Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/7197/a-quick-look-at-the-moto-x-motorolas-new-flagship

Since being acquired by Google, there’s been a lot of speculation about what’s coming next from Motorola. Last week they announced their Droid lineup for Verizon, this week they’re ready to talk shop about the much-rumored, very-hyped Moto X. It’s official and we just were handed one at a Motorola event in New York City.

Introduction and Design

The Moto X is a hugely aspirational product for Motorola, nee Google. Before its acquisition, Motorola had worked itself into an odd place in the US market. The handset maker primarily worked for Verizon as an ODM for the Droid lineup, and sold phones internationally in China and Europe. With the Moto X, Google is attempting to re-launch Motorola, a product which it views as the canonical first device under Google guidance.

The hardware itself is definitely not aligned with the industry trend of having larger and larger devices. Motorola says it conducted a large user study to find out what the optimal size for a smartphone was, and feels strongly that it’s found it. The study involved having a large number of users hold different sizes and shapes and give feedback – a primarily data driven approach whose end result is the Moto X profile. That’s topped with a 4.7-inch display and an edge bezel Motorola claims is thinner than all the competition thanks to a new unique glass-plastic fusion. The glass is fused into the plastic at the edge and rounds off nicely.

The rounded back shape of the Moto X is probably its most unique feature. Instead of a spherical or cylindrical back side, the Moto X has a more complicated conical one, which starts thicker at top and tapers to a point at bottom, with a rounded side to side profile. The closest thing is HTC’s rounded designs with the 8X or One, and interestingly enough Motorola also does a similar thing with a 2200 mAh (8.36 Whr) battery whose shape fills the available rounded profile with a two-cell stacked design, with a large thin cell and smaller cell stacked on top like a stair step. The profile is awesome, in photos of the Moto X it doesn’t really come through, you have to actually hold one to feel just how much it sits in the hand. The front side is also free of sharp edges, making it feel great when held against the head.

There’s an indentation on the back for the Motorola logo, but other than that the back surface is one unbroken curved shape. Up top is the 10 MP camera, below that, LED flash, off to the right, speakerphone grille. In the thickest part up top is the earphone jack.

One interesting choice on the Moto X is positioning the volume rocker on the right side, below the power/lock button. On the left side is a nanoSIM tray, making Moto X the first device I’m aware of other than the iPhone 5 to use the 4FF nanoSIM format. At bottom is microUSB.

The back side of the Moto X isn’t user replaceable – the Moto X backside is sealed and the device is fused together. The front and edge is either black or white, but Motorola has a ton of customization options for the back and accent color. There’s a bit more to the customization story than that, and though I had hoped for easy interchangeable back options, what colors your Moto X comes are a function of both how you order and what operator you’re on.

  Moto X
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (MSM8960Pro) 1.7 GHz
Motorola X8 System (SoC+NLP Processor+Contextual Processor)
Display 4.7-inch AMOLED (RGB) 1280x720
WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, BT 4.0
Storage 16 GB standard, 32 GB online, 2 years 50 GB Google Drive
I/O microUSB 2.0, 3.5mm headphone, NFC, Miracast
OS Android 4.2.2
Battery 2200 mAh, 3.8V, 8.36 Whr
Size / Mass 65.3 x 129.3 x 5.6-10.4 mm, 130 grams
Camera 10 MP Clear Pixel (RGBC) with 1.4µm pixels Rear Facing
2 MP 1080p Front Facing
Price $199 (16 GB), $249 (32 GB) on 2 year contract

At launch, Motorola will enable users to buy their Moto X and customize using an online tool called Moto Maker which features a step by step customization process for building a phone. Back, front, accent color, and signature are options.

The order then gets shipped off to Motorola where they build to order each phone in Forth Worth, Texas with a 4-day lead time. Now comes the bad news – those customization options are AT&T exclusive and limited to the US at launch. More operators will come later in the year, but initially all the customization options are exclusive to AT&T, other operators get black or white.

The default black and white colors for every wireless operator is in fact a composite material, the other colors are polymer. The last of the hardware story is wood. Motorola is going to make four wood back options available – teak, bamboo, rosewood, and ebony, but not at launch. Motorola is still finalizing its wood. That might sound funny, but from an RF perspective wood does have some interesting challenges – wood looks like a polymer since it essentially is, however it has to be dried and sealed properly so water won’t severely attenuate cellular RF and all the other radios on the back. I’m told Motorola is still testing and certifying its wood options. The upside is that each wood back will be different, with unique grain and finish. Wood seems to be trendy in design circles right now, and I’m excited about it, I just wish it was available at launch instead of some undetermined time afterwards. It does look great though.

We’ll talk a lot more about the hardware and feel in our full review. For now the takeaway is that Moto X is an incredibly pocketable device with some great in-hand presence. I wished for more after-purchase customization, however Motorola needs to seal the device to accommodate that unique stacked battery structure.

