How the Motorola X Phone could change things

by: Nate SwannerJuly 8, 2013

Motorola X Phone

The X Phone is coming, and we know what it will be: mid-range, with some interesting nuances. The hardware won’t blow us away, but some of the new features might. We’re all reading about an “always on” feature for voice search, and of course the customization is a hot topic. Assembled in the US is nice for jobs, but does it matter to consumers?

Google is making a concentrated effort to improve their contextual awareness of us, which could be helpful. The more that is known about our wants and needs, the more our devices can help us. If I’m having a conversation about the New York Yankees, my Motorola X Phone with an “always on” listening function may then suggest news for the Yanks in my Google Now stream next time I open it. If I mention in conversation that I need to pick up coffee, my device may hear that and give me a pop-up reminder once I get to the store or am near a Starbucks.

You design the X Phone, but the X Phone doesn’t define you. Interesting concept.

The hardware, though, makes us wonder. Why would Motorola make a middle-of-the-road device like the X Phone, and pack such interesting features into it? We assume any new device has to play leap-frog with the last, in terms of hardware, but it doesn’t. The price point is what matters, and Motorola’s aim is for a sub-$300 X Phone. Even with the blessing and backing of Google, that’s a tough price to hit with a spec-heavy phone.

A price like that will put the device into more hands, and could have some ripple effects. If the device were a big hit, and it seems like it will be, the industry could see a bit of a shift. Great hardware doesn’t always translate into a great experience, which can be demonstrated by the Google Play Edition devices. Skinned Android devices have their fans, as well as their detractors. The introduction of GPE devices in the Play Store is already showing that a shift in how the consumer is considered by manufacturers may be taking shape.

Sprint Moto X

Do mediocre hardware specs with great software mean much? On paper, no, but a list of specs don’t tell the tale of how we live with tech. The experience is what matters, and that’s what Motorola is hoping to deliver on. The new device may not deliver across the broad spectrum of “wish list” wants, but it’s not meant to. It’s meant to do a few things, and do them well. If the X Phone can nail contextual data and the “awareness” factor ends up being useful, it will be a huge success.

Rather than try to shove a ton of hardware into a slim phone, they’ve gone and made a really good phone anyone would be happy to own.

The argument can be made about middle of the road devices becoming chic, but that’s only half the story. Samsung and company have been pumping out mid-range stuff for years, and there is clearly a market for that. As an Android site, we have an obligation to you in reporting about them. We see the specs, and nobody gets excited. We know the new Samsung — whatever — will still have TouchWiz, and those specs can’t support its bulk as well as the Galaxy S4 or Note 2. So, we immediately dismiss it as “junk” for the mass of people who can’t (or don’t want to) afford a premium device, and go on about our day. All that judgement, based on hardware, when software is really the culprit.

While this is not a “skinned Android” conversation, it could be. As the basis for software on a device, the skin an OEM puts on will affect our enjoyment of it. Samsung’s TouchWiz is troublesome in part because of their desire to adapt for all iterations of Android. They have to straddle a lot of fences, and that more than anything leads us to hope Android 4.3 delivers on that rumor to transcend hardware. Unlike Sense 5, which HTC rebuilt entirely, TouchWiz is saddled by poor Android support as much as Android is failed by it.

Moto X ad

The argument should really be framed as your experience with a device, not the hardware supporting it. A Motorola X Phone won’t hold up to an HTC One in regard to hardware specs, but it doesn’t need to. It’s not trying to be a catch-all like that kind of device. The X Phone wants to push its envelope forward, and that’s to be an everyman device that the everyman can be proud to own.

The argument should really be framed as your experience with a device, not the hardware supporting it.

Customization means it’s as much yours as you can make it, and a feature list designed to assist you means The X Phone may be geared as an accompaniment device, one that helps more than it asks you to accomplish tasks. You design the X Phone, but the X Phone doesn’t define you. Interesting concept.

Motorola is taking a chance here, and it’s actually exciting for once. Rather than try to shove a ton of hardware into a slim phone, they’ve gone and made a really good phone anyone would be happy to own. One that will accomplish the best of what Android has to offer, but leave all the nonsense out. The shift in thinking is toward contextual data and web-based knowledge, and this device is perfect for that. We may want amazing hardware, but more often than not, we don’t need it. What we need is a better experience, and a device that caters to us. Turns out that customization we keep talking about may have nothing to do with hardware at all.

