Motorola Moto X (T-Mobile) review

The Motorola Moto X is an excellent Android smartphone, but senseless carrier neglect will make this a tough sell on T-Mobile.
Photo of Motorola Moto X (T-Mobile)

T-Mobile’s Moto X ($599 for 16GB) is an excellent phone, and I highly recommend it. But it’s also suffering from a series of unforced errors by Motorola and T-Mobile with regards to pricing and availability. I really think the Moto X is the world’s most appealing Android smartphone, which makes T-Mobile’s strategy, or lack thereof, all the more egregious.

The T-Mobile Moto X is physically identical to the Verizon and Sprint models (except without any carrier logo at all), so go look at our full review of the Verizon Moto X for a basic rundown of its hand-friendly design. We’ll focus on the differences here. Our Editors’ Choice on T-Mobile stays the Samsung Galaxy S4, both for the reasons I explain in the Verizon review and because T-Mobile refuses to offer the Moto X with its equipment installment plan.

Why do I like this phone so much? Other than its hand-friendly size, it has a simple, clean interface, excellent voice commands and dictation, a very easy-to-use camera and more subtle, useful features like the ability to silence itself when you (not the phone) are asleep. It’s thoughtful, tasteful, and well-designed.

Call Quality and Network
The reason T-Mobile users need to get this model is because it’s the only Moto X which supports T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 42 network on the AWS band. The AT&T-compatible Moto X supports T-Mobile’s LTE, but not the HSPA band, which means that if you fall off of LTE you’ll be in T-Mobile’s much more limited, slower 1900MHz HSPA+ 21 coverage.

Note: The slideshow below is of the AT&T Moto X with Moto Maker customizations. It’s physically identical to the T-Mobile model, but Moto Maker is not available on T-Mobile.

Signal reception is good, although not as good as larger phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note II. The Moto X supports T-Mobile’s HD Voice, which adds depth and tone to voice calls made to other T-Mobile HD Voice phones. It doesn’t, however, support T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling scheme.

The lack of Wi-Fi calling is part of this model’s complete lack of bloatware. Nothing says T-Mobile on here, and there are no T-Mobile apps. That said, Google and Motorola’s software loads are still pretty heavy: you only have 11.88GB free of the built-in 16GB. There’s no microSD card slot, and no larger storage model available. The 32GB model is an AT&T exclusive.

This model is also unlocked, by the way, so you don’t have to go with one of T-Mobile’s own service plans. Since you’ve paid the full $599, you can pop in a SIM from MetroPCS, Simple Mobile, or a foreign carrier.

As this is the same hardware and radio as the AT&T version, talk time should be close to 13 hours, which is generally quite good. I’ve gotten more than a day’s worth of solid use with the various versions of this phone.

Pay More, Get Less
The walls of the New York subway system are papered with ads for Motorola’s Moto Maker customization system, which lets you mix and match the back, front and keys on your phone in hundreds of color combinations. Motorola’s new “Moto Match” Facebook app and walk-in booth let you match your phone to your wardrobe or Facebook photo library. The need for quick, custom phone assembly is a big reason Motorola brought its phone assembly plant to Texas, within a day’s air shipment of US consumers.

None of this is available for T-Mobile. To T-Mobile’s credit, it isn’t available on Verizon or Sprint, either. Moto Maker is only for AT&T, and that nonsense is getting really old. Like the Verizon and Sprint models, this phone only comes in black and white.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile makes some puzzling decisions with how it sells the Moto X. It’s not available in any T-Mobile retail stores and it’s not offered with any JUMP! or equipment installment plans that let you spread the cost of the device out with small monthly payments. That makes the Moto X $599 up front, which many people will consider unacceptable. Of course, that’s what a top-of-the-line unlocked smartphone costs, but T-Mobile is offering installment plans for every other major compatible smartphone right now. Why not this one?

One Bright Spot
T-Mobile’s Moto X will be the first model to get updates, though, including the critical camera quality update which just came through. As we saw in our other Moto X reviews, the phone’s 10-megapixel camera was previously very inconsistent, with sharpness and lighting issues that would come and go unpredictably.

In basic lab testing, the camera was noticeably better than the AT&T Moto X’s camera, although it’s no iPhone 5S. The red cast over some images was gone. Low light performance was much better, as images looked less blurry with more realistic colors. Outdoor images had less hyper saturated colors and backgrounds didn’t look over-brightened any more. While both the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S4 have better cameras, the camera is not a deal-breaker here.

The Moto X camera update will come to the other carrier models, but we’re not sure when. That’s what you get when you let your carrier control your phone’s firmware, of course.

I like the Moto X so much that I want it to succeed. It’s clean and simple, bloatware-free, fits great in one hand, and has convenient features that actually address things I do every day, like checking my email and quickly taking photos.

That said, T-Mobile and Motorola have done their best to make this admirable phone difficult to buy. It lacks the X’s most heavily advertised feature, Moto Maker, and is completely MIA from T-Mobile’s sales channels and promotion plans.

Our Editors’ Choice for T-Mobile remains the Samsung Galaxy S4, which actually seems to have the carrier’s support. T-Mobile’s CEO, John Legere, doesn’t mince words, and neither will I: T-Mobile should get a clue and put the Moto X right up front in its stores where it belongs.

Phone Capability / Network GSM, UMTS, LTE
Screen Resolution 1280-by-720 AMOLED pixels
Dimensions 5.1 x 2.7 x 0.42 (HWD) inches
802.11x/Band(s) 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Video Camera Resolution 1080P
Available Integrated Storage 11.88 GB
Processor Speed 1.7 GHz
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon
Service Provider T-Mobile
Total Integrated Storage 16 GB
High-Speed Data GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, LTE, HSPA+ 42
Weight 4.6 oz
Operating System as Tested Android 4.2.2
Camera Resolution 10MP/2MP
Colors Available Black, White
Screen Pixels Per Inch 312 ppi
Bands 850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 1700, 700
microSD Slot No
Form Factor Candy Bar
Screen Size 4.7 inches
Capacities Available 16GB
Bluetooth Version 4.0

The Motorola Moto X is an excellent Android smartphone, but senseless carrier neglect will make this a tough sell on T-Mobile.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc