21 Oct 2014
Nexus tablets have always been a cornerstone of Android's success since Google launched the original Nexus 7 in 2012, and for good reason.
Built by tablet expert Asus and running an unskinned version of Google Android, the Nexus 7 was one of the only tablets to successfully take on Apple's iPad.
As a result many people were surprised when Google chose to ditch Asus in favour of Taiwanese competitor HTC for its latest Nexus 9. HTC's only previous tablet, the Flyer, failed to take off and sold very badly.
Visually the Nexus 9 is a departure from previous models. Unlike past Nexus tablets, the Nexus 9 is built of metal as opposed to polycarbonate, and is available in a variety of colours.
As we noted about the Nexus 6 smartphone, for us the use of metal is a serious positive. While previous Nexus devices felt far from cheap and were well built, they still didn't feel as solid or top-end as their iPad competitors.
Within its metal chassis the Nexus 9 also features a few novel technologies and design features. One of the most important is the inclusion of front-facing stereo speakers, complete with HTC's BoomSound technology.
While this sounds like a consumer feature, considering the number of times we've been stuck using a Nexus 7 struggling to hear a person speaking on a video conference call when working remotely, we can see the improved audio quality being a big bonus.
The Nexus 9 mobile offering is aided by its 154x228x8mm dimensions, satchel-friendly 425g weight (436g for the LTE model) and optional Folio keyboard (sold separately). The Folio is an attachable keyboard with full-travel mechanical keys and has the potential to turn the Nexus 9 into a full-on netbook replacement.
The Nexus 9 comes with an 8.9in IPS, 4:3 aspect ratio, 2048x1536 display - the same resolution as the 2013 iPad Air's 9.7in display.
While we haven't had a chance to test the Nexus 9's display, the stellar quality of past HTC device screens and IPS technology in general suggests that the tablet's display should be at least above average.
The use of Google's latest Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system is one of the Nexus 9's key selling points. Originally unveiled as Android L at the I/O conference in June, Lollipop is a big step-up from Android 4.4 Kitkat and features a number of new features and services.
For starters Lollipop adds a new Material Design and reworked notifications system to Android. The Material Design aims to make the OS simpler to use by replacing Android Kitkat's user interface with a flatter one similar to that of Apple's iOS 7, and includes the ability to mimic depth by adding new shadow effects.
The reworked notifications add a new heads-up form of notification designed to let users know something urgent has come in without interrupting what they are doing, and instant access to notifications from the lockscreen.
Under the hood, Android Lollipop also adds a few enterprise-focused features, the most interesting of which is Samsung Knox. At a basic level, Knox is a sandboxing service similar to BlackBerry Balance that lets users or IT managers set up and manage a separate password-protected work area on the handset.
It also gives IT managers the power to set policies on the device, like blocking what applications can be installed or run on the device, and Knox encrypts all data on the work side.
The Nexus 9 is the first Google flagship to take advantage of Android Lollipop's 64-bit support and comes with a 2.3GHz Nvidia Tegra K1 64-bit processor and 2GB of RAM.
Google claims the processor will grant "all the power and graphics of a desktop computer". We haven't had a chance to benchmark the processor but, if Google's claim is anything to go by, it should make the Nexus 9 one of the fastest Android tablets available.
The Nexus 9 comes with 8MP rear and 1.6MP front cameras. While this doesn't sound too impressive when compared with most top-end smartphone camera specs, it's reasonable by tablet standards.
However, considering our past experience using similarly specced tablet cameras, we don't have high hopes for the Nexus 9 imaging sensor and expect it to be capable of taking good, but not great, photos.
HTC's loaded the Nexus 9 with a 6,700mAh battery which it claims will offer up to 9.5 hours of Wifi browsing from one charge. If this is accurate, the Nexus 9's battery life will be average by tablet standards, offering eight to 10 hours between charges.
The Nexus 9 will come with 16GB or 32GB of internal space. Considering that the Nexus 9 doesn't have a microSD card, meaning users won't be able to upgrade the storage after purchase, we'd liked to have seen a 64GB model. Although considering the wealth of cloud storage options available on Android, this shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Google has yet to reveal the Nexus 9's UK price, but if the US cost is anything to go by it will be very reasonable. The 16GB version is set to retail for $399 while the 32GB will cost $479. At the top end, the 32GB LTE-enabled model will cost $599.
