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ALAN ZISMAN ON TECHNOLOGY

Moto X 2015 - an old favourite refreshed     
 
By Alan Zisman
10 October 2015

A couple of years back, the original Motorola Moto X was among my favourite Android phones of its time. It lacked that era's highest-end processor and highest-resolution screen but more than made up for those things (in my September 2013 opinion)
with smart design - using multiple lower powered processors to extend battery life while being able to provide dedicated attention to gestures and notifications, for instance. It didn't try to be the biggest phone around but tried to be among the most comfortable to hold. And it got lots of extra points by offering a seemingly infinite variety of customization - at least when ordered directly from the North American plant where it was assembled. (Yes, assembled in North America. What a concept!) The price was a bit lower than the competitions' super-phones, which didn't hurt either.

Now, though, both Motorola and the Moto X have evolved - Motorola went from being an independent company to being owned by Google to being sold to Chinese-based Lenovo. They released lower-cost Moto G and E models both of which have been strong sellers. And the Moto X came out with a second-generation 2014 model which upped the screen size and the resolution and other specs, while keeping the customization but moving assembly out of North America. And in July 2015, Motorola announced a pair of 3rd-generation Moto X models - Moto X Play and Style.

Just to keep things a bit confused, depending on where you are in the world, you may only be able to buy one or the other of these models - and may find different names in use. The Moto X Style, for instance, is being sold in the US as the Moto X Pure Edition, while the Moto X Play is only being offered through telco Verizon under the name Droid Maxx 2.

Here in Canada, only the Moto X Play is being sold. And while potential US buyers of the Pure Edition can customize their purchase from Motomaker.com and UK buyers of the Play or the Style can do the same from Motomaker.co.uk, Canadians going online to Motomaker.ca don't get to play with colours or features. Canadians can get an colour they want, as long as it's black. (Or dark teal from Best Buy). And while Motorola sells the US Pure Edition as being unlocked and usable on any carrier with a GSM network, Motorola's Canadian website sends would-be buyers to their choice from a short list of telcos: Bell, Telus, Koodo, Videotron, Sasktel. You want to use another network? Too bad. (Update - Nov 2 2015 - apparently, Rogers will also be offering it to Canadians soon).

The review Moto X Play I was loaned came in basic black, but was unlocked and worked with my Wind Mobile SIM.

Like the preceeding Moto X models, it had a curved back - and even though its screen had grown from the 4.7" of the original, past the 5.2" of the 2014 model to 5.5", it remained manageable and even comfortable to hold. Like other Moto models, there's a round dimple on the back, presumably to help hold it - I never found myself with a fingertip in the dimple, though. It's got a textured back, making it easier to hang onto. It felt bigger and heftier than my two-year old Nexus 5 (with a 4.95" screen) but no so big as to feel clumsy. (See below)

Moto X vs Nexus 5The screen, like last years' model, is 1080p hi-def resolution. Some of this years' superphones are touting massively high resolutions - as with the original Moto X, Motorola is taking a more modest approach - which in my opinion is better; this model's screen is good enough, while saving on battery life and cost. Similarly, once again, Motorola is using a not-quite high-end processor: an octacore Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 running at 1.7 GHz. Again, adequate, while relatively economical in terms of battery life and cost. Subjectively, it feels quite a bit perkier than my two-year old Nexus 5.

Storage is a relatively modest 16 GB - no models with more storage available (at least in Canada). Users wanting to store a lot of photos, music and video on their phone are finding 16 GB too little space - nicely, the Moto X Play accepts memory cards of up to 128 GB - making it easy to add more storage as needed. Again, a good call by Motorola, helping to keep the phone's price relatively low but providing options for the user.

A couple of specifications push the envelope a bit, though. The cameras on earlier Moto X models were okay but nothing special. The new model comes with a 21 megapixel rear camera. This lets it take quite detailed images - as long as it's in good light. As lighting gets challenging, performance drops off.

And the battery (non-removable) is a massive 3630 mAh. Motorola claims it provides 'up to 30 hours for mixed usage'. I found that with my use, I was only having to charge the phone every three or four days. For some users, this massive battery may be a killer feature. It also promises 'water resistance' though I didn't test that.

Motorola offers a Turbo Power 15 charger for quicker charges - but only includes a standard charger in the base package; the Turbo Power 15 is an added US$35 (and is currently listed as out of stock online).

Another reasonable choice - the Moto X comes with Android 5.1.1 Lollipop in a version barely altered from Google's base Android - as a result, I'd expect a fairly quick update to the just released Android M (Marshmallow). Motorola has added several relatively useful additional utilities - Motorola Migrate simplifies the task of moving from another Android or iPhone model, for instance. A Moto app optionally learns your voice and offers suggestions based on location, movement, available connections, and promises to learn 'when you're busy.... to know who to let through'. You can set the phone so a pair of wrist-twists opens the camera. Moto Display quickly shows notifications when the phone moves - before it turns on. Moto Play can sense when you're driving and read text to you.

I've several times mentioned design choices that could make the Moto X Play 'relatively economical'. So what is the cost? Given the economics of mobile phones, where phones are often sold by carriers, bundled as part of a plan, that can be hard to say. People often think that their phone was $100 or $50 or free. Using the Canadian Motomaker site, picking telco Bell and clicking 'Buy now', I'm offered two options - I can get it for CDN$50 with a two-year plan or buy it for CDN$450 with no term. Telus matches the $50 cost with a two-year plan but lets me buy it for $420 with no term - and throws a Turbo Power charger into either package. Koodo's price: $410 - and Best Buy only sells it with a Koodo plan.

That's more expensive than the Moto G ($230 from Telus) or Moto E ($150 from Telus), but the Moto X is a lot more phone than either of those two (though I'm happy to recommend either of those models to anyone who is either price-sensitive or has smaller hands - or both). It's also quite a bit less expensive than superphones from some other manufacturers - for example, Telus sells Samsung's Galaxy S6 (32 GB storage - non-expandable) for CDN$750 (no term).

I like it a lot. Too bad I have to give it back.

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About This Blog...

I've been writing about computers, software, Internet and the rest of technology since 1992, including a 17 year (1995-2012) stint as 'High Tech Office' columnist for Business in Vancouver. This blog includes thoughts on technology, society, and anything else that might interest me. Comments, emailed to alan@zisman.ca are welcome - and may be published in whole or part. You can follow me on Twitter or Google + for notice of new blog postings.
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