How do you distinguish your phone from the many other touch-screen phones on the market? Google's answer is the Moto X.
This phone ($200 with contract, 5.1 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches) is in some ways unexceptional, but it does offer five features that no other phone has offered before.
You can design your own color scheme, from a choice of 18 colors for the back panel, black or white for the front, and seven colors for the accents. Later this year, you'll even be able to order a back panel made of real wood — in bamboo, teak, ebony or rosewood.
You get your customized phone within four days, because it's assembled in the United States.
This is the most useful: touchless mode. As with Siri on the iPhone, you can command the phone to dial a number, send a text, open an app, set your alarm, look up a fact on the Web and so on. But unlike Siri, you don't hold down a button to speak. The phone is always listening.
It works remarkably well, as long as you precede your command with the salutation, "Okay, Google Now." Without ever taking your eyes off the road, you can say, "Okay, Google Now. Give me directions to the Empire State Building."
If you turn on the Assist feature, the phone changes modes according to the time and place.
In Driving mode, it starts reading new text messages aloud, routing calls to the speakerphone and, if you like, responding to calls with an automatic text message: "I'm driving and will get back to you soon."
In Meeting mode, the phone mutes itself and can respond with a text message. ("In a meeting. I'll get back to you soon.")
Sleeping mode mutes the phone during bedtime hours that you specify.
Motorola observed that many people wake their phones many times a day just to check the time or missed messages. The Moto X displays this information briefly — the time and an icon for a missed event — every time you move it.
You can fire up the camera app by twitching your wrist a couple of times, as though trying to dislodge a mosquito; it works whether the phone is on or off. That's wonderful, and so is the streamlined app itself. But the camera leaves something to be desired.
Unfortunately, the Moto X's has to compete with the deeply satisfying beauty (and superior speakers) of the HTC One, the seething power (and superior screen) of the Galaxy S4, and the infinite app-and-accessory ecosystem (and superior voice control) of the iPhone.