Review: Verizon Moto X (video)

 Moto X 2

The Moto X, its newborn Google/Motorola phone, which is manufactured in the U.S., just hit Verizon for $199 on a two-year contract.  It sports a 4.7-inch screen size, a curved back and is made from a composite material.  Motorola keeps things simple and intuitive, focusing on touchless voice controls and the ability to preview notifications without having to unlock the phone. There’s also the impending launch of Moto Maker studio, which will let users trick out their devices with multiple colors.

Moto X 3

Design

As mentioned, the Moto X has an inconspicuously cool design.  A 10-megapixel camera sits near the top of the back panel, along with a thumb-size divot holding the Motorola logo. Slim silver buttons for power and volume sit on the right side of the device and a headphone jack lines the top of the device with a microUSB port along the bottom.

The front of the Moto X sports an edge-to-edge screen and very thin side bezels. The thicker top and bottom bezels help to accent the 720p, AMOLED, 4.7-inch display.  A 2-MP camera sits in the upper right corner, and the whole thing weighs a pretty light 4.8-ounces and measures 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.22-0.4 inches. The Moto X’s AMOLED display packs a pixel density of 316 ppi, looks great from most any angle and has that signature vibrant pop of saturated color associated with this panel type. It’s not the brightest display I’ve ever seen, and the glaring light of a bright summer sun does make it difficult to discern onscreen content, but still, I like it. 

 Moto X Hits AT&T

Performance

The X8 custom architecture Motorola’s embedded within the Moto X (and the rest of the new Droid line) is a combo of a dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro clocked at 1.7GHz, a quad-core Adreno 320 GPU and two specialized cores — one for the aforementioned contextual computing, the other for natural language processing — plus 2GB of RAM. Those latter two custom cores were made specifically to enable optional features like Active Display, Quick Capture and Touchless Control to function in a low-power state. That means that even when your screen’s off, these features are only a flip, wrist twist or voice command away.  And the 24-hour battery life claim is not too far from the truth.

The Moto X, thanks to Google’s new Project Butter, (which processes at 60-frames per second), glides along in every action. The transitions are smooth and the app launches are seamless; nothing about its performance is jerky, and the device itself never heats up.  Additionally, graphics performance seems to be on par with its rivals

Moto X 5

Software

Once powered, the Moto X will treat you to the new Motorola boot animation. After downloading your Google info, you’ll be prompted to take advantage of Moto Migrate, a new tool that requires the installation of a similarly named app on former smartphones for data migration. Despite being a Google product, the Moto X does not ship with Android 4.3 out of the box, nor is it immediately receiving that over-the-air update like its Nexus brethren — perhaps the confirmed Google Play edition will.  Instead, it comes with a pretty pure version of Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.  Moto X also has minor customizations Motorola’s made to the camera UI, notifications and always-on voice commands that separate this from the Nexus line.

Among these tweaks is a sweet new function called Active Display. This makes the phone smarter than your average smartphone and one of the reasons Motorola developed that specialized contextual computing core. Pull the phone out of your pocket and a portion of the display immediately illuminates with the time, any new notifications and an unlock icon. You can even preview those lingering notifications by tapping the blinking icon onscreen and then fully access them by sliding your finger upwards. You can manage which notifications show up, when they do or even prevent them from displaying altogether when using password protection in this sleep mode — called a “breathing cycle,” since it fades on and off once triggered. Active Display can also be initiated by flipping the phone over, specifically if it’s been face-down on a table while you’re at a meeting or at dinner.

The new Touchless Control, the always-on voice recognition feature launched by saying, “Okay, Google Now,” is nice but not completely useful. There’s a three-step personalization process when you first start it up, and subsequently, you can instruct it to place calls, get directions, launch apps, send texts, set alarms and reminders, ask questions and even play music (through Google Play Music).  There’s also “Assist”, which has several modes. If you want to enable driving mode, which uses the accelerometer and GPS to detect when you’re behind the wheel and then reads your texts and phone calls out loud, you’ll need to set up Assist. The same goes for silencing notifications during meetings or keeping the phone quiet at designated times while you sleep. Buried in display settings, advanced users will also find an option for Wireless Display. This function uses Miracast to mirror the phone’s content on compatible displays and can be toggled on or off.

Moto X 4

Camera

The Moto X’s pared-down camera UI and Quick Capture feature can be accessed via a wrist-twisting gesture and then capture photos in just under two seconds. There’s no dedicated dual-detent hardware key to press, nor is there a software shutter button. You just tap anywhere on screen and the 10-megapixel ClearPixel camera snaps away. And if you continue to hold your finger pressed to the glass, it’ll keep on shooting (much like a burst mode) and record the number of images with an onscreen counter. Since autofocus and exposure are automatically handled, the Moto X’s camera is basically error-proof. You don’t need to know what an ISO is or worry about white balance. HDR is even set to auto by default. All that said, you will need to give the RGBC sensor time to adjust to a scene before you snap away.

Moto’s ClearPixel technology collects more light and takes better pictures on the fly.  It’s 10MP sensor grabs 75 percent more light than a typical RGB sensor, making it great for low-light performance and overall faster exposure times. You can also enable tap-to-focus from within the left-side slide-out settings wheel, in addition to setting toggles for HDR, flash, Quick Capture, slo-mo video, panorama, geo-tagging and shutter tone.  Color reproduction on the whole is natural, and macro shots are very detailed.  Zoom shots lose a little detail, although 1080p video recorded on the Moto X is good. The AF adjusts as you move the camera, but frame rates for moving objects are a little skewed. Audio playback is great thanks to the three noise-canceling mics placed around the device.

Moto X 6

Concluding

I really love the Moto X by Verizon.  It’s battery-saving features, along with Active Display are very, very cool. And while 200-bucks is a tad salt where other phones on the market offer higher-res displays, greater storage and faster processors, it’s still a good contender.  I like where Motorola is going: great battery life, focused enhancements and personalization, and the Moto X is a great intro into what we will see from the Google/Motorola merger.

 

Check out the video by Droid Life…

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