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Review: Moto X is the Android smartphone no one needs

Galen Gruman | Sept. 23, 2013
The much-ballyhooed smartphone from Google's hardware unit brings little that's worthwhile to the mix

Likewise, the lock-screen indicator for messages requires a gesture to see the message summaries, sort of like Windows 8. Apple's iOS just shows you the messages so that you don't have to fool around with the phone.

Compared to other Android smartphones, the Moto X brings little to the table. The big addition is the always-on voice command capability. The battery actually lasts more than a day — not a given in Android devices. The Moto X is the first device to use the Motorola X8 module, which includes a dedicated motion processor, similar in concept to the M8 chip in Apple's iPhone 5s, but there was no obvious benefit in my usage to having the X8 compared to having a Qualcomm or other ARM chip in competing devices. The Camera app also has a nice selection wheel for setting the flash, HDR, and other attributes. That's not a lot to make a purported flagship device a flagship. (The camera itself takes adequate photos, but not great ones; the Moto X is another case where big megapixel ratings — 10, here — don't translate into superior-quality images.)

The Moto X adopts the Miracast wireless display protocol that debuted in the Google Nexus 4. If TV makers adopt this standard, Android will have a worthy competitor to Apple's AirPlay, but so far they have not. In the meantime, you can use an MHL video-out cable.

A Samsung Galaxy S 4 has a much broader array of software, some of it half-baked. And the HTC One is a much more elegant smartphone, with a very nice-looking, readable user interface. Both the Galaxy S 4 and HTC One have nice cases, whereas the Moto X's is pedestrian at best. Its curved back makes it awkward to use when on a tabletop or other surface, as you can easily rock it. The Moto X also has an unfortunate tendency to slide out of my palm — something about its case material makes it slick when nestled in skin. (My editor had the same experience.) The main competitors don't have these issues.

The vaunted customization is limited to choosing a case color or design. That's a gimmick, not a feature — and it's available only for Moto X smartphones tied to the AT&T network. As for being made in the United States, the truth is that it is assembled domestically, with parts made mostly elsewhere. It's great to bring manufacturing jobs back to the States, but there's less to the patriotic appeal than many buyers will believe.

I also find the Moto X's screen to be a bit hard to read. Part of that is the default setting of tiny text, coupled with a brightness distortion that creates a halo effect around the unfortunate use of light-on-dark text. If I were 25, my eyes would likely be able to handle these unfriendly visual designs, but I'm twice that age. Boosting the text size helps, but still the screen is nowhere as readable as that of a Galaxy S III, Galaxy S 4, or HTC One — or smaller-screen iPhone. I appreciate the Moto X's 4.7-inch screen size — too many Android smartphones have grown gorilla-sized — but the overall quality isn't there, and the tiny text neutralizes the advantage of the larger screen.


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