Custom design Motorola Moto X: We test out Moto Maker

Moto Maker - the process of designing a custom Moto X smartphone - isn't for the indecisive. It's for the strong-minded; those who want to make a statement with their smartphone. And it's one of the biggest reasons to opt in for a Moto X over other smartphones.

However it's not as easy as visiting Motorola's Moto Maker website, picking a few colours and then cashing out. You'll need to visit an AT&T store to purchase a Moto X Card first.

Even then, it still took us 92 minutes to make those final design decisions only to then worry obsessively for four days until our custom Moto X arrived on our doorstep, where we anxiously ripped open the parcel to see if we made a huge mistake or, worse still, multiple mistakes with our choices.

So, how did we do? Did Moto Maker streamline the whole designer phone experience, does it look accurate in real life based on our on-screen decisions and did the final product make us feel a little bit Jony Ive?

Simple, yet complex

Moto Maker is simple - well, it's simple looking. There's lots of white space, or more grey space, with a virtual Moto X smartphone to the centre of the screen. A 360-degree view toggle at the bottom allows you to take a virtual look around at any given angle.

There's also a sidebar on the right with all of your customisations, menus, categories and options. On the left, you'll see the price go up and down depending on what you choose.

That's it, nowt else to worry about. Moto Maker is definitely a Google site - the pared-down interface and vivid colours scream of Google's California Mountain View HQ.

Styling: Colours

We've already conducted an in-depth review of the standard black-finish Moto X. This time around we wanted to get a whole lot more creative and indulge our design selves. It's all about the aesthetics.

READ: Motorola Moto X review

Among the Maker's categories the first option is a "Styling" menu. It divides up the phone into sections - clicking any category section spins the virtual Moto X around into the necessary position on screen, so you can really see what it is you're trying to change.

We start on the back. By default the Moto X's back colour comes complete with that cool, almost trippy pattern on the back. Problem is that pattern is only available for the classic black and white versions, not the colour options.

Including black and white as colours, there are a total of 18 colours to pick from. From navy in the "Cool" section to cabernet in the "Warm" section. That's right, colours are now named after posh plonk.

We chose spearmint. Well, we hovered over raspberry and turquoise for about 20 minutes, then twiddled frustrated thumbs as we wished that back pattern could be added on. But alas, it's just straight up spearmint. No chocolate chips.

From back to front: here you can choose from black or white only. Annoying. We wanted to go full-blown neon day-glo with this thing. Pairing spearmint with black seemed very svelte but also modest. We wanted a colorful Moto X. So, in the end, we chose white.

But that only came after clicking between black and white about a gazillion times just to make sure. Here the switch for the full-on 360-degree control came into great use. Being able to manually rotate the phone is among Maker's most useful feature, especially if - like us - you keep on changing and hesitating with choices. Problem though: the HTML and Flash combo caused the entire site to bog-down. Our MacBook Pro fans started to sound like a jet engine taking off - perhaps it was an Apple protest.

A 90s accent

We've got the base coat down, next up are Maker's accent colours. Seven of them, to be exact. And they're all metallic.

We ignored the black and silver options because they seemed classic and oh-so boring. Yellow drew us in, but didn't make the cut. We then tried to blue, red and orange, but it all got a bit too Ninja Turtles and 90s shell suits. We finally settled on metallic purple as Donatello always was the coolest one.

We're 65 minutes in already and only just got the colour pinned down. But the finish line was still a long way away.

What's in a name?

Signature - which we know better as engraving - was our next port of play. But it wouldn't accept anything at all. After 10 minutes of joking around with lines such as "iPhone lover" we were forced to skip this step - only to find out following further investigation that Motorola isn't offering this part of the service at launch because it's dissatisfied with the quality. When it is up and running it will add to development time of your handset.

Cases, too, will only be available when Moto Maker is out of beta. So no case for us. Bummer.

After Styling the second menu is "Features", complete with categories for Memory, Power On, Wallpaper and Google Sync. Some are simple - we chose the 16GB option for our test unit - whereas others, such as Power-On allow for personalised greetings. We added our name. Why? Why not? A thief preventative springs to mind.

We also picked a purple-ish wallpaper to match our accents. This was a surprisingly quick choice for us - probably because we'll just change it to our own custom wallpapers in due time. As for Google Sync, we chose to log in. We wanted our custom Moto X to arrive ready to turn on. But all this stuff is just cursory, really - it's possible to change at any stage whether Moto X original or custom purchase.

