Hands on with Moto X, the phone that just might save Motorola

Motorola is finally making a play for smartphone relevance. Although the company’s previous Android handsets were generally well-received, they've never achieved the same popularity that Samsung enjoys with its Galaxy line. That may soon change, as the Moto X is easily one of the most interesting Android phones Motorola has produced in recent memory.

I managed to snag some alone time with the Moto X on Thursday and walked away from the encounter with a better idea of how Motorola is trying to position itself in the smartphone market.

A full spectrum of color choices

The Moto X will be available in a host of colors.

This is is easily Motorola’s best-looking handset to date: While the company’s previous Android efforts are boxy and rigid, the Moto X features gentle curves that help the phone rest comfortably in your hand. The Moto X is made primarily of a composite material that doesn’t feel as flimsy as the plastics used in other smartphones, although I would have preferred if Motorola had used aluminum. The back of the phone can be customized to be practically any color you can imagine, and I was particularly smitten with a red model Motorola had on display at the event.

The front of the phone features a 4.7-inch, 1280-by-720 AMOLED display. It looks good, but it's not as impressive as the displays of other recent Android phones from Samsung, HTC, and LG. It’s disappointing that Motorola didn’t opt to go with a higher resolution display, but I honestly doubt most people will care—the 316 pixels per inch you get on the Moto X is comparable to the 326 pixels per inch offered by Apple’s Retina display iPhone 5.

You don't even have to touch it to use it

Much like the Verizon Droids that Motorola announced at the end of July, the Moto X is powered by a 1.7GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor that uses Motorola’s custom X8 system architecture. The phone didn’t seem any less responsive than any of the quad-core phones I’ve tested in the past, though I did notice a bit of lag when taking photos and trying out the voice recognition software in Google Now. The Moto X has “touchless controls” that you activate by saying “Okay Google Now” followed by a command.

It's always listening for "Okay Google Now," even when you're not touching it.

You can activate touchless controls at any time—even when the phone is in sleep mode—and the software learns your voice so you don’t run into the problem of other people trying to activate your phone. Unfortunately, you can’t change the trigger phrase to anything you like, though I’m sure some clever hacker will figure out a way to customize it into something awesome. (“Make it so, number one.”)

The Moto X has a 10-megapixel camera that uses an RGBC sensor, which features a fourth "clear" pixel in addition to the standard red/green/blue, to take in more light and improve performance in low-light environments. The camera worked well in the dimly lit demo room at the event, and it will be interesting to see how well it performs out in the real world. Motorola’s previous Android phones didn’t have stand-out cameras, so I’m glad the company is finally taking steps to improve this feature.

It looks like Motorola is finally paying serious attention to the camera.

The camera app on the Moto X is custom-built and lets you take a photo by simply tapping anywhere on the screen. You use a gesture to access the camera settings, which is also how you switch between taking regular photos and panoramas. Unfortunately, there’s no option for all-encompassing photospheres, which is a shame considering how much better this camera performs compared to the one on the Nexus 4.

An even bigger shame is that the Moto X ships with Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2. Motorola told me it definitely plans on updating the phone to the recently announced Android 4.3, but that update could take weeks (or even months) to roll out. For a company owned by Google, you’d think Motorola would be able to ship a phone running the latest version of Google’s mobile OS—especially when the two worked so closely together on developing this device.

Don't call it a comeback, yet

Motorola may need more than just customizable phones to become a dominant force in the phone market again.

All things considered, the Moto X is almost a re-birth of sorts for Motorola. It proves that Motorola does know how to make a stylish phone that can compete with the likes of Samsung and HTC, and shows us that Motorola is willing to try new things to stand out from the rest of the Android horde.

Although the phone is launching on all four major carriers, it's entirely possible the Moto X will be overshadowed by its Verizon Droid cousins as they share many of the same specs and features in a slightly different form factor. I know plenty of people who would be willing to give up customizability if it meant their phone could go 48 hours without charging, like the new Droid Maxx. Only time will tell if this new Motorola was worth the 13 billion Google spent to acquire it.

Follow TechHive on Tumblr today.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

Shop ▾
arrow up Amazon Shop buttons are programmatically attached to all reviews, regardless of products' final review scores. Our parent company, IDG, receives advertisement revenue for shopping activity generated by the links. Because the buttons are attached programmatically, they should not be interpreted as editorial endorsements.

Subscribe to the Power Tips Newsletter