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Moto X first impressions: priced too high, buttons rattle, exclusives suck

I've spent the weekend with the Moto X and keep grabbing my HTC One instead. The price is too high for a subsidized Android device with mid-range specs and plastic feel.

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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 37 Matthew Miller/ZDNet

Moto X retail package

After spending the weekend with the Moto X I don't quite understand the nearly universal excitement for the device. It seems like mediocrity is being excused where we normally hear sharp criticism of different aspects on smartphones from HTC, Apple, Samsung, and others.

The Moto X feels good in the hand, works well with one hand, has a beautiful OLED display, feels pretty rugged, has a great implementation of Google Now, runs a fairly pure version of Android, and is assembled in the US. However, the price is as high as most high end smartphones, the hardware could be better, the unique customization feature is limited to a single carrier, and there are other smartphones that offer more for the price. A $100 subsidized Moto X would be a compelling device and it will be interesting to see how long it can hang at the high end of the pricing spectrum.

Price

Prior to the retail announcement, there was hope that the Moto X would be competitively priced to the Google Nexus 4, $299/$349 for SIM unlocked phone with no-contract, but instead we ended up with a phone priced the same as nearly all other high end smartphones. $200 (16GB) and $250 (32GB) with a two year contract on AT&T is too high for this phone when you compare it to devices like the HTC One. The no-contract, but still SIM LOCKED, variants on AT&T are reported to cost $575 and $620, respectively. Sorry, that is just too high for a phone with a dual-core processor and couple hardware quality issues.

Hardware

For the most part, you can get away from talking about specs for iOS and Windows Phone 8 devices. However, specs do matter on the Android platform so we do need to look at them more closely. The Moto X has a dual-core Snapdragon while other modern high end Android smartphones have quad-core processors. Over the last couple of days, I haven't experienced anything that would indicate the processor difference impacts the performance negatively though.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One have 1080p displays and they look fantastic. The Moto X has a 720p display. The AMOLED display does look great on the Moto X, even at 720p, but I expected to see the price reflect the lower resolution.

The Moto X does have 2GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB internal storage (buy the 32GB), 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, and 2200 mAh battery.

Motorola does have a minimal side bezel on the Moto X, but the raised edge around the display reminds me of a cheaper device. I like the way modern smartphones transition the display out to the edges and down around the sides where you hardly even notice the display ends. I understand that a raised edge lets you set your phone down display first on a table, but I don't do that anyway since I like to see notifications and such on the display. I'm also not a fan of buttons taking up my viewable display and like the larger area I get on my HTC One that has dedicated capacitive buttons.

The volume and power buttons are your most used buttons and they are both loose on the right side. You can feel them move in the slots and even make rattling sounds.

The camera is reported to be a 10 megapixel model with Clear Pixel technology from Motorola. I took some sample comparison shots and so far I am finding the camera does a good job. I like how you can twist it twice to launch the camera, but like others I heard from, the phone slipped out of my hand once when trying this gesture.

Motorola states they have key design elements such as a curved housing and durable materials. However, the HTC One also has a similar curved design and a much higher quality build. My HTC One is like an expensive piece of jewelry and when I have both devices on my table I keep grabbing the HTC One because it just feels so much better than the Moto X.

I am also a huge fan of the IR port on my HTC One and have expectations for high end smartphones that I just don't see on the Moto X. The Moto X has a mono speaker, but it actually sounds fantastic and may even rival my HTC One stereo speakers in some respects.

Moto Maker Customization

There has been a lot of promotion about the Moto Maker website and shell customizations available to buyers. Unfortunately, Motorola made a deal with the devil and killed the option for most of us by limiting the service just to AT&T. If other carrier customers want a Moto X, they will have to either pick up a standard white or black device or wait some unknown time until the exclusivity ends. I think the Moto Maker experience is great for the consumer, but not having it available to everyone at launch is terrible.

Software

The Moto X runs Android 4.2.2 and offers a fairly pure Google experience. The Motorola additions are actually bonuses, in my opinion, and include Active Notifications and Touchless Control. The Active Notifications show you very helpful notifications on the lock screen that are easily actionable with a simple swipe up.

The Touchless Control gives you the option to launch Google Now at any time with your voice. It is helpful at times, but also has limited functionality. For example, Google Now does a good job with giving me updates on the Mariners baseball game, but only takes me to website search results when I try to find out about my Sounders MLS team. I also work in a quiet office and commute on a public train so find little practical use for voice control technology.

Summary of first impressions

I recently placed the of my top 10 smartphones for the summer of 2013 and after using it for the last three days I think my selection remains valid. Jason pointed out with price being one of the major ones I agree with. This AT&T version doesn't have much bloatware so that is good news.

As a US military veteran and patriotic person, I am pleased to see the Moto X being assembled in the US and that aspect actually has an impact on my purchase decision. At this time, I am more than happy with my HTC One and Nokia Lumia 1020. If the price drops when T-Mobile launches the device and Moto Maker service then I may reconsider picking one up.

I will continue to test out this eval unit for a couple more weeks to evaluate the Google Now voice control, camera, Motorola Assist, and other aspects in more depth.

Related ZDNet Moto X coverage

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Back of Moto X box

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Retail package contents

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Moto X in hand

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Back of the Moto X

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Camera, flash and speaker

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Top of the Moto X

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Bottom of the Moto X

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Above the display

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Moto X and HTC One

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Back of the Moto X and HTC One

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Moto X home screen

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Another view with widgets

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App launcher

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Widgets on the Moto X

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Multi-tasking on the Moto X

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Moto X quick controls

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Settings on the Moto X

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Active Notifications settings

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Touchless Control settings

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More Moto X settings

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Moto X flower pot

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HTC One flower pot

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Lumia 625 flower pot

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Lumia 1020 flower pot

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Moto X flower

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HTC One flower

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Nokia Lumia 625 flower

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Nokia Lumia 1020 flower

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Moto X flower pot 2

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HTC One flower pot 2

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Nokia Lumia 625 flower pot 2

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Nokia Lumia 1020 flower pot 2

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Moto X Party Lite accessories

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HTC One Party Lite accessories

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Nokia Lumia 625 Party Lite accessories

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Nokia Lumia 1020 Party Lite accessories

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