Moto X

Motorola is back with one of the best designed and built phones we've seen in a while — and it's customizable. (Eventually with wood!) But it's got one seriously disappointing feature, too.

Once a year or so you get one of those smartphones that’s supposed to change everything. Maybe it’s so full of features it’s hard to know where to start. Maybe it beats the price of every other phone available, but it’s just not a mainstream device. Maybe it does one or two things extremely well but lacks in other areas.

Moto XFor many, Moto X is supposed to be that phone in 2013. The rebirth of Motorola, under Google’s umbrage. Android for everyone. Pick your platitude, attach the “Moto X” name to it and watch the excitement build.

Thing is, it’s just a phone, folks. Moto X is a damn good phone, too. It’s comfortable. Familiar. Beautifully designed. And deceivingly simple. It alleviates some concerns we’ve had with other devices — battery life, namely — while falling short in other areas. But at the end of the day, does it really represent some sort of paradigm shift in the Android smartphone space?

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We’ve spent three solid weeks with Moto X as the only phone in our pocket. Will it ride out the rest of the year there until the Next Big Thing?

Let’s dive into it — this is the Android Central Moto X review.

The Moto X hands-on video


Moto X Design and hardware

Moto X

Moto X looks great, it feels great, and it doesn't fall into the trap of "skinny at all costs."

Let’s not beat around the bush here. We’re madly in love with the shape of Moto X. We’re in an age of oversized smartphones, with huge displays that were never meant to be one-handed. We're all for more screen real estate, but things quickly got out of control.

Moto X found the sweet spot with that 4.7-inch display in a body that belies its size. Moto X is smaller than the Nexus 4 — another of my favorite phones of the past year or so — despite the displays having the same diagonal measurement. It’s plenty big, but not too big. Nor does it feel big.

Moto XThe glass on the display smartly rolls over to the side of the phone. Or, rather, that’s what it feels like, playing tricks on your eyes as well with your fingers. There’s a seam where the two halves of the phone come together. You can plainly see it, and feel it if you try, but it’s oh-so-subtle to the casual touch.

We’d defy you to find a more perfect rear end on a smartphone. Moto X probably has the best backside we’ve seen on an Android phone. As has been the trend on a few other phones (Galaxy Nexus to some extent, but more like the more recent HTC One), Moto X has a bit of an upside-down teardrop shape to it. Curving downward from the spine toward the edges. A little thicker toward the top, tapering off at the bottom. Motorola wisely didn’t fall into the trap of “thinner at all costs.” In fact, at its thickest, Moto X measures 10.4mm. The taper, however, makes it feel thinner.

Moto XYou’ll quickly learn to love the dimpled Motorola logo as well, giving your index finger a perfect resting place. (And that helps keep it out of the way of the camera lens if you’re shooting in the portrait orientation.) Speaking of finger placement, the volume and power buttons are easily reachable on the right-hand side.

Have more questions? Check out our Moto X forums!

Moto X also won’t win any “World’s lightest” awards, and we’re OK with that. At 130 grams it’s got just enough heft to it that it feels substantial, but not so much that your hand will tire out.

Of all there is to like about Moto X, the design leads the list for us. Simply put, this is the best-designed and most put-together smartphone we’ve used in some time. 


Customize with Moto Maker, and how to buy the Moto X

Moto X

Here we come to one of the cooler — and simultaneously frustrating — things about Moto X. You can design your own, it’ll be assembled in Fort Worth, Texas, and be on your doorstep within four days. Moto Maker, they call it. And with the service you can choose from a number of colors for the back of the phone. And either white or black for the front. And accent colors for the power and volume buttons, and the ring around the camera lens. And you can get an inscription put onto the back of the phone — or, rather, you'll be able to once Motorola irons out a few bugs —  and have a custom message display as the phone boots. We’ve tried it. It’s great.

AT&T getting the initial exclusive on Moto Maker shows it's still business as usual in the smartphone world, even at the new Motorola.

And it only works if you’re in the U.S. And are on AT&T.

Being landlocked to America we get. The custom phones are assembled in Texas. You need to get them into waiting hands quickly. But the AT&T exclusive on custom designs while everyone else has their choice of either white or black has the stench of “business as usual” in a time in which Motorola is trying to experience a rebirth. Verizon says it’ll have custom designs later — but that doesn’t do much for folks now.

