The iPhone 5S, needing little introduction, has already staked a claim in the marketplace with initial shipments already sold out, and backorders piling up at the Apple store. Despite pundits across the blogosphere, and that sketchy casino gambling operation known as Wall Street, naysaying Apple’s newest smartphone as not living up to rumors, expectations and their fever dreams of what a smartphone should be, the iPhone 5S (especially the gold variant) has been a hit with the public. As of today, it has mostly lived up to the hype generated at the September 10th Apple iPhone announcement event.
The Moto X is a Motorola smartphone in name, but let’s face it… it’s the first test of Google’s attempt at handset manufacturing since buying Motorola Mobility in August of this year, and though Motorola Mobility does operate independently of its new parent company, the goal of both companies is to dominate the smartphone marketplace by using Google’s Android dominance in conjunction with Motorola Mobility’s wide-ranging tech and design patents.
This is also significant because Motorola was the one of the first companies, along with HTC, to market a handset specifically designed to run Google’s Android mobile operating system, and they are part of the Open Handset Alliance, an organization geared toward open source consumer technology. Motorola’s Droid 1 was marketed specifically as an alternative to Apple’s closed iOS system and its locked-down iPhone device, and though Google had already staked its claim to the handset market with the Nexus line of smartphones (and tablets) back in 2010. Rumors are that the next Nexus phone, last updated in 2012, will be coming from Motorola Mobility… furthering Google’s stake in handset manufacturing through its newly acquired subsidiary.
Let’s take a look at the specs of the iPhone 5S and the Motorola Moto X:
||Motorola Moto X
|Size||4.87(H) x 2.31(W) x 0.30(D) inches||5.09(H) x 2.57(W) x 0.41(D) inches|
|Body Composition||Aluminum / Glass||PET Composite / Glass / Wood* (TBA)|
|Display||4-inch (diagonal) Retina display; 1136 x 640 resolution; 326 ppi||4.7-inch (diagonal) Super AMOLED; 1280 x 720; 316 ppi|
|Battery||Built-in rechargeable 1,560mAh lithium-ion battery / Charging via USB to computer system or power adapter / Talk time: Up to 10 hours on 3G / Standby time: Up to 250 hours on 3G / Internet use: Up to 8 hours on 3G, up to 10 hours on LTE, up to 10 hours on Wi-Fi / Video playback: Up to 10 hours / Audio playback: Up to 40 hours||Built-in rechargeable 2200 mAh lithium-ion polymer battery / Charging via USB to computer system or power adapter / Talk time: Up to 13 hours on 3G / Standby time: Up to 240 hours on 3G / Internet use: Up to 8 hours on 3G, up to 10 hours on LTE, up to 10 hours on Wi-Fi / Video playback: UP to 10 hours / Audio Playback: Up to 40 hours|
|Processor||Apple A7 with 64-bit architecture (dual core); 1.3 GHz; 1GB RAM; M7 Motion Co-Processor*||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (dual core); 1.7 GHz; 2GB RAM|
|OS||iOS 7||Android Jelly Bean 4.1.2 – 4.2.2 – 4.3 (coming soon)|
|Connectivity||GSM / CDMA / LTE / GPS and GLONASS||GSM / EDGE / CDMA / LTE / GPS and GLONASS|
|Storage||Flash Memory: 16GB / 32GB / 64GB||Flash Memory: 16GB / 32GB|
|Camera||8 MP iSight Camera (rear); Video recording: HD (1080p) up to 30 frames per second with audio ** 1.2 MP FaceTime camera (front); Video Recording HD (720p) up to 30 frames per second||10 MP Clear Pixel Camera (rear); Video recording: HD (1080p) up to 30 frames per second with audio ** 2 MP HD camera (front); Video Recording HD (1080p) up to 30 frames per second|
|WiFi||802.11 a/b/g/n||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac|
|Price||Subsidized (usually 2-year contract) 16GB $199 / 32GB $299 / 64GB $399 with contract ** Without contract: 16GB $649 / 32GB $749 / 64GB $849||Subsidized (usually 2-year contract): 16GB $99 – $199 / 23GB $199 – $249 ** Without contract: 16GB $~500 (unlocked) / 32GB: $~600 (unlocked)|
SIZE & WEIGHT
Typical of the myriad Android smartphones currently on the streets, the Moto X boasts a larger display than the iPhone 5S… of course, it’s also larger overall to accommodate that screen, and tends to feel large in the hand. A large screen might not be an issue for some, but for those with small hands or those that prefer more comfortable dimensions in order to better tote a mobile device around in the pocket or pocketbook it could be.
