Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/8491/the-new-moto-x-intial-impressions-and-hands-on



Motorola has been through a lot, to say the least. It was only a few years ago that Motorola had become an OEM struggling to stay afloat, as it was effectively an ODM for network operators in the US. We saw phone after phone pushed out with no real cohesive strategy. After its acquisition by Google, we saw a major shift. Motoblur was removed, and we saw a move AOSP UI to facilitate faster updates and smoother experience. The only real changes were Motorola’s custom apps and features, which still followed Android’s design principles. However, the Moto X seemed to lack in certain areas. The Snapdragon S4 Pro just couldn’t keep up with the Snapdragon 800 in performance and also used more power. The Clear Pixel camera was definitely interesting from an academic perspective, but at launch it was rather disappointing. Combined with Moto Maker exclusivity to AT&T and general exclusivity to the US, the Moto X was a great idea held back by timing and distribution. Today, Motorola hopes to make things right with the new Moto X. They’re also launching a new Moto G, the Moto 360, and Moto Hint.

The New Moto X

This brings us to the new Moto X. While Motorola is being acquired by Lenovo, it’s clear that the Motorola I saw today is still very much the same Motorola from the Google era. The new Moto X continues all of the differentiating features that we saw with the previous Moto X, and makes it better. Before we get into all of this though, we’ll go over the basics first. I’ve included these basic specs in the spec sheet to make things quick, as there’s a great deal of ground to cover for a first impressions piece.

  Motorola Moto X (Gen 1) Motorola Moto X (Gen 2)
SoC 1.7 GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro 2.5 GHz Snapdragon 801
RAM/NAND 2 GB, 16/32/64GB NAND 2GB, 16/32GB NAND
Display 4.7” 720p Super AMOLED 5.2” 1080p Super AMOLED
Network 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x15 IP block UE Category 3 LTE) 2G / 3G / 4G LTE (Qualcomm MDM9x25 IP block UE Category 4 LTE)
Dimensions 129 x 65.3 x 5.7-10.4mm, 139 grams 140.8 x 72.4 x 3.8-9.9 mm, 144 grams
Camera 10MP Rear Facing, 1/2.6" CMOS size (OV10820), 2.1MP FFC 13MP Rear Facing, 1/3.06" CMOS size (Sony IMX135) F/2.25, 2.1MP FFC
Battery 2200 mAh, 3.8V, 8.36 Whr 2300 mAh, 3.8V, 8.74 Whr
OS Android 4.4.4 Android 4.4.4
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.0, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, MHL, DLNA, NFC 802.11a/b/g/n/ac + BT 4.1, USB2.0, GPS/GNSS, MHL, DLNA, NFC
SIM Size NanoSIM NanoSIM

As one can see, the new Moto X has a 5.2” 1080p SAMOLED display. In discussions with Motorola a new emitter material for the display was explicitly mentioned. This and the size/resolution of the display suggest that we’re looking at the same display generation as the Galaxy S5. However, in practice it isn't, after taking a quick look at the maximum luminance of the display. While the SoC isn’t Snapdragon 805, the use of a lower 1080p resolution means that it will be competitive with 1440p Snapdragon 805 devices. We also see a move from the 10.5MP Clear Pixel sensor to a standard 13MP Sony sensor. The relatively small battery is a bit concerning but there are a great deal of mitigations done by Motorola to try and keep this from being an issue.

Those make up the basics, and while I’m definitely going to get into more detail about those in a bit, one of the most immediate, major improvements are the new materials. Much like the Note 4, we see a metal ring that runs around the side of the phone, but unlike the Note 4 the rest of the phone curves outwards to reach its max thickness. The result is a phone similar in that the feel is much thinner than the maximum thickness suggests. The sheer thinness of the phone also helps with one-handed use. While not as compact as the first Moto X, the shape definitely makes the phone easier to use than the Samsung Galaxy S5 with one hand. The thin bezels and generally small profile makes the new Moto X closer to the LG G2 in usability with one hand, which is definitely great considering that this phone has dual front-facing speakers with an amp to go with it. The metal ring also serves as the antenna, and Motorola has done a surprising amount of work to make this happen which I’ll get to in a moment. Around this ring, on top we see the SIM tray and headphone jack. On the right side, there’s the power button and volume rocker. Both are clicky with no real slack, and the power button has a ridged pattern to it to distinguish it from the volume rocker. On the left side there’s nothing but the metal band, and on the bottom we see the microUSB port.

