Moto X deep dive review: Hype aside, it's a really good phone

The Moto X Android smartphone may not be as groundbreaking as expected, but it offers consumers a great mobile experience.

The introduction of the Moto X last Thursday was accompanied by a great deal of hoopla from Motorola Mobility, which was acquired by Google a year ago, and no small amount of curiosity from the press and from users, who were eager to find out what the first phone designed after the acquisition would be like.

Moto X
The Moto X has been designed to be attractive to consumers.

I've been using the Moto X as my sole smartphone since Thursday, putting it through its paces. And while the Moto X is not any kind of revolution in mobile technology, neither is it the complete disappointment that some are complaining about. Instead, it is an interesting attempt at a user-friendly and configurable mobile device.

First, the specs

The Moto X, which will be available at the end of August from all four major U.S. carriers, is lightweight and smaller than some of the more powerful smartphones out there -- or, for that matter, some of Motorola's recently announced phones. If you compare it with Motorola's upcoming Droid Ultra, which, like the Moto X, is priced at $199 with a 2-year contract, there are many similarities -- along with a couple of major differences.

To begin with, the Moto X, with its 4.7-in. display, measures a modest 5.09 x 2.57 in.; the back is curved (more on that later) and so its depth ranges from 0.22 to 0.41 in. It weighs 4.58 oz. On the other hand, the Droid Ultra, which comes with a 5-in. display, is somewhat larger at 5.41 x 2.80 x 0.28 in. and weighs 4.83 oz., only slightly heavier.

Both phones come with Motorola's X8 Mobile Computing System, which includes a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro dual-core processor and two additional processors that handle natural language and contextual computing. They both come with 2GB RAM and 16GB storage (although there will be a 32GB version of the Moto X for an extra $50).

The displays' specs are also similar. Both offer AMOLED Gorilla Glass displays with 1280 x 720 resolution, although the Moto X has a slightly better 316 pixels per inch (PPI) compared to the Droid Ultra's 294. And both have 10-megapixel rear cameras and 2-megapixel front cameras.

Both support Bluetooth 4.0 LE + EDR, can connect over 4G LTE networks and can be used as a mobile hotspot. Both also support 802.11n Wi-Fi, although the Moto X adds 802.11ac to the mix.

Even the software is much the same. Both cameras ship with Android 4.2.2 (instead of the more recent Android 4.3), along with a number of added features such as Touchless Control, which lets you activate the phone with your voice, and Active Display, which shows information on the screen when the phone is moved even slightly.

So what does the Moto X bring to the table that offsets the Droid Ultra's larger display? And, for that matter, how does Motorola/Google plan to compete with phones such as the HTC One or the Galaxy S4, with their 1080p displays?

Look and feel

To begin with, style. The Moto X has been specifically designed as a consumer-focused smartphone, and company representatives emphasize the device's look and ease-of-use features.

According to company reps at the press introduction, the Moto X has been purposefully made smaller in order to be more comfortable to hold and use. This is in contrast to what seems to be a general trend toward larger screens; as this was being written, rumors were spreading that Samsung was about to introduce a smartphone with a 6.3-in. display.

And the phone is very comfortable, although I'm not sure how much the rounded back has to do with that, since I tend to hold my phones by the edges. The case is made of a composite material with the feel of soft plastic, but I didn't get the impression that it was at all flimsy or fragile.

The general slimness of the phone is emphasized by the fact that the bezel around the 4.7-in. display is narrow and takes up as little space as possible. Motorola accomplishes this by not adding the capacitive hardware buttons that so many smartphones come with (unnecessarily, since current versions of Android come with onscreen versions of those buttons). In addition, the Moto X doesn't include any type of LED to signal new emails, messages or voicemails, something that the Active Display (more on that in a moment) makes moot.

Besides the front-facing and rear-facing cameras, there is the usual micro USB port on the bottom for power and a hardwire connection, and an audio port on the top. Both the power button and the volume rocker are on the right edge, an arrangement I've never been that fond of, since I occasionally hit the power button when I'm trying to increase the volume.

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