The Moto X and Nexus 5 pre-release thoughts

Prior to August 2013, I would always say, “I only buy Nexus phones.” I have owned and used the Nexus One, Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus, and Nexus 4. I was ready to buy whatever Google would announce as the next Nexus. I have been pleased with all that the Nexus devices bring, and willing to forgive what they usually lack (primarily decent cameras). However this past summer Motorola announced the Moto X, and it changed everything.

The Moto X is the first real contender to a Nexus device. Why? Mostly because of what the Moto X brings, feature-wise. But also because I recognize that the weaknesses of the Nexus line are not going away anytime soon. What follows is a brief overview of why I think the Moto X is my next device (on contract, even!).

I will also compare to the Nexus 5 with whatever information is available currently as the Nexus 5 is the competing device for me.

Table of Contents (I told you it was long!)
CPU
GPU
Design / Customization
Screen
Phone
Co-Processors
Features
Camera
Battery
Hardware Support
What I Don’t Like
Final Thoughts

CPU

I’m going to start here because a lot of people give the Moto X a hard time for being a dual-core “mid-range” phone. In the year where flagship Android phones are quad-core, the Moto X stays dual-core. Does this matter? No. Seriously. Now let me explain why.

Qualcomm S4 Pro, not your Nexus 4’s S4 Pro

The processor in the Moto X is the Qualcomm S4 Pro, and is actually using the same architecture as the HTC One and Samsung S4 processors. Krait 300 is the architecture, the SoC in those the One/S4 is the Qualcomm 600.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 (NOT in the Moto X, but just to give you an idea)

What’s confusing about all this is that the Nexus 4 (the 2012 Nexus phone) runs a quad-core “Snapdragon S4 Pro” processor. They’re not the same chip, and if you know this you can skip the next few paragraphs. Qualcomm doesn’t help at all. See here:

Qualcomm’s Nexus 4 page: “Featuring a Snapdragon S4 Pro Processor

Qualcomm’s Moto X page: “Featuring a Snapdragon S4 Pro Processor

nexus4-qualcomm-snapdragons4pro

motox-qualcomm-snapdragons4pro

What about when you click the “specs” link? Ah-ha, so here we see that the Nexus 4 is running  a “1.5 Ghz quad core CPU” whereas the Moto X is running a “1.7 Ghz Dual-Core Krait CPU.” So the Moto X says Krait, that must mean the S4 Pro in the Nexus 4 isn’t a Krait? I’m sorry, that’s not the difference either, not exactly. The Nexus 4 is also running a Krait architecture CPU. Does this mean that my Moto X has half the power the Nexus 4 does? Would I really be downgrading here?

What’s better about the Moto X’s Snapdragon S4 Pro?

But they’re not the same chip at all. So what IS the difference? Let’s review Wikipedia. Here you will find that the Nexus 4 is using the model APQ8064, and that runs a CPU which is based on the Krait 200 architecture. That is one generation before the Krait 300 in the Moto X and HTC One / Samsung Galaxy S4. This would be like comparing Intel’s chip from 2011 (Sandy Bridge) to their chip from 2012 (Ivy Bridge). The architecture is roughly the same but it did receive a few tweaks here and there to make things better, and more efficient.

What exactly did the Krait 300 do better than the Krait 200? I will lean heavily on Anandtech here.

  • Faster clock speeds: Krait 200 topped out at 1.5Ghz whereas Krait 300 can go up to 1.9 Ghz, obviously in the Moto X they have it set to 1.7Ghz
  • There are prefetchers in the 300 (grabs data quicker from L2 cache) whereas the Krait 200 would not grab data pre-emptively (gotta keep the CPU cycles fed!)
  • Improved branch prediction, which improves instructions per cycle and power efficiency
  • Krait 300 can execute more instructions out of order vs Krait 200
  • A few other minor improvements I don’t understand

So is the Moto X CPU good?