The front of the phone is dominated by the display, and there are a surprising number of elements to look at. There are two speaker grilles, which are made of aluminum and have the same ridged texture as the power button, which can have their color customized on Moto Maker. We see three light dots, two round circles, and a rounded rectangle. These make up the IR transmitters, a front facing camera, IR receiver, and the light sensor/proximity sensor. While the appearance of the IR transmitters, camera, and IR receiver make it appear that this phone has a 3D perspective feature like the Amazon Fire Phone, this is actually used to enable an improved Moto Display, air gestures, and Attentive Display. There’s also the same “magic” fused glass-plastic top layer that means there’s no lip to feel when swiping off the edge of the display, which definitely feels great.

The back of the phone contains the customizable back cover, which can now be leather, wood, or various types of plastic. There are two visible mics on the top and back of the phone. However, the real design elements here are the dimple and camera. The new dimple seems to be larger than before, and also has a metal accent surrounding it, which makes it seem a bit button-like even though it isn’t a button. The rear camera is a bit unremarkable but the ring diffuser and two LED flashes makes for a distinctive look. In my hands-on time I found the leather to feel and smell authentic, although a few years of intensive use may make the latter a terrible idea. Motorola emphasized that the Horween leather was tanned in Chicago and that the colors were custom for Motorola.

Overall, the industrial design and material design is a solid continuation of what we’ve seen of the Moto X. Motorola stated that this combined metal ring and plastic/wood/leather back made it possible to have both the premium feel of metal and the warmer feel of the customizable back. Of course, now that the basic hardware impressions are done it’s time to move on to the feature highlights of the new Moto X.

The Metal Frame & External Antenna with Dynamic Tuning

While I’ve discussed material choices before in the context of mobile devices, the new Moto X requires a new depth of understanding in order to really appreciate the amount of work Motorola has done to enable the industrial and material design desired. In order to avoid issues with the metal frame detuning internal antennas and maintain radio performance, Motorola has developed their own custom antenna tuner that is supposed to be even better than the QFE15xx antenna tuner that Qualcomm has made as a part of their RF360 package.

Of course, at this point the iPhone 4’s “death grip” issue has been discussed to death. In short, due to a lack of antenna diversity, it was possible to easily detune the phone’s antenna and significantly decrease signal reception by putting a finger on the gap between two parts of the metal frame. Understanding how an antenna tuner can help to resolve this situation requires an understanding of impedance and how it relates to antennas.

The first and inevitable question is what impedance is. To briefly summarize this topic, impedance is essentially resistance in an AC circuit. Impedance in an AC (alternating current, or what comes out of most power outlets) is determined by resistors, capacitors, and inductors present in the circuit. In antennas, what’s really happening is that electromagnetic waves in the air are causing the antenna to resonate, and as a result the waves are converted in electrical signals. While this is easy enough to understand, the crucial portion of this is where the antenna connects to the rest of the system. Antennas inherently have an impedance determined by natural resonant frequencies, the height above the ground, and the conductors used to construct the antenna. For the most part though, this is relatively easy to tune for at the factory such that the impedance mismatch is small.

The major problem is that the real world is not just the inside of a factory. As mentioned before, the hand detunes the antenna due to its capacitive effects. This means that the impedance changes. For those still following along with the physics, the reason why an impedance mismatch causes reception to worsen is because the electrical signal is still in the form of a wave in the AC circuit, parts of the wave will reflect just like how some light is reflected when crossing from one medium to another, which is why water can appear to be a mirror from one side but a window from another.

Now that we’ve gone over the physics, let’s get back to the Moto X. Motorola has developed their own custom antenna tuner. While Qualcomm has their own antenna tuner, the major differentiator is that this antenna tuner actually detects capacitance changes at the antenna and adjusts impedance accordingly. In practice, the antenna is retuned incredibly quickly, with next to no hesitation. Motorola demonstrated this by showing two Moto Xs that were identical except one had the antenna tuner disabled. The Moto X without this antenna tuner rapidly dropped from ~23 dBm output power to ~7 dBm output power. The unit with the antenna tuner managed to achieve around ~15 dBm output power after detuning. Remember, decibels are a logarithmic scale so this represents around a 6.3x increase in power output.

In addition, in discussions with Motorola’s engineering team they claimed that the new Moto X improves upon the receive sensitivity of the first Moto X. This is no small feat as the original Moto X was known to have some of the best radio reception amongst its peers. Once again, this makes sense as even though polycarbonate is RF transparent there will always be some level of reflection, just like how there is reflection with impedance mismatches, and I would once again refer to our article on materials in mobile devices to get a better understanding of this subject.

