it worked but now that I saw that, I tried it and it requires you to enter your security info to continue so I see what you mean. For me and my part, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest because only me and my brother will ever have access to my phone so I use the “slide” setting and it automatically unlocks it for me that way. Well if you use security on your phone and you get it customized, you’ll receive the Moto Skip free with the phone and that will slightly help with that issue: you’ll need to tap the middle/back of the phone to the skip after searching with the touchless control so it’ll still be somewhat convenient to not have to touch the screen haha. It seems like a kind of roundabout way of doing it but hey, you still keep your security setting in place and either way, you’d pick up your phone to see the results so tapping the skip with the phone isn’t too much different from the way I do it because you’re still only holding the phone and just passing/tapping it to the skip on the way up and not tapping the screen. :P Hope that helps ya. Cheers!

  4. Chris Waters

    10/12/2013 at 1:22 pm

    “….Moto Skip, a small accessory that unlocks the Moto X when you take it out of your pocket. This is perhaps the best use of NFC we’ve seen, but it’s not perfect. The clip attaches to a pocket with magnets and within a few hours of using it the Skip fell off in public never to be seen again. Motorola includes 3 skip stickers for your desk, car and nightstand which perform the same function and are harder to lose. The phone can also be set to remain unlocked when paired with specific Bluetooth devices such as a headset or a car, adding to the convenience of touchless control….”

    This is the first I’ve heard of “Moto Skip”. Does Moto Skip clip (and the stickers) truly automatically unlock the Moto X? And when in proximity to the stickers, does the device remain unlocked?

    It sounds like once its paired with one or more Bluetooth devices, the Moto X remains unlocked. Is that so? Does the Moto X thereafter automatically unlock when it detects the paired Bluetooth device(s)?

    Can anyone comment on how these features work when ‘device administration’ has been pushed to the device?

    • Chris Newman

      10/12/2013 at 2:01 pm

      I’ll be happy to answer your questions, Chris. Yes the Moto Skip truly automatically unlocks your device (while still allowing you to have security still on your phone) and it remains unlocked no matter if it’s near the stickers or not.
      It utilizes the NFC function of the phone, totally seperate from the bluetooth function, so once it’s paired with multiple skips, it will remain unlocked until you manually lock it yourself and won’t unlock again until you manually do so via typing your security info in the phone upon pressing the ilunlock key OR touching the middle of the back of the phone to one of the skips, then it unlocks. I’ve tried it myself. About the part where he says, “The clip attaches to a pocket with magnets and within a few hours of using it the Skip fell off in public never to be seen again.” A bit of clarification: The magnets are very strong so it would take a bit of doing for it to fall off; Motorola says that a jean pocket might not do so well so most likely the guy had in on there and with his travels, he might’ve jostled it loose accidentally. It says that a shirt pocket or on the end of a shirt works great, not even quoted word for word but from bits and prices that I remember.
      For the device administration part, once you’ve chosen your security type and paired the skip to your device, it remembers all of the paired skips and automatically unlocks your device when touched to the middle and back of the device as intended.
      Hope that helped you out, Chris.

      P.S. You’ll only receive the skips free if you get the phone customized and they did say it was for a limited time, otherwise you can purchase them for $19.99.

      Cheers!

      • Chris Waters

        10/12/2013 at 2:48 pm

        Thanks! In my experience, Android device administration, when pushed to the device from employers, usually overrides the screen lock values such that the device automatically locks after (say) 10 minutes and *always* requires a code to unlock. It will be interesting to see how such device administration and Moto Skip get along.

        I’m not sure I see the value of the magnets; seems like it would be too easy to forget to remove the magnets from my clothing each day…and then have them go through the laundry. The (magnetic?) stickers, however, sound *very* useful, especially when used in (say) the cradle in my car. Again, however, will device administration force the device to automatically lock after 10 minutes, even in proximity of the stickers?

        The only reason I haven’t bought the Moto X yet is because my carrier (Verizon) doesn’t have the 32GB model. Verizon will reportedly have the 32GB model when they get Moto Maker next month. Presumably, models ordered through Verizon / Moto Maker will include Moto Skip.

        (I may end up putting a case on the Moto X–so color combinations via Moto Maker may not be of much interest to me. Does Moto Skip work when a case is on the device?)

        OTOH, I’m also very interested in seeing next week how the Nexus 5 compares to the Moto X….and whether it will be available on Verizon.