Now 85 minutes have flown by, and we've found ourselves with a finished handset design. The third and final "Accessories" menu has categories for things like the wall charger and Sol Republic Jax headphones. We chose a white charger instead of the black to match the front of our Moto X, and added yellow headphones to keep with our vibrant-ish theme. This part of the process took two minutes - maybe we're done with procrastinating for the day, there has to be a cut-off point after all, or perhaps there's just not enough choice available to rattle the brain.

Checkout

Finally, yet importantly, it was cash-out time. Or more redeemable-card-out time. The phone itself, as it's tied to AT&T for the time being, requires that redeemable Moto X Card complete with a scratch-off PIN that you can buy from AT&T stores. The perils of network-lockdown, eh?

From here, Motorola also invites you to again sign-in with Google in order to pay for additional accessories. Items such as the Skip phone-unlocking accessory and the Moto Care Accident Protection plan are dangled rather like last-second candies at a real grocery store checkout; y'know those extra treats lined up at the cash register - the ones that you might buy, but almost certainly don't need to.

After five minutes of checking, re-checking and confirming everything, we paid. Phew! Motorola quickly emailed our order and tracking number, so we could neurotically check where our parcel was at any time.

Four days later and FedEx delivered our parcel... at a quarter to midnight. Strange, eh? Kudos to Motorola for keeping its promise, but shame on FedEx for waking us up. We need our beauty sleep, particularly after such a grey-matter-churning customisation process.

The big reveal

The nerve-wracking part, but the exciting part. New tech is always fun, but this felt that bit more special. We literally ripped the parcel open to reveal our Moto X box.

The verdict? It's beautiful - and not very Turtle-esque at all. The purple accents aren't too eye-catching, though, which is a bit of a letdown as the spearmint backing is the most noticeable aspect. Because it's hard to determine what the colours will look like in person or how well they match up. We're curious as to whether the blue accents would have looked better or more vivid than the purple - but it's too late now, the money is paid, there's no turning back.

We'd recommend visiting an AT&T store to get an eyeful first. Besides you have to visit a store at the moment in order to buy a Moto X Card.

That said, it's still a really cool phone. We've had it for about three days and keep answering friends' questions about not just the Moto X itself but how they can get their hands on a more colourful smartphone. Simply put: almost everyone we know loves our Moto X, and so do we. So well done, Motorola. Well done.

Custom vs standard

If you close your eyes and hold both the standard and custom Moto X smartphones in your hands, they feel the same. It's impossible to determine which is which; they’re solid, well-built and smooth phones. The only physical difference between them is the colour scheme and the removal of the Verizon branding on the back of the original. Our custom Moto X had AT&T branding though, because the US carrier holds the exclusive with Moto Maker - so there's no scratching that off in the design process.

As a phone we've got a lot of love for the Moto X. For a full breakdown on the hardware, software and features take a read of our original Moto X review.

READ: Motorola Moto X review

Oh, and as for that greeting - yes, it states our name whenever we power it up. Take that, potential thieves!

Verdict

Like we say, Moto Maker isn't for the indecisive. It'll take you at least an hour to design a custom Moto X that you want to own, and then you'll worry for four days about whether you made the right decision. There's also that extra layer of panic when it comes to the colours looking the same in person as they do on screen. It's an anxiety attack waiting to happen.

But that's not because Moto Maker didn't do its job. Moto Maker is effective, easy to use and a very neat concept to boot. The uneasiness simply comes from us. We are the designer; we are our own worst enemy. The cost coupled with the permanency of the design is enough to make just about anyone apprehensive. After all, the $199 on-contract Moto X is available in over 2,000 colour combinations.

Still, we could have done with more - patterns, textures, materials and so forth wouldn't go amiss. And what's with the binary option of black or white for the front? The answer, in part, is that Maker is still in beta.

When all is said and done, do we recommend Moto Maker and the custom Moto X? Yes. It's given us one of the liveliest phones on the market, and we can't stop bragging about it. There are only a few smartphones that come out every year that can genuinely turn heads - the Moto X was already one of them, the custom Moto takes that and turns it up to 11. It's a real head-turner.

Have a play around with Moto Maker yourself: the beta site is now live - you can design a Moto X of your own, even if you don't intend to buy one just yet.

VISIT: Moto Maker website