When Google announced two years ago it had purchased Motorola for just over $12 billion, people were left wondering what the heck was in the water at the Googleplex in California.
Google then sat relatively quiet until this year, when it unveiled the first Motorola smartphone since the merger: the Moto X, an American-assembled Android-based device with a 4.7-inch display, outrageously good battery life and overall performance capable of rivaling even the best, high-end smartphones currently available.
Was the Motorola acquisition worth it? It's too early to tell, but if the Moto X is a taste of what's to come from the duo, then the future is looking great.
An iPhone lookalike?
On the surface, the Moto X might look like an iPhone 5c rip-off, simply because of its colorful appearance. However, the Moto X was released before the 5c, and is more user-friendly, ergonomic and intuitive than the 5c.
What sets the Moto X apart from the iPhones, and other Android devices, is the way the hardware handshakes with Android 4.2, despite having a mixed range of specifications like a dual-core processor and 2GB of memory. The phone handled everything I tossed at it — games, movies, phone calls — better than expected.
Even with extensive use, the Moto X's battery lasted 18 hours on a full charge. That's better than the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Note 2 and both of the new iPhones.
An absolute comfort to hold and use, the X's all-plastic casing feels more like ceramic with its smooth, cool texture, and the phone is just a bit heavier than the iPhone 5s. The Super AMOLED display is top-notch, too, giving users crisp colors and 720p resolution.
The device's 10-megapixel camera will also get some attention, but not always the good kind. It lacks features found on other phones (like manual exposure or ISO controls), it has the tendency to misjudge lighting and its HDR setting is fickle.
The camera is just good enough for users who aren't concerned with settings. It shoots incredibly fast and has a nice touch-based manual focus. The camera can also be accessed quickly by twisting the phone, even if the phone is locked, which allows users the chance to capture that seconds-only yet photo-worthy moment.
Google and Motorola did something extremely smart with the Moto X: Since the device operates on an older Android operating system, 4.2, the companies decided to inject the device with some magic from the Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System.
Succesful user interface
Remember Motoblur? Developed by Motorola just several years ago, Motoblur replaced Android's user interface and was a dismal failure. It was clunky, broke at times and, though packed with ingenuity, it just didn't have a strong foundation to become a contender in the smartphone market.
With the Moto X, it's as if Motoblur was completely redesigned without the push for it to be the hero of the device. Motorola X8 blends into the background of Android 4.2 without feeling intrusive or obtuse, and handles push notifications. When a user has a text message, email, missed call and/or social media notice waiting, the screen will display a small notification icon that blinks. If the Moto X is in the user's pocket, then the notification will light up once it's pulled out of the pocket.
The notifications aren't distracting or annoying.
There are also touchless controls like “OK, Google” voice commands. I was able to use the voice commands without error, even when asking long questions, like finding movies playing at a specific time in a specific city at a specific theater.
If there are serious issues with the Moto X, they are its lack of expandable memory, price and the exclusivity of Moto Maker.
The 16GB version of the phone is $200 with a two-year AT&T contract. The 32GB is $250. Since other phones like the S4 and 5s also come in at $200, the Moto X might be a tough sell.
Then there's Moto Maker, which allows users to customize their phones by choosing colors for the casing, buttons and accent pieces. Moto Maker also allows users to set inscriptions that appear when the phone boots up. The review model I used read “The Dude abides,” which is all kinds of awesome.
What isn't awesome is the exclusivity of Moto Maker, as it's currently only available through one carrier, and that's AT&T. It might hurt the Moto X's accessibility and sales since it isn't available to many potential customers, but it's definitely a good thing for AT&T.
The Moto X shows that how something is built is more important than a spec list. It's not without faults, but it ushers in a new, improved Motorola. And that's something to get excited about.