[Opinion] What the Moto X promised to be, what it will be, what it won’t be and why

by: Adam KoueiderAugust 4, 2013

Moto X

The Moto X was unveiled this Thursday to what can only be described as a mediocre response. The Moto X was the most hyped, and most leaked smartphone of the year so far, and no matter how good the smartphone turned out to be, it couldn’t live up to the hype.

So why has the Moto X failed to inspire people to call it the game changer that Motorola says it is? The reasons are a blend of trip ups, slip ups and some plain stupid decisions that could hold this phone back from reaching its full potential.

The Apple influences are there for all to see

When Motorola unveiled the Moto X it said that it wasn’t about the spec-sheet, but the user experience. If that sounds familiar it’s because Apple uses the same argument for the iPhone every year.

The iPhone might not have the most cores, the highest megapixel count, the biggest screen, or the largest battery when it’s unveiled, but regardless of whether you like iOS or not, you can’t argue that the iPhone performs admirably in the places where it matters (at least for the regular consumer).

galaxy s4 vs iphone 5 5 back aa

The iPhone 5 takes great pictures, performs smoothly, has a great app store, decent battery life and a solid, high-end design. These are pretty much the only factors that matter for the regular consumer. So where does the Moto X fit into this?

Those who have gotten their hands on the Moto X have all said that the Moto X performs buttery smooth, even smoother than other high-end Android smartphones like the HTC One. This is due to the X8 computing system, and software optimizations by the Motorola team, but to a regular consumer this means very little. All that matters is whether or not it performs smoothly, and the Moto X passes this test with flying colors.

Since the Moto X is an Android smartphone, it has access to the Google Play Store, which has blossomed into a competent app store. While not quite on the same level as the iOS App Store, the Play Store has shown that it is able to put up a good fight, and the Moto X benefits from this. There are enough games to fill a users storage space, and plenty of apps to choose from for every task.

Moto X

As far as design goes, despite being made of plastic, the Moto X does a good job of feeling great in the hand and keeping that high-end look and feel (Plastic can feel high-end? Quick, someone tell Samsung).

There’s also the ability to customize your Moto X’s design to match your lifestyle and attire, but that’s not without flaws (more on that later). Full camera comparisons haven’t been made yet, but so far the consensus has been good, but not great when it comes to the Moto X’s camera. The camera app on the other hand…

So you’ve read this far and thought, “Wait, so where’s the bad part?” Patience young skywalker, all will be revealed.

The Moto X wants to be the default phone choice for the masses

We just compared the Moto X to the iPhone 5, and its similarities are more than just software and hardware. They’re even targeted at the same market. The Moto X wants to be the default phone choice for the masses, the one that a person chooses when he walks into a carrier store looking for a smartphone, but without a specific phone in mind.

Galaxy S4 vs iPhone 5

The current default phone choices for the masses, the iPhone 5 (left) and the Galaxy S4 (right).

The problem with Motorola’s plan is that the two biggest smartphone manufacturers in Samsung and Apple occupy this space already. When a person walks into a store they either go for the iPhone 5 due to the brand name, build quality and app store, or they go for the Samsung Galaxy S4 for the supposed “cool factor”, big, bold and beautiful Full-HD Super AMOLED display and the cool features.

Motorola has some serious competition to deal with, but the question is, how does Motorola plan to combat them?


Let’s get this out there right now. It’s no secret that marketing is a very big factor in the success of a smartphone. I mean just take a look at the market share lists and you’ll see that the two companies with the biggest manufacturing budgets — Samsung and Apple — are right at the top of the list. If Motorola wants to uproot this duopoly it’s going to need some serious pulling power.

WSJ reported that Google and Motorola could spend several hundred million dollars marketing the Moto X, and it’s going to need every single cent of it.

Samsung has gone the route of making its phones look cool, often at the expense of other manufacturers (cough… Apple…cough) in order to market its smartphones. While some would call this a not so classy way of selling your product, it works, and the skyrocketing sales of Samsung smartphones are proof of this.

Apple on the other hand, is forever trying to remind us that it focuses on creating that signature look, feel and experience. From the “Designed in California” labels, to the Jonathan Ive-starring design videos, Apple wants you to know that “this is our signature, and it means everything.”