Overall, while HTC may not be as experienced as some technology companies at making tablets, the Nexus 9 definitely has the potential to be a great device.
Featuring a reworked metal chassis, and being the first Nexus device to take advantage of Android Lollipop's 64-bit chip support, the Nexus 9 could be the first Google flagship tablet capable of taking on Apple's all-ruling iPad Air series come its release later this year.
Check back with V3 later this year for a full review of the Google Nexus 9.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
16 Oct 2014
Apple took the smartphone market by storm in September, unveiling what in many people's minds, including ours here at V3, was its most innovative smartphone to date, the iPhone 6.
Clearly unintimidated by the iPhone 6, Google answered Apple's challenge and teamed with Motorola to unveil what is on paper its most advanced Nexus smartphone ever, the Nexus 6, mere months later.
The iPhone 6 and Nexus 6 bring a wealth of custom hardware and software features to the table, and many buyers have become perplexed trying to determine which smartphone is best for them. Here to help, we've pitted the two handsets head to head, breaking down the key strengths of each device.
Nexus 6: 159x83x10mm, 184g
iPhone 6:138x67x6.9mm, 129g
Design is one area in which iPhone devices have traditionally beaten Nexus devices, with most feeling that their metal frames make them feel more premium and robustly built than their polycarbonate Google competitors.
With the Nexus 6 this could all change. Motorola has made the wise decision to build the handset out of contoured aluminium and to rework the chassis to look like a blown-up metal version of its previous Moto X flagship.
That said, it's worth noting that the Nexus 6 is still significantly larger and heavier than the 129g iPhone 6. While this won't prove too much of an issue to seasoned phablet users, it could put off people used to smaller smartphones, such as the iPhone 5S.
Nexus 6: 6in, 1440x2560, 493ppi quad HD display
iPhone 6: 4.7in 1334x750, 326ppi Retina HD display
On paper the Nexus 6's quad HD display has a clear lead on the iPhone 6 as it's capable of displaying over 100 more pixels per inch. While some may question whether the human eye can discern the difference, we're fairly certain the Nexus 6 display will be the sharper of the two.
However, we're less sure whether the Nexus 6 will be able to match the brightness and colour balance levels of Apple's Retina display, which remains the industry leader.
Nexus 6: Android 5.0 Lollipop
iPhone 6: iOS 8
Both the Nexus 6 and iPhone 6 run on the latest version of their makers' respective mobile operating systems.
In the past we've struggled to pick between Android and iOS as the answer to which is better is determined largely by what ecosystem you're already embedded in. This is even more true comparing Android Lollipop to iOS, as both firms have worked hard to further synchronise the mobile operating systems with their cloud services.
As a result, until we've had a chance to fully test Android Lollipop and check how it actually compares with iOS 8, we're going to have to reserve judgement.
Nexus 6: Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 2.7GHz quad-core processor
iPhone 6: A8 chip with 64-bit architecture with M8 motion coprocessor
The iPhone 6 runs Apple's new A8 chip and reworked M8 motion coprocessor. Apple claims the A8 offers 25 percent faster CPU performance than the A7.
However, thanks to the inclusion of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 805 chip, the Nexus 6 theoretically has the chops to match if not beat the performance of the iPhone 6. We won't know if the Nexus 6 makes good on its promise until we've had a chance to test it and benchmark it.
Nexus 6: 13MP with dual LED ring flash and Optical Image Stabilization rear, 2MP front cameras
iPhone 6: 8MP rear and 1.2MP Facetime front cameras
Imaging technology was one area in which Apple had begun to fall behind in the smartphone market, with many Android handsets featuring noticeably better imaging sensors than the firm's previous flagship, the iPhone 5S.
Aware of this, Apple worked to radically improve the iPhone 6's imaging performance by loading it with a number of new imaging technologies. Key additions include phase detection auto-focus which allows it to focus twice as fast, new tone mapping, noise reduction and a Slo-Mo mode that can capture video at 240 fps.
However, even with these the Nexus 6 does have a few additions that make it better than the iPhone 6. Chief of these is the Optical Image Stabilization technology which improves photo quality by compensating in real time for shaking and vibrating while shooting. The compensation means there are no alterations or light degradations to the captured image.
If this works as well as it has on past handsets, the Nexus 6 should not only perform better at capturing photos in low light, it should have noticeably better shutter speeds.
