Review: Moto X on AT&T
Summary: Overall the Moto X is an underwhelming experience considering the hype that surrounded its launch.
After spending the past couple weeks with the Moto X, I can’t help but think of algebra. The term “x” in algebra denotes a variable, or unknown, something that you have to work at to figure out its value. The Moto X is exactly that, a variable, a phone that keeps you guessing what its value really is. After all the hype, pomp and circumstance, and marketing that was up to the release of Motorola’s first truly Google-inspired device, it’s still isn’t clear on just what it is, or what it’s trying to be.
One of the key “variables” to the Moto X is the ability to customize the device to your liking, provided you’re an AT&T customer. AT&T customers can order they’re very own Moto X in the color, configuration, and personalization to their liking. Like the newly announced iPhone 5C, Motorola is clearly aiming for consumers who want the feeling of being unique among a sea of smartphones that all look and feel the same. While this may appeal to some, it certainly should not be a reason to choose the Moto X over other devices.
The Moto X has a striking resemblence to the Nexus 4, and feels like this is the Nexus 4 Google wanted to build, but didn’t. The candy bar design features a 4.7-inch 720p AMOLED display packing only 312 pixels-per-inch. While certainly pleasing enough to the eye, the screen falls short of most Android devices on the market, and it shows. Compare the Moto X’s display with one found on another device like the HTC One (which has the most gorgeous smartphone display I’ve ever seen), and it’s immediately clear that Motorola struck out when it comes to the display on the Moto X. The use of a standard AMOLED display means even worse performance in direct sunlight than Samsung’s Super AMOLED displays. For most users the difference between 720p and 1080p isn’t noticeable, and the Moto X does a good job with displaying what you want to see, provided of course you plan on spending time indoors. But take the Moto X outdoors for a day of sightseeing, and you’ll find yourself taking more shots in the shade than in the sun.
There are no physical navigation buttons on the Moto X. The Android 4.0 or higher standard Home, Back, and Menu buttons are all on-screen. On the right side of the device you’ll find a volume rocker and the sleep/wake button in the standard configuration found on most Android devices. The backside of the Moto X is made of machined aluminum, which gives it a feel of higher quality and durability. It’s nice to see that Motorola avoided the heavy use of plastics in the Moto X, and places it into the same build quality group as the HTC One when you couple this casing with the Corning Gorilla Glass on the front of the device.
If the Moto X was supposed to be a “gamechanger”, the CPU certainly is anything but that. The Moto X is powered by a dual-core Qualcomm CPU clocked at 1.7 Ghz. Considering every single flagship Android device from the Galaxy S4 (U.S. version) to the LG Optimus G Pro are utilizing a quad-core processor, the Moto X immediately is two steps (or two cores in this case) behind every other new Android device on the market. An Adrena 320 GPU, however, is a more modern GPU and will definitely power through graphics tasks. The Moto X also includes a respectable 2 GB of RAM, and the device comes in either 16 or 32 GB configurations for internal memory. Benchmarking scores using the Antutu Benchmarking Test place the Moto X 18,000 range, a low score when compared to other Android devices, but respectable considering its dual-core processor.
Connectivity options for the Moto X include LTE, HSPA, HSPA+, and CDMA. Support for all major U.S. carrier LTE bands means the Moto X is available across all four major carriers, and will support each of their LTE networks. Like the LG Optimus G Pro, the Moto X support Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n and 802.11 ac. Bluetooth 4.0 LE support is also included, as well as NFC. The Moto X also includes DLNA support, which is used widely across many HDTV’s and gaming consoles like the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, allowing you to stream video or audio content directly to your HDTV or console.
The Moto X includes a 2,200 mAh battery rated up to 576 hours of standby or 13 hours of talk time. The Moto X can easily get through a typical day’s worth of usage in our tests. Battery life is the one area where the use of a dual-core CPU is advantageous. While other quad-core CPU Android devices can’t make it through an entire day, or are married to your charger, the Moto X will last through the work day and well after bed time.
