Motorola Moto X review (UK edition)
No, your eyes are not deceiving you, this is the second time we've reviewed the Motorola Moto X. This is not something we're going to make a habit of, but in this case we think there's a real need to look at the device as it launches in the UK.
Not because the hardware is different from the original US model that launched in 2013, but because it's taken Motorola a long time to bring the device to UK shores, and a lot has happened in that time. Including the announcement that Google is to sell Motorola Mobility to Lenovo. Even so, whichever company handles the brand, the X is ready for its new audience.
We won't bore you like a stuck record detailing the design and feel of the phone in deep-dive detail, because we've already sung the X's praises. We think it's ace and the ability to choose your own design touches via Moto Maker - although not yet in the UK, more on that later - makes it a standout product.
We've also interviewed Motorola about the Moto X, where it sees this device fitting into the UK market, and are better placed to answer some of the questions that arise from what we have learned since using the device in Blighty. Is the time right for it to launch and do we remain as impressed with the device?
Moto X or Nexus 5?
Motorola is, at least for now, a Google owned company. And it doesn't want you to battle out in your brain whether the Google Nexus 5 or Moto X is the device for you to buy. But it's an obvious question. Motorola doesn't really see this as a choice at all: we were told that the Nexus is really an enthusiasts' brand, that some would want to buy in to, but that most people wanted devices that offered more.
Motorola can offer more, because it is inclined to spend money on local variants, which means the Moto X can understand English accents from the whole country, rather than just those that the American software deems intelligible enough. The Nexus doesn't have this customisation, indeed the "Ok Google" keyword activation isn't supported on non-US language devices.
Given that Google owns Motorola Mobility (for now), it's all a bit odd that one part of the company is able to achieve one thing, while the other doesn't. All of this does count against Nexus devices being sold outside of the US.
Also a major selling point has to be that Motorola's voice system doesn't require that you unlock the phone to use it. This makes all sorts of sense when you think about using it in your car, while driving, or even just to ask it about the weather. We're actually surprised that the Nexus 5 doesn't offer the same. Motorola tells us this is about battery life though, which makes sense.
READ: Nexus 5 review
Unlike the Nexus 5, the Moto X can actually understand a broad range of British accents. Not that we've been putting on our best Scottish or Welsh accents or anything. Well, maybe just a bit.
This is because Motorola has done some work behind the scenes to get voice recognition working smoothly. We're told this is separate to what Google has done with its voice recognition, and we wonder why it's taking Google so long to add non-US support into devices.
We found it very good. Toucheless control is great, and we love being able to say "Ok Google Now" to wake up the phone so it can listen to what we were saying. You can have it do loads of stuff, from navigation, to setting up alarms, or you can just ask it questions. The reply comes with a British, not American, accent - so it makes you feel like some love has gone in to this UK edition.
We still don't know how much use we'll get out of it, and some might see it as gimmicky, but as a concept we think it's nifty.
Powerful enough for most
One of the big things about the Moto X is that it's not as high-end a smartphone as some of the competition. It sits proudly in the mid-range, with a dual core processor, 4.7-inch 720 x 1280 resolution screen and 2GB of RAM. There is nothing wrong with these specs, but some people will look, expecting to see quad core and 3GB of RAM and a 1080p screen and be disappointed.
Again, this comes down to phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Nexus 5, which offer more theoretical power. The Nexus 5 comes out well because it also runs stock Android KitKat (v4.4), with no bloatware to slow the device down. It's a very slick, very powerful competitor device.
As a counter, though, the Moto X feels amazing in use. It's speedy and fluid and in practice it never felt much slower than our Nexus 5 did. We've been running the two phones side by side just to get a better feel of the X's placement.
While the Moto X is as simple as any Android device to get up-and-running, Motorola's enhancements do nag a little. You'll be prompted with notifications to remind you to setup backups, protect the phone from theft and even turn on an unlock code. This is something that annoys us on Samsung devices too, the constant battle against setting things up. Apple has this mostly right, but then it runs the whole show with iOS, so that's not surprising.
There are also a lot of tutorials. These are mostly very good, but we found they popped up when we really just wanted to get the phone set up, and really we wanted to look at them a bit later, when we had finished with the exciting "new phone" phase. Then again, that's common for first uses of plenty of phones, including the Nokia Lumia and Android devices of this world.
Now with KitKat
Google's latest version of Android - known by its chocolately KitKat name - has been fairly slow at rolling out to other devices. We think this might be a sign of things to come, because Google is now pushing updates out via "Google Play Services" which takes control of Android back from third-parties, and allows the firm to make updates without rolling out a new version of Android. This is exciting, but it must also worry some hardware manufacturers.
READ: Android KitKit review
It's still nice to see the UK version of the Moto X ship with the latest OS though. KitKat does offer some advantages over the last version of Jelly Bean. For us, head of this list is Google's new "caller ID" which searches online to find out who is calling you. This is really handy if you want to screen calls. Of course, the number has to be registered with Google for this to work, so most businesses are, but most individuals are not. We don't know if Google is using its own number database to provide names for customers, but we suspect not at the moment.
Google also includes cloud printing too, which is fine we suppose, but we tend to steer clear of printing at all costs. If you need or want remote printing, it's handy to have a simple system built in.