Anyhoo. That’s not Moto Maker’s fault. We got to take Moto Maker for a test run, and it works just fine, so long as you don’t freeze up at having so many design choices. And we’re only half-kidding about that. You’ll be spending a lot of money on this phone. Moto does provide some example colors schemes, though, if you need some help.

Choose wisely.

Moto X in wood

By the way, if none of the colors you see at Moto Maker at launch does it for you, it might be worth holding off for a bit. Motorola’s actively soliciting ideas for new designs. And those fancy wood designs? We still don’t know which one or two Moto’s going to go with, or when they’ll be available. “Later this year” is all we’ve got for now.

So … how to purchase. You’ll be able to get Moto X in the U.S. the same way you pick up any phone — to go to the store or order online. It’ll cost $199 on contract. (The 32-gigabyte version at AT&T is an extra $50. We’d recommend splurging.)
If you’re going the custom route and want to use Moto Maker, you’ve got two options. The first is to design and pay directly through Motorola’s website, providing your AT&T account details in the process. (We haven’t tried that one yet, but the intricacies of smartphone plans aren’t something we’ve generally had success conveying to nameless computers.)

The other option is to pay at an AT&T store, at which time you’ll receive a coupon code to use at the Moto Maker website. Pump in the code, design your phone, and you should have it within four days. This is what Motorola had us demo, and it worked easily enough.



What’s under the hood

There’s been a bit of a to-do over the internals of the Moto X, but in actuality we’re looking at the same as what’s in the new Droid line of phones.

Moto X is using what it calls the “X8 Mobile Computing System.” Oversimplified, you’ve got a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro at 1.7 GHZ (and with an Adreno 320 GPU). That’s two cores for Application Processor, and four for the Graphics Processor. Tack onto that a Natural Language Processor core, and a Contextual Computing Processor core, and that’s where “X8” comes from. Eight cores. On one hand you’ve got your regular powertrain, and on the other are the final two cores that allow the system to offload all the voice recognition and computation stuff we’ll talk about in a minute.

And that does two things: When you speak commands to Moto X, it’ll (theoretically) recognize and execute them quicker, and it’ll help optimize power usage.

Moto X

Not under the hood, strictly speaking — just over it, we suppose — is that 4.7-inch, 720x1280 Super AMOLED display. Color reproduction is pretty good. Interestingly, the pre-production unit we used for most of this review time tended to shade toward a pink tint. But a newer unit — customized through Moto Maker, and delivered two days before the official launch on AT&T — has much whiter whites and is far more enjoyable.

Don't obsess over the specs on paper. Moto X is greater than the sum of its parts.

We were concerned about resolution. In fact, coming from months and months of using a higher-resolution, 1080p display, we were very worried about stepping back down to the lower-resolution Moto X. (Going back to the 720p IPS display on the Nexus 4, for example, has been tough.) But, as it turns out, we readjusted just fine. Other screen technologies still perform better outdoors. If that's a deal-breaker for you, Moto X might not be the phone for you.

And, remember, it’s easier to push 921,600 pixels than it is 2.07 million. Better battery life, don’tcha know.

On the storage side, Moto X will mostly come in 16 gigabytes (though AT&T’s got dibs on a 32-gigabyte model), with about 11GB available to the user. There’s no microSD card storage, but Motorola and Google are throwing in 50GB of free Google Drive storage for two years. (Log in to the Google Drive app to get it.)

Never mind what some folks are saying about this being a "mid-range" phone. That's just specs on paper, and benchmark numbers that don't actually mean anything. In real life, we've not seen any lag in daily use — and it runs graphically intensive games like Riptide GP 2 just fine. (Perhaps there's a secret ninth Riptide core at work?)


Battery life

Moto X battery

So let’s talk battery life. Motorola’s made great strides in this department the past couple years, and that trend continues in Moto X. On paper, it’s got a 2,200 mAh battery, which in and of itself isn’t all that impressive. Consider, though, that the battery, likely sourced from LG Chem, uses a new “stepped” design that allows for a better use of space and thus greater overall capacity — an extra 31 percent additional capacity, actually.

Moto X has impressive battery life. But just like any other phone, the more you use it, the more battery it uses.

Motorola claims you get “all-day use” — well, “mixed-use all day,” whatever that means — with Moto X. And when they say “all day,” they mean a full 24 hours.
It’s possible. On Wifi, with good cellular signal coverage and not with heavy use, yes. You can eke 24 hours of use out of Moto X. And that’s a great number to throw around.

