Notes on the little ol’ Moto X in the age of big screen flagships

Notes on the little ol’ Moto X in the age of big screen flagships

2013 Moto X

My irrational desire for the 2014 Moto X had a more rational outcome: I acquired a 2013 Moto X.

I’ve always felt the defining feature of the Moto X was the Moto Maker service. Motorola remains unique in the mobile industry in allowing customers to express their individuality by customising the product at the point of manufacture. This is a vision of personalised mobile user experience I’ve longed to see fulfilled since I first became involved in mobile 20 years ago. Indeed, we have run creative explorations of this topic at several of our MEX events over the years.

Sadly, however, I was unable to customise my own Moto X. The Moto Maker service never made it to the UK variant of the 2013 Moto X, so my dream of an outrageously brightly coloured device remains tantalisingly out of reach. Instead, I took delivery of a decidedly business-like 2013 UK edition Moto X in the standard black carbon fibre weave.

I’ve been using it daily for several weeks and, suffice to say, its virtues have overshadowed my disappointment at missing out on the personalised manufacture.

This is by no means an exhaustive review, but I wanted to share a few test notes:

  • Longevity. The Moto X has joined the exclusive club of mobiles which I’ve simply been unable to exhaust in a working day, no matter how heavy my usage. I was surprised, as I’d read several reviews which suggested battery life was unimpressive, and the capacity itself is comparatively low at 2200 mAh. There is some dark art in how Motorola has optimised the custom chipset, which includes a number of dedicated co-processors. Even with the installation of Google’s new Fit app, which tracks your exercise constantly in the background, the X always lasts the whole day.
  • Form factor. My initial disappointment over having to settle for the standard black model has given way to admiration for the quality of materials and, above all, the ergonomics. As newer models with bigger screens continue to stretch the viability of single-handed operation, the 2013 Moto X is a perfect fit for me. I can reach all but the farthest right-hand corner of the screen for one-handed use. The gently curved back and signature Motorola dimple make it exceptionally comfortable to hold, either at your ear for phone calls or in your palm for browsing. I remain envious of those bright colours offered on Moto Maker, but the dark weave of the black carbon fibre-style shell is proving both durable and easy to grip.
  • Active display. I almost never have to press the power button on the side of the Moto X because it detects when I’m near or when I pick up the device, illuminates the lock screen and allows me to either peak at the time and my latest notifications or unlock with a single swipe. It feels natural and is beautifully implemented, never once feeling unreliable.
  • Signal. It has outstandingly good reception, holding signal in the furthest reaches of my ramshackle old house, in the depths of the British countryside and on speeding trains in to the city.
  • Camera. Like battery life, this was also cited as a weakness by several reviews. However, Motorola have issued several updates to the camera software and I now find it an adequate performer in most conditions. In some, particularly when there is plenty of light, it can produce very good photos. Here’s one I took on a beach, which was chosen as a ‘Photo of the week’ by The Phones Show Flickr Group:

Razor clam shell on a beach - Moto X photo sample

  • Performance. I’ve only ever encountered lag a couple of times in the weeks I’ve been using the Moto X, when switching quickly between videos and photos. Otherwise, in day-to-day use, that custom Motorola chipset is smooth and efficient. The addition of a dedicated co-processor for touchless control, which means it is always listening for your voice commands, ensures the main processor cores can concentrate on running all your apps.

Moto X 2013 screen - 720p, but sharp and perfectly-sized

Based on she specification sheet alone, this 2013 device – with its 720p screen, dual core main processor and 10 megapixel camera – feels decidedly old school compared to current flagships. However, in day-to-day use, the user experience is greater than the sum of its parts. In particular, the combination of a form factor suited to single-handed use and Motorola’s attention to detail in areas like battery life and performance, make it feel more like a classic than an outdated model.

Lenovo, which completed its acquisition of Motorola in October 2014, would do well to consider these virtues as it plans future product lines.

I now find myself torn: the 2014 Moto X opens the Moto Maker customisation service to British customers for the first time. I’d dearly love this vision of a personalised mobile in my own pocket, not least to see how it compares to all those pipe dreams I’ve heard discussed at industry conferences for so many years. The increased screen size, and the effect it might have on battery life, however, are giving me pause for thought.

What do you think I should do?

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