Somewhat Stock Android

One of the first things that changed for Motorola under its new Google ownership was the final nail through the coffin for Motoblur, with OTA updates for some of its handsets gradually scaling back customized features in favor of stock ones. I joked with Anand that Google paid $12.5 billion for Motorola just to kill the beast that was Motoblur. Truth be told the presence of largely-stock Android 4.x UI is perhaps one of the best qualities of the Moto X.

ro.build.version.full=Blur_Version.139.9.51.ghost_att.ATT.en.US

The Moto X at launch runs Android 4.2.2, which isn’t quite bleeding edge Android, but close. This is essentially an intentional side effect of the Google / Motorola firewalling that we’ve been told is in place. I’m not entirely surprised, but I had hoped the Moto X would differentiate itself by somehow launching with 4.3 considering other handset partners had the Jelly Bean MR2 (4.3) update a while ago, clearly Motorola should’ve as well. I know that Qualcomm had the BSP (Board Support Package) for 4.3 ready for MSM8960Pro at the same time as it did APQ8064, so I can’t think of any technical reason. Again I’d wager Moto X launching with 4.2.2 is entirely political, to say nothing of the usual operator testing nonsense in the USA.

 

Anyhow the homescreens (widget panels), launcher, settings menu, notification shade, dialer, and default applications are basically unadulterated Android. I say largely unadulterated because to say that the Moto X is entirely stock is still not quite true – there’s the operator name in the top left of the notification bar all the time, and the branded network status indicator (the cartoonish looking AT&T “4G” and “4G LTE” logos) on my AT&T unit. Unnervingly, the network status logo and bars are also a different shade of blue than the battery and time icons adjacent to it.

There’s also AT&T address book preloaded which cannot be removed, which is a huge annoyance. There’s also a provisioning check for bluetooth and WiFi tethering, another indication of an operator-touched device. There’s also AT&T my Wireless and AT&T’s visual voicemail app loaded, but those are pretty understandable.

 

The Moto X also has a few UI changes that definitely aren't stock. The status bar has different spacing for the cellular and WiFi indicator logos which carries over as a result of Blur (the spacing issue is just the "4G LTE" or similar status logo disappearing when on WiFi). Also the on-screen android buttons sometimes appear transparent, showing what's under, which definitely isn't a stock implementation. 

My definition of stock is just that, totally stock – no branded logos, operator names everywhere, or any preloaded apps. Truth be told the Moto X isn’t stock, it just has the stock UI on top of a relatively standard Motorola software build, but it does have a heck of a lot less of the operator preload crapware that normally shows up on Android phones sold with a subsidy these days. Android’s visual style is now mature and appealing enough that it really doesn’t need customization or modification to look good, rather it just needs to be left alone as much as is politically possible. If there’s one thing the Moto X does that every other handset maker should take to heart, it’s exactly that. 

If you’re on a wireless operator that can’t work with the newest Nexus phone or Google Play edition devices (like the CDMA ones in the USA – Verizon, Sprint, US Cellular), the Moto X might be the closest you can get to stock, even if it technically isn’t completely so. I suspect this will attract a lot of enthusiasts who are on other operators for their own reasons, even if the longer term solution really should be to vote with your wallet and move to an operator that’s open and compatible with those devices.

Moto Maker - A Customized Moto X X8 Mobile Computing System, Active Display, and Touchless Control
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  • gobaers - Monday, August 26, 2013 - link

    You just totally wrinkled my brain:

    "I actually wonder if that might be why we see worse battery life on the Moto X in practice compared to the HTC One/SGS4. Heavier workloads that keep all four cores active, but not pegged, might actually run more efficiently on the quad-core Krait 300 platforms."
    Reply
  • austonia - Monday, August 26, 2013 - link

    honestly who is going to buy this instead of a Samsung G4 or HTC One? the features that set it apart are gimmicky. choice of colors is good i guess but nearly everyone keeps their smartphone in a case anyway. camera is bad. specs medicore. best thing here is what they didn't do by using a (mostly) stock android. Reply
  • jeffkibuule - Monday, August 26, 2013 - link

    Because it's not all about specs. Some people want a phone that feels great in the hand, and the Moto X has that in spades over the HTC One and GS4 where a larger phone = no sale, no matter how great the internal hardware is. Reply
  • Mondozai - Monday, August 26, 2013 - link

    Hilarious, the "specs are dead" defence. Reply
  • Impulses - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    I agree specs matter, I wasn't tempted to upgrade my EVO LTE this gen by the One or SGS4 so the Moto X is even less tempting... But he also brought up size, which does matter.

    I think this might be the first phone we've seen that finally materializes the potential of on screen buttons by delivering the same size display on a smaller body... First generation or two of phones with on screen buttons were the same size as their current gen flagships, they just had more bezel, and then it seemed like everyone was moving away from the on screen buttons...
    Reply
  • kwrzesien - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    Just like desktop PC's eventually the CPU and GPU (for a given resolution) power will eventually catch up with "good enough" for most people, most of the time. Then heat, size and battery life will take over as the differentiators. Reply
  • Honest Accounting - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    Apple has been using it for years ... Reply
  • curly_jefferson - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    Okay, bro. Have fun waving your hands in front of your SG4 (#gimmick) while I tell my phone to call my wife on the way home from work without even looking at it (#useful) Reply
  • althaz - Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - link

    There's no flagship phones on the market without voice control, AFAIK (my phone is over two years old and has it). Reply
  • althaz - Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - link

    Also, using it in the car is literally the only time it is ever useful - it's rarely faster than simply touching the phone. Not to mention the waving your hands over the phone is pretty cool and could really cut down on how often you need to clean the front of your phone. Reply

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