Motorola’s voice-controlled smartie has finally made its way to the UK. But was it worth the wait? Joe Svetlik speaks out.
First impressions and design
Six months is a lifetime in mobile phones. The Motorola Moto X was announced way back in August in the US, but us Brits won’t be able to buy it until February 1st, a full half a year after it was unveiled.
Not only that, Motorola has denied us some of the coolest features, too. In the US, customers can sign up to Moto Maker, and personalise their Moto X as they see fit, choosing from a range of materials (including a wooden case) and generally building the handset they want.
In the UK, we’re limited to black and white colour options.
The handset features the same dimple on the back as the Moto G, making it fit nicely in the hand. The matte back is nice to touch, and the device feels solid.
It also has a water-repellent coating, so you won’t have to worry if you’re using it in the rain.
With a 4.7-inch screen, the Moto X is a nice size, though it’s fatter than high-end rivals like the iPhone 5S, Samsung Galaxy S4, and Google Nexus 5.
Motorola is owned by Google, so it’s no surprise that the Moto X comes running Android 4.4.2 KitKat, which is the latest version of Google’s mobile OS.
It’s pure Android, so unlike an HTC or Samsung handset, Google hasn’t skinned it with its own UI.
It has added plenty of its own software features though, so there’s plenty to set it apart from its Android rivals.
The most noteworthy is Active Display. This shows notifications on screen when your phone is locked, a bit like Nokia’s Glance Screen. And it does so in a very clever way. It only lights the necessary pixels, not the whole screen, so using it doesn’t drain the battery.
This feature turns on automatically when you pick up the Moto X, and won’t turn on if it’s in your pocket or handbag, face down, or you’re on a call.
It shows an icon for each notification, be it an email, text message, or whatever. Then you tap and hold to see more at-a-glance info, and decide whether it’s worth unlocking the phone.
Notifications flash up every five seconds or so if you missed them, and you can swipe them away to dismiss them. You pick which notifications show up, and you can stop them at night, so the constant flashing doesn’t keep you awake.
It’s a great addition, letting you stay up to date with what’s going on without having to unlock your handset.
The other big new feature is Touchless Control. This is like Google’s Advanced Voice Search, but it’s constantly on, so the phone is always listening.
Say “OK Google Now” – even if the handset is asleep – followed by a command, and it’ll do your bidding without you having to touch the phone.
Apparently this is partly the reason the Moto X took so long to reach these shores, as Motorola had to tweak the speech recognition to account for the variety of accents in the UK.
You have to say “OK Google Now” three times for it to get a feel for how you sound. Then it’s pretty accurate. (Though “Find a jazz bar in Paris” did come out as “Find a job botham harris”.)
It’s great fun though. Leave the Moto X out in the lounge, and as you think of things you can just ask it questions, like your very own robot butler.
Motorola Assist and Migrate are the same as on the Moto G, so we won’t go into them here.
One strange addition is Motorola Spotlight Player. Every now and again an icon wafts onto the screen – click it and it’ll bring up a strange new cartoon world. Just move your phone around to explore it.
It’s no deal-breaker, but it’s a fun distraction all the same.
On the hardware side of things, the Moto X doesn’t disappoint, even despite the lack of customisation options.
The 4.7-inch screen is an AMOLED effort, with a resolution of 1,920x720 pixels. It’s not the sharpest display around, but unless you’re holding it side by side with a Samsung Galaxy S4, you’re not going to mind.
Even the camera is pretty good, which is surprising given the underwhelming snapping skills of the Nexus 5 and Moto G. Google has hugely improved the low-light performance, so the same shot is unrecognisable next to one taken with the Nexus 5.
Google has added a neat new feature too, called Quick Capture.
When the handset is asleep, this lets you jump straight to the camera just by holding the phone and twisting your wrist twice.
It doesn’t work every time, but when it does it is pretty cool. And it’s much faster than choosing the camera option from the unlock screen, a feature which launched with Android KitKat.
Despite the fact it’s a mid-range device, all the games and movies we threw at the Moto X ran perfectly well, and navigating the OS is very slick.
Battery life is very good indeed, thanks to the Moto X’s innards. It’s got a traditional Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 chip married with a natural language processor and a contextual computing processor, plus a quad-core graphics processor.
In plain English, this means you’ll easily get a day out of the Moto X, and with moderate use, maybe even two.
The Moto X is another solid Google phone, but it’s a shame we miss out on the customisation options. It’s not that cheap either – at £380 SIM free, it’s pricier than the newer Nexus 5 and the not-that-dissimilarly-specced Moto G.
It’s also a bit of a shame that it only comes in 16GB or 32GB options, with no card slot for expandable memory. Though you do get two years of 50GB free storage on Google Drive.
But it’s well made, and the software additions are really useful, instead of bloatware to help the marketing department, like with some handsets we could mention.
If you want to go bigger than the Moto G, and like the sound of a handset that’s always listening, it could well be worth a look.