A step back in time: Going back to my 2013 Android phone for perspective

After months of using a Nexus 6P, this writer boldly goes back to the ancient era of 2013 to see what living with a first-gen Moto X feels like today.

2013 Android Phone

Two things you should know about me: First, I'm a sucker for nostalgia. And second, I'm a full-fledged, card-carrying member of the International Association of Unashamed Packrats (and damn it, you'd better believe I still have the card).

Between those two qualities -- and also, you know, just the nature of my job -- I rarely get rid of my own old smartphones. I've got a hefty stack of fined aged devices sitting in my desk, and every now and then, one of those dusty old demons actually comes in handy.

That was the case last week, when my wife's Nexus 5X kicked the bucket without warning. While we waited for her warranty replacement to arrive, I powered up my ol' 2014 Moto X, added her as a user, and had her up and running on it in no time -- almost as if nothing had happened.

Her experience stepping back in time for a few days got me thinking about the value that sort of perspective might provide. After all, this mobile-tech world of ours moves so fast that it's easy to lose track of how our experiences have evolved.

I thought about spending a few days using the 2014 Moto X myself to see what sort of impression it'd make on me at this point, some nine months into my Nexus 6P ownership. Then I thought to myself, "Heck, why not take it back a notch from there? The original Moto X was a far more significant phone. And it's a year older." Then I thought to myself, "Man, I sure could go for a sandwich about now."

After happily devouring a hoagie, I got back to the task at hand. I dug out my original 2013 Moto X, all pretty in blue, and got to work moving myself into the thing.

Hello, old friend

It's funny how time can influence your perception. The Moto X in my desk obviously hasn't changed a bit since I last used it, but the world outside of that drawer sure has -- and man, does that phone ever look tiny. Like, almost laughably so.

Android Phones: Nexus 6P, Moto X

Pocket growth: 2015's Nexus 6P next to 2013's first-gen Moto X

For me, coming from the gigantic Nexus 6P, the original Moto X feels like some sort of weird fun-sized miniature from a distant past. Even my wife, who's used to the more "normal"-sized Nexus 5X and recently spent some time with the 2014 Moto X model, chuckled when she first saw it.

"That thing is tiny!" she said. "And so is the phone," she probably should have added with a wink. (Hey, I love a good junior-high-level jab -- even if it does come at my expense.)

You know what, though? Initial shock aside, carrying around a phone of this size has actually been a delight. I appreciated the original Moto X for its comfort when it first came out -- and while I thought a 4.7-in. phone might seem downright silly in 2016's context, it turns out the past few years of phone-swelling has made me appreciate comfort and ergonomics more than ever.

The truth is that I ventured into plus-sized smartphone terrain rather begrudgingly. I never really wanted a big phone; I just realized that in order to get the other elements I needed from a phone in late 2015, making the move to XL was basically unavoidable. It was a tradeoff I accepted and have more or less grown accustomed to over time.

But growing accustomed to something isn't the same as cherishing it -- and let me tell you: Carrying around this three-year-old phone has, almost paradoxically, been a breath of fresh air for me.

It fits in my pockets comfortably, without always keeping me aware of its presence or feeling like it's in danger of slipping out (especially during more movement-oriented activities, like bike riding and chipmunk chasing). It also fits naturally into my normal-sized man-hands (watch it...), and -- wonder of wonders! -- I can actually use it with a single hand and reach the entire screen without doing any awkward hand-yoga maneuvers.

The gently curved back, the soft-touch feel, that lovely little finger-rest dimple...I could go on and on like a goo-goo-eyed schoolboy describing his long lost (and disturbingly inanimate) lover, but you get the point. The now-defunct Motorola that built this phone just put so much attention into practical real-world usage over flashy specs and marketing-driven "sleekness." It was unusual back then and seems just as refreshing now; even by today's standards, I can't help but appreciate how far those efforts go.

And that, I think, has been my biggest takeaway from my time revisiting the first Moto X: how much I miss having a comfortably sized and ergonomic phone to carry. As for the rest of the experience, it's by and large been surprisingly fine.

The performance isn't what I'd call "blazing," but it's been good enough for regular day-to-day use (at least, following a factory-reset and fresh start at the onset of my adventure). The display still seems perfectly decent for a phone of this size. And the Moto-added enhancements like the double-twist gesture to launch the camera and the motion-detecting Moto Display still seem far better than any other comparable implementations I've seen since.

The only significant asterisks for me have been the camera, which is just pitifully poor compared to the standard I've grown used to on my current Nexus device (which makes sense, of course, given how quickly and broadly mobile photography has improved over the past few years -- not to mention how decidedly mediocre the first Moto X's camera was even for its era), and the software, which is quite usable but also somewhat dated (alas, no Marshmallow love for this aging gorilla).

But you know what? All in all, I've really enjoyed the few days I've been spending with the 2013 Moto X. Looking at the experience from a big-picture perspective, it's reaffirmed to me that size definitely matters -- and the little things definitely count. There's unquestionably a sweet spot in the balance between screen space and device comfort, and for me, this phone absolutely nails it.

With its bleh camera and abandoned software, this old gray mare isn't a device I'd want to rely on long-term today. But if a current-day flagship came along that put a Nexus-like software focus into an updated version of this same vessel, you'd better believe I'd snatch it up in a heartbeat.

Until then, I can at least take comfort in knowing that my desk holds the memories of a comfier time. Oh, and also the last half of that hoagie from the other day. Speaking of which...

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