        • Chris Newman

          10/12/2013 at 3:33 pm

          You’re welcome. I’m not too sure about the device administration bit as I don’t use my phone strictly for work so my employer can’t put restrictions on it. I agree about the magnet and laundering haha but about the sticker: I wouldn’t recommend putting it on the inside of the cradle in your car if you tend to use it only for storing it close by-if you lock it before you place it in the cradle then the sticker will unlock it upon the phone being put into it so it’d be better to put it somewhere close by to unlock it after taking it out if the cradle so that you can pull it out of the cradle then quickly tap it on the sticker to unlock it, say like the dash. I also think it best to place it on the dash or somewhere else close by if you use your phone’s cradle for Google maps navigation because if you’re done using it and lock the phone I believe it’ll unlock the phone again if the sticker is on the cradle and I’m not sure how it’ll work constantly being behind the phone when its sole function is to unlock the phone.

          http://www.amazon.com/Evecase-S-Line-Slim-Kick-Stand-Motorola/dp/B00ESXDWIC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381085439&sr=8-1&keywords=Evecase+S-Line+Slim+TPU+Case+with+Kick-Stand+for+Motorola+Moto+X+-+Frosted+Clear+%28AT%26T%2C+Verizon%2C+Sprint%2C+T-Mobile%2C+US+Cellular+and+All+Versions+Compatible%29&tag=notebookscom-20

          That link leads you to a clear case on Amazon that will fix the problem with the customization plus the price is MORE than reasonable. It’s has a tremendous grip to it due to the edges having small diamond bumps on them. My only gripe with the case is that there’s not enough ‘give’ with the button covers, they’re a bit rigid and require a little more pressure than normal (I’m sure over time and use that’ll improve though.) to lock/unlock and change the volumes but it’s worth it for a clear, quality case in my opinion. Here’s two pics of my phone with it on:

          https://m.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=452355128216765&id=100003268447370&set=a.287816378003975.70361.100003268447370&source=46&__user=100003268447370

          https://m.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=452356841549927&id=100003268447370&set=a.287816378003975.70361.100003268447370&source=46&__user=100003268447370

          I did see other cases on Amazon that were clear, with kickstands and without as well but this was the first clear one with a kickstand (I prefer cases with those.) that I found at the time I was ready to purchase.

          The skip still unlocks the phone with my case on it so you’re good to go with that. The ultimate choice to which device you finally purchase is yours and I wish you the best if luck with it. I personally got the 32 gigabyte version, 16 gigs isn’t nearly enough memory for what I need it to do and I love everything about the phone, I’d highly recommend it to anyone. :)

          Take care and best of luck again on your purchase. I hope I’ve helped ya out and if you gave any further questions about the device, I’ll be more than happy to answer them.

          Cheers!

        • Chris Newman

          10/12/2013 at 4:15 pm

          Either my comment wasn’t approved because there were links in it or you’ll see a duplicate soon so in the case if it being the links, I’ll do my best to help you get to the pages I tried to post. Here’s my original post with the help instead of the links:

          You’re welcome. I’m not too sure about the device administration bit as I don’t use my phone strictly for work so my employer can’t put restrictions on it. I agree about the magnet and laundering haha but about the sticker: I wouldn’t recommend putting it on the inside of the cradle in your car if you tend to use it only for storing it close by-if you lock it before you place it in the cradle then the sticker will unlock it upon the phone being put into it so it’d be better to put it somewhere close by to unlock it after taking it out if the cradle so that you can pull it out of the cradle then quickly tap it on the sticker to unlock it, say like the dash. I also think it best to place it on the dash or somewhere else close by if you use your phone’s cradle for Google maps navigation because if you’re done using it and lock the phone I believe it’ll unlock the phone again if the sticker is on the cradle and I’m not sure how it’ll work constantly being behind the phone when its sole function is to unlock the phone.

          Go to Amazon’s website and type this in to the search bar and it’ll be the third one, $1.99:

          moto x evecase frosted clear case with kickstand

          That will lead you to a clear case on Amazon that will fix the problem with the customization plus the price is MORE than reasonable. It’s has a tremendous grip to it due to the edges having small diamond bumps on them. My only gripe with the case is that there’s not enough ‘give’ with the button covers, they’re a bit rigid and require a little more pressure than normal (I’m sure over time and use that’ll improve though.) to lock/unlock and change the volumes but it’s worth it for a clear, quality case in my opinion. Here’s two pics of my phone with it on:

          For this part, you can simply go to my Facebook page and the very first two posts will be about the case.

          I did see other cases on Amazon that were clear, with kickstands and without as well but this was the first clear one with a kickstand (I prefer cases with those.) that I found at the time I was ready to purchase.

          The skip still unlocks the phone with my case on it so you’re good to go with that. The ultimate choice to which device you finally purchase is yours and I wish you the best of luck with it. I personally got the 32 gigabyte version, 16 gigs isn’t nearly enough memory for what I need it to do and I love everything about the phone, I’d highly recommend it to anyone. :)

          Take care and best of luck again on your purchase. I hope I’ve helped ya out and if you gave any further questions about the device, I’ll be more than happy to answer them.

          Cheers!

  5. fourteen fan

    11/16/2013 at 6:54 pm

    Got mine Tuesday it rocks on sprint 4glte is as fast as WiFi had nexus s 4g this phone is skinned lightly I would know Tulsa Ok

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