Nexus 6: 32GB or 64GB, 3GB RAM
iPhone 6: 16GB, 64GB, 128GB, unspecified RAM
Storage-wise the Apple iPhone 6 features more storage options than the Google Nexus 6. However, neither phone has a microSD card slot, meaning users won't be able to add space after purchase.
Nexus 6: 3220mAh battery
iPhone 6: Unspecified, 11-hour listed life
The Apple iPhone 6 on paper will last 2.5 hours longer than the Nexus 6, which is listed as offering 8.5 hours' "internet use" from one charge. However, the Nexus 6 features a number of charging innovations which may make up for this. These include wireless charging support and a new 'Turbo Charger' that will offer a claimed six hours of battery life from a 15-minute charge.
Nexus 6: $650 (around £400 without tax)
iPhone 6: From £540
Google has yet to announce the Nexus 6's UK price, although if its US cost is anything to go by it should be cheaper than the iPhone 6. However, considering some US firms' tendency to charge more than the exchange rate would fairly imply, and UK tax on devices, it's too early to tell whether this will actually be the case.
Summing up, when it comes to specifications the iPhone 6 and Nexus 6 are fairly evenly matched. Both come with top-end processors, cutting edge software and innovative designs, and both look great.
The important question is whether the Nexus 6 will make good on its promises when we do our full head-to-head review later this year.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
16 Oct 2014
The battle for dominance of the smartphone market between Google and Apple with their respective Nexus and iPhone devices has become a staple part of every tech fan's calendar.
Traditionally Google has worked to beat Apple by radically undercutting the cost of iPhones, releasing phones that, while slightly lower specced, are up to £200 cheaper.
With prices starting at $650 the Nexus 6 continues this strategy. However, being built by former Google company Motorola, as opposed to LG, as the past two Nexus smartphones were, there are a number of key factors differentiating the Nexus 6 from past Google flagships.
Previous Nexus designs have been minimalist, functional, polycarbonate affairs. While we here at V3 were fairly fond of the unassuming design approach, many users did find them slightly dull and, as we noted with the Nexus 5, there were some definite build quality issues. During our review the Nexus 5's display proved incapable of surviving a two-foot drop onto a carpeted floor.
Aware of this, Motorola chose to rethink traditional Nexus designs and made the Nexus 6 chassis out of contoured aluminium as opposed to polycarbonate. This has the potential to be a huge differentiator for the Nexus 6. In the past we've found that metal handsets, such as the HTC One M8, not only feel more luxurious than polycarbonate phones, they're generally much more drop and bump resistant.
Additionally, thanks to intelligent work by Motorola, on paper the Nexus 6 isn't too cumbersome by phablet standards, measuring 159x83x10mm and weighing 184g.
Screen technology is a key area that has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, with players like LG and its G3 handset coming loaded with increasingly high resolution displays. Not wanting to lose face, Motorola has loaded the Nexus 6 with a 6in, 1440x2560, 493ppi quad HD display.
On paper the resolution means the Nexus 6 display will be one of the sharpest ever seen on a phablet. By comparison, most other phablets are still struggling to break the 400ppi mark. Also, if our past experience with Motorola phones is anything to go by, the Nexus 6 screen will boast cornea-scorching brightness levels and vibrant, rich, colour balance levels.
Originally unveiled as Android L at the I/O conference in June, the Nexus 6's use of Android 5.0 Lollipop is likely to prove a key selling point for businesses. Android Lollipop is set to feature a number of under-the-hood upgrades that improve its enterprise appeal. Chief of these is full integration of Samsung's Knox security service.
At its most basic level, Knox is a sandboxing service similar to BlackBerry Balance. It lets users or IT managers set up and manage a separate password-protected work area on the handset. As well as giving IT managers the power to set policies, like blocking what applications can be installed or run on the device, Knox encrypts all data on the work side.
Having tested Knox on recent Samsung Galaxy smartphones and tablets we believe the feature is a serious selling point that helps boost bring your own device appeal and are happy to see it included on the Nexus 6.
Lollipop also adds a significantly more user-friendly Material Design and reworked notifications system to Android. The Material Design aims to make the OS simpler to use, and replaces Android Kitkat's user interface with a flatter one similar to that of Apple's iOS 7. The upgrade also allows Android's UI to mimic depth by adding new shadow effects.
The reworked notifications system improves Android's already impressive system by granting increased management powers. For example, on Android Lollipop users can now view and manage incoming notifications from the lockscreen.