Interesting concept.

  • Mike Bastable

    Best Nate article in months. Welcome Back.

  • Tony Hoffman

    My confusion as an outsider in, begging to be a Motorola fan coming from a amazing experience with nexus 4, is how a CEO says the phone in his pocket will compete with the S4 or HTC One and that device have year old hardware…

    On top of that images continue to leak of new Moto devices with the same ugly ass look of old. Kevlar or not it makes me want to puke looking at it.

    Bottom line, I want my buying experience to be as good as my phone and cool software that won’t be cool 2 updates later because hardware isn’t enough to handle advancements so it’s slower is going to ruin it. I’ll wait this out but N5 or LGG2 seem to be my options at this point.

    • I’m wondering if Google plans to make Android in such a way that it can work well on older hardware like the Moto X. It would be smart if they’re going to try to make these successful. I think it’ll be able to compete because of it’s price point and availability for all carriers without a contract. How often do you see people who want a new phone but don’t have an upgrade? These people can move over to Moto X pretty easily.

    • Clarkkent113

      That’s a good point. The dual-core (supposedly a Snapdragon S4) may hold up well on the Moto-X initially, but what about all the inevitable updates? Will Key Lime Pie run well on it when a whole list of new features gets announced? It’s doubtful.

      I’m just hoping that a quad-core processor is a “customizable option” for the X-phone and that this has just been kept under wraps from leakers.

      • Marsg

        forget about KLP, what about the update after that, also developers are going to start making more processor intensive apps in the future due to more powerful hardware

    • disqus_X93klfG91s

      Look at the press photos (not that horrible picture at the top of this article, but the actual press photos) and tell me, is that device in any way distinguishable from a Nexus 4? Other than the Kevlar back (which IMO is prettier and far more functional than the N4 glass back)?

      (disclaimer: N4 owner)

  • MasterMuffin

    At least it looks much better thsan those upcoming DROIDs

  • I’m hoping this price point will change the market a bit and stick it to carriers like some wanted the Nexus 4 to. Availability for all carriers for cheap sans contract will be great. American carriers need to learn their place and be more like the EU carriers.

    • Zach Mauch

      I actually think that has been a big reason that the Nexus program exists. Google has openly stated they are trying to change the market. They want us to buy our phones and plans separately. They want that open competition driving down prices. If it happened, their free to manufactures model has a MAJOR advantage over Apple and Microsoft.

      • That would be great. Seems that they’re using Motorola to help them accomplish this goal.

  • Zach Mauch

    Honestly, I thinks it’s pretty funny that people are making a big deal out the “Assembled in the US” thing. Just think about it. Motorola HAS to do that if they want good user customization options and decent shipping times/prices. Imagine them trying to put a custom ordered phone together and individually shipping each one from china. It wouldn’t work. This was a necessary decision and Motorola is doing a great job marketing it. I promiss the only things they are doing here are the things they have to.

  • Zach Mauch

    “The price point is what matters, and Motorola’s aim is for a sub-$300 X Phone. Even with the blessing and backing of Google, that’s a tough price to hit with a spec-heavy phone.”

    I think I got to disagree with you here. Google has proved multiple times now they can hit a low price point with top of the line specs (or dang close). When the nexus 4 came out, it featured the best processor on the market, 2GB of ram, and wireless charging. The only spec that any other phone arguably had on it was LTE and the camera. Additionally, look at the upcoming basic bear and bear pro phones. These are looking to put high end specs in very cheap profiles.

    I don’t know where all the money goes, but I think a lot of it is lost in the bureaucracy of going through the carriers. Additionally, subsidization has kept the retail prices artificially high due to lack of open competition to drive them down. Unlocked phones are becoming more popular and with it we’ll see the prices come down.

    Finally, if your specs that you posted in the article you link to are right, I have a feeling we might even see this sucker hit $199. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least.

    • Fawoo

      u wot m8

      Okay realistically you’re forgetting some key components. N4 had “near” top of the line specs (that were quickly outperformed from subsequent devices), but also cut corners quite a lot. In two ways you have mentioned, but also in availability, other features (such as SD card [MicroSD card is arguable due to Google wanting to have the phone a certain way, but it’s still an important feature to many], and even device design).

