Motorola came on strong in announcing the Motorola Moto X,
a smartphone that promises innovative design and features, including
more awareness of the world around it than any other smartphone, and
some customized design you can use to make your phone unique without
resorting to a case.
Yet for all of Motorola’s boasting claims, the Google company’s new
flagship phone doesn’t immediately blow away its toughest competition,
the dominating Samsung Galaxy S4. Here’s how the two line up.
Design and build
A shorter phone than the jumbo-size
Galaxy s4, the Moto X has an arched, rather than flat back, which helps
make it comfortable in the hand. The rounding is noticeable when you
place it on the table; it curves up to form a smile.
There are interesting dips and dimples along to top, and a depression
on the Motorola logo where you can comfortably put your hand. A matte,
soft-touch finish keeps smudges off the patterned finish, and keeps the
phone from slipping in your hands.
There are also on-screen navigation controls instead of physical or
capacitive buttons. On the whole, the X looks and feels more premium
than the slick, high-gloss S4.
As with the Galaxy S4, the Moto X comes in white and black shades
that you can dress up with more colorful covers and back plates.
Motorola’s main personalization play is the bamboo, teak, ebony, and
rosewood backings you’ll be able to eventually can buy through Moto
Maker Web site. Colored cases in vibrant shades will also help make a
statement. Samsung’s major contribution to differentiating its device is
the aftermarket S View Cover.
Motorola’s relatively more petite Moto X has a
4.7-inch display AMOLED display with a 720p HD resolution (1280 x 720
pixels.) Contrast that with Galaxy S4’s larger, 5-inch screen and full
For pixel density counters, that’s a 312ppi for the Moto X versus the
Galaxy S4’s 441ppi. While the Galaxy S4 may make fine lines, magnified
text, and some images look a little sharper, the Moto X should still
look clear and not cloudy.
The Moto X also comes in with a lower megapixel
count on the camera front, but before you discount the newbie’s
photographic competence, keep in mind that megapixels don’t always translate into the better quality.
The new Moto X’s 10-megapixel shooter uses a technology called Clear
Pixel, which promises to let in 75 percent more light for more accurate
sunlight and night time photos. Like its trio of new Verizon-bound Droids, you can shake the Moto X to wake up its camera.
For Samsung’s part, its 13-megapixel camera comes with a basket full
of preset modes and playful options, including a setting to combine
photos from the front and rear-facing cameras.
Motorola’s image quality has, in the past, been shaky at best. It’s
really going to need to deliver clear, crisp, and colorful photos if
it’s to even approach Samsung’s generally good quality. We’ll spend
plenty of quality time comparing these shooting features in the future.
Motorola’s Moto X takes on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and other top-tier smartphones.
OS and apps
Like the Galaxy S4, Motorola’s X runs
4.2.2 Jelly Bean. Unlike Samsung, the Moto X hews closer to stock
Android, with three on-screen capacitive navigation controls. However,
there are some elements that are all Motorola’s own.
The active display element called Peek is the most obvious.
Notifications pop up on the lock screen; holding the alert bubble brings
up more details, like the message interior, even when the phone is
locked. Sliding up opens the app. (Note: this Peek is unrelated to BlackBerry 10 OS’s feature of the same name.)
Samsung’s Touch Wiz interface brings a ton of extra settings and is
highly customizable, but also a tangle to work through and really get to
know — so much so, we wrote an e-book guide for new owners.
We didn’t have a ton of time digging into Motorola’s custom Android
layer during our hands-on session, but there appeared to be options that
go along with some of its unique new features.
Contextual awareness is what Moto hopes will be the
X’s smoking gun, namely the touchless control that lets you talk to the
phone while it’s asleep and launch searches, calls, and directions when
you say “Ok, Google Now.”
This is slightly more advanced than using Google Now on other Android
phones like the S4, which you have to activate with a tap before
speaking. The same goes for Samsung’s S Voice app.
The GS4 still has its own touchless controls with eyeball and hand
gestures that have much more fringe use cases, like answering calls with
a wave, advancing music, and pausing video. There’s also a hardware IR
blaster that you can use as a TV remote control.
Moto X uses the same X8 processor as Verizon’s
new Motorola trio. Essentially, the X8 is a mashup of a customized
1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset and two digital signal
processors. Motorola claims this helps keep power consumption very low.
In the U.S., a 1.9GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor. In
some international markets, you can get a 1.6GHz 8-core Samsung Exynos
processor running the show.
The Moto X has a highly curved back and strategically-placed dimples.
Motorola says its 2,200mAH battery yields 24
hours of battery life, compared to Samsung’s 2,600mAh battery, which
will last a full work day, but will definitely not tick on for a full
trip around the clock.
Motorola has excelled at long-life batteries in its recent phones, so it’s safe to expect this one to deliver.
Price and availability
Five U.S. carriers will launch with
the Moto X: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular. You
can buy the 16 GB model in all-white or all-black in store, for $199
with a 2 year contract (T-Mobile’s off-contract price will vary.)
If you’re buying a custom unit through the Moto Maker Web site, you
can also choose a 32GB version for $249 with a 2-year contract. Carriers
will announce their exact availability for the end of August and early
September range. Unlocked versions will also make an appearance in the
Interestingly, AT&T customers will be the U.S. users who can access Moto Maker.
Samsung’s 16GB Galaxy S4 also sells for $199 on contract, and is available with a few more no-contract carriers besides.
The take away message (for now)
Motorola is coming on
strong with the Moto X, positioning it as a premium phone. There’s no
reason at this untested stage to believe that it isn’t. The screen is
still large enough to comfortably navigate; and the processor, battery
life, OS, and build all appear in tip top form.
You’ll be able to customize the design with colorful backings, or panels made of wood.
Even though it may sound less capacious, the 10-megapixel camera
could very well produce some terrific shots (just look at the HTC One’s
4-megapixel “Ultra Pixel” setup and the
Nokia Lumia 1020’s 5-megapixel versions of high-res photos.
The Moto X may not be able to change your TV channel, but it does
offer some compelling extras in the way it handles alerts through Peek,
and with the touchfree voice commands with Google Now.
Motorola’s options for customizing the hardware design will also
appeal to customers’ sense of individuality. I personally think it’s a
The camera quality is still in question, though, based on Motorola’s
track record so far, and if Google stops short of throwing its
tremendous marketing clout behind it, Samsung has all the advantage.
In an uphill battle against prime rivals, Motorola’s Moto X at least has a shot at making a dent.