Motorola's new 2015 Moto Coloring Book is a stunning exercise in design innovation.
The quick take
The 2015 Moto Coloring Book is a bold experiment in hardware and software design, and the latest innovation from a company that has struggled to find its place in recent years. It's also the first Motorola product that was conceived and produced under the company's new owners in Lenovo. It offers a ground-breaking design that's thinner and lighter than you might expect, though there are some surprising missteps in the design that might lead you to second guess whether or not you'll want this under your tree come Christmas morning.
- Shockingly thin and light
- Infinite battery life
- Reflective display is amazing in sunlight
- Styli require significant pressure
- A lot of flex in the body
- Confusing hidden interface
- Poor app selection
A Christmas Miracle
2015 Moto Coloring Book Quick Review
It was an unexpected delivery. This late in the year manufacturers are running out of time to launch new products before the gift-giving holidays are officially upon us. In this last week before Christmas, I received a package from Motorola. I wasn't aware of anything that Motorola had planned for a late December launch, and I was curious about why they would send a new product now instead of waiting just a few weeks to launch on the world's stage at CES 2016.
Upon opening the silver bubble wrap envelope I pulled out a device unlike any other I had reviewed before. It was rather large, with a footprint slightly smaller than a 9-inch tablet like the Pixel C, but remarkably thin and light. Adorning the main face was a large Motorola logo over a spread of color-tipped honed cellulose sticks, with the words "2015 Moto Coloring Book" set in a clean modern typeface below.
Behold the magic of pressed cellulose pulp displays
2015 Moto Coloring Book Hardware
As I turned it around in my hands I was again struck by how thin and light it was. But even more surprisingly was how flexible it was in my hands. After years of sturdy metal and polycarbonate devices, it was a shock to hold something that felt so, well, floppy and flimsy in comparison.
- 11-inch semi-gloss reflective daylight display
- Infinite resolution
- Full-length pigmented wax core styli
- Hexagonal organic fiber lignin matrix body
- Pink, red, yellow, green, blue, and black
- 19-leaf central hinge
- Flexible pressed cellulose pulp construction
- Single-use stylus-driven Coloring OS™
- Moto Color art suite
- Holiday cheer not included
I had to measure it myself to be sure, expecting a reality check, anticipating that my senses had fooled me. But sure enough, the 2015 Moto Coloring Book clocked in at an amazing 3.5mm (0.14 inches) thick — half the thickness of the Pixel C. And it weighed in at an amazing 6.03 ounces, just one third the weight of the metal-bodied Pixel C. There are benefits to the Pixel C's durable aluminum body, but there's something to be said for the thinness and reduced mass of this type of construction. Plus it's recyclable.
The 2015 Moto Coloring Book is unique in that it has a complete lack of traditional ports. You won't find a USB port here, Micro or Type-C. Nor will you find a headphone jack. There are no obvious speaker grilles or camera lenses. The 11-inch display remarkably extends from edge to edge with no apparent bezel, putting even the lauded Dell Venue 8's 'infinity display' to shame.
Motorola's not disclosed the resolution of or technology behind the Coloring Book's display. On close inspection we were unable to discern any pixels on the flexible panel. While it is nice to have a flexible bezel free display such as this, the pitiful backlighting was a shock. After years of increasingly bright displays, the 2015 Moto Coloring Book's display panel might as well be pitch black when you turn out the lights.
The display does have a very nice semi-gloss/eggshell finish to it, a welcome reprieve after years of glossy glass panels. Not once did we notice fingerprints or smudges or the glare of reflected lights. Even the dust and lint that inevitably collected on the Coloring Book was barely noticeable. The finish does raise on concern, though, and that's durability. Like the smooth aluminum of the HTC One M7, the 2015 Moto Coloring Book is easily scratched and blemishes clearly show. As such, we recommend you use a case when carrying the Coloring Book outside the home, though we suspect that most owners won't take theirs out of the living room or bedroom.
The 11-inch display extends from edge to edge with no apparent bezel, putting even Dell's lauded 'infinity displays' to shame.
Despite the thin featherweight design, Motorola managed to work a unique hinge mechanism into the 2015 Moto Coloring Book. Hidden along the left side, with a small subtle indentation just in from the outer edge and the wrap-around outer display as the only indications that something unique is up, front panel lifts from right to left, pivoting and bending around the left margin hinge.
Typically on a device of this size from an Android manufacturer we'd expect to find a keyboard and perhaps a trackpad upon opening, but Motorola has again defied expectations here. Instead there is yet another reflective display of an equal 11-inch display. The default app on this first interior display is a coloring app (more on that later).
And yes, you read that right: first interior display. Improbably and defying all engineering logic and manufacturing restraints, Motorola worked a stunning 17 interior displays into the 2015 Moto Coloring Book.
A partial rainbow
2015 Moto Coloring Book Styli
Motorola had another surprise in store for the 2015 Moto Coloring Book: a stylus.