Steve Jobs’s team at Apple (minus Scott Forstall), have kept the dimensions of the iPhone largely the same according to the design vision that says a mobile device should fit in the palm and be navigable by the thumb without too much of a stretch. I doubt a company like Apple keeps the phone size standard among its devices just to spite the Android handset manufacturers, or to create screen envy among the Apple faithful and general public, but the cacophony from iPhone analysts is that Apple is missing the big screen boat by not increasing its display size, and thus the overall phone size.
Thankfully, the Moto X is a slightly smaller phone than most other premium Android handsets, and feels generally pleasant in the hand, but the iPhone 5S still offers a bitter fit all around. The Moto X feels a little lighter than other Android handsets, but also seems less solid than the even lighter iPhone 5.
The iPhone 5S, mostly unchanged from the iPhone 5 design, does reveal some modifications such as a metallic ring around the Home button (the ring holds together the sensor needed for iTouch, the heart of iPhone 5S security), new shades of silver, Space Grey and gold, as well as a new LED on the back that modifies the flash for photography. It’s still essentially the same, great, minimalist premium design held over from the iPhone 4 and 5: a metal frame backed with sturdy anodized aluminum, perfectly machined chamfered edges, and a front composed of typical Gorilla Glass. Just sitting on a table, unadorned by a case, it’s still bound to turn a few heads and is reminiscent of other premium brands that are held in high regard by both design students and the public.
The Motorola Moto X has a nice, simple design for an Android phone, though it’s hardly on par with the look and feel of the iPhone 5S or even the HTC One, which probably comes closest to the iPhone in design sensibility than any other Android handset. The Moto X is composed of PET composite (a polyester-based synthetic fibrous material usually used to make plastic drinking bottles) and feels like most other plastic backed phones… light and as sturdy as polycarbonate plastic phones (including the iPhone 5C), but perhaps able to take more of a beating during general use.
One of the things that sets the Moto X apart is the ability to create your own colors and accents using the Moto X Maker custom designer, though this is currently only offered by AT&T (or through Motorola with “Moto X Card” purchased through an AT&T store), it should be expanded to other carriers late this year or early next year. It allows the consumer to choose various cool, warm and neutral colors such as Turquoise, Spearmint, Lemon Lime, Cabernet and other hues for the plastic back. It also offers the standard back designs (available from any carrier at present): Woven White and Woven Black. Contrasting accents for the anodized aluminum parts (rocker buttons, lens ring) also help set the Moto X apart from its competitors, but can also make for a clash of colors that turn out quite awful in the hands of those with no design sense whatsoever… it’s a matter of taste of course, but sheesh… I’m not sure I’d want a Mint and Metallic Orange phone, yikes!
One thing Google/Motorola is doing with the Moto X to distinguish it from other smartphones is the introduction of wooden backs. Yes, that’s right, you heard me… real unlaminated wood for the back of the device rather than colorful plastic… You can supposedly feel the grain. Moto will be soon offer the wood backs in Teak, Bamboo, Ebony and Rosewood. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, it actually looks kinda hipster-retro, and nothing at all like the wood panelling straight out of 70s-era rumpus room. Okay, well kinda… Once again, I guess it’s a matter of taste.
Lastly, the Moto X, though containing parts from all over the global supply chain, is actually put together in final form right here in the USA, while Apple continues to put their phone together in China (specifically, Foxconn City… or Cities, I should say). If jingoistic purchasing is the thrust of your decision regarding which smartphone to buy, then the Moto X offers exactly what you desire. I love keeping jobs in the US, but it only barely influences my overall purchasing decision when it comes to consumer tech in the global marketplace.
The iPhone 5S retains the display size, pixels per inch and 1136 x 640 resolution of the iPhone 5, while hardly deviating from the tack sharp Retina Display Apple’s been known for since the iPhone 4. It’s a gorgeous display with every 16:9 HD movie, web page, game, art and business app beautifully rendered thanks to the 64-bit processor and advanced GPU, which Apple says offers a 2x increase in performance over the iPhone 5 (so far, the benchmark tests bear that out).
The Retina Display is a high-quality LCD screen that packs in more pixels (in terms of density) to offer a bright display with possibly the most accurate color representation on any smartphone. It has a broad viewing angle, though I mostly look at my screen dead on, you can certainly view it from odd angles without much loss of brightness and virtually no loss of sharpness or readability. My only quibble with Apple is that they don’t maximize the screen size by lopping off a bit more of the top and bottom borders and maybe pushing the viewable edge of the width, though that not might not be technically possible in with the current design.