In real life, though, most of us aren’t up 24 hours straight. Plug your phone in at night and get some rest. It’s OK.

That said, we’ve been mostly impressed with battery life on Moto X. The combination of hardware optimizations — Qualcomm’s done well with the S4 platform on forward — and software tweaks (more on that as you keep reading) has led to some pretty impressive usage time, especially when you consider that we’re not looking at a monster battery capacity.

Our real-world findings:

  • Sitting on Wifi most of the day, with light to moderate use, we’re seeing between 14 and 18 hours, easy, usually getting us down to around 30 percent or so by bedtime. After that, we plug in and catch some shut-eye.
  • Getting out into the wide, wide world of LTE (we’ve been using the AT&T model, remember), 10 to 14 hours is a pretty solid number. Sometimes a little more. That varies a bit depending on your local network, of course. A phone that’s struggling for a signal or constantly bouncing between LTE and HSPA+ will simply use more battery. Using Moto X in Manhattan yielded basically the same results as in the quieter town of Pensacola, Fla. (That’s a testament to AT&T as much as Motorola, we suppose.)
  • A couple hours of 720p video playback for us used around 20 percentage points of battery. Your mileage may vary.
  • Before anyone starts screaming for “screen-on time,” remember that a big feature of Moto X is that you can quickly and easily get information without turning on the screen in the usual manner. Check the clock, and check on notifications — all without powering up the display. That in and of itself perhaps isn’t a game-changer, but it is a big deal, and combined with all the other optimizations, it makes a difference.


Moto X accessories

Motorola wisely has partnered up with a few accessory manufacturers, and you’ll have a host of products for your Moto X, available directly through Motorola. Not having to wait is huge from a customer-service standpoint — it’s great to have the phone, but accessories provide a complete experience — to say nothing of actually making some money from sales.

Moto’s high-profile deal is with SOL REPUBLIC, which has brought a set of on-ear headphones ($99), earbuds ($39) and Deck — a $199 Bluetooth speaker with a five-person “heist” mode for you and your friends (or enemies, we suppose) to play deejay.

Incase is on board for a couple cases, and Moto’s got screen protectors from Power Support on tap. Listed at launch from Griffin are a desktop dock and car dock.

We don’t yet know how close to launch these will be available, but Moto is showing the importance of at the very least positioning accessories alongside the phone at the time of purchase. It’s smart business, and it’s better for the consumer as well.


Moto X software

We all have our personal preferences for smartphone software. You’ve got the HOLOYOLO crowd that prefers “stock” Android above all. You’ve got the folks who enjoy HTC’s Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz or Sony’s or LG’s customizations. Motorola has gone both routes over the years. The original Droid kept things largely as Google intended, and the more recent RAZR lines and now the Droid Ulta and pals have mostly walked back the bad old days of Motoblur.

Moto X softwareMoto X, as far as the user interface is concerned, is nearly as “stock” as a Nexus. There’s no heavy “skin.” Just custom wallpapers and ringtones, of course, and some options in the settings. For better or worse, Moto’s not tacked a lot on here. We’re fine with that, and it fits the overall theme of this phone — do a few things really well and don’t let the rest get in the way. For as much as we’re going to say in the next two sections of this review, Moto X really is a simple phone, insofar as the user is concerned.

So, at launch, you’ll have Android 4.2.2 and all the lockscreen widgets and under-the-hood improvements we’ve been used to for months. An update to Android 4.3 probably won’t be too far down the road, but such things still have to be approved by the operators.

On AT&T's version, there's not all that much bloatware. The myAT&T account app and Visual Voicemail are on board, and that's about it. Fine. They're useful. What we'd love to see nuked is AT&T's own contact syncing service, which you can't easily disable as if it were any other application. And, yes, AT&T's version shows the operator's name in the nav bar. Just in case you forget.

There are a couple major additions from Moto, however. They are Active Notifications (also referred to as Active Display), and Touchless Control.