      Now if this phone is going to be truly international, as in not some shitty availablility like the N4, and have customization, AND have top-of-the-line specs you can bet the MOTO X will be at LEAST $300. That’s not even taking into account whether they want to make money or not. If they do you can promise it will be +$350.

      If they miraculously make it under $300, then I commend them immensely.

      • Nimer55

        Design is not a per unit cost, but a fixed overhead cost, and should therefore not be considered in pricing the device as the costs can be recovered by selling more units at a smaller margin. As for microsd, HTC and Apple also don’t use it… Stock android hardly supports it.

        Motorola will be launching multiple phones, and I hope they launch a good one for sub $200, there is a huge market for it… Personally I will likely stick to the Nexus program, but I know many friends and family who could use a sub $200 phone who’d prefer to avoid contracts.

  • Amine Elouakil

    Each time I see that first picture (the left side of it) I think of the HTC HD2…. and it doesn’t look like the prototype, which have a nice design on it own, I feel kinda worried about this phone it will die due to it hype, it’s not a bad phone at all

  • ehEye

    the most important addition to a contextually aware phone would be the ability of the user to correct inadvertent but annoying errors that the phone may pick up in spite of efforts to give it ‘good’ data. More important than hearing a comment about the NYyankees, and then deluging me with NYy news and mindless numbers would be my ability to tell it effectively that i don’t give a damn about the yankees, and don’t ever want to hear any more about them! [if they are to be our phones, they must cater to our wishes, personalities, and quirks, or they will just be annoying.]

  • mcquoidellum

    Hard to tell if opinion is just expert opinion, or source information –.–

  • Piyath Alawatte

    First of all you Mr. Editor must admit that S4 is the best smartphone all around. You cannot cut it out in the middle of you bull shit writing. It’s wrong. This is why people doesn’t like to read opinions instead of true articles.

    • Chris Thomson

      > This is why people doesn’t like to read opinions instead of true articles.

      Oh the irony

  • Piyath Alawatte

    I meant if your intension is to write an unbiased, fair and realistic article instead of a fantasy you cannot leave the S4 back at any cost at the moment while you are talking high about other high ends.

    • Topcat488

      Dude… This Article is about Moto X being a “Mid-Range” phone, it’s trying to stay away from the “hardware” side of it. S4 will never cost $300.00 or less unlocked… I’m a OG-Note user, waiting on Note III.

  • Clarkkent113

    Great article. Hardware specs are becoming less important yes, but there is something distasteful about using a processor (dual-core) that is more than a year old. I would have much preferred for them to skimp on the camera hardware than on processor.

    I don’t need/want the best processor out right now, but a first-gen quad-core, at least, would have bee nice.

    Having said all that, I’ll probably still sell my Note 2 and pick up the X-Phone because other than the rumored dual-core processor, everything about it sounds like exactly what I’m looking for. I love pure-Android on my Nexus-10, and I want it on my next phone.

    • disqus_X93klfG91s

      I’m the opposite. I want a midrange processor because battery life is more important to me than the very fastest core speeds (consider: underclocking is a *VERY* popular thing among Android tweakers) and a great camera.

      Why do you need a bleeding-edge processor? Do you play demanding games?

  • Must have big battery. Must.

    • bananatroll

      3300MAH sealed inside that beautiful unibody casing! This phone will get excellent battery life.

      • disqus_X93klfG91s

        citation needed

  • Bas

    If the X Phone is running stock Android, would this not mean that the Nexus 4 is THE smartphone to have/buy? Better or at least equal specs running the same OS for presumably the same price?

    • bananatroll

      the motorola radios are what power users are going to go for. Moto is infamous for their custom radios built ontop of SOC’s in the last 5 years. They just kick a$$ with reception, call quality, and retention in general.

      Combine that with stock android, solid build quality, a real good camera, and quick updates from google, and you have a hit.

      The specs are not the draw here at all. The fact that it has multiple processors for each thing is.

    • disqus_X93klfG91s

      I have a Nexus 4 and I’m ready to buy a Moto X if the rumors are true.


      Better battery life
      Better camera
      Kevlar back
      AMOLED screen
      32 GB RAM

      All four would make for a HUGE upgrade over my N4 (with its shattered back)

  • vampyren

    They should atleast have went with S600 specially when its coming Q4 to other countries. And hopefully they add SD or no buy for many people.

  • weed

    “but leave all the nonsense out.”

    Well, always on voice search, I’d say it’s hard to be more nonsense than that.