When you use enough Android phones, you start to realize something: Far too many of them miss the forest for the trees.
Sure, there are plenty of impressive devices out there. And sure, some of them have amazingly great assets to offer.
But so many Android phones fall into the trap I like to call "death by differentiation": The manufacturers work so hard to make their products stand out that they forget to focus on the big picture. They pack in loads of individual elements but neglect to think about what those pieces accomplish, how they fit together or how their presence impacts the actual experience of using the device.
That's where the Moto X is different. I've been using the Moto X for the past several days, and while I won't be doing a full review of the phone -- my Computerworld colleague Barbara Krasnoff handily handled that task while I was off exploring Europe -- I wanted to share some thoughts on the device and why I think it's one of the most interesting smartphones we've seen in some time.
What makes the Moto X so special isn't any particular spec or feature; it's the way the whole package fits together. The Moto X succeeds where so many other phones fail -- at providing a cohesive and outstanding overall user experience.
First, the hardware: The Moto X just feels good to hold. The phone is surprisingly small compared to most current Android devices, but that relatively svelte frame doesn't come at the cost of screen space. The X packs a 4.7-in. display, the same size used in Google's current flagship Android phone, the Nexus 4. By using narrow side bezels and a curved back, Motorola managed to strike a balance between screen size and in-hand comfort. Good user experience.
Then there's the design: As you've no doubt heard by now, Motorola is letting users decide how their Moto X will look. The option for customization is limited to AT&T at launch, which is a damn shame, but word has it the gates will open up pretty fast.
Trivial as it may sound, the idea of being able to pick out all the visual details of a phone -- the back color, front color, accent color, and (eventually) even a custom engraved message -- is a fresh idea that's going to appeal to a lot of smartphone shoppers. Factor in the unique touches like the coming-later-this-year option for a real wood back, and you've got the kind of thing that's going to get people talking.
Make your phone look the way you want it to look? Good user experience.
And how about performance? Some folks feared the Moto X wouldn't be up to par because it uses a dual-core processor. Those fears are unfounded: In real-world use, the X is snappy as can be and free from any lag. That's more than we can say for Samsung's Galaxy S4, which uses an impressive-sounding quad-core processor and yet still suffers from imperfect performance.
Remember: The Moto X's internal configuration is somewhat unusual, with a dual-core chip combined with a quad-core GPU and two additional processors for natural language and contextual computing. Instead of worrying about how the spec sheet might look, Moto just created a setup that delivers.
Say it with me now: Good. User. Experience.
Last but certainly not least is the software: Nearly every Android manufacturer makes the mistake of trying to make its phones look different by changing the Android user interface for no apparent reason. To be clear, I'm not flat-out opposed to the idea of OS-level alterations. What I'm opposed to is change for the very sake of change -- you know, those arbitrary modifications made misguidedly in the name of differentiation and at the expense of user experience.
Motorola, in contrast, manages to modify the Android software in meaningful ways that actually add value without requiring unnecessary compromise. The Moto X basically sticks with the clean and intuitive stock Android Jelly Bean UI but adds in some very practical functionality.
The Touchless Control feature -- wake your phone anytime by saying "Okay, Google Now" and asking a question or issuing a command -- is one of the coolest and most useful smartphone innovations to come along in years. I've used it while driving, walking around, standing in my kitchen, sitting on my couch. I've even used it while the phone's been in my pocket (it'll still hear you and respond -- which, in fair warning, will seriously amaze and/or freak out any people around you).
That and the other new Moto software additions -- Active Display, which causes relevant information to periodically flash on the phone's screen, and Assist, which allows the phone to recognize when you're driving and alter its behavior accordingly -- aren't silly circus tricks you'll try out once and never use again. They're legitimately useful features that'll change the way you interact with mobile technology.
Here's what this all builds up to: The Moto X matters because it gets right what most smartphones get wrong. It doesn't focus on gimmicks and spec games and doesn't poke around in the Android UI to change things for the sake of change. It sees the forest through the trees. It gets the big picture.
If you're looking for specific isolated pieces of technology -- the highest resolution screen around, for instance, or the best possible camera you can get -- the Moto X probably isn't the phone for you. It's by no means a perfect device, and there are absolutely individual areas where other smartphones come out ahead.
But if you're looking for a thoughtfully designed phone with genuinely compelling features -- and, most important, a cohesive and outstanding overall user experience that'll delight you from the moment you pick it up -- you'll be hard-pressed to find another product that matches what the Moto X provides.