I am bias, then again I think everyone is; and anyone who says they aren’t hasn’t come across something they really feel strongly about yet. What’s my bias? Pure Android. Now we can debate that Google’s version of Android isn’t pure and that title belongs with AOSP and I would give you my philosophy on The Golden Rule “He who has the gold rules”. Google owns Android and therefore they own the right to define what it is and is not. So before we jumped into the article I just wanted to make that clear. I love Google’s flavor of Android, not Samsung’s Touchwiz Nature UX or HTC’s Sense or Motoblur (thank god it’s dead). I only look at phones from two angles, Design and Experience so that’s the perspective I will take in this overview. I am also bias to the consumer (Average Joe) for short. You know Joe likes different things at different times to suit his lifestyle. Joe likes things that fit his style or reflect his personality. Sometimes, Joe is a tinkerer and sometimes Joe just wants a companion that manages things for him. I think this is the perfect way to look at the contrasting styles between The Moto X and The Nexus 5 as well as the perfect segue into this article. So let’s jump in.
Both the Nexus 5 and Moto X are built using a minimal design approach which is intended to force the hardware to take a backseat to the software allowing the user to have a more immersive experience. Both phones are built using premium materials which offer a premium feel in the hand, this gives the devices enough heft to feel substantial in the hand without feeling like a toy. Both devices use soft touch plastics on the backsides to provide a grippy surface for your hands without the slimy feel like that of some Samsung devices. But this is where the similarities end.
The Nexus has soft touch plastic on the side of the phone which feels great on the curve of your hand and helps you hold that beautiful 5′ inch IPS 1080p display, which produces more natural colors but they look slightly washed out compared to the Moto X. The Nexus is rounded on the sides but feels sharper compared to the Moto X. The glass front of the Nexus 5 doesn’t feel as good as the Nexus 4 did to me. The Nexus 4 had a curve in the glass that spilled over the sides of the device which allowed your finger to smoothly slide from left to right effortlessly. The Nexus 5’s glass front is edgy, so when you slide your finger over to either bezel you feel the end of the glass and the beginning of that soft touch plastic on the sides. If you didn’t know it, you would think it was the slight edge of the glass itself, but no, that’s plastic you’re feeling. This doesn’t mean it’s bad design or that this is a deal-breaker, it’s simply an observation. On the back of the Nexus you have an 8MP Camera, with the volume rocker on the left side of the devices and the Power and micro-sim tray on the right. The speaker (yes singular) is located on the bottom of the device. Though you may see two speaker grills only the left one produces sound. Sound quality is loud but it’s hit or miss. It’s important to note that Google has stated that this is a bug and they are working to fix it via a software update, so I will reserve judgment until after the update.
The Moto X can be designed through Moto Maker and provides you a myriad of options to change colors on the back plate and button rockers, as well as engraving options and what you want your phone to say on boot-up. Apparently, they will be getting wood soon and as awesome as this sounds from a style perspective, I’m just not sold on the idea of having a wood backed phone. The Moto X has a 4.7 inch 720p AMOLED screen, which produces more vibrant colors but text is not as sharp as the Nexus 5’s display to my eyes. The screen meets flush with thin plastic on the sides of the phone which are curved so it provides the same great feeling the Nexus 4 did, but without the glass itself being curved. The Moto X has a tapered curve in the back so it goes from thick at the top to thin at the bottom and is without a doubt the best feeling phone I’ve ever handled. The camera is a 10MP shooter that sits dead center at the top portion of the device. The Power and Volume button rockers are on the right side of the phone which works from an ease of use perspective but plays hell in taking screenshots. The speaker is located on the back of the device and is plenty loud even if you have the phone laying on it’s back. Due to the curve of the phone the speaker is not obstructed or muffed much the way the Nexus 4’s speaker used to be.
Which phone has the better display? Nexus 5. The clarity of 1080p just trumps the 720p of the AMOLED on the Moto X. Sure it’s colorful and everything looks happier. But I like the more natural tones of the IPS display.
Which phone has the better Speaker? Moto X. But again I have to leave this one open until Google updates the Nexus 5 hardware to address the speaker issue.
Which phone has the better camera? Moto X. This is really completely subjective. I think both cameras are fine. They are not going to win any awards from National Geographic or anything but then again if you want those quality of shots and you’re into photography. Due yourself a favor, BUY A REAL CAMERA. The Moto X camera is better in some conditions than the Nexus 5 but not so much in others. I only give the nod to the Moto X camera because it’s more consistent in it’s picture quality than the Nexus 5. The camera is also faster to use thanks to the “Floppy Hand” gesture which I oddly love because the camera is truly easier to access and the shutter speed is faster than that of the Nexus 5.
Which phone feels better? Moto X. Simply put, Motorola nailed it. Pick up the Moto X against any other phone and you will find that the Moto X just fits naturally in your hands. The 4.7 inch display is big enough for you enjoy your content without being overbearing.
Which Phone has the better battery? Moto X. But not for the reasons you would suspect. If you follow me on Google+ you may have already read my perspective on this but it bears mentioning again. This phone is very power efficient. I think the reason a ton of people say the Moto X has amazing battery life is due to optimizations that have been made to the hardware to work with Android 4.2. Personally, I think that’s only half the story.
In my own use case, I have found that I simply don’t turn the screen on as much as I do with other phones. Why? Well because I don’t have to. This is mostly do to Touchless Controls, Moto Assist and of course Active Display. The main thing I did with my devices was turn on my phone to check the time or a notification. But these actions required the phone to illuminate the entire display multiple times per day which slowly saps battery power over time. These actions are minimized due to the customization’s Moto has made to the X through the X8 computing system and utilization of AMOLED screen via Active Notifications.
Instead of turning on the entire screen to check the time, it breaths this information to me when I handle the device so I never have to do anything but pick up the phone, view the information, put the phone back down and the screen turns off. None of which requires me to hit the power button. The same applies to notifications, the screen breaths a notification icon of the app. I touch the icon and a quick peek of the message is displayed. This is just enough information to make a choice to dismiss the notification, unlock the devices to respond, or not take action at all. But when the phone is placed back down or in my pocket the display turns off until it’s needed. These little things make this phone very battery efficient despite it’s slightly smaller battery to the Nexus 5 and other devices with bigger batteries. I have also noticed that Moto has the “Screen Off” setting set to 30 seconds by default, where something like my Nexus 5 has it set for 1 minute by default so this helps with screen on time. Factor in the 720p display and AMOLED paneling and you have a ton of screen on battery savings which is the number 1 power sync to any device.
So, the X changes how the user uses the phone, which in turn makes you save more battery. It’s like ECO Mode in my Prius. You can pound the gas, but the car will not push all the power to the engine it will gradually spool up hence saving you MPG. The same concept applies to the X. It’s not the phone that’s saving the battery, it’s how you’re interacting with the device that’s saving you battery. Moto is really on to something in this arena and I think we will only see more of this with next years successor.
Both of these devices exude Google’s vision regarding how mobile devices should perform, and how the device should interact with the user, and not the other way around. This is where the similarities end.
The Nexus 5 is running the latest version of Android and if you’re like I am this means everything. In a word Kit-Kat is beautiful. Transparent menu bars, soft keys and full screen album art provide Kit-Kat with elegance redefined, and this is coming from a former iOS user. But the real beauty of Kit-Kat is really not what’s on the surface it’s what’s under the hood that makes it the best version of android to date. But this isn’t a review of Kit-Kat so let me get back on topic. The biggest draw for the Nexus 5 is the Google Experience launcher (GEL) which everybody and their mother has flashed to by this point, but it works wonderfully on the Nexus 5. Simply saying “Ok Google” while on the Home screen will activate Google Now and you can search for anything you want hands-free. With the help of the Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor , 2GB of Ram and Adreno (eh you know the specs) the Nexus 5 is crazy fast, it’s by far the fastest performing phone i’ve used. This device can handle anything you throw at it and more, and you know what that’s the point. There are a few UX changes with iconography and navigation but nothing dramatic and there’s no lag at all on this device.