On paper the Nexus 6 is seriously powerful. Running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 2.7GHz quad-core processor and featuring 3GB of RAM, the Nexus 6 should be one of the most powerful handsets on the market come its release later this year.
Hopefully, the Nexus 6 will make good on its on paper specifications when we benchmark it more thoroughly and test it for our full review.
Since Nokia threw down the gauntlet in 2011 with its first 41MP camera phone, the 808 Pureview, smartphone makers have been rushing to load their handsets with increasingly powerful imaging technologies.
Keeping up this trend Motorola has loaded the Nexus 6 with a 13MP rear camera with dual LED flash and Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). Putting aside the megapixel count, which as any camera consensus will tell you isn't the most important feature, the inclusion of OIS is a big deal.
OIS is a nifty piece of tech that improves photo quality by compensating in real time for shaking and vibrating while shooting, so there are no alterations or light degradations to the captured image. This means the Nexus 6 should be the best Google Nexus device ever released when it comes to imaging quality.
In terms of storage the Nexus 6 is fairly well placed, coming with 32GB or 64GB of internal space. This, combined with the wealth of cloud storage solutions available on Android, means most users won't have to worry about running out of space.
Battery life has been one key area where most smartphones have struggled, and we've yet to find one that can consistently survive more than two days of moderate, let alone heavy, use.
Working to fix this Motorola has equipped the Nexus 6's 3220mAh battery with 'Turbo Charger' technology that will offer a claimed six hours of battery life from a 15-minute charge. As an added perk the handset will also feature wireless charging support.
Considering the Nexus 6's reasonable listed 8.5 hours of 'internet use', the handset should be slightly above average when it comes to battery life.
The 32GB version of the Nexus 6 is set to retail for s $650 in the US, while the 64GB model will set you back $700. There's currently no official word how much the device will cost in the UK, but if the US price is anything to go by it will be £400 to £440.
Overall, the Nexus 6 is on paper a very impressive smartphone that showcases what Motorola and Google can offer the handset market, which is interesting considering that Google just sold the firm to Lenovo.
Featuring a more alluring design than past Nexus smartphones, a powerful Qualcomm processor, quad HD display and all the business perks of Google's latest Android 5.0 OS, we can't help but get excited about the Nexus 6.
Hopefully, the Nexus 6 will make good on its opening promise come its release later this year.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
24 Jun 2014
Google finally launched its Glass Explorer programme in the UK on Monday, making its fabled wearable technology available to enthusiasts and developers in the region – albeit for a hefty £1,000.
Designed to help Google fix problems and develop the Glass technology before its wider global release, the Explorer Programme has been running in the US since 2012 and, according to Google, has massively improved the platform.
In fact, Google says the Explorer Programme has been such a success that the version of Glass V3 tried a year ago is archaic compared with the current version being sold in the UK. So when we were offered the chance of a fresh eyes-on look at Glass, we couldn't resist the chance to check on Google's progress.
Design and build
The basic Google Glass design hasn't been changed since we last tested it and the majority of the upgrades are software based.
This means in its basic form Glass has the same slightly futuristic-looking metallic frame with a power pack at its rear and a mini high-resolution display on its front.
While predominantly designed for use with voice commands, Glass also has the same trackpad feature on its right arm, which lets you turn it on with a tap, or navigate through the device's menus with up-and-down strokes. It also has a camera button that lets you silently take a photo or shoot a video using its 5MP 720p camera.
In the past, while we've found the bare-bones Glass version comfortable to wear, we couldn't escape the feeling that the device made us look very strange. Even if we wore them in Soho, one of London's quirkier areas, we'd still feel self-conscious.
But Google has inked deals with a number of frame manufacturers to make Glass more friendly for public use, and to make the frames look more like regular glasses.
At the Glass UK launch event we got to see a number of different frames and were impressed by how good a job they did to make Glass look more subtle. The frames ranged from regular office specs to 1980s Terminator-style sunglasses.
While the glass technology is still very prominent, the frames go a long way to make them less noticeable, which, as well as making us feel less conspicuous, will also make them less obvious to potential thieves. Considering their hefty price tag this is a very good thing.
Operating system and software
As before, Google Glass runs using a heavily customised version of Google's Android operating system and is designed to offer users a similar experience.
Powering it up by leaning our head back, we were able to perform a variety of tasks. These included searching for a picture online, taking a photo, getting directions using Google Maps and opening various webpages simply by saying "OK Glass" followed by a command.