The Moto X is going to probably disappoint many in the bigger is better crowd, because it’s the same size as the HTC One… 4.7” across, and though bigger than the iPhone 5S screen, it’s a wee bit smaller than the Samsung Galaxy S4. It’s not a true 1080p display per the current trend in smartphones, though its 720p renderings still offer up fine HD renderings (movies, web page text, photos, etc. all look great). Perhaps it’s an illusion of design, but the HTC One seems to have more screen real estate (edge-to-edge) than the Moto X.
The Super AMOLED screen is defined by the RGB matrix rather than the Samsung Galaxy’s PenTile arrangement, but it still has that ever so slightly saturated color and shift toward certain color hues that the iPhone 5S avoids. Screen brightness and viewability are no issue on the Moto X… but it just doesn’t seem as well calibrated as the S-LCD and LCD screens in use by HTC and Apple (respectively), and also seems to lose definition in bright sunlight compared to other smartphones using S-AMOLED… that loss of definition was not as noticeable on the iPhone 5S under similar sunlit conditions.
The life-cycle of today’s lithium-ion and poly-li-ion batteries means that you can charge, recharge and partially charge your phone for all of the 2-3 years most of us tend to keep them. It’s unlikely with today’s mobile power technology, that you’ll ever need to change your battery. As is typical of Apple, they lock up the iPhone 5S tightly as the battery isn’t meant to be removed by the average user. In fact, Apple doesn’t think you need a replaceable battery that’s easy to swap out (and they’re mostly right).
Apple packs a respectable 1,560 mAH battery into the iPhone 5S, enough to get you through the day with average use at about 50% brightness… that’s not including watching a two hour movie, streaming music all day at work or taking a bunch of travel photos, but does include normal telecom functions, texting/emailing and web browsing.
Motorola says that the Moto X will provide the average user with 24-hours of mixed use… that’s quite a claim, and they back this up by providing a bigger battery at 22oo mHA, which is enough to power the larger display. It would be easy to say the Moto X provides less juice to get one through a normal day, but the reason the other Android smartphones in its class have larger batteries are to power larger screens (and quad-core SoCs). By having a dual core processor and just a bit less screen (and pixels) to keep bright, the smaller battery size has zero impact on average use. Again, Motorola says “24 hours of mixed use”, but what they probably mean is 24 hours mostly spent in standby mode, with only intermittent data use throughout the waking day. It should be noted that the Moto X has a fixed battery, which is not removable or meant to be replaced by the user. This is becoming a trend with smaller, thinner Android phones, making a once distinctive selling point null against the iPhone 5S.
It almost goes without saying at this point, but over three weeks after its announcement, the most well known aspect of the iPhone is the new A7 system on a chip with 64-bit processing capability. Sure iTouch was a wow-factor improvement for Apple, and Gold! of course is a big deal to some, but with the A7 SoC Apple has staked out new territory for mobile computing and has future-proofed its line of iDevices for at least the next five years. Already Samsung is taking the 64-bit bait and proclaiming that they, too, will soon offer 64-bit processing power in their 2014 line of smartphones (of course, they’ll probably throw around terms like “octa-core” by then, and the bigger is better battles will just get sillier), while Qualcomm is calling Apple’s move nothing but a marketing gimmick (apparently he’s ignored the recent benchmark tests that show Apple isn’t lyin’).
With the A7 chip (which will probably get more play in the upcoming iPad/iPad Mini upgrades), Apple is claiming that the iPhone 5S is 40x faster central processing than the original iPhone and is 56x faster at graphics processing than the original iPhone, and Phil Schiller himself walked the event stage declaring that the A7 is 2x faster in every regard to the A6 on the iPhone 5. Benchmark tests over the last few weeks bear this out, but what does that mean to the average user?
Overall the OS runs smoother with the A7 processor. Games like Infinity Blade III look infinitely better, camera action is definitely faster, but overall the iPhone 5S probably lacks the RAM requirement to really make the A7 chip sing. Again, Apple is looking to the future more than anything else, but the iPhone 5S does show a marked improvement in general performance with zero lag on nearly any function or activity. The iPhone 5S zips along faster on the most mundane or complex operations, and that is certainly noticeable and worth considering. Additionally, Apple split off movement processing (operations or activities that use the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass), forcing it over to the new M7 co-processor. This means the A7 is capable of executing more specific tasks without being overwhelmed by movement data [Note that this week it has been discovered that the motion sensors in the iPhone 5S may be miscalibrated at the factory and that this may be a hardware issue, but may also be related to the M7 co-processor... this is developing].