The Nexus is a developer device, maybe I should say that again. The Nexus is a developer device. This means that its designed to run like a finely tuned sports car. Like most finely tuned sports cars they are fast, they are streamlined, and they don’t have leather seats, and if you’re really serious you dump the Air Conditioner to reduce weight. This is a Nexus phone, the experience is what YOU want it to be. Google simply provides you the engine and the core elements to experiment and make the devices your own. This is why most people with Nexus devices root, this is why if you want creature comforts you have to go to the Play Store to download an app that can provide you the features that you want. It’s this element that is both the strength or weakness (depending on consumer) of the Nexus line. So with all that said, how is the Nexus experience? It’s as awesome or as bland as you want it to be. The battery in this should get you through an entire day depending on your use. I would have to disagree with other reviewers who say the battery is terrible. The battery in this device is fine, and we are talking about Average Joe here. We all know Joe has a charger in his car, at his desk at work, and next to his bed. So at what point is Joe really going to need to run his phone for 15 hours without plugging it in at some point during the day? My guess is not to often, and if he has to do that, it means Joe probably has more important things going on than looking down at his phone for long periods of time. The Nexus 5 should get you through the day on its idle time as well. For my use case I saw an average of 8 to 12 hours of battery depending on usage.
The Moto X is running Android 4.2 which makes me a sad panda. Coming from Nexus devices running the latest version of Android simply makes me feel like I’m taking a step backwards with 4.2 (which technically I am, I guess). But sad panda should be happy to realize that with the enhancements made by Motorola, 4.2 feels a lot like Kit-Kat on the Nexus 5 (dare I say better in most respects). Despite the modified S4 Pro dual core processor, with 2GB Ram (blah, blah, blah) that the Moto X is running, this phone performs just as well as the Nexus 4 which we all know was/is blistering fast. This phone runs smoothly without any hiccups or lags whatsoever. This phone can handle any game you throw at it, but I have noticed the occasional jitter here or there on very graphically intense games. But again we are talking about Joe here and Joe isn’t fond of playing Riptide GP2 on his phone because it kills his battery. He would rather play that on his Nexus 7 or Nexus 10 tablet and save his phone for more casual games like Poker or Uno.
Motorola has built-in some creature comforts as a part of Stock Android and I think this is important to highlight. Moto did not re-skin Android, they added features to it. This makes a huge difference in performance and response time on the Moto X versus higher specked competitors. Since these features have been described at length in other publications I won’t go into painstaking detail but I will give you use cases to highlight how useful they are. So lets break those features down shall we?
Active Display – This is a godsend and I can’t use another device without it. Luckily, you can emulate this feature via some apps on the Google Play Store [Dynamic Notifications] (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.greatbytes.activenotifications) comes to mind. But while this app can provide the experience it cannot give the battery savings from the Moto X which has a core dedicated to contextual computing. So, our friend Joe receives a notification with a traditional smartphone. Joe will see a blinking LED indicator light which based on the color may tell him what app the message is from. But aside from that Joe has no information about the notification itself. Joe then has to hit the power button and turn on the screen. Then Joe (depending on security settings) may have to unlock the device and pull down the notifications shade to actually see the content of the notification. This took about 4 steps for Joe to figure out what the notification was.
Active Display makes this very simple. Joe receives message. Joe pulls his phone out of his pocket and the screen illuminates only certain pixels on the screen to show Joe an icon from the app that Joe has a notifications from. If Joe wants to see the message, Joe puts finger on the icon and the the message appears. Joe can decide to dismiss, unlock or open the message directly from the lock screen. Motorola has taken a 4 step process and basically cut it in half. This provides convenience and battery savings because of the AMOLED screen.
Touchless Controls – Remember that “Ok Google” command I talked about with the Nexus 5? Take that and add the capability to do this while the phone is asleep with the screen off and add “Now” at the end of “Ok Google” and you have Touchless Control.
Joe has his Nexus 5 and Joe is driving. In order for Joe to use Google Now, Joe would have to reach over hit the power button, slide to unlock and then say “Ok Google, Directions to wherever”. This would require Joe to more than likely take his eyes off the road to at least swipe to unlock.
On the Moto X, Joe can just say “Ok Google Now” and then speak his command, the phone will answer him as if it were already awake. Here’s the caveat, you cannot have your password or pin activated. If you do Google Now won’t work until you input your pin to unlock. But that takes me to another thing the Moto X has that again is an awesome addition and that’s “Trusted Devices”. Why all phones don’t have this I don’t know, but please everyone do this. If you put a pin on your phone (which lets face it research shows most don’t) then you can actually tell the phone through trusted devices “When you are connected to these devices disable the lockscreen”. This feature is terrific for people who don’t want to unlock their phone when their phone is paired with a bluetooth headset, speaker or their vehicle. So when the pair is broken the phone will automatically re-engage the pin or password security feature. Once again another great and useful feature.
