Android Refined: Moto X Smartphone Review

Software and User Experience

Software-wise, this is as close as you're going to get to finding a Nexus phone, without it being either a Nexus phone or a "Google Play Edition." To date, both the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 have shipped as Google Play Editions, with almost-stock versions of Android. Meanwhile, the LG Nexus 4 remains the latest Nexus phone, but it is beginning to show signs of age at this point. The Moto X ships with Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean), which means that Google Now is installed by default. Motorola, now under Google's stewardship, has chosen to only gently touch-up the stock version of Android. When you boot up the phone for the first time, you may mistake it as vanilla Android -- and that's a good thing.
Motorola has only added a few nuggets to what Google assembled from the factory, and unlike some skins that go way, way overboard, these additions are actually useful. In fact, some are so useful that we would be surprised if Google didn't borrow them and make them mainstays in future builds of the Android OS.


Motorola Migrate is a useful migration tool that helps users of older Android phones pass along their text history, call history, videos, photos, music and SIM contacts to their new Moto X. Motorola Connect is a brilliant program that enables users to compose and reply to incoming text messages on their laptop -- using just a Chrome browser, regardless of whether you're on a Mac or PC. The only downside? Unlike iMessage, you can't use Wi-Fi to send texts; Connect still relies on your Moto X having a mobile signal. In other words, you can't use Gogo Wi-Fi in the sky to send messages as you can with iMessage, even while your phone is in airplane mode.

Motorola Connect

Motorola Assist is a great feature that actually gets more useful as you use it. It can detect when you're driving automatically, so it can read out who is calling or texting -- allowing you to keep your attention on the road. And, similar to Apple's Do Not Disturb function in iOS, Assist recognizes when you're in need of rest. After hours, it only lets important calls through, and you can set actions and exceptions so that they work exactly how you want them to.

Touchless Controls are what they say they are: they allow you to control much of your phone via voice. Right away, you're prompted to record your own voice to say "Ok Google Now." That way, you can use this prompt to have your phone unlock and listen to you, and only you. You can ask it to send a text to someone; ask it about your upcoming appointments; ask it about a score to a sporting event; ask it for the weather; and ask it to launch an app. In many ways, it's like Siri, but we've found Google's take far more flexible.

Touchless Control

Active Display is partly a hardware feature (enabled due to AMOLED technology's ability to display certain pixels while shutting the power to others), but it's also a great software feature. Essentially, the Moto X understands if it's in your pocket or face down, and won't throw up any displays on the screen if so. But, if it's face up on your desk and you get a new email, only a precious few pixels will light up on the display alerting you to it. From there, you can slide up to hop right into the app (messages, email, etc.). It drains next to no power, and it's our favorite notification innovation in years.

Active Display

Finally, there's Skip. Skip is a $20 NFC clip that's meant to be dropped over a pocket or belt loop, so that each time you remove your Moto X from your pocket, it brushes by your authenticated Skip and automatically unlocks the screen. Think about it: you probably unlock your phone's screen via PIN 50 to 100 times per day. Skip helps you save precious seconds by unlocking it as you pull it out to look at it. Skip is also being included for free for a limited time with all AT&T Moto Maker orders. This is the type of subtle, but useful innovation that we wish every phone maker would strive for -- Skip seems so minor, but it's so enjoyable to the phone out and not have to unlock it 100x per day.

Motorola Skip

In closing, there is a bit of bloatware. Each carrier partner in the U.S. has installed a few programs of their own. For AT&T, there's AT&T Visual Voicemail, for instance. On Verizon, there's VZ Navigator. The good news is that these are usually easy to shove away, and they don't run on first-use or drain resources. Still, this is one area where we much prefer the vanilla Android experience: no carrier bloatware makes the phone feel so much cleaner.

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