Two months ago, after an unfortunate incident with my Nexus 5 and tile floor, I decided to hop off the Nexus train and get a Moto X. After years of using nothing but Nexus devices (starting with the Nexus S) this was a big switch that made me a little nervous.

{% img /images/posts/moto-x-review/front-right-on.jpg “Moto X” %}

Since I buy all of my phones off contract, it wasn’t until Motorola offered a Today Show special that I was ready to drop the money. As soon as I could get the phone for the price of a Nexus 5, I was sold.

My Reasoning

I had always been a Nexus user because, as a developer, I felt that I needed a reference device that I could develop against without any of the manufacturer specific modifications that so many OEMs apply.

Once the Moto X came along, we finally had a device on which the manufacturer was actually adding value to Android to help itself differentiate, instead of molesting it. For the most part, the Moto X contains stock Android with extra apps and services, instead of an entirely custom rom that changes the very foundation of Android.

Nexus phones had also been great for freedom from carriers. Starting with the Nexus S, I have been buying my phones outright and using prepaid MVNO carriers to allow me the freedom to move between carriers (which I do about once per year) and upgrade my phone when I want. Since I don’t adhere to the usual two year carrier upgrade cycle, signing a contract didn’t make a lot of sense.

The other piece that sealed the deal for me was how quickly the Moto X was updated to KitKat. Since Motorola kept so close to stock Android, they were able to provide updates quickly to keep their users on the latest Android experience. From the sounds of things Motorola is even doing this for their budget Moto G, which is a pleasant surprise considering it’s budget phone status, but hopefully this is a sign of trends to come.

A Truly Custom Phone

My favorite feature of the Moto X by far isn’t even really the phone itself. If you purchase your Moto X directly from Motorola, you have the option to use Moto Maker, Motorola’s web app to completely customize your phone. This allows you to really make a phone that’s truely unique to you.

{% img /images/posts/moto-x-review/back.jpg “Moto X” %}

Motorola has done a great job of choosing colors that go well together in just about any combination. I’m no artist, but I felt like I couldn’t make a bad combination no matter which options I selected for back plate cover and accent color.

I eventually decided to go with a green back, blue accent colors and a white face (my wife calls it a Yoshi phone). Motorola even helps you share your design by giving you a link directly to your design.

Screen Quality

One of the things that I applauded Motorola for with the Moto X was the fact that they used a 720p screen while other manufacturers were touting their 1080p screens. While more pixels are always cool, I felt it was a bit of over kill for a 4.7 inch screen. I, honestly, couldn’t really see much of a difference, and the tradeoff in battery life is well worth it.

{% img /images/posts/moto-x-review/front-right-on.jpg “Moto X” %}

The other interesting thing about the display is that it’s an AMOLED display. This was a reasonably controversial decision that allows Motorola to only light the required parts of the screen to save battery life. On most phones this wouldn’t save a whole lot, since most of the screen is always lit, but alongside Motorola’s Active Display offers some really interesting and useful features, while sipping the battery.

The Camera

For all that I’ve heard about the camera on the Moto X, I have to say I’m pretty happy with it. I’m not the type of person that needs it to be a DSLR replacement, and I’m not blowing up my photos for posters, but it does serve quite well for an every day point and shoot.

Here you can see some examples of shots I’ve taken with my Moto X, with detailed sections blown up to full resolution.

{% img /images/posts/moto-x-review/rahleigh.jpg “Rahleigh” “My dog Rahleigh chilling on the couch."%}

This is, of course, only one example, but so far I’ve been quite happy with the camera. It struggles a little in low light situations, adding a fair amount of noise to my photos, but I haven’t had a lot of phones that take great photos at night.

Even more important for me is how fast I can take a photo. I’ve had no issues with the twist feature launching the camera, successfully opening my camera on the first try probably 85% of the time. For those times I miss, a quick second twist gets the camera open and I can snap my shot. This is a surprisingly useful feature that has really helped me get my camera out in time for a shot on more than one occasion.

As far as camera software, Motorola really hit it with this one. The camera app is great, allowing you to take stills and movies without getting in the way, and presenting settings in a clear, easy to use way. The one change that I found I had to make once I started using the phone was to turn on focus and exposure control. This allows you to grab the focus ring in the viewfinder and move it to a specific area to focus on a specific portion of your shot. Since you just touch the screen to snap a photo, this now mean you touch the screen outside the bracket to snap the photo.


One of the biggest things I was looking forward to with the Moto X was a high quality phone that wasn’t a behemoth in my hand. I don’t have the largest hands, and the Nexus 5 was uncomfortably large. I had actually considered giving my wife my Nexus 5 and taking back my old Nexus 4 before getting the Moto X.

{% img /images/posts/moto-x-review/front.jpg “My Moto X” %}

I’ve been really happy with the 4.7 inch screen of the Moto X. It doesn’t feel overly large in my hand, yet I don’t feel like I’m looking at the web and apps through a peep-hole. I can easily reach the far side of the screen to hit the up button in apps, something I had actually started using my other hand to do on the Nexus 5. I definitely feel like this is the sweet spot for a phone, for me, having tried larger and smaller.

As far as build quality, the Moto X is certainly top notch. Though there is no metal to be found on the device outside of the accents, the phone feels extremely solid. The texture of the plastic back feels very nice in the hand, and the depression on the back for the Motorola logo makes for a great reference point for my fingers as I hold the device.

Motorola’s Little Additions

As I’ve mentioned before, Motorola did a great job of utilizing the power and beauty of Android, while still differentiating and adding value on their own. One thing that I think many hardware manufacturers forget is that they are hardware manufacturers. Google happens to be a software company. Motorola has done a great job of leveraging Google’s software, instead of reinventing it, and differentiating with things like ultra customizable hardware and their X8 processor.

{% img /images/posts/moto-x-review/active-display.jpg “Active Display” %}

Along with the AMOLED display and their X8 processing system, Motorola has found a way to make your phone useful, even with the screen off, without draining your battery. This took a little bit of getting used to for me, as I was in the habit of hitting the power button every time I’d take my phone out of my pocket, but it is an amazingly useful little touch.

At any time I can take my phone out of my pocket, or nudge it if it’s sitting on my desk, and see the time and any notifications that I have. I hadn’t thought much of this before I got the Moto X, but I recently turned that feature off to try out a new lock screen app and really missed it. That kind of true availability is extremely useful. Samsung has tried similar things with their S-View Flip Cover (though I wish they’d get over this “put an S in front of everything” mentality), but I find Active Display to be a much more elegant approach.

Final Thoughts

After spending years convinced that I would never leave the Nexus program behind, I’m now extremely happy that I did. Motorola has really come out swinging and shown what can be done when a hardware manufacturer focuses on what it does best.

I would highly recommend a Moto X to anyone looking to get a new phone. I think the Google Play Edition is absolutely not necessary since Motorola has stayed so close to stock Android, and that is saying a lot coming from someone who has had Nexus phones for as long as I have.

Motorola has done a great job with this phone and I hope they continue doing these great things once their sale to Lenovo is complete. They’re one phone in and already have a loyal user in me.

Leave a note in the comments if you have your own thoughts or would like to know anything else.