First the Bad News…
The Moto X’s relatively weak specs were not a surprise. It’s been widely understood that the Moto X be coming with an older dual-core processor, so lets just get this out of the way. The Moto X will be featuring a modified Snapdragon S4 processor dubbed the Motorola X8, which is the same chip in their new Droid Ultra, Maxx and Mini. Its not an octo-core processor, bur a last-Gen 1.7 Ghz dual core ARM chip. Throw in a 2200 mAhr battery, a 10 MP back cam, 2 MP front cam, a 4.7 inch 720P display, an unmodified but already old Android 4.2.2, and the standard compliment of LTE and bluetooth radios, and you’ve got a fairly ho-hum but solid mid-range phone.
But then there’s that price. You see, rumors up to the announcement had always pointed to a $200-$300 price point off-contract. This would put the phone squarely in the territory of the fairly well received (but often criticized) Nexus 4, albeit with a slightly slower processor. But we could forgive Motorola for that by including LTE. But boy was the collective internet surprised and pissed the phone will be running for $199-$249 with a 2-year contract! In an age when the $199 subsidized American market is saturated with the surprisingly well performing Samsung Galaxy S4 and the HTC One, both with quad core processors and 1920 x 1080 screens, not to mention the stalwart iPhone 5, has Moto flipped its lid? Much of the internet has exploded with disappointment over the price and its seemingly mid-range specs, and I was certainly hoping to be able to pick one up cheap off contract (as I am in the middle of my current contract). However, it’s not all bad news. Motorola claims that it has made improvements to the chip to make sure it will perform well. Also, frankly, mobile quad-core processors have turned out to not be worth all that much more than good dual-core processors. Most of NVidia’s quad core chips have proven to be mediocre at best and the quad-core chips in the Galaxy S4 and HTC One haven’t proven to be that much faster than their dual-core counterparts. Thanks to the improvements Google has made in the more recent versions of Android, dual-core processors may be good enough, but certainly it sucks that people who buy this phone will be stuck with an older processor for 2 full years.
What About The Other Six
Despite the fact that the X8 processor only has two CPUs, there are indeed 6 other cores on the chip. This is a “system on a chip” design, as most mobile cpus are, so four of the cores are GPU cores (graphics), but the other two are Digital Signal Processors or DSPs. The first DSP is a dedicated processor designed towards filtering out outside noise in the microphone, which is cool but whatever. The second DSP is apparently a non-ARM core that runs in the background when the screen is off and processes background notifications and ambient voice input. This core allows the phone to turn on parts of the screen to show you notifications without your input and also allows you to give voice commands to the phone without your input.
So in other words, all those times you reach for your phone while driving to text, e-mail, navigate, etc… No more. Just yell “OK Google” and Google Now will pop up and you can say your command. Pretty cool, I’d say, and a unique way to solve an old problem.
Of course the very real and creepy downside is that your phone listening to you…all the time…everywhere…in your pocket. This notches up the creepiness factor of Google Now a few more levels as your phone, the most intimate electronic device in your life, is listening to and processing everything. How creepy it is depends on how much you trust how Google handle that information, but as a company that makes money almost completely from ad revenue and from using data to provide their customers with accurate ad targeting, I’m a little creeped out by Google Now and definitely this implementation of it.
The good news is, it will be turned off by default. But, if you’re fully invested in Google’s ecosystem and Google Now, this will be a killer feature for you.
Colors n Stuff
The biggest appeal for this phone was always going to be aesthetics. The original promise for this phone was that it was going to be the most highly customizable phone EV4R! Motorola promised the Moto X to be the first phone “built by you.” What does that mean? Colors and materials of course.
This is a strange place for Moto to go. Throughout most of their life as a smartphone OEM, Motorola has built the “Droid” moniker to mean heavy duty, industrial, monochrome, and filled with testosterone. With the Moto X, I feel like Motorola just switched from a gun-toting football-watchin’ ‘Murican to an artsy ‘Frisco hipster. I mean look at those colors! There’s a lot of them. And most of them are not shades of black or white! The only strange omission is an orange, but pretty much everyone else will be satisfied by the amount of options available. Of course, most of these colors will require you to special order it from Motorola (retail stores will likely only carry white, black, and a few other options), but I love the amount of color options. Nobody has every created a green smartphone. Or a burgundy one. Or a flesh colored one.
And just in case you weren’t already sold, you have not just colors, but different materials as well. Yesterday, Moto also announced several different varieties of wood varnishes. Nobody has ever done that before. Various metal materials were also originally rumored, but I have heard no confirmation yet.
I love this much customization in hardware aesthetics. However, with this much custom ordering, combined with the fact that these phones are being assembled in a new American factory (supposidly to knock off some shipping time), Motorola can sorta start to justify its off-contract starting price of $574.99 ($629.99 for 32GB). But only if you are one to prioritize aesthetics over specs. Honestly, I’m sure many will.
Made by Google
Also, in case you didn’t know, Google owns Motorola Mobility. Although Motorola had a device lineup in the pipeline before it was bought, this phone is the first fruit borne of that merger. And boy does it show. From the built in expanded functionality of Google Now, to the un-modified version of Android, to the highly customizable appearance and modest but decent specs, this phone practically sweats Google. As a result, I think this phone is going to get a lot of attention that it otherwise wouldn’t have gained. While it may not be a Nexus in name, you can bet the phone buying crowd will treat it that way.
But wait, there’s more…later
So, this phone announcement was apparently for America only. While its not surprising that Motorola, a company that has never done well in Europe, is focusing on the American market, Motorola’s CEO did allude to more versions being offered in the future, including a European version. In the announcement, CEO Dennis Woodside referred to Moto X as a “brand,” meaning that there will be multiple devices under the same moniker. Does that mean that a $300 lower specced version is coming? Maybe, but don’t hold your breath that that phone would be worth a damn. I wouldn’t recommend an Android phone running any lower specs than this. Nokia and Apple may be able to get away with a dual core processor in Windows Phone 8 and iOS, but those OS’s are considerably more efficient at dealing with lower end hardware than Android is. The point is, there will be more, there will be phones destined for other shores, and this is just the beginning.
Because of the innovative custom ordering process alone, I would love to see this phone succeed. I love the expanded features of Google Now, but I’m also conflicted about them. I fully expect that this phone will get a lot of attention, but I honestly don’t know how I expect it to perform. The fact is, Motorola is appealing to a crowd that we’re not really sure even exists. The Galaxy S4 is the only Android success story these days, and it’s clear that nobody picks the phone because of it’s beautiful hardware or variety of colors (I’m convinced the only reason Samsung succeeds is because of a combination of popularity, copious advertisements, and kool-aid drinking salespeople). Motorola might as well be fighting against the beautiful but ultimately poorly selling HTC One. Will people be willing to order their custom Moto X, wait for it to ship, and deal with ho-hum specs just for the sake of aesthetics and a few extra Google Now features?
I really hope so. I really want beauty and custom hardware to be the one to finally topple Samsung.