A Day With the Moto X

Yesterday, I received my customized Moto X. Nothing fancy. Woven black with a blue accent. Nothing so ostentatious that I'd regret it in a year, but just different enough to know that it was mine. I'm coming from a Galaxy Nexus on Sprint, which means that in every possible way, I was getting an upgrade. Better hardware, better network, better software. In all measurable ways, I should expect the experience to be exemplary compared to what I'm used to.

I still think that the Moto X is one of, if not the best phone on the market right now.

We've reached a point where the major flagships from the big manufacturers are, by all rights, adequate devices. If anyone were to order a Galaxy S4, an HTC One, or a Moto X today, they should expect a decent life out of it. What the criteria comes down to now is not whether you're getting a good device. It's how the phone you choose augments your life. Which one provides the most value over the competition? Which one is the best suited to both your needs and pleasures?

For me, the Moto X has been that for me. I've been used to stock Android for a while, and while it is not 100% pure (for some reason, Google's audio equalizer has been replaced with a different, more sucky version), it is virtually indistinguishable from a Nexus device.

Virtually, but not completely. Motorola has subtracted nothing (again, except the equalizer...why.), and added very little. What they have added, though, is pure gain. Motorola Assist is a neat app. It automatically detects when you're driving and offers to read text messages aloud, or silences your phone except for select people during evening hours you set. Nothing fancy, but the accuracy with which it detects when I'm driving is impressive.

Then there's the Touchless Controls. You've seen it. You can speak to the phone without touching it. It doesn't work flawlessly, but it works as well as you could expect the first device of its kind to work. It's a fantastic trick and more useful than it sounds. Particularly while driving or cooking, the ability to send messages, set alarms or reminders, get answers to questions, or play music without even touching the phone is brilliant. I love the feature and use it regularly, though it is a little awkward (and that alone is something I could write plenty about later). I thought this would be my favorite feature. I was wrong.

Active Notifications takes an entirely new approach to notifications. Ever since I had my G1, I loved my colored LED. I would expend great effort to tweak settings so that I could know by color and vibrate pattern which app was trying to get my attention and how important it was that I check it, all without touching my phone.

Active Notifications makes that entirely pointless.

The Moto X doesn't have a notification LED. Instead, it uses the AMOLED panel to light up only a few pixels to show your notifications, with the most recent at the top. Without touching the phone, I can see not just whether I have something that needs my attention, but what app is trying to alert me. Touch the screen in the center and I can even see the message itself. The entire system is elegant, subtle, and useful enough to, for the first time ever, make me okay with not having a notification LED. The same could not be said of the original Nexus 7. 

It doesn't end there, though. The Active Notifications app is also designed to know when you're about to use your phone. When you pull it out of your pocket, the time and notification icon lights up. It also pulsates if you have an important message. It knows when you want to see it and adapts accordingly. Even just picking the device up from off my desk prompts the display to come on. With rare exception, I haven't pressed the power button to turn my phone on at all. It's a very small thing. It wouldn't even be a dealbreaker if I didn't have it. But since I do, it's delightful. It shifts the usage of the phone.

The biggest complaints I've seen—by people who neither own nor want to own the phone—are that it's expensive and that the specs are not satisfactory. Both of these complaints are silly.

For starters, the Moto X is cheaper than its flagship counterparts. On AT&T, the Galaxy S4 is $639 off contract. The HTC One is $599 off contract. Even the iPhone 5, with its year old hardware, is $649 off contract. The Moto X launched for $579. Cheaper than any other major phone from a competing manufacturer. The complaints that it is egregiously expensive do not stem from comparisons to any normal phone. The comparisons come from the Nexus 4. Google released a manufacturer-partnered device for $300 off contract and suddenly everyone decided that the entire smartphone industry needs to stop making profits, yet continue innovating at a demanding and impossible rate with hundreds of dollars per device cut from their bottom lines.

These are fanboy ramblings and idiotic demands.

Of course, the single justification for why the Moto X should magically be cheaper than any other phone from a manufacturer that has to make a profit, is because it has "mid-range" specs. This, too, is a crappy argument.

Here are the parts of the Moto X that are deemed "sub par":

-- It only has a dual-core processor. This a misleading argument. While the two extra specialized processing cores do not make this a quad core phone, they still do things. They perform central functions that add value to the phone. While it would be great to have a couple extra multi-function cores (and software that's written to take advantage of it, which is not entirely a given at this point), it borders on greedy. Yes it's possible and yes it will be common, but just because "quad-core" is a buzzword doesn't mean that the engineering required to make this phone as it is was cheating. Which is better? A phone optimized for useful tasks, or a phone that tacks on specs for specs' sake?

-- It only has a 720p screen. This is perhaps one of the worst arguments because it ask—demands, even!—that a phone suck down tons of extra battery life in exchange for a barely-discernible quality improvement. Remember, high resolution displays require processing and battery power to run. You could maybe make the argument that 316ppi isn't enough, but when weighed against the extra power draw, it just doesn't seem worth it.

-- Um...that's about it. Exactly. It has 2GB of RAM (plenty to keep up with other phones), an impressive GPU, a 10MP camera, and fantastic battery life. And when I say "fantastic" I mean, it's lasted all day with GPS on. Maybe it's not important to you, but my personal dream since I had the G1 was to have a phone that could last all day with GPS on. My Evo couldn't do it. My E4GT couldn't do it. My Galaxy Nexus couldn't do it. My Moto X has, so far.

If the "mid-range" specs mean that I get a device that is always listening to me, can run all day without disabling or moderating critical services like GPS, and with a screen so crisp that I have to stare intently to see the intense alleged "low-quality", I'll gladly take "mid-range" over so-called high-end phones.

So, here's the tl;dr: I like this phone. I like it a lot. It adds plenty to the stock Android experience without taking anything away. It makes the right choices when it comes to choosing battery life and efficiency over the pointless specs war. The Moto X is the best phone for me on the market. I would wager there are plenty more of you would share my opinion.
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