Moto X revisited: One year with the 'new' Motorola's first flagship phone

moto x revisited

My, how time flies.

It's hard to believe it was a full year ago when we were getting , the first handset to emerge from Motorola following its Google-led makeover.

A lot has changed since then -- to put it mildly -- but one thing that's remained the same is the type of experience Motorola's been focused on giving to its customers.

I should know: I bought the Moto X shortly after its launch and have been using it as my own personal phone ever since. It's always around me -- and whenever I'm not actively testing or reviewing a new product, it's the phone I carry with me and use every day.

Moto X Revisited

Back when I first evaluated the Moto X, I had this to say about the device:

What makes the Moto X so special isn't any particular spec or feature; it's the way the whole package fits together. The Moto X succeeds where so many other phones fail -- at providing a cohesive and outstanding overall user experience.

So one year later, with the launch of a second-gen model right around the corner, how has the Moto X held up relative to the rest of the Android world? Some scattered thoughts after many months of use:

The body

The Moto X is still my favorite phone to use in terms of form and design. It doesn't have the premium vibe of an also-excellent device like the HTC One (M8), but what it does have is a sense of warmth and comfort that makes it really pleasant to hold. When I finish a review and return to it, it's often a sense of relief -- a feeling of: "Ahh. This is actually comfortable to use. How novel!"

Part of that is the size -- unlike the typical gigantic flagship phone of today, the Moto X actually fits naturally in your hand and pocket -- and part of it is the choice of materials. While plastic may not look as premium as something like metal or glass, the soft-touch finish used on Moto's base-level backing just feels good to the touch and has a pleasant if somewhat unassuming appearance. It's also not treated in a gaudy or tacky manner or presented in a way that's , as we often see with plastic on phones.

Moto X Revisited (2)

The Moto X's wood back option, meanwhile, doesn't have quite the same outstanding feel but does look incredibly sleek and cool.

As far as wear and tear, my plastic-backed X looks as good now as it did when I bought it. My brother happens to own a wood-backed model -- he has an excellent advisor for his tech-purchasing decisions -- and his has held up nicely as well. (He did have a broken screen several months after he bought the phone -- his own fault -- but Motorola, much to my surprise, sent him a replacement unit, no questions asked.)

The display

OMG, it's 720p! We've heard plenty of griping about the Moto X's display over the months -- mainly from people who read the spec sheet but never lived with the phone.

The truth is that at its 4.7-in. size, the Moto X's screen packs around 316 pixels per inch and actually looks quite good. The AMOLED panel helps provide deeper blacks and richer colors than what many LCD displays deliver, and in real-world use, there's really very little to complain about.

The screen may not be a wow-inducing highlight like the displays on the One (M8) or LG G3, but it's also nothing I gaze at and think, "Man, if only this had more pixels."

The performance

Another common area of complaint -- again, primarily from those who judged the phone based solely on its spec sheet -- was the unusual configuration Motorola implemented with the device's processor. Between that and the 720p display, plenty of folks have derided the Moto X as a "midrange phone" (SAY IT AIN'T SO!).

What actually matters, though, is what a phone is like to use in the real world -- and whatever you want to say about numbers, the Moto X is no slouch. It may not feel quite as snappy as, say, HTC's One (M8) -- few devices do -- but it's smooth, speedy, and a notch above many of the benchmark-friendly "high-end" flagships out there today. It doesn't have the jerkiness and lag of Samsung's Galaxy S4 or S5, for instance, and I was shocked to see how much faster it felt than LG's spec-dripping G3.

It really goes to show you how little numbers alone mean in this day and age.

The battery life

Okay but could be better. I don't usually have trouble making it through a full day, but I have more close calls than I'd like. This is one place where I hope we'll see some improvements with the next-gen model.

Support for wireless charging would also be a nice addition.

The camera

The camera isn't the Moto X's strongest point, but with the numerous software-level updates Motorola has provided over the months, it's grown to be pretty decent. I've used it to snap many of the images I share on social media and even in some of my stories (including -- surprise, surprise -- the images on this page, which were taken with my wife's Moto X).

I'd call it "pretty good," overall. It isn't a deal-breaker for me, personally, but there's definitely room for improvement here as well.

The software

This is where the Moto X really continues to shine -- and an area I continue to appreciate every time I come back to the phone. Rather than doing what most manufacturers do and misguidedly within the Android user interface, Motorola stuck with the clean and intuitive core Android UI and modified the software only in ways that actually added meaningful value.

It's like a "stock-plus" setup, if you will -- the same sort of experience you'd get on a "pure Android" Google Nexus device, only with a handful of tweaks and extra functions that serve to enhance the user experience.

This pays off in several ways: First, the UI is pleasant to use -- no arbitrary moving of elements or adjusting of design that end up making the system less attractive or harder to navigate. Second, updates come fast and frequently; Motorola has generally been delivering OS upgrades to the Moto X within days of their release, sometimes even beating Google's own Nexus devices to the punch.

And third, the stuff Motorola added into the OS is legitimately useful -- and continues to grow and evolve on its own, with frequent updates outside of the full OS packages.

Active Display, which causes relevant info to periodically flash on the screen, is something I really miss when I use any other device. The concept behind Touchless Control is now available on more phones, which is awesome, but Moto's implementation still has the advantage of allowing you to activate and control your phone by voice even when the screen is off -- which makes a huge difference in its usefulness when you're driving or just don't have your phone in hand (especially after you expand the types of commands Android Voice Search can perform).

Moto X Touchless Control

All in all, Moto gets software right -- and a full year later, that's more apparent than ever when you compare the Moto X to most other Android phones.

When I originally evaluated the Moto X, I summed things up thusly:

If you're looking for specific isolated pieces of technology -- the highest resolution screen around, for instance, or the best possible camera you can get -- the Moto X probably isn't the phone for you. It's by no means a perfect device, and there are absolutely individual areas where other smartphones come out ahead.

But if you're looking for a thoughtfully designed phone with genuinely compelling features -- and, most important, a cohesive and outstanding overall user experience that'll delight you from the moment you pick it up -- you'll be hard-pressed to find another product that matches what the Moto X provides.

Revisiting the phone a year later, I think those comments still tell the story well. Sometimes, the sum of a product is greater than its parts -- and while you can certainly find devices that have more attention-grabbing components than the Moto X, the phone remains one of the best overall experiences you can find today. If you ask me, that's pretty damn impressive.

Now let's see what Motorola does to move things forward for the device's next generation -- and how things do or don't evolve as Lenovo starts to show its influence in the future.


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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