Well, rather, styli. Six total, in fact. Housed in a sturdy pressed cellulose pulp container with a novel flexible flap on one end to keep the styli safely ensconced during travel, these styli are the first that Motorola has made available for a device since the Droid Xyboard of 2012, and even then it wasn't included in the box.
The styli are comfortable to grip thanks to their organic fiber lignin matrix construction and hexagonal shape.
Each styli is hexagonal in profile, measuring 3.4 inches (86.2mm) long and 0.31 (8mm) inches across. They're comfortable to grip thanks to their organic fiber lignin matrix construction and hexagonal shape. We're told that the material Motorola chose for the styli's bodies is actually quite similar to that of the Coloring Book itself, though it's not immediately obvious given the Coloring Book's soft and flexible construction when compared to the hard and stiff bodies of the styli.
The styli are tipped with a colorful sharpened point made of a stiff pigmented wax material. That colored tip actually runs all the way through the stylus body, appearing flush with the back end of the stylus as a round color status indicator.
That back-end color indicator is important, as each stylus has a defined function and won't serve the role you need it to if you're trying to use it incorrectly. Thankfully Motorola made it easy to remember the use for each stylus, color-matching the tips and wax core to the color they produce when drawn across the displays.
Our only real complaints with the styli are their size and the lack of onboard carrying capacity. They're not thick or overly heavy, which is nice, but for the size of the 2015 Moto Coloring Book we would have expected a longer stylus to be included. Perhaps because Motorola is including six styli, an unprecedented inclusion from an Android manufacturer, they felt safe in shrinking the length of each stylus. Regardless, each is long enough that it nestles nicely in the space between your thumb and index finger when in use.
The interface could use some work...
2015 Moto Coloring Book Software
Normally we're quick to praise Motorola for their software. This is the company that led the charge in dramatically dialing back customizations to Android. And while the market hasn't yet rewarded Motorola for that change, we're more than willing to laud them for taking the actions necessary to improve performance and speed updates by stripping away the layers of unnecessary theming and apps that nobody uses.
But in the case of the 2015 Moto Coloring Book we're hesitant to be so laudatory. The user interface on this device is in no way obvious. We only realized that the external displays are hinged by drawing an inference from the "Book" naming convention and the antiquated "notebook" moniker we've heard our parents use to describe laptop computers.
Once you discover the internal displays there are no immediately clear controls or indications of what you're supposed to do. When Apple launched the iPhone they ran weeks of national advertisements demonstrating how the device worked, and by the time customers had it in their hands they were fully-accustomed to the full-screen multi-touch interface. When users first turn on an Android device, from a full-size tablet to a small wrist-worn watch, they're prompted through a quick orientation or given pop-over tips on using the interface.
Not so with the 2015 Moto Coloring Book. Instead we're left to twist in the wind along with the Coloring Book's flexible displays. The screens, at first dominated by white with black line drawings giving the barest of hints of their functions, only reveal their secrets when you put stylus to pressed cellulose. Drag a stylus across the display and it leaves behind a streak of color that's a near perfect match to the stylus's tip. The color accuracy on these displays is out-of-this-world, as is the practically non-existent latency in registering the stylus's touch.
The styli come in an assortment of colors: carnation pink, amaranth red, maize yellow, emerald green, sky blue, and deep cavern gray.
The software here is also pressure sensitive. Press harder with the stylus and a darker and thicker line will be left. Tilt the stylus further from vertical and the line will broaden. Sweep the stylus rapidly across a portion of the display to fill with the corresponding color.
The power of the multiple styli comes into play here as well. A single package comes with an assortment of colors: carnation pink, amaranth red, maize yellow, emerald green, sky blue, and deep cavern gray. While these don't represent the complete spectrum of colors, users can alternate layering to create intermediary colors. For instance, a light shading with the red stylus over a base layer put down with the yellow stylus will prompt the display to mix the two, offering a shade of orange. It can be difficult to fully grasp the potential of these colored styli at first, but once you get used to the system, they're actually quite powerful.
Frustratingly, the 2015 Moto Coloring Book's interface is seemingly geared almost exclusively towards artistic pursuits, and it attempts to pigeonhole users into improving upon the supplied line drawings. There's no indication of how to switch apps, and even changing to a different template within the flagship coloring app is a cumbersome process that involves switching to an entirely different display. It's as if Motorola took a cue from the card-based interface of the old Palm webOS, but opted to scale it into three dimensions with a clumsy hinge system.
Motorola did a fine job with memory management when using the 2015 Moto Coloring Book, as in our use we were always able to resume previous sessions with practically instantaneous load times. Saving appears to be performed continuously and in the background, though we couldn't figure out how to share our creations to social networks like Facebook or Instagram.
Frustratingly, there's also no undo or reset option in the coloring app. Once you've put down your colors with the stylus, there's nothing you can do to take it back up. We've placed orders for both styrene-butadiene rubber pigment removal blocks and a titanium dioxide fluid applicator that we've been told might be compatible with the 2015 Moto Coloring Book and will update this review once we've had the chance to test their performance with this build.
