Motorola's flagship phone, the Moto X, has arrived

The Moto X is finally here, as Motorola took the wraps off its hotly anticipated new smartphone at an event on Thursday.

The new Moto X from Motorola.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

The new smartphone, which has been talked about for months, marks the official relaunch of the handset maker Motorola, since it was acquired last year by tech giant Google.

The new device, which will be Motorola's flagship smartphone, marries Motorola's history of hardware and design innovation with Google's software and services chops to create a new device franchise that Google hopes will rival that of Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy series of smartphones.

The Moto X will be available on all four major US carriers; however, no local Australian telcos have announced that they will be carrying the phone at the time of writing.

The device, which sports a 4.7-inch screen with a curved back, and a 10-megapixel camera, will be offered in either white or black in carrier and retail locations. The initial version of the device will come with 16GB of memory, but it will not offer the option to add memory via a memory card slot. As a special promotion, Google is offering up to 50GB of free Google Drive storage for Moto X owners for two years.

With a two-year carrier service contract, the 16GB version of the Moto X will sell for US$200. And it will go on sale in late August or early September in the US, Canada and Latin America. Representatives from Motorola said the exact timing of the device's various launches is up to the individual wireless carriers. Motorola gave no further details about other international launches.

The new phone does not use the latest version of Android software, but instead sports Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.


One of the strongest selling points of the new Moto X is a consumer's ability to create and customise her or his device online and have it built to order in Motorola's Fort Worth, Texas, factory. The company has set up a website and an interactive web-based tool called Moto Maker that lets people custom build their device online.

The new Moto X will come in a variety of colours, which users can choose on the Moto Maker website when ordering their phones.
(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Moto Maker lets people choose from up to 16 colours for the back of their device, along with seven accent colours that can be used to highlight the sides of the device and the rim around the back-facing camera.

Customers can choose one of two colours for the front: white or black. The website also allows people to add a name or short message on the back of the phone. And it offers customised wallpapers and wake-up messages for the device. Devices built online will arrive in customers' hands within four days of their order, according to Motorola.

People customising their phones can choose from either a 16GB model, which is also sold in carrier stores with a two-year contract for US$200, or they can upgrade for US$50 to a 32GB model, which is available only through Moto Maker.

Before eager Motorola fans get too excited, it's important to note that the customisation option will initially be available only for Moto X customers on AT&T's network. Customers who want a built-to-order Moto X on a different carrier will have to wait.

The X8 "mobile system"

Even though Motorola calls the Moto X its flagship smartphone, the device itself is identical in terms of technology to the Droid line of devices it launched last week, which will be sold exclusively for Verizon Wireless. These Droid smartphones, like the Moto X, are expected to go on sale by the end of the month.

The main engine driving the technology in the Moto X, along with the Verizon Droids, is a cluster of chips that Motorola calls its X8 processing system. The chipset includes a tweaked Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro SoC processor coupled with a cluster of other custom-built, purpose-driven processors.

One of these processors is called the "contextual computing processor", which handles all of the sensory functions on the device. And the other is known as a "natural language processor", which offers voice recognition technology.

The chipset is designed to enable devices to use hardware in clever ways without putting too much strain on the battery life of the device, according to Rick Osterloh, senior vice president for product management with Motorola.

"The X8 is not a system on a chip," he said. "It's a mobile system that includes several chips."

He explained that building the phone to offload certain functionality onto specialised processors has allowed the company to design a device that uses a 2200mHA battery that can still handle always-on voice activation functionality and constant updates and alerts on the device, while maintaining a battery life of up to 24 hours.

In other words, the purpose of this chip-cluster design, he said, is to "make cool new things happen at very low power".

"We could do this in software, but it would burn through the battery in two or three hours," Osterloh added. "With hardware, we can do it much more efficiently."

One of the new features enabled by the natural language processor is called Touchless Control, and it lets users initiate phone calls, activate turn-by-turn navigation and perform Google searches just by saying, "OK Google Now", and then mentioning whatever task the user wants the device to perform. Users don't have to touch any buttons or unlock any screens to get to these functions. And the software is designed to be smart enough to perform the tasks, once it hears the three trigger words.

The contextual computing processor lets users get message updates from Facebook, Gmail, Twitter and elsewhere without unlocking the phone. And it's the same processor that is able to wake up the camera on the device when the user twists the phone two times in the air to take a quick photo.

"The device knows if it's in your pocket, in a moving car or on your nightstand," Osterloh said.

And, he explained, because the gadget knows your orientation, it can wake up certain functions without the user needing to click a series of buttons the way they'd have to with other smartphones.

In addition to the new chip technology, the Moto X uses a special sensor on its camera, which captures up to 75 per cent more light. This means better-quality pictures in bright sunlight, as well as in dimly lit settings.

It will be interesting to see how the new Moto X stacks up to competitors, such as the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy line of devices. But getting the new Motorola technology into the hands of more customers, through the Moto X franchise, is certainly a step in the right direction.


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