Review: Moto X Pure Edition
Everything about the smartphone is metamorphosing before our eyes. Phones are no longer just a place to collect your apps, throwing them in a drawer to open and close and sometimes hamfistedly share data between. The devices are becoming more thoughtful and proactive, figuring out what you need and doing it for you—maybe even before you ask. A great phone isn’t a computer anymore, it’s a partner in crime.
Funny thing about all that: Motorola’s knows it. The company’s known it for a while now. Since the first Moto X, way back before Google sold the brand to Lenovo in a fire sale, Motorola has tried to build phones that feel more natural, more organic. The hardware is meant to be comfortable and personal, the software adaptive and helpful. For two years running, Moto’s had all the right ideas. But for two years running, it’s whiffed on the easy stuff: including a good camera, keeping up with the latest specs.
This time, the Moto X covers the bases. There are technically two models, Play and Pure Edition. (The Pure Edition is called Style internationally, because … something? Who knows.) It’s the Pure Edition that matters: This is the spiritual successor to the previous Moto X, with the same features and a whole lot more horsepower. It’s being sold for $399, unlocked, directly from Motorola. It works on every carrier in the US, all in this one model, though you can’t pick it up in carrier stores. You should seriously consider buying it, however. The Moto X is a clear glimpse of how a phone should work for and with you, and a model of how phones should be sold going forward. It’s also (finally) just a really good phone.
There a lot to talk about, but here’s the most important thing: The camera doesn’t suck anymore. The 21-megapixel camera on the back takes clean, sharp photos in most situations, and even does well enough in low light that I wouldn’t fear taking this phone anywhere. Ditto the 4K video, which looks great. The phone does have a tendency to slightly de-saturate photos shot in bright light, making everything look a little duller than real life. But that’s nothing an Instagram filter can’t solve. The camera is fast, too, as is the twisty gesture you make to access it. It’s not the best camera you can get—that’d be the Samsung lineup or the iPhone—but it’s good enough.
My only lingering issues with the camera are with its app. I hate its shooting mechanic, where you just tap on the screen and it focuses, exposes, and captures in one fell swoop. Over and over, it just missed focus—and enabling, then awkwardly dragging the focus ring around is hardly a real solution. It’s even weirdly confusing to use; most people understand what a shutter button looks like, but hand someone your phone and say, “Just poke the screen anywhere,” and see how that goes. I will say this: It is a ridiculously fast way to take pictures. Shooting landscapes, people, anything easy, you’ll be fine. But I stood at a concert last weekend, trying to photograph the performers, and I mostly just got blurred mess. Still, though—it’s mostly a great camera.
Little has changed about the rest of the software, presumably because it didn’t need much changing. The X comes with almost-pure Android 5.1, along with the best list of customizations anyone offers. Moto Voice is an extension of Google Now, letting you do searches, set alarms, and play music by talking to your phone. You don’t even have to unlock the phone to do it, either, if you set up a wake word. It can be anything in theory, but the X didn’t think my choices of “Hey dude” and “Yo phone” were unique enough. I wound up with “OK Moto X.” Say that from across the room, and the phone wakes up, ready for action.
All the customizations live in the Moto app, which with a Migrate app for setting up your phone is nearly the only shovelware on the device. In that app, you can program your phone to automatically go silent when you’re asleep or in a meeting, or sense that you’re driving and read incoming texts aloud. And you can’t forget about Moto Display, that handiest of features that subtly blinks a portion the display on and off when there’s something you need to see. At its best, the Moto X feels almost sentient. Like it knows what you’re doing, who you are, and what you need to know right now. That, right there, is what every smartphone should aim for.
But it’s that “almost” that still gets me. The voice-activation system is supposed to learn and recognize only my voice. But I did some testing in which I asked other people to try getting it to respond, and it’s still so easy to trick that I can’t believe Motorola even pretends it knows you specifically. Also, there are still too many times you get a Google search when you should get an answer. When I say, “Watch Parks and Recreation,” I want to, you know, watch Parks and Recreation. Voice assistants like this are great only when they’re always great, because otherwise you give up the guessing game and just do it the way you always have. It’s come a long way, and it’s a crazy useful tool for most common things you do on your phone, but it’s not quite the game-changing tool it could be.
Back when the first Moto X launched, the team behind it swore up and down that specs didn’t matter. They said the phone, which looked pretty average on paper, was greater than the sum of that parts. Well, Motorola’s changed its mind, and the new X is beastly. It has a 5.7-inch, 1440×2560 screen that looks perfect. It has a Snapdragon 808 processor, 3 gigs of RAM, and between 16 and 64 gigabytes of storage. It gets a full day of battery life, but really nothing more, and it charges really fast.
None of that separates the X from the pack, but it’s all very good. That’s the neat thing about smartphones in 2015: they’re all fast, they all have good screens, and they’ll all do the things they need to do. That means you get to care about other things.
Motorola’s selling point is the thing itself, the look and feel of the X. It’s still softly curved to nestle gently into your palm, and it’s still really comfortable to hold. The metal edge is sturdy and handsome, though I’m not a fan of the slight protrusion of the stripe on the back—my fingers can’t help but touch the seam. Generally, the shape hasn’t changed, only grown as all phones have. Once, the X was the lone smallish holdout among great Android phones. Now, it’s huge, and at 5.7 inches we’re nearing the point where the curved back and corresponding chunkiness start to cause problems. It’s about the same size as the iPhone 6 Plus, but there’s so much more phone to wield that it’s much harder to use in one hand. Such are the compromises with any big phone, but you’re making a second compromise here: straddling the line between an ineffable sense of humanity, and being able to reach the damn icon with your thumb.
The best thing about it is still the fact that you can customize it on Moto Maker. There are 18 backs and seven “accents” to choose from, including out-there materials like leather, bamboo, and rosewood. Mine’s walnut, and the finish is remarkably smooth. The X has its own vibe, different from the Galaxies and iPhones of the world, which feel like sculptures you can touch. Neither’s necessarily better, only different.
Perhaps more revolutionary than any of the hardware and software features of the Moto X is the way it’s sold: $400, unlocked, and compatible with any carrier you want. I just switched my T-Mobile SIM for my Verizon one, sent a text, and then swapped back. Just for fun. Because that’s a thing people do. It’s not the best Android phone at any price, but it’s probably the best value you’ll find anywhere.
It’s also the first phone of its kind made by a company—what up, Lenovo—with the clout to convince more than a few Americans to buy a phone outside of a carrier store. And it’s a good enough phone that you should maybe let Lenovo convince you.
Original post –