The Moto X doesn’t really feel like “progress”

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In the week that’s followed the launch of the Moto X, you’ve no doubt heard a lot of opinions about the smartphone. We’ve had plenty to say about the unusual handset, ranging from negative to positive, a theme that extends to our full Moto X review.

I found myself approaching the Moto X with some pretty high expectations, and though I think I really do appreciate what Motorola’s trying to do here – redefining both how we relate to our phones and how we interact with them – I struggle to identify all these features as capital-p progress being made. There’s a lot that’s different, and certainly some things that are being done better than everywhere else. But when I take it all in at once, I’m just not as impressed as I was hoping to be.

The Moto X Is A Half-Measure

So much has been said already about Motorola’s choice of hardware components for the Moto X that I’m sure I risk sounding like a broken record here, but the big deal with this phone isn’t about how the specs compare to other Androids, but what Motorola was able to do with them. By augmenting a tried-and-true SoC design with optimized code and companion DSPs, Motorola’s been able to teach that old Snapdragon dog some new tricks.

new-motorola-logoBut this whole X8 Moto Compu-Porto deal just doesn’t “click” for me. Especially with all the focus Motorola’s placing on the phone’s voice control features, I’m drawn back again and again to thinking about the Snapdragon 800, with its own very similar sounding capabilities.

It’s enough to make me wonder: why doesn’t the Moto X simply run an 800? You know, path of least resistance and all. If the rumors about the Moto X being a super-affordable budget-priced phone – one that could have undercut even the Nexus 4 – were even remotely accurate, I could more easily understand Motorola’s decision. But instead, the Moto X has launched with a price tag that almost seems excessive – so why NOT spring for the beefier chip?

Maybe there was a bit of Motorola pride at play – wanting to make a big statement and show would it could do on its own – but that just goes back to my lack of progress; it’s a move that’s good Motorola PR, but isn’t necessarily leading smartphones in general anywhere better. It’s like we took a detour from the smartphone highway to the future and are killing some time doing laps in Motorola’s parking lot.

And back to that X8 name for a moment – if Motorola is trying to distance itself from the hardware rat race and focus more on real-world performance and capabilities than just raw specs, why the heck is it calling this system the X8, specifically drawing attention to the “core” count (while playing fast and loose with the common usage of that word, as well)?

Talking To Yourself

My big issue with the Moto X’s always-listening voice input is something Taylor already touched on in an editorial yesterday: this isn’t fundamentally new, and is more of the next gradual evolution of smartphone voice control than anything game-changing.

I use voice control quite a bit with Google Now, but I simply don’t find myself in positions where having to pick up the phone and press a button stops me from using it; I really don’t think we’re quite as lazy as Motorola is banking on. In the end, this might be a big convenience for already-heavy voice command users, but it’s not like there was a huge bar to entry in the first place – if you liked this stuff, you’d already be doing it.

Isn’t that progress in the sense of “fleshing-out existing voice control implementations?” Sure, I’ll concede that. But this isn’t the change that will bring us the ST:TNG computer Michael dreams of; it’s a tiny step, not a leap.

Let’s Play Dress Up

moto-x-colors-wheelI love what Motorola’s doing with Moto X custom options. As probably shouldn’t be too surprising form all I’ve written about it over the preceding months, I only wish it gave users even more options to choose from.

Here, probably more than with any other decision Motorola made for this phone, it’s about being different – but not necessarily better.

Yes, custom designs may help foster a better relationship between users and their phones. Yes, it’s going to get Motorola a lot of much-needed attention. But I still can’t shake the feeling that I should be a whole lot less dazzled by this than I am. It’s window dressing. Buying a Moto X just because of the zany color combos is like choosing one platform over another because the icons are prettier.

But That Said…

I like the Moto X. It doesn’t do everything right, and it may not be the phone for me, but it’s certainly more inspired than the cookie-cutter dreck the market sometimes looks like. If it was a LOT less expensive, I’d probably even consider buying one.

When all is said and done, I see the Moto X like a remix; it’s not going out there leading the pack or anything, but it’s taking pieces of what others have done and putting them together in a new, interesting way. That’s fine, and I think we could stand to see more manufacturers experimenting like this. I’m just not convinced that the Moto X alone is moving us forward very much.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!