Moto X: The first two weeks
It's been a full two weeks since I got Motorola's Moto X home with me and integrated into my daily life. The first few days of my interactions with the 4G smartphone coming to AT&T next week (with other carriers to follow) were covered in my initial Moto X review for Gizmag. Now it's time to share some deeper reflections on this much-hyped device and cover some of the ground that didn't make it into the review.
To recap really quickly, my initial impression after picking up the Moto X in New York and then taking it on a road trip through the Southern Colorado Rockies was mostly positive. The specs aren't top of the line, but the design and software innovations Motorola has implemented here are smart and will have broad appeal.
One of the key features in the Moto X that I discussed in the review is its active display. This is basically a lock screen that "breathes" on and off in a low-power mode to show you the time and notification icons. If you touch the screen, it shows a little more detail about your new notifications without unlocking the phone. If you want to see the whole message, you can then swipe to unlock directly to your new texts, emails, tweets or whatever.
It's a small thing, but I love the intuitive nature of this tweak. It does inspire me to reach for the Moto X first over my other devices, particularly because its sensors make it aware of its orientation and surroundings. Put the Moto X in a pocket or face-down and it stops "breathing," leaving the screen fully off until it is pulled out of a pocket or flipped face-up, which restarts its breathing, so to speak. It's just easier enough than turning on a screen and unlocking my old phone to make a difference.
That said, after the first few days, I missed the blinking multi-color LED light on my Motorola Droid Razr that tells me what kind of notifications I have waiting for me without having to touch it at all or wait for it to take a "breath." I'd love to see a phone that both breathes and blinks at me.
Not a touchless control freak
Another of the key new features on the Moto X is touchless control. One of the phone's co-processors is always listening for you to utter the phrase "OK, Google Now," which wakes up the phone, bypassing the lock, and activates Google's voice assistant. I found this to be abundantly useful while traveling, for things like navigation, managing calls and texts, and even setting calendar events.
Once back home and in a more daily routine, I certainly found myself using touchless control a little less. It's a feature that makes the most sense for people who live completely in the Google ecosystem and are on the move a lot. For example, I use Evernote more often than Google Drive and Spotify over Google Play Music, so I didn't find myself asking Google Now to take notes or play my favorite song from across the room very often.
Supposedly there are multiple microphones inside the Moto X to try to filter out unwanted noise and improve voice recognition, but I found its performance to be uneven in certain environments with more background noise. There's really no way to tell if the problem here is with the Moto X hardware, or with Google Now – which is constantly improving on the backend and through software updates – or if I just don't enunciate well enough.
I did notice a few things in the Moto X's input settings that could have an impact, though. The option to automatically improve speech recognition is disabled by default, as is speech recognition through a Bluetooth headset. Enabling both seemed to improve my experience with Google Now, although I didn't test this in any scientific manner. Still, shortly after enabling them, the Moto X was able to understand me when I tried to search for "adobe," instead of trying to place a call to someone named Jacobi.
The battery question
A few readers were disappointed that I didn't touch on this in any detail in my full review. This is in part because there's so many variables that affect battery life, but in general I've been quite satisfied with it. Under pretty heavy use, with lots of web surfing, photo-taking, email checking and other activities, it always easily lasts the full day on a single charge.
Motorola claims the Moto X can last 24 hours under significant usage conditions, and I'd say that's probably true for the average user. It also seemed to be true for me, with the possible exception of a couple really heavy usage days that involved lots of streaming media and hotspotting.
Less bloated bloatware
Some Android purists will surely gripe over the inclusion of some additions to the Moto X from Motorola and carriers. My review unit was on Verizon, and did come with always-ignored apps like NFL Mobile and VZ Navigator. After years on Verizon, these apps don't really even register in my brain anymore and didn't bother me, but I get it if you feel differently.
Motorola, on the other hand, seems to have gone to some extent to keep a light footprint on the Moto X, and the overall experience is about as close to stock Android as I've seen outside of a Nexus device. Refreshingly, the Moto apps that do make an appearance are actually quite useful. Motorola Assist integrates with the phone's sensors to enter into straightforward and useful driving, sleep or meeting modes.
Get behind the wheel and it knows to read text messages and the names of callers aloud while starting up your favorite tunes. At night it silences all calls, with the option of letting certain contacts or callers that call more than once within five minutes through. Simple stuff, but easy to use and adjust.
I've also become a fan of Motorola connect, a Chrome extension that syncs texts and other information from my Moto X to my desktop. I look forward to seeing what other kinds of integration over multiple platforms and devices like this Motorola makes in in the future.
My favorite Moto X app tweak, though, is the camera. While the camera hardware itself isn't all that impressive – as I said in my first review, I think it loses out to the Galaxy S4 – some of the software tweaks make photography much easier and more enjoyable. The ability to take a photo by tapping anywhere on the screen, zoom by simply swiping up and down, and unlock straight to the camera with a twisting wrist gesture make the Moto X my favorite casual camera.
Like I said, it's not the most powerful or even the highest quality camera, but the interface is easier to navigate than the likes of the bloated Galaxy S4, and I had a great time with the one-tap ability to take panoramas and slow-motion videos.
Other performance notes
As has been pointed out many times over, the Moto X does not have a top of the line display. It's more than good enough to please average users, by my estimation, but if you're a pixel nerd you'll notice it lacks a certain level of extreme splashiness.
For the first 10 days or so of use, my review unit was super snappy with absolutely no lag. Swipes and taps were responsive and I rarely had to wait for anything to load. But in the past few days, I've started to notice just the slightest amount of occasional lag when accessing Gmail and some of the other core Google apps.
Can't say for sure what the issue is, but it made me wonder if the Moto X might become as bogged down in a few months as my Droid Razr is today.
One pleasant surprise is the speaker on the Moto X, which pumps out a surprising number of decibels without any distortion. Seems to outdo the other devices (including laptops) in my family and keeps the house rockin'.
So, in conclusion, after two full weeks with the Moto X, I can say I will definitely miss it and I'm excited about the new direction Motorola is taking with Google. I'm just slightly less excited about the Moto X than I was after the first few days with it, and a little curious to see if the new iPhone and the next Nexus phone will be able to top what Motorola has put together here.
That said, this is a phone I'd easily recommend to friends and family who want a simple Android phone in the short term that will treat them well.