Google's Moto X mimics latest Droids

The Moto X, which has a 4.7-inch screen, will be available through U.S. carriers for $199.99 at the end of this month

Google's Motorola Mobility unit unveiled the highly anticipated Moto X smartphone on Thursday at an event themed around innovation, but many of the handset's highlighted features were similar to those on the recently announced Droid smartphones.

 Moto X smartphone

Agam Shah

Moto X smartphone

The Moto X smartphone has a 4.7-inch screen, and runs on Google's Android 4.2.2 OS code-named Jellybean. The smartphone will be available at the end of August for $199.99 with a two-year contract through all major U.S. carriers, and an unlocked version will follow shortly after. The smartphone will also be available worldwide by the end of this month.

[VIDEO: Hands on with the new Moto X]

Moto X is the first result of investments by Google and Motorola Mobility in new technologies related to design and natural interaction technology, said Dennis Woodside, CEO of Motorola Mobility, during the media event.

"This was the first device that was built from scratch since Google acquired Motorola Mobility," Woodside said. Google completed the $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility in March last year.

The Moto X, which weighs 132 grams, offers 24 hours of battery life, and 13 hours of talk time. Users can shoot 1080p high-definition video through its 10-megapixel rear camera or 2-megapixel front camera, although the screen can display images only at a 720p resolution. The phone has 16GB of storage, and a 32GB model will be priced at $249.99 with wireless carrier contracts.

But on closer examination the Moto X is very similar to the recently announced Droids, including the Ultra, Maxx and Mini models, which will soon become available through Verizon Wireless. The phones carry similar processor, camera, display and natural interaction features.

The Moto X differs from the Droids in its design, color choices, 50GB of Google Drive storage and wide availability through all carriers, said Rick Osterloh, senior vice president at Motorola Mobility, at the event.

The Moto X has a curvy design that could make it easier to hold than competitive handsets with rectangular designs. The handset will be highly customizable when ordered through Motorola's website, and a feature called Moto Maker will allow users to choose colors for the back and front of the handset.

The smartphone has what Motorola called "touchless control," in which the handset responds to voice commands, even when in idle mode. A key spoken phrase will prompt the smartphone to call people, navigate or even conduct a Google search. In a demonstration, the smartphone showed the score of a baseball game from the previous day after a voice question. The feature is also available on the Droid handsets.

Voice controls offer "a safe way to operate your phone, hands free and eyes free," Osterloh said, adding that the Moto X has three microphones and noise cancellation technology.

The smartphone also has the X8 chip system, a set of processors including the CPU, graphics processors, sensors and cores that is also used in the Droid smartphones. In the Moto X that includes a dual-core Qualcomm S4 Pro chip code-named Krait, which is similar to the chip found in the new Droids, Google's Nexus 4, LG's Optimus G and Sony's Xperia Z. Qualcomm in January announced the Snapdragon 600 and 800 chips, which will succeed the S4 Pro.

Another common feature with the Droids is the Active Display, in which bits of information, like time and notifications, are provided on the screen when the phone is in idle mode. Users will be able to see email, text messages, social network notifications and calendar information without putting the phone in active mode. Motorola has implemented a custom screen buffer for the information to be displayed on the black background. This is another feature shared with the new Droids.

"Not only can I see stuff as it arrives, it takes me into the message so I can respond," Osterloh said.

The handset incorporates camera technology called QuickCapture, in which a user can quickly take a picture without pressing a specific on-screen button. The camera automatically autofocuses and users can touch any part of the screen to take a shot. The camera sensor is able to capture more light, which allows for good low-light shots and less blur, Osterloh said.

Verizon will sell a developer version of Moto X, which can be unlocked through Motorola's website, though the price of that phone was not available. The developer edition will also be available through Motorola's website at a later date. Developers unlocking the smartphone will break warranty, though.

The phones for the U.S. market will be made in Fort Worth, Texas, Osterloh said.

"People want a phone quickly," Osterloh said. "We realized if it was going to take two to three weeks [to ship], it wasn't going to be enough."

Making the phones in the U.S. also keeps manufacturing close to the design and engineering teams, and the company can react quickly to market trends, Osterloh said.

Motorola is also testing a Moto X with a wooden frame on the back. That smartphone could be available in the fourth quarter, though Osterloh said "we're not sure what we'll end up with."

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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