Motorola has already begun its ad campaign with a bang. It had full page ads running in major U.S. newspapers to remind people that the Moto X is coming, and it’ll be the first smartphone to be designed by you, the consumer, and assembled in the U.S.A. This ad also happened to run on the most patriotic day in American history — the 4th of July — so the whole “assembled in the USA” theme meant even more.

Moto X ad

We’ll see how much Google will be willing to spend marketing the Moto X and any other variants that may appear, but for now it’s too early to judge.

The Moto X has a very cool X factor, but it’s only available on AT&T

If there was one leak which got people most excited, it was the customization leak. At first we thought it could be something to do with specifications. Allowing you to choose between a budget Moto X for your mother, or a high-end Moto X for yourself.

Turns out that this didn’t end up happening, but we still got a very cool way of customizing our smartphone. The Moto Maker is the x factor that the Moto X so desperately needs to stand out from the rest of the crowd.

The need to be unique is one that is almost universally shared by humans. Case in point, despite the huge costs for custom license plates on cars in Australia, there are hundreds of thousands of people willing to pay for this small, and arguably worthless, differential factor. The Moto X offers this type of differentiation for free. You get the point that this is going to be a huge selling point (and I mean massive).

So many colors!

So many colors!

So Motorola went and completely shot itself in the foot by making the Moto Maker feature an AT&T exclusive, at least for the time being. It’s almost as if the Motorola executives came together and made a list of the top 10 worst ideas for the Moto X launch, and this was second from the top, so they went with that. The worst idea was not releasing it worldwide, oh wait they did that too…

With over 2000 customization options, you can customize everything from the front panel color, to the boot animation, as well as the back plate, wallpaper, even the trim color.

With over 2000 customization options, you can customize everything from the front panel color, to the boot animation, as well as the back panel, wallpaper, even the trim color. By tying the biggest selling point of the Moto X to one carrier, Motorola could have condemned the Moto X to a premature demise. Luckily, the Moto Maker won’t be an AT&T exclusive forever, so customers on other carriers will need to either wait or switch carriers to customize their Moto X to their heart’s desire.

They want how much?!

That was probably the reaction from many people when we saw the carrier price for the Moto X. Most were expecting a price of about $99 on contract and $299 off contract, so when Motorola announced that it was pricing the Moto X at $199 on contract it came as quite a shock.

If you ever needed proof that Motorola was serious about taking on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the iPhone 5, this was it. By pricing the Moto X on the same level as the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, and iPhone 5, it signalled Motorola’s intent. This is a high-end smartphone, despite the seemingly mid-range specs.

galaxy s4 vs moto x

Technically, there is no off contract price for the Moto X. AT&T is going to sell the 16GB model for $574.99 and the 32GB Moto X for $629.99, but that’s just AT&T and doesn’t reflect the true price. Unfortunately, for now it’s your best bet for an off contract Moto X, and as an added bonus you can customize the phone as well.

We’ll probably have to wait for the developer and/or Google Play Edition versions of the Moto X to get an idea of how much Motorola is planning on selling the Moto X off-contract. In the end, Motorola was pretty much stuck trying to maintain the high-end mantra, and in order to do that it had to price it similarly to the competition.

Specs still (sort of) matter

I’m not the spec-fanatic I once was, and I understand that software optimization is as, if not more, important as the spec sheet. In fact I was, and still am, a big supporter of Motorola taking specs less seriously and focusing on user experience. But the thing is that specs still sort of matter.

A perfect example is the 4.7-inch, 720P AMOLED display on the Moto X. Now most would agree that on a display of that size, you don’t need a Full-HD display, and they’d be right. The advantages of the extra pixel density do not outweigh the advantages of increased battery life and GPU performance.

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on auto brightness; backward tilt at about 45 degrees

LCD bests even the best AMOLED displays in direct sunlight.

But what people forget is that the resolution is not the only measurement of a great display. A well tuned screen with accurate color reproduction, a bright display, and wide viewing angles is just as important as the pixel density. So while the Moto X has a high enough pixel density, and it’s not a pentile display, it still suffers from the same issues as all AMOLED displays.

The Moto X doesn’t have the most accurate color reproduction, and as it has an AMOLED display, it is significantly worse under bright sunlight when compared to LCD displays of the same calibre.

The Moto X is buttery smooth now, but for how long?

