By: Rohan Naravane
I have had a history of swinging between iOS and Android as my primary device. I was fairly happy with my iPhone 5 during the August of 2013, till the time the Moto X launched. Motorola has always had a special place in my heart and the Moto X hit all the right spots, making me look at my iPhone 5 with a bit of discontent. Sure, it is a fine product with a slick interface and a number of rich apps developed exclusively for the iOS platform. But iOS lacked (still does) some basic functionality that Android users have been enjoying for long.
The Moto X is far from a commercial success. Mostly because it doesn’t pack a top-of-the-line quad-core chip, 1080p display or 13+ megapixel camera like its competitors, while still being as expensive. Motorola keeps saying that they’ve deliberately steered clear of a spec war and have rather focused on the unique things that make the Moto X better than a top-tier Android phone. But alas, the market doesn’t share that belief, resulting in many price drops (from a $600 initial sale price in the US to the lowest being $329).
Now that it has come to India for almost as much as it costs in the US currently, I decided to finally give in to this fascination that I’ve had with this phone for months now. Here are my experiences:
1) There are three features that are still unique to the Moto X: Touchless Controls, Active Notifications and did I mention Touchless Controls? While you can say “OK Google” on a Nexus 5 to summon Google Now from the homescreen, the phone still needs to be awake. On the Moto X, saying “OK Google Now” even when the phone is on standby wakes it up, thanks to the third microphone and a co-processor. In my experience, the phone was able to recognise my command roughly 8 out of 10 times. That’s good enough for me! Funny thing is though, it also responded to some other people who don’t really sound like me. I drive a lot, and this feature is extremely useful as I’m able to place calls, send text messages, make it read my notifications, navigate to a place, look up a phone number and more; all without taking my eyes off the road and my hands off the steering wheel. Not to say it’s always accurate; but at least it understands my Indian accent far better than Siri on my iPhone ever did. And it’s not just about recognition, it’s also about the ocean of data that Google uses to find what I exactly want and put it in a neat little card (Knowledge Graph). For example, asking for “Dominos in Goregaon” presented me with not only the address and map, but even its phone number that I could just tap and call. Beware JustDial, beware.
Next comes the Active Notifications. At first glance, it reminds you of the clock and notifications that used to show up on AMOLED-screened Nokia phones like the N8 even on standby. But the Moto X does more. Instead of a multi-coloured LED light found on typical Android devices, the Moto X’s standby screen keeps breathing with the time and the icon of the last app that received a notification. Press it and you get to read the notification. Swipe upwards to jump right into the app, swipe sideways to dismiss — all possible without even pressing the power button. The Moto X uses sensors to turn on Active Notifications right after you pick up the phone from a surface or take it out of your pocket. This glanceable information is quite useful as it reduces the number of redundant button presses to check the overflowing notifications that typically arrive on my smartphone. Although it worked as advertised most of the times, there was an instance or two when I just wanted to look at the time and the screen didn’t light up. I hope this is refined further with a software update.
2) Speaking of the physical aspects, Motorola has this incredible knack for packing well-sized display into a compact body. Whoever has handled a Motorola Defy will know of this. And it’s no different with the Moto X — it’s only marginally larger than my iPhone 5, yet holds a screen that’s almost an inch bigger. Although it’s no match for the aluminium-wrapped enclosure of the iPhone, it’s built really really well. With respect to battery life, it runs as long as any typical Android phone today would (about 14 hours of heavy use, can touch up to 24 hours with moderate use). Considering how pathetic battery life has become for iPhones after the iOS 7.1 update, this is pretty acceptable.
3) Somebody asked me why I didn’t buy the Nexus 5 instead of the Moto X? I told him, “I bought a Moto X because I wanted a Moto X. Android was just a consequence of that action”. There’s no denying that the polish that you generally find on iOS and its apps is still missing from Android. But having said that, I’m also glad for not being subjected to some limitations of iOS. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into rooting phones or changing to a new launcher every week. But there are things like notifications that I can just swipe away, or the fact that I can share data across 3rd party apps easily (for e.g, add a URL to pocket from the Chrome browser). Or, how there’s a cellular data manager built-in, or how Google Now offers contextual information (like the traffic situation on my way to work and home). No more opening of stupid Apple Maps when somebody shares their location on WhatsApp, only to then click the ‘Open with Google Maps’ option. No more scrolling through the entire camera roll to find a screenshot because Android puts ’em in a separate ‘screenshot’ folder.
4) A lot of people have been lambasting the Moto X because it only has a ‘dual-core processor’. But after having used the phone extensively for a couple of days, I cannot remember a single moment when I felt the phone was laggy. Maybe because it’s got a powerful Adreno 320 graphics chip coupled to a fast 1.7GHz chip and an ample 2GB RAM. Maybe because it has 99% stock Android, without any manufacturer UI customisation. Maybe because it’s running Android 4.4 KitKat, which boasts of faster performance than previous Android versions. Maybe it’s a combination of all the three. My father uses a two-year old Galaxy Nexus which was launched with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and has become only better speed-wise, with each version update (fairly usable even today). Even if the Moto X phone runs the way it runs today for the next two years, I’d say I’ve got my money’s worth.
This may sound like a typical iPhone to Android convert story that people way more famous than me have written about. But this is not just that; this is the story of a really unique Android phone that swayed away an iPhone 5 user.