Does a smartphone market dominated by Apple and Samsung have room for a third major player? That's what Google-owned Motorola is hoping for, with the new Moto X. The phone is reportedly going to have an insane half-billion dollar marketing budget, but does it have the goods to back that up? Let's try to find out, as we compare it to Samsung's Galaxy S4.
The Moto X is definitely a bit smaller. To be exact, it's six percent shorter, and seven percent narrower than the Galaxy S4. There is, however, one area where it's bigger: the curved Moto X, at its thickest point, is 32 percent thicker than the GS4.
Well looky here, weights are identical. Of course, as we just discussed, the Galaxy S4 is bigger, so its 130 g (4.59 oz) of heft is spread out over about eight percent more surface area.
The Moto X is a phone designed around marketing, rather than spec showdowns. Its chassis is the first area where we see that.
Like the rumored budget iPhone, the Moto X will be sold in a variety of colors and textures. US customers can go online and customize the cosmetic details of their Moto X, which will supposedly be delivered within four days from Motorola's Texas assembly plant.
Perhaps the most interesting thing here is the wooden version. Yes, Motorola is currently testing several models of the Moto X that are made of actual wood. This is unprecedented, and, frankly, we can't wait to get our hands on one. The wooden Moto X phones are expected to ship in Q4 of this year.
The Galaxy S4's display is bigger and sharper than the Moto X's. This is another area where we're reminded that the Moto X wasn't designed to win spec battles and make geeks drool. The GS4's 1080p display may be superior, but we imagine the Moto X's screen sharpness and quality should suffice for your typical smartphone shopper.
The Moto X also only gives you 88 percent as much screen area as the GS4. Well, technically it gives you 88 percent: the Moto X's usable screen area is even smaller than that, due to its persistent onscreen navigation bar. The Galaxy S4 uses physical and capacitive keys below the screen, so it doesn't need onscreen buttons.
Like the Droid Maxx and Droid Ultra, the Moto X features Motorola's X8 system on a chip. The processor part of that equation is basically a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, which should deliver great performance.
Likewise, the Galaxy S4 is still one of the most powerful phones you can buy, with its Snapdragon 600 or Exynos 5 Octa, depending on where you live.
Don't get us wrong, Moto didn't skimp too much on hardware specs, as the X phone also has an ample 2 GB of RAM.
Apparently the 32 GB version of the Moto X is an AT&T exclusive, so everyone else will need to make do with 16 GB. There's also no microSD card slot, which the Galaxy S4 has.
No surprises here. Like the GS4, the Moto X will ride speedy 4G LTE networks, as long as your carrier provides it.
Power management is another feature Motorola is selling with the X phone. Even though its battery has less capacity than the Galaxy S4, Moto is saying that the X will last up to 24 hours with "mixed usage." We'll be able to tell you soon whether the Moto X lives up to these claims.
Another item to note is that the GS4's battery is removable. The Moto X's is sealed shut.
The Moto X also has a feature called Active Display, which provides notifications while your screen is off in a subtle, pulsating, power-saving manner.
The Moto X's rear camera has a pretty high pixel count, with its 10.5-megapixel sensor. Marketed as Clear Pixel, the Omnivision-made sensor is also claimed to deliver outstanding low-light performance, perhaps similar to the HTC One.
Perhaps the most important part about the Moto X's camera, though, is the way you activate it. Motorola wants to make it as fast and easy as possible to snap a pic. So give two quick rotations of your wrist, and the camera will pop up from anywhere. Tap anywhere on the screen, and it will snap a photo. Again, the Moto X is all about handy little details like this prioritized over winning all the benchmark wars.
Motorola surprised a few people by announcing that the Moto X will ship with Android 4.2.2. Being owned by Google, you'd think the latest version of Android, 4.3, would be in tow here. Android 4.3 is a pretty minor update over 4.2, though, so that might not end up being a deal-breaker.
The biggest difference between these two is the presence of Samsung's TouchWiz on the GS4. It's full of flash, pomp, and, some would say, gimmickry. TouchWiz's feature set is extensive, but we found very few of those features that we still use months after release.
Google Play Edition
If you don't mind ponying up US$650, you can already get the Galaxy S4 Google Play Edition. It loses the TouchWiz, and runs pure Android. We find this to be a much leaner and more streamlined experience than the bloated TouchWiz.
There isn't a Google Play version of the Moto X yet, but we understand that one is in the pipeline. Since it almost runs stock Android as is, it's hard to see a huge advantage there. Though quicker software updates and the latest version of Android would be nice bonuses.
This is probably the Moto X's killer feature. Google Now is our favorite mobile assistant, and now you can use it without touching your phone. Even if your screen is off, say "Ok Google Now" and your Moto X will spring into action, ready to give you the info you're looking for. It also learns your voice, so (theoretically) only a really good impersonator could activate your phone with voice.
If near-field communication is your thing, then both phones deliver. That crowdfunded NFC Ring can get here none too soon.
Wrap-upIt's interesting that so many phone manufacturers are still playing the spec one-upmanship game. Don't get us wrong, we love 1080p screens, 41 MP cameras, and cutting-edge processors as much as the next guy. But if you take a step back, does the general population of smartphone shoppers care about these things as much as the geekier among us do? We suspect the answer is no, and we also suspect that's what Motorola was thinking here.
It will be interesting to see whether the total Moto X package adds up to something worth recommending. You can get an early taste of that with our hands-on video, and you can also stay tuned for our early review within the coming days.