A Christmas Miracle
2015 Moto Coloring Book Real-life use
So what's it like to use the 2015 Moto Coloring Book in real life? It's a mixed bag, to be honest. While the slim and lightweight design makes it quite easy to travel with, we were frequently concerned about its overall fragility in a world of gadgets that have been build solidly for decades for very good reasons.
But our concerns turned out the be overblown. While the Coloring Book did pick up some abrasions on its external displays over the course of our use, with care the interior displays remained undamaged and fully functional.
Not once did we find ourselves reaching for a charger, which is a good thing considering that there's no obvious charging port, nor was there a charger included in the packaging.
The battery life of the 2015 Moto Coloring Book was also phenomenal in our testing. Normally with a device in this size class we'd say how many hours you should expect to get out of using it from our own experience draining the battery doing standard things like web browsing, watching a movie or two, and playing a few light games. But those aren't tasks at which the 2015 Moto Coloring Book excels. In its primary application as a template for artist expression, the Coloring Book gave us battery life that was near infinite.
Not once did we find ourselves reaching for a charger, which is a good thing considering that there's no obvious charging port, nor was there a charger included in the packaging. The battery life is aided by the display's dismal backlight performance — powering the LED or OLED displays on most devices of this size is typically the biggest source of power drain, so the very low power backlight here might actually be working in Motorola's favor.
Motorola's been experimenting with reflective displays recently, with the Moto 360 Sport combining a transmissive LCD display with a reflective backplate for a display that's easily read during the daytime without needing a powerful backlight while still viewable at night. With the 2015 Moto Coloring Book, Motorola's gone all-in on the reflective display, and the results are stunning. Blacks are truly black with vary a hint of backlight leakage from the brilliant white portions of the display.
The 19 display panels are crisp and fully legible even under direct sunlight. In fact, we'd go so far as to say that we saw the best performance from the 2015 Moto Coloring Book when under direct sunlight. Conversely, display performance rapidly degraded with diminishing ambient lighting, eventually reaching the point where we found ourselves turning on lights in our house or digging the old clip-on Kindle light from the junk draw to provide much-needed illumination.
Is the infinite battery life worth the trade-off of such poor backlight performance? That's totally up to you. We're on torn on the issue. It's amazing not having to plug in, but how it limits the environments in which we can easily use the Coloring Book is a source of frustration and debate.
Is the infinite battery life worth the trade-off of such poor backlight performance? We're on torn on the issue.
But the bigger issue is the interface and app selection. A new platform like this does start off at a disadvantage, having to start from scratch with a new SDK, APIs, developer relations, and all the works, and it's clear Motorola has its work cut out for it.
Additionally, we had serious issues with connectivity. While we're not upset that Motorola doesn't offer an LTE-equipped version of the 2015 Moto Coloring Book, we were unable to get our review unit to reliably connect to Wi-Fi networks at home and the office. The spartan user interface further frustrated here, as there was never any indication that we had successfully connected to even open public networks, much less been able to maintain a connection.
Should you buy it? Give it another generation
The 2015 Moto Coloring Book is a product that is ahead of its time. The display technology here is simply remarkable, but it could use some improvements in the form of backlighting. And it's our opinion the custom user interface that Motorola has chosen to install on the Coloring Book will be looked upon as a mistake. We're understand the desire to simply the controls on devices that have become increasingly complicated, but in this case the simplification has gone to the point of utter frustration and confusion.
The displays aren't the only impressive part of the 2015 Moto Coloring Book. The construction is so lightweight, thin, and flexible that it's at first disconcerting. But once you get used to it there's something pleasant about being able to lay the Coloring Book on your lap and have it conform to the contours of your thighs and flex under pressure from the styli.
The included sextet of styli are also mind-blowing, with well-thought-out artistic applications and a finely-balanced weighting. They're so closely integrated into the software experience it's as if they've been developed and refined over the course of 353 years (give or take).
Given the near invisibility of the technology in the 2015 Moto Coloring Book, we expect the price to be astronomical.
Only one real question remains regarding your purchase decision with the 2015 Moto Coloring Book. It's not the potential for updates, as we never dare to recommend a product on the potential for future improvements, nor is it our hopes for the platform as a whole. It's the price, which Motorola has yet to disclose. Given the near invisibility of the technology that Motorola's built into the 2015 Moto Coloring Book, we expect the pricing to be astronomical. We won't hazard a guess here, but it's safe to assume it'll make your bank account cry out in pain.
But for that price you'd get a product that's a technological achievement, something that will be looked back upon in years to come as a turning point not just for Motorola, but for the industry as a whole. The construction and groundbreaking display technologies feel familiar and yet innovative. And while the interface might be severely limited, it is exceedingly good at guiding users to discover the many facets of the Coloring Book for themselves.
It's as hard to recommend the 2015 Moto Coloring Book as it is to not recommend it. But without a public release date or pricing, we'll just have to put our recommendation on hold. In the meantime, we've got some coloring to do.