So the point of all this is, the Moto X’s Snapdragon S4 Pro is a different beast than the Nexus 4’s Snapdragon S4 Pro. Except for multi-threaded situations where the Nexus 4 will fare better, the Moto X is an equally capable if not better phone. You can see evidence of this on the Anandtech CPU benchmark page, the AndEBench is multi-threaded and the Moto X is annihilated by its quad-core brethren, but all other tests the Moto X pulls ahead of the Nexus 4.

Still in day to day use, you just don’t feel slow on this phone. I loved the speed and fluidity on my Nexus 4 and I feel the same speed and fluidity on the Moto X. I have never had a moment where I thought the Nexus 4 was faster.

In his review, Anandtech’s Klug points out that because there are only two cores the Moto X processor can run at it’s top speed more consistently (1.7Ghz) when compared to say the Galaxy S4, which due to heat/power issues has to constantly throttle its cores from max 1.9 Ghz to something slower. While this works out well for most single threaded applications, he voices a concern that the Moto X might not do as well in the “race to sleep” game because it only has two cores to complete a task, and battery life may suffer for it.

From experience though, I’d say that in most-use scenarios what you end up with is better battery life. This is because amazingly, for the vast majority of consumers we are actually reaching the point where all phones built in late 2012 and 2013 are fast enough for what we need. What we need is phone, email, web browsing, social networking and cameras. Games are important for some too, but few games are CPU taxing. When you’re not doing one of those things, your phone is idle (except the radios which are working hard to maintain WiFi and/or cellular connection). Rather than power four separate CPUs to perform simple tasks, the Moto X proposes to do the same work with 2 and expects the CPU taxing scenarios to be rare events.

Hell even Apple’s A7 is still dual-core, and I would not question Apple’s ARM CPU team.

So all of the above is to argue that the processor is more advanced than the outgoing Nexus 4, and the Nexus 4 is still good for the majority of tasks so the Moto X should be too, and it is. Don’t let the “more corez!” craze make you think otherwise.

How would it compare to the Nexus 5 processor?

The Nexus 5 processor is based on an even newer architecture, the Krait 400 (the SoC is Snapdragon 800). In comparison to the Snapdragon 600 SoC, the 800 series gets you USB 3.0, dual ISP, UltraHD capture/playback (which is why the Note 3 can record in 4K), and Miracast built-in.

As for the CPU, the Krait 400 is a couple tweaks to the Krait 300 which allows it to run faster (up to 2.3 Ghz) and access memory faster too. The Nexus 5 will load games faster, and if you do things like edit/compress videos on your phone, that will be faster too. The Nexus 5 CPU is superior to the Moto X but in most day to day tasks you won’t really feel the difference. Your emails, facebook browsing and banking will not be that much better.

GPU

Let’s begin with the fact that Moto X has a 720p screen. I’ll address this more in the “Screen” section, but what it means for the GPU is that there are less pixels to drive.

So if you take two GPUs that are exactly the same, they’ll be able to perform faster (or cooler) in a Moto X than a phone with a 1080p screen (such as the HTC One or Galaxy S4). That is why in most benchmarks you’ll see the Moto X meet or exceed the capabilities of the other flagship devices. The Moto X uses the Adreno 320, and the HTC One and Galaxy S4 also use an Adreno 320. Same GPU, but driving different resolutions.

So the GPU can run all the latest graphics intensive games on the Android Play Store from 2013. Essentially if it runs well on an HTC One or Galaxy S4, then it will probably run well on a Moto X.

The Snapdragon 800 in the Nexus 5 has a newer Adreno unit, the Adreno 330, which is marginally better but we will have to wait for benchmarks to see what kind of impact this will have on real-world use. Qualcomm claims the 330 gets 50% more performance than the 320, but recall that in terms of pixel count the Nexus 5 has 225% more pixels to push than a Moto X. Of course things don’t always scale as expected, but my guess is that the performance of the Moto X and Nexus 5 will be roughly even as the Adreno 330 on the Nexus 5 has to push more pixels negating some of the advancements in its GPU.