Motorola Assist – Last big feature on the list. This feature basically automates things that matter to you. Think of a scaled down version of [Tasker] (http://goo.gl/y8t4J) or my personnel favorite [Agent] (http://goo.gl/aAEmrY). Because of the contextual computing core in the Moto X the phone is always aware of where it is and what’s going on (sounds creepy eh?). Ok, not really “aware” but it’s using sensors to measure it’s movement, speed, ambient noise and light etc. Since this is a low power core again it burns no battery. Moto Assist basically uses sensors to determine if your driving, it will read your SMS messages to you and send back a text to someone letting them know you’re driving. It will check your calendar for appointments and if you have appointments it will silence your phone during those times. At night it will silence your phone between hours you decide. It’s basically an easier to use, very basic version of Tasker that because of the Moto X’s unique chipset can run without burning battery.
So with all these battery saving functions and features you’re probably asking “Well, how good is the battery?”. For my use case, I usually saw anywhere from 12 -15 hours of on battery time. That was usually regardless of how I ran the device. So more power efficient than the Nexus, but not as great as Motorola made it seem.
So which phone gives the best experience? Both. Bet you weren’t expecting that eh? Experience is relative, it really is. If you want a phone that’s low maintenance and does everything you want out of the box then between these two phones the Moto X has you covered. If you like to tinker and build a phone to do exactly what you want it to do and then go under the hood and tune various settings to allow the phone to optimize battery life etc. Then the Nexus 5 is going to be for you. Since, I am a tech geek but my consumer habits are closer to our friend Joe who needs more of a companion device than something to ticker with i’ll be using the Moto X as my daily driver. But make no mistake, I like to get under the hood sometimes and build my own cars and that’s what my Nexus 5 is for.
But what about Price? Nexus 5. The Nexus is cheaper and provides more spec bang for your buck. But then again, you can get the Moto X on contract for $50 or now off contract and financed for 0% for 18 months. If you’re Joe you’re more likely to swing Moto X. If you’re a tech geek you’re more likely to swing Nexus because of the off-contract cost. Let’s be frank, no OEM can beat Google’s Nexus pricing and that’s because the Nexus is intended to get into the hands of as many developers as possible. But I paid $529 for my Moto X and with that I got a phone that I designed, was assembled in the US and was delivered to me in 4 days. The experience on the phone is stellar so this question is all about you and what you’re willing to pay for an experience.**
If you are still reading this article you’re probably taking a long sigh of relief right about now and saying something to the effect of “My god this was a long article seeing the words “Closing” makes me happy”. Well, you know what since you feel that way I got another 5 pages in me Let’s do this! I’m only kidding. If there’s anything I want you to take from this article it’s this (and this is only my opinion). When Google purchased Motorola it was to solve a problem. That problem was “How can we produce our vision of Android to the consumer, but still give the developers a slate to work in?”. I think Motorola is the answer to that question. Instead of looking at the Moto X as a pseudo Nexus device, let’s look at it for what it really seems to be. The Moto X is Google’s vision of a consumer device, much like how Glass is maturing into such a device now. You have the “Explorer” model and later we will have a consumer model. The Nexus will always be a compromise device, it has to be. It has to show off software capabilities that can be universally implemented across a sea of devices in various price brackets. So why didn’t the Nexus 5 have “Always Listening?” it’s not that the S800 couldn’t do it, hell it has a core that can be dedicated to that. But not all phones are running S800 chips.
When we refer to our friend Merriam-Webster a [Nexus] (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nexus) is a Connection or a Link. How can you build a link or connection with multiple devices if that connection is not universal or able to be modified to be so? If the link cannot be received or copied by the majority, then how could it be a Nexus? That’s the point.
So, are these phones competing with each other? My answer to that question is NO. These are two different phones from the same source, aimed at two completely different user bases. Hence a comparison between a Nexus product and any device is truly not adequate. A Nexus devices is not intended to compete with anyone, Android or iOS. It’s a baseline of a software experience. So, if your product is below that baseline then you need to step up and the Android community will continue to do a great job at ensuring OEM’s do just that.