After months of anticipation, teases, and leaks, Motorola is finally preparing to answer the question: Will X mark the spot?
On Thursday afternoon Motorola officially unveiled the Moto X, the company's first smartphone conceived of, created and sold completely after it was acquired by Google. After a string of duds in the marketplace, Motorola is banking on a few features for its Moto X to help it thrive in the post-Googorola world: voice control, an ultra-fast camera and the strangest color combinations you've ever seen on a smartphone.
Generally, according to Motorola VP of Product Management Lior Ron, the aim of the Moto X is similar to that of the stated purpose of Google Glass: to get out of the way, and to make interaction with your smartphone more human, more natural.
The most gee-whiz feature of the Moto X is what Motorola calls "Touchless Control." Also available on Motorola's recent Droid phones for Verizon, this allows X owners to awaken and operate their smartphone without touching it. Say "OK, Google Now" and the screen unlocks, the display powers on and you are able to instruct the smartphone to complete a number of actions, among them: Making a phone call, sending a text message, searching Google (duh), getting navigation directions, changing the music, checking the weather, setting a reminder and essentially anything else Google's Siri competitor, Google Now, can accomplish.
You don't need to be connected to Wi-Fi or the mobile network for Touchless Control to work. And to prevent pranksters from activating the assistant by saying "OK Google Now" in your vicinity, the phone learns your voice so that it only responds to you.
There are some obvious flaws, of course: It would be nice if it can learn one more person's voice (your wife's, for example), so that someone else could borrow your phone or take control if your mouth is otherwise indisposed. And during a meeting with Motorola, the function was accidentally triggered when a Motorola exec said "OK" without the Google Now. In my brief tests with the Moto X, however, I could only get it to power on when I said "OK Google," and none of my colleagues were able to launch my assistant by speaking the magic words.
(Speaking of touchless: The Moto X also features something called "Active Display," which basically pulses your notification on the screen every few seconds when the phone is asleep. This is done so that you don't have to press the sleep button on your phone to view your notifications; you can also swipe up from that screen to peek at the content of a text message or email without unlocking the phone.)
But back to Touchless Control: If anything, the great obstacle for Motorola's voice feature is Google's speech recognition. Though still far better than Apple's, it still occasionally muddles words and occasionally hears speech when it shouldn't. For this to truly be a killer feature, Google will have to continue tweaking its software until it can flawlessly recognize speech.
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Like HTC, Apple and Nokia, Motorola is also heavily promoting its camera. The most distinguishing feature of the Moto X is probably the speed with which you can go from locked display to captured photo; Motorola execs said in a meeting with press that the aim was to get that time down to 2 seconds, from pocket to shutter, versus times of 8 to 10 seconds with other, unnamed phones.
To do so, Motorola has simplified the process as much as possible. First, they've created a gesture that automatically wakes the phone up to camera mode. If you quickly twist the phone over once or twice, you activate the camera; pressing anywhere on the screen when the camera is on will take a photo. (The Moto X uses some fancy auto-focus technology to do away with the need to tap to focus; if you miss that function, you can turn it on in the settings.)
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