Motorola has been through a lot, to say the least. It was only a few years ago that Motorola had become an OEM struggling to stay afloat, as it was effectively an ODM for network operators in the US. We saw phone after phone pushed out with no real cohesive strategy. After its acquisition by Google, we saw a major shift. Motoblur was removed, and we saw a move AOSP UI to facilitate faster updates and smoother experience. The only real changes were Motorola’s custom apps and features, which still followed Android’s design principles. However, the Moto X seemed to lack in certain areas. The Snapdragon S4 Pro just couldn’t keep up with the Snapdragon 800 in performance and also used more power. The Clear Pixel camera was definitely interesting from an academic perspective, but at launch it was rather disappointing. Combined with Moto Maker exclusivity to AT&T and general exclusivity to the US, the Moto X was a great idea held back by timing and distribution. Today, Motorola hopes to make things right with the new Moto X. They’re also launching a new Moto G, the Moto 360, and Moto Hint.

The New Moto X

This brings us to the new Moto X. While Motorola is being acquired by Lenovo, it’s clear that the Motorola I saw today is still very much the same Motorola from the Google era. The new Moto X continues all of the differentiating features that we saw with the previous Moto X, and makes it better. Before we get into all of this though, we’ll go over the basics first. I’ve included these basic specs in the spec sheet to make things quick, as there’s a great deal of ground to cover for a first impressions piece.

  Motorola Moto X (Gen 1) Motorola Moto X (Gen 2)
SoC 1.7 GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro 2.5 GHz Snapdragon 801
RAM/NAND 2 GB, 16/32/64GB NAND 2GB, 16/32GB NAND
Display 4.7” 720p Super AMOLED 5.2” 1080p Super AMOLED
Network 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x15 IP block UE Category 3 LTE) 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x25 IP block UE Category 4 LTE)
Dimensions 129 x 65.3 x 5.7-10.4mm, 139 grams 140.8 x 72.4 x 3.8-9.9 mm, 144 grams
Camera 10MP Rear Facing, 1/2.6" CMOS size (OV10820), 2.1MP FFC 13MP Rear Facing, 1/3.06" CMOS size (Sony IMX135) F/2.25, 2.1MP FFC
Battery 2200 mAh, 3.8V, 8.36 Whr 2300 mAh, 3.8V, 8.74 Whr
OS Android 4.4.4 Android 4.4.4
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.0, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, MHL, DLNA, NFC 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, MHL, DLNA, NFC
SIM Size NanoSIM NanoSIM

As one can see, the new Moto X has a 5.2” 1080p SAMOLED display. In discussions with Motorola a new emitter material for the display was explicitly mentioned. This and the size/resolution of the display suggest that we’re looking at the same display generation as the Galaxy S5. However, in practice it isn't, after taking a quick look at the maximum luminance of the display. While the SoC isn’t Snapdragon 805, the use of a lower 1080p resolution means that it will be competitive with 1440p Snapdragon 805 devices. We also see a move from the 10.5MP Clear Pixel sensor to a standard 13MP Sony sensor. The relatively small battery is a bit concerning but there are a great deal of mitigations done by Motorola to try and keep this from being an issue.

Those make up the basics, and while I’m definitely going to get into more detail about those in a bit, one of the most immediate, major improvements are the new materials. Much like the Note 4, we see a metal ring that runs around the side of the phone, but unlike the Note 4 the rest of the phone curves outwards to reach its max thickness. The result is a phone similar in that the feel is much thinner than the maximum thickness suggests. The sheer thinness of the phone also helps with one-handed use. While not as compact as the first Moto X, the shape definitely makes the phone easier to use than the Samsung Galaxy S5 with one hand. The thin bezels and generally small profile makes the new Moto X closer to the LG G2 in usability with one hand, which is definitely great considering that this phone has dual front-facing speakers with an amp to go with it. The metal ring also serves as the antenna, and Motorola has done a surprising amount of work to make this happen which I’ll get to in a moment. Around this ring, on top we see the SIM tray and headphone jack. On the right side, there’s the power button and volume rocker. Both are clicky with no real slack, and the power button has a ridged pattern to it to distinguish it from the volume rocker. On the left side there’s nothing but the metal band, and on the bottom we see the microUSB port.

The front of the phone is dominated by the display, and there are a surprising number of elements to look at. There are two speaker grilles, which are made of aluminum and have the same ridged texture as the power button, which can have their color customized on Moto Maker. We see three light dots, two round circles, and a rounded rectangle. These make up the IR transmitters, a front facing camera, IR receiver, and the light sensor/proximity sensor. While the appearance of the IR transmitters, camera, and IR receiver make it appear that this phone has a 3D perspective feature like the Amazon Fire Phone, this is actually used to enable an improved Moto Display, air gestures, and Attentive Display. There’s also the same “magic” fused glass-plastic top layer that means there’s no lip to feel when swiping off the edge of the display, which definitely feels great.

