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

August 7, 2013 06:00 AM ET

There are also three microphones for noise reduction. I have to say that, as far as simple calling is concerned, I thought the Moto X worked extremely well. I made and received calls in some fairly noisy conditions, and at no time did any of my callers complain of any problem in hearing me (nor did I feel the need to raise my voice). I also found the sound at my end to be very clear.

There is also a speaker on the back; because of the curve of the phone, the speaker is not muffled when the Moto X is face up on a surface. I found the sound quality to be quite adequate -- more so than with most of today's smartphones.

Touchless Control and Active Display

Two of the big selling points about the Moto X are software enhancements that are available in all its new systems -- the Droid Ultra, Droid Maxx and Droid Mini as well -- are Touchless Control and Active Display.

Moto X
When you say "Okay Google Now" this screen appears, waiting for the next command.

Touchless Control lets you activate Google Now audio commands without having to actually turn on the phone by saying the phrase, "Okay Google Now." For example, if I say "Okay Google Now" the phone will light up, and one of several phases -- including "Yes," "Hello Barbara" or "Yes, Barbara" -- will appear, together with a pulsing red and gray circle. If I then say something like, "Call Jim at home," or "Directions to the Landmark Cinema in Manhattan" or "What is the weather today?" it will initiate the call, show me the directions or tell me the weather.

I found that Touchless Control worked well -- for the most part. It took only a couple of minutes to train it (by saying "Okay Google Now" three times), and after that, the phone reacted most of the time when I said the phrase, even in a fairly noisy environment. And when it did react, nine times out of ten, it got my request right.

However, occasionally it does go on strike. On several separate occasions, the Moto X performed perfectly when I tried out the Touchless Control three times in a row, but after that, it completely stopped reacting to my voice. (It worked fine again later.)

The Active Display shows you the time and indicates (via icons) if you have any messages when you move the phone -- for example, pull it from your pocket. If you do have messages, it will also "pulse" the information on and off when the phone is not moving, displaying this info and then darkening the screen every few seconds. (You can decide exactly what services will indicate new messages, voicemails, etc., and you can set it to sleep between certain hours if you don't want it going at night.) Swipe up the display in order to see any messages.

The feature is handy -- it certainly does make it simple to see what time it is and to see if you have any new emails or missed a call. I found it rather eerie, though, to have the phone pulsing on and off like that.

According to Motorola, both of these "always on" features are made possible without serious battery drain by the two extra processors -- the natural language processor and a contextual computing processor. (The latter also allows you to set a feature called Motorola Assist, which will do things like silence calls during meetings.)

The company claims that, as a result, the 2200mAh battery will last up to 24 hours under mixed usage. I used it for several days under reasonable conditions -- doing a good deal of browsing, a few phone calls, some streaming music and an hour or two of streaming videos -- and while the phone certainly didn't last 24 hours, it did go an average of 12-14 hours before hitting the red zone. (Which means that heavy users may want to have a portable battery charger available; the Moto X's battery is not swappable.)

Taking a photo

One of the big consumer draws for a phone today is its camera, and the Moto X's camera did not disappoint. Motorola has included a "quick capture" feature that allows you to take a photo by simply touching anywhere on the screen. The camera then automatically focuses and shoots.

Moto X
On the whole, the Moto X "quick capture" camera feature works well. This was taken in a moving vehicle.

I was a little wary of this feature, but I found it worked surprisingly well, making it very simple to take quick, effective pictures. I took a number of photos, several of them under fairly low-light conditions, and the resulting images were sharp and clean.

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