Review by Andrew Kameka on Monday September 09, 2013.
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Nokia and Motorola are both in a period of strange transition. Microsoft recently snatched up Nokia, and Motorola just released its first phone built entirely during its post-acquisition era of Google ownership. The Nokia Lumia 1020 and Motorola Moto X thus represent critical phones from both companies for different reasons. For Nokia, it's about continuing to release great products while awaiting the closure of the Microsoft deal and ensuring that it's advancements in camera technology don't go unnoticed. For Motorola, it's about releasing a phone that places the strength of its experience above the height of its specs. Both devices are successful in those attempts, but which device is the better overall option?
AT&T currently sells both the Lumia 1020 and Moto X. The two phones are drastically different and represent diametrically opposed interests. The Lumia 1020 is a grand device that garners stares because of its large 41-megapixel camera house on the back that sticks out. It's available in yellow, white, and black, but any color is sure to turn heads because of the unique shape of the device. The Moto X by contrast stands out because of its pocketable size. Despite its smaller build, the Moto X still manages to squeeze in a large 720p display with good quality. The display doesn't have as much outdoor visibility as the Lumia 1020, but both phones are bright enough to work well outdoors. The Moto X comes in only black or white in stores, but Moto Maker makes it customizable online through a long list of color combinations.
The Nokia Lumia 1020 runs Windows Phone 8, an operating system that is very good on the surface but comes up short unless you are someone who doesn't care about some popular apps and services. It's not just that many companies choose to not deliver apps for Windows Phone, forcing users to pay for third-party options that are rarely as good, but also that updates and new features for the big apps that are available will arrive months later.
The Android 4.2-powered Moto X has its own issues, including that apps are more likely to experience errors or stuttering on rare occasions. That might be a small price to pay to have far more app choices and earlier access to software that can enhance productivity reading, music, media, and games. There are some unique hands-free commands and search that make the Moto X more appealing, especially to someone who uses Google services like Gmail and Maps. Someone deeply ingrained in the Microsoft system - Office, Hotmail/Outlook, Skydrive - will have a tougher go because the email solutions are not as good as they are on Windows Phone. Skydrive and Office 365 are present, but using Windows Phone for those services will offer more space, better service, and free document creation and editing.
The key differentiator between the Lumia 1020 and Moto X is the way that their cameras perform. The Moto X has an 8-megapixel camera that can be good in spots, but its no match for the Lumia 1020. Nokia has bet its bones on delivering the best camera phone possible, and the Lumia 1020 benefits from those efforts in most situations. Though I experienced some problems attempting to take close-ups with the Lumia and the Moto X is a much faster shooter, the 1020 came out on top in every other scenario. The colors look better, images were sharper, the level of zoom and focusing possible was much greater, and the flexibility afforded by its software ensured that the 1020 would be the camera to reach for on almost any occasion. It's not that the Moto X camera is bad, it's just that the Lumia 1020 is good enough to make the average camera look undesirable by comparison. If you're someone who takes a lot of photos and wants the best camera possible, your decision has already been made, as you can tell from the photos below.
As for everyone else, your best bet is probably the Moto X. Motorola should be criticized for having limited storage options (16GB to Nokia's 32GB) and a weaker camera, but it deserves praise for the design of the device and letting Android perform well. Both the Moto X and 1020 have materials that feel good to touch and work well for communication. The X just stands out because of its shape, slightly longer battery life, and better ecosystem. Here's a video comparison illustrating the differences between the two devices.
Andrew is MobileBurn.com's managing editor. He is based in Miami, Florida.