One area where the Moto X performs well is the camera. A 10 MP rear-facing camera and a 2 MP front-facing camera adorn the Moto X. Both the rear and front-facing cameras are able to shoot full 1080p video, even if the Moto X’s screen will never reproduce the same quality. Like Apple with the iPhone 5S, Google and Motorola went with a smaller sensor in terms of overall megapixels, but larger in pixel size. The Moto X’s rear camera pixel with is 1.4 micrometers, which allow more light in than smaller pixel sizes, and in turn the low light performance on the Moto X is much better than other competing devices with 13 MP or more. The camera includes geo-tagging, touch to focus, panorama, and HDR.
It’s disappointing to think that Motorola, with such close ties to Google, would ship a phone with anything less than the most recent version of the Android operating system. But that’s exactly what has happened with the Moto X. Rather than shipping with Android 4.3 with features like OpenGLS 3.0 support, the Moto X ships with Android 4.2.2. While it bests other Android devices like the Xperia Z (Android 4.1.2), it still puts its software version on the same playing field as Samsung’s Galaxy S4. With hardware that isn’t as powerful as the Galaxy S4, the Moto X had the opportunity to leverage its Google ownership by offering the latest version of Android.
The most redeeming feature, however, of the Moto X’s Android 4.2.2 kernel is the lack of additional ”crapware” found on many other devices. The Moto X, while not a completely pure Android experience like the Nexus line of devices, is the closest thing Android users will find to it, and I love it. No S-Voice or HTC BlinkFeed. No annoying duplicative camera ticks or widgets. It’s Android Jellybean how Android Jellybean should be, sweet and smooth. The Moto X does debut one of Google’s latest attempts to free your hands from your smartphone with enhanced voice controls. The Moto X, unlike other smartphones, is always listening, waiting for your command of “OK, Google Now”. With these three magic words users can query Google Now to complete a variety of tasks like phone calls, text messaging, internet searches, music playback, no matter where they are in the OS or even if the screen is on. It’s implementation is smooth and seamless, and solidifies the notion that Apple has a long way to go with Siri.
Beyond the voice controls users will find a standard Android Jellybean experience and performance. Even with its paltry (by comparison) dual-core processsor, the Jellybean’s streamlined code makes the Moto X still feel fresh for most daily tasks like email, text messaging, and social networking.
The Moto X I tested ran on AT&T’s network, which performed admirably in my tests. AT&T’s 4G LTE network, as I’ve said many times before, keeps drawing me closer and closer to making the switch to AT&T. Download speeds exceeding 35 Mbps were more common than uncommon, and in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, area where Mind Of The Geek is headquartered, reliability is very good. AT&T isn’t perfect, as there are other areas where users may not see these results, but the general consensus across the board is if you want the fastest LTE speeds, AT&T is where it’s at. In my tests the only network that approached AT&T’s LTE network in speed was T-Mobile, which still couldn’t get up to the 30 Mbps mark. However, with the Moto X available across all four carriers, it’s important that you choose the network in your area that performs the best for you and your wallet.
Here is where the Moto X really struggles, and keeps me hesitant. Motorola has crafted a very good, albeit mid-tier device, but is asking a premium price for it. For AT&T customers, the Moto X starts at $199 with a new two-year agreement or $27 per month with AT&T’s new Next no contract, early upgrade program. AT&T customers wishing to build their own custom device are not eligible for AT&T Next, and will be required to pay the $199 (16 GB model) or $249 (32 GB model) for their Moto X. This high price tag puts it at the same price as the much more powerful Samsung Galaxy S4. Unless you’re pining for a customized phone, there really isn’t any reason to go with the Moto X over the Galaxy S4, HTC One, or cheaper LG Optimus G Pro. If Motorola wants to sling us a mid-tier phone, they need to sell it at a mid-tier price, or about $100 less than it’s currently being sold for.
The Final Verdict
Overall the Moto X is an underwhelming experience considering the hype that surrounded its launch. Consumers were expecting the Moto X to be the new Google-Motorola coming out party, but instead were given a mid-tier phone with older components and voice controls. The camera is very nice, and is one of the better Android shooters around, that is if you can actually see the screen when shooting a photo outside with its AMOLED display. The near-pure Google Android experience is definitely a plus, but can easily be achieved with other devices. Asking a premium price for this device is a stretch, and only the most vain users who want to really customize their smartphone may see the value. Motorola made a decent shot here, but has a lot of work to do if they plan on returning to the glory days of the original Droid.