Moto Maxx review

I hold the opinion that technology should enhance my experience of life, not distract me from it, especially while driving. I should not need to stop watching a concert in order to share this experience with my friends; nor should I need to pull out my phone, unlock it, navigate to Shazam and activate the listening feature in order to know the name of a song in a club.

To be honest, I am looking for my own version of Jarvis.

The Moto line, and its Droid variant, has set itself apart from other brands through the idea that your phone itself could be your personal digital assistant. They achieve this feat through the Moto suite of apps that are exclusive to Motorola phones:

  • Moto Voice allows you to control your phone with your voice even while the screen is off.
  • Moto Assist provides contextual awareness; it can tell when you’re driving, which triggers the reading out loud of incoming texts and allows you to compose replies by voice. It also silences your phone at night and during meetings.
  • Moto Actions allows you to use gestures to control your phone, such as twisting the phone to open the camera app.
  • Moto Display periodically shows notifications on the screen while off.

So towards the end of last year, I found myself facing a dilemma. Which Motorola phone should I buy, and to what lengths should I go to get it? The choices were:

  • Moto X 2014
  • Droid Turbo (only available on Verizon)
  • Moto Maxx (only available in Latin America and India)
  • Nexus 6

The Moto X 2014 came out towards the end of 2014 with outdated features such as 2Gb of RAM. The Nexus 6 had the feature specifications that the Moto X should’ve had, but it lacked the Moto suite of apps. Even though the Nexus 6’s active listening feature is an adequate replacement for Moto Voice, and its Ambient Display could give replace Moto Display, the Nexus 6 has no native answer for Moto Actions; it doesn’t read out texts aloud, nor does it repeat aloud what you composed via voice, so you have to look at the screen again. The Droid Turbo has upgraded features as well as the Moto Apps, but is only available on Verizon—and I’m on T-Mobile. The Moto Maxx is the international version of the Turbo that is only available in Latin America (and now India), but it was a lot easier to obtain than getting the Droid Turbo to T-Mobile. Trust me, I tried.  

So, I chose the Moto Maxx three months ago because I wanted a phone which could be my invisible personal assistant, and I am now here to tell you how it has lived up to that promise.  

Good news first. Moto Actions works consistently; I can literally access my camera with two shakes of my hand. Moto Display also performs well; in fact since I just got the Lollipop upgrade, I got to test it on the same phone against Ambient Display, a competition which Ambient Display lost. Moto Display combines with Moto Actions to show me notifications when I wave my hand over the phone whereas Ambient display follows its own cadence, oblivious to my handwaving. Moto Voice enables me to have my custom launch-phrase instead of “OK Google Now”, and while it can’t be as simple as “OK Jarvis!” I’m still able to have something I like. Moto Voice picks up my activation code about 70% of the time, which is a lot better than I was doing with S Voice in the Note 3 or Note Edge. Lastly, Moto Assist works to silence my calls during meetings based on my selected calendar.   The battery life is phenomenal. I haven’t attempted to prove the claim that it lasts 48 hours, but it is great to be able to have GPS, Bluetooth and all other energy-sapping features on throughout the day without a worry that I will not have enough juice for the night. Last Friday, as we waited for an uber at about 3am, a friend remarked that the only people with still working phones had Android, and I still had hours of battery life to spare.   Another great feature is the fact that it comes with 64GB of memory. Most people may say that they never need that much memory, but I can assure you that you will, especially with a 21 megapixel rear camera. I am busy trying to free up space on my 32GB Note edge by deleting videos, but memory is not a worry I have with the Moto Maxx.  

That said, I didn’t get this phone for its battery life or its memory, but rather for its potential to be an invisible personal assistant with whom I can converse without looking, especially while driving. Unfortunately it does not live up to that promise. Moto Assist is temperamental while driving; it does not always read out incoming text messages even though it knows I am driving. Furthermore, Motorola hasn’t completely worked out the priority between Moto Voice and other apps e.g. voice navigation with Google Maps. It is not only really annoying when they speak over one another, but also confounding; I miss both the directions given and the information about the caller/message sender. Finally, Moto Voice passes my commands to Google Now, which does not repeat out loud any composed message as it does when replying to a text while driving. Google Now requires me to read the message and confirm. As a driver, that workflow is distracting and takes away from the “eyes-on-the-road” vision that I had when I got the Moto Maxx.  

There are other peeves, but they don’t significantly detract from the personal assistant vision promised by a Moto phone.
First, one would think that Moto Actions–which turns the screen on in response to hand gestures–would allow you to wave at your phone while on a call to bring up the phone app; but it seems that being on a call deactivates all IR sensors when you’re on a call and using either wired or bluetooth earphones. It may be trivial, but after getting used to waving at the phone to turn on the screen, it feels very odd to find a time when this feature doesn’t work.
Secondly, the phone has started experiencing lags and hang ups. My google maps has frozen on me more than once while I’m using the voice navigation to go into San Francisco, which I do not appreciate. Given that I tend to have more than 15 chrome tabs open on average, I am not surprised; but I am disappointed since the Moto Maxx came with more RAM and supposedly better processing capabilities. This kind of thing should not be happening.
Finally, the camera is a cautionary tale that quantity does not mean quality. The default camera is especially lousy when it comes to reducing blurring, and I would rather take pictures with my Note Edge’s 13MP camera than the Moto Maxx’s 21MP shooter.

In summary, the Moto line has fallen short of the vision of my phone as an actual personal digital assistant. However, Motorola’s implementation of this feature surpases that of recent Samsung phones (review pending). With regards to its cousin, I would still recommend the Moto Maxx over a Nexus 6 because I hope that Motorola has an update in store for Moto Assist (which provides useful functionality that has yet to be duplicated by Google). It also beats the Nexus 6 and Samsung Note Edge with gems such as great battery life and a huge memory capacity–a combination which doesn’t come with many other mainstream phones. There are a lot of issues that Motorola has thought through (for example the Motorola Hint bluetooth earpiece which stays out of sight while allowing you to listen and talk to your phone), but there are a lot more work to be done. On the Jarvis scale, I would give the Maxx a 5 out of 10.
For the next iteration of the Moto line, I suggest that Motorola think about how to make a phone for a blind, mute person.


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