Motorola struck gold with the Moto X
I guess you could say those of us here at Pocketnow who have had a chance to hold and extensively use the Moto X … well, like it. A lot. Both Michael and I are using custom Moto Xs as our daily drivers (along with a little Lumia 1020 action on the side, as well).
I’ve said it more than once privately, and I’ll say it publicly, too. The Moto X is the best Android phone I’ve used all year, if not ever. (Michael feels its about neck and neck with the HTC One, and I don’t necessarily disagree.) And others around the Web are echoing a similar message.
From a distance, it’s nothing special. It’s using an older model dual-core Krait CPU and a year-old Adreno 320 GPU. It’s certainly not meant for the power users, and it’s most definitely not for photography enthusiasts, as its cameras is one of the worst in recent history. The battery life is okay, but it’s nothing mind-blowing.
If you look at this phone’s list of specifications, you might say it’s destined to follow in the footsteps of the unfortunately short-lived HTC First. Yet, unlike the First, few of those who have actually used one have said anything remotely bad about the Moto X. (Well, if you don’t count harsh reviews of its image sensing.)
There’s a definite reason for that. The phone, top to bottom, is spectacular – the way it fits in your hand, the way the screen pulses and breathes with new notifications, and the way it listens to you when you speak to it from across the room.
From the time the Moto X was announced, there have been detractors, claiming the Moto X is a waste of space, time, money, and all the like. They say you can turn practically any phone into a Moto X with the aid of a few third-party applications from Google Play, that the HTC One or Galaxy S 4 can do a hands-free Google search using the application Open Mic+, and that Dynamic Notifications can mimic Active Display on the Moto X. You can do all this with bigger, better phones, allegedly.
It’s those very people that say the Moto X is a mid-range smartphone. And those are the ones who simply don’t get it, who won’t understand why those of us who have used the Moto X like it so much.
Russell Holly of geek.com did an experiment. He took a Google Play edition HTC One and loaded it up with Tasker, Open Mic+, and Dynamic Notifications – the three applications said to mirror the Moto X experience. Side by side, he compared it with the Moto X. And he did it to prove a point – two points, actually, that we already knew.
These are points I explained in a Google+ post on Friday. First, Android is flexible, and no matter what OEM-specific feature is announced, some developer will recreate it for other devices. Smart Stay, for example, has a handful of copycats in Google Play. The other, and most important point, is that features that were not intended for certain bits of hardware, often fall short of the built-in experience.
Active Display, for example, works so well because it’s running on an AMOLED display, meaning all the black pixels are actually turned off. Only a few hundred white pixels turn on to display pending notifications. If you throw Dynamic Display on the HTC One, every time the screen pulses, the entire display lights up, chugging – not sipping – precious battery life. And The X8 mobile computing system on the Moto X has a dedicated chip onboard for natural language processing. It’s a low-power core dedicated to listening to your voice. Open Mic+, presumably, uses the standard CPU and likely has a much greater effect on your battery life.
We already know these things. You can always mimic any software feature you like, and you can turn your existing phone into a janky superphone with knockoff Moto X, Galaxy S 4, and HTC One features with practically any other Android phone.
But all of that is moot. None of it will equate to the well polished and integrated experience offered by software that is perfectly crafted to cater to particular advantages of the hardware.
This year, I’ve reviewed the Xperia Z, LG Optimus G Pro, HTC First, Samsung Galaxy S 4, Galaxy Mega 6.3, and Xperia Z Ultra. And I’ve juggled a Galaxy Note II, Nexus 4, and HTC One for the last few months. And I’ve narrowed them all down to a common denominator, with the exception of the HTC First. They’re all trying to be something they’re not: a well-rounded device with tons of horsepower.
Motorola understands something its counterparts apparently cannot. Cramming the absolute best of everything into a single device does not directly translate to the best experience possible. Motorola focused less on satisfying the spec junkies and worried about the one factor that truly matters: user experience.
We have a feeling that’s Google’s hand at work. And frankly, we don’t care, because Motorola may be the manufacturer to set Android on the right path, to slow things down and force its competition to think about the end user experience more than selling a bundle of poorly optimized specifications and half-baked software features.
There is a joy I get each and every time I pick up the Moto X – something I can’t say about any other Android phone to date. I pick it up and my finger glides right into the M logo dimple on the back. I tap my Skip magnet to the back of the phone, it unlocks. I speak to it and it answers.
Motorola (and probably a little bit of Google) built this phone around real use cases, ergonomics, and improved upon the shortcomings of other smartphones of late. No one wants to scroll in the browser by tilting their head or scrunch their nose and blink twice to take a picture. But touching my phone to a sticker on my desk to unlock it or asking my phone a question from a few feet away are features I can and will use often.
Will the Moto X take from the likes of the HTC One or Galaxy S 4? Unfortunately, it’s not very likely. But there’s a reason so many of us journos are raving about a seemingly mediocre device. And we can only hope that our excitement and Motorola’s message trickles down to general consumers.