The Moto X’s specifications don’t look particularly high-end, but in regards to performance (especially graphics performance), it’s definitely buttery smooth, but for how long? Every phone suffers from some sort of slow down over time, and by being one step behind on the spec-sheet from launch it means that by the time that most people get off contract, they’ll be three steps behind the latest technology. Can the Moto X stand the test of time?

A Googorola smartphone, this is not

Despite what we were led to believe — both by the leaks and Google itself — this phone is not a Googorola phone, not even remotely. The first and most obvious clue to this is the fact that Motorola unceremoniously sold itself to the carriers. Google hasn’t kept its disdain for carriers a secret, and we all believed that Motorola would uncouple itself from the carrier-manufacturer relationship we’ve all grown to dislike.

By offering the Moto X on all four carriers, Motorola achieved the mass market appeal that it sought for. Unfortunately, this was tainted by the fact that the Moto Maker feature is an AT&T exclusive for now. While the front of the device is free from any unsightly carrier logos, or even a Motorola logo for that matter, the back is not.

moto x motorola broll (6)

The AT&T Globe is there for all to see, albeit not as prominently as on some other smartphones

Now it isn’t that the carrier logos on the Moto X are massive and horrid, it’s their symbolic meaning and since the Moto X still has carrier logos on the back (added bloatware included), this isn’t the phone to shake up the carrier-OEM relationship.

The fact that the Moto X is running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean is further proof that this is not a Googorola smartphone. Android 4.3 Jelly Bean doesn’t have massive user facing changes, but the fact that Motorola is once again, a step behind at launch, worries us.

The Sony Xperia Z and HTC One were both unveiled with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean despite the fact that Android 4.2 had already been unveiled, and it took several months for the Android 4.2.2 update to finally arrive for the two flagship smartphones.

Motorola’s already behind the curve when it comes to Android versions, and even if the Android 4.3 update comes out soon after launch, it could take months for carriers to approve the update.

Motorola is once again behind the curve when it comes to Android versions.

If you needed more proof of this being strictly a Motorola phone, the Moto X’s bootloader is unsurprisingly locked on AT&T and Verizon. The pricing doesn’t exactly fall in line with the Google ethos, and we’ll have to wait for the Google Play Edition Moto X before we see the true Google influence.

The fact is that Google tried very hard to reassure us that Motorola would be treated just like any other OEM, and this ultimately hindered the Moto X.

Why can’t we have both?

It’s a seemingly innocuous question, right? The Samsung Galaxy S4 for example, achieves mass market appeal through cool features, and an insanely good marketing campaign. But it also achieves tech geek appeal thanks to its brilliant Super AMOLED display, the fastest quad-core processor available on the market at the time of release, 2GB of RAM and fan favourites like removable batteries and expandable storage.

The TouchWiz UI doesn’t matter for these people since they know how to flash custom ROMs and what’s even better is the fact that there’s a Google Play Edition of the Galaxy S4 which allows them to flash a perfectly stable build of stock Android, should they so please.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa performance

High-end specs, and mass market appeal! Who would’ve known?

The Moto X on the other hand, offers no such comforts. It doesn’t have the highest clock speed, or the largest battery, or the most pixels stuffed into its display. Perhaps at a lower price it could’ve attracted more tech geeks, but at the current price it is strictly aiming at the mass market.

The camera app is another place where Motorola has made cut backs. It’s simple, a little too simple, in fact it makes the Stock Android camera app look like rocket science.

Motorola says that nobody ever goes into the settings anyways, but that’s beside the point. If you offer settings to change exposure, scene, aperture and more then you cater to the people who want these sort of things, and those who don’t go into the settings, will do just that.

So where does the Moto X fit in?

The Moto X could’ve been the phone that changed it all. It could have been this decade’s defining moment in the smartphone market, but it wasn’t. The reason for this is that Motorola chose not to.

Firstly, if you don’t live in Canada, Latin America or the U.S. it’s very unlikely that you’ll even get the Moto X on your shores. Instead, Motorola has other “cool and exciting” devices from the same family coming to Europe.

Motorola could’ve told the carriers that it was going to provide the updates, and that the carriers were just going to have to deal with it. It could’ve priced the Moto X aggressively, sold it via the Google Play Store, and done away with the carriers completely. What we ended up getting was an attempt at being revolutionary, with moderate success.