To get directions, for example, we said, "OK Glass, King's Cross Station", and then tapped directions on the trackpad to launch the Maps app. Once open the app presented us with a dynamic map showing our current location. Impressively we found the icon showing our location actually reacted to where we were looking, making it easy to know which direction we should walk in to get to our desired Tube stop.
Glass is also confirmed to integrate Twitter, Facebook and Google Now to offer users dynamic push updates. Though, as we found with our first hands on, we didn't get a chance to see how Google Now works on Glass, as it wasn't connected to our Google account.
While the innate services on Glass are impressive, we were more interested in testing out the wealth of third-party applications on offer. Google has been trying to increase developer interest in Glass since it first came up with the idea. One year since we first tested the technology, we have to say we were impressed with some of the applications on show at the Glass UK launch.
While we didn't get a chance to try some of the more enterprise, healthcare and education-focused apps Google has been ranting about, we did see a wealth of interesting products, chief of which were Word Lens, Star Chart and Goal.com.
Word Lens is an innovative application designed to make Glass translate any text you're looking at. The app is currently available in a number of European languages including English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. We were impressed with how well it worked.
The app could be launched at any time simply by saying "OK Glass: translate". Once activated we simply had to look at the piece of text and tap the language we wanted it translated to using the trackpad. We found not only was Word Lens accurate, it was also very quick and was able to translate posters and information boards in seconds.
Star Chart is a free application designed to offer users information about the stars. It does this using an augmented-reality display that offers dynamic feedback and information on any constellation the user is looking at, or in the direction of. The information is displayed as text or as an audio file that's played using bone-conduction technology. This is similar to the technology used in some hearing aids and is designed to let Glass play audio without using traditional speakers or headphones, by transmitting sound through the bones of the skull to the inner ear.
The Goal.com application lets users set up custom information feeds about football. The feeds can be set to push updates about specific games, teams or leagues to the user via Glass. While the feature isn't of direct business benefit, unless you happen to be in the football industry, the app is a good example of how Glass could theoretically be used to keep up-to-date with news 24/7. For example, how useful would it be for any IT professional or business user to have a permanent feed pushing news updates and industry analysis from V3 on Glass?
Google says the display offers users an equivalent viewing experience to watching a 25in high-definition screen from eight feet away. Initially we found the screen was slightly blurry and difficult to use at the busy launch event, but we soon sorted this by altering the angle we were viewing it from using the hinge connecting it to the metal frame. The screen seemed no better to us than non-HD TV quality, falling short of current high-end smartphone displays.
Poor battery has been one of the key gripes coming from the Google Glass US test group, with many complaining that it dies in hours. We didn't get a chance to test the battery life, but the spokeswoman on hand told us she generally gets about four and a half hours of use before having to reconnect it to a micro USB charger.
One year on from our first encounter with Google Glass, we have to say we're impressed. While the updates aren't groundbreaking it's clear Google is getting some momentum in increasing developers' interest in the technology. Hopefully with Glass now available in the UK this will continue and we'll see yet more innovations and app-development projects in the very near future.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
11 Apr 2014
The Samsung Galaxy S5 arrived on UK shelves on Friday 11 April, and the Korean firm will be hoping to steal users away from rival smartphones such as the Google Nexus 5.
While the Google Nexus 5 debuted last October, the device still sports top-end specifications, and has so far managed to win over users' affections due to its vanilla Android 4.4 Kitkat mobile operating system and affordable price, with the handset retailing from £299, making it more than £200 cheaper than the Galaxy S5.
Here we compare the specs of the Samsung Galaxy S5 against the Nexus 5 to see which one is worth your money.
18 Mar 2014
For the past few years Google's been working to undermine Apple, releasing a steady stream of top end, but far more affordable Nexus devices. Aware of this Apple released its pseudo affordable iPhone 5C late last year. However, with prices going up to £549 for the 32GB model that went on sale late in 2013, the iPhone 5C was still far from cheap at its initial unveiling in September.
Fast forward to March 2014, and Apple has moved to drive down the handset's starting price, unveiling a new 8GB, £429 version of the iPhone 5C.