Touchless Control

Moto X Touchless Control

With Touchless Control, it really comes down to ease of use. Voice commands have been around for years, but traditionally they’ve required you to perform some sort of physical act to implement — touch an on-screen button, toggle a Bluetooth trigger — something that requires action. Moto X can be trained to listen for the phrase “OK, Google Now” — as in Google’s predictive information service. Train the phone, then say the magic words, and you’ve got

  • Make phone calls: “Call Jerry.” One downside here: Even in “Drive mode” (see “Moto Assist”), placing a call through Google Now doesn’t actually turn the speakerphone on, and you’ll still have to pick up the phone to talk. If you're connected to a Bluetooth hands-free device, it'll properly make the call through that.  (Update: As commenter paisley99 points out, the option to automatically use the speaker was added when Touchless Control was released in Google Play.)
  • Get directions: “Driving directions to Jerry’s bar.”
  • Send messages: “E-mail Jerry, subject: I’m coming to the bar” or “Text Jerry: Are you at the bar?”
  • Set reminders: “Remind me to go to Jerry’s bar.”
  • Ask questions: “Where is Jerry’s bar?”
  • Schedule a meeting: “Schedule an appointment to go to Jerry’s bar on Tuesday for breakfast.”
  • Play music or movies: “Play Grace Potter & The Nocturnals.” (This may require a little extra action on your part, depending on how you do your media.”
  • Set alarms: “Set alarm for 6 a.m.” or “Wake me at 6 a.m.”
  • Web searches: “Show me pictures of cats.”

Moto X Touchless Control

Setting up Touchless Controls takes just a few seconds. You’ll need to be in a nearly silent room or it balks at you. Then just speak naturally. If you find that the “OK, Google Now” phrase isn’t working as well as you like, you can re-train from the settings menu.”

Real-life usage tends to vary, depending on the noise level around you. In a quiet room, you can trigger Touchless Control from a good 10 or 15 feet away. Noisy environments mean you need to be closer to the phone. We’ve gotten it to work on airplanes, but only when held right next to our mouth, and even then not without complaining that it sounds like we’re on an airplane and that it might work better if we were somewhere more quiet.

You might not want to talk to your phone all the time, and you don't have to. But it's a great feature to have when you need it.

And none of that changes the fact that it’s still a bit … odd … talking at your phone. Five years from now we might all have a different opinion. But today, it feels forced. It’s neat at parties, and kids get a kick out of it. And it’s absolutely useful in the car. Not having to touch the phone means not having to take your eyes off the road at all.

But the tech’s still in its infancy. It can still take a few seconds between the time you stop talking and the time Moto X performs the action. That’s not a big knock, and the latency should only get better. Nor are we all that concerned about the “always listening” aspect of Touchless Control. Those who wear tinfoil hats will continue to crow, but it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between “always listening,” and “always listening for the same three words.” And, yes, it is possible for someone else to trigger your “OK, Google Now” phrase. But how likely is that to happen? Depends on whom you’re around, we suppose.

Motorola also has released Touchless Control as a standalone application in Google Play — meaning that it can be updated just like any other app — without a full software update to your phone. That's a good thing.

It does needs to be said, however, that the Touchless Control feature is entirely dependent on having an Internet connection, even for tasks that you’d consider to be offline. “OK, Google Now — set an alarm for 5 p.m.,” for instance, won’t work if you’re not online. Moto X is smart enough to recognize if it’s in Airplane Mode or simply doesn’t have a data connection. It just can't do anything about it.


Active Display/Active Notifications

This may be our favorite new software feature introduced in Moto X. (OK, OK. This is on the new “Droid” phones, too, as is a lot of what’s in Moto X.) Moto X has a Super AMOLED display. And unlike an LCD display, in which all of the pixels are either on or off, individual pixels can be fired up on SAMOLED. That’s where these “Active Notifications” come in.

When the phone’s simply resting, it’s not actually “sleeping.” You’ll see the time and a little lockscreen icon flash on every few seconds. That’s what Motorola calls “breathing.” It recognizes when you pull your phone out of your pocket and starts breathing. Or when you otherwise pick it up. And it’s smart enough to not do it in your pocket, or when the phone’s face-down. It’s black-and-white, and it uses less battery than waking up the phone with the power button, because only the pixels used to show the time are used, instead of waking the entire display. (Thanks, SAMOLED!)

This subtle, simple feature works great — and saves battery life.

Showing the time of day is just small potatoes, though. It’s notifications that really matter here. And the gist is that any app that uses notifications can show them on Active Display. First you get a little notification icon. E-mail, text message, Facebook, whatever. Tap, and you’ll see a preview of the notification either at the top or bottom of the display, depending on how much is going on. Some notification previews look cooler than others — Gmail can show thumbnails of the sender, for instance, while most others are straight text.