Moto X vs

The Moto Maker is an incredible feature, and the x factor the Moto X needs to differentiate itself, but it’s stuck on AT&T. The cool software additions are great and the all day battery life claim untested, but the Moto X’s future will hinder on whether it can break the duopoly of Samsung and Apple, because the masses is ultimately the market Motorola is aiming at, and they simply doesn’t care about specs.

These people don’t care about the carrier stickers on the back of the device, or the fact that the bootloader is unlocked, they want a phone that works, and works well. Whether the Moto X can convince them that it works better than the iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy S4 remains to be seen.

Now what do you think of the Moto X?

  • eagea


    • najiy91

      true.we in asia still not see it to be launched.motorola used to be famous here with ther razr’s last decade.now,they blew it.

    • Piyath Alawatte

      Release to where? Motorola or Google doesn’t have any retail shops. Also online purchasing via play store doesn’t work in many countries yet. First they have to build up shops world wide just like Samsung.

      • The Calm Critic

        They don’t have to… They just have to cut deals and authorize selected resellers just the way it’s normally done here in South East Asia and back when they got the Razr mojo days. This works even for Samsung, HTC and Nokia.

        • jhed

          *standing ovation!!

    • MasterMuffin

      Exactly. Want a phone to sell well? Get the phone available to more people!

    • jhedpredon

      I feel you

    • tomn1ce

      Why didn’t they just use the S600 and optimized it to work as good as they say that the S4Pro does?….Not releasing the Moto X world wide is surely going to bite them in the @$$…They could’ve done better with the pricing as well. I think that a $400 price tag would’ve made it more appealing. Lets see what happens in the next few months.

  • FlashDelta

    Motorola had the chance to become relevant once again and they blew it. Why would anyone pay $200 for a phone ON CONTRACT when they could get something like the GS4, HTC ONE or even the iPhone 5 at the same or lower price? Plus, the main thing that separates them from the competition is an AT&T exclusive? Oh and don’t get me started on the Moto X being a USA only phone. I live in the states but looks like I’m waiting for the Nexus 5. Fuck you Motorola!

  • Valtheus

    Many valid points from the editor here. Kudos.

    Right now i honestly can’t see a “success” story for Droid X. I really cannot understand why Google decided to create a Nexus alternative, give it a high end price and ofc aim it to the high end market with mediocre specs and features. Like everybody else is saying, why the user won’t go for better offers out there?

    Eventually the hype will go away (if its not already gone). Even if the price goes down to nexus price tag, still its gonna be an alternative to that and nothing innovative to drag the masses. Yup, they had their chance and they blew it alright.

  • Sky Baun

    The door is open for LG to break the duopoly with the G2!

  • mumusen

    Moto X’s rim looks terrible. I wish it was chrome there.. it would have given a rich look to the device. Right now it looks like a toy.

  • Guest

    Am I the only one who thinks that the microphone hole is the worst design for Moto X?

  • Shahnawaz Pirzada

    What a nice post, thanks to share with us that’s amazing knowledge with us.

  • Alain Lafond

    I do think most of the ideas expressed here. I believe we shold start to question ourselves: Will Google let a 12 billions investment go away?

    This Moto X thing is a mess.

    But I believe that the worst part is: Now start the time when you need to believe that the cellular market is worldwide. Those, like Samsung, Huawei, … Look at Apple, they are trying to gain back a lost market: China, India, Africa… That’s where the new customers are.

    I bought all Nexus line, from the One to the 4. But now, for sure I won’t buy that Moto X. What is the gain… No CPU power, no screen improvement, nothing… All is software, that you’ll see in the next version of Android… Wait for 5.0.
    This Moto X will sink in the sea of old ways of seeing the world…

  • bloomberg

    who knows they would go so low

    • Tran Nguyen

      Moto X is Lizard phone (too many colors). It only attractive to young people, but young people have experienced high tech

  • NWSD

    What a great analysis….now I can only hope the decision makers at Motorola and Google read your post and do better on the next moto x.

  • Tran Nguyen

    MOTO X is specifically designed for ordinary people and specially for woman. But they will be to think twice before they buy because the price. Who have been experiencing tech greek and use phone they will not buy it. HTC is first choice – next Galaxy S4 : specialty for people off contact.

    • sourabh

      Maybe not in your country but wherever its available nexus is the top off contract phone

  • Jhedpredon

    Feeling disappointed, I was really hoping that this will be Motorolas comeback in the phone industry, I was really anticipating for this phone before its release, knowing Moto X specs & price. makes me realize that this phone isn’t worth it. gonna buy S4 or wait for Sony Honami, Note 3 instead.