Motorola will make the Moto X available at the end of August in the USA on all 5 major wireless network operators with the 16 GB storage option available for $199 on two year contract. AT&T gets an exclusive on the 32 GB option for $249. That’s not quite the price point that I was hoping for given the tier you’d expect with the specs, but I suppose USA-based assembly might have something to do with it. I couldn’t get any word on noncommit/out of contract pricing, but it’ll probably be around the $500 mark typical given the subsidy. Motorola will have a version of the Moto X on Google Play network unlocked as well, at some future date, and a developer edition on Motorola as well for what I would suspect is a bootloader unlock (Motorola has sold developer editions of their phones before this way).


Let’s talk about the hardware inside.

Inside the Moto X is a computing system that Motorola has branded the X8 Mobile Computing system with 8 “cores.” Motorola was careful to make the distinction that X8 is not a system on chip, for that there’s a 1.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (MSM8960Pro) with dual core Krait 300 CPUs and Adreno 320 graphics. Motorola counts the 2 CPU cores, 4 Adreno 320 GPU cores (yes, there are 4 cores in Adreno 320, which Motorola made public), and then adds two more to the fray – a NLP (Natural Language Processing) core, and Contextual Computing core. These add up to a total of 8 “cores” for those keeping count. I’m putting cores in quotes here since it’s meaningless to count heterogeneous, completely different cores like they’re something you can sum up and say more of means better. Nevertheless, Motorola makes the case that the X8 is an octacore system.


The 8960Pro silicon is very well understood at this point. We’ve played with 8960 in a bunch of other phones, the Pro suffix connotes the move to Krait 300 instead of 200, and Adreno 320 GPU instead of Adreno 225. The SoC is still built on TSMC’s 28nm LP process, it’s just a newer respun version with higher clocks (1.7 GHz vs 1.5 GHz) and updated CPU and GPU blocks.

For WiFi, the Moto X does include 802.11ac support, courtesy Qualcomm’s WCN3680 combo. This is the first phone I’ve handled with something other than Broadcom’s BCM4335 combo for 802.11ac, I look forward to testing WCN3680 immensely and am hugely grateful for another phone with 802.11ac.

The display on Moto X is a 4.7-inch 720p SAMOLED panel with the RGB subpixel arrangement (not a straight RGB stripe) we saw on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, with a stacked green and red subpixel, and vertical blue subpixel. Motorola has used n–1 process Samsung AMOLED panels for a long time now, so this isn’t a surprise. It looks good and not incredibly blue, but I’ll have to get it under my measurement equipment to tell you exactly where it sits with regards to color accuracy.

Motorola has included the intelligently driven speakerphone driver technology we’ve seen in a bunch of phones inside Moto X as well. This does some speaker boost algorithms while monitoring the speaker temperature and drive to drive the speaker as loud as possible without causing damage. This seems to be NXP’s TFA9890.

On the camera side Motorola has made the unique choice of shipping the first phone I’m aware of with an RG,BC color filter array. The clear pixel trades off some spatial resolution for increased sensitivity in low light by switching from Bayer’s 2x2 RG,BG unit cell to an alternative 2x2 unit cell with RG,CB. Given the 10 MP size and 16:9 aspect ratio, and Motorola’s traditional use of an OmniVision CMOS sensor, I expected an OV10810 with different color filter array (CFA) on top. This appears to be the case with Moto X as I find references to an OV10820 inside which one would logically conclude is basically just that, instead of Bayer it must have the 25% C CFA. I have taken some sample pictures already but haven’t had much time at all to really put the Moto X through its paces on the camera side to see if there are any color artifacts from the different array. I’m excited however to have a platform with 1.4µm pixels instead of 1.1µm pixels, a big sensor (1/2.5"), F/2.4, 10 MP pixel count, with something new and different (clear pixels).

Update: OmniVision just released a press release with the OV10820 details, which are what I've outlined above. RG,BC coding, 1/2.6" size, and 1.4µm pixels. 

The remaining big question marks are the NLP and Contextual processors inside the X8 system, which Motorola says are two discrete additional cores that work in conjunction with software to enable some neat features.


Touchless Control

Though the UI for the Moto X is indeed stock android basically everywhere ($12.5 Billion later, Google finally killed Motoblur), there are two specific software customizations on the Moto X which are chief differentiators. The first of which is touchless control, which is essentially a combination of always-listening voice command, and Google Now.

The way it works is simple – say “OK Google Now” with the phone in literally any state, and you’ll get dumped into a special Google Now prompt. It works with the phone in standby mode (screen off, powered on, but in deep sleep), or with screen on.


There’s a training initialization which asks you to say “OK Google Now” in a very quiet room three times (I had to lock myself in a bathroom for the meter to register quiet enough) to enable the feature. After that, saying OK Google Now works well and powers on the phone to this menu. Users cannot change the OK Google Now keyphrase to something custom.

