Google Ups Its Game Against Apple With New Smartphone

The new Moto X launched Thursday in New York City. i i

The new Moto X launched Thursday in New York City. Bryan Bedder/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Bryan Bedder/Getty Images
The new Moto X launched Thursday in New York City.

The new Moto X launched Thursday in New York City.

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

When it was launched Thursday, the Moto X, Google's first smartphone product to come out of its buyout of Motorola, was not the highest powered or highest pixeled device. Rather, the designers boasted of its usability — that the Moto X has a larger purpose: making the technology of a phone adapt to the way people use them, rather than force user behavior to adapt to the technology.

For example, if the phone is placed face down and then turned over, it briefly exposes the time, text and any email notifications without getting unlocked. And the Moto X is designed with rounded edges so it's comfortable in the hand.

Gesture-control also becomes prominent. By twisting it back and forth two times, the camera opens without the user needing to feel around for a button.

It's also responsive to the way younger generations are using their phones — for searches, GPS, texting — anything but actually calling people. A study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project released in 2011 found that barely 53 percent of Americans preferred a voice call to a text message.

So Google has made its voice activation system, Google Now, easy to use with this phone. Unlike the Siri system by Apple, which requires a button to turn it on, Google Now is always listening. All you have to do is say "OK, Google Now." And then it listens for your commands.

Google Now combines nicely with GPS so it can help answer questions like, "Where's the closest Chinese takeout?" It takes dictation, and it can respond to a text with a quick note, "Not now! Busy."

"It's a refreshing step back," says Consumer Reports' Mike Gikas. He got an advanced look at Moto X and has been testing it. "For the last few years we've been in this arms race regarding features," he says. "Every phone is going to have more megapixels and a larger display, and sharper this and faster that."

Gikas says he's still got a lot of testing to do before he makes a recommendation as to whether consumers should pick the Moto X over an iPhone or a new Samsung Galaxy. But he thinks the Moto X is inching us along to another way of thinking about smartphones.

"Whenever there's a good idea like this," he says, "we're going to see more of it."

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