It all started when Phil sent me the review unit
Motorola will ask for it back soon, but I've had it long enough to know a few things, and get a pretty good feel for this phone. And that's good, because as I've expressed before, I'm not buying one from a carrier and Motorola is taking their sweet time to offer an unlocked version. More on why that was a mistake a little later. Likely, my
constant crying concern about the issue is what prompted Phil to send it here. I'm a pain in the ass when I'm whiny and cranky, and like a baby with a pacifier, the review unit shut me up. I'm able to admit this.
Anyway, like I said I've had the Moto X long enough to have a solid feel for the thing, and to make some pretty strong comparisons against what I think was the best Android phone in a long time — the Nexus 4. So let's do that.
Let me start by saying I really like most Android phones. I'm pretty vocal about their shortcomings, and I can be hard on the people who make them and the people who provide us the service we need to use them. I bitch about phones and bugs not because they aren't great out-of-the box, but because they could be so much better. I complain about the stupid things Google does, because those stupid things affect all of us. Most users do the same, I just happen to do it for a living. At heart, I'm an Android user and fan, just like you.
Having said this, I'll freely admit that I think Nexus phones are usually a better representation of Android than any others. No S-somethings, or G-somethings or silly nonsense to get in the way of the Android experience. You might read this as "Jerry hates features." You're partially right. I hate features that get in my way. But I love features that do something better than Google did it, like Samsung's Blocking Mode (Christ, why has Google not done this yet?) or LG's Knock-Knock feature. These make Android better. I have to head to Google Play and buy apps to do these simple things on my Nexus. You surely have things your phone does that you just love, and get what I'm trying to say here.
I do understand that if the folks building the phones stop trying all sorts of new things, those little jewels won't show up. But in the end, I've always found that I would rather dig through Google Play for a way to do the few really good things manufacturers come up with than sift through the mountain of bad things they cram in the software. When you increase the size of the operating system by about 700MB, there's an awful lot of crap in there that I just don't want to deal with.
And this is where Motorola finally got it right.
Motorola took the software from my Nexus 4, added just a few things (as far as the user-facing features, that is) to it and called it a day. There is no eye-tracking that won't work with my glasses. There is no insanely stupid system that shuts my Wifi off if the phone sits with the screen locked too long. There is no crap. Even digging through all the settings gives you just a few useful features to manage. But those few extras are pretty damn awesome.
I just can't go back to a phone without active notifications.
Yes, I know the cool "OK, Google Now" voice stuff is flashy, and looks mighty impressive when you show it to your friends. But I'm just never going to talk to my phone, unless someone is on the other end talking back. I want voice-enabled actions to be there for those few times when someone wants or needs to use them, but Apple and Siri showed us that nobody really wants to talk to their phone like it's a friend or a lover or a butler. At first, it seemed pretty cool, but it grew old quickly. I'm actually pretty upset that voice commands seem to be the only real way to add a Google Now reminder. OK Google Now, remind me to never talk to my phone if I don't have to.
But those active notifications.
It's amazing. I get far too many emails for one man to answer in a day. That's because most of them are just random trash from some spammer who wants Android Central to buy bolts and washers from their Chinese supplier, and they grabbed whatever email they could find to send it to. It's disruptive, and Phil, Alex and Andrew will agree with me. The amount of mail we get is nuts, and it takes very careful filtering and management to ferret out the ones that need to be read and replied to in the mess that the spam and junk creates. The Moto X lets me grab my phone and tap the screen to see exactly what every message is. It sounds lazy, but it works really well, and works every time. That's more than I can say for the apps that try to replicate it. They're ingenious, and a testament to the fact that Android has some of the craftiest developers on any platform, but they're not nearly as reliable and they kill my battery.
I think the trusted Bluetooth device setting is pretty cool, but for the way I use things it's not necessary because I don't have to unlock my phone to check my messages. The unlock with NFC (read as: the Motorola Skip) is neat, but Motorola only allows it to work with their special tags that cost you $20 a pop. Screw that.
But the active notifications on top of software that looks, feels and acts just like my Nexus 4 is pretty sweet. It has changed the way I use my phone, and I can't go back. I hope Google adds some sort of similar magic in the next Nexus with Android 4.4, because if they don't I have a really difficult decision to make.
The Moto X feels as good while I'm holding it as the Nexus S did. It's got the perfect shape and size for me, and I'm a complete one-handed fool while using it. Above all, the way it lays in my hand feels natural. The same things can't be said about the Nexus 4. I love the glass and look of the Nexus 4, but after using the Moto X it just doesn't fit as well. The X is plastic, but it's not that nasty slippery plastic that feels like crap in your hand. Does the Nexus 4 feel like it's made better? Yes. But not enough for me to care.
The phone freaking flies, both on the home screen and while running apps. It's every bit as "fast" and lag-free as the Nexus 4, and I have the feeling a lot of time and effort went into optimizing the software to work with the hardware. Whatever it is, it's done well. One thing you won't see from users of the Moto X or the new Droids is anyone saying that they are laggy. The Moto X is in that upper echelon of Android phones that are fast and smooth enough that one isn't any better than the other — the Nexus 4, the HTC One and the GPe Galaxy S4.
