All winter long, we were treated to fevered speculation about the Moto X from Google's hardware unit, Motorola Mobility. Motorola has produced a string of lackluster Android devices, but the Moto X was going to be different. It would redefine the smartphone and challenge Samsung for creative dominance over the Android platform. It would be customizable — and made in the United States.
It was clear when the Moto X was finally announced on Aug. 1 that it was no game-changer. But now that the Moto X is shipping, it turns out to be less than that. It's a mediocre smartphone that adds nothing useful to the mix. There's simply no reason for this smartphone to exist.
The Moto X runs the stock Android "Jelly Bean" 4.2.2 version, which means it has all the pros and cons of any Android smartphone. For example, on the pro side, the Calendar app supports more kinds of repeating events than an iPhone's iOS does, there's near-field communication (NFC) for data exchange with other NFC-enabled Android devices, and you get access to all those Android home-screen widgets. On the con side, there's no support for the widely used Cisco IPSec VPNs, encryption is disabled by default, and media integration falls short compared to Apple's iTunes/AirPlay combination.
The Moto X does introduce a twist on the voice-command system that Android has long offered in competition with Apple's Siri: You can set the Moto X to always listen for Google Now commands, which can be handy while you're driving and shouldn't be touching your smartphone. Although it does a great job of understanding speech, Google Now's voice commands are very limited, not able to do much besides performing Web searches or issuing a few commands, such as make a call or send a text. Siri is much, much smarter and able to provide a lot of useful information that Google Now can't. In fact Google Now can't even do basic things like tell you the current weather or time or show your current location. In each case, you get only a page of Web search results. Always-on voice commands would be useful if they covered relevant tasks — but they don't.
An Apple-inspired innovation the Moto X claims to bring to the table is also a dud. There's a Chrome browser extension you can download to your PC, Mac, or Chromebook that shows your Moto X's text messages and voicemails. Apple's iMessage service on Macs and iOS devices makes it easy to have a texting conversation across devices, and this is an attempt to replicate that. But because Motorola's version works only in the Chrome browser — and only when the required extension is also running — it lacks the ease of Apple's approach, which works all the time because it's an OS-level service. Leaving Chrome and its Motorola window open all the time to not use the Moto X is more hassle than it's worth.
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