Not another phone! These were the words my editor wrote me when I sent in a column a while back reviewing (and panning) the new BlackBerry Z10. And she was right. We’re being inundated with new models weekly, but are we getting to the point where few care?
It’s becoming a real challenge for any company to continue adding innovations that are as exciting as they once were. We were awed by sharp touch displays, in-phone cameras, voice recognition and GPS navigation. So what’s left? Sharper displays, higher res cameras, and faster processors. Mostly the same but better; that’s just the nature of a maturing product category.
And that’s the problem Motorola faced with its new Moto X, its first new model since being acquired by Google. I’ve been trying out the Moto X from AT&T for a couple of weeks, as well as the Droid Maxx from Verizon. As a late entry, Motorola faces the problem of trying to stand apart and above the dozens of Android phones from Samsung, HTC, LG and even Google’s own Nexus brand.
From a distance, the Moto X looks and works much like any other Android phone. It has a thin, sleek design with an all-glass front, curving into a convex plastic back with a soft touch finish. Its 4.7-inch screen is ideal, larger than the iPhone’s 4-inch, but small enough so the phone comfortably fits in your hand.
Motorola’s strategy to stand out from the crowd with the X phone is threefold. It’s emphasizing its U.S. manufacturing, it’s added some clever convenience features, and it lets you customize your phone.
Motorola, along with contract manufacturer Flextronics, refurbished a Texas plant where Nokia phones were once built. The factory employs 2,500, but nearly all of the parts are still produced in Asia and then sent to Texas to be assembled, which amounts to about 5 percent of the product’s cost. The benefit is not to save money, but to put manufacturing closer to the engineers and to encourage more parts producers to locate closer to the factory.
Motorola has done a good job of adding convenience features. Pick up or touch the phone and the display lights up to show the time and important messages without needing to be turned on. You can also issue it a voice command and the phone will respond, even though it seems to be off.
If the phone is locked, instead of typing in its password, you can touch it to a fob or sticker that unlocks it using its built-in NFC (near-field communications). And Motorola Assist can anticipate your needs and can turn off the ringer at night or during meetings.
While the X runs Android, its implementation is purer and without the “crapware” that Samsung and the carriers load on their phones. That makes this phone easier to use out of the box and avoids the confusion and clutter found on many other Android phones. On the other hand, the performance of its camera, display, audio, and processor are decent, but nothing exceptional.
The Moto X is the first phone that gives you a choice of selecting preferences online when you order the phone, such as your own color combinations from 18 back colors, 2 front colors, and 7 accent colors for the case. You can also preload your Google account and install your choice of wallpaper from 20 options, as well as add a personal sign-on greeting. No big advantage since you can select your wallpaper and sync to Google directly on the phone in just a few minutes.
The color choices were a nice feature, though. I went on their site and made my selection, and my phone arrived a week later with a black front, a crimson red back, and metallic yellow trim. If you don’t like your choice you can exchange the phone.
With a two-year contract, the Moto X with 16GB memory costs $200; 32GB adds $50, half of what it costs to go from 16GB to 32GB on an iPhone. (The actual cost for 16GB of incremental memory is $10.) The Moto X available from all four of the carriers.
The Droid name, owned by Verizon, has been used on a series of phones that Motorola developed with Verizon. The new Droid MAXX is thinner than past Droids but is less stylish than the Moto X. It’s about a quarter-inch taller and wider due to its 5-inch display and is less comfortable to hold with its more angular shape. It’s finished in a dark gray carbon fiber pattern that seems dated.
It has the same low-power standby mode as the Moto X that responds to voice, shows the time and other important messages. Its primary distinction is its more powerful 3500 mAh battery, more than 50 percent greater capacity than the Moto X and twice that of an iPhone. This is a big advantage for those needing a phone that will last two days between charges. It costs $299 from Verizon with a standard 32GB memory on a new contract.
If I were shopping for an Android phone, I’d consider the X, but would also consider others with more features and better performance, such as the HTC One for its excellent camera and audio and its stunning ID, the new LG G2, and the Google Nexus phones.
Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," published by Financial Times Press. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments may be published online or as Letters to the Editor.