Motorola Moto X Hands-On: It's All Good

With the Moto X, Google and Motorola have a rare thing—an Android smartphone that stands out.


AT&T began selling the Moto X—the first collaborative device from Motorola and parent company Google—Friday, Aug. 23, for $199.99 with a new two-year contract.

Verizon Wireless will also sell the Moto X, though it hasn't confirmed a date (reportedly, leaked documents say Aug. 29) and so will Sprint ("later this summer"), T-Mobile (though not directly), U.S. Cellular (it's now accepting preorders) and Best Buy (it's also accepting preorders for AT&T, Verizon and Sprint models).

If these various parties can get consumers to pick up and try out a Moto X, they're going to sell some phones because, the thing is, on paper, the Moto X is no stand out.

Its rear camera, a 10-megapixel Clear Pixel (RFBG), is fine but nothing special.

Its display, a 4.7-inch active-matrix organic LED (AMOLED) (RGB) with an HD 720p resolution, is bright and nice, but that's not the kind of resolution that makes a person feel compelled to run and find someone, anyone, to show it off to. (The Samsung Galaxy S 4 and the HTC One, both a few months old now, have resolutions of 1080 by 1920; it's a difference one definitely notices.)

But after tinkering with the Moto X for a bit—and to be clear, this is not a full, proper review—I'm pretty smitten.

My favorite feature, by far, is Touchless Control—which is on three other new Motorola smartphones, as well.

Cooking and have dirty hands but need to pull up the recipe you thought you knew by heart? Say, "OK, Google Now," to your sleeping, dark phone, and you're on your way.

Need to convert measurements? Check the weather? Find directions while sitting beside a driving spouse who has little patience to wait while you wake a phone, launch an app and type in an address? Those three little words make life feel refreshingly, newly efficient. Futuristic, even.

This is especially the case because you don't have to ask the same question, in an increasingly slowed down and hyper-enunciated way, three times. Google Now is a great listener.

The only word that tripped it up during the dozens of requests I made to it was "pastrami." (I'll save you a search. For the best New York sandwiches, go to Katz's Deli for the pastrami and DeFonte's for everything else.)

The phone feels good in the hand—the back is rounded slightly, which is comfortable, and it seems smaller than one expects it to be, given its 4.7-inch display.

The display, too, is comfortable. It's responsive and satisfying to touch. Like the keyboard, it feels very tight—the tactile response is aggressive, whereas some phones feel softer.

The AT&T version I tried had access to the carrier's Long Term Evolution (LTE) network and was fantastically fast, instantly loading pages, no matter how quickly I bounced from one to the next, how many tabs I had open in the browser or the long list of apps I had open. (On that front, another nice feature is a virtual button to the right of the home screen "button" on the bottom, offering a glance or fast access to all the apps you recently used.)

Another nice little perk is the Moto X's ability to go from dark screen to launched camera by picking it up and quickly twisting your wrist twice. (Though chances are excellent you'll still miss that shot of the kids, as the shutter is less interested in speed than on focusing properly).

Finally, there's the feature that sets the Moto X apart from absolutely everything else currently on the market.

You can customize it.

AT&T sent me a plain Jane, all-white model that's attractive (though there's a texture on the back that one can see but not touch, which is weirdly unsatisfying). Buyers, however, will be able to access something called Moto Maker (through sites like AT&T's or Motorola directly) that will let users design their Moto X from top to bottom, choosing colors for the panels, buttons and even the ring around the camera, as well as materials (wood will be option, eventually), wallpapers and accents. You can add a logo to the back or customize the software, even, with a personal greeting.

Google is now referring to Motorola as "a Google company." The Moto X proves that's now more than marketing-speak.

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.