Cheating on the iPhone with the Google Moto X

As part of my job is to evaluate technologies, and I just cannot help being Android-curious, I decided to give the Google Moto X phone a try.

The Moto X is the first real new phone out of Motorola after Google bought them and started inserting its influence.  As such, it’s a little different and more ambitious than other phones Motorola has released in previous years.

First off, when you order the phone, you have a wide variety of choices through the Moto Maker site.  You can choose the color for the front bezel, the color of the back of the phone, the color of the highlights (buttons etc.) What home screen graphic you want it to deliver with, and whether or not you want it already set up with your personal Google services.

In fact, they now even have a wooden bamboo option for the back of the phone for something truly unique.

So there are thousands of possible customization options (as opposed to black, white and gold.)  I think it’s a very cool thing to do for a phone, but I doubt we’ll see this proliferate to other vendors.  I think it’s simply too much work with too little return for the phone maker.  In addition, many folks utilize cases anyway.  So why customize the phone, only to cover it with a case?  So while cool, I do think it’s kind of a novelty.

Well what about the phone itself?  First off the Moto X runs an almost pure version of Android Kit Kat with very few customizations.  One thing I hate (about Samsung phones in particular) are all the extra skins and bloatware thrown on the device from the manufacturer and the carrier.  The Moto X is very clean software wise, and that makes for a really excellent experience.

In addition, back when I reviewed the Galaxy S3, the software simply wasn’t as good.  The back button would give unintended results depending on where you were, and some of my favorite apps just weren’t available.  That’s not the case anymore.  Pretty much everything I use on a daily basis is available now on Android.  There’s only one big thing lacking, and that’s a good Twitter client.  I tried a ton and nothing compared to Tweetbot or Twitteriffic on iOS. More of a nuisance than a deal breaker.

The additional killer feature on the phone is the fact that it’s always listening for voice commands.  You spend some time training it, but then the phone is always waiting for you to say “OK Google Now.”  Once you do this, the phone wakes up and awaits your voice command.  Doing things like saying “OK Google Now, Navigate Home” or “OK Google Now, Open Rhapsody” are great when you are driving in the car.

For the most part, the voice commands work well, but you do need to know the commands the phone is expecting.  It’s far more rigid when it comes to natural language than Siri currently is on the iPhone.  That said, you have to hit a button to get Siri to start listening, whereas a simple phrase will wake up the Moto X.

This can also be a little bit of a problem, as sometimes other people saying “OK Google Now” will cause your phone to go into listen mode.  It’s supposed to customize to your voice, but I’ve been able to get display phones at Best Buy to respond every time I’ve tried.  So if you are around a bunch of Moto X users, your phone may get confused.

Another nice thing is the screen while in lock mode.  Since the screen is OLED, Motorola can selectively light up pixels to show information.  So if you pick up the phone, or get a notification, it can only light up that information without having to light the whole screen.  This does wonders for battery life.

You would think that having to listen for commands all the time would really drain the battery, but Google has included a low power consumption chip that is doing that listening.  That, along with the selective pixel notifications, really help the phone battery last.  In fact, it’s the best battery life I’ve tested in an Android phone.  Granted I haven’t tested them all, and something like the huge Razor MAXX would probably have more, but either way you will not be disappointed.

Back to the screen for a minute.  It’s 4.7 inches and is really vibrant.  It’s really easy on the eyes, and even looks good in direct sunlight.  The size makes it still usable with one hand too.  My thumb can reach everything it needs to without too much trouble.

The phone itself has a slightly curved back and fits really nicely into my hand.  It’s well made, solid, and feels like I’m less likely to drop it than I am my 5S.  That said, the back is a little slick, and I would prefer it to feel a little more textured or rubbery for lack of a better term.

Next, one of the most important things for me on a phone has to be the camera.  I’m really spoiled with the iPhone 5S and the Lumia 1020, so if a camera is less than stellar, it could be a deal breaker for me.  As for the Moto X, it’s just so so.  It’s not horrible, but it’s not great either.  It was passable to use for a couple weeks, but I felt myself missing the camera on my 5S a lot.

So, that said, I did go back to my iPhone 5S.  It wasn’t just because of the camera, but it was due to very few reasons.

  • Lack of good Twitter client
  • So So camera
  • iOS eco-system lock in
  • I like the fingerprint reader on the 5S
  • Power and headphone jacks on opposite ends of the phone

Okay, I know this last one sounds kind of dumb, but I mount my iPhone in the car for my commute.  I plug in a cable to the AUX cord on the car for audio and I plug in a lightning cable for power.  On the iPhone, they are both on the bottom of the phone, so the cords come out on one side.  On the Moto X, having one cord come out each side was a little unwieldily.    Very dumb minor thing, but it does affect me.

As for the eco-system lock in, Messages is a biggie.  In addition, my family shares an iTunes account that allows us all to share software, and they all have iDevices.  As such, I save a lot on money when buying applications on iOS.  If I buy something on Android, it’s just me.  So it’s not that the ecosystem is better at this point, it’s just where I happen to live most of the time.

All of that said, this was truly the first Android phone that made me think I could ditch the iPhone.  It’s well made, sleek, feels great in the hand and has some unique features that make it stand out from the rest.  If you like Android, you will love this phone, guaranteed.  If you are an iPhone user, this just might make you want to switch.