It manages to do this without the CORES! CORES! CORES! that people like to chant and scream about. Everyone has a theory why, but in the end I don't really care. It's fast, it's smooth and it works great for everything I ask it to do. If you want to carry on about the specs and call it mid-range, more power to you. Call it whatever you like. I'll just use it because it's smooth as hell while you're telling me it can't be.
It also has really nice battery life. Feel free to cruise the internet for reviews and forum threads filled with screenshots and numbers, but the way I use my phone I only have to charge it every other day. I still plug it in every night, but it's nice to know that if I were camping or passed out in a parking lot overnight somewhere, it would still be going the next morning. This is important to me. If it's important to you, then you'll want to ask around and see what other folks have to say about the battery life, too. I have no complaints about the battery in my Nexus 4, but the Moto X does it better, and I can't deny that.
I will say that the screen isn't as crisp or clear as it is on the Nexus 4. Maybe that's a by-product of it being AMOLED, or maybe LG makes a better screen than whoever made them for Motorola, but it's not as sharp for reading text — which is something I do a lot of on my phone. Any other time, the screen doesn't bother me. This review unit has a squirrelly pink hue to the whites, and if I had paid for it I would have it replaced, but that's a gamble with all AMOLED phone displays. It's not bad enough to worry about on a review unit I don't get to keep, but I notice it from time to time. (And a later unit Phil got came without the extra pink, so there's that.)
The camera isn't as magical as Motorola and Guy Kawasaki want us to think it is, but it's good enough. Keep it in HDR mode and set it to tap and focus, and most of the pictures are plenty good enough for sharing on the Internet or getting small prints made up from a kiosk somewhere. If you want something "professional" looking to come out of your smartphone camera, you're not going to find it. Buy a damn camera.
I'm not sure why some folks have issues with the camera and I don't — I've seen sample pictures from this very unit that really, really sucked — but in the end it's as good or better than the camera in the Nexus 4. Here are a few examples. Click them and open them up bigger, then you decide. To me, these are good enough.
Calls sound great, but calls sound great on my Nexus 4 as well. I'm one of the lucky people who has good AT&T service, and usually have no issues with calls, texts, or data. The few times I've been somewhere with LTE the transition was seamless, and only the status bar indicated that anything was different. I'm not torrenting porn or Photoshop from my phone, so maybe that's why I'm not worried about the ZOMG LTE speeds. Again, good enough is good enough, and for a smartphone, the data speeds in the 4-7MB/sec range I get from AT&T 3G are good enough. Having said this, I do get faster speeds from my Nexus 4 — but I only notice them when I'm running a speed test. If you live in a place where AT&T has LTE, you'll get faster speeds from the Moto X. At this stage of the game, the phone itself has very little to do with the data speeds you see. It's the network technology and signal strength that matter.
Bluetooth, Wifi, GPS and all the various sensors seem to work as advertised. Navigation with Google Maps — the only time voice commands are worth a damn in my opinion — is fine and accurate. Wifi speeds are the same as every other phone here, and Bluetooth works the way it's supposed to work with a headset, sending files to a laptop, or with my Pebble. It won't sync with a Fitbit, but I think that's more a license thing with Samsung than it is a hardware or software issue — corporations are greedy.
Enough. Which one is better — the Nexus 4 or the Moto X?
The question every one of us here hates to answer — "Which phone is better?" We try not to answer it, because "better" for one of us may not be "better" for you. I'm going to break that mold this one time and come out and say it:
The Moto X is a better phone than the Nexus 4.
I hate saying that. It goes against every feeling inside me about freedom and open and value and puppies and everything else that makes me who I am. Some OEM software-toting piece of plastic can't possibly be better than the freedom and HOLOYOLO you get from the Nexus 4, right? This time it is.
This doesn't mean the Nexus 4 still isn't a great phone. Don't worry my little precious, I still love you. The price can't be beat, and the phone is yours to do whatever the hell you want to do with it once you open the box. Google even gives you an easy way back when you screw things up. That's special, and something most companies will never do. Motorola doesn't do it with the Moto X. They may offer a boot loader unlock program for some models, but you're pissing away your warranty and any hope of customer service if you participate in it. Moto only did it because they want us to shut up, while Google does it because it's the right thing to do.
But in the end, when you need a smartphone that's a productive tool, the Moto X just does it better than any other I've tried. I purposefully put off writing this for about a month, just to make sure the new-phone feeling went away, and I still feel the same way.
I'm going to hold off on buying anything until I see what the next Nexus is like — and that's where Motorola lost a sale because they are too busy fellating the carriers to worry about the consumers, or I'd have a bright yellow one in my hands right now. But if the next Nexus — whether it be the Nexus 5 or the Nexus 4 (2013) or the Nexus PartyBarge — can't work for me the way the Moto X does, I'll not be using it as my daily driver.
I just can't go back.