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.

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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  • smitty123 - Monday, August 26, 2013 - link

    " You have to also be close by, Moto X isn’t going to turn on when you’re across a big room, for example. In addition I’ve noticed that for some reason there are some odd false positives."

    i don't like to feel like my spied on.

    So to me it just sounds like we have a new thing to test: the distance at which the phone can hear us.

    Not hear the magic phrase, just how far from us it can still hear us with its 3 mics. forget the "it can't understand us" i'm not testing if it can recognize words, i'm just not comfortable knowing if it can record conversations that a human, nsa for example, can understand. with obama going for the warantless conversation recording, let's just say, this isn't a phone i'd want near me.

    That old big brother spying thing is here, i think in the interest of privacy, we need to know these things before buying the phone.

    i for one will never get an xbox one just for that reason.

    good luck but i'm going back to good old rotary phones lol
  • flyingpants1 - Wednesday, September 18, 2013 - link

    All phones can do that, genius. Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    Does the UI have lag between Android menu screens? Is the touch-screen at least as responsive as every Iphone to come out?

    I'm guessing there's still plenty of UI lag. In the future, UI's will be instant.
  • eallan - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    It's pretty responsive, I've had some hiccups and frame rate drops though. Reply
  • Honest Accounting - Monday, September 16, 2013 - link

    In the general UI or specific applications? Reply
  • Krysto - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    Maybe it got offset by the last-gen AMOLED tech. Here's the thing. If you're going to argue for efficiency, then don't just use an "old panel". Obviously that won't help. You need to use the latest technologies, the most efficient ones, and THEN lower the resolution and the clock speed of the CPU and GPU.

    So let's say the latest AMOLED is 2x more efficient than the n-1 before it, at the same resolution. But at 1080p (2x more pixels) it uses just as much power compared to the 720p one. Then I want the latest AMOLED with 720p, to benefit from that improvement in efficiency. If I use the old one with 720p, or the new one with 1080p, then I won't see any improvement in battery life.

    Same for the CPU and GPU. Let's say Motorola wanted to hit the performance target of S4 Pro, in both CPU and GPU. Great. But to gain extra efficiency, it would've been ideal to use the S800's CPU at 1.5/1.7 Ghz (instead of 2.3 Ghz), and Adreno 330 at half the clock speed (to match Adreno 320's performance).

    That's how you get the extra efficiency. We don't really see new phones that are much better in power consumption than last year's models, because the OEM's keep pushing for performance or resolution or whatever, which completely cancels out whatever efficiency gains they might've had.

    But this is our fault, too. Because we keep caring about benchmarks and who's e-penis is bigger, to the point where the OEM's have the incentive to cheat on these benchmarks, to get good PR from it.

    If we really want to see better battery life, then act like you don't care about performance anymore (because it has gotten good enough anyway), and ask for 2-day battery life (then heavy users might finally get a full day).
  • Impulses - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    The whole efficiency line on Motorla's part is probably half marketing spin anyway, I'm sure cost and logistics played as large a role into the component selection as efficiency, even features (the active display stuff would've been impossible w/more common LCD displays, etc). At the end of the day, the only phones that have made monumental battery life strides have been their MAXX editions, by just packing a much larger battery... It seems current gen phones often catch up to last gen MAXX phones in one or two tests tho.

    If they were really trying to go for battery life above all they'd not only sacrifice some performance but some device thickness, and introduce a phone w/a MAXX-like battery as the only SKU w/no smaller battery model below it. I'm surprised more OEMs aren't putting out slightly thicker phones at times w/3,000mAh batteries like Moto, like not even one OEM has...
  • michaelljones - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    Brian, Anand,

    I know I'm commenting awfully low in this list to get seen, but I'd like to see a little more love for Windows phone in some of your comparison graphs. Throw in at least a token Lumia please (or more if you like!)?

    I'm a happy Windows Phone user (like many I think), but I have no way to quantitatively compare my Lumia 928 to any of the other handsets. With cameras that kick ass, I can't see how they aren't a comparable discussion.
  • teiglin - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    Two Lumias feature prominently in the camera section, and more are in the full gallery of camera comparison shots. I mean, yeah, Brian clearly knows that Nokia kicks everyone else's cameras in the nuts, and it shows.

    Beyond that, where do you want to see the Lumias? I don't think Brian ever got a working Windows Phone battery life test because of screen timeout issues (not to mention the absence of precision brightness controls makes it hard to compare to controlled 200 nit settings), so that leaves javascript benchmarks and display quality. I guess those would be nice to see in the appropriate charts.
  • michaelljones - Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - link

    No mention on the screen page of any other Lumia devices and their types or quality of screens, only a host of Androids and a Apple. No CALMAN data.

    No speaker phone comparisons. The 928 Nokia crows all about the speaker phone for crying out loud. I want to know if it's really that good or if it really sucks that bad comparatively speaking.

    No call time and battery tests. The call time is an open freakin phone call for crying out loud. I could have done that on my StarTac in 1997. Also no charge time comparison, despite the fact that there are a half dozen apps in the Windows Store that will measure this.

    I believe several of the tests used in the CPU test are browser tests, and run just fine on a Lumia.

    Last I knew GFXBench ran on Windows Phone, yet it's nowhere to be seen in the graphs. (maybe it's pathetic, but at least show it).

    The camera section DOES have some pics from the Lumias, but fails to mention anything about them in the discussion, nor mention that Brian has them and that reviews are coming, etc. etc. other than an oblique reference to how he likes having access to the controls of the camera ala Lumia 1020. (and no mention of how the 1020 mops everything in the photo comparison as has been widely crowed with every other smart ass smart phone before this i.e. iPhone 5). Also no mention if those 1020 pictures are full 45MP or cropped ones.

    I'm not asking for a chart that takes away from the phone in question by any means. I'm just asking for a fair and balanced view of the current Windows Phone offering(s) comparatively speaking. WP has it's own benefits and it's own downfalls, and I'd like to see them compared to others in an honest way.

    See as an example (granted it's in German, but the charts prove my point that these comparos could be a bit more balanced and not 9 Android phones against 1 iPhone and NO Windows Phone)

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