Read our in-depth piece on the Moto X Active Display

You’ve got a handful of options when it comes to Active Notifications, which is good. For instance, you can turn them off altogether if you want. You also can check off which apps you want to be able to use Active Display. (That’s some nice, granular control there. Kudos, Moto.) If you have a PIN or password lock on your phone, you can choose whether you want Active Notifications to bypass the lock show their details, or if the should stay hidden. You also can set sleep hours, during which you’ll not see any notifications. No breathing. 

Active Notifications and Active Display (that’s a mouthful and really should be under a single name) remove the need for an LED indicator light, and we’re just fine with that. They’re more sophisticated and ultimately more useful.


Trusted Bluetooth devices and Motorola Skip

Trusted Bluetooth devices

You really should have a password of some sort on your phone. Your life is in this thing.

You no longer have an excuse not to have a password on your phone. Period.

But passwords are annoying. We get that. Moto X has implemented a cool little feature that makes having a secured phone be a little less of a pain. You can treat a connected Bluetooth device as a “trusted device.” And so long as that trusted device is connected to your phone, you won’t have to enter a password to unlock it.

It’s ridiculously handy.

If you always use a Bluetooth headset, for instance (and we’re not judging), you can use it as a trusted device. If you were to lose your phone, or if it’s stolen, it’ll stay locked unless the headset went along with it and was still connected. Or if you use a Bluetooth speakerphone or stereo in your car, the phone could treat it as “trusted” and forgo the lock in that case. We’ve been using the Pebble smartwatch as a trusted device. It’s something that’s on our wrist, and therefore we’re pretty attached to it and not likely to walk off with the phone.

Motorola Skip

Motorola also is offering up the “Motorola Skip” clip, which is a sort of NFC tag that you clip to your clothes. Pull your phone out of your pocket, tap the Skip, and your phone unlocks. It’ll come free (for a limited time) for those who order a custom Moto X through Moto Maker, and it also comes with three “Skip Dots” that will create trusted zones in your home or office or car — wherever you place them. Motorola is making unlocking easy.

Is this foolproof? No. If your phone and its paired trusted device are stolen together, you’re potentially insecure. (That’s assuming the trusted device is still connected and has power, but you get the point.) But Motorola also as a locate-and-wipe service through your Motorola account, and Google’s got its own locate-and-wipe option. Redundancy is good. And we’ve not seen a marked impact on battery life.

We’d love to see this sort of “trusted device” service become standard on every phone. Ain’t Bluetooth Low-Energy grand?


Motorola Assist

Motorola Assist

Motorola’s old “Smart Actions” may not be on the Moto X in name, but they’re certainly here in spirit, rolled (partially) into the “Assist” app. It handles three use cases — driving, meetings and sleeping — giving options for each.

When you’re, say, driving, you can choose to have incoming call information and text messages read aloud. If you like, you can have Moto X send an automated reply that you’re driving, can’t type and that you’re not one of those inconsiderate rubes who has a phone in one hand and a 72-ounce soft drink in the other, putting us all at risk. There’s also an option to have music playback resume once the phone realizes you’re driving. We suppose that’s useful to some folks.

Note that placing a phone call via the Google Now voice controls does so through the earpiece and not the speaker, even while in Drive mode. We’ll have to see if the car dock fixes that once it’s available.

The meeting option will silence your phone when it realizes you’re, well, in a meeting. It “checks your calendar for events with others” and shuts down the noise. You can silence the phone altogether or set it to vibrate only, and you can whitelist contacts to get through, or if someone calls twice in 5 minutes.

The Sleeping option does the same thing — setting quiet hours while whitelisting your favorited contacts or if someone calls twice in 5 minutes.


Motorola Connect

Motorola Connect

Another fun little feature is Motorola Connect. This ties your Moto X into your computer via an extension for the Chrome browser. Notifications for incoming and missed phone calls, voicemails and text messages will pop up on your screen.

Signing in is simple, and the extension is nicely designed. It’s worth a look, though it’s a bit superfluous if you’re a Google Voice user.


The Moto X camera

Moto X Camera

You’d be hard-pressed to hear a manufacturer talk about its camera without mentioning any of the 72 ways it’s one of the best shooters available, how it lets in 257 percent more light or has the largest pixels of anything this side of the Hubble or can take pictures quicker than the last guy.