However, with pricing a mere £40 less than the 16GB version some may wonder if the new lower-cost iPhone 5C will be enough to entice bargain hunting smartphone buyers away from the £299, 16GB Nexus 5.
iPhone 5C: 4in 640x1136 361ppi Retina display
Nexus 5: 5in 1920x1080 445ppi display
The Nexus 5 is bigger, with full HD on an IPS screen, greater pixel per inch (ppi) density and Corning Gorilla Glass. Some people prefer Apple's Retina display, others Super Amoled, but statistically speaking, it's a walkover.
iPhone 5C: Dual-core 1.3GHz Apple A6 processor
Nexus 5: Quad-core 2.26GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor
Four cores instead of two, twice the clock speed, enough said. The Nexus 5 also has an Adreno 330 GPU clocked at 450MHz. However, we would expect this from what is supposed to be Google's flagship, whereas the iPhone 5C is Apple's 'budget' model.
Memory and Storage
iPhone 5C: 1GB RAM, 8GB, 16GB and 32GB internal storage models
Nexus 5: 2GB RAM, 16GB and 32GB internal storage models
The Nexus 5 doesn't come with an 8GB storage option, but still manages to beat the iPhone 5C on price. Prices of the 16GB Nexus 5 start at £299, so it is still significantly cheaper than the entry-level £429 iPhone 5C.
The 16GB and 32GB iPhone 5C models cost £469 and £549 respectively, compared to £299 and £339 for the Nexus 5.
iPhone 5C: 8MP rear-facing camera with autofocus and LED flash, 1.9MP Facetime HD camera
Nexus 5: 8MP rear facing camera with optical image stabilisation, 1.3MP front-facing camera
It's evens for the two here. Slightly higher specifications on the front-facing camera for the iPhone 5C, but that's rarely a showstopper for the average shopper.
iPhone 5C: UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz); LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 13, 17, 19, 20, 25)
Nexus 5: GSM: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz, CDMA: Band Class: 0/1/10, WCDMA: Bands: 1/2/4/5/6/8/19, LTE: Bands: 1/2/4/5/17/19/25/26/41
Pretty much the whole gamut of mobile connectivity.
iPhone 5C: iOS 7 mobile operating system
Nexus 5: Android 4.4 Kitkat mobile operating system
Both are new here, and while other devices will be receiving the Android 4.4 Kitkat update, just as previous iPhones have had iOS 7, it will be all about how they perform on these devices. The Nexus 5 will also be the first device to run Kitkat, making it an attractive proposition for Android fans, while iOS 7 has attracted as much criticism as praise.
iPhone 5C: 124x59x8.97mm, 132g
Nexus 5: 138x69x8.6mm, 130g
Despite that extra inch of screen, the Nexus 5 is lighter than the iPhone 5C.
iPhone 5C: 10 hours of talk time on 3G, 250 hours on standby.
Nexus 5: 17 hours of talk time quoted by Carphone Warehouse, 300 hours on standby
Of course, battery life is a very subjective thing, depending on what you use the device for and how much you keep switched on, but Google makes some bold claims.
On paper, the Nexus walks away the winner. But the price drop for the iPhone 5C could tempt Apple virgins over to the ecosystem and away from Android.
14 Jan 2014
Since being bought by Google, Motorola has been going through a gradual period of refocus. In November last year this reached fruition with the release of the Motorola Moto G, a phone that offered specifications traditionally seen on £300-plus devices at a bare-bones £135 starting price.
Looking to repeat its success with the Moto G, Motorola has raised the bar and chosen to release its flagship Moto X handset in the UK. However, at £380 SIM-free and coming out six months later than its initial US release, some naysayers have been justifiably sceptical of the Moto X's chances.
Design and build
The black-finish Moto X we tried featured an understated, fairly minimalist design, similar to the one seen on the more affordable Moto G. Featuring a single-piece chassis, with soft rounded corners and a slightly curved back, the main difference we noticed between the two phones is that the X has a slightly more premium-feeling, textured back.
While some will bemoan the fact the X's design isn't radically different from the G's, we're fairly happy Motorola that didn't decide to rework the wheel. Testing the 129x65x10.4mm Moto X, we found the pebble-like design made the phone very comfortable to hold, and this was helped by the fact that the Moto X weighs a reasonable 130g.
We also found the Moto X feels reasonably well crafted. Featuring a nano-coating, the Moto X is technically "splash and water resistant". We didn't get a chance to test this during our hands on, but the coating made the Moto X feel fairly scratch and bump proof, and left us feeling reassured it could survive the odd accidental drop.
