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Revisiting the Moto X: Only the good die young

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January 31, 2014

Gizmag takes one last look at the Moto X: a groundbreaking phone we may or may not see mor...

Gizmag takes one last look at the Moto X: a groundbreaking phone we may or may not see more of

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This week Google shocked the tech world by announcing that it was selling Motorola Mobility to Lenovo. While that raises lots of questions about future Motorola phones, it doesn't take anything away from the company's current flagship, made entirely under Google ownership. Read on, as we use our first hands-on with the wood-backed version as an excuse to revisit the terrific Moto X.

If you're a hardcore Google or Android fan, then this week's news might have felt a little like hearing about a beloved rockstar or actor dying young. Google's Motorola may not have been profitable (quite the opposite, actually), but it came out with guns blazing and achieved something that had once seemed impossible. It made an innovative smartphone in 2013.

Sometimes we review products that seem fresh and innovative at the time, but then we look back just a few months later and realize that the novelty quickly faded. Not the Moto X. When Motorola had announced the phone, many were disappointed that it didn't have the rumored cutting-edge specs or a rock-bottom price. But that quickly evaporated as we got our hands on it and realized that the phone's "mid-range" specs didn't require any compromise. Five months after its launch, the Moto X's innovative software and sensor-based features still lead to a richer overall experience than damn near any other phone out there.

Our ebony Moto X weighs five percent more than the plastic version

I recently got my hands on one of the wood-backed versions of the Moto X (I opted for Ebony), and I think it looks and feels amazing. I haven't had this much organic material on a phone since I dropped my iPhone 3Gs in a toilet, but trust me, this one looks (and smells) much better. The wooden Moto X looks much more striking in person than it does in pictures. I personally think the wood back is well worth the extra US$25. It's unique, classy, and brings a rustic charm to a smartphone. Can't say I've ever seen that before.

Apart from the extra cost, the only tradeoff to the wood back is the extra weight that it adds. The standard Moto X weighs a feathery 130 g (4.59 oz), but my Ebony one weighs 137 g (4.83 oz). That's only five percent more heft, but it does feel noticeably denser in hand.

There isn't a lot else to say about the wood back. It feels smooth (no splinters in sight), is only a little heavier, and oozes style. If you like the look of fine wood grains, then I recommend opting for this over the standard (plastic) one. If that's your thing, you're going to love it. I know I do.

There are bigger and sharper displays, but the Moto X's 4.7-in 720p display delivers the g...

As for the phone itself, well, you could easily argue that it's still the best smartphone out there. When you compete on specs or gimmicky features, your phone is practically guaranteed to be surpassed within a few months. But when you come up with something truly different, with the little things that delight customers and make things more convenient, then your phone can continue to shine long after the fact. That's what we're looking at with the Moto X.

In case you missed this the first time around, its innovation comes from things like Active Display, which subtly pulses basic lockscreen info onto your sleeping phone's screen. The phone has sensors baked in that let it know whether to pulse – and how often. If it's in your pocket, it'll save the juice and stay off. But if it's sitting face up on your desk, it will occasionally pulse. Pick it up, and it will instantly start pulsing. See? It's those thoughtful little things that Samsung, Apple, and HTC never thought of.

Touchless Control lets you activate Google Now without touching your phone

It's also things like Touchless Control, which lets you summon Google Now without even touching your Moto X. Train your phone to recognize your voice, and anytime you say "OK Google Now," Google's voice assistant will spring into action, ready to help you send a message, check the traffic or a sports score, or play that new album you added in Google Play Music.

There are other little touches too, like twisting your phone a couple of times to instantly activate its camera. Or the Moto X's built-in "Trusted Devices," which lets you skip your passcode security when it's connected to a trusted Bluetooth device (like, say, a car stereo, a smartwatch, or Google Glass). Or Motorola Assist, that detects when you're driving, in a meeting, or sleeping, and lets you customize how the phone interacts with you based on those conditions.

The Moto X runs almost stock Android

These are the things that make you realize how silly the race to have the biggest and best specs is. It's not that we don't love a good Snapdragon 800-running phone like the Nexus 5, but I think smartphone specs hit a "more than good enough" threshold over a year ago. We used to focus more on performance in our reviews, but now, at least with high-end phones, it's usually barely worth mentioning. Now they're almost always going to be fast enough for just about any conceivable use. So why not skip spec overkill and opt for a phone with something truly revolutionary, like the Moto X?

That's why there's such a sadness hanging over Google's unexpected decision to sell off Motorola. Lenovo could continue the company's trajectory, and do innovative things with future phones. Or not. It's that uncertainty that puts a damper on the Moto X's achievement. It's as if The Beatles had broken up after Revolver. We'd just seen something great – with glimmers of something much greater on the horizon – but then it was suddenly over. Maybe Lenovo will make Motorola's equivalent of Sgt. Pepper or The White Album. Or maybe it will make something more like Ringo's latest solo album.

Along with Ebony, Motorola also sells natural versions in bamboo, teak, and walnut

While there's a temptation to see the once-fascinating Motorola brand as damaged and stained, Google's sale shouldn't have any effect on the Moto X that you can buy today. And fortunately it can be had for some of its best pricing yet. Motorola now lets you design your own Moto X – assembled at its Texas plant – for just $330 off contract. Snag a coupon code from someone who took advantage of a recent promotion, and you're only paying $300. Of course you still add $25 if you want the wood back, but that's still one hell of a deal. It's standing toe-to-toe with the Nexus 5 as the best smartphone value around right now.

We don't know what the future holds for the Motorola brand, but the Moto X is still one of our most highly-recommended smartphones. After reading our initial and extended reviews of the standard version, you can roll your own Moto X at the product page below.

Product page: Motorola

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About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
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3 Comments

Who but Google would take an 85-year-old, Made in America company and sell it to foreign interests?

Well, wait... I guess a lot more than Google have done that. But that's the problem.

Anne Ominous
31st January, 2014 @ 11:55 am PST

That's capitalism, Anne - deal with it.

Keith Reeder
1st February, 2014 @ 01:16 am PST

Could be that this is exactly why Lenovo bought them. It's comforting to think it could imply more such thinking and design to come. Lenovo is a much better home for this line than is Google.

DonGateley
3rd February, 2014 @ 10:09 am PST
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