Moto Voice

While the original Moto X introduced Touchless Controls, the new Moto X takes things further. Now named Moto Voice, the new Moto X now allows for any five syllable phrase to be used. In addition, it’s possible for third party apps to plug into Moto Voice. Motorola demonstrated this by updating a Facebook status using voice controls, and it was said that YouTube and Whatsapp could be used through voice control as well. I believe that this is still using a TI chipset to enable voice control, although I need to take some time to dig for the exact chipset. Motorola noted that it will be able to distinguish between masculine and feminine voices quite well, and it should be able to be reasonably accurate at distinguishing between people even in situations where the owner and another person have masculine/feminine speech patterns. This system is still low power as always compared to running hotword detection off of the application processor (AP).

Moto Display is also present as the second generation of Active Display, and is now proximity based along with motion-based actions, which works by using the three IR transmitters and one IR receiver. This continues to use a low power DSP that is likely another TI solution. Motorola demonstrated how their solution is an order of magnitude lower in power compared to the same functionality implemented by a Play Store app for phones that lack Moto Display/Active Display. This was done wiring up a second gen Moto X and competing device to a power monitor.

Finally, Moto Actions adds some new gestures that leverage the previously mentioned IR transmitters and receivers. While some phones already have a similar feature, the main advantage of Motorola’s implementation is that the extra IR transmitters give much more leeway in how the gestures are performed. This means that a hand wave can be done at greater distances and with less need to wave directly over the top of the phone. This same hardware is used to enable the motion-based actions for Moto Display, which will turn on if it detects a hand wave or a face.

Attentive Display

While we’re still on the subject of sensor utilization, Attentive Display is another surprisingly well-implemented feature. Instead of constantly using the front facing camera to check whether or not to turn off, the feature relies upon the IR system to first detect whether there is a face in front of the phone, and then uses the front facing camera if a face is detected. Motorola claims that this change makes it possible for Attentive Display to save battery instead of hurting battery life like some competing solutions. In practice, I noticed that this is effective enough to actually tell when I’m not looking at the display, but the need for the front facing camera to verify means that this system doesn’t work in low light. I’d definitely like to see some form of low light system to make this feature work before I’d be willing to use it all the time with a very short display time-out.


While this is a relatively short section, it's still important as Motorola has implemented four microphones that are tuned for a variety of scenarios from driving to cafeteria-style scenarios, and also a custom noise cancellation solution that is neither provided by Audience nor Qualcomm. This helps greatly with Moto Voice, which is a major feature of note for the new Moto X.

On the speaker side, we see the same TFA9890 amplifier that first appeared in the Moto X, although a front facing speaker is used instead of a rear facing speaker. This drives approximately twice as much power to the speakers at maximum than what we see with the TFA9887 which is in some HTC devices.


For Motorola, this is camera represents a huge departure. While in the past they were almost exclusively an OmniVision customer, the OV10820 was likely a driving force in the move away from OmniVision for this generation. Instead, Motorola has moved to a Sony IMX135 13MP sensor, which is the same sensor that we've seen in the Samsung Galaxy S4, LG G2, LG G3, and a whole host of other smartphones. The new ring flash is said to reduce the severe shadowing that usually comes with flash photos, and the camera also runs a continuous buffer of photos and will automatically detect photos that are blurry or out of focus and will save photos from before and after the photo was taken in order to suggest them as replacements for a photo if they're sharper and in focus. Motorola also showed off a highlight reel feature that automatically generates short videos if it detects a large number of photos and videos taken in a single area.

Final Words

Normally, it's rare for me to take so long with a launch article, but this time Motorola has gone above and beyond what happens at a normal session before launch. Instead of just some time with the new devices, a few presentation slides, and relatively little information, we received a full tour of Motorola's new Chicago offices, which included an exclusive look at the RF labs and the extensive Faraday cage that runs all the way around the lab. While normally we see a trickle of information, this was an avalanche.

Overall, the new Moto X seems promising. The new metal frame, display, new customization options, better audio experience, and new sensor-based features could prove to be an intriguing option when compared to the other smartphones coming out at this time.

The new Moto X will be available later this month, with prices as low as 99.99 USD on contract and 499.99 USD in the US. It will also be available in Latin America, Asia, and Europe. Moto Maker will be available on AT&T, Verizon, Telcel in Mexico, Phones 4U in the UK, Orange in France, and Phone House in Germany.




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