The Moto X comes with a 4.7in 720p (720x1280) 316ppi Amoled capacitive touchscreen. While we're slightly disappointed the Moto X isn't 1020p and features a lower ppi density than competing phones – such as the Nexus 5, which boasts a 5in 1080x1920 in-plane switching (IPS) plus capacitive touchscreen – during our opening tests the Moto X's display did perform well.
Using the screen in the brightly lit showroom floor, the display proved reasonably good. With the brightness cranked to full we were able to continue using the Moto X, even under direct overhead light. We also found, thanks to its Amoled tech, colours were wonderfully vibrant and rich. And despite not breaking the 400ppi count, text and icons were suitably crisp. During our hands-on, we had no trouble reading text displayed on the screen.
We also got a chance to see the Moto X's custom Active Display technology during the briefing, which is designed to push updates including incoming or missed calls to the user when the phone is locked. The tech does this by making the Moto X's display pulse on with the information displayed. The feature was far more pleasant than the traditional LED light alerts seen on most phones – though we are slightly concerned it could be a drain on the Moto X's battery.
Operating system and software
The UK version of the Moto X is due to ship with the latest 4.4.2 KitKat version of Android pre-installed. As an added bonus, from what we saw during our hands-on, the version looked close to untouched.
This is a big deal: by choosing not to reskin Android, Motorola has not only made the Moto X's user interface significantly less cluttered and pleasant to use than some competing phones – such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, which features a less than ideal Touchwiz skin – but it has also ensured the Moto X will be ready for future software upgrades.
This is because, by not drastically changing Android, Motorola won't have to develop or adapt the Moto X's software to work with new Android versions. This means theoretically the phone could get software updates faster than phones running more heavily customised versions.
The only obvious additions we noticed to the Moto X's software were Motorola's custom Migrate, Assist and Connect applications, and a non-touch speech recognition service. Migrate is a basic QR code feature that aims to make it easier to set up the Moto X, and lets you move files, basic settings and call history from your previous Android phone.
Assist is a productivity app designed to let you set up automatic actions for certain situations. Connect is a custom app designed to let users take incoming calls and messages directed to the Moto X using their computer.
The speech recognition technology builds on Android's inbuilt voice command powers, and is designed to let users interact with their phone without having to physically touch it. It tailors the phone to recognise its owner's voice and lets them ask the phone for directions and to open applications, for example.
We didn't get a chance to test any of the custom applications during our hands-on time but will make sure to do so in our full review.
In a day where quad-core processors are the vogue item in the Android smartphone world, Motorola has oddly chosen to load the Moto X with a dual-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro chipset. While not on a par with the quad-core Snapdragon 800-powered Nexus 5 or Snapdragon 600-powered Galaxy S4, the Moto X is backed up by 2GB of RAM and a powerful quad-core Adreno 320 GPU, and so is still set to perform fairly fast.
But, using the Moto X for regular tasks, including surfing the internet, watching a YouTube video and navigating between menus, we found the phone was fairly nippy. We'll make sure to put the Moto X through its paces with more demanding applications, such as 3D games, in our full review.
The Moto X comes with a 10MP rear and 2MP front camera. The 10MP rear camera comes with custom Quick Capture technology. The tech lets users activate the camera simply by twisting their wrist twice and users can take photos in split seconds just by tapping the screen with the camera application open.
Testing the camera on the showroom floor we found images taken on the Moto X were of reasonably good quality. Colour balance and contrast levels were decent and photos in general came out looking reasonably crisp.
Taken on the Motorola Moto X
We also found the camera's shutter speed was fairly good, with it being able to take rapid successions of shots as we ferociously tapped away on the device's screen. The only issue we noticed was that the autofocus could at times miss the subject matter we wanted and wasn't great at dealing with moving objects. In these situations images could come out slightly blurry.
Battery and storage
The Moto X is powered by a 2,200mAh battery, which Motorola lists as being able to last for up to 24 hours of "mixed usage". We'll test this thoroughly in our full review.
Storage-wise the Moto X features a fairly minimal 16GB built in. Luckily, though, Motorola has bundled the Moto X with 50GB of free Google Drive storage for the first two years after purchase.
Had we got our hands on the Moto X six months ago when the phone was first released in the US, our opening impressions would have been far more positive. Featuring an all-but untouched version of the latest Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system, and what at first look appears to be an above-average camera and display, there is plenty to like about the Moto X. But priced at £380, costing £80 more than Google's Nexus 5 flagship, which features comparable and at times superior on-paper specs, it's clear the Moto X is going to have a tough time battling for sales when it is released in February.