DESIGN / CUSTOMIZATION

What I love about the Moto X is that it has a 4.7” screen but fits comfortably in my hand. The Nexus 4 was awkward to hold one handed for extended periods, and awkward to operate one handed for interacting with screen items in the opposite top corner. I do love the Nexus 5 design but I don’t like its dimensions. After using the Nexus 4 for half a year it’s refreshing to have a phone that fits comfortably in my jeans pocket. Build quality of the Moto X is superb. The buttons are just the right amount of clicky and the phone has some weight to it.

There’s also the Moto Maker, which allows you to customize a Moto X to your liking. Pick your colors, pick what you want your phone to say on the bootup screen and it’ll be delivered to your door in 4 days or less (in my experience, 2). The phones are assembled in Texas and this allows Motorola to take orders and ship them out quickly. Currently this is exclusive to AT&T. I think it was good to go this exclusive route because no doubt they needed to work out any kinks before rolling it out to all 4 carriers. It works as advertised and I think it’s going to be a hit among some casual smartphone users

SCREEN

So most people think that 720p is so 2012 right? My question to you would be, do you really think you’ll notice?

Pixels

I think what Apple has done to push the industry to higher PPI (pixels per inch) is great. However I also think there is a point of diminishing returns and hitting 1080p on devices that have screens between 4 and 5 inches might be it. Yes I can see pixels when I put my face next to a Moto X, but that’s not how I use the phone.

In short the PPI of an iPhone is better than a Nexus 4 and a Moto X. The PPI on an HTC One, Galaxy S4 and Nexus 5 tops the iPhone 5s.

I like the idea that the GPU is working less to power my phone’s display when compared to other flagship phones of 2013. Yet again this should help with battery life and keeping things cool inside, which in turn should allow the CPU to get as hot (read: fast) as it needs to for certain tasks.

Colors

But pixels are not everything. Having an accurate reproduction is important too, and for that you need true to life colors. iPhones (and pretty much any Apple device) have a reputation for having excellent color reproduction primarily because they’re tuned at the factory. Some Android manufacturers come close (HTC) but Samsung typically blows accuracy because they use OLED panels.

The Moto X uses OLED too. I love blacks on an OLED as they’re actually black (because the pixel is off, more on this under Features) when compared to an LCD screen’s black. However colors are not accurate on OLEDs because the saturation is usually off. You can actually click through color tests of different displays on the Anandtech review.

I’ll admit then that the Moto X display has compromises. You lose PPI, you lose accuracy. The benefits are somewhat improved battery life, inky blacks and a neat feature called “Active Notifications,” which is something that just is not possible in a battery-friendly manner on an LCD display because of the aforementioned difference in how OLEDs handle black. (again, more on this later, under “Features”).

PHONE

Motorola has been making phones for a while. This smartphone is an excellent phone. Calls are clear, they’re loud and I get cellular signal in places where the Nexus 4 would have difficulty.

CO-PROCESSORS

Apple has co-processors in the iPhone 5s. The Moto X actually had them first. That’s actually what Motorola is referring to when they advertise their “X8” system.

Now let’s go back to that Wikipedia page and see what the Moto X uses: MSM8960DT which has as its CPU a Krait 300, but this SoC also has other processors which actually play into why I think the Moto X is so great. Motorola actually designed these co-processors themselves, though they did not manufacture them.

So what’s the X8? It’s marketing-speak count of how many processor cores there are, though that’s if you greatly liberalize what you mean by cores. You have the dual-core CPU (2), you have the quad-core GPU (Adreno 320), and then there are 2 other processors. The first is the Natural Language processor (1), and the other is the Contextual processor (1).

We’ve already gone through the CPU/GPUs so let’s quickly review the other two processors, and then we can go into the special features of this phone which help separate it from a Nexus device.