The back of the phone contains the customizable back cover, which can now be leather, wood, or various types of plastic. There are two visible mics on the top and back of the phone. However, the real design elements here are the dimple and camera. The new dimple seems to be larger than before, and also has a metal accent surrounding it, which makes it seem a bit button-like even though it isn’t a button. The rear camera is a bit unremarkable but the ring diffuser and two LED flashes makes for a distinctive look. In my hands-on time I found the leather to feel and smell authentic, although a few years of intensive use may make the latter a terrible idea. Motorola emphasized that the Horween leather was tanned in Chicago and that the colors were custom for Motorola.

Overall, the industrial design and material design is a solid continuation of what we’ve seen of the Moto X. Motorola stated that this combined metal ring and plastic/wood/leather back made it possible to have both the premium feel of metal and the warmer feel of the customizable back. Of course, now that the basic hardware impressions are done it’s time to move on to the feature highlights of the new Moto X.

The Metal Frame & External Antenna with Dynamic Tuning


View All Comments

  • joannecdinkins - Friday, September 5, 2014 - link

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  • JoricK - Friday, September 5, 2014 - link

    Yeah, great preview Joshua. Thanks a lot ! Reply
  • peckiro - Friday, September 5, 2014 - link

    Great article. Motorola err Lenovo may have a winner here, and for much less than the other flagships. Reply
  • KJCtech - Friday, September 5, 2014 - link

    The Moto X looks like its going to be my next smartphone. I feel I might be spoiled by it. Reply
  • tuxRoller - Friday, September 5, 2014 - link

    Are you sure about the ir needing visible light? Why? It has three EMITTERS.
    I would think the ir sensors would detect an objects presence then switch on camera for details (like focus point of eyes). Perhaps a bit more detail in that section?
    Otherwise, tremendous preview!
  • Zoomer - Saturday, September 6, 2014 - link

    FF cam likely has a IR filter, which means visible light is needed.

    Hmm...might be a good idea to remove the IR filter. Selfies are overrated.
  • tuxRoller - Saturday, September 6, 2014 - link

    The ir filter is a good point, however the article suggests that the ir system ON ITS OWN can detect eye focus (or at least make a good guess). That wouldn't need visible light in order to work.
    As I said, is really like a bit more clarity in that section, but I don't expect it. For some reason the writers have never responded to me...
  • JoricK - Friday, September 5, 2014 - link

    Don't you think it's a mistake going from 4,7 to 5,2'' ? Reply
  • gg555 - Friday, September 5, 2014 - link

    Great article.

    One question, you talk about the four microphone noise cancellation being designed to improve the performace of the voice command functionality. But will it also function for noise cancellation during calls?


    That aside, for those worried about the battery size, I think we really have to wait for reviews to see how it performs. It seems like Motorola is doing a lot of its own optimizing to help with things like this. There are two sides to this equation, battery size and power consumption. Keep in mind that the iPhone has always had a relatively small battery and yet it has hands down the best battery life amongst smartphones. That's because of how Apple optimizes the rest of the hardware and software. And AMOLED screens are very power efficient. Anyway, I'm not saying 2300 mAh is good, but you really have to wait to see.

    That aside, I do feel torn about this phone. It has a great design. The four microphone noise cancellation could be a singularly great feature in a world where smartphones having actually been going backwards and embracing worse technology (Qualcomm's mediocre Fluence, over the Audience Earsmart chip). It still seems unclear if the phone has stereo front facing speakers or not, but if it does that would be great. The AMOLED screen ought to be very good and I'm glad Motorola skipped the gratuitous QHD screen resolution. And the focus on improving phone reception, explained in the article, sounds like another good step to improve the functional details that many manufacturers shrug their shoulders about and go "good enough."

    On the other hand, 2 GB of RAM, USB 2.0 and the 801 processor really are lasts year's flasghip specs (the 805 processor has been in several phones available already a few months ago). And though the new camera module may be an overall improvement, it's hard not to feel like the move from a 1/2.6 to the smaller 1/3.06 sensor size is not a step backwards (as well as the lack of OIS being disappointing)--it's really a run of the mill camera by today's standards. The IR hand gestures functionality also feels pretty gimmicky to me, it's hard for me to see really carying about this much.

    Also, what is up with that ugly enormous logo on the back? A real blotch on an otherwise beautiful design, especially poking like a silvery scab through the customizable wood (or other material) back. It seems like an attempt on Motorola's part to make some big glossy thing like the Apple logo (similar size and placement). But the Motorola "M" is never going to have the cache of the Apple logo, get over it. Anyway, do we all need to be flashy Apple snobs? Go back to the more discreet logo of the original Moto X please--that was in good taste.

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