For this system, Motorola uses a natural language processor (NLP) of custom design that I haven’t quite tracked down yet. This controller constantly listens on the 3 microphones onboard Moto X for the “OK Google Now” keyword, then wakes up the AP and enables the Google Now prompt. Motorola says it went with this solution to enable always-on voice without killing battery life from running the main AP all the time (which does make sense). It works surprisingly well, maybe even too well, as even after training saying “OK Google Now” can turn on every Moto X around you. Just something to be aware of.

Contextual Processor

The contextual processor powers two other features, active display, and the gesture-enabled quick capture camera.

Active display is Motorola’s solution to the constant device checking and glancing that users do to find out why a notification fired. It’s a view that sits above the lock screen and displays the last few notifications and enables you to dive into the appropriate app that triggered it. Information just appears on the display when it’s in an off state, breathing in and out when the device is face-up on a surface. Otherwise, flipping the Moto X from face down to face up will bring up the display – I can’t screenshot it, this seems to live outside Android entirely.

To get a preview, you can touch the notification, and then drag up. Dragging left or right clears notifications. Dragging up into a notification will dive into the appropriate application.

There are privacy settings to enable or disable how much information you can have displayed on the active display notification screen so this doesn’t bypass if you have a lock screen on purpose.

I leave my phone face-up on my desk instead of face down to prevent screen scratches, where and the Active Display notification screen pulses periodically with the time and when notifications come in. It works well, I just need to spend time with it.

The other contextual-powered feature is quick capture, which is the quick enter camera gesture. Hold the Moto X, flick your wrist like a screwdriver, and you’ll get popped into Motorola’s camera UI for the Moto X.

The UI is very simplified and makes some interesting choices. Tap to focus and expose is disabled by default – instead tapping anywhere captures a photo. Tap to focus can be re-enabled in the settings, which fly out from the left, but now tapping anywhere focuses on that region and captures immediately. I’m not sure if I like this change. The camera sensor is 16:9, and the preview is likewise 16:9, so there’s at least no cropping going on.

The UI includes HDR, flash control, tap to focus enable/disable, slow motion video (720p60), panorama, location tagging, shutter sound, and the flick gesture enable/disable. What’s missing is photosphere support, unfortunately. Dragging right gets you into the gallery, and there are buttons for changing to the front facing camera and taking video instead of photos. This is sort of a tweaked Android 4.2/4.3 camera UI, with stuff just moved around and photosphere removed.

I’ve done some digging around and believe that Motorola is using a TI MSP430 microcontroller for its contextual processor, as this seems to do at least sensor fusion for the different situational positions. I’m not sure if this also powers the active display functions but wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

Thoughts on Moto X

My initial thoughts with the Moto X are that it's a great device, easily one of the best feeling, sized, and shaped devices of this year. The screen is big enough without the device being bulky, and Motorola says that over 70 percent of the front surface of the Moto X is display. I'm still not a fan of AMOLED, but in this case a lot of the features (active display) do need it to be power efficient. The customization options are novel and unique, even if they're limited to AT&T in the USA for the time being. The idea of a wood-backed phone excites me since it means each device will be unique and have different wood grain, and having some way to differentiate one's handset from all the other black squares out there would be awesome. Having the same device available on all the US operators is also a huge win for Motorola, who has been otherwise stuck to endless Verizon exclusives that dramatically limit the reach of its flagships, even if the Moto X isn't a single SKU solution for all the operators (I do not have cellular banding information for each variant). Even now though, we saw the announcement of some Verizon Motorola Droids that basically include the same hardware platform and a number of features from the X. 

The fruits of Google's interaction with Motorola are a bit more unclear. The Moto X runs a primarily stock UI, but it isn't entirely free of operator interaction – there's operator branding and light preloading, of course nowhere near the level that you'd get on a phone that goes through the normal interaction, but calling this "unadulterated android" still isn't factually correct, and it's definitely not Nexus with all that operator branding. I find myself puzzled as well that the Moto X isn't running Android 4.3. For other OEM partners, I can understand not having the absolute latest version of the platform running because of UI skinning and features, with a stock UI and operating under Google's umbrella, it's just a bit harder for me to explain away, especially given how far along Samsung and HTC allegedly are with 4.3 builds.

The last bit is pricing. The rumor and buildup led me to believe that Moto X would be priced like the midrange device the silicon inside misgives it for, but at $199 on contract it's priced just like a flagship halo phone with a quad core SoC. I realize specs aren't the be all end all for everyone, but I was hoping the Moto X would be the realization of an Android for the masses movement and platform direction from Google with the price to back it up, which would've been $199 with no contract. I have no doubt we'll see the Moto X move down in cost quickly, and it's premium, it's just surprising to see $199 out of the gate for what is a midrange platform (8960Pro) right now. 

I need to spend more time with the Moto X to really pass judgment. I've popped my personal SIM in and will use it as my daily driver for a while and give it the full review treatment. 

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