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Design duel: iPhone 5S takes the Moto X

The Moto X is a good phone, but it doesn't reach the rarefied industrial-design heights of the 5S.

The 5S: The iPhone still has a killer design.
The 5S: The iPhone still has a killer design. Apple

It's not easy to design a good-looking phone. A quick comparison between the iPhone 5S and Moto X shows why.

While beauty is subjective, some designs are clearly better than others. The HTC One is gorgeous by most accounts, including CNET Reviews' take.

And the Samsung Galaxy S4 is obviously a looker for many.

The Moto X -- which I recently picked up from Verizon -- is another decent design; CNET Reviews calls it "well-crafted."

I wouldn't disagree with that assessment. But an iPhone it is not.

Again, I'm talking about industrial design, not features. Physical-design discussions are not the stuff of reviews. They focus on features. But a good physical design can tip the balance between two products equally matched on specs.

And Apple is good at tipping that balance. Steve Jobs made sure of that.

The Moto X is a good phone but not an outstanding physical design.
The Moto X is a good phone but not an outstanding physical design. Motorola

The Moto X just looks plain next to the iPhone 5S -- another phone I carry around. (The photo I snapped and included below doesn't really do the iPhone 5S justice.)

Let's put it this way: When I took the Moto X home and had time to compare it with the iPhone (and other phones), I was surprised at how inconspicuous it was.

The "space-gray" iPhone 5S hardly has that problem. (I don't think it's my imagination, but the 5S looks even better to me than the 5. I concur with the breakdown of the 5S design done here.)

The point: after you buy a product and get past the giddiness about the features, you're left with the physical design.

That makes the iPhone a keeper for me.

Moto X (left) and iPhone 5S.
Moto X (left) and iPhone 5S. Brooke Crothers