The Moto X phone from Motorola Mobility, a Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) company, was revealed on August 1. The specifications (or specs) of the Moto X list a 4.7-inch AMOLED screen, version 4.2.2 of the Android operating system, a dual-core main processor (1.7GHz) and 2GB of RAM.
However, Motorola says that the hardware specifications of a device -- from processor benchmarks to camera megapixel numbers -- are not what signifies a good user experience. Motorola is marketing the Moto X phone as a highly-customizable device, with an easy-to-use “Google experience.”
The Moto X's main competition is flagship model smartphones like the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4, two of the most popular devices on the planet. Although it lacks the newest and most powerful hardware specifications -- traditionally hallmarks of a flagship model -- the Moto X does have several features to help it stand out.
Here are the top five features of Moto X, which Motorola will release at an unspecified date in late August or September.
AT&T subscribers will be able to order Moto X from Motorola’s Moto Maker website at launch. An unlocked or Google Play version of Moto X has not yet been announced, but reports in the works, and Motorola has announced that the "Motomaker" design studio will "soon" arrive in Best Buy. Subscribers to Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular will also be able to purchase the Moto X, but will have fewer color options when the phone launches. Motorola says the Moto X will be offered in custom options from other carriers by the end of the year.
Motorola will sell the Moto X with a choice of 18 different colors for the phone's back cover through their website. The Moto Maker site will also allow users to pick a Moto X front in white or black, and one of seven metallic “accent” colors. Accent colors cover the phone’s bumper buttons and a ring around its camera. Moto X buyers will also be able to add a custom “signature” in dark ink, similar to the engraving done on Apple products.
Motorola will offer two different cases for the phone from manufacturer Incase -- a simpler, snap-on case in clear or “black frost” and a Pro Shell Case with seven different colored bumpers, including black, gray, green, blue, orange and pink.
Moto X will also be offered in 16GB and 32GB iterations, with customizable text for Moto X’s boot animation, as well as a choice of wallpaper and the option of shipping the phone synced to a user’s Google account. According to Motorola’s Motomaker YouTube video, Moto X will offer a choice of wall charger, and 13 different earbud color options from SOL. The earbuds will come at an extra cost, which the company has not yet announced.
2) ‘Always on’ voice control
The Moto X includes a voice control feature that is turned on whenever the phone is, always listening for the specific command: “OK, Google Now.” Always-on voice is also present in the new family of Motorola devices for Verizon Wireless -- including the Droid Ultra, Mini and Maxx.
The “Google Now” voice feature is always on, but according to Motorola’s Guy Kawasaki it is “silent until you ask it to do something.” Several hands-on demonstrations with the Moto X have shown that the voice features available with Google Now require a training session; the phone has to learn a user’s voice before it will respond.
Training Moto X to understand a specific user’s voice and ignoring others will give it additional security. For the “Google Now” voice features to work properly, lock screens and other barriers to hands-free usage need to be broken. The Moto X may be the phone that does this. So far, it is unclear.
International Business TImes has created a detailed breakdown of the Motorola’s X8 Mobile Computing System, which powers the Moto X. In it, the X8's low-power natural language processing core is highlighted as the backbone of “Google Now” and voice search in the Moto X.
Voice control technology has been a popular component of smartphones since the introduction of Siri on Apple's iPhone 4S, and is touted as changing the way that people interact with technology. Voice gestures in the Moto X and new Droid devices from Motorola and Google will always be on, and listening, which the companies say is more convenient than having to pick up and touching a device to interact with it. Therefore, having to touch or pick up a smartphone to turn on a listening app reduces that convenience factor.
However, keeping the listening software on all of the time creates another hurdle: battery life. Motorola says that the "natural language processor" is capable of reducing the battery strain to a minimum.
Even though it is always listening, it is not yet clear if Moto X is able to bypass the Android lock-screen through voice. Since the Moto X will be trained to detect its owner’s voice, the lock-screen might not be a necessary component of the phone’s security.
The video embedded above details the Moto X's ability to create alarms and save notes without having to be touched. However, it does not highlight phone calls being made or text messages being read aloud -- which could mean the functionality is disabled or not included. If this is true, Moto X's voice functions will be disappointingly limited.
If the low-power natural language processor is able to power “Google Now” without quickly draining battery life, and allows smartphone users to actually complete tasks rather than just checking the weather, then the Moto X might be a useful tool for consumers. If the Moto X lives up to its advertising, then voice search might actually start working like the computer on “Star Trek” as opposed to some cheap parlor trick.
3) Situational awareness
Motorola has said that the “responsiveness” of Moto X will set it apart from other smartphones. Place it with the screen facing down on a table, and a sensor alerts a special low-power processor to turn off the AMOLED screen. The same goes for placing the phone in a pocket -- pick it up, and Moto X lights up, ready for action.
Moto X is capable of detecting environments and actions thanks to sensors built into the device, as well as a low-power contextual awareness processor to determine how to function in situations -- like the motion of a moving car, or the quick step of a runner. The contextual awareness processor will allow Moto X to react accordingly, with less input from a user. When combined with voice controls, the awareness of Moto X will allow the phone to be easier to use and more responsive to its users, Motorola says.
The low-power nature of these additionial chips save battery life on the Moto X, and cost less for Motorola to purchase from silicon suppliers.
4) A gesture-based camera
Quickly twist Moto X two times with your wrist, and the screen is turned on, camera app ready to go. We at IBTimes cannot report whether the gesture is worthwhile until we can review Moto X hands on. Moto X's camera (10-megapixel main on the back, 2-megapixels up front) also includes an updated user interface.
Taking a picture only requires a touch, rather than pressing a specific button. Videos require the touch of the video-camera icon, and still photos can be taken during live video capture with a press of the screen. Smartphone cameras have become the main instrument of photography for many consumers, and having one that is easier to use and functions better would be a big plus for Motorola.
5) Assembled in the U.S.
While the feature will be exclusive to AT&T subscribers for the first few weeks (or months) that follow the launch of the Moto X, Motorola promises that customized versions of the phone will ship to consumers in “four days or less” after they place their order. The quick turnaround for American consumers is thanks to "local" construction: Moto X will be the first smartphone assembled in the U.S. Many components will come from suppliers around the world, but the final production of Moto X will take place in the U.S., with custom devices shipping straight from the Fort Worth, Tex. Motorola factory.
Most Americans are willing to pay more for a product built in the U.S., according to a recent Gallup poll. Most Chinese consumers are also willing to pay more for a device made in the U.S., according to a study from the Boston Consulting Group. That means a larger, more interested market for Motorola and Google with Moto X, and potentially a more positive perception of Motorola (and Google) in the U.S.
More than the sum of its parts
Google originally acquired Motorola to protect the Android ecosystem and its hardware partners from lawsuits over software patents from Microsoft and other parties. Motorola owned a number of patents that would benefit the OS' legal status, and Google paid more than $12 billion to buy the company. Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside was quick to point out at D11 that the company was not merely a patent holder oblivious to the mobile space -- Motorola developed the StarTAC, one the earliest cell phones to gain traction with consumers and the very first "flip" phone, as well as the popular RAZR line.
If Motorola is able to become a success again, Google’s investment will not only protect its Android operating system, but the company will finally start to see a profit from hardware, like Apple does with the iPhone.
If the Moto X is a hit, then Google’s acquisition of Motorola was not only a smart move, it will have been a grand slam.
Thomas Halleck is a tech reporter for the International Business Times, covering Google, wearables, product reviews and mobile news....