Never mind the megapixels, 'Clear Pixels' or any other specs. The end result of the Moto X camera is the most disappointing feature of this phone.

Motorola’s just as guilty of this as anyone else. And that’s not to say the particulars aren’t important. Because they are. And the particulars in this case are 10-megapixel rear camera (there’s a 2MP shooter out front) that adds in a “clear pixel” along with the red, green and blue pixels to let in more light and alleviate motion blur. Pictures are shot in 16:9, and video records at 1080p.

All that said, we’ve not been overly impressed by the quality of images we’ve shot with the Moto X camera. Perhaps we’re used to the oversaturated pictures from other phones we’ve used this year (namely the HTC One, LG Optimus G Pro, and the Samsung Galaxy S4 and its cousins), but we’ve seen too many dark and dreary results. Colors seem muted. Images almost appear to be underexposed. And we’ve strugged with getting the proper focus in far too many shots.

That’s not to say we haven’t gotten some pretty good shots from Moto X. Because we have. It just feels like we’re having to work at them, or that it takes some post-production from something like Snapseed or the auto-enhance feature in Google+ to end up with something presentable.

Moto X Camera App

We are, however, a little intrigued by the direction Moto’s gone with the camera app.
Whereas so many camera apps are filled with features and buttons and filters, Motorola has simplified things. Launch the camera app, and you don’t even see a shutter button. Because there is no shutter button. The entire screen is the shutter button, with the idea that it’s easier to tap anywhere than worry about a small button. And there’s something to be said for that.

But what about focusing? On most phones, you can tap the screen to focus on a specific point. On Moto X, the default is to autofocus and then trigger the shutter when you tap the screen. You can change that in the settings, but even then it focuses and then shoots on its own, and that’s led us to delete more pictures than we’ve had to with other phones.

Back to the app itself, though. It’s nicely thought out. The only two buttons you see on the screen are to flip over to the front camera, and to shoot a video. Simple. Easy. (And, yes, you tap the screen any time while recording a video to get a still picture.) Swipe from the left edge — and this works whether you’re holding the phone horizontally or vertically — to open the options menu. It’s a ring, actually, done in a half-circle on the edge of the display, and you grab and pull to flip through all of the options.

Like we said, things are kind of sparse, mostly in a good way. Here’s what you’ve got:

  • HDR: Interestingly, there’s an “Auto HDR” mode in which Moto X decides whether to shoot in high dynamic range all on its own. But we’ve no idea how it decides that. And with the regular shooting mode being so disappointing, we’ve on occasion just left HDR mode on and hoped for the best.
  • Flash: Auto, on, off. What you’d expect.
  • Tap to focus: This is where you choose whether you want Moto X to refocus where you tap before shooting the picture. But the timing of the shutter still seems a little wonky. We love the idea of the entire screen being the shutter button, but we’re not sure the trade-off is worth it. We need more control over when we take the picture.
  • Slow motion video: For when you want to slow things down.
  • Panorama: On, or off. The act of taking an pano shot is just as you’ve done on other phones. Missing, however, is the “Photosphere” feature we’ve enjoyed on the Nexus 4 and LG Optimus G Pro. We’d love to see it in Moto X.
  • Geo-tagging: On, or off.
  • Shutter sound: On, or off. (Nice to see that option — not all operators allow it.)

There’s one last option that needs a little more than a bullet point. (If only so we can use this gif again.) ”Quick Capture” is the name Motorola’s given to the shortcut of launching the camera app by twisting your write twice. It’s about the same motion as turning a doorknob. And we’ve found it surprisingly useful. On paper, it sounds silly. But in actuality, it’s great. And it works most of the time.

It's gimmicky, yeah. But twisting your wrist to launch the camera quickly becomes second nature.

There’s an option to turn Quick Capture off, if you’re not into the whole motion thing, and you can still open the camera app via the phone’s lock screen (swipe from right to left) or the home screen or app drawer.

A couple more things: You can hold down on the screen to take multiple pictures in burst mode — the phone gives you a running count. Drag up and down to zoom from 1x to 4x. Swipe to the right to see your pictures in the gallery and to share them.

Look, the Moto X camera isn’t the worst in the world. We’re impressed by the simplicity of the camera app, and it’s certainly not been designed without purpose. Quick Capture is a fun feature. Images are passable, and you can clean them up in post-production. But we just don’t have the same sense of confidence in Moto X as a consistent camera as we do with the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4.