Check back with V3 soon for a full review of the Motorola Moto X.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson.
01 Nov 2013
Google took the wraps off its latest flagship Nexus 5 smartphone this week, hoping that its high-end specifications and mid-range price will make it competitive against the Samsung Galaxy S4.
The firm is looking to attract geek fans of the Android platform too, as the Nexus 5 is the first device to run the Android 4.4 Kitkat version, and will also be among the first to receive future iterations of Android. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy S4, it also features a non-customised user interface, which can complicate future upgrades.
Measurements and weight
Google Nexus 5: 138x69x8.6mm, 130g
Samsung Galaxy S4: 137x70x7.9mm, 130g
The Google Nexus 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4 are nearly identical in size, with both phones weighing 130g and boasting almost the same dimensions. The Nexus 5 is slightly chunkier, however, measuring 8.6mm thick, compared to the Galaxy S4's svelte 7.9mm profile.
Google Nexus 5: 5in full HD 1920x1080 IPS 445ppi display
Samsung Galaxy S4: 5in full HD 1920x1080 Super Amoled 441ppi display
Not only are the Google Nexus 5 and Samsung Galaxy S4 nearly identical in size and shape, the two rival smartphones also have very similar displays.
Both sport full HD resolution. While we're yet to size up the the screen on Google's latest flagship phone, it very slightly pips the Galaxy S4 in pixel density, but might fall short in vibrancy due to its lack of Amoled screen technology.
Google Nexus 5: Quad-core 2.26GHz Snapdragon 800 processor
Samsung Galaxy S4: Quad-core 1.9GHz Snapdragon 600 processor
The Google Nexus 5 beats the Samsung Galaxy S4 in processing power, on paper at least. While both handsets have Qualcomm Snapdragon processors, the Nexus 5 chip is clocked at 2.26GHz compared to 1.9GHz on the Galaxy S4, and is likely to offer an even smoother experience.
Google Nexus 5: 17 hours' talk time on 3G quoted by Carphone Warehouse, 2,300mAh battery
Samsung Galaxy S4: 17 hours' talk time on 3G, 2,600mAh
Despite having a smaller 2,600mAh battery, the Google Nexus 5 matches the Samsung Galaxy S4 in battery life, with both phones promising up to 17 of hours talk time on 3G. We are, of course, yet to put Google's claims to the test.
Google Nexus 5: Android 4.4 Kitkat mobile operating system
Samsung Galaxy S4: Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean mobile operating system
For fans of the Android mobile operating system, the Google Nexus 5 trumps the Galaxy S4, with the handset running Google's newly unveiled Android 4.4 Kitkat release. The Samsung Galaxy S4, on the other hand, ships with Google's Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean release, and can be upgraded to the Android 4.3 and possibly also Android 4.4 release.
Google's Nexus 5 also features a completely vanilla user interface, as opposed to Samsung's custom Touchwiz user interface.
Google Nexus 5: 8MP rear camera, 1.3MP front camera
Samsung Galaxy S4: 13MP rear camera, 2MP front camera
The cameras on the Google Nexus 5 don't match up to those on the Samsung Galaxy S4, with the Nexus handset having an 8MP rear-facing camera and a 1.3MP camera on the front. Unlike the Galaxy S4, however, the Nexus 5 camera comes with optical image stabilsation, which is likely to make for sharper images.
Google Nexus 5: 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, 2GB of RAM
Samsung Galaxy S4: 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, microSD card slot for expansion up to 64GB, 2GB of RAM
The Nexus 5 will be made available only in 16GB and 32GB models, compared to the Galaxy S4 that is available in 16GB, 32GB and 64GB storage models. The Samsung Galaxy S4 also comes with a microSD card slot allowing users to expand the phone's memory, whereas the Nexus 5 does not. However, given the difference in the smartphones' prices, this was likely a cost cutting measure.
Although the Google Nexus 5 doesn't quite match the Galaxy S4 for its cameras and storage, it matches the flagship Samsung handset in nearly every other category, be it size, display or battery life. It also has a faster processor, and gets one up on the rival handset as it's the first smartphone to ship with the Android 4.4 Kitkat mobile operating system.
Since Google's Nexus 5 smartphone is over £200 less expensive than the Galaxy S4, it looks like Samsung should start worrying.