Contextual processor (Cp)

This processor’s can detect/record motion, and handle sensor and display interactions. Rather than expect the CPU to involved in mundane tasks such as detecting motion for apps such as step counters or what have you, the Moto X has a processor dedicated to gathering this information. Apple has done something similar in the iPhone 5s, what they call their M7 motion sending processor which works together with a software API called CoreMotion API.

Motorola uses it to enable cool features such as QuickCapture and Motorola Assist features like Driving mode. (All discussed under Features section).

Natural Language processor (NLp)

Android and iOS (after the introduction of Siri) allow for voice dictation and commands. Basically you invoke the “listening” (usually by pressing a software button) and say, “Is it going to rain today?” The phone actually does not do the decoding of your voice itself, at least not by default. (Android will allow you to download a dictionary so that even in offline mode it can type what you dictate.) Instead the CPU inside your phone will record your voice and then send it to a server, where the hard decoding occurs, and then this data is sent back to the phone. If you don’t have an active internet connection, the voice actions in Android (and Siri) will fail, or if you’re just dictating, the voice decoding may not be as accurate.

So what’s this Natural Language processor (NLp) doing for us? Well as I mentioned, in a traditional phone the main CPU listens. The Moto X’s NLp does the listening, offloading the CPU.

The NLp is always on, and allows for an “always listening” feature (see “Touchless Control” section), such that you don’t even need to press a button to activate voice actions. So the way this works is the phone is constantly listening to the surrounding, constantly decoding what you are saying and when it hears you say the hot word it will wake the phone’s display up and get ready to listen for more commands which are still sent to Google’s cloud. The NLp is not as accurate as sending the audio to servers but it’s good enough to enable “Touchless Control.”

Also there are 3 microphones on the Moto X which help the NLp detect your voice over ambient noise.

Co-Processors improve battery while maintaining certain features

Recall the “race to sleep” strategy I mentioned earlier, here the Cp and NLp only wake the CPU when needed, and handle basic tasks on their own. The less you wake the main CPU, the less battery you use. Both co-processors deal with situations where there’s a very very low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). (Low signal to noise ratios are bad.)

If we use the Contextual processor as an example. I have my phone in my pocket, mostly, where it bounces up/down with my walking. This is the “noise.” Sometimes I’ll take it out to look at the time, or I’m driving in a car. These situations are the “signal,” the thing I want the phone to pick up on.

Now let’s take the NLp as an example. I talk around my phone all the time, sometimes I’m talking to other people and sometimes I’m talking to myself. That’s all noise. When I want to voice-activate the phone, I need to say a hot word like, “Ok Google Now,” and this is the “signal”.

Using the primary CPU in these low SNR situations is not feasible, it would directly reduce battery performances. Even if the features are handy/useful, they would outweigh the negation in battery performance. But with co-processors that are low-powered and designed to work exactly in these low SNR situations, you can have your cake and eat it too. You can maintain these features and maintain good battery life.

FEATURES

Before I go into the obvious user-facing features, I want to briefly talk about another feature which probably isn’t highlighted enough.

F2FS Storage

Anandtech’s Klug highlights F2FS in his review. Moto X uses a different file system for user space which enables the Moto X to feel as fast as the day you got it no matter how full the phone gets. Pictures speak louder than words, so it’s best to go to Anandtech’s review page and look at the benchmarks. As it is the Moto X is either as fast or faster when it comes to reading/writing to its NAND flash storage device.

The best part is near the bottom where there are tables showing “Moto X Storage Performance.” Klug fills the Moto X storage almost completely and re-runs the benchmarks. As expected the benchmarks degrade, but only by about 25% (Random Write).

Compare this to the Nexus 7 2012 model pre-4.3 update where the device’s performance slowed to a crawl. General usability was hit in the worst way. As you may recall the Nexus 7 (2012) 8GB was the worst offender of this phenomenon. Again Klug addressed this when Android 4.3 was released, as TRIM support was baked into that version of Android and brought performance back to the original Nexus 7.

