Android Refined: Moto X Smartphone Review

Design and Build Quality

"Designed and Assembled in the USA." It's something that you've probably seen on a high-end truck or power tool, or perhaps some giant wooden table in your grandmother's attic. But seeing such a phrase on a piece of gadgetry is practically unheard of these days. Nevertheless, the Moto X has such a phrase gently pressed on the rear of its casing, proving that this Android phone is actually put together by a group in Texas -- not in Asia. We harp on this because it's so incredibly unique. No other smartphone in recent memory has been assembled in the US, which puts this particular handset in a class of its own, at least for high tech devices.

The good news is that the phone feels exceptionally solid, and it could mark the start of even more consumer electronics being built stateside. Google's ill-fated Nexus Q was hand-built in America for a few short months, and Apple has stated that some of its iMacs are built here as well. But every single Moto X that rolls off of the assembly line is rolling out of a line in Texas, and that's a huge accomplishment. Moreover, there's only a slight price premium associated with it, which we'll touch on later.

For now, let's focus on this: the design and built quality of the X is top-shelf, through and through. In every regard, it's just solid. It's casing dense enough to feel substantial, without feeling overly heavy; the rear material is just soft enough to provide a textured grip; and the front of the phone is all black and delightfully understated. In fact, the Moto X as a whole definitely feels simplistic. It's not using a space-age design; it's classic, but it's done well.

The rear camera is situated atop the rear backing and in the center, while a dimpled "M" logo (for Motorola) sits just beneath it. Strangely, this is probably our favorite part of the design. The slight indention was made on purpose, because it's exactly where the average index finger will rest when you're using the phone in one-handed operation. It helps to keep the device stable, and it gives you confidence when using it with just a single hand. It's such an incredibly minor detail, but it's appreciated.

Along the left edge, you'll find a flush-mounted nano-SIM tray -- of note, this is one of only a few phones on the market using the newer, smaller nano-SIM standard, but more phones will no doubt lean on it in the future. The bottom edge is home to a micro-USB 2.0 port; the right edge has a standard volume rocker and power switch; and the top lip has a 3.5mm headphone jack. Be aware, however, that there's no way to remove the 2,200mAh battery nor a way to add a microSD card. You have to order the phone with 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, and that's it -- no expansion, period.

While many will be put off by this, we're okay with it. In our experience with microSD cards and Android phones, these cards tend to get corrupted far too frequently; we much prefer the inbuilt storage approach. That said, having a 64GB or 128GB option for power users would have been nice.

The 4.7-inch AMOLED display offers a 1,280 x 720 resolution. That's not even 1080p, but it honestly doesn't matter. The panel is crisp, bright, and accurate. We never found ourselves longing for something more dense, and we think it was designed this way on purpose. Fewer pixels requires less power, and when push comes to shove, the masses would probably take extra usage over a few extra pixels.

As has become the norm, call quality was perfectly acceptable, and even without a case, the hardware is fairly rugged and rigid. There's a 2MP front-facing camera for video chatting, while a 10MP camera (plus flash) sits on the rear. You'll soon see that the 10MP camera isn't a barn-burner, but then again, no Android phone yet has ever shipped with a camera that lived up to the sensor on the iPhone 5 and certainly not the Nokia Lumia 1020. Samsung's Galaxy S 4 is a better effort and the Moto X likely is about on par with that device we'd say.

We also appreciate the overall lack of branding. There's not a single marking on the front, and there's only a lightly-etched carrier logo on the back. Subtle and simple. One negative we found is that the phone tends to get quite warm in the hand during prolonged gaming sessions or extended video shooting. It's not a deal-breaker, but it is noticeable at times.

We can't close this section without mentioning Moto Maker (see our preview on it here). It's a web-based design studio that allows AT&T customers to create their own Moto X, with their own color and accent options, and have it shipped within a week. We selected two shades of blue, but far more elaborate dressings are possible. The studio is easy to use and quite fun, and there's no price premium for building a phone that's uniquely for you. That said, it's only for AT&T customers who want a new phone on-contract. If you want the Moto X for Sprint, Verizon Wireless or T-Mobile, you're stuck choosing from the basic black or white units. This probably has a lot to do with AT&T angling for an exclusive here, but it's a let-down in our estimation. Hopefully, Moto will open up Moto Maker to all users soon.

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