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Why we miss the Moto X
Remember the Moto X? Not the one that we saw recently at IFA – the original Moto X that prioritized personality and personalization over everything else. It was an exciting time for the Moto brand, which had been acquired by Google for a while before Lenovo came into the picture. And thanks to the backing of Google, the Moto brand engaged in some of the most memorable years thanks to the X line of smartphones. Each Moto X release after that was highly anticipated, with the Moto Maker leading the charge of the not-so-flagship flagship device.
Speaking of Moto Maker, we have a great article by Adam Doud talking wistfully about the customization service at length. Some of the information in this piece will come from that article, but we will also be looking at the Moto X as a general line, and why I think that today’s version of the smartphone simply has a certain something missing.
The Moto X was a bit of an anomaly back when it was conceived – Moto was far from a stranger to the masses due to their releases mainly on Verizon, with floundering versions of the DROID RAZR brand. However, the Moto X was to be a departure from what people knew of Android at the time – an experience akin to a clean slate, inside and out.
Of course, a clean inside meant that the phone was rocking a very lean version of Android. The concept was first popularized by the Nexus and then by the Pixel line – a user experience that is as close to the minimal, stock version of Android as possible. Moto put in a few of its own features like Moto Actions and Moto Voice, the latter of which was incredibly fun due to user-definable phrases that could unlock the device. Throw on top of that the Moto Display, basically a precursor to the always-on display features that we see in current phones by LG and Samsung, as well as the pulsing ambient display found in many lean Android phones.
Moto wasn’t necessarily a pioneer, but it tried new things in its X line.
Moto wasn’t necessarily a pioneer, but it tried new things in its X line that ended up being not only effective, but practically fun. And the icing on the cake: Moto Maker.
Customization is almost a given in the Android world – us fans really enjoy the fact that we can cater the operating system to be whatever we want, right down to one’s choice of home launcher. But when it came to the outer look of one’s phone, there wasn’t much differentiating many of the plastic and now glass on glass designs of main smartphone lines. Moto sought to change that with the Moto Maker, a way of customizing the X that included colors and materials for the back that ranged from the traditional plastic to even leather.
Funny story: if you followed me here on Android Authority back in 2013-2014, you’d know that bamboo backings were my jam. The original Moto X was a bit of a mess in that the wood materials didn’t make it out during launch and in order to get the review done, I had to settle for the common plastic edition. It wasn’t until the following year that I was given a chance not only get the bamboo back, but to customize the colors to include green and even an engraving of my life’s motto. This was freedom at its best.
And that’s what made the Moto X one of the most beloved smartphone lines in the Android space back then – personalization. Smartphones, especially flagship phones, found their stride shortly after the Moto X 2015 – you can even notice people still using Samsung Galaxy S or Note phones from that year until today. And they are highly recognizable because damn near every one of those phones has kept the same general design since. At least with the Moto line, there was a chance to change it up – not just because the company was just iterating, but because you wanted something different this time around.
Personalization made the Moto X one of the most beloved smartphone lines in the Android space.
Don’t get me wrong, remnants of the Moto Maker are still found today – the Moto Z has a number of attachable backings that change the look effectively. But it is almost literally a band aid compared to the actual hardware level changes that Moto Maker provided – and if you’re using a Mod, you’re adding more bulk to the Z that could become at least semi-permanent.
So we thought that the Moto Z was it, until rumors of the X line returning began to circulate around the time of IFA a few weeks ago. And when we got to the show in Berlin, we finally got a look at it – and it turned out like this:
The new Moto X looks like a Moto Z trying to masquerade as an X.
This is the Moto X 2017, aka the Moto X4 – a glass on glass design that tries to look a lot like an original X, but just seems… different. It is almost like the phone is a Moto Z trying to masquerade as an X.
The front includes the fingerprint reader that is and isn’t a home button because there are softkeys, and the metal with glass design is something that we’ve seen done an innumerable amount of times. It’s smaller than the Moto Z, which is nice for ergonomics, but otherwise there is little really differentiating this phone from the rest of Motorola’s lineup because it doesn’t offer much else that is exciting.
The Moto Z is the flagship that rocks the Mods and high end specifications. The Moto G and E are the more affordable offerings that have solidified their position in the lower end. But the new Moto X? Aside from a cool multiple Bluetooth audio connection stack made by Tempow and maybe that wide angle camera lens, it’s decidedly mid-range in its specifications when users are demanding the absolute latest and greatest more than ever.
Plainly and simply put, the Moto X has been put in a state of limbo and the one thing that could have still made it exciting even with the Moto Z looming about is the level of personalization that we once had years ago.
Imagine a Moto X4 that brought back even singular parts of the Moto Maker, like even one more different back material like wood and bamboo. It would literally be the only phone to do that instead of relying on first party cases or even Moto Style Shells to change the look. And it would have been a choice made by the user, for the user.
These days we are basically at the whim of the phone companies and their hardware choices – camera bump this, home button that, fingerprint reader here, only some colors available there – and the Moto X was one of the few phones that actually tried to give some of the control back to the user. This isn’t to say that the new, current Moto X is a bad phone – it’s probably a perfectly capable phone with a few features that can separate it from the rest or at least the rest of the Moto library. But holding that phone in my hand at IFA for our hands on, I could help but remember what was and wonder what could have been. And I always came back to the same thought each time.
I miss the Moto X.