Of course the Nexus 5, running 4.4, should have the same TRIM support present in Android 4.3. The difference is Moto X’s F2FS executes TRIM commands on delete whereas stock Android waits for periods of inactivity. What this means then is if you fill up an Android 4.3+ device and then delete to make room again, performance will be impacted at least until Android feels it is the right time to run TRIM and reclaim performance.

This is incredible! I have full confidence that the Moto X will feel as fast and nimble in the future when I have filled it with photos, music, etc. as the day I took out of the box.

Now on to the user facing features. The Co-Processors section above should explain how Motorola can bring you the following features without killing your battery.

Active Notifications (ANs)

Motorola utilizes the way OLED panels work in a smart, efficient way, in combination with co-processors.

Quickly let’s review OLEDs and LCDs.

LCDs need a backlight (either LED or CCFL) to shine through a liquid crystal which is either red, green or blue, and creates images. If you want to create black, you need to turn these crystals off (you can’t exactly turn the backlight off, even with local-dimming displays). OLEDs are self-emitting, the pixel ITSELF lights up, there’s no light behind it. So when you need to display something black, you just turn that pixel off.

Now think about how many times you take your phone out to look at the time, or see what notification you just got. Each time you do this, you wake your display. Each time you wake your display, you use a little bit of your battery. Motorola’s solution? Let’s wake the display, but only when necessary, and just as crucially what’s necessary. So if you pull out your phone to check the time, the clock pops up in white text on a pitch black screen.

The only portion of the display that’s actually on is the clock, all other screen pixels are off, as in not consuming any battery. An LCD can create a similar effect, but in LCDs even the black portions are using power because the backlight is still on.

It gets better.

Active Notifications (ANs) work in conjunction with the Contextual processor (Cp) in the Moto X. So when I take my phone out of my pocket, the Cp senses this because of data from the proximity sensor and the motions involved, and it automatically wakes the screen and flashes the time and if relevant, any notification icons. The CPU has not woken up yet, I didn’t wake the entire screen, but I know right away what the time is and if there’s a notification I need more information on.

Want to see what that last notification is? Just touch the circle and more information is displayed on the screen. Here’s a gif of it in action which I grabbed from Android Central.

Again I suspect ANs is using the power of the Cp (which is sensing the finger) to change the display, avoiding battery hogging CPU and display wakes. This has dramatically cut down how many times I actually need to wake the phone.

And how does it work in practice? The Moto X’s Active Notifications (AN) is an app that runs on top of the lock screen at all times. When the phone is sleeping, it’s actually running AN. This isn’t strange of course, when my Android phone is sleeping it may be downloading torrents, syncing my email, backing up my pictures to Google+. The difference of course is that it’s running and technically it’s USING YOUR SCREEN when your phone is sleeping. But since it’s displaying black, the screen is actually off. I know this because when I hit the sleep/wake button, the lock screen is displayed. But of course the AN app has the ability to unlock the phone on its own so often I end up bypassing the traditional Android lock screen altogether.

Touchless Control

This feature allows you to wake your phone from lock by your voice alone. I detailed the Natural Language processor (NLp) above, that’s what makes this possible.

Need to check the weather? Just say the hot phrase: “Ok Google Now, what’s the weather like?” I’m going to let Marques Brownlee show this feature off.

As you can see the phone was sitting in the back in a sleeping state. The key phrase was detected and the NLp recorded the audio that followed, which is the weather query, unlocked the phone, started up Google Now, and uploaded the audio capture (that’s why there was a delay).

This may seem like a gimmick, but it’s actually incredibly handy. Driving? Just say the phrase and ask the phone to make a call for you. Lost your phone somewhere in the room? Just use the hot phrase and say “Find my phone,” no need to use the web-based Android Device Manager. Need to know the store hours for Jiffy Lube, just say, “OK Google Now, what are the store hours for Jiffy Lube?” and you’ll have your answer without touching your phone. Much like google’s instant search and knowledge graph, the hope is this will save you a few seconds of time and the work of unlocking your phone so that you get what you need and get on with life.