While other Android handset manufacturers are moving to quad- and octa-core chipsets, the Moto X sticks with tried and true dual-core technology. Using a Snapdragon S4 chip that sports the 32-bit architecture found in virtually every other smartphone currently in the marketplace, the Moto X’s processing power just seems like yesterday’s tech when compared to the iPhone 5S, there’s just no getting around this. The Moto X is fast and exhibits very little lag or hangup on web browsing, graphics rendering, camera action, and overall performance during general use… it seems faster than the HTC One, and is on par with the Samsung Galaxy S4, though both of those sport quad-core processors.
OPERATING SYSTEM (OS)
The recent release of iOS 7 was cause for celebration by the Apple faithful, and by all accounts, the retooled OS is a significant change from iOS’s former skeuomorphic look. Apple no longer appears behind on the OS design curve following the flat design popularized by current Android releases and Windows 8.
Android fans will point out that iOS 7 simply trades in on a look and feel that Google’s dominant OS already perfected. I’d be the first to admit that the Apple’s new OS does have some of the design quality that makes Android a hit with users, but Apple being Apple, you still can’t personalize every little bit of the OS to your liking. Hopefully Apple will differentiate itself from the Android pack on looks and feel, but in terms of OS performance, the iPhone flat-out rocks.
The Android OS still suffers from handset/version fragmentation, so that when updates are rolled out, they’re not rolled out to every version of the phone, and often depend on the service provider. Very frustrating, and when compared to the iOS updates, very inefficient. Android 4.2.2. (Jelly Bean) is an improvement on prior releases of Google’s open-source OS, but it’s still not as sleek and elegant as Apple’s OS (if you’ve always wanted a lock screen control center similar to Android’s terrific interface, you now have it with iOS 7). It’s getting a bit harder for Android to contrast itself with iOS on look and feel, and really it’s a matter of taste. When it comes to features, the differences do stand out, but they’re even more arbitrary. For instance, if you want features like NFC (near field communication) to make shopping purchases easier, then you must consider Android. If you want AirDrop sharing for your other Apple devices, then iOS 7 is the only way to go. It really depends on what you want your OS to do, and it’s worth researching before buying, as both operating systems will add, modify and ditch features and functions over time.
Choosing an OS (and, nowadays, an OS skin) means you’re choosing a company to stick with for a few years. You won’t get iOS 7 on anything but an Apple iPhone. Conversely, you can’t use Android on an iPhone, so it makes little sense to compare the OS of each in this manner.
Android has always offered more versatility, but also happens to include features that are often half-baked attempts at trying to be everything to everyone. Apple has largely chosen to stay with what it considers essential functions that won’t be gone tomorrow. Case in point, NFC has not been as widely adopted by retail industries, and Apple has refused to include it in favor of having app developers like Square and PayPal create app-based payment systems for their devices. Apple has continued to offer the terrific, straightforward Safari browser, while Android’s browser experience depends largely on what Android-based browser the handset manufacturer decided to include.
The Moto X has Google’s full design focus, but just what does that mean? Well, mostly it means that the user experience is designed to provide access to Google’s suite of services (Drive, Gmail, Google Now voice command, etc) and Google Play… in that sense, it’s like a bare version of Android unadorned by the UI skins foisted on Android by other handset makers to make you remember who’s brand you’re really holding in your hand. Like a Chromebook without the browser-only interface, the Moto X is a real Google Android UI without any of the add-ons piled on by the likes of Samsung or HTC. The absolute nicest feature of the Moto X Android OS is the Touchless Control that’s a feature of Google Now (speak it rather than swipe it). The most irritating feature of the OS might very well be the gesture used to turn on the camera… more on that in the Camera section.
Apple, it seems, wants its users to get comfortable with the cloud for all matters requiring storage. Whether its apps, ebooks, music, movies, or total system backup, all the things that once required massive amounts of fixed or removable storage options, Apple now has a cloud-based solutions that make it easier to consider buying a smartphone with less gigabytes onboard.
Cloud storage is gaining wider acceptance as a trustworthy alternative to onboard storage as people increase their purchases of digital music, movies, books and other media. Cloud storage offers the ability to download or stream back almost anything stored as needed, which frees up space on smartphone drives for more crucial, everyday apps.
