Moto X Hands-on: 18 Colors, Great Voice Control, So-So Specs

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The new Moto X isn’t just the first smartphone Motorola built from the ground up since it was scooped up by Google, it’s the most customizable smartphone ever. There are 18 back color options alone. Plus, you can tell the $199 Moto X to do almost anything just by using your voice–without unlocking the phone first–and fire up the 10-MP camera with a couple flicks of your wrist.

Coming in late August or early September to AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and U.S. Cellular (T-Mobile customers can go to Motorola.com), this Android device faces stiff competition from the Galaxy S4 and HTC One. So does it have enough to win you over? We took a Verizon version of the Moto X for a quick spin to see how it stacks up.

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Design and Moto Maker Customization

Although the Moto X will be available for five carriers, AT&T customers have the most reasons to be excited about this phone now. AT&T is the first provider to  support the Moto Maker online studio, where you can trick out the Moto X with 18 back color options (wood is coming soon), 2 front colors (white and black) and 7 accent colors (for the camera, power button and volume controls). Shoppers can also add your own custom message to the back, such as your email address should the device go missing.

Moto X Phone Wood Back

Motorola estimates your device will ship within 4 days. The good news is that Motorola says it plans to let other carriers join in on the Moto Maker fun “later in the year.”

If you decide to buy the Moto X in a carrier store and forego Moto Maker, your choices will be white or black. That’s kind of boring, but we do like the 3D weave pattern on the white model we tested. More good news: this phone is wonderfully compact for having a 4.7-inch screen. The Moto X weighs 4.8 ounces and measures 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.22 to 0.4 inches. The HTC One is pretty beefy in comparison at 5.4 x 2.7 x .37 inches and 5.04 ounces.

Moto X vs HTC One

Motorola curved the back of the Moto X to make it more comfortable to hold, which uses a solid composite material. The metal HTC One feels more premium, but it’s more difficult to operate in one hand.

The right side of the Moto X houses a small power button and volume rocker, which are a little too slim for our tastes. The bottom of the phone houses the microUSB port. Note that the back is not removable, which means you can’t replace the battery.

MORE: Top 10 Most Stylish Smartphones

Moto X Specs

The Moto X was not designed to satisfy spec junkies. Motorola is aiming for the masses with a 1.7-GHz Qualcomm S4 Pro processor and an Andreno 320 quad-core GPU. However, the Moto X’s X8 Mobile Computing System has a unique architecture that also includes a dedicated natural language processor and a contextual computing processor. This phone can listen for your voice at all times without draining the battery and sense its position.

Moto X Curved Design

You also get 2GB of RAM, a 4.7-inch 720p AMOLED display and a 2,200 mAH battery that promises up to 24 hours of usage time. We’d like to see a 1080p screen at this price, but we loved the brightness and color saturation offered by this panel in our early testing. There’s 16GB of memory standard, but you can step up to 32GB for $249. Other specs include Miracast wireless display and NFC.

The Moto X runs Android 4.2.2. Sorry, no Android 4.3 here.

Touchless Voice Control

Easily the coolest feature of the Moto X is Touchless Voice control, which also appears on the new Motorola Droids for Verizon. This lets you do all sorts of things using just your voice by leveraging the power of Google Now and the dedicated natural language processor. Once you’ve trained the Moto X in a quiet environment, you can can wake up the phone at any time by saying “Okay, Google Now.” From there you can tell the Moto X to navigate to a specific address, call a contact, ask whether you need an umbrella and more–all hands free.

Moto X Touchless Voice Control

In our early testing this feature worked well, but Verizon’s LTE network was a little slow to process our queries. (The signal strength isn’t that great in our New York City office.) We also like that the Moto X responds to just your voice, and can do so in a noisy environment. That’s because there are three microphones on board that offer noise cancelling.

MORE: 10 Smartphones with the Longest Battery Life

Quick Capture Camera

Those who don’t like fumbling to start taking photos will appreciate the quick capture camera on the Moto X. You twist your wrist twice to open the camera app. It’s not much faster than, say, swiping up on the iPhone’s lock screen, but you don’t have to touch the power button first. The new Droids also offer this feature.

Moto X Quick Capture Camera

The 10-MP Clear Pixel camera supposedly lets in 70 percent more light than competing smartphones, and we found it did indeed capture fairly crisp photos in dim conditions. Motorola purposely de-cluttered the camera app so all the settings are a swipe away (from the left). They even got rid of the shutter button; just touch anywhere on the screen to fire and press and hold for burst mode. In early testing we found the HTC One a little faster, but we do appreciate the simplicity of this UI. 

MORE: Smartphone Camera Shootout 2013

Active Display

While this feature can save you time, Active Display is fairly limited. The idea is that the phone’s contextual processor knows if you take it out of your pocket or nudge it after it’s been sleeping, presenting your latest notifications. By swiping up on the screen you can unlock the app directly related to your latest alert, whether it’s a missed call or text message. Swipe down and you’ll go directly to the notification shade. We also like that you can customize which apps display notifications.

Moto X Active Display

However, you can only unlock directly to the latest notification. And, unlike the HTC One and Galaxy S4, you can’t unlock to the app of your choice on the lock screen. It’s unlock the phone or go directly to Google Now.

Outlook

The Moto X looks pretty compelling in some ways, especially the touchless voice control and the fact that you can build your own design. We also like that you get a big and gorgeous 4.7-inch AMOLED screen in a compact package. However, we wish the Moto Maker customization was available for more carriers at launch (it’s AT&T only for now). Plus, this phone doesn’t offer the high-end specs we’d expect for $199. We’re hoping the battery life makes up for any lack of horsepower. We’ll bring you our full rated review of the Moto X soon.

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