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Moto X Review (AT&T) - more than meets the eye

Review by Andrew Kameka on Tuesday August 06, 2013.

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Motorola X Active Display
Motorola X Active Display

Software and Apps

Being owned by Google didn't translate to any added benefits for Motorola. The Moto X still runs Android 4.2.2 with a very subtle set of adjustments rather than the recently released Android 4.3. I call it stock-ish because it resembles the standard version of Android but isn't exactly pure. Unlike HTC and Samsung, Motorola uses the default Google apps for Calendar, Clock, Gallery, Messaging, and People. Even the keyboard and launcher look exactly like the apps seen on Nexus devices or in Google Play. This is not a Nexus device; however, the similarities between the two make it easy to see why someone might make the mistake of viewing the X as one. Updates will still be delivered via Motorola and the carriers, not Google.

Though visually similar, the Moto X distinguishes itself from its Google overlords with these features: it's lock screen, always-on Google Now, and its camera. The lock screen uses motion sensors to recognize when the phone has been picked up and turns on a limited area to showcase notifications. The Adaptive display shows missed calls, emails, Facebook Messages, and any other app that users wish to allow, so device owners know that something requires their attention. A notification light is more likely to be noticed in the corner of my eye, but the flashing white text on the middle of the display is a more intelligent way of notifying users. Adaptive display uses very little energy and is made possible by the contextual core in the X8 processor that monitors the phone's state. The dedicate sensor core also enables Motorola Assist to recognize when someone is driving and automatically read incoming text messages or send replies.

The Moto X excels because Assist waits in the background and comes to life without me needing to wake it. The same is true for the Touchless control function that makes Google Now available anytime a device owner says, "Ok Google Now." Even when the screen is not on, the Moto X supports hands-free commands for getting directions, opening music apps, calling someone, or anything capable in Google Now. It's smart enough to have follow-ups for directions or knowledge-based questions, but not commands. It can start playing Daft Punk, but can't skip to the next song. Though I'd like to see more commands possible, being able to call my father to ask him a question while driving or start streaming in Pandora while washing the dishes shows that Google Now is already fairly sophisticated.

Motorola X 10MP camera
Motorola X 10MP camera


Motorola's camera is a unique 10-megapixel lens that has a Clearpixel sensor. Cameras typically capture images in Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) basic colors, but the Moto X injects an extra white pixel to offer enhanced stability and increased brightness. The RGBC sensor is designed to improve lowlight shots and greatly reduce the blur of moving targets. I brought the Moto X with me and motion stabilization definitely improved as the camera was able to take stable photographs of dancers twirling glow sticks during Kaskade's performance.

The Moto X is leaps and bounds ahead of what's typically in Motorola's devices. My biggest complaint about every Motorola phone released since 2011 has been the camera, and the Moto X finally introduces one that doesn't make me hate the device. The 1080p HD video recorded looks stable and clear in bright or moderate lighting. The photos however sometimes take on a weird watercolor-like appearance because they are too soft. Motorola's correction ends up doing more damage than good in some cases.

Communication and Data

Available on all four of the major carriers and U.S. Cellular, the Moto X supports 4G of all shapes and sizes. On the AT&T model that I tested, the phone reported speeds in the 2 to 17 Mbps download range (AT&T's 4G service is unreliable in my area, but results may vary by market). Most impressive of its communication functions was the dual microphones allowing very clear audio when I tested the device at street level. Despite the raucous hum of passing commuters and car horns, callers managed to hear me clearly while I spoke from Times Square New York.


A 2,200 mAh battery promises 24 hours of battery according to Motorola, but that's only with very light usage. More realistic expectations are about 12 to 15 hours depending on activity and frequency of use, which still puts the phone in the range of lasting long enough to make it through a workday. The Moto X is able to maintain its battery life because the CPU cores used for sensors and voice commands are dedicated, low-power cores. Unless you're a power user, there's no need to worry about the phone prematurely fizzing out. The S4 Pro, which does the main processing work for apps and games, has given solid battery life on other devices, and the trend continues here. With a lower screen to power and an efficient system, the Moto X handles its duties effectively.

Motorola X buttons
Motorola X buttons


The Moto X is not the phone you were promised. Android enthusiasts thought that the Moto X, the first Motorola phone built entirely during the Google ownership regime, would be a phone that turns the industry on its head. Motorola's new device ended up being one that stands aside from the competition rather than try to race ahead of it. The Hype Train clearly went off the rails.

The Moto X costs $199, a tough sale when more attractive devices are available at that price. However, that's no reason for everyone to cast the phone aside. People calling this a "midrange" device clearly haven't spent time with many midrange phones. It's not totally on par with the competition, but it's closely linked at a tier just below it.

Motorola X composite weave
Motorola X composite weave

The problem for the Moto X is that its best selling point, personalization, is hampered by an AT&T exclusivity. There's no reason to see this as a must-have. Touchless controls, Active Display, and Motorola's stock-ish software make the Moto X an intriguing device. Those capabilities aren't uniquely intriguing because the Motorola DROID Ultra and DROID Mini offer the same features. The DROID MAXX does too, and it does it with a much better battery. The Moto X's only trump card is that its frame is as good as or better than anyone else's frame and it's a phone that can be built to a user's color-specific desire.

I still find myself intrigued by the Moto X, only because of its ideal size and customization. That leads me to believe there's a market of people who will be happy with this phone. Someone looking to be on the cutting edge will be disappointed by the Moto X. Someone looking for a strong device that fits more comfortably in the hand than most, serves as a hands-free assistant, and can raise the bar for personalization could still find that this is the right phone for him or her. For people who just want a good phone, the Moto X is sharp enough. The dedicated enthusiast crowd will likely seek their thrills elsewhere.

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About the author

Andrew Kameka
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.

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