I use it at least a couple of times, though usually I am alone when I do. I still feel pretty self conscious when I talk to my phone in public (or around anyone that isn’t my wife).

Motorola Assist: Driving

The Contextual processor (Cp) will let the phone know when you’re driving with the phone. It will automatically tell you who is calling so you don’t need to look at your phone. It will read back your text message to you so that you don’t need to look at your phone. The phone knows when you’re done driving so it isn’t still reading your text messages to you when you get to your destination. This feature can be turned off.

Quick Capture

You need your camera quickly. Windows Phone and some Android phones use a dedicated hardware button to bring you your camera. iPhone and some Android phones (including bring a camera shortcut to the lock screen. The Cp in the phone allows you to do this specific gesture with the phone to bring up the camera app quickly. It’s akin to someone trying to open a door, with two shakes of a door knob. Here is a Motorola marketing video of Quick Capture:

Motorola Moto X Quick Capture

Motorola Connect

This is something third party apps have been doing for Android devices for a while. Motorola allows me to connect my browser (Chrome) to my phone so that if my phone received a carrier text message it shows up in my browser. I can reply from my browser window to said text message. I can check the battery level of my phone. I can see who is calling.

Motorola Moto X Motorola Connect

The nice thing about this software being tied to Chrome (a browser) is that it is automatically cross-platform (available on Windows, OS X and other OSes like Ubuntu).

Motorola Skip

I haven’t used this yet but the concept is simple. If you have a lock on your phone, you have decided that the benefits of having a lock outweigh the inconvenience of having to unlock it each time you check something. The Skip allows you to have the best of both worlds. If you wear a Skip device on you then just tap your locked phone against the Skip and your phone is unlocked. It’s that simple.

Engadget video of Motorola Moto X Skip in action

The Skip comes with three additional stickers which they call “Dots” which let you set what you do the same thing but are designed to be place in trusted areas such as your bedroom, car dashboard, etc.

Apple has a solution to get the best of both worlds in their iPhone 5s: the fingerprint reader. It works as advertised and though technically it can be fooled, for all intents and purposes it is a solid security feature. Apple’s advantage is you always have your fingers (I would hope), whereas If you lose your Skip device you have to manually unlock. Motorola’s Skip has the advantage for when your fingers/hands are dirty or you’re wearing gloves (medical, winter, whatever).

Trusted Bluetooth

Not too dissimilar from Skip except instead of relying on a Motorola product you can use any bluetooth device to bypass the lock.

Android Central went over it here. In short if you are in your car and it pairs with your bluetooth then it’s more likely than not that you have your phone with you and the lock screen is turned off. Or maybe you use one of those fancy bluetooth watches like the Pebble. If your phone is in range of your Pebble, it will allow you to bypass a security pin. As soon as you walk out of range, the security pin kicks back in.

CAMERA

The Moto X camera’s quality is good enough, but better than any Nexus camera I used. The camera was fairly weak upon the phone’s release but a firmware update quickly fixed many of its flaws. Brian Klug of Anandtech did some before and after shots, as did other tech websites.

I’m pleased with the camera in day time shots, but I’m not happy with its performance in low-light despite having what Motorola proudly claims its “Clear Pixel” tech, which is essentially just having larger pixels to gather more light. The shots are still fairly noisy, unfortunately. But I am hopeful that there may still be room for improvement with even more updates. Check out the before/after update comparisons below and you’ll see what I mean. The update Motorola sent out dramatically improved picture quality.

Brian Klug’s before and after pictures. Droid Life before/after update comparison, and finally Wired before/after update comparison.

