Motorola is back. Again. The flagship Moto X is finally on Australian shelves after almost six months waiting for it. Has the delay killed its chances Down Under? Should you buy it?
What Is It?
The Moto X is unlike anything you’ve seen from Motorola so far.
It’s packing a 4.7-inch 720p AMOLED screen, a dual-core 1.7GHz processor, 2GB of RAM and 16GB of non-expandable internal storage.
Geeks have labelled the Moto X a mid-range phone because of the slightly dated Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro dual-core clocked at 1.7GHz, and indeed, that's certainly less horsepower than other top-flight phones have these days. But the chip also contains a quad-core Adreno 320 GPU, and two low-power processors, one for natural language and one for contextual computing. That's a total of 8 cores, all optimised for different tasks. It also has 2GB of RAM under the hood. All of which adds up to a performance that belies the specs.
It also comes with Bluetooth 4.0, a 10-megapixel camera, 50GB of free Google Drive storage for two years and weighs 130 grams.
It comes in black and white and costs $549 in Australia.
What’s Does It Do Well?
As soon as you turn the Moto X on, you realise how special it is. It’s one of only two phones you can buy on the Australian market right now that runs no-nonsense Android 4.4.2. Bliss.
That stock Android experience is so rare these days, in a world of Blinkfeed/Sense 6, TouchWiz, Emotion UI and whatever LG is calling its thing these days. The only other phone you can get with it is the Nexus 5, and even then Google has done some tinkering with the software to create the Google Now Launcher (which is still excellent).
Motorola hasn’t included any bloatware into the experience either. There are a few things that Motorola snuck in under the radar, mostly in the form of a piece of software called Motorola Assist, but it’s far from bloatware, and actually pretty handy.
The Assist software is similar to the Smart Actions software we saw on the RAZR smartphones of yesteryear. Basically, it figures out what you’re doing when, and changes its own modes so you don’t have to.
Have an 11pm bedtime and a 6pm alarm? Assist recognises that and automatically turns on Do Not Disturb mode so as not to make a peep. Keen to not be disturbed in that meeting you have on your calendar? The phone switches automatically to silent mode during scheduled meetings as a result. Going more than say 10km/h? The phone will switch into a driving mode so that you don’t have to touch it when it goes beep.
There’s also Motorla’s Active Display, which gives you a peek at your notifications before you unlock the device so you can decide whether something is important or if it can wait. You can customise those notifications so your lock screen isn’t constantly bombarded with crap, too.
The phone is also always listening for your voice to say three magic words to activate Touchless Controls: “Ok Google Now…”. With this phrase, the phone lets you ask it anything you would normally ask of Google Voice Search, but with the added benefit of being able to search your whole device as well. It tells you travel times, weather reports, about various search topics and also reads your calendar, calls people and intelligently figures out where you need to be and how to get there. Plus, the battery isn’t taxed by the constant listening thanks to smart power tech at the heart of Touchless Controls.
Speaking of the battery, with heavy use we got two solid days out of the Moto X before we needed our charger thanks to the 2200mAh battery and power-sipping cores.
It’s like a butler that does everything you want him to before you ever knew you needed it. That is how to install manufacturer-specific software: quietly, efficiently and effectively.
The phone slips into the curvature of your palm with a delicately curved back, and feels comfortable there thanks to the faux Kevlar feel.
This will sound weird, but I’m also in love with the manufacturer wallpapers that come stock on the Moto X. In my review period, I couldn’t choose one as they’re all so gorgeous. Even though it’s only a 720p screen (rather than the 1080p panel on the Nexus 5), it looks spectacular and superbly bright.
It does what every phone should do: gets out of your way and lets you do whatever you want.
What’s Not So Good?
One of the awesome things about the Moto X when it was released in the US was a feature called Moto Maker. It's amazing. It let you customise the device so it'd look exactly how you wanted it to, and it would be delivered to your door off-contract within a few days.
The Moto Maker wasn't just about changing the colours, either: fancy a bamboo wood back? You got it. Feel like a different accent colour on your camera? Done. What about laser printing a message on the back? All yours. All up, you could choose from two front colours, 18 back colours, 7 accent colours and get matching SOL Republic headphones to match, and it was all included in the price.
You can't get that in Australia. Instead, you're left to choose from black and white. Lame. Just look at what we could have had.
The Moto X also feels oddly heavy in your hand. It weighs 130 grams, which is exactly the same as the Nexus 5, but you need to remember how it’s distributed. The Nexus 5 is a larger handset with better tech inside. By comparison, the Moto X is smaller, stockier and therefore, feels heavy by comparison with svelte flagships from Samsung and Sony.
Just on that screen, it’s pretty small in a world of massive Android devices like the Note 3. Honestly, I don’t see this as a shortcoming but large-handed individuals who like a lot of real estate for their buck might disagree. You’ll never look at it and wish it were higher res, however: it’s gorgeous.
What isn’t gorgeous is the photos that come out of the 10-megapixel camera. The Moto X is built with a sensor that’s meant to pick up more light for better night shots, but they still come out of the camera as grainy and washed out. In well-lit areas, the camera performs admirably, however.
It's a little picky to use as well, considering that there's no dedicated camera button on the side of the phone, and no way to selectively grab a particular focal point before you shoot. It's tap-to-capture on the Moto X's default camera app, which means that if the phone doesn't get the focus right first time (which it often doesn't), you're left waggling the camera around trying to hunt for the right focal length before you capture the shot.
Check out these test shots compared to its main rival, the Nexus 5, and the camera to end all smartphone cameras, the Lumia 1020:
Click to enlarge
The Nexus captures the actual colours of the scene better in every shot, albeit at a letterbox aspect ratio. If you're buying a phone with an emphasis on the sort of camera you're getting, it's worth looking elsewhere.
But by far the worst thing about the Moto X is how it stacks up to its main rival: the Nexus 5.
The Moto X was developed while Motorola Mobility was under Google’s massive banner, and it certainly shows. Google wanted Motorola to make a great Android phone, but it clearly wasn’t allowed to be better than the awesome Nexus 5 which came out around the same time.
As such, it’s built to a budget: it isn’t as powerful, the screen isn’t as good (or as large), there aren’t as many storage options and the camera leaves a lot to be desired (despite being a higher resolution sensor).
And to make matters worse, the Moto X wasn’t allowed to be better value than the Nexus, with the entry-level Motorola coming in at $200 more expensive in Australia than it is against the entry-level Nexus 5.
It’s a shame really: Motorola have made a fantastic phone in the Moto X. Imagine what it could have done while not being under Google’s thumb. That’s a job for new owner Lenovo now.
Should You Buy It?
I have fallen madly in love with the Motorola Moto X as an Android phone. There's something genuinely special about a device that runs stock Android out of the box, and doesn't try to pester you with obnoxious third-party UIs, fancy animations or locked-down experiences (I'm looking at you, Samsung).
Having said that, it's a tryst I'm unlikely to continue, and wouldn't recommend it to others. Not because it isn't a good phone -- it's brilliant -- but because it's basically last year's hardware at this year's price point.
$549 nabs you a 32GB Nexus 5 with $100 to spare for accessories, apps or a nice meal, or it just nabs you a phone that wishes it was a Nexus 5, with half the storage. Looking at it another way, for just a few hundred bucks extra, you're in flagship phone territory, with the Sony Xperia Z or the HTC One M8 in your grasp.
If you could get a Motorola Moto X for less than a Nexus 5, I'd say buy it in a heartbeat, but at $549, it just doesn't stack up. A good phone that was ruined by price.