While the iPhone 5S offers plenty of onboard storage in its 16/32/64 GB configurations, it almost seems ridiculous for the average smartphone users to opt for a 64 GB iPhone considering its cost versus say, paying for an iTunes Match subscription to store all your tunes and paying for a bit more iCloud storage space each year that one would normally have the phone (2 years of 10GB iCloud storage on top of the 5 GB offered free with each Apple account will cost you $40 total, add to that the $25/year iTunes Match cost over 2 years and you’re at $65… far cheaper than the $299 – $399 of a 32 or 64 GB iPhone under a 2-year contract). Still, some will crave the additional gigabytes on board, and Apple can provide it.
The Moto X offers two configurations: 16GB and 32GB, and with Google’s own cloud-based system (Drive, Google Cloud Storage, etc.), and the lack of removable storage on the handset, it seems that the Moto X is in line with the new approach to storage rather than putting everything on the device. In my opinion, Google/Motorola is taking the right approach by avoiding the use of micro SD cards, which tend to fragment data and become corrupted when used with different handsets, and really seem to be behind the times as cloud storage continues to dominate the conversation both for mobile and desktop computing.
Nowadays, cell phone camera technology has come a long way from small VGA images taken by their miniaturized optics, and it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s been shot with a premium smartphone and what’s been shot with a dedicated prosumer digital camera. As smartphones continue to pack on the features while upgrading optics and CMOS image sensors they’ve turned into the primary tool for shooting everything from food porn at meal times, visually updating social status, panoramic travel photos and even fine photography with a serious artistic bent.
Apple got serious about photography and HD video with the release of the remarkable iPhone 4S, one of the best camera phones of its time (just a few years ago, mind you). With the iPhone 5′s Apple improved the iSight camera, adding better optics (and a problematic lens cover, though that is no longer an issue). The iPhone 5S also adds a second, amber LED to the main flash LED. Apple claims the True Tone dual-flash will find the best shooting ratio between flash intensity/contrast, and find the perfect color balance.
Internally, Apple has increased the pixel size to 1.5 microns, making 8 megapixels seem like so much more. They’ve also increased the aperture to f/2.2 with Apple claiming that this allows the iPhone 5S to capture brighter, more colorful images with less digital noise. Auto-focus times are exceptionally fast, and the iPhone 5S now offers a blazing burst mode, both made possible by the 64-bit architecture of the A7 chip.
The iPhone 5S offers improved video recording features, adding live zoom and even slow motion video achieved by shooting at 120fps (at 720p resolution)… the user can then slow that down to quarter-speed to get the special effect. Finally, the iPhone now includes image stabilization an option while shooting video.
The Moto X offers what it calls Clear Pixel technology in a 10 MP camera… of course, they do this as many others, including Apple, are doing by increasing the image sensor’s ability to capture larger pixels and thus more data. The Moto X has increased the pixel size to 1.4 microns and is capable of capturing very detailed, very colorful low-light images, much like the iPhone 5S. The camera software offers a virtual function ring that allows users to shoot HDR photos, capture HD video (with the ability to slow down the image in a similar way as the iPhone does, though you can shoot at 60fps), burst and panoramic modes, tap to focus… but where it is really unique is in camera activation.
With just a flick of the wrist, the Moto X’s camera can be activated. Google says the somewhat dorky gesture is like turning a screwdriver in mid-air. I’m not a big fan of this, though I can see why, in concept it might be useful. However, from a practical standpoint, if the feature is activated (it can be disabled, with the camera activated from the lock screen) you might get quite a few shots from the inside of your pocket, or unwanted shots when you’re not even keen on using the camera feature. With the Quick Capture feature I think there’s more time spent deleting stray pics than taking ones that are keepers. Apparently, the software had enough performance issues to prompt Google to issue an update (currently for T-Mobile’s Moto X inventory, but soon to be expanded to other carriers… which to me, indicates an inherent problem with Android fragmentation).
The proof of a good photo is in the picture itself, and feature for feature, pixel for pixel, the iPhone 5S takes much better photos even under low light, offering amazing color accuracy without the flash in bright light or low light conditions. With the two element flash, the iPhone takes improved indoor pictures where low light can often increase color/digital noise. This doesn’t seem to be an issue when using the flash, and the iPhone certainly acquits itself in dim, indoor conditions where the flash is turned off. The Moto X seems to suffer under low light conditions, isn’t as accurate with color representation, and seems to wash out details with the flash. It’s still a fine camera for a smartphone, but pales in terms of performance when put side-by-side with the iPhone 5S. Lastly, the wrist flick feature on the Moto X isn’t all its cracked up to be, and I’m hard pressed to get over the dork factor of mobile phone gestures (no matter how cool it looked when Tom Cruise was gesturing to get his computer to stop crimes).