Is that enough to merit carrying a second phone, or a decent point-and-shoot? It’s a tough call, because the rest of the phone is so good. Here’s to hoping a software update improves things at some point.


Moto X video recording tests


Moto X sample pictures — warning: all thumbnails open in full resolution in a new window 

Let's start with some regular old pictures. Nothing too terribly exciting here. Some of them feel a little hung-over — like things are gray when there should be a little more life to them.

Moto X sampleMoto X sample

Moto X sampleMoto X sample

Moto X sampleMoto X sample

And now a few HDR shots. 

Moto X HDR sampleMoto X HDR sample

Moto X HDR sampleMoto X HDR sample

Moto X HDR sampleMoto X HDR sample

A panorama.

Moto X Panorama

And, finally, from 15,000 feet or so. A pic at 1x, and zoomed in at 4x.

Moto X sampleMoto X sample

Moto X sampleMoto X sample


Other odds and ends

  • Moto X has Bluetooth tethering capabilities. Or, rather, it’s supposed to. We couldn’t get our review unit to work — and neither could others. Hopefully just an early software thing.
  • Speaking of Bluetooth, a bunch of what you just read about was brought to you by Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy. We haven’t really worried about what’s using Bluetooth LE and what isn’t — it just works.
  • Hey, it’s a phone! Call quality has been fine on AT&T. The phone’s got a trio of microphones to help with noise-cancellation.
  • Moto X is Miracast-capable, for what that's worth — which isn't a lot. Sadly, our MHL adapter's non-functional with the phone.
  • Use Google Wallet? Well, not on Moto X, you don't.
  • We've had nary an issue with GPS. Play Ingress to your heart's content.
  • Motorola has long been a leader in speakerphones, and that continues with Moto X. For a traditionally designed phone (as in with the speaker on the back), it sounds pretty good. It’s tough to call a traditional smartphone sound “rich” or “full” after using the likes of the HTC One, but Motorola’s done good here.
  • For the tinkering types, Motorola has said there will be a developer version of Moto X. It didn’t give a time frame. It'll also have an unlockable bootloader on some carriers.

The b​ottom line

Moto X box

At the end of it all, maybe personalization and personal taste really is the story of Moto X. On one hand — OK, literally in one hand — you've got a slick piece of hardware.

Moto XDon't worry that it doesn't max out the spec list. It runs as well as anything else out there —- maybe better, actually, and the battery life claims are largely to be believed. Moto X is beautifully designed. It fits your hand the way a smartphone should, not some shapeless slab that ignored design for thinness. It's a little reminiscent of the HTC One in its curves, but it's more compact and easier to hold. (Unknown is whether it'll have more consistent build quality than HTC has had with the One.) 

Moto X isn't without its faults, of course. No phone is perfect. We're not 100 percent in love with the display, but going back to 720p resolution wasn't as tough a switch as we feared. (And it's tempered by having a 4.7-inch display in a smaller body.) Other displays fare better in sunlight. And the camera is lacking. Maybe not woefully so, but it's definitely a step backward from every other top-shelf phone we've used this year.

Stylish, not too big, with great battery life and speed software. And a so-so camera. Moto X isn't the best phone out there, but it's easily in the top tier.

We asked before whether a lackluster camera would be enough to make us consider carrying a second device with a better camera — and it's a tough question, as there's so much to like in the rest of the phone. Moto X is among the best designed smartphones we've used in some time. The software is light and nimble, and we have to believe that it'll be updated in a relatively timely manner. (Motorola showed a renewed effort in that department in late 2012 and early 2013, and figure with Google behind it now, that'll only increase.)

We haven't really touched on price because, frankly, that's a pretty personal concern. Is $199 on contract too much for what the phone looks like on paper? Perhaps, but a spec sheet is just one part of what makes up the consumer price of a phone. Throw in the ability to customize your own device (and the likelihood that you'll see discounts at some point anyway) and we're not all that concerned.

No, the bottom line is this: Motorola's got an extremely capable phone on its hands with the Moto X. Save for a ho-hum camera, we've very much enjoyed it. It feels great, it looks great. What software has been added on by Motorola is mostly very helpful. It'll be available on every major U.S. carrier, and a regional or two as well. Custom designs being locked into AT&T are disappointing, but having to wait for the exclusive to lift should mean more designs will be available when it does.

Moto X indeed marks the rebirth of Motorola under Google — and it's one hell of a phone to start with.