Side Note, Nexus 5 Camera

I predicted that the Nexus 5 camera would actually not be all that special. History played a role in this prediction, as every Nexus device that has come before it has had disappointing cameras. Unlike other OEMs (Apple, HTC, Nokia), a Nexus device does not have the luxury of using top-secret software/hardware optimized ISP (image signal processor), it simply has to make do with whatever is available on Qualcomm’s chip. Apple uses customized lenses and its own secret custom ISP. Nokia’s Lumia 1020 actually uses the ISP in the Qualcomm chip inside, but with Nokia did extra work here to get more out of that ISP (source).

More than that though is the fact that these are essentially developer phones that Google is breaking even on and so there is no incentive to create a stellar camera.
This Vergecast is incredibly hard to follow but check out what happens as soon as Joshua Topolsky whips out the Nexus 5 and starts snapping pictures. And what a surprise, the camera’s a disappointment.

(16m 56 sec), and if you can watch through to minute 19.

It’s possible though that Joshua had the HDR mode on with those early snaps which would of course cause the camera to act slow and create blurry shots in the studio environment. Android Central posted some early samples from the Nexus 5’s camera.

Android Central is impressed. I’m hesitant. The camera seems decent but not great. If you’re moving up from a Galaxy Nexus, then it is a huge improvement. If you compare to other flagship phones, it’s still average. I can say that the OIS is doing it’s job, the low-light shots are less blurry than the Nexus 4 would do. In well lit environments the picture is good. However regardless of the environment the 100% crops are disappointing.

Ultimately Google is a software company. I think they have decided that Google+ will use software to fix any hardware shortcomings mobile cameras have. This was the focus of Vic Gundotra’s Google+ event.

I would say that the iPhone and Nokia Lumia series are the king of camera phones. It’s obvious Apple puts a lot of resources into creating an excellent smartphone camera. Later in that Vergecast they look up the cost of the iPhone 5 camera part, which is somewhere on the order of $40. But I’m not sure that actually reflects the true cost of that part because Apple spends a lot of R&D on simply designing the lens, and designing the ISP.

Moto X Camera Software

What I do like is that the viewfinder is a WYSIWYG viewfinder. Unlike the AOSP Nexus camera app where what you see is not actually what the picture is (edges are off), the Moto X camera viewfinder is a true 1:1 viewfinder.

What I don’t like? The app is designed to be dead simple to use, which it is. But at the expense of having control over different settings. The camera app locks me out from changing the picture size, the white balance. The app works on a touch anywhere and take a picture formula, there is no software shutter button. Which means the “touch to focus” is actually a “touch to focus then immediately take a picture.”

Furthermore the software lacks photosphere capabilities despite this being built-in to Android 4.2. This is annoying. Moto X users are forced to download the camera app (actually “gallery.apk”) from the Google Play Edition phones to get the stock camera on the Moto X, which allows you to create photospheres.

BATTERY

I’m very pleased with the battery life on this phone. In a day of light to moderate use I lose maybe 30-40% of battery in one full day.

Just yesterday (Saturday) went off the charger around 9am. From 12:30p-3:30p I was out driving, and teaching my friend how to drive a manual gear car. Throughout those 3 hours I was connected to the car’s bluetooth which isn’t even LE, I listened to music for half of those 3 hours, and never once charged my device. I used the phone as a phone for about 30 minutes that day. At home I used it to play music and youtube videos with Chromecast (which uses wifi to constantly keep the device in sync) for another hour. I was texting (over Hangouts) and browsing Facebook. No games at any time. My cellular signal was good to great throughout all this except for a brief moment which you will see in the graph (where cellular is red). Here’s the battery after a little over 13 hours:

Screenshot_2013-11-02-23-05-25Screenshot_2013-11-02-23-05-43

Currently I am rotating through Stroger Hospital where cellular signal, at least for AT&T, is extremely spotty. I go from 2-3 bars to absolutely no signal constantly as I am moving from room to room. When I was doing this with the Nexus 4 I would like around 40% in 4-5 hours but with the Motorola X it’s more like 20% in the same time frame.