  • Cao Meo

    “The Apple influences are there for all to see”

    Well I disagree, Moto X is anti iPhone with huge number of variants.

    And all flaghips concentrate on user experience, not just iPhone. The difference is there are different understanding what that experience is.

  • Look for more sales/rebates or Google Play 50 dollar gift cards being included with these very soon after release. 200 on contract is too much for what it is compared to the other high end phones out there so I don’t see this selling very well.

    I am/was leaning towards a Motorola phone for my next one just because my VZW Galaxy Nexus has subpar reception, so Samsung doesn’t get my money next time around and who knows if VZW will ever get the HTC One or the next HTC phone even. I was really hoping for a 300-400 dollar off contract phone since I want to keep my unlimited data. Now I’ve got to look even harder at Sprint in my area. (T-mobile is 2G speeds here)

  • Dude O

    This is a really good article. Very few articles bother to touch on perspectives outside the US. Prior to the actual release, I was quite certain that this would be my next phone because of the rumoured price, specs sheet and build quality. Now, even if it were to come to my country (Singapore), I won’t even get it coz of its absurd price. I’m really hoping for the Google Play edition to change this.

  • Clarkkent113

    It’s a big disappointment, especially the price-point. I’m going to hope for the release of the Nexus 5 soon. Or maybe i’ll pick up an HTC Once.

  • deV14nt

    It will forever be known as the first customizable phone. First being the key word. Which will be good for Android and smartphones in general even if it isn’t for Motorola.

  • TheSaw

    Good phone. Shitty selling. I almost thought I’d start to like Motorola

  • Ruz

    Yea its very stupid of google to not release the phone worldwide. Somehow i am not happy with the fact that the phone cost 600+ which is shocking. I feel the phone should have costed around Nexus 4 somewhere around 450 for me to buy it comfortably. Now i doubt i will ever buy this phone or keep my options open. Phone is not bad but i will show Google that what we look at when we buy a new phone. What features and spec we want in our phone which is hardware wise and not just software like how iphone does and has failed to attract the masses.

    Please give me sometime and within a day i shall provide in dept review of MOTO X vs DEMAND from us

  • Willie D

    begind the curve? – update that typo

    • Adam Koueider

      Updated, thanks! Gootd catch.

  • End in sight

    I wonder if Google did this on purpose. I mean if they had priced lower and made motto maker to every carrier and all nations, it would have been like a bomb and maybe they were worried that Samsung would take too much of a market share hit and gotten angry and go off and build their own OS.

    Why else would Google allow their company to make sales-killing decisions?

  • gommer strike

    Yeah this is sad. Mid-range specs, high price, dubious user experience in the sense that it’s that much better for the average Joe than anything else out there.

    I mean, did the price really have to be so high?

  • george

    Wait 3 months and it faces impossible hurdles. Carrier – will compete with iPhone 5S, Note3, LG G2. Off contract/international – all the same plus Nexus5. customization? Wood panel with yellow bezel? Yeah right . Dont forget the black plastic case.

  • koolerking

    They shouldve perhaps had a handful of stock colour backs combo’s and sold it on google play. Like the article says, would’ve given them all a run for their money. I would have gone from iOS to this if teh number added up (battery life) and available in Australia.

  • Majdy Abu Sondos

    I understand all u saying that this is mediocre phone, and the price tag is what all shouting at!! we all knew this is the spec’s that will come with this phone, and from my point of view it’s not mediocre, and not mid range, compare it to the Note 2 !! the only difference is the cpu!!

  • Majdy Abu Sondos

    Don’t u all forget that this phone is assembled ib the USA!!!

    do u know WHY all phones oem including APPLE assemble their phones in asia (China, Vietnam, Korea)!! its because of the costs and manufacturing costs,, this is why this phone is priced HIGH,, i’m not with this price for these specs,, but at least i knew it would cost this much.

  • Nexus7Forum.com

    The Moto X is actually made of Dupont Kevlar, not plastic. MotoXforum.net

  • Nanda Linn Aung

    poor marketing and they want to spend 500 mil for this? this should be made available to as much Countries as possible. the price is another crazy thing.
    if it’s premium phone, i don’t want to buy because i like to change my phone every 1-2 yrs.