'OK, Google Now. Show me the Moto X'
Motorola and Google, as we like to say in the South, have done good. We've finally gotten our first look at the new Moto X today in New York City. This thing's been leaked eight ways to Sunday over the past few months — and frankly a lot of what you're about to read we saw in last week's Droid announcements — but pick up the Moto X for the first time and you know you're feeling not just another phone, but a phone looking to do things a little different.
The Moto X is the first phone designed and built from scratch since Google acquired Motorola. And the end result is a phone that's as simple as it is complex. Its design is as understated as it is attractive. There have been so many assumptions about what the first Googlerola phone should be. It should be "Pure Google." It should have NASA-level hardware. It should have at least as many features as the droid line.
What Motorola's done is taken solid hardware and attractive design and married it to a fairly stock version of Android — with some interesting features thrown in, as well as a number of customization options. It's coming to five U.S. carriers in a few weeks and worldwide later, retailing for $199 on contract.
And with that, here's our first look at the Moto X.
The Moto X hands-on video
Moto X hardware
First things first: The Moto X is deceptively big. Motorola has squeezed a 4.7-inch display into a phone that feels a lot smaller. It's not a particularly thin device — hitting 10.4 mm at its fattest point — but it's curvy in all the right places. (We've never believed that thinner always was better anyway.) The back of the phone curves very nicely into your hand, even better than the HTC One, which does the same sort of thing. The feel of the back depends on how you've customized yours. We're currently holding a soft-touch model, but there's glossy plastic to be had — and, yes, Motorola is prototyping wood backs, to be released later this year.
We'll touch on the customizations in a bit.
The 10-megapixel camera and flash are recessed ever so slightly, as is Motorola's logo. The back of the phone isn't removable or anything. No swapping batteries. No microSD card. And if you customize your phone, no swapping it out for anything else. What's there is there.
Up top is the 3.5mm headphone jack. The microUSB port is centered on the bottom. The power button and volume rocker are on the right-hand side. The nano-SIM is on the left.
The front of the Moto X is decidedly black-slabbish, but it's worth noting how the glass flows around the 90-degree edges and into the plastic body. It's very well done.
The Moto X is using the same X8 "Mobile Computing System" under the hood as Verizon's recent Droid refresh. That is to say, it's a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro running at 1.7 GHz, a quad-core Adreno GPU, and dedicated Natural Language Processing and "contextual computing" cores. The latter two are key to the Moto X's major software features.
Other hardware points of note:
- 2GB Of RAM
- The display is (only) 720x1280, and it's AMOLED RGB. It's certainly usable, but probably not our favorite display.
- The battery's got a 2,200 mAh capacity, and Motorola swears it'll go all day. As in 24 hours.
- Most versions of the Moto X sports 16GB of internal memory. AT&T has the exclusive on a 32GB version.
- You'll get 50GB of free storage on Google Drive for two years.
- NFC and Miracast are on board.
- Wifi does 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac.
- aGPS and GLONASS for finding your way around.
The Moto X software …
You've got a relatively stock experience on the Moto X. Home screens, app drawers and settings are as God and Google intended. The two major customizations are Touchless Control — think Google Now without the annoyance of having to turn on your phone and actually touch anything — and Active Display, which is a low-power way of showing you information on the display without actually having to wake the phone.
For Touchless Control, you'll have to teach Moto X what it sounds like when you say "OK, Google Now." From then on, the phone will be listening for you — or someone who sounds like you — to say that magic phrase. The phone will wake and be ready for voice commands. No touch required at all. And it works pretty well. Is it possible for someone else to activate? Yep. Seen it happen. It's also subject to the same limitations of Google Now. But that's a software thing, and Google Now's getting better all the time.
This is where some folks have worried about the phone being "always on" or "always listening." We're not going to let that keep us up at night.
Active Display — again, like on the Droid line — shows you a bit of information without actually having to hit the power button and waking the phone. A clock will flash every few seconds. If you get e-mail or a text message or something, you'll know it here as well. The items that can appear on the Active Display are customizable — and some can live behind a lockscreen, hidden from prying eyes. You also can set the hours during which you want to see Active Notifications. Don't want 'em at night? Turn 'em off.
The camera app
Moto X has a new camera as well (unless you have one of the new Droids, we suppose), with that quick-flip way of getting to it. Called "Quick Capture," you just turn your wrist twice — like turning a screwdriver or a doorknob — and the camera app fires up. In just a couple seconds from any point, you're able to take pictures. (You can turn that off if you want, and the usual camera icon works just fine as well.) The camera app itself is nicely done, too. Not overloaded with features, you get to the options by sliding out from the left-hand side. From there you have options for HDR, flash, autofocus — by default, you tap the screen to take a picture; this option lets you touch to focus instead — slow-motion, panorama (no Photosphere, though), Geotagging and shutter sound.
It's also worth taking a look at the Assist app, which is sort of an offshoot of the old Smart Actions. The phone will recognize when you're driving, when you're in a meeting or when you're sleeping, and change its behavior appropriately. Moving at 55 mph? Chances are you're driving, so it'll fire up the car mode. Or it'll silence the phone at night.
Other software we're seeing:
- We'll withhold official praise until we see a final retail version, but there's not a whole lot of AT&T bloatware on the unit we've got here.
- Motorola's got its own "Migrate" app for transferring data from another device. You'll need to download it on the other device from Goggle Play.
- There's a translate app built in as well.
- There's a Motorola Connect Chrome extension if you want to get texts and such on your computer as well as your phone.
Customizing the Moto X
Motorola wants this to be your Moto X. And to that end, you're going to be able to customize it. Colors, backs, styles, textures — including, yes, wood — will be yours for the choosing.
If you're on AT&T, that is. For now, one of the coolest features of Moto X is constrained to a single U.S. carrier. That's great for AT&T. It's great if you're on AT&T. And it's lousy for everyone else. Motorola needs to get that opened up as soon as it can.
You'll do all your customizing through "Moto Maker." You can change up the color on the front. Or the back. The accents. You can even inscribe a name or message on the back of the phone. At AT&T stores, you'll have the option to either pick a basic white or black version and leave the store with a phone right then. Or if you go the custom route, you'll pay and get a redemption code, then design your phone at home.
From there, Motorola promises you'll get your phone within four days — that's one perk of assembling the phones (not manufacturing, but assembling) in the U.S. Fort Worth, Texas, to be exact.
Along with colors and designs (and the option to choose between 16GB of storage, or 32GB for another $50), you'll be able to purchase accessories — headphones, speakers, cases and earbuds — directly from Motorola.