HARDWARE SUPPORT

In contrast to the Nexus support system the Moto X is practically Apple-like in customer service (though you do pay for it). Currently if you have a problem with Nexus hardware you must take it up with the manufacturer. I had a problem with my first Nexus One (overheating) and HTC was actually very helpful about replacing it. Nevertheless the warranty you have is your typical manufacturer’s warranty with no option to get any additional coverage. This is why people who buy Nexus devices should consider purchasing additional coverage from a company like Squaretrade.

Motorola stands behind the Moto X through a typical manufacturer’s warranty (PDF). But you do have the option of purchasing an extended warranty directly from the manufacturer.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

  • the static AT&T logo at the top left; things like this are what make carrier “enhancements” feel so damn awful. This is completely asinine. Why is that there? I know I’m on AT&T! Stock Android on a Nexus device actually shows you what carrier it’s running on when you pull down on the notification menu. What this does, unfortunately, is use up 2 notification icon positions, reducing the available space at the top.

notify-drawer-mess

  • Unlike stock Android, when the Moto X’s Android build connects to wifi the cellular signal disappears but the WiFi icon stays in its position — this is annoying, and again reduces the available space for notifications. I’ve included a screenshot above. That green arrow I added is to show that the WiFi signal should move over!
  • Both of the above add to make the notification bar at the top a lot busier than it needs to be in a Moto X
  • The Motorola Camera app — it’s waaaayyyyy too simplified; give me back my controls including selecting picture size, white balance and a dedicated shutter button. I also really miss the ability to do Photospheres (you can install the stock Gallery apk however). I do like how the viewfinder is a 1:1 with what picture you take, as mentioned above
  • I’ll add more to this as I find more things

FINAL THOUGHTS

I truly love this phone.

The camera is not great, but I feel better than most Nexus devices I’ve had. That’s it. In turn I get a phone that fits comfortably in my hands, is powerful, is long lasting, is well built (and assembled in the US!), and has a lot of cool features. The Nexus 5 is probably my second pick: also a great phone, but I am sick of giant phones.

Android Updates

Since owning Nexus phones I have always had update anxiety where I need to be on the latest version of Android. There have been multiple instances where I was unable to wait for the staged rollout of the OTA update, and instead formatted my phone and installed the factory images.

At launch (and currently, as of this writing) the Moto X is running Android 4.2.2. I thought at launch, “well I’ll never buy that phone,” as I held dearly to my Nexus 4 running Android 4.3. And now that KitKat is on its way, the Moto X will be two updates behind! And… I am okay with that. Honestly, that is amazing. I love this phone and its features so much that I don’t mind missing out on KitKat features. Part of it, I’ll admit, is because Google has gone to great lengths to decouple some big app-centric features from the core of Android. Still if the Moto X never gets KitKat I might still be okay with that! Though it’s already confirmed that the Moto X will get KitKat, it remains to be seen WHEN.

This is probably the biggest compliment I can give the Moto X. It is so good that I don’t mind losing completely stock Android, and I don’t mind not being on the latest version of Android.

Besides, I always have the option to root and install CM on this phone. I would still be able to use Touchless Control and if for some reason I wanted to, the Moto X camera. The point is that if Motorola decouples these features from the core OS like Google did with its apps, then I can easily root and still enjoy these awesome features. I probably will not be rooting though. The only thing I am missing from stock Android is free wifi tethering, and that is AT&T’s fault really.

I love this phone.

Race to Sleep:
For those who are not familiar the goal of most CPUs  is to complete the task it’s assigned and go back to “sleep” where it barely draws any power. If you compare a fast processor to a slower one, the fast processor will complete the task and spend more time in “idle” which is where you end up saving battery power. Klug and Shimpi of Anandtech briefly explain this concept with 2 made up graphs in their iPhone 4s review.

One thought on “The Moto X and Nexus 5 pre-release thoughts

  1. Pingback: Why the Moto X is the best [Android] phone of 2013 | usamaisawake

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