KitKat also brings with it some important security updates in the form of Android Device Manager, which allows you to remote wipe a lost handset over the internet. This is a feature that iOS has had for ages, but doing it on Android required special software to be included by the handset manufacturer, now, Google provides it, but Motorola has its own version too, called Motorola Device ID. On our device, we weren't able to find our phone on the Motorola portal, the Google one works fine though.
We said we wouldn't bore you with repeating too much from our first review. But some features are just too good to not shine a light on for a second time.
One such super Moto X feature is the standby screen information. Notifications will appear when the screen is off for new email, voicemail and many other things. You can customise what appears here, and you can select almost any app, but many won't be properly supported. Even so, the important stuff is covered.
For email, it's very handy, because you can get a preview of the message by holding the unlock button. This means you don't need to turn the screen on unless the email is important. Clever.
Then there's Motorola Assist, a feature similar to a system that has been found on Motorola's phones for some time now. It allows you to tell the phone to behave in certain ways when you're in certain situations. If you set it to car mode, you can have it read text messages to you, whereas sleep mode will allow you to reject calls automatically - unless someone calls you twice within five minutes, which allows emergency calls to reach you.
The only real problem with Assist is that it doesn't really have customisable options, and so you're kind of stuck with the actions and settings Motorola thinks you'll want. It's good enough, but we think it could be more powerful still.
One of the huge points that Motorola made a song and dance about when the Moto X was announced was the Moto Maker facility. This allows you to choose from various design options, colours, customised backs, and various materials to get a truly individual phone. Or at least that's what happens in the US.
At launch in the UK there's no distinct info regarding when - and we do hope it's not "if" - Moto Maker will arrive. We interviewed Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside earlier this year who made it clear that Maker was an important attribute to the phone. Some have even called it a "fashion phone" reaching for a different, non-techie audience.
Therefore options are limited to black or white models, the latter a Phones4u exclusive at launch. We do like the design a lot though, as even with this limited mono palette it looks smart.
The Moto X handset also includes a nano SIM slot. Since Apple started using nano we've been waiting for other companies to catch this miserable disease. It seems that Motorola has, and the X uses that tiny little card. Obviously, the nano SIM will be the system of choice in coming years, but right now it's a pain because, unless you have an up to date iPhone, you won't have such a SIM. It's a small irritation, but if you're buying this phone SIM-free, with a view to using your existing contract, make sure you request a new SIM from your provider.
Flip the phone over and on the back there's a 10-megapixel camera and LED flash. Honestly, though, we don't think much of the camera's capabilities as the results aren't anything to shout about. Photo quality is okay for sharing on Twitter and other social sites where small scale is a given, but we don't think the photos are up to much more than casual use.
But the software is well thought out, just like with the rest of the phone's functionality. For one thing, you can make a twisting motion with the phone in your hand, and it will go from standby into the camera app. From there, you just touch the screen to snap.
The problem with this approach is that if you touch the screen before the autofocus gets a lock on the subject, then your photo will be out of focus. This is solvable, because the app allows you to use a draggable box to focus too, so all is not lost.
Brilliant battery life
We have to say, Motorola told us that it had optimised the Moto X for battery life, and we were initially sceptical because it's something we hear so often from so many.
We should have banished such doubts from out minds as the battery life is very good. We didn't have any real problems getting a full day out of a charge. Motorola thinks you could manage more, but we're happy with a working day, given the amount of use we tend to throw at our handsets it performs well.
Those of you playing games, or watching a lot of video might find it can drain the power more quickly, but that's always the way with these things.
In one sense, nothing has changed since our initial Moto X review based on our US experience of this phone. But that was six months ago and pre-Nexus 5. Times have changed, but our soft spot for this phone hasn't.
We still do wholeheartedly recommend the Moto X. Sure, it lacks the power of the higher-end competition, and it's more expensive than the Nexus 5, but there's more to a phone than raw power. We think, what the Motorola does is worth a price premium over the Nexus 5.
Some will not consider it an option based on the processing power, but for everyone who doesn't there will probably be another two who think the longer battery life from the Moto is more valuable than anything else. We agree, the X lasts longer than the Nexus 5, and that's far more useful on a phone that big specs that you can use for half a day before the phone needs recharging.
While we still think the touchless control is something of a minority interest, the Motorola implementation of Google Now is far slicker than the Nexus 5's, and the fact the phone doesn't need to be unlocked and on a home screen for voice control to work is a massive leap forward, especially as it doesn't actually seem to have a negative impact on the battery life.
Then there's a whole other potential audience: the customisers. Moto Maker, the customised design service, is a great option. Or it would be, because it's not launched in the UK alongside the default design - and we think that's a mistake. Those looking for a tailored fashion phone will have to wait yet longer, by which point Mobile World Congress - it's a big smartphone conference in Barcelona at the end of February - will have announced a variety of newer, brighter and more powerful handsets. That's enough to make some hang on a little longer and possibly miss the Moto X out altogether.
We are content with the default look because the Moto X's styling, build quality and ease-of-use are quite simply fantastic. For that reason it remains on the list as one of our favourite Android phones, and on contract - Tesco Mobile is offering £